Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, looks a kindly soul. Politically astute, too. He is offering the nation’s hard-pressed motorists a little bonus just in time for the general election: 10 minutes’ grace to overstay their parking.
Given the disproportionate scale of parking fines, and given that many a driver is made late because of some emergency or bad luck, such flexibility is extremely welcome. The Conservatives promised to end the “war on the motorist”; this is at least part of that pledge being delivered.
Mr Pickles is right to want to end the culture of vindictive, over-complicated and restrictive parking rules, and over-zealous, occasionally sadistic enforcement. Some enlightened councils have instructed their subcontractor’s wardens to show humanity. Too many wardens are still being paid according to the number of tickets they issue, with nasty consequences.
Yet the flaw in the plan is obvious: human nature. Many will simply add 10 minutes to their allotted parking span, and plan their activities accordingly. Thus will the period of “grace” turn into an entitlement. In which case, another warm-hearted government minister will have to come along and make the 10 minutes into 20. And so on.
This is also one very good reason why the motorway speed limit shouldn’t be lifted from 70mph (meaning people drive at 80mph) to 80mph (in which case they would travel at 90mph). Similarly with the deadline for filling in a tax return or returning a library book. Adding further periods of “grace” simply means more people miss the new deadline.
Sooner or later a limit must mean a limit, though one hopes there should always be some room for discretion and judgement. However, this quality of mercy, rarely glimpsed in most bureaucracies, is not something that even Mr Pickles can induce across the many organs of the British state.