HL Deb 15 December 1983 vol 446 cc343-6

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state the number of vehicles clamped, to date, in the Central London wheel clamp experiment, the gross revenue received and whether they are aware of the need for some special arrangement for the vehicles of service engineers called to carry out urgent domestic repairs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, I am informed by the Metropolitan Police that between 16th May, when the experimental wheel clamping scheme was introduced, and 18th November, 22,430 vehicles were clamped. The gross revenue received up to 18th November was £431,418.

It would not be desirable or practicable to provide a general exemption from the wheel clamping scheme for service engineers. However, the police have discretion to grant exemption from waiting or loading restrictions in special circumstances.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has he seen the annual report of the Knightsbridge Association—the area where the wheel clamps were first introduced—which states that the introduction of the clamp seems to be generally popular with residents, since it has freed residents' parking spaces for their proper use? Following that, and in view of my original Question concerning service engineers coming to repair domestic appliances or meeting other domestic needs, does the local authority have the power, either directly or through the GLC, to implement the issue of, say, badges, presumably at considerable cost, to enable a limited number of accredited service men to use, on a short-term basis, the residents' parking spaces so that they can carry out these repairs?

Lord Elton

My Lords, in reply to the first part of my noble friend's helpful supplementary question, may I say that I look forward to seeing the report to which she refers. I have not vet seen it. In regard to the second part of the question, the answer is no. The power to make exemptions to schemes made under traffic management orders rests with the police. The Metropolitan Police general orders authorise station officers and traffic warden supervisors to grant exemption certificates where work cannot reasonably be carried otherwise. The certificate sets out the extent of the exemption and must be displayed on the vehicle.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, may I ask the Minister two questions? First, in view of the fact that one of the original reasons given by the Metropolitan Police for wheel clamping—and I supported the experiment—was to deal with persistent offenders, can the Minister say what method the police use to deal with that problem, and what percentage of the 22,000 cars clamped belonged to persistent offenders? In view of the fact that during the past year 1 million vehicles have remained untaxed, and there have been only 198,000 prosecutions, because of the limited resources of the police, does the Minister believe that wheel clamping can be used to look at the possible number of untaxed vehicles?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we are aware of and wish to pursue—I was going to say—the harassment of persistent illegal parkers by means of wheel clamps, but the difficulty is identifying them. When they are found and recognized, of course that is a matter for congratulation. But at the moment no specific method has been discovered to identify them in advance. As to widening the experiment to cover untaxed vehicles, again I can say that when a vehicle is clamped and found to be untaxed, it means big trouble for the owner. But it is not in the remit of the experiment, as I understand it. to use it in order to find untaxed vehicles.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this power was sought of this House and of Parliament because it was said that it was required specifically for two purposes? The first was to deal with the diplomatic cars—and we now find that the Government have failed to do their homework and it could not work for that. The second was to deal with persistent offenders who did not pay the fixed penalties when notice was put on the vehicle. Again the Government did not do their homework and we are told now that nobody can find out who those people are. At present this is simply an arbitrary police power to increase a penalty quite casually and by selection. Surely that is quite un-English.

Lord Elton

My Lords, dealing with the diplomatic issues, I made a statement on this earlier this week which I think your Lordships welcomed. I am sure that the noble Lord would not wish us to break the law or international convention in enforcing the law in this country. As to the question of persistent offenders, the only way they can be identified is by local knowledge. Where that local knowledge is available, of course use is made of it.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that apart from the reasons given for introducing the scheme, its aim was also to clear persistent obstruction in the streets, as the magistrates found that the previous parking penalties were proving ineffective? In this sense the wheel clamp has been successful and indeed welcomed by residents' associations such as the one I quoted.

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is agreeable for Ministers who give inadequate replies to have them bolstered by those who sit on the Back-Benches.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, will the noble Lord consider whether we might not establish some large plain sign, such as a red star—without political meaning of course—which would be in the nature of a request from the driver of the vehicle carrying this mark that it should be allowed to park for an extra time? This would not put any obligation on the police to accept the request but it would show that this was a particular vehicle which needed this extra time.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I often see such hand-written notes in windscreens as I walk the streets of London.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, may I ask the Minister another question on timing? Suppose that a busy surgeon parks his car illegally. Admittedly he should not do so. But suppose the police are also busy. How long is it liable to be before the surgeon can go through the procedure, whatever it is, and get somebody to come along to release his car?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the car of a busy surgeon ought not to be wheel clamped. A badge scheme exists and is operated by the British Medical Association whereby doctors and nurses involved in emergency work are exempted from parking restrictions. A car bearing such a badge would not be clamped. I suppose in the same way as one sometimes inadvertently locks oneself out of one's house, this scheme may fail occasionally. The recourse then is to ring the vehicle pound and assistance will come as quickly as can be managed.