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Export of Farm Animals Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.29 pm

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

More than 20,000 sheep packed into lorries pass through my constituency every week. Each truck carries the potential for great suffering. My constituents have put up with that for many years. However, I do not come to this vexed subject just as the Member of Parliament for Dover, but as an ex-seafarer who has witnessed the awful abuse associated with live animal exports close up in the blistering heat of the Arabian gulf and the storm-torn seas of the English channel and the Irish sea. The trade inflicts great suffering on living creatures and has no legitimate part to play in a civilised caring society. My Bill would ban the export of live animals--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 7 April.

Remaining Private Members' Bills


Order for Second Reading read.

Ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 April.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second reading deferred till Friday 7 April.




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Motion made, and Question put,

Environmental Audit

    That Mr. Andrew Stunell be discharged from the Broadcasting Committee and Norman Baker be added to the Committee.

Hon. Members: Object.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): I put motions 7 and 8 together. May I clarify whether objections were made to both motions?

Hon. Members: Yes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: This is exempted business. Therefore we cannot proceed with it.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask you to confirm that you have had no request from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to come to the House to make a statement in the light of disastrous attendance figures for the dome that have been revealed this morning--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have received no indication that such a statement might be made today.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is most unfortunate that two important animal welfare Bills did not see the light of day today. My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Prosser) had 30 seconds in which to speak on his Bill and--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady knows well how the House works and we have followed its normal procedures.

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1399

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1401

Wheel Clamping

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Pope.]

2.32 pm

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): May I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to raise in an Adjournment debate the issue of wheel clamping on private land?

First, I wish to make absolutely clear my support for the right of landowners to protect their land from unauthorised parking. They often have commercial or other interests that can be adversely affected by unauthorised parking. In the case of hospitals, doctors' surgeries and so on, unauthorised parking may well constitute a serious risk to the public.

It is unreasonable to expect landowners to have to use the courts to sue for trespass when dealing with the problem. They should have the ability to control parking, but equally the public must be protected from an industry that has more cowboys than a John Wayne western.

Hon. Members may think that Harrogate is one of the last places where a war on clamping should be waged. Let me assure the House that any individual with a mobile phone, a strong arm, a menacing look and £50 for his first clamp can operate anywhere and take a slice of this estimated £150 million business.

Imagine the scene: two senior citizens set off for an evening at Harrogate theatre. The weather was bad, so they parked close to the theatre in private space owned by a friend and colleague. The performance of "Don Giovanni" was superb, but the evening was somewhat spoiled by the shock of their returning to their car only to find that it had disappeared.

A notice on an adjoining property referred to National Parking Controls--NPC--and a mobile phone number. The senior citizens rang but, alas, their car was already on a journey to Leeds some 20 miles away. It could be returned to Harrogate provided that the sum of £75 for clamping and £190 for towing--a total of £265--could be produced within the hour. With help from their friends, the money was obtained and, miraculously, after it was paid over, the car was on its way not to Leeds, but to a local council car park where the clampers and their two tow trucks were parked. NPC, it seems, uses a public car park without authority to park the cars that it clamps for being parked illegally. That is rather like a scene from "Trigger Happy TV" with Dom Joly.

That is not an unusual story. NPC has been operating in Harrogate for some months. It usually pounces at night and the number of cases continues to escalate. Despite a vigorous campaign by the Harrogate Advertiser and the local council, NPC continues to mine a rich vein.

Such tales are not uncommon elsewhere in England. Clampers in Doncaster threatened to hold to ransom a three-year-old girl until her mother collected £60 from the bank. Clampers on scrap land in Sheffield demanded a female motorist's gold tooth as payment. A hearse with a body in the back was clamped outside a church. Clampers demanded sex from a young woman who was unable to pay a fine late at night. Two weeks ago, a paramedic vehicle was clamped while attending an incident in Lancaster.

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The system of extortion, intimidation and blackmail by unregulated clampers can seemingly go ahead unchallenged by the current law. That is not so in Scotland, where in 1992 the Lord Justice General said that

He judged wheel clamping on private land to be extortion and theft. As a result, pirate clamping is now outlawed in Scotland; the industry is properly regulated and full protection is afforded to landowners and motorists.

In England, no such regulation exists. Indeed, a Court of Appeal judgment in the case of Arthur and another v. Anker on 30 November 1995 made it clear that wheel clamping of a vehicle without authority on private land and its release only on payment of a fee was neither tortious nor criminal, provided that the motorist had seen, and therefore consented to, the conditions on clamping displayed on an appropriate sign and that the release fee was reasonable, easily payable and resulted in prompt release.

That judgment, unlike the judgment in Scotland, merely muddied the waters. What constitutes an adequately displayed notice? What is a reasonable fee? How is it possible easily to pay the charge late at night? In my view, a charge of £265 to regain one's car is unreasonable and extortionate, and to demand the money, often with menace, constitutes blackmail as defined in section 21 of the Theft Act 1968. The police, however, are reluctant to become involved, and there are few occasions when the Crown Prosecution Service has prosecuted a clamper for behaviour that in other walks of life would warrant arrest.

At present, the only recourse for an individual is to pursue a civil court action. One of my constituents did just that. She argued that the clampers' signs were too small. NPC was then ordered to pay back the £190 towing fee plus legal costs of £130. Needless to say, five weeks later, NPC has not paid a penny.

The answer, however, is not to encourage a host of individuals to take civil action but to legislate to deal with the problem once and for all. Statutory regulations must be introduced quickly. Clamping companies must be registered, and if they operate without a licence they should face criminal prosecution. Fines, including on-the-spot release fees and towing and storage charges, should be standardised and brought into line with existing fines for on-street clamping.

The size, number and format of warning signs should be standardised. Motorists should be free to pay by cash, cheque or credit card, and be given a reasonable period in which to find the money. Cars should be towed away only if they are to be stored in a secure compound, and the address given to the motorist involved. There should be an appeals procedure and clamping companies should be able to operate only where the landowner is registered and licensed.

What is surprising is that everyone--including, I am sure, the Minister--agrees, particularly responsible private security firms. It is not a party political issue; it is one of commitment. In 1992, the Conservative Home Office Minister, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), promised to look into pirate clamping. In a letter to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), he said:

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1403

    In February 1993, the Home Office produced a consultation paper called "Wheelclamping on private land", but no action followed.

In July 1996, the Regulation of the Wheelclamping Industry Bill was presented as a private Member's Bill by my noble Friend Baroness Maddock, supported by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), who was a Transport Minister in the present Government. On 26 August 1996, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), now the Home Secretary, took up the cause in a press release entitled "Labour to clamp down on cowboy wheelclampers". The press release states:

    "Across the country, innocent motorists--including many women--have been tyrannised by cowboy wheelclampers who charge extortionate fees and at present operate effectively outside the law."

In government, the Home Secretary appeared equally committed. On 15 July 1997, speaking to the British Security Industry Association, he promised

    "A crackdown on clampers and cowboys",

adding that

    "Proposals for regulating wheelclamping must be simple and effective."

Two and a half years later, there is no legislation. We have had yet more consultation and another White Paper, "The Government's Proposals for Regulation of the Private Security Industry in England and Wales", which was published nearly a year ago. The White Paper is quite specific about wheel clamping, stating in paragraph 5.11:

    "The operation of wheelclamping firms could be dealt with by the use of statutory regulations/codes of practice recommended by the Authority."

That refers to the Government's main proposal, which is to set up a private security authority to regulate all the activities of private sector security firms, including clampers. I fail to understand why the Government have chosen that route; perhaps the Minister will explain.

Given the urgency of the problem, which has been admitted by the Home Secretary both before and after Labour entered office, will the Minister explain why the Government have chosen to create yet another new authority? Why not amend the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to cover wheel clamping? That would be a simple procedure. Why not legislate within the new Transport Bill, using local authorities as the regulatory bodies? That was clearly an option when the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions introduced the transport White Paper; it remains an option, because that Bill is still in Committee.

Have the Government considered using other existing legislation covering local government miscellaneous provisions to give statutory powers to new regulations? I ask that because it is to the local authority, or local police, that disgruntled motorists go when they have problems. Motorists and landowners are familiar with those bodies: they already see them enforcing parking controls, so an extension of local authority functions rather than the creation of a new body would appear logical.

Given that the Government appear determined to crack this nut with an extremely large hammer, will the Minister give a date when the private security authority Bill will be put before the House? If not, will he confirm that, despite his commitment to the hon. Members for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton) and for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) on 17 January, at columns 550-51

4 Feb 2000 : Column 1404

in Hansard, there is absolutely no chance of legislation being introduced within the lifetime of this Parliament? If so, will he accept a private Member's Bill on the subject?

Despite all the promises of the past seven years, my constituents and those of many right hon. and hon. Members will continue to suffer at the hands of these modern-day highwaymen. Furthermore, landowners, who have a right to safeguard their land, will continue to be castigated as rogues for so doing. The Government have conceded that there is a problem; the public want a solution, as does the legitimate industry. The solution is relatively straightforward. The question is, when will the Government act?

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