HL Deb 18 July 1983 vol 443 cc979-81

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will comment on the effectiveness, to date, of the experimental use of wheel clamps in central London.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the experimental use of wheel clamps began on 16th May. It is too early to make a reliable assessment of the effects on illegal parking and the flow of traffic. That assessment is the responsibility of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and will depend mainly on comparisons between "before" surveys in the autumn of last year and "after" surveys at a similar time, September or October, of this year.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. May I ask him whether he saw the article in the Daily Telegraphdated 14th July headed, "Protests as police end clamping of diplomats' cars"? Did he read in the report that in the first eight weeks of the experiment 4,358 vehicles were clamped in the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster area, and of those, 101 vehicles belonged to diplomatic missions, and in particular the French Embassy had 11 vehicles affected, seven in one day? In view of those figures, will he consider the Written Reply given by my noble friend Lord Elton to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, in which Lord Elton said that under diplomatic relations they could not clamp recognisable diplomatic vehicles? Will he also give thought under those circumstances to limiting the number of recognisable diplomatic vehicles, as has been done in other countries? For example, in Australia, you cannot have an unlimited number of diplomatic vehicles. It seems that seven vehicles clamped in one day is rather a lot. Will the Minister comment?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, my noble friend has asked a number of questions. She asked whether I had seen the article in the Daily Telegraph.Yes, I have seen it. Regarding the figures that she mentioned in relation to the response given to a Written Question by my noble friend Lord Elton to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, my noble friend explained that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has obtained legal advice which suggests that wheel clamping contravenes the provisions of the Geneva Convention on diplomatic relations. Wheel clamping of identifiable diplomatic vehicles has accordingly been discontinued. In response to my noble friend's rather more specific supplementary question on what are we going to do about it, I think that it will be more helpful to your Lordships if I say—and it is not very much to tell your Lordships —that that situation is being further examined and we are awaiting the results of that examination. As to what happens in Australia, the Australians have some odd customs which do not always accord with our sense of fair play.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, the noble Lord has said that the wheel clamping of diplomatic cars has been suspended. Does this mean also that it is not within the province of the Metropolitan Police to remove a diplomatic car when it is impeding the flow of traffic and is in a dangerous position? If so, I think that most people will regard that as being something that should be looked into very seriously. As one of those of us who supported the experimental period for wheel clamps, may I ask whether the noble Lord is satisfied that sufficient publicity is being continually given to the experiment in order that the experiment should act as a deterrent? Some of us regard the experiment as one which would be successful on the deterrent principle rather than in just getting convictions.

There is also a report that the cars of visitors to this country have also been the subject of wheel clamps. If that is so, is there anything that can be done to avoid that possibility? Will the Minister tell us whether or not there have been cases of persons deliberately removing the wheel clamps? If so, is he satisfied that the penalty of £200 is sufficient for that?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in so far as the responsibility of the police is concerned. I am sure that your Lordships will accept that I am not able to answer for matters which fall, quite properly, within the purview of the Home Office. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. has a Question relating to this matter on the Order Paper for 26th July. I think that if he likes to pursue that line of questioning on the 26th he may get a rather more satisfactory reply from that department.

To turn to publicity, there has not been a further round of material issued by the department, although I would have thought that both press and radio through most channels have given a considerable amount of publicity to this matter. In regard to visitors, it is largely up to a visitor to satisfy himself as to the rules and regulations of the country he is visiting. Most of our visitors to other countries will go to one of the motoring organisations and ask what kind of emergency equipment is required. I would expect, frankly, that the overseas organisation would give the advice. If my noble friend Lady Gardner is to believe this, there is no doubt that visitors who have embassies in London would find advice readily forthcoming from that.

In reply to the supplementary question, on the removal of clamps, there are four instances where clamps have been removed. It would be quite wrong for me to make any comment with regard to the penalty which the Act provides as a maximum—that of £200—since none of these cases has yet been brought to court. I am sure your Lordships accept that it would be wrong for me to comment on these four matters before they get to court.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, will my noble friend give consideration to the matter of policemen standing in Park Lane with wheel clamps very ostentatiously displayed at midday on every day, particularly when Parliament is sitting, to discourage people from parking?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I note what my noble friend had to say.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that perhaps we should put our own house in order first? Will he contemplate an experiment of using wheel clamps in the Lords' car park outside Nos. 6 and 7 Old Palace Yard in order that those people who park in an unauthorised manner there, blocking parking bays for the staff, should be discouraged from so doing? Will he agree that it is not only difficult for the staff but it may pose a threat to the security of your Lordships' House?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the experiment is in an attempt to ease the problem of a third of a million illegal parking offences in London each day, with the consequent hindrance of the public and free flow of traffic. I hardly think that the introduction of clamps to your Lordships' car park would aid either of those objectives.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, if the object of the exercise (as my noble friend has just said) is to prevent the obstruction of traffic by badly or illegally parked cars, will my noble friend explain why it is thought that this objective would be helped by making those cars immovable?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, your Lordships' House, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter will recall, debated this matter at great length and felt that it would provide something of a deterrent in certain areas. There is not here a question that, in general terms, a clamp would be applied where a motor vehicle is parked dangerously when the other alternative provision of taking away the car could equally apply.

Lord Denham

My Lords, we have spent 22 minutes on three Questions. I wonder whether your Lordships might feel that we should go on to the next business.