Moral maze 2 What would you do?

Two weeks ago I faced another one of those moments MPs and public figures should worry about.
I was unable to park in the free space behind the Wokingham Conservative office, so I went to the Town Centre Borough Car Park. As I was about to get out to pay my parking fee, a friendly constituent I did not know offered me one hour of unexpired time on his parking ticket. He meant it kindly.
I had just a few seconds to respond. Should I accept gratefully and save my money? (No, I was not going to reclaim it!). Should I offer the white lie that I needed longer than one hour to avoid the dilemma? Or should I explain that as an MP I had to pay the local Council their dues?
It was clearly not a set up, as my parking there on a Monday morning was a freak event. There were no Borough officials watching my every move. There is no car registration system on the ticket. It is clearly against the rules of the car park to transfer tickets. The constituent was being very friendly and thought it the most natural thing to share it with someone and thwart the ever grabbing Council. Only the constituent and I would know, and he was not going to tell anyone.Maybe he knew I had opposed the increases in car park charges when they had last gone up.
I decided I had to follow the third route, refuse kindly and explain I had to obey the rules.

I would be interested in your honest responses to the following:
Would you have accepted the offer of the free parking?
If you became an MP do you agree you could no longer accept such an offer?
What would you think of your local MP if he were caught fiddling the local car park charges?


  1. Brian Tomkinson
    March 24, 2008

    You took the only realistic course of action available to you given your public position. However, I think that most people would have accepted the offer. The question is why should the council have the right to effectively charge twice for the same parking time? If someone is obliged to buy more parking time than they require, why should they not be permitted to pass it on in the way your constituent wished?

  2. John, Wrexham
    March 24, 2008

    dear john,

    i always give out and accept transfered tickets. How long does anyone really know our shopping/business is going to take? Places can be shut, queues long or short, you can meet friends in the street, meetings be cancelled at short notice etc etc. The Council in effect seeks to profit from this unpredictability. If the primary aim of the car park is to provide a service and the charge to cover the cost of said car park, then despite transferring a ticket, the Council should not feel aggrieved. Sadly for an MP, you have to be whiter than white, but at least you are in a position to help change the rules!

    The more important question really is why do we tolerate a system where to park at an out of town supermarket or retail store is free, while to visit the small businesses & high street shops in the town centre is expensive. Surely it is time to end this hidden subsidy to out of town stores. it would be fairer if out of town stores had to hand over their car parks to third parties/council who could charge.

  3. Neil Craig
    March 24, 2008

    I understand why you did it & am sure it was wise, knowing how it could have ben treated had some paper been in the mood. However it is a bad sign of the petty & pointless rules & indeed non-rules, we are surrounded by.

  4. James
    March 24, 2008

    John, I would have accepted the ticket, and have on a couple of occasions done so at our local hospital car park. I do not suffer from a guilty conscience about it either. The public ( and indeed the motorist) are 'screwed' at every opportunity by councils and this government, unfairly in a great many instances.
    Unfortunately, you as an MP, have to be extremely careful about every move you make, especially in today's climate surrounding MPs behaviour and expenses. So you made the right call in my opinion.

  5. Donal Blaney
    March 24, 2008

    John: I think you would have been best to have thanked your constituent but said you needed more than an hour. That way the constituent would not have been offended and you would not have broken the (rather daft) rule concerning transferring parking tickets. I, on the other hand as private citizen, would gladly have accepted the ticket. I both accept them when offered them and offer tickets to others. I accept I probably shouldn't but then I take the view that it's my ticket to do with as I will!

  6. Freeborn John
    March 24, 2008

    (i) I think I would have accepted the free parking.
    (ii) I think it reasonable that legislators must follow the rules, whatever they are.
    (iii) I would not think less of my MP if he took the ticket, in this case.

    The question on my mind is would Britain be a better society if there were more people who acted like your constituent, or more people who would refuse the offer? And I can’t help wanting more of your constituents. I think this is because I wonder if the Council rule against passing on unused parking time can be justified. My sense is that it is not because your constituent bought something and should be able to pass on part of it. However I feel the similar ban on selling used 1-day Travelcards for the Tube is justifiable (as the buyer is effectively getting full value and not the unused part) and would take a dim view of an MP buying a used Travelcard.

    As a general rule people should be free to do what makes them happiest (unless it causes others harm). One might say that Council taxpayers would have been financially harmed had you taken the ticket as they have to make up any shortfall. But the Council did receive payment for the parking time (from your constituent) and I think it should not be able to abuse its rule-making powers to make people pay it twice for the same thing.

  7. Elizabeth Elliot-Pyl
    March 24, 2008

    Dear John,
    I agree with your first correspondant in that I see nothing wrong with passing on or accepting unused tickets. Is it actually against the law? or just some petty rule from the council?
    However, at the moment MPs have to be whiter than white and I think you did the right thing. Look at the Daily Mirror and the fuss it made about David Cameron on his bike. The fact that thousands of ordinary cyclists do this every day is neither here nor there for them.

  8. apl
    March 24, 2008

    John Wrexham: ¨Surely it is time to end this hidden subsidy to out of town stores. it would be fairer if out of town stores had to hand over their car parks to third parties/council who could charge.¨

    If the supermarket has bought the land it chooses to dedicate to parking for its customers, what reasonable grounds would anyone have to complain about that?

    The real culpret is the local authority that deliberately raises the local buisness rate to the extent that small local shops are driven out of town or out of buisness, persecutes the motorist if he/she dares to try to shop in town – in the first instance with the outrageous behaviour of the modern parking ´attendant´ and in the second case with the poor parking facilities and excessive parking charges.

    JR: ¨Would you have accepted the offer of the free parking?¨

    I have, on one occasion been offered by a kindly passer by, an unexpired pay and display ticket. I accepted and thanked the individual but bought my p&d ticket anyway.

    JR: ¨If you became an MP do you agree you could no longer accept such an offer?¨

    If you have been instrumental in implementing a given law, then yes you ought to obey the law!

    JR: ¨What would you think of your local MP if he were caught fiddling the local car park charges?¨

    In my consituency, I would think it pretty much par for the course.

    A question in reply. If a large proportion of the of the population find a law has been imposed and think the law wrong, and in the situation where their ´representitives´ (note the quotes) are insulated from the same laws and pay little heed to observing them.

    What recourse does the citizen have but to disobey the law?


  9. Alison Saville
    March 24, 2008

    How I wish you were my MP!

    I'd have accepted the ticket, as the space had been paid for, although I'm sure the byelaws would not permit it; I agree with Brian Tomkinson on this.

    If I were an MP I would not have accepted.

    I would be surprised if my local MP were caught fiddling the local car park charges, as I think he'd be more likely to do the right thing for the wrong reason: that it'd be highly embarrassing to be caught out.

    Your approach was spot on; white lies are always to be avoided, and I've found it helpful (and confidence-building) always to give the true reason for my actions rather than a convenient excuse.

  10. Freeborn John
    March 24, 2008

    “A question in reply. If a large proportion of the of the population find a law has been imposed and think the law wrong … What recourse does the citizen have but to disobey the law?”

    In this situation the trial by jury system reveals its worth as repeated failures to convict will show legislators that their law is an ass.


  11. Bazman
    March 24, 2008

    As an MP you had no alternative. Anyone would at least snigger even if they agreed with any other course of action.
    The town where I live is a reasonable 25/30 pence per hour depending on which car park. Refunded by local supermarkets. These charges add up however and a few years ago when there was only me in the car I would throw the used ticket on the dashboard/floor of the car. When I eventually tidied them up it was quite a shock to see this hidden cost of driving.
    Some councils and hospitals are milking this for all it's worth and If I can give a ticket I do and, often get one given back.
    You should try to break at least one law every day.

  12. thaggie
    March 24, 2008

    You should have accepted it gratefully with a clear conscience. This is for two reasons.

    One; unless you overran on the ticket, the council would still receive its due. One ticket, for one car, for one hour or whatever. If the said ticket is not transferred then the ticket holder has been ripped off. If he could get a refund it would be a different story. Otherwise the council is being paid for something it has not provided, and nothing sends out a worse message.

    This may indeed be against the rules of the car park, i wouldn't know. But if you follow the logic of the payment structure, and bear in mind that there is no free market in parking provision, by submitting to this regime then you are giving an incentive to the council; don't make it more expensive to park per hour, just increase the minimum length of time drivers need to pay for. Think how much payphones must make from people paying for a minute as the shortest time they can, then only speaking for a matter of seconds. They never offer change, either.

    Two; by offering you his ticket, your constituent was in effect offering to pay for your parking for you. There is nothing morally or legally against this per se. He was not saying to you 'have this ticket, it means that your car will be parked for free'.

  13. andy kirkham
    March 24, 2008

    Some authorities are wise to this as you are required to enter the 3 numbers from your number plate before you get your ticket , the numbers are printed on the ticket and the car park warden will book anyone who has a car park ticket with somebody elses car park number i.e it shows it has been been passed from the original driver to someone else.

    However I agree in principle that there is absolutely nothing wrong with passing tickets on , the Council is in no way cheated it has got its money for the time bought, the fact that different drivers have made use of the car parking space is irrelevant.

    I also agree that car park charges levied by Councils are a major reason for fewer and fewer people going into town centres but now rather go to out of town shopping centres.

    A classic example is Worcester where increasing parking rules, car park charges , and bus lanes means that it is far easier and more sensible to shop outside the City centre. We have lived here for 20 years and used to go into the centre 2 or 3 times a month , it must now be over a year since we last went in and and for the first time ever we didnt go in at Christmas.

  14. Bazman
    March 24, 2008

    Here's one for you John.
    A businessman notices that he pays £600 a year in parking charges. So he decides to test the system and the following year does not buy any tickets. He finds that he has only paid £400 in penalties and the following year the parking charges have risen by 50%, but by following the same course of action he reduces his costs to £350 saving himself £550, due to the increased inefficiency and reduction of the number of parking attendants, by the charge raising and cost cutting council.
    As an MP. Would you agree with this method of cost reduction. After all only a fool volunteers to pay taxes, and a tax it is for many councils.


  15. David T Breaker
    March 24, 2008

    I don’t see anything wrong with transfering parking tickets, it’s just another one if those stupid government rules designed to grab money from us. Most would accept the ticket, but as you are an MP you had to decline in case it got out and the media made a mountain out of a molehill again (like the Cameron skipping a red light on his bike and Soames riding a quad on the road during a hunt).

  16. apl
    March 24, 2008

    FBJ: ¨In this situation the trial by jury system reveals its worth as repeated failures to convict will show legislators that their law is an ass.¨

    That was exactly the solution I had in mind, but it will not have passed your notice that the government has progressively restricted the jury system.


    Democracy is not functioning properly! MPs are whipped on pretty much any and all votes. The government controls the legislative timetable not parliament. And worst of all, much if not most of all new legislation is brought in to law through statutory instrument from Brussels, and as a result is never … NEVER .. properly scrutinized by parliamentary representitives.

  17. Jock
    March 24, 2008

    Thinking outside the box:

    a. I would have accepted it
    b. You mean there's no "MP on Call" sticker you can deploy on such occasions? I'll bet not all those "doctor/plumber/bureaucrat on call" stickers are not real anyway!
    c. If you had an "MP on Call" sticker the problem wouldn't arise, but I wonder what state your car would be in when you returned to it!

  18. Jock
    March 24, 2008

    Oops – I did a double negative! My bad!

  19. Ken Adams
    March 24, 2008

    This happened to me in Ludlow two weeks ago, I was not quick enough to say I needed longer, but refused the offer.

    Perhaps as my business rates have just gone up by 20% if it happened today my reaction might be different.

  20. David
    March 24, 2008

    As an MP you took the coward's way out which is one of the reasons this country is up the creek because of the lack of cojones.

  21. The Daily Pundit
    March 24, 2008

    You should have accepted his offer and in return offered him the use of your plasma TV and fishtank 🙂


  22. John MUnyard
    March 24, 2008

    I have no problem at all with either offering my unspent ticket or taking one if it is offered to me. The time has been paid for, and so the council don't "lose out" – they just don't get to rip off two people.

    Curiously, I regard small acts like this amongst the few and diminishing acts of community kindness that many people have for each other these days. A small samaritan act in a society where there are seemingly petty rules for every little thing.

  23. ak23566
    March 24, 2008

    When I buy parking time I consider that I own those minutes as much as I own a bunch of bananas that I have just bought from the greengrocer or the socks I have bought from M&S.

    Therefore, as a matter of principle, I will always give away my unused parking minutes just as I always give away my travelcard we I have completed my journey.

    I would like to think that in your position I would have done the same and, if I was exposed, stand firm for the principle. However, I accept that those who make the law cannot be seen to break it, although I suspect the 80% of your constituents who drive cars (and pay exhorbitant charges to park on land they already own and maintain though their local taxes) who be cheering you every inch of the way.

  24. mikestallard
    March 24, 2008

    Look at Mr Cameron on his bike to see how hypocritical the press is.
    Of course you must be really pharisaical.
    Wash the outside of the pot so people can see how clean it is!
    MPs and the Media, meanwhile, allow the inside of the pot to be full of filth, which is poisoning our society: (nearly 50% taxation, 80% of "laws" dictated by Brussels, Euro MEP's expenses scandal hidden away behind locked doors, packs of feral children roaming the streets and now, the ultimate horror of a fifteen year old boy shopping his mother for smacking her son…..)
    Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel!

  25. Chuck Unsworth
    March 24, 2008

    I would have accepted the ticket gracefully – and then out of self-preservation purchased my own.

    It is usually an offence to 'transfer' these tickets anyway. Thus, gracious acceptance is condoning illegality – not a good example for an MP to set. (And yes, I do expect MPs to set standards.) As these people are in the business of legislation they have an obligation to politely refuse, even though others are tasked with the application of laws.

    The legal question might be: which of the two parties to the transaction is breaking the (by)law? The donor or the recipient? Certainly our local bylaws indicate that it is an offence to display such a ticket, but they say nothing about passing a ticket to another individual. So, is the donor an innocent party?

  26. Alan Douglas
    March 25, 2008

    If a private business were caught double-charging for a service that it had already been paid for, I'm sure there would be trouble.

    So how come councils can get away with forbidding the transfer of UNUSED car park time from one person to another ?

    You of course did the right thing, as we have seen when DC behaved like every other cyclist in the country, the false swine at the Mirror got all hypocritical.

    They would have done the same with you, of course.

    Alan Douglas

  27. rob
    March 25, 2008

    I think you did the right thing. It's true that most people would have taken the ticket, but as an MP – even one in opposition – and even when it is a local government matter not a central government one! you had to really obey the rules.

    You might disagree with it but you're a part of the system, with some measure of authority over it, and as such you really have to obey the rules of the system. You are more responsible for it, or perhaps more accurately will be seen more responsible for it, than the average citizen will be, and so breaking the rules would show you up in a worse light.

  28. John
    March 25, 2008

    You state 'it is clearly against the rules of the car park to transfer tickets' but having looked on Wokingham Council Car Park website there appears to be no such rule.

  29. GeoffH
    March 25, 2008

    It's not only the rule on transferability of tickets for parking that is deliberately swinish but the careful adjustment of the rates on the ticket machines coupled with the selection of coins that they will accept.

    Someone, somewhere has constructed an algorithm that means you never quite have the right combination of coins for the time you wish to pay for. The result is that you have to overpay, buying two hours when one is all you need, or overpay by 10 or 20p while the machine does not give change.

  30. TC
    March 25, 2008

    I didn't know that it was against the rules to transfer tickets and I am always delighted to be able to give over my ticket or take someone elses when the same situation arises. I can't believe acts of kindness like this are effectively outlawed!

    Moral maze 3 – if you had been in a car park outside of your constituency what would you have done if you had an hour left on your ticket? Would you have given it to the chap?


  31. Bill Melotti
    March 25, 2008


    The rule of non-transferability probably comes from the Council. As a local Councillor, I've discussed it with colleagues and believe it could be changed. I don't mind if people transfer their tickets, whoever they are.

    Our Lib Dem Council even spent money on machines to force people to print their number plates onto the ticket !

    As for MPs to change the rules, change this one please….

    I understand under current Government rules, the car parks accounts all have to set up to balance, in that fees should be planned such that the income from fee, fines etc, would equal the rent that could be drawn from the land if it were not a car park.

    So a well performing Council cannot legally give its citizens free parking even if it wanted and could afford it, on car parks it owns. There are Councils that give free parking, but usually because the land has been bequeathed to them for that purpose only.

    If true, another example of petty centralisation that should be dumped.

  32. Stuart Fairney
    March 25, 2008

    Wow, as of 6.18pm, 31 responses on a parking ticket and 2 on the credit crunch! All politics really is local.

    Reply: yes

  33. Simon_C
    March 28, 2008

    i) I'd have taken the ticket and said thanks. (if there's more than a few mins left on my tickets I'm always on the lookout for someone to give it to)
    ii) I don't think an MP or a council official could do the same. Irrespective of the moral right or wrongness of it, (which is a small deal however you look at it if the person breaking the rules isn't involved in making them) the cost/benefit doesn't pay off. You'd save 30p, but risk spending hours having to defend youreself if it "got out".

    iii) Personally, I would think the MP had displayed bad judgement not for any moral reason, but for the bad cost/benefit analysis. If they can't get that right, what hope do they have when figuring out where our money should be spent.

  34. Bazman
    March 28, 2008

    I wrote that where I live parking charges where a reasonable 25/30 pence per hour in the market town where I live. However the council would like to increase the charge. For the better? I don't know, but this is what you are dealing with.
    The local cabinet minister for transport said after increasing the charges.
    "Some of the smaller charges were 80 pence (His 80. He raised them from 30/50, to 60/1.00 and doubled them at the edge of town.) and we felt that people would find the coinage inconvenient. So we charged them a pound to help them. (Laugh!) Many people where already paying 50/1.00 as they did not have the correct change and the machines do not dispense change. If people are overpaying that suggests one thing, and that is coinage.
    Spoken like a true politician!

  35. Robert Lobell
    April 20, 2008

    Dear John,
    I only found your website by accident (would you believe I was looking up references to Lambert Simnel and the origin of simnel cakes!) however I found it a good site and welcome the fact that you engage with the public through your blogs. Concerning the parking charges debate, I agree with at least one of correspondents who notes that many of the ticket machines do not dispense change so that one is obliged to buy time that one cannot necessarily totally consume. My economic logic leads me to the conclusion that if I have bought a product (parking time) and I do not consume all of that product personally then I have the right to pass on the unused portion to whom I choose. This logic may or may not conform to the parking byelaws but then I would question their legality under English Common law. All this sounds a bit pompous I daresay but from such little beginnings are great tyrannies often built. I wish you well with your ventures.
    Robert Lobell, Lancashire

    Reply: yes, I agree.

  36. yoon
    July 9, 2008

    here in belgium, I don't know about the laws of tickettransfer.
    but, i think it's just another crappy law, for the state to rearn more money.
    I mean you pay rent for using a parkingspace for a limited time.
    and if you pull out earlier, the time is still paid for. why not give it to someone else, it makes them not spend unnecessary money, and you didn't just threw ur money away.
    that law just makes their profits go up.

    some laws need to be reconsiderd i guess.

    think about it:p
    transfering tickets may make the world a better place:p

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