Parliament speaks – But will anyone listen?
By Peter Guest
The UK Parliament has a system on scrutinizing public life called Select Committees, and one of these, the House of Commons Transport Committee, recently carried out an investigation into parking. If you have trouble sleeping, you can see the full report on the Parliament webpage. (www.parliament.uk).
My first thoughts are that this is a bit like “the curate’s egg.” (See Punch humor magazine, Nov. 9, 1895, or Wikipedia, if you don’t know this expression – JVH.) The phrase has come to mean “good in parts,” and I guess that this could be said of the Transport Committee report.
So what do the politicians say?
Pavement (footway) parking: The committee seems unaware that this has been unlawful since 1835, and their recommendations waffle on without actually saying anything. Pavements are for people, not cars.
Councils should publish an annual report. Well, of course they should, and I thought that the law already required this. It’s public money and an exercise of a quasi-police quasi-judicial power, and we should be able to examine what they are about.
They comment on parking “fines” and their relative levels compared with, say, other fines for more serious motoring offenses. One would have hoped that at some point before the report was published, the civil servants would have pointed out that a parking penalty is a charge, not a fine. And that although the relativities between various charges and fines is an issue, penalty charges are adjusted to reflect collection costs, unlike fines for criminal offenses.
Freezing the charges, which is what the Transport Committee proposes, is peachy, as long as, at the same time, they remove the government requirement for local authority parking to be self-funding. Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing!
One of the longstanding stupidities in the law is that, although a driver can get a 50% discount on the charge for early payment, they lose this if they appeal. The committee bizarrely goes half way in proposing that if a driver appeals and loses, they should then get only a 25% discount for paying up quickly.
If someone appeals within the discount period, why shouldn’t they still get the full discount if the clock stops while the appeal is considered and they then pay within the remaining discount period?
Now this one I agree with.
In the UK, we have a legal process called Case Law, where if a judge makes a decision on a point of law, that sets a precedent for later cases. No such constraint operates where parking tickets are concerned, and this frequently means that a council can have tickets set aside because their operation is deemed to be unlawful and yet carry on issuing, and collecting, tickets the very next day – often collecting hundreds of thousands of pounds in circumstances where they know they have no lawful ability to do so.
This is where there is a fundamental flaw, such as there being no proper regulation in place, not a small technical error on a single ticket. I have always believed this to be morally indefensible, and arguably the officers involved in doing this are acting criminally – under other legislation concerned with the proper conduct of a public official – but it happens again and again.
The Transport Committee also proposes that the rules should be stronger and councils required to refund charges in such circumstances. Personally, I think this isn’t strong enough. The onus is still on the councils to take the initiative, something they have failed to do (with very few exceptions) for a couple of decades.
Because the councils generally do not publicize their errors, subsequent drivers are unlikely to know when something is wrong, and so my expectation is that unless the adjudication service has the power to direct a review and refund, not much will change.
Many local authorities use cameras to enforce parking, but there’s a populist view that this is “spying” on the driver and unfair. As a boss of mine said many years ago, “It’s easy to avoid a speeding ticket – don’t speed!” Ditto illegal parking.
The good committee members also seem to believe that drivers who park illegally should be given a statutory “grace period” before they are ticketed. Most councils do give a few minutes before the ticket is issued, but I am not sure why this of all offenses should be sanctioned in law. Will Parliament soon pass new legislation to decriminalize all thefts under $50?
So, all in all, a lot of smoke and not much fire; and if my next offer comes from the Tower of London, you will know why.
There has been a fair amount of publicity here in the UK about a new camera system that is being trialled in several cities to monitor parking outside school entrances. Those are dangerous places for kids; they run into school or to their friends, and each year hundreds get squashed.
It’s worse when motorists can’t see the school because mothers who can no longer walk a hundred yards, park and release the little ones into the wild. For this reason, most schools have a total ban on parking, and yet moms, and dads, still park rather than walk a few yards.
The new camera system is there to save lives, and yet most of the publicity has been along the “Councils spy on parents” line.
Finally, thank you to all those who contacted me to wish me well for my gallstone operation. It was a complete success, and I have made a complete recovery, choosing to ignore the comment by “she who must be obeyed” that, after the operation, they threw away the more useful part.
One or two have commented on the relative merits of our disparate medical systems, particularly topical given what has been going on in Washington recently.
I don’t know enough about the U.S. system to make a valid comment, but I do have a point for you to ponder: Per capita we spend less in the UK, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GDP, on healthcare than the U.S., and yet we live longer.
(You Brits are just too ornery to die. It has nothing to do with what you pay for a bandage – JVH.)
Peter Guest, a Consultant in the UK, is PT’s Editor-at-Large on all things British, European, Middle Eastern and Indian.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from December, 2013