some default text...
Previous Section Index Home Page


Companies

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Sea Fisheries

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Animals

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Betting, Gaming and Lotteries

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Immigration


27 Mar 2007 : Column 1468

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 28 March, pursuant to Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Immigration and Nationality

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 28 March, pursuant to Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Delegated Legislation Committees),


Social Security

Question agreed to.

EUROPEAN UNION DOCUMENTS

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),


Maritime Policy

Question agreed to.

Petitions

Sub-Post Offices

12.57 am

David Maclean (Penrith and The Border) (Con): I am pleased to present a petition containing almost 12,000 signatures from petitioners in Penrith and The Border and Carlisle constituencies, who demand that the Government abandon their plans to cut 2,500 post offices, especially those scheduled for closure in
27 Mar 2007 : Column 1469
Cumbria. More than 8,000 signatures are from Penrith and The Border constituents, and have been collected in almost 100 post offices the length and breadth of the largest constituency in England and Wales. My colleague John Stephenson, the Conservative candidate for Carlisle, has collected 3,500 signatures from sub-post offices in the Carlisle constituency. Collectively, all those signatures indicate the strength of feeling among constituents in the northern half of Cumbria that our network of sub-post offices is vital, and that we do not want to lose any of them.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

Inland Waterways

1 am

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I wish to present a petition relating to the Grand Union canal, which runs through Linslade and the town of Leighton Buzzard in my constituency. It has been signed by many of my constituents and others who currently enjoy the canal network in that part of the country.

The petition states:


27 Mar 2007 : Column 1470

To lie upon the Table.

Mini Motorbikes

1.1 am

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I wish to present a petition mainly from the residents of the town of Dunstable and the nearby village of Totternhoe, concerning the problems caused by mini motorbikes to my constituents in those areas.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.


27 Mar 2007 : Column 1471

Road Traffic Debts

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .—[Mr. Heppe l l.]

1.3 am

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I am very lucky to be speaking to the House at this witching hour. However, the Table Office has somewhat marred the beauty, simplicity and elegance of my title, which was “The Enforcement of Road Traffic Fines by Bailiffs”. I want to raise that issue because it is producing a huge extortion racket, with local authorities—which should protect the people—colluding with cheating bailiffs to impose huge and excessive charges that are then justified by lies and enforced by bullying. Those charges are imposed on motorists who have unpaid fines, many of whom do not even know that they have offended. That is the group I wish to talk about in particular. I am talking about the innocent, not the Nigerian embassy or the American embassy, or habitual offenders who do not seem to get caught. This is an extortion racket against the innocent.

I want to give an example involving my daughter, Susan Mitchell. She lives in Dulwich—all my kids are middle-class and have moved up in the world faster than I have. She arrived home from work on 5 March this year and set off to take the kids to their swimming class only to find that her car had been clamped by an enforcement firm called JBW. It was demanding £706.22, plus £1 if she paid by credit card—£707.22—to release it. It said that if that was not paid it would tow the car off and sell it.

This incident was related to an unpaid parking charge from 8 September last year. My daughter says that a ticket was not stuck on the car, and given that she was moving house at the time to a house two streets away, it seems clear that any reminder to pay and any notice of the court order had gone to the old house. We have this obstinate British habit of not sending court orders, reminders to pay and other such documents by recorded delivery. Every other European country requires proof of delivery; we do not, but we should.

The local authority, Southwark council, had been notified of my daughter’s move. It had the change of address, but it did not bother to check its records; it simply handed the case to the bailiffs. The attitude was, “Here’s a nice contract for JBW. Let’s give them a nice little earner.” JBW, the enforcement agency, claims to have checked with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency—indeed, it charged my daughter £5.32 for that check—which had been notified of the change of address, so JBW knew of that change. Nevertheless, it claims to have made three visits to the old address, for which it charged my daughter £152. Incidentally, the new residents at the old address did not notice those visits, so they cannot have been door-knocking visits.

JBW also claims to have written to the old address warning of distraint action, as it is required to do. Again, it did not send that letter by recorded delivery. It explained to my daughter that it is too expensive to send these things out by recorded delivery. It gets only a statutory allowance for writing one letter—£11.20. Recorded delivery costs 68p and a first-class stamp 32p—a total of £1. So it prefers the certainties of
27 Mar 2007 : Column 1472
second-class mail for the delivery of these documents, to the wrong address. It did not waste any more stamps writing to the new address, when it found it. In fact, it did not write to it at all; it simply snuck round and clamped the car.

This is the fundamental problem. Bailiffs do not want people to pay up on a first approach, which my daughter would have done once the situation had been explained to her. There is no money for the bailiffs if the person coughs up. They get fees only if they visit the house, so we get these phantom claims for calls that were never in fact made. The streets of London are presumably filled with ghostly visitors flitting from house to house, unnoticed by the householders. They get money only if they distrain or clamp the vehicle, because that entitles them to charges, which they set.

JBW clamped my daughter’s car and charged her £240 for doing so, which is double the rate that it says it charges for that service. That made a total of £707, of which £155 went to Southwark. Jamie Waller, the boss of JBW, says in an affidavit that he varies charges by area, so presumably the posh areas get the higher charges and the less well-off ones get the lower charges. My daughter must therefore live in a middling-posh area.

Eventually, once my daughter had paid, JBW came to remove the clamp—at 6 o’clock in the morning the next day. Anybody in that situation would be as distressed as my daughter was. What do they do? Who do they turn to? Naturally, she rang Southwark council for help. It told her that the charge was “not unreasonable”. A charge of £707 seems to me absolutely monstrous, but to Southwark council it is not unreasonable. It must pay its staff very well indeed if they can afford to pay such charges out of their own pockets. The council is very courageous in committing itself to the phrase “not unreasonable”.

Southwark council also told my daughter that this was none of its business—it was between her and JBW. That is not true, because the council has a duty of care toward its residents; however, it also has a contract with JBW. However dodgy JBW might be, Southwark has a contract with it to perform this service. That makes it liable for the acts of its agents, because JBW is acting as the agent of the council. Instead of giving that useless and untrue information, the council could have told my daughter that she could have made a statutory declaration in the county court, which would have cost her £5. That would have gone to the Northampton parking fines centre, stayed the process and the clamp could have been removed. However, Southwark council was spectacularly useless and did not give my daughter that information. It did not do so because it is in collusion on this issue with JBW, because it has a contract with JBW for the charges. People are left defenceless and bullied by the bailiffs into coughing up. My daughter coughed up £707.22.

I was appalled by that enormous and ridiculous charge, so I began to investigate with the help of the London motorists action group. Sheila Harding, Philip Evans, Alison Laughton and others were all very helpful and very angry. Through those investigations, I have built up a picture of what is a huge extortion racket operated by a £6 billion industry, primarily in London but all over the country. They are private contractors on contract to public bodies.


Next Section Index Home Page