HL Deb 18 June 1991 vol 530 cc42-5

3.11 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the approved policy practised by the Metropolitan Police with regard to the wheel clamping of vehicles belonging to fire and ambulance brigades, electricity, gas and water companies, British Telecom and of doctors and nurses when on official and emergency business.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, wheel clamping is used by the Metropolitan Police as an aid to the enforcement of parking regulations. Emergency services are exempt from parking regulations. Vehicles used by electricity, gas and water companies and British Telecom are also exempt while being used in connection with urgent repairs. However, where there is no evidence that vehicles are being used for these purposes, they could be liable to enforcement action, including wheel clamping. The Metropolitan Police practice provides that vehicles which display a British Medical Association badge will not be wheel clamped when doctors and nurses are providing care and treatment to patients away from their normal surgeries or consulting rooms, provided that details of their name and visiting address are displayed on the vehicle.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that there is growing concern among the utilities and emergency services that the clamping of their vehicles is impairing their ability to respond efficiently and promptly to emergency calls? Is he further aware that British Telecom feels that dampers have got it in for its vehicles? That is borne out by the fact that I recently saw four British Telecom vehicles clamped in one street, which entailed four more British Telecom vehicles coming along to assist. Would not the use of a little more discretion by the police help out on these occasions?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the enforcement of parking restrictions is an operational matter for the Commissioner of Police. Wheel-clamping enforcement policy is determined by the Metropolitan Police and is set out in the form of operational guidelines. Clamping crews operate under the direction of specially trained police officers who are instructed not to clamp indiscriminately.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, as a good deal of clamping is now done by agencies to whom it is farmed out by the police, how does my noble friend regard the enforcement of the exception that he stated that clamping must not be applied where urgent and emergency work is being done? Who controls that?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, clamping crews operate under the direction of specially trained police officers who in those circumstances would try to ascertain whether any emergency or urgent work was being done at the time.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the House will feel mightily reassured that fire engines engaged in putting out fires will not be wheel clamped? Could there not be a problem when they are engaged on more mundane duties such as inspecting hydrants and the like? Might not those vehicles, which probably would not be deemed to be engaged in emergency duties, nonetheless be recalled for emergency duties at very short notice? Will the Minister look into that possibility and indeed into all the other possibilities that could arise under a policy which could be very destructive of the public duty?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am certainly not aware of, nor have I ever seen, any fire engines that have been wheel clamped. The police in London have guidelines. I think it most unlikely that a fire engine would be wheel clamped.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, what does "exemption" mean? My noble friend has said that public service vehicles are exempt from the fear of being clamped. However, we have had clear evidence from my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu that that is being done. What does exemption mean if it does not give exemption from the dangers that come from clamping?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I said that such vehicles are exempt while being used in connection with urgent or emergency repairs. They are not exempt for the rest of the time. If the crews of four British Telecom vehicles are having a cup of tea, I am afraid that that is not an emergency.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that in future, in order to deal with the possibility of activities not being deemed to be emergency ones, an instruction will be given that police drivers, ambulance drivers and fire engine drivers will be given enough 20p pieces, 50p pieces or £1 pieces for the appropriate meters?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting suggestion which I shall certainly pass on to the relevant departments.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that the regulations are being applied impartially? Can he give any figures as to how many police vehicles have been clamped?

Viscount Astor

No, my Lords, I am afraid that I cannot. I should, however, point out that in practice any motorist may challenge a fixed penalty notice, which is a prerequisite for a clamping action, and exercise his right to a court hearing if he feels that he has been unfairly clamped.

Lord Strathcarron

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that greater tolerance should be shown towards workmen's vans which are parked outside houses when they are working inside as the tools they require are often in the van? It is quite unreasonable that they should be hounded.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point. The Metropolitan Police have a form of operational guidelines. They are issued to all police officers and traffic wardens engaged in parking duties.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that this work has now been subcontracted to many agencies and that therefore police officers are frequently not with the clamping vehicles? That is where the trouble occurs.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I must point out to my noble friend that clamping crews operate under the direction of specially trained officers. They cannot go out and clamp indiscriminately.