HL Deb 17 June 1992 vol 538 cc183-6

2.52 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the recent decision of the Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh ruling that private wheel-clamping operations on private lands in Scotland are illegal, they have plans to introduce legislation to similar effect in England and Wales.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, until the terms of the recent Scottish judgment have been carefully studied, it is too early to say whether legislation is needed in England and Wales or what form it might take.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. Is it not interesting that it has been clearly held that to clamp cars on private property in Scotland has been deemed to be illegal by the Scottish court in question—a court of some importance? Is it not right to say that if it is illegal in Scotland, it should be illegal also in England and Wales? Why should England and Wales be discriminated against adversely in that regard?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on his first point that it is interesting; that cannot be denied. With regard to the second point, wheel clamping on private land is the subject of common law and not statute law. Therefore, it is a matter for the courts to decide.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, as part of the ruling, the chief justice in Scotland said that the practice amounted to extortion and theft? Has my noble friend found, with all his experience, that Scottish law often provides remedies in such matters where English law does not?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend was referring to the comments made by the Lord Justice General. It is often the case that Scotland leads the way. It may be the case that England will follow.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, it is obvious that the law of Scotland is greatly superior to that of England since it needs no amendment to make illegal this practice of extortion and robbery. Nevertheless, did the noble Earl notice that the Lord Justice General remarked that he had great sympathy with people on whose land other people illegally parked their cars? Can he tell us what remedy is available for such people?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there are other remedies such as barriers or gates, which could be equally as effective but legal.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the objection is not only as regards the fixing of a clamp but also the arbitrary fixing of a fine and the fact that the clamp will not be removed until the fine has been paid, against which there is no appeal? Is there no way of ensuring that profit is not made from this even though the vehicle may have been clamped to protect private property?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend raises an interesting point, which we are studying.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that the result of the decision by the Scottish court and the comments of the judge who presided over it have received widespread support throughout England and Wales, particularly in London where clamping results in the clamped vehicle being immobilised and therefore becoming a bigger nuisance than the other vehicles? The indiscriminate nature of the clamping and choice of vehicles for clamping is causing the whole scheme to come into disrepute. It is already regarded as nothing more than tax gathering, but it is fast becoming much more than that. As the judge in Scotland said, it is horrific.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that it is far more than tax gathering, because it is becoming a very effective means of improving traffic flow in London. Studies from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory have proved its effectiveness beyond doubt. The level of illegal parking has fallen by more than 50 per cent. since clamping began.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say how traffic flow in London is improved by securing that a vehicle which is obstructing the traffic cannot be moved away?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes, because the decision can be made whether to clamp the vehicle or tow it away.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are some areas in which there is a considerable amount of illegal parking on private land? It is only the threat of clamping which can prevent that taking place.

Th Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I understand that problem but there are other methods, which I have already mentioned, which could be used.

Lord Monson

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the illegality in Scotland lies in the demanding of money rather than in the actual act of clamping? In other words, if a landowner merely clamps an offending car, thereby causing delay and inconvenience to the owner without demanding payment for the unclamping of the vehicle, has no offence been committed?

The Earl of Caithness

; My Lords, that is very similar to an earlier question. We are considering that aspect.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, will the Government consider extending the recent Scottish decision to cover public wheel clamping operations on public land in this country? Private enterprise operations are grossly misconstruing the present regulations in order to promote their private interests at the expense of the public welfare.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the present situation is that the police, under powers in the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, are authorised to do the clamping. To date, Parliament has only sanctioned wheel clamping on streets in parts of central London.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is the Minister aware of any decision in the English courts which has held that it is legal to clamp on private land?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know of any decision. It is a matter to be tested.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people believe that the threatening behaviour of many wheel clampers can be compared to the aggressive antics of 18th century highwaymen, who were rightly hung at Tyburn?

Is my noble friend aware also that last week a vehicle was clamped in front of my garage, obstructing all access to it? The clampers refused to unclamp the vehicle despite being instructed to do so by the managing agents, who claimed that they were being held to ransom. Is it not time that we should at least have a code of conduct, if not legislation, to regulate this matter?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I sympathise with my noble friend's plight. He found himself in a difficult situation. I am sure that he will find comfort in the fact that the person whose car was clamped probably will not park there again.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is there a regulation in existence which states that £38 is the total amount which can be charged by the wheel dampers?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The release fee is £38.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be sensible for the department to issue a code of conduct in order to help people know exactly where they stand?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I shall look carefully at the regulations. If they are not as clear as the noble Lord would wish them to be, I shall take the matter further.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Automobile Association and the RAC have both expressed considerable anxiety in this connection about underhand practices carried out by shady operators? Does he agree that there is a clear need, which is not met at present, for a code of conduct at the very least, if not statutory control? What does the Minister say about that?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, regulations have been approved by Parliament in that respect. On-street clamping is permitted only in parts of central London. The situation as regards clamping on private land in England and Wales remains unclear.

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