HC Deb 07 July 1997 vol 297 cc595-7
4. Mr. Bill O'Brien

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on his policy in respect of wheel clamping. [5509]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael)

The present situation on wheel clamping on private land is quite unsatisfactory. We are considering what can be done to deal with those wheel clampers who unscrupulously prey on motorists.

Mr. O'Brien

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. My constituents and I have witnessed extortion, bullying and many other threats from wheel clampers. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) is experiencing the same problem. We have not had the results of the consultation process started by the previous Government, and the threat from bullies through wheel clamping remains. Will my hon. Friend take note of my concerns and those expressed by other hon. Members and resurrect the consultation procedure which was started by the Tories? It was never meaningful, so we now need to do something drastic about this problem.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is right. The previous Government launched a consultation process, which was used as an excuse for not accepting amendments during the passage of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. We wanted to include a provision in that legislation. It should be clear that if a clamper uses threats of violence or criminal damage when demanding money, he could be committing a criminal offence. Such threatening behaviour should be reported to the police. In the short term, before there is an opportunity to deal with this problem through legislation, I give my hon. Friend an undertaking to discuss the issue with the police, so that the best use can be made of the law as it stands to protect the public.

Sir Sydney Chapman

Does the Minister agree that the public should not be allowed to trespass on private land without permission? Will he think carefully when introducing any law in that respect? The Government should uphold the right of private landowners to charge people who infringe on their land up to and not beyond a maximum amount set by the Government.

Mr. Michael

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The difficulty is that, often, land does not appear to be private land, or it is land on to which the public are attracted for business or commercial purposes or for a variety of other reasons. The Court of Appeal set an important precedent in its ruling in the case of Arthur and Arthur v. Anker, stating that clampers had acted legally because adequate warning signs had been displayed and the release fee had been reasonable. The problem that we must tackle is that of the unscrupulous wheel clampers who threaten or prey on the public. We are concerned that those people should be caught and should not be able to pursue those activities.

Ms Rosie Winterton

Does my hon. Friend recognise that his announcement today will be widely welcomed, especially in my constituency of Doncaster, Central, where freelance clampers are regarded as little more than modern-day highway robbers, whose weapons include a beaten-up car, a rusty clamp and a mobile telephone, and whose intimidatory tactics in demanding immediate cash payment cause distress to their victims? Will he take into account during his consultation exercise any evidence that I can give him from people who have direct experience of cowboy clampers?

Mr. Michael

Yes, certainly; I would welcome evidence from my hon. Friend and others who have experienced the situation. The inception of the consultation undertaken by the previous Government dates back almost four years. We have to maintain a balance between ensuring that such actions can be deployed to deal with those who have every warning, yet persist in parking on private land when they are not justified in doing so, and ensuring that the public are protected against unscrupulous elements that exist in any trade or business. That is part of the wider agenda—the more general regulation of the private security industry— and we pleaded with the previous Government to deal with it. It is in that context that I believe we shall be able to make progress in due course.