HL Deb 12 February 1998 vol 585 cc1257-8

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to regulate the activities on private land of authorities and firms concerned with wheel clamping of vehicles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, the Government are still considering the most effective way to regulate the activities of private wheel-clamping firms as a part of our commitment to a programme of better regulation. Unscrupulous wheel-clamping firms have caused a great deal of distress to many people. It is a situation which cannot be allowed to continue. We are still looking at all the options in this area in order to prevent abuses by wheel-clampers.

The issue arises in the context of regulating the private security industry as a whole. We have conducted a consultation exercise seeking the views of the industry and others on the best way to take forward regulation. A number of bodies which have an interest in wheel-clamping, including the AA and the RAC, have responded to this exercise and we shall be making recommendations for action when we have analysed the results of the exercise.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. His assurances are most welcome. Does he agree that in view of the fact that, according to the RAC, wheel-clamping is a £150 million business and involves a great deal of malpractice and humiliation, regulation should come sooner rather than later? When framing the regulations, will the Minister consider exempting emergency vehicles, disabled vehicles and particularly vehicles such as hearses, as recently a hearse was clamped outside a church with the body still in it?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I certainly agree that regulation should come sooner rather than later. A previous administration put out a consultation paper in 1993 but did not announce a conclusion. That is why we are attending to the problem ourselves. The question of emergency vehicles must be considered. I believe that every sympathy should be given to those whose vehicles are used for the public benefit as opposed to private convenience.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Scotland as long ago as 1992 wheel-clamping on private land was judged as extortion and theft? As the Lord Justice General said: an activity as sensitive to abuse as wheel-clamping requires careful regulation under law". Does he agree that at present the legitimate landowner in Scotland is unable to protect his property—I refer in particular to hospitals, supermarkets and so forth—whereas in England the motorist has no protection from cowboy clampers? I grant the Minister's comment that the previous government did nothing about the problem over a long period, and I hope that we can expect better from him.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, what an opportunity! I can assure your Lordships, hand on heart, that you can always look to me to do better than the previous government, with every confidence, satisfaction guaranteed.

Under Scottish law, theft is differently defined; it is simply appropriation of another's belongings. In England and Wales, one must establish dishonesty and the intention permanently to deprive. A case in the Court of Appeal in our jurisdiction in England and Wales, Arthur and Arthur v. Anker, held that the clampers act legally as long as they provide adequate warning signs and the release fee is reasonable. There is no doubt that the practice is a social menace. We believe that it is part of the general malpractice in some parts of what is wrongly called the private security industry, where there are criminal and unscrupulous elements. The Government's policy is to introduce regulation and possibly licensing. We believe that the clamping of motor cars is part of a wider problem, although it is a distinct aspect of it.

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