HL Deb 12 November 1992 vol 540 cc324-6

3.28 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the remuneration of contractors (and those employed by contractors) to clamp vehicles in public places as agents for police authorities is in any way linked to the number of clamps attached by them to such vehicles.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, private companies, which are employed by the Metropolitan Police to carry out the physical task of clamping illegally parked vehicles, are paid a fixed sum for each clamp which is applied. Individual employees of those companies are not. The authority to clamp a vehicle can only be given by a police officer who is attached to a clamping unit. Police officers do not have any quota of vehicles which they are expected to clamp.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which could well be reassuring if the procedure which he has described operates in practice. However, does it? No doubt the clampers stalk the prey and then seek permission to trap it. Are instructions issued by the Home Office or by the police authorities as to the implementation of the procedure which my noble friend the Minister has described? If so, could copies of these instructions be put in the Library unless, of course, they are in statutory instrument form? Furthermore, do these instructions require the name, rank and service identity number of the authorising officer who authorises the clamping to appear on the document left by the clampers on the vehicle after fitting the clamp? There is an element of supervision, there is an element of instruction and there is an element of concern because the public are not fully aware of the true position here.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway has said that these people prey on and then trap motorists. That is a slightly exaggerated point of view. The enforcement of parking restrictions is an operational matter for the Commissioner. Enforcement policy is determined by the Metropolitan Police and is set out in the form of operational guidelines which are issued to all police officers and traffic wardens who are engaged on these duties. The police officers are instructed not to clamp vehicles indiscriminately, for example where clamping might exacerbate an obstruction.

My noble friend asked me whether I would place the operational guidelines in the Library. I refuse to give way to that temptation because, as soon as my noble friend knew who or what was going to be clamped where, he would obtain an unnecessary advantage. However, I can assure my noble friend that if he abides by the law and does not park illegally he need have no fear of clamping. If he were not to abide by the law and find himself clamped, he would find that the information card which is fixed to the vehicle when it is clamped gives details of the identity number or the warrant card number of the authorising officer.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, as the important question here is the fact that a large number of complaints have arisen and have been echoed by noble Lords throughout the House on numerous occasions when we have raised these issues, can the Minister indicate what monitoring is being undertaken by his department to ensure that the number of complaints is mitigated, if not altogether eliminated?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the noble Lord can tell me of a method of preventing the public from complaining about something I would be delighted to hear about it. However, I can assure him that the Metropolitan Police consider objections. In fact 4,000 wheel-clamping fees were refunded by the Metropolitan Police in the year ending April 1992.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend consider whether the police are always thoughtful in their clamping duties? I am thinking particularly of overseas visitors, who are amazed to find when they leave theatres and other places of entertainment in our cities, particularly in London, that their cars have disappeared altogether. Those cars have been put into a pound or they have been clamped and if it is the visitors' first time in this country they do not know how to deal with the situation. Is it really necessary to clamp vehicles very late at night when the traffic flow is not in any way affected? Is it also necessary to clamp vehicles situated in cul-de-sacs and other such places where clamping has no beneficial effect whatsoever? Such a practice is highly irritating to the poor motorist whose car is clamped, who is divested of his means of transport and who cannot reach his hotel or other accommodation. I believe this practice of clamping could be undertaken in a more humane fashion. I hope my noble friend will take that factor into consideration.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to decide where and when clamping should be done. I can only repeat that clamping is carried out only where a vehicle is parked illegally. As regards whether it is unfortunate to clamp the vehicles of foreign tourists, I sympathise with such tourists, but of course the police officer who authorises the clamping is not to know whether the driver of the clamped vehicle is from this country or not.