HL Deb 20 March 1984 vol 449 cc1102-5

2.40 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

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 purpose of the introduction of experimental wheel clamps in certain areas of central London and whether, in their view that purpose is being achieved.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the purposes were to deter illegal parking, to improve traffic flow and to increase the availability of short-term parking at meters. The results of the experiment cannot be evaluated until the results of the analysis being carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory become available later this year.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he tell the House how the success or otherwise of the experiment is being judged, and whether comparisons have been made with other inner city areas and other areas of London where wheel clamps are not being used? Can he say whether anything is being done to increase the amount of legal parking space available in central London?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the success or otherwise of the scheme cannot be totally evaluated until we have the results of the monitoring being carried out by the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, and they will not be available until later this year. There are no comparisons being made with other cities, nor indeed other areas outside the experimental area. As regards my noble friend's third supplementary, I am glad to be able to tell him that Westminster City Council are reviewing their area to try to make more meter and resident parking spaces available. With half of Westminster surveyed so far, 400 additional spaces have been identified. Work is also proceeding on new off-street car parks in Westminster, including one at Cambridge Circus, which will be opening later this year with 350 spaces.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that certainly something needs to be done about illegal parking in the West End, because some streets are reduced to a narrow lane of single traffic which makes it almost impossible to get through them? Therefore, some action is to be welcomed.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am sure that we would all agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend explain how immobilising a vehicle which ex hypothesi is obstructing traffic assists traffic flow?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

Yes, my Lords. The immobilising of the vehicle tends to deter that motorist, and indeed others, and that enables a higher turn-round of authorised parking places, which in its turn relieves the congestion.

Lord Molson

My Lords, is it not the case that the regulations under which this clamping is done vary from one part of London to another? If that is so, which are the authorities that lay down the rules? Would the Minister not agree that a motorist resident in London and observing the rules that apply where he lives would find it extremely inconvenient to discover that they do not apply in the same way elsewhere, and that he may find himself unintentionally contravening the regulations in another part of London?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am quite sure that my noble friend will recall that the clamping experiment applies to only one area of London. It is an experimental area. Therefore, no comparisons can be made with other areas of London. The regulations form part of the Transport Act 1982, Sections 53 to 55, which enable the experimental period to last up to two years. This experiment began on 15th May 1983.

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond

My Lords, can my noble friend try to bring this evaluation forward? Is he aware that this clamping system is yet one more method of persecuting the motorist and that, in fact, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter was quite correct when he asked: how do you stop obstruction by putting a clamp on a vehicle which is blocking the road? All you succeed in doing is keeping that vehicle clamped in that position for four hours before the driver can have it released.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as regards bringing the evaluation forward, I could certainly draw my noble friend's remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend in the anticipation that the Transport and Road Research Laboratory might hasten its evaluation. However, I cannot agree with my noble friend's later remarks with regard to persecution.

Lord Thorneycroft

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this morning in Portland Square a team were beginning to clamp a car, and indeed continued to clamp it, in front of a driver who had returned and who was anxious to drive his car away? Will my noble friend explain how that improves traffic flow?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, no, I was not aware of what happened in portland Square this morning. Therefore, I am unable to give any explanation as to what might have been done to alleviate the situation at that particular time in that particular place.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is it not a fact that when the House agreed to this experimental scheme it was fully aware of all the problems, that there were no party Whips anywhere in the House on this issue and that the House was quite prepared to accept it for an experimental period, following which we should assess the position? Is that not the best way in which to leave the matter?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who reminds us of exactly what happened in your Lordships' House and, indeed, in another place. Comments of the kind that have been made this afternoon will, of course, be taken into account when the evaluation is made.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that he is aware of the fact that some residents' associations, such as the Knightsbridge Association, have already made their judgment and thoroughly commend the scheme, which has made their streets tolerable and livable? Will my noble friend also confirm that under the legislation there is no cause for a vehicle to be left in an obstructing position? The legislation permits it to be moved to a less obstructing position, where it may be clamped. Will my noble friend give some thought to erecting signs to indicate that a particular area is a clamping area?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for her remarks about the judgment made by certain people in a certain area. She is right when she suggests that the authorities have power to move a car to another place to relieve obstruction. In the case of a high degree of obstruction there is, of course, the additional possibility of removing the car. To erect signs would represent a significant departure from normal policy. It is not the policy to fix signs describing the penalties which would arise in the event of a breach of the law or regulations.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, can my noble friend say generally whether diplomats' vehicles are treated any differently from those of the rest of us? Secondly, will he bear in mind that if this procedure proves popular then at least it must be administered equally between one constable and another, whose discretion is considerable in these matters?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, as regards diplomats' cars, there are differences in their treatment, and my noble friend Lord Elton described the differences last year in response to two Questions, on 12th and 15th December. On the point about evenhandedness, it is for the constable on the spot at the time to evaluate the situation and to make his decision. Therefore, there cannot be the evenness of judgment which is implied in my noble friend's question.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, on the matter of diplomatic clamping, is it not the case that several countries allow clamping and that we do not; and that various high commissions or embassies in this country are notoriously bad at parking, which gives rise to a great sense of unfairness among those of us—and I am not one, although I suspect it is through luck rather than good judgment—whose cars have been clamped?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, there are differences in some countries, but in the majority of countries the clamping of diplomats' cars is not carried out. Following the announcement to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Elton of two new measures being taken with regard to diplomats from foreign countries and foreign missions in this country, significant steps have been taken. At the time he made his statement there were 5,700 diplomatic cars which were registered with X-plates and D-plates which claimed total immunity. A thousand of these cars have been removed from that classification by 700 being plated with only the X-plate—that is, with limited immunity—by 200 motor cars being removed from the list of official fleets and by 100 motor cars being removed from the lists of household motor cars. Therefore, there are now only 4,700 motor cars with D-plates with complete immunity, and 1,000 cars previously having immunity are now liable to the full force of the law.