§ `(1) Where a constable finds a vehicle on a road which has been permitted to remain at rest there in contravention of any prohibition or restriction imposed by or under any enactment, he may—
- (a) fix an immobilisation device to the vehicle while it remains in the place in which he finds it; or
- (b) move it from that place to another place on the same or another road and fix an immobilisation device to it in that other place.
§ (2) On any occasion when a constable fixes an immobilisation device to a vehicle in accordance with this section he shall also affix to the vehicle a notice—
- (a) indicating that such a device has been fixed to the vehicle and warning that no attempt should be made to drive it or otherwise put it in motion until it has been released from that device;
- (b) specifying the steps to be taken in order to secure its release; and
- (c) giving such other information as may be prescribed.
§ (3) A vehicle to which an immobilisation device has been fixed in accordance with this section may only be released from that device by a constable.
§ (4) Subject to subsection (3) above, a vehicle to which an immobilisation device has been fixed in accordance with this section shall be released from that device on payment in any manner specified in the notice affixed to the vehicle under subsection (2) above of such charge in respect of the release as may be prescribed.
§ (5) A constable may authorise another person to take under his direction any action that the constable has power to take for the purposes of this section, and any action so taken shall be regarded for those purposes as taken by the constable.
§ (6) A notice affixed to a vehicle under this section shall not be removed or interfered with except by or under the authority of the person in charge of the vehicle or the person by whom it was put in the place where it was found by the constable; and any person contravening this subsection shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £50.
§ (7) Any person who, withsout being authorised to do so in accordance with this section, removes or attempts to remove an immobilisation device fixed to a vehicle in accordance with this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.
§ (8) Where a vehicle is moved in accordance with this section before an immobilisation device is fixed to it, any power of removal under regulations for the time being in force under section 20 of the 1967 Act (removal of vehicles illegally parked etc.) which was exercisable in relation to that vehicle immediately before it was so moved shall continue to be exercisable in relation to that vehicle while it remains in the place to which it was so moved.
§ (9) In relation to any vehicle which is removed in pursuance of any such regulations or under section 3 of the Refuse Disposal 675 (Amenity) Act 1978 (duty of local authority to remove abandoned vehicles) from a place to which it was moved in accordance with this section, references in the definition of "person responsible" in section 52 of the 1967 Act and section 5 of the Act of 1978 mentioned above (recovery from person responsible of charges and expenses in respect of vehicles removed) to the place from which the vehicle was removed shall be read as references to the place in which it was immediately before it was moved in accordance with this section.
§ (10)In this section "immobilisation device" means anything designed or adapted to be fixed to a vehicle for the purpose of preventing it from being driven or otherwise put in motion.
§ (11) Any sum received by virtue of subsection (4) above shall be paid into the police fund.
§ (12) This section shall extend only to such areas as the Secretary of State may by order specify'.
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Howell)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
With this, it will be convenient to take the following: As an amendment to the proposed new clause: (a) line at end insert`(13) The Secretary of State shall not extend this section to an area unless requested to do so by the local authority for the area.'.Government amendment No. 66.
§ Mr. Howell
This clause will allow the police, in selected areas specified in regulations, to immobilise illegally parked vehicles by fitting them with wheel clamps. As with the existing vehicle removal powers, the driver must go to a police station or pound and pay for the release of the vehicle. The cost and the inconvenience involved will, we believe, act as a serious deterrent to the minority of antisocial drivers, who add to the appalling congestion faced by law-abiding road users in central London and who have no respect for existing penalties.
The clause is a response to a strong plea from the Metropolitan Police, supported by the GLC and the London boroughs, that they should be allowed to use wheel clamps experimentally. I must confess that I have taken a good deal of persuading to introduce the measure and I have decided to do so only after widespread consultations with the GLC and the London boroughs, the Metropolitan Police, the motoring organisations and the general public.
I realise that the first suggestion may be that immobilising a vehicle will not reduce congestion. Of course, the police will not clamp vehicles that are causing serious obstruction. They will remove them as they do now. But the two great advantages of immobilisation as a deterrent are that it is much quicker and less labour-intensive than removal—an important factor when police manpower is scarce—and that it leaves the immobilised car on view as an effective warning to other drivers tempted to park illegally.
The clause will enable me to authorise the police to use clamps experimentally in certain areas, and we shall monitor the results carefully to make sure that the device achieves the results we hope for. It seems to work well in some American and European cities but we wish to be sure that it is right for London.
If it works it will lead to less congestion and quicker turnover at meters, which are gains worth having. It will also ensure that off-street parking facilities are more fully 676 used because drivers will no longer have the alternative, which is cheap to them but expensive to other road users, of parking freely and illegally on the street. It will thus restore the balance between the use of roads for movement and the legitimate needs of motorists for short-term parking and access. To strengthen that balance the GLC has agreed, at my request, to review the supply of short-term parking in central London. It has taken the matter up with the boroughs concerned and Westminster has already made a positive response.
Wheel clamps are not the only step that we are taking to reduce traffic congestion in central London by tackling the growing problem of illegal parking. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is determined to support the efforts of the Metropolitan Police to sustain the gradual improvement in the recruitment of traffic wardens, and has recently announced an increase in the fixed penalty for parking offences to £10. The improvements to the fixed penalty system in part III of the Bill will make it much more difficult to ignore fixed penalty notices. They will be enforced as fines, unless the driver or vehicle owner makes a specific request for a court hearing, rather than simply being allowed to lapse after six months.
The motoring organisations have suggested that those more conventional means of enforcement should be allowed to work through before more drastic measures are tried. I have pondered that proposition and come to the reluctant conclusion that the problem is more urgent than that, and that the effects of illegal parking are too severe. We must allow the police the means to do the job.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
My right hon. Friend has on about five occasions used the expressions "central London", "London" and "the Metropolitan Police", but that is not what the new clause says. Will he make it plain that he has no intention of establishing the system in any other part of Britain? Has he received a request from police forces in other parts of Britain for it?
§ Mr. Howell
I have not received requests from other police forces and the intention is to designate only limited areas in the Metropolitan Police district where there is widespread and persistent illegal parking. I shall reinforce that point when I deal with the schedules and the method by which designation is proposed, which is by order.
The case that has been made for wheel clamps is strong enough to justify an experiment. I have used the word "experiment" more than once in introducing the clause, and that is very much the spirit in which we are introducing the matter. I have consulted widely and there is substantial support. Subsection 12 restricts the application of the clause to specific areas designated by order. I intend to designate only limited areas in the Metropolitan Police district where there is widespread and persistent illegal parking. The results will be carefully monitored and I can revoke the orders if the experiment is not a success.
It may be that if wheel clamps prove to be effective in the Metropolitan Police district there are other parts of the country where the police should have the option of using them, but the initial trials will be in London. Amendment (a) would prevent the designation of any areas unless the local authority had so requested. I would certainly not expect to make orders without consultation with local police and highway authorities. But the effect of the amendment would be to give the local authority—I am not 677 sure from the amendment whether it will be the borough or the district—a complete veto over implementation of the power in any area, notwithstanding the views of the local police. I do not accept that that is desirable. Any designation will be by statutory instrument subject to negative resolution, so the House will have the opportunity to consider it.
As this is an important issue and there are worries about the way in which the designations are made, I shall take a little of the House's time in going through the details of the clause.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
My right hon. Friend said several times—I sympathies with his point—that he is putting forward experimental propositions. However, I see nothing experimental in the clause. It appears to be permanent legislation. In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend say that the proposition should be experimental and should lapse after 12 months unless it is renewed by an affirmative resolution of the House? I could go much further if I felt that the matter could be reviewed by the House of Commons after 12 months.
§ Mr. Howell
I would expect there to be a review after 12 months of the effectiveness of the experiment to see whether it had achieved the right results. As to my hon. and learned Friend's request, I am not convinced that it would be right to put a time limit in the clause, but I am happy to make it clear that there will be a period of about 12 months during which the experiment will run, after which it would be in order for the House to debate whether the order designating their use in the Metropolitan Police district should be revoked. There would be an opportunity for that debate to take place under the negative resolution procedure.
I turn now to the clause in detail. Subsection (1) allows wide discretion to the police to select vehicles for immobilisation. The vehicle must be illegally parked and only the police or civilian staff acting under their direct supervision will be allowed to immobilise the vehicle. There is no intention of immobilising vehicles that are causing danger or direct obstruction to traffic flow. These will either be removed under existing vehicle powers or repositioned, as subsection (1)(a) allows, to a place on the road where they can be immobilised safely.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
Will my right hon. Friend explain to the House who will be given the authority to do the work of the police? Does he envisage some civilian group concentrated on central London—a traffic warden system or a completely separate body?
§ Mr. Howell
The position will be very similar to the present vehicle removal system, under which authorised civilians act under close police supervision.
§ Mr. Howell
"Civilian" is defined exactly as under the provisions for vehicle removal, but I shall give my hon. Friend the precise words later. The position is exactly the same as under existing vehicle removal powers.
§ Mr. Ogden
The right hon. Gentleman said that if the vehicle was causing a dangerous obstruction, it would be removed to another place and there immobilised. At the moment if 1 leave my car in the wrong place and it is removed, a notice is left and I would know where to go 678 to collect it. How shall I know where to look for m). car if it has been removed to another place and there immobilised?
§ Mr. Howell
I shall come to that point in a moment. I emphasise to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) that the procedure is the same as that for existing vehicle removal and those who carry out the vehicle removal under police supervision will be authorised vehicle removal officers, just as under the present system for removing motor cars.
Subsection (2) requires the police to fix a warning notice to any vehicle that they have immobilised. The police have assured me that there is very little risk of damage caused by these devices unless an attempt is made to drive the car, and warning notices will be placed prominently. The notices will also advise the driver what steps he should take to have the device removed.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
What happens if, as sometimes happens with parking tickets, somebody else removes the notice fixed to the windscreen? The driver may then try to drive the car away, causing a considerable amount of damage to that vehicle. Who would be responsible for the cost of repairing the vehicle?
§ Mr. Howell
It is an offence to remove any such notice. The notices will be very prominently and securely fixed and that is provided for in the proposed legislation. I shall return to some of the detailed questions, including the question of liability for damage, after continuing with a detailed account of the provisions under the subsection.
Under subsection (4), the charge for release will, like the removal charge, be set by order. The intention will be to set it at a level sufficient to cover police costs. 1 expect the initial charge to be in the region of £15 to £20, but a further assessment of current costs will need to be made before the scheme is introduced.
Subsection (5)allows people acting under police direction to assist in immobilisation operations. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test raised chat point. Again, the analogy is with the police powers of vehicle removal, where civilian removal officers ray carry out tasks under the supervision of a constable. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), subsection (6) makes it an offence to tamper with notices placed on the vehicle as required by subsection (2). Subsection (7) makes unauthorised attempts to remove the device an offence. Subsections (8) and (9) are technical provisions to ensure that the police will be able to remove an immobilised vehicle from a road—for instance at the end of the day—and charge the owner or driver under the vehicle removal regulations, notwithstanding that it may have been repositioned by the police under subsection 1(b) before clamping.
Subsection (10) provides a broad definition of immobilisation devices. I do not intend to take powers of ministerial or departmental approval for these devices; they are not mechanically complex, and I believe that the responsibility for assuring their effectiveness and safety is best left to the police. Subsection (11) provides that immobilisation charges will be paid to the police funds. They are not fines, but administration charges to cover costs.
§ Mr. Howell
Diplomatic vehicles have caused and cause problems. However, there is a lot of illegal parking. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware that illegal parking extends far beyond diplomatic offenders and embraces many of those who calculate that it is cheaper to park anywhere and to risk a fine than to look for off-street parking. Therefore, the provision will affect many more than merely those who have diplomatic protection.
Subsection (12) allows ministerial and parliamentary control over the areas in which the devices are used. As I made clear, there is no provision for a fixed period experiment, but the powers can at any stage be withdrawn by regulation. I commend the new clause to the House. I realise that immobilisation is not an attractive prospect and wish that it was not necessary. But traffic conditions in central London are now so bad and illegal parking is so widespread, that—in the interests of motorists and those who make legitimate use of the road—it is right to give the police that new power, so that its effectiveness can be carefully monitored in the proposed experimental phase.
§ Mr. Stott
Judging by the number of Conservative Members who rose in their places to speak after the Secretary of State had concluded his speech, the right hon. Gentleman may find it difficult to persuade his hon. Friends about the virtue of introducing the experiment on wheel clamps. Personally, I believe that the Secretary of State has been courageous to introduce such a new clause.
I readily accept that some think that the new clause will be an unpopular measure. Some may well argue that it represents a dimunition of civil liberties. However, I believe that the Secretary of State has grasped the nettle. The problem has caused the GLC great concern. When the GLC was Conservative controlled, under Sir Horace Cutler, it made the same representations to the Government about wheel clamps as it has made under the control of Ken Livingstone.
The GLC and the Metropolitan Police are in absolute accord on this issue. The reason—the Secretary of State did not go into detail—is that there are appalling problems of illegal parking in central London. The scale of the problem is such that four in every five cars parked in central London streets during a normal working day are contravening a regulation of some form or another. These estimates are confirmed by two independent reports which put the number of illegal parking acts per day in central London at about one-third of a million. The present enforcement system is unable to cope with such a rate of illegal parking.
In spite of increased wages and improved conditions of service for wardens, their strength stands at a little over 1,300. Current regulations make it impossible for warders adequately to carry out their responsibilities with regard to illegal parking. [HON. MEMBERS: "Warders?"]. Wardens—it must be my Lancastrian accent. Even so, accepting that we do not have enough wardens, they issue about 6,000 fixed penalty notices a day. However, even when tickets are issued the chances of evading payment 680 are high. Approximately 10 per cent. of motorists pay their fines without reminders. A further 40 per cent. do so only when asked for the driver's name and address. The courts are now so clogged up that only 9 per cent. of the remainder have their cases heard in court and pay fines. For a motorist who illegally parks on a central London street with the intent of evading payment, the possibility of being caught and successfully prosecuted for his offence is less than one in 1,000. It is, therefore, not surprising that illegal parking occurs on such a massive scale.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
I have certain reservations about the new clause. I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He is making a case for doing something about the situation in London. However, the new clause applies to the whole country, although the same problems do not exist in other parts of the country. Almost every road in London is a through road. In other parts of the country, in the small and middle-sized towns, we do not have the same problem. If the new clause is accepted, it will apply outside London. There will be no parking on double yellow lines after six o'clock and cars will be towed away. That is not acceptable to the rest of the country. A special Bill for London is required to deal with the problem.
§ Mr. Stott
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) says that a special Bill is required. Unfortunately, I am sitting on the wrong side of the Chamber to effect such a measure. The hon. Gentleman made a fair point. However, I am making preliminary reference to the problems of London, against which the Secretary of State said the main body of the new clause is directed.
Illegal parking is having numerous consequences: difficulties for local access, lack of short-term parking for business people and shoppers on the main thoroughfares, increased congestion, delays for goods vehicles, disruption of bus services and delays for bus passengers. I am advised by the GLC that on some occasions illegally parked vehicles have delayed fire engines, with disastrous consequences. The scale of the problem has prompted the view that such blatant disregard of traffic regulations is bringing some elements of the law, possibly the more important, into disrepute.
§ Mr. Stott
I assume that one of the reasons for bringing forward the new clause is to persuade people that it is not in their interests to park illegally. It has a deterrent effect. If we can deter motorists from parking illegally, the difficulties encountered by fire engines not being able to get through to fires will disappear. Therefore, it is worth having this provision in the Bill on an experimental basis. After 12 months the experiment can be evaluated to see whether there has been any marked difference in illegal parking in London.
Hon. Gentlemen who are opposed to the provision, perhaps for very good reasons, must understand that, unless something is done, we shall have a continuing problem in central London. They must have experienced the problem at some stage. One of the ways that the GLC and the Metropolitan Police believe that they can attack 681 illegal parking is by introducing, on an experimental basis, the possibility of illegally parked cars being immobilised with wheel clamps.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you be good enough to look at amendment (a) to the new clause which states:(13) The Secretary of State shall not extend this section to an area unless requested to do so by the local authority for the area.".I understand that that amendment has been called for discussion with the new clause. May we have two Divisions—one on the clause and one on the amendment?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The amendment is being discussed with the new clause. It will be called at the appropriate moment if a Division is requested by the House.
§ Mr. Stott
I assume that that provision can be included in any regulation that the Secretary of State may bring forward. I would have no objection to that. However, on the principle of the new clause, I believe that the House should consider what the Secretary of State said. I thought that he made his case. Something needs to be done about the continuing high rate of illegal parking in central London.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford asked about the effect of the new clause in other places. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) raised that issue with the Secretary of State. I agree that the new clause does not state that it is an experiment. It is not implicit that the Secretary of State wishes to take powers for an experiment in central London only. The right hon. Gentleman will have to make that clear in any regulations that he brings forward.
Our amendment, which Mr. Deputy Speaker has indicated could be called for a Division, would provide:The Secretary of State shall not extend this section to an area unless requested to do so by the local authority for the area".The Secretary of State has indicated that he is not keen on that idea. I am informed that the amendment may be technically defective in that, instead of referring to "the local authority", it should refer to the "traffic regulatory authority". If so, that would be a sensible amendment. I do not believe that the Secretary of State should grant powers wholesale outside the capital city unless specifically requested to do so by the local authority and local police forces concerned. If they recommended such action, because they had a similar problem to that in the capital city, perhaps the Secretary of State could issue instructions under the regulations for wheel clamps to be made available in other parts of the United Kingdom. However, initially, the Secretary of State ought not to be given that power, unless it is called for by the local authority.
I recognise that the amendment may be technically defective but I should be prepared to push the issue to a Division to establish the principle. The Bill could then be amended correctly in another place. Certainly as an 682 individual Member of Parliament, not as an Opposition spokesman, I give the Secretary of State my support for what he is endeavouring to do.
§ Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)
I shall make an extremely brief intervention, because I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak. I very much regret that my right hon. Friend has introduced the new clause. It is a totally un-British idea which is highly unlikely to improve relations between motorists and the police. In fact, it is likely to make them very much worse.
Of course we all deplore illegal parking. It is extremely bad, but other parts of the Bill try to deal with the problem of fixed penalties. For three years, between 1968 and 1971, I served on the Westminster City council and we spent the whole of that time trying to get an increase in meter charges through the GLC. Such an increase had still not gone through at the end of those three years, even though the request had been made at the beginning of that period, because of the bureaucratic difficulties that then existed and which, for all I know, still exist.
The new clause certainly cannot be justified on the grounds of improving traffic flow. It is absolutely certain that an immobilised vehicle with a clamp on it will not improve traffic flow. Therefore, the argument is entirely one of deterrence, but what my right hon. Friend is suggesting is a high price to pay.
As several of my hon. Friends have said, including my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), the fact that my right hon. Friend gives assurances about what he is prepared to do is not what the new clause says. It states in subsection (12):This section shall extend only to such areas as the Secretary of State may by order specify".I envisage the possibility, particularly if the scheme is introduced in London, of these ugly brutes spreading to other parts of the country. We do not want them in Leicestershire. If my right hon. Friend introduces proposals such as this, he will get a pretty frosty reception from Conservative Members. He should concentrate on getting the existing system working properly. He should not bring forward these totally undesirable new powers, which will only add to the poor relations that exist in some areas between motorists and the police.
§ Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)
Reference has been made to the way in which new clauses have be en presented which seek to improve on proposals which were made in Committee.
The genesis of the new clause was a discussion in Committee on wheel clamps. At the outset I expressed my concern at the phraseology. We are no longer talking about wheel clamps, but about "an immobilisation device". I notice that subsection (10) does not describe such a device as a wheel clamp, which my right hon. Friend did in his opening remarks. Itmeans anything designed or adapted to be fixed to a vehicle for the purpose of preventing it from being driven or otherwise put in motion".What kind of devilish, fiendish devices could possibly be thought up that would prevent a vehicle from moving?
The House should not be under the impression that it is voting either for or against wheel clamps. It is voting for or against anything that can stop a vehicle from being removed. I have the strongest objections to wheel clamps, but I have even stronger objections to unnamed, unknown devices that might be introduced at a later stage.
683 5.45 pm
My objection to the use of such devices is that they are unlikely to lead to an improvement in traffic flow. If a vehicle is clamped, it will almost certainly stay in that location for longer than even the "legal" illegal parker intended. That cannot be helpful. If the vehicle is parked in a dangerous place, obviously it should be removed and taken to a pound where it will be protected. If a vehicle is moved from A to B, which happens to be the best alternative space, what responsibility will arise if the car is involved in an accident, is scraped by another vehicle or is found by a different policeman to be causing an obstruction? If a vehicle is parked in a place where it is causing danger, it should be removed to a place where it will be safe and secure until the motorist can reclaim it.
My second objection to the use of these devices is the potential for damage to vehicles. Nowadays many motorcars are fitted with expensive alloy wheels. Some have front wheel drive and power steering. The combination of those and the wheel clamp could result in an expensive disaster if, for any reason, the notice warning the driver that his vehicle had been immobilised was either not seen, not read, or misunderstood. Such a warning could obviously be removed by vandals. If it is stuck to the windscreen with cellotape, it could be removed by rain. If the driver happens to be a foreigner who speaks only Serbo-Croat—I in no way discriminate against SerboCroats—he may assume that it is a fixed penalty parking fine. He may not realise that a potentially dangerous device has been fixed to his car.
I take the strongest objection to the Secretary of State's comment that a clamped vehicle might in some way be an example to others. That used to be said about public hangings. If it was meant as a serious comment, it is not the kind of policy that I wish the Government to follow, especially as we are talking about a delicate relationship between the police and that large section of the public who happen to be motorists.
There is a fine balance in the relationship between the police and the motorist. Although I in no way condone illegal parking or any other kind of offence involving a motor vehicle, I believe that we must be careful lest the role of the police is seen as that of the persecutor of the motor vehicle.
That brings me to my final objection. Under our law, one normally assumes that punishments will either be fixed penalties or will be decided by a court of law. The use of wheel clamps leaves an opportunity for the punishment for the offence to be infinitely varied. If I find that my car has been clamped and I go to the appointed place and ask that it be released, I do not assume that the constable will always be standing there waiting for me and ready to release my car at that moment. I might wait for half an hour or an hour. Let us suppose that I belong to a minority community and I am kept waiting for an hour or two hours. I wonder whether the assumption on some occasions will be that the individual motorist is being discriminated against in one way or another. That seems to be highly undesirable.
The penalty should be fixed. It should be a certain fine. It should not be the case that one person's car will stand there for one hour after he has asked for it to be released, but someone else's is released more quickly.
§ Mr. Griffiths
My hon. Friend's point is extremely important. There will be selectivity between vehicles that are illegally parked and are clamped, and those that are not. It will be a matter of decision by the individual constable. Those who find that their cars have been clamped will point to another vehicle across the road that has not and say: "This is unfair. I am being discriminated against." The blame will fall on the police.
I have always been a firm supporter of police powers, but I believe that when those powers are used they should be seen to be used in the fairest possible way. The introduction of the clause into this otherwise valuable and useful Bill, to which I gave the fullest support in Committee, is a retrograde step for relations with the police. It will not help to solve the problem that has been so graphically described on both sides of the House. Therefore, I believe that the new clause should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that because one person breaks the law, someone else should be allowed to do so at the same time? I do not know what his experience is. Having travelled on the Continent, I know that the French put on clamps. It is not just a question of paying the fine. People must go to the police station, pay the fine and wait for a considerable period before their cars are unclamped. I am not saying that that it necessarily right. I am not suggesting that people who are breaking the law should not be penalised, or that having broken the same law as someone else they should not be penalised to the same extent as that person. If people break the law, they must accept the consequences.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. No one wants to excuse one person from committing an offence for which someone else is being faced with a fixed penalty or is being punished. I am suggesting that the use of wheel clamps implies that that is what will happen. That is one of my objections. Anyone who has experience of parking in Paris will know the ineffectiveness of the clamp that is used in that city. There is still massive illegal parking all over the pavements, day and night.
I wish that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would withdraw the new clause. If not, I trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will show their complete disapproval of the measure in principle. I trust that there will be sufficient number of right hon. and hon. Members to give the Government cause to rethink this action, which will undoubtedly damage relations between the police and the motorist for many years to come.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
This device is a deterrent. The way in which it is to be implemented is dictatorial. The powers are draconian. The conduct permitted under it, as I shall show, is diabolical. It has no merit of any kind. I shall show an alternative way of getting control.
I shall vote against the new clause. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Scott) seeks to limit the clause to the area that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State described as being intended, which is central London. I am not sure what is meant by that, but I think that it means the Westminster city council area. That is more than sufficient for the experiment.
685 Almost everything is wrong with the new clause, either legally or in some other way. First, it does not convey what it intends to do. It is not experimental. It gives no control over the period. It is not specific. It encompasses the whole nation, when it is intended to encompass a small part of Mayfair—not the City of London, but a small part of the county of London. It is wholly unnecessary for the City of London. It is not necessary in Chelsea, Fulham, Bermondsey, Rotherhithe or Bromley. If it is necessary to take any measures at all, broadly speaking they should be for the environs of Westminster city council.
The first thing that is wrong with the clause is that action to deal with any contravention is entirely at the discretion of the constable concerned. That is wrong. If one is guilty of overstaying one's welcome due to circumstances beyond one's control, one may find that one's car has been imprisoned. That is wrong. If someone has been guilty of flagrant and persistent contravention it may be said that it is right to imprison the car, but it is not.
A newcomer or tourist in London for the first time, with a rented or hired car, and who is totally unaware of the law, may find that his car has been clamped. He may find that an immobilisation device has been attached to it. Under subsection (10), any diabolical invention of the future can become an immobilisation device. The new clause does not describe the device. As a matter of law—speaking under that hat for the moment—it is fundamental that there should be laid down—the Ministry should know this well, and whoever drafted the new clause wants a good first-class walloping——
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
It would be appropriate to put the clamp on the author of the new clause. An immobilisation device meansanything designed or adapted to be fixed to a vehicle for the purpose of preventing it from being driven".Specific regulations should be laid down prescribing the precise nature of the device. That is important, because the device may be changed and a different one may be put on. We want to know exactly what that device is. That should be for regulation by the Secretary of State.
The same is true of subsection (12), which states:This section shall extend only to such areas as the Secretary of State may by order specify—It should be made specific that the measure is experimental, for the purposes of encouraging and considering the matter within an area to be prescribed, which would be stated by the Secretary of State.
One of the most draconian and diabolical powers is that it is proposed not to move the car to the pound where the vehicle will be safe, but, apparently, to move it further along the same road or to another one where the immobilisation device can be fixed. That means that the owner of the car will not know to where his car has been moved. It may be in the next road or in any other one.
Owners will report their car as stolen. It will involve an immeasurable waste of police time, merely to track down the police officer who moved the car—if it was a police officer who did. It may be found that it was not a police officer who moved the car. It could be any other authorised person. Subsection (5) allows a constable to authorise another person to take the vehicle under his direction. The other person does not necessarily have to 686 be a parking attendant. The provision is not limited to one of the civilians who are employed by the police. It is not even limited to a traffic warden. It could be anyone.
It may be decided to immobilise illegally parked cars in the West End. It may be best to employ the AA or the RAC. At least the process would be carried out sensibly. But that is not intended. The person who applies the immobilisation device does not have to be a police constable, still less a police constable in uniform. If the device is applied by someone else, it might be found that the car is moved, but not to a pound.
If a car is moved, but not to a pound, and the vehicle happens to be a valuable Rolls-Royce, there will be an action for substantial damages against the Secretary of State for causing the vehicle to be removed and having it parked in another road. That is in spite of his being entitled to do so. The action for damages will occur because the car is damaged. The action for damages will, presumably, be against the Commissioner of Police if the police authorised the car's removal.
It is the unfortunate police who will get involved in the matter. There is bound to be damage. It will not just he caused by the immobilisation device. A device that does not cause damage can be invented and established—I hope that it will—but damage there will be. If the car is moved and damage is done, there will be an argument about whether the damage was done by a vandal, a thief, the police or by the person authorised by the police to move it. In each event, the arrangement is unsatisfactory.
The next stage is when the vehicle has been clamped. It can then be released only by a constable. Talk of conduct unbefitting a constable or a gentleman! If the vehicle is to be released only by a constable, what happens if it is removed by someone who is not a constable? The owner, therefore, does not know where the car is. The only way to retrieve the car is to go to the police station and get the constable concerned. He must then get his key to release the car. Why should that not be done by the person who authorised the clamp in the first place? The whole matter has not been thought out properly. The last person that one wants to have to release the car is a constable.
I shall pass by subsection (4), as it is the only one with which I have no complaint.
Under subsection (5), we must define much more clearly than has been done, the person who is authorised to take vehicles under his direction. There remains the question of notices for fines and the area involved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) said that the clamp and things of that type are not necessary in his charming little town. Nor do we need them in Thanet. We do not have the problem, and are never likely to.
I shall now deal with various courses of action that could satisfactorily be taken. We must establish the problem. The problem is in about 1 square mile of central London. It is a problem of many people deliberately flouting the law and parking cars. Three things can be done. First, we can take the police right out of the matter. Make the people who park illegally pay for it. The police should not be brought in at all.
Secondly, the AA and the RAC should be brought into discussions and a cadre should be authorised by the Commissioner of Police to remove cars to safer places. Thirdly, the cost of the removal, plus a reasonable 687 percentage, should be charged for removing and impounding the cars. That should be done on a large scale, employing many people who know about cars.
The AA and the RAC should be drawn in. Civilians should be allowed to take over the scheme. The police should not be involved in what is, for them, an unpleasant duty. They have plenty to do elsewhere. I can think of nothing that makes the police more unpopular than their involvement with all types of motoring offences. Perhaps the traffic police could be seconded to a special corps to ensure that the traffic problem in central London is removed. The problem can be solved by taking away, impounding and higher fines.
Westminster city council and others should be told to install more parking meters. In almost every square there are many blank spaces. They should either be resident parking or meter parking spaces.
Finally, there should be a law to stop commercial vehicles and delivery vans from delivering between 10 am and 5 pm. They are the biggest nuisance of all.
§ Mr. Fry
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows that I took a pretty dim view of the Bill on Second Reading. New clause 4 fills me with horror and has my complete opposition. It is wrong to introduce such a controversial proposal at the present stage of the Bill. It is already obvious that there is deep disquiet on this side of the House about it. The matter should have been debated for some time and in great detail. It should not have been produced on Report. I hope that if, by some mischance, the new clause is approved, sager counsels will prevail in another place, that they will throw it out and that the House will have a second bite at the cherry.
I have been a member of the Select Committee on Transport examining the problems of Greater London for about a year to eighteen months. One aspect that the Committee examined was the enormous problem of parking. The main cause of the problem is the failure of public authorities properly to carry out their responsibilities. There is a complete lack of provision for off-street parking. Indeed, policy has vacillated from one extreme to the other. At one point, firms are asked to provide parking space and at another they are prevented from doing so.
The Metropolitan Police are unable to enforce the existing regulations. It is reasonable for the motorist and those who represent him to say that they pay their track cost two or three times through contributions to the national Exchequer. Therefore, it is concluded that he is entitled to some consideration when he must bring his car into central London. None of us wishes to encourage the motorist who flagrantly illegally parks his car. Every investigation of movements of traffic in London, however, shows that the vast majority of people already come by public transport and that, by and large, particularly during working hours, those who bring their cars need to do so. What is the solution offered by the GLC, the Metropolitan Police and now my right hon. Friend? It is the use of an immobilising device that will make the motorist's life even more of a misery. A great many things could and should be done to enforce the existing laws and the existing responsibilities of police and local authorities alike.
I understand the pressure that has been put on my right hon. Friend. Nevertheless, like my colleagues, I believe 688 that the way in which the new clause has been drafted is totally unsatisfactory. For example, my right hon. Friend talks of an experiment. As has been said, there is no clear indication in the new clause that it is experimental. What is more, all those who made representations about this matter have stressed that it is the persistent offender who should be penalised. There is nothing in the clause to suggest that only the persistent offender will be penalised. Indeed, the only way to discover whether a person is a persistent offender is for the police to check with the licensing department and go through a whole rigmarole which would be very expensive administratively. Moreover, the RAC has made it clear to me that vehicles that are towed away at present have often only just outstayed the time limit on a parking meter, so the drivers are hardly causing a major obstruction of traffic or are guilty of a heinous offence.
Therefore, while I believe that my right hon. Friend was right to consider this alternative, I believe that he should have rejected the Bill as a means of introducing it. Many criticisms will be levelled at him today, and I have much sympathy with him on that score. At the end of the day, however, he will be judged on whether the device will help to solve the problem. So far, I have heard not one word of proof that bringing in such devices, whether they be wheel clamps or anything else, will necessarily improve the situation. Indeed, it has been pointed out that in Paris, where clamps are used, the parking situation is still appalling.
At the end of the day, therefore, my right hon. Friend must prove to the House that, despite the views of the GLC and the Metropolitan Police—incidentally, they are less than encouraging about increasing the number of traffic wardens—this proposal would improve the situation. There has been no indication that the situation would be one jot better—unless my right hon. Friend tells us that thousands of clamps will be used indiscriminately all over central London, but I do not think that he is seriously suggesting that. In effect, he is suggesting that there will be an element of fear, so that the driver may feel that he might be the unlucky one if he parks his car in the wrong place for five minutes too long.
I ask my right hon. Friend earnestly to consider the attitude of the motorist and the trouble that may be caused to the police force. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott), by a slip of the tongue, referred to traffic wardens as "warders". That was perhaps a Freudian slip, as the motorist often feels that that is how he is treated by the local authority. I never thought that a Conservative Government would appear to be following that line.
It is clear that before the new clause is considered it needs to be thought out far more. I very much liked the proposal put forward by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) that far more towing away should take place. The means to improve the situation already exist. We shall not improve it by thinking up and introducing some new gimmick which will merely alienate the motorist.
The phraseology of the new clause is certainly clumsy. The AA is right to say that the nature of any device used should be laid down in regulations and approved. In another area of activity in which the motorist and the police come into conflict—the use of various devices to check speed—there has been great doubt as to the 689 efficiency of some of the devices. It would be most unfortunate if immobilising devices led to a further area of doubt about the type of appliance to be used. If my right hon. Friend is to bring in legislation of this kind, there is an obligation clearly to lay down regulations and not to leave the matter to the police.
Finally, if there is to be an experimental area in central London, it should be clearly defined as such. Then, at least, those of us who do not have to live in central London or represent London constituencies would not feel threatened by the legislation.
Therefore, although the Opposition amendment may be defective, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that it is moved in the right spirit and that the principle is right. I assure him that, unless I receive some very satisfactory answers, I shall not merely not vote for the clause but actively vote against it.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
First, I regret that I did not hear the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I had constituents to see and the clause was reached rather more speedily than I had expected. I shall not hold up the debate, as I intend to be brief.
When I read the new clause, I could hardly believe that it could have gone through the Committee. I then realised that it had not been adequately discussed in Committee. I do not believe that it is justified to introduce a clause of this kind on the Floor of the House on Report when it has not been adequately discussed in Committee. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will take it away. I agree with my hon. Friends that it should not be slotted into the Bill at the last minute.
I understand that my right hon. Friend stated that the new clause would refer, in the first instance, only to central London. The emphasis must be on the phrase "in the first instance". It could then be extended to other parts of the country. If the proposal were brought into operation in a particularly bad part of central London, it would be effective in stopping people parking their cars. There is no argument about that. However, as my hon. Friends have said—and I agree—there is surely a better option than this to stop people parking their cars. It is a draconian measure that does not fit Conservative philosophy. Indeed, I find it extraordinary that this proposal has been put forward by a combination of the Conservative and Opposition Front Benches. There seems to be an unholy alliance, and I have a strange feeling that the dominant element in the alliance is Mr. Livingstone and the GLC. That has been suggested more than once. I suggest that my right hon. Friend should not give priority to what Mr. Livingstone wants for central London over the views of Conservatives.
The detail of the clause is quite unbelievable. It provides that the police may take a car and move it from one street to another. What happens if a policeman wants a bit of fun and moves a car from Hampstead to Brixton? It would still be within the Greater London authority. What happens if somebody in Brixton decides to blow the car up or it is involved in a not? Who is to blame? If we give young policemen things to play with, they will play with them.
What will happen if people take their ladies out to a dance or a late-night supper in the West End and park their cars, only to find when they return that there is a clamp on the car because it has been parked in the wrong place? At the moment, police blink their eyes at illegally-parked 690 cars in the West End at night, but it is doubtful whether they would continue to do so if they had the chance to put clamps on the cars.
The clause provides that the police must warn the motorist that there is a clamp on his car. What will happen if a motorist returns to his car in teeming rain without looking at the windscreen and tries to move off sharply?
I do not want to argue the case on behalf of London. If London wants this, let it bring in a private Bill or ask the Minister to bring in an order. It can then be properly debated. We do not want it in Rutland or Stamford. If the measure is started in London and the opportunity is then given to the rest of the country, police constables will think that it is a good idea. Before we know where we are, it will apply nation-wide.
This is taking a hammer to crack a nut. Unfortunately, the subject of the hammer will be the motorist. The police need the support of motorists. They need everybody on their side. We all want to support the police in the difficult problem of dealing with crime. However, to impose on them another duty, which they will then be compelled to carry out, which will annoy hundreds of motorists who are suddenly caught by a device that they feel is un-British, will not make the police popular. It will not enable them to do their proper job——to handle crime. What will happen if somebody discovers a clamp on his car after the tube trains have stopped running? How will he get home?
I find it difficult to understand why the Minister should introduce this measure. I drive a lot in London. I drive to and from the House of Commons. Sometimes I come in at a busy time in the morning. The difficulties of driving through London are grossly exaggerated. There are times when the traffic is not good, but for a capital city the movement of traffic is not bad enough to justify the measure that is sought to be included in the Bill tonight.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
I was amazed when I heard the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) talking about the poor tourist who comes here, unknowingly leaves his car in the wrong place and returns to find it with a clamp on the wheel. There is an old saying—"When in Rome, do as the Romans do." If I go to Saudi Arabia, set up my own distillery, start drinking whisky and having parties, I know that I will be in trouble. Therefore, I will not do it. If I do, I must pay the penalty. Britain has laws, as does every country. We may not like them. Many people do not like them. We have laws that have been temporary for 150 years. Income tax started at threepence in the pound temporarily, but we have still got it.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) was right to say that there are troubles and difficulties. However, it is not right to say that there are no difficulties in getting through the streets. There are. Motorists blatantly break the law. They say that it is not an important law, but that is not for them to decide. Those who break the law must be liable to the penalty. That is what I was taught. If somebody parks on the pavement, in the wrong spot or for longer than he should, he must be liable.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis
I am grateful to my namesake for giving me the chance to mention something that I should have mentioned before. Does the hon. Gentleman realise that when this measure is introduced, of all those who 691 break the car-parking laws in London, it will be the poor bloody British who are towed away while the diplomats——
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
I think that I understood the hon. Gentleman's point. I believe that I can put it in such a way that you, Mr. Speaker, will not object.
Even if the poor Britisher is different from the poor tourist, they are both liable to the same law. They should both know the law. As a youngster, I was taught by a lawyer that ignorance of the law was no excuse or defence. If one's car is parked without lights, it is no good telling the policeman "I did not know that I had to have lights." There is an old story of a lady being driven home by her husband who is pulled up by the police. The policeman told him that he had been driving at 40 miles per hour, to which the driver's wife responded "No, officer. He never drives at more than 30 miles an hour when he is drunk, and I know that he is blind drunk." If a man commits an offence, he must pay the penalty.
Ask any bus driver, lorry driver or car driver about the difficulties of getting through the streets of London. I am concerned that even public service vehicles cannot get through because people ignore the law. People park where they can see that nothing can get through, but they could not care less. Ambulances and fire engines may have only minutes in which to save lives. People who are going to Harrods or Selfridges could park further up the road, but they park just outside. Then along comes an ambulance and it cannot get through. Something must be done. The present system is not working.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Many hon. Members are asking "What about the diplomats?" It is well known that diplomats ignore parking tickets. If their cars were clamped on every occasion, they would pretty soon take notice.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
My hon. Friend has a good point.
I hope that this measure works. I hope that it will come into my constituency. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford probably has not lived in a house where there is only an arm's length between it and the next house, where vehicles are parked outside on the pavement night and day, week after week, preventing children and blind people from walking on the pavements. I hope that this measure works. If it does, I hope that it will be extended. At the moment the law is not working.
You Mr. Speaker, have been a Member of the House for many years. You will know that for 30 years I have raised the question of the road fund licence. Each Government have let the problem go on and on. This Government now say that the situation has got out of hand. The clamp will help. The police will be able to put it on cars and catch some of the people who not only have no road fund licence but invariably no test certificate and/or no insurance, because they go together. Most policemen or traffic wardens take action only when cars have been parked for hours or even days. They will be able to put the clamp on and ask "Where is your road fund licence, 692 insurance and MOT test certificate?" They will have them for the lot. At the moment drivers take the cars away and dodge the lot
§ Mr. Cohen
Does my hon. Friend agree that the right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches, who always claim to represent the police and law and order, are now asking for the police to ignore the law so as to preserve their credibility? That is wrong, and that is the argument that comes across.
§ Mr. Lewis
That is a matter of opinion. My hon. Friend is entitled to his opinion. The police have a different task. Cars are now towed away. The police have to find a van which may be anywhere. It takes time to get it, and it is difficult if they want to have an onslaught on one place. Let me make it clear that the elected representatives of the London boroughs and the GLC have decided that the idea is worth trying. I understand that the police have been consulted and I believe that they are neither for it nor against it.
§ Mrs. Chalker
The Metropolitan Police force has been the strongest advocate in asking for the experiment in a limited area.
§ Mr. Lewis
I was wrongly informed. I was told originally that the Metropolitan Police force was neither for nor against clamps, but that it thought that they were a good idea. What the hon. Lady has said is even better.
We have to work with the police. If hon. Gentlemen say that the idea is wrong, what is the alternative? People do not pay attention to meters. One sees them feeding meters. I have seen the police powerless to act in regard to many dozens of illegally parked cars.
Some unfortunate chap will be caught, but he will not do it again if he has all the problems that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West mentioned. If he gets into his car and drives off without having a look—I do not think that he could—it is just hard luck. If he had not been illegally parked, he would not have had the clamp put on. If he comes out from a night club and starts to drive off without looking and damages his tyres, there will be a bit more for him to pay. Once motorists find the cost beginning to mount, they will say "No, I will not do it again; it is too expensive."
§ Mr. John Grant (Islington, Central)
This is a problem for London and there do not seem to be many London Members present. Does my hon. Friend agree that my constituents do not want to see the police messing about with traffic offences? If there is police manpower and hours to spare, my constituents want it used to deal with crime and vandalism, and not traffic problems.
§ Mr. Lewis
I agree 100 per cent., but the House has made a number of laws, rules and regulations which the police have to enforce. They do not like doing it. It is their job. Those rules and regulations are not working and the House has now come along with a new idea, with the acquiescence of the police. It works in other countries. I believe that it is worth trying.
The scheme is to be tried in a restricted area and if it works it will be extended to the poorer areas of London where people cannot get in and out of their houses. I am pretty sure that if those who are fortunate enough to live in Belgravia had cars parked outside their street doors so 693 that they could not open them, and their windows were blocked, they would be pleased to have something to get rid of the cars.
I support the experiment. I wish it well. If it succeeds, I hope to see the scheme extended throughout London. If we make progress, we shall be doing good to everyone and harm only to the law breakers. They have an easy way out. If they do not break the law, they will not have the clamps put on their vehicles.
§ Mr. Moate
The essence of the case put by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) is that illegal parking takes place on such a scale that he hopes the measure—no matter how draconian—will deal with it. That is the whole case as put by the Opposition Front Bench and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in moving the new clause.
The hon. Gentleman has the problem completely out of proportion. Of course we know that illegal parking takes place on a vast scale throughout the capital, despite the powers and controls that exist and the vast number of parking meters and the powers of the police to tow vehicles away. I can tell him and any other hon. Member who has not been towed away that the prospect of having one's car removed to a car pound, of having to recover it at a cost of about £36 and all the time that it takes, is a pretty powerful deterrent. If that deterrent does not work I do not know why we should assume that immobilisation will be a greater one.
We are introducing one of the nastiest devices possible, which will cause the maximum resentment and have a minuscule effect, if any, upon the parking problem. I do not believe that we could introduce a more objectionable device or one that will cause more resentment towards the police by the motorist and more resentment among my hon. Friends.
The only speeches in support of the clause have been from the Opposition Front Bench and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is sensitive to opinion from behind him. I believe that he knows what reception the proposition has received. I endorse thoroughly the point made by hon. Members earlier urging him to withdraw the proposition and have proper consultations. My right hon. Friend said that there had been consultation. He may well have had consultation with a number of outside bodies, although I deduce that there has not been a completely favourable response. The Automobile Association and the RAC have been against it. My right hon. Friend did not consult me. I should have told him that I was against it. I presume that he did not consult any of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches because they are also against it.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if he is sensitive to opinion—I know that he is—a little more consultation would be fruitful. I understand that the proposal was not debated fully in Committee——
§ Mr. Moate
I was not invited.
The proposal is important and sensitive, yet the new clause was tabled only last Wednesday or Thursday. We have had only a couple of days to consider it, but already much feeling has been generated. My right hon. Friend is lucky that only little notice was given. With more time, I suspect that the opposition would have been greater.
I urge my right hon. Friend to withdraw the new clause to allow further time for consultation and to reintroduce it in another place. The provision could cause great resentment. Only good would be achieved if the matter could be more fully debated outside the House and in another place.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
Is my hon. Friend aware of the resentment among people who live in central London over illegal parking? Has he consulted residents' associations?
§ Mr. Moate
Illegal parking is a vast problem, but the additional power will cause resentment far out of proportion to the reduction in illegal parking that may be achieved.
My limited inquiries suggest that a couple of police vans in Soho or the West End will go around with about 40 clamps. On Saturday nights thousands of cars are illegally parked. Towing away causes inconvenience and resentment, but there will now be a one in a thousand chance that a wheel clamp will be used. That symbol of authoritarianism will be bitterly resented by thousands of motorists. It is not worth it.
§ Mr. Sheerman
I am not convinced by either side, but why is a wheel clamp more authoritarian than the worry of finding that one's car has disappeared?
§ Mr. Moate
There is resentment over a parking ticket, and it is even greater if the car has disappeared. Being immobilised causes a sense of imprisonment and would cause much greater resentment. The clamp has been called "Jaws", the "Denver shoe" and other derogatory names. It will cause great resentment and do little to solve the parking problem. We shall not begin to solve the problem until we have a great deal more off-street parking.
§ Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)
I have lived in towns in the United States and, unquestionably, clamps act as a deterrent to illegal parking.
§ Mr. Moate
Clamps are also used in Paris, which has a parking problem as great as that in London.
The problem in London is massive, with parking on double yellow lines, double parking on double yellow lines and treble parking on pavements, as well. Clamps will not help. Resentment will be caused by the indiscriminate nature of the penalty. One car may be clamped and 30 left. It might take as long as three hours to get unclamped. The charges will cover the costs—at the moment £15 to £20, but that figure will rise greatly.
My right hon. Friend talks of an experimental area and a period of only a year, but the new clause gives him power 695 to apply the penalty wherever he wishes and for an unlimited period. I cannot see how he can argue one case and yet introduce a contrary proposition. I suspect that when parking meters were first introduced it was only in a small area, but they spread like triffids throughout the land. I suspect that the same would happen with clamps.
I ask my right hon. Friend again to withdraw the proposal. It will do a great deal of damage. Further debate would help. I shall vote against the new clause and for the Opposition's amendment if it is put to a vote. I do not much like it, but it may restrict the spread of a particularly nasty device. I hope that other hon. Members will join us in the Lobby.
§ Mr. Sheerman
As always, on a non-political issue, my feelings are pragmatic. I asked how clamps would be more authoritarian than towing away. The worst that I can imagine after a good meal, a visit to the theatre or a business call, is to find my car missing, not knowing whether it had been stolen and vandalised——
§ Mr. Peter Griffiths
The vehicle will have been moved away and clamped, which is two punishments in one.
§ Mr. Sheerman
We can discuss that later.
Illegal parking in London is so prevalent that it is a danger to life and limb. Accidents, fires, terrorism and other emergencies may occur in our capital city and the services to cope with them cannot get near to the area because of illegal parking.
What is the most effective means of tackling the problem? I have seen the Denver shoe in Denver and wheel clamps in Paris. We have an armoury of weapons to curb this massive anti-social nuisance.
An important point that has not come through in the debate is the key relationship between the offence and the penalty. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) talked about towing away, and the percentage of chances. I know that in another incarnation he is in a business that knows much about percentage risks. I am not suggesting that he is a bookmaker, but he knows something about the percentage risk of a particular incident occurring to an individual.
The percentage risk or the possibility of one's car being towed away is small. It requires a great deal of labour and expensive resources. Wheel clamping is in between towing away and the paying of a severe financial penalty. The only resistance that I have to the Secretary of State's argument is that the law has fallen into disrepute with regard to illegal parking because of the ability to evade the penalty. About 50 per cent. of offenders do not pay the fines.
If that is the case, we should change the law to make it far more effective, so that we ensure that the miscreant pays the fine. We should introduce a more effective system in the fixed penalty system for parking. I know that the Bill tries to do that, but we should have a 90 per cent. to 95 per cent. success rate for payment of fines. If we could have that 95 per cent. effectiveness rather than the present 50 per cent. effectiveness we should have travelled a long way along the road of deterrence.
If people had to pay a sizeable fine—and the fine can be moved upwards severely—for illegal parking, that would be an important deterrent. I should like to see that 696 tried before the wide use of wheel clamps is introduced. On the other hand, I am open to the view that on a small, experimental basis there is nothing wrong with trying to give the police force the use of this kind of device in certain very specific locations.
Those of us who use central London a great deal know which areas are affected. I should be happy if the Secretary of State could agree to the wish expressed by many hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, that there should be a time limit on the experimental period. I see nothing wrong with the experimental period. I am happy to go along with the regulation as it is, as long as it is effective and carried out in parallel with watching how effective the stamping out of illegal parking becomes when fixed penalties come into operation.
§ Mr. Hill
I sympathise with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State because, as he said in his opening explanation, he has not easily been persuaded to bring in the new clause. I can understand his reluctance. The House should at least agree that whoever has drafted the new clause has included practically everything that could possibly be thought of.
I say this with reservations because as a Member representing part of Southampton I was not privy to the consultations and debates that took place in the Greater London Council seminar. The invitations were to every possible body interested in the matter, and to hon. Members who represented London constituencies. I have no hesitation in giving hon. Members for London the democratic right to determine their future in the centre of London. There is no question in my mind but that the new clause has now been drawn so wide—and this has been mentioned several times—that in subsection (12) the Secretary of State has been given powers to widen the area to cover practically any city in the United Kingdom.
The city of Southampton has no real traffic problems in the centre, and we have little or no provision for towing vehicles away. We have adequate city parking areas and many of our parking meters are unoccupied mid-week. Therefore, there is no reason why I should not vote with the Government on this new clause if my right hon. Friend can make it clear at the end of the debate that it is for an experimental area, perhaps for the one square mile in the City of London.
I agree with the Automobile Association which says:A device should be used only where the vehicle concerned has a record of at least three unpaid fixed penalty tickets.….The device should be available for use only on the public highways.The AA, in the paper that I have received today, has made some extra points that have been ignored by the Department. For example, it says:The type and nature of the device or devices permitted should be specified in the regulations.However, they are not specified. There is a blanket description in new clause 4, subsection (10), which says:In this section immobilisation device means anything designed or adopted to be fixed to a vehicle for the purpose of preventing it from being driven or otherwise put in motion.I suppose that the car could have a telegraph pole tied to it, or be tied to a lampost. It is a wide definition—in fact, it is not a definition by any stretch of the imagination.
My right hon. Friend said that he was after the "anti-social drivers". However, he may also be creating some antisocial behaviour by the drivers. He said that it would be a lesson to other drivers, but I am not sure that that is so. We may extend a certain amount of sympathy to 697 someone whom we see has this device fixed to the car. However, if we are in a desperate hurry to go anywhere, especially in the square mile of the City of London, we break the law ourselves. There is no substitute for adequate parking areas, decent roads, or for a Greater London ringway that is adequate, so that people do not have to drive from north to south or east to west through the centre of the City.
If the new clause were ever extended to a city such as Southampton, it would be horrific. The people would not accept it. They would think, as has been said several times already, that it was anti-British, and a form of shackling of people's democratic rights. Their democratic right is to park in certain areas. If they park there, they know the risk that they are taking, and it is not the risk of being shackled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said, it will not cure the parking problem in London. If the people in the embassies still get away with their illegal parking there will be such a hue and cry from the public that my right hon. Friend will regret every moment that he defended new clause 4.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will make it clear that only an experimental period is involved, that only the square mile of London where illegal parking is so bad is affected, and that there will be no extension of the proposal to other cities. I trust that, when the experimental period is concluded, the findings will be brought before the House to enable hon. Members to decide whether to pursue the matter further or to put it quietly to death.
§ Mr. Ogden
When the Secretary of State took his courage in both hands and came to move the new clause, there were behind him about a dozen Conservative Members, all straining at the leash to tear the clause to pieces. As the debate progressed, it seems that word travelled around the Palace of Westminster that the Secretary of State was placed in some difficulty by hon. Members on his own side and that reserves were needed. One or two voices have been raised to give the right hon. Gentleman some comfort. I hope to give him some respite from the criticism from his own side.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) seemed surprised to find that there was an unholy alliance, as he called it, between the Front Benches. I do not believe that this is the first time that it has happened. The explanation in this case is that there is a Department of Transport point of view. In the same way, as the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State knows, there is a departmental view about estuarial tolls. Governments come and Governments go, but the custodian of estuarial tolls still tries to get his 50p from those travelling under the Mersey, while elsewhere people can travel free.
§ Mr. John Grant
This is not simply a matter, I understand, of liaison between the two Front Benches. It is rather a liaison between the Secretary of State and Mr. Ken Livingstone. Does that not give the right hon. Gentleman some cause for serious misgiving?
§ Mr. Ogden
There are some strange alliances around today. My hon. Friend and I belong to an openly-declared alliance, the Social Democratic Alliance, which, spelt out, is SO DEM ALL. After 40 years of motoring, it seems to me that people regard no-parking areas as admirable places in which to park. No hon. Member has suggested that a 698 more realistic attitude should be taken about areas that are declared no parking areas and the possibility of more selectivity. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) said that the only purpose of the new clause was that it would serve as a deterrent. Why not hang publicly the drivers who commit that offence? The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North is consistent in his arguments. On four occasions during the progress of the Criminal Justice Bill last week the hon. Gentleman voted to hang someone privately. He is therefore consistent in his arguments.
The Secretary of State would do a great favour to the House if he would agree to examine the arguments put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies). The proposal in the clause has been discussed frequently outside the House, but the clause itself has arrived at a late stage in the progress of the Bill. I do not like to see the police as prosecutor, judge, jury and collector. I fear that once the device is introduced, the persistent offender will carry in his boot an anti-clamp device. The liability for damages caused must be investigated. The clause is full of practical difficulties. There is need for greater clarity.
Because of those doubts, I am reluctant to support the clause. I think, however, that a chance for the matter to be clarified should be afforded the Secretary of State. I shall not therefore oppose the clause, little though I like it. I support the amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott). I hope that the Minister will give some thought to the practical difficulties that will arise and that he will give some assurance that the matter will be examined again in the other place. The clause has my limited support, but the Minister would be wise to take full note of the many doubts that have been expressed.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Huddersfield, West)
There is a need for care when legislation of this kind is introduced. I am reminded of what happened over yellow lines. They first appeared in major cities, were extended into towns, and eventually began to appear in villages, putting village shops out of business. The practice became so popular that yellow lines were eventually to be found in private areas and even within the confines of the House of Commons. We were brain washed by the idea that yellow lines meant that something was prohibited.
My mind turns to those properties in South Kensington where four or five couples might live on different levels of the same property, each owning cars, but with only one frontage to the road. If a scheme is started in central London, does any hon. Member imagine that the council of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea will not demand the same facility? The process will continue to towns and villages. I should hate the system to extend to Huddersfield. I am sure that its residents share my view.
There is a still greater danger. I have talked of shops seeing their trade destroyed by the yellow line peril. I invite hon. Members to consider the effect on the London theatre and restaurant trade. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear that the clamp bandits will go home at 5.30 pm and that there is no proposal to pursue theatre lovers and those visiting restaurants. London's West End could be killed stone dead if this experiment is not clarified.
I intensely dislike parking meters, yellow lines and the thought of wheel clamps. If, however, I were clever enough to suggest a substitute, I might be free to criticise. 699 Therefore, the Government, by the skin of their teeth, will have my support. I wish, however, the Minister to explain in careful terms what he intends over what must be an experiment. I do not want to see this proposal as the first step in a nation-wide clamping system. Politicians are pastmasters at clobbering the motorist. Every piece of legislation seems to deprive the motorist of certain freedoms.
At the same time, there is need to consider the residents. It must be terrible to have the all-day parker who flouts the law in front of their property, with no means of moving the vehicle unless it is towed away. That is a labour-consuming exercise and there are few vehicles available to carry it out. It takes a long time. There is one pound at Hyde Park and another at the Elephant and Castle. A better idea is to provide plenty of parking space in London. The fact that there is not abundant parking means that we are killing our capital city. We must give this idea a try. I hate the very thought of it, but if the Secretary of State satisfies me by his reply, he will get my vote. If he does not, I shall go into the other Lobby.
§ Mr. David Howell
The debate on the new clause has been a lively and full affair. A great many concerns and strong feelings about the problem, to which the new clause is addressed, and the proposed solutions to it have been put before the House.
The issue has been debated widely outside the House during extensive consultations. Considerable publicity has been given in the national press and elsewhere over several months to the proposal for wheel clamps, in order to attract comment from those blighted by or suffering from illegally parking motorists and those concerned with police public relations.
The issue has been debated in a number of other forums, and, as has been made clear, London Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have been consulted about it. The issue has been before the public and is one to which we have had to apply our minds. That is the background against which the issue comes before the House today.
Although there have been one or two voices of dissent, we are mostly agreed that the central London parking problem is uniquely awful. It can produce serious problems, particularly for the residents, but also for traffic flow. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are taking steps all the time to find ways in which we can improve the existing methods of traffic law enforcement. The GLC has agreed, and the Westminster city council has now proposed, to seek ways of increasing parking meter spaces. I am sure that that is the right way forward.
It is encouraging and right to see more off-street parking, although it must be recognised that in some cases off-street parking is not being used. While all those things have been done and are being tried, the parking situation in central London remains appalling. The view, which the Government support, that a stronger measure is now worth considering on an experimental basis.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have expressed considerable worry about how the new clause will work and whether it will address itself effectively to its aim. It makes a move on an experimental and limited basis in the areas where the existing methods, even though they are 700 being improved, are not working and where we have to balance the interests of road users and residents against the problems caused by those looking for parking space.
I must emphasise that the new clause is not a solution. Such a suggestion would be absurd. One of my hon. Friends said that this is no solution. That is right. This is not a solution to the parking problem. I suspect that there is no single measure that the House would be prepared to discuss or support that could be called a solution to the parking problem. We are dealing with a complex of needs for urban traffic movement, traffic law enforcement, parking provision and access for those living in central London. A complex of measures is needed. This is just one measure, which is proposed on an experimental basis.
The question turns on whether the House is prepared to give support to the idea of an experiment and whether my right hon. and hon. Friends feel sufficiently reassured that the proposed powers would indeed be limited to an experiment and would be limited to the area to which I refer—the central London area of the Metropolitan Police district. The intention would be to make designation orders for the limited area within the Metropolitan Police district.
How can my right hon. and hon. Friends have the assurance that they understandably seek—that the limitations will apply? I should like to deal with the area and the experimental and limited nature of the powers being sought.
With regard to the area, I have made it clear—this will be accepted by my right hon. and hon. Friends—that it is the firm intention that the experimental period and the experiment itself should be in designated and limited areas of central London where it is recognised by those driving through it, and, even more, by residents—there are hon. Members whose constituents have made that clear to them—that existing traffic parking provisions are being appallingly disregarded. It is a cavalier and systematic disregard, which leads to drivers collecting enormous numbers of parking tickets.
Even though, under part III, we seek to ensure that the paying of a parking ticket will become less of the almost voluntary matter that it is now, nevertheless the prospect even of that is not likely to deter drivers from continual selfish and cavalier parking.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) has tabled an amendment which seeks a firmer restriction, so that the pilot experiment will be in the limited area to which I have referred. As I made clear earlier, it would be wrong to rule out extension to a local authority area, as suggested in the amendment. I have listened carefully to the debate. I recognise the worries of hon. Members outside London, who rightly wish to see whether the experiment can work and, if it can, to consider whether there might be a carefully considered extension of the powers to areas outside London. That, presumably, is the thought behind the amendment.
I am advised that, in order to remove the defects from the amendment, it would have to be reworded. The amendment would have to read:The Secretary of State shall not extend this section to an area unless requested to do so by the traffic regulatory authority for the area.That would bring the amendment into order. We are dealing with issues of fundamental importance which go across party lines and lie outside the usual exchange of views between the two sides of the House. I am anxious 701 to meet the worries that have been expressed. The Government would be prepared to see that amendment in the form that I have described introduced in another place.
§ Mr. Fry
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there have been experiments in certain other cities, such as the Collar experiment in Nottingham? It was advocated by Nottingham city council, but was rapidly changed by its successor. If the Secretary of State is to give the right to a traffic regulatory authority to ask for the power, does he also accept that it can ask to have it taken away if it considers the power to be a failure?
§ Mr. Howell
That would be right. If it is considered that the experiment is a failure after the designation has been made, the designation may be revoked. I draw attention to the wide powers that are available under subsection (12). Those powers, when combined with the 1978 Interpretation Act, allow the Secretary of State to revoke, extend, change or limit any order made for any designated area. I hope that the readiness that I have sought to show to respond to the feelings and worries of hon. Members will assuage some of their fears about designated areas.
The House will wish to take into account the danger of allowing a local authority to veto something that the police force of the area has requested strongly. That will need to be considered by the House when it debates a designation order. However, I do not think that some of my hon. Friends realise how strongly the police have been pressing for those powers.
§ Mr. Sheerman
It is estimated that there are 17,500 diplomats in London and 50,000 diplomatic cars. Will the Diplomatic Corps be immune to clamping regulations?
§ Mr. Howell
It will not be immune to clamping. The question of immunity to charges will probably arise as it does when vehicles are removed. The problems that hon. Members have raised about the damage and members of the public telephoning the police to ask where their cars have gone arise from the removal powers. For some years the police have been removing many vehicles. There is an overlap between those powers and the powers that the Government are proposing to introduce experimentally.
Any designation will be by statutory instrument and subject to negative resolution. The powers under subsection (12) will allow the Secretary of State to revoke an order. In effect, they give the Secretary of State the power to introduce a time limitation. Hon. Members have said that they want illegal and selfish parking to be dealt with, and in some instances they are prepared to see the experiment carried out. If we do not have the experiment, how can we know whether it will meet any of the needs to which I have referred? Nevertheless, many hon. Members seek the reassurance that it will be possible to limit the experimental period by order.
I am persuaded that flexibilty on time and place should be made clear on the face of the Bill. That flexibility is available in subsection (12), but if hon. Members feel that it should be made clear on the face of the Bill, so be it. I give the undertaking that an amendment to that effect will be introduced in another place. It will allow a time limitation to be made by regulation—it might be for 12 months—and will enable the provisions in the new clause to be made permanent if the experimental period is 702 adjudged to have been a success. I hope that that will meet the worry expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies).
§ Mr. Dickens
Are we talking about the duration of the experiment or the hours during which it will be put into effect during each day?
§ Mr. Howell
We are talking about the former. My hon. Friend talked about theatre traffic and illegal parking in the West End in the evening. For some time it has been the practice during the evening to remove vehicles that are causing difficulties—for example, blocking other people's cars and generally causing chaos. That practice will be continued. It will be used in preference to vehicle clamping. The police say that if they are given the new power they will not necessarily use it around restaurants, cinemas, and theatres. They say that they will continue to remove vehicles. There are some who regard that as a more draconian and deterring experience than clamping.
When dealing with proposed legislation of this sort, we are naturally worried about police-public relations. I have listened to the words of wisdom of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) on many issues over many years. He is especially worried about imposing a new duty on the police. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said in an intervention, this is not something that is being imposed on a reluctant police force. The Metropolitan Police have pressed steadily and strongly for this power, over a considerable period. It is something that they want, and they have left neither me nor my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—this applies also to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, many other hon. Members, magistrates and the Government generally—in any doubt that they are anxious to have the power for a limited experiment.
We are not imposing an awful new duty on an unwilling police force, which it will carry out with reluctance and with a miserable feeling that once again it has been thrown into new areas of difficulty with the public. That is not so. Indeed, the fact is very much to the contrary.
This will not be the final say on the issue. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I have considered the effect on police-public relations carefully, as well as listening to the views of the Metropolitan Police. The police are faced daily with the need to take effective selective and discriminating action when deciding how parking regulations are to be enforced. They have been dealing with 70,000 offences a year in London by the now well-known means of vehicle removal, which is labour, manpower and police-intensive.
There are those who say that that causes resentment, particularly if people whose cars have been removed have to go trailing off to the pound to find out what has happened, or they ring up the police and say "My car has been stolen", only to find that they had parked illegally and that the car is in the pound. That happens, and no doubt it does involve resentment in some cases, but I challenge those who suggest that such a development has damaged police-public relations in central London. I do not believe that it has.
Over the years it is has had some effect—though not enough—in deterring wild, cavalier and persistent illegal parking. It has done so in a way that has helped and not 703 hindered the residential, city, commercial and entertainment life of the capital. The case cannot be sustained that it has damaged police-public relations. On the contrary, the views expressed by London Members of Parliament that it has helped, and that the experimental wheel clamp power would help, are views that we should take into account, even while granting the experimental power, limited to the area that we have discussed.
The effect on traffic flows hinges on the need to restore traffic order and to deter offences. I make no apology for using the word "deter". As hon. Members have said, and as I said at the beginning, it is paradoxical to suggest that something that immobilises vehicles is a device for easing traffic flows. However, it is not the individual use of wheel clamps that improves traffic conditions, although in some cases it may. It is the utterly antisocial behaviour which is deterred as a result. Those are the reasons why I believe that the clause, with the undertakings that I have given about amendments to make absolutely clear——
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
May I ask the Minister whether he knows the costs, or can get them later? I imagine that this will result in a terrific saving of taxpayers' money. We shall not need all these police vans towing away cars. Instead, we shall need just one man with a few hundred clamps. That will save money. Surely we are interested in saving taxpayers' money.
§ Mr. Howell
I am told that the cost saving, certainly compared with the manpower-intensive business of removing vehicles to the pound, is considerable. Before the Government decided to table the new clause, I checked exhaustively with the police the relative costs of operations of this kind.
Perhaps I should mention diplomatic parking, which causes so much irritation. These clamps will be put on diplomats' cars, and that will cause inconvenience and difficulty. However, when it comes to payment of the charge, diplomatic immunity will remain. Whereas at present diplomats are free from any penalty for a parking ticket and can collect an unlimited number of them, there is no doubt that this clamp will be a deterrent to all illegal casual, cavalier and selfish parkers.
§ Mr. Howell
I want to complete my remarks, because I have detained the House for some considerable time, and no doubt hon. Members want to get on to other matters.
In my view, this measure will not damage police-public relations. With the undertakings that I have given, I believe that it will be welcomed by the Metropolitan Police, available for use for a limited time and in limited areas of central London. We in this country understandably hesitate to make changes, sometimes even to make experiments, but I believe that it is right to support this experiment and thus support new clause 4, with the undertakings that I have given.
§ Mr. Stott
I shall not detain the House long, unless I am pressed to do so. The Secretary of State said that we have had a lively and interesting debate. It is somewhat unique for me to come to his assistance with the gusto that I have shown. I do so because I believe that he is right to introduce this new clause. I fully understand some of the reservations that have been expressed by right hon. and 704 hon. Gentlemen on the Government Back Benches, but they should remember that we are discussing a very severe problem in inner London, a problem that we believe can be tackled only by measures such as the one that the Secretary of State is proposing. It is an issue on which there is unanimity in county hall, where both the Conservatives and my party are in favour of introducing these measures. The Metropolitan Police, as the Secretary of State said, are strong advocates of the use of these powers in a limited and defined area of the nation's capital.
We in this House have a responsibility to those people who govern the nation's capital. We have a responsibility to listen to what they say. They are asking the House this evening to give the Metropolitan Police powers on a limited basis to conduct an experiment in this regard. This evening we have the right to do that. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving me the assurance that, subject to the correct wording to my amendment, he will seek to reintroduce it in another place. That may meet some of the objections that have been raised by Conservative Members. That being so, I shall support the Secretary of State in the Lobby, if there is a Division.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.