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Lord Goodhart: I appreciate that, my Lords. However, I also assume that it will not be a 5 per cent or a 10 per cent increase, because that would not really make much difference. One is probably looking at an increase of, say, 25 per cent, which means that it will take about four years before the interest becomes equivalent to the amount of the increase. For the reasons outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, there is a very clear incentive on people who have fines not to pay them simply because, unlike personal debts, they do not increase.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 80 concerns clamping orders. Paragraph 13 of Schedule 2 sets out a number of further steps which can be taken against defaulters by the fines officer. Those steps include the classic methods of enforcing debt, such as
The further steps which can be taken include a vehicle clamping order. That is not primarily a method of getting the money, though it could eventually lead to the money being obtained by the sale of the vehicle, but is intended to put pressure on the defaulter to pay the fine by making life particularly difficult for him or her. Depending on the circumstances, it may make life very difficult indeed. The clamping order could deprive the defaulter of the means to travel to work. It could deprive the defaulter's spouse or partner of the means to travel to work. It could deprive the defaulter of the means to take his or her children to school. A clamping order is therefore a very powerful weapon to ensure the payment of a fine.
I accept that there should be power to make a clamping order. It is, no doubt, a very effective method of getting a fine paid. But we believe that such a power should not be wielded by a fines officer, who is not a judicial officer. If the fines officer thinks that a clamping order is needed, he should be required to refer the case back to the magistrates in order that they can make the clamping order themselves if they see fit. I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Amendment No. 80 would remove the sanction of clamping from the list of measures available to the fines officer as further steps which may be taken against persistent defaulters. Similarly, Amendment No. 81 alters the wording of paragraph 13(3) of Schedule 2 to restrict the making of a clamping order to the court.
The National Audit Office has recommended delegating more enforcement responsibilities to administrative staff. The fines collection scheme will allow for this. It will be for the court to make a collection order under the scheme. But once the collection order is made, we believe it right that the fines officer should take the purely administrative decision as to the best way of enforcing it. In some cases, that will involve making a clamping order. However, only the court will be able to order the sale of a vehicle if the fine then remains unpaid.
The Government believe that clamping a defaulter's car will prove an effective method of encouraging payment. As I said in Committee when we debated a similar amendment, we know that vehicles are sometimes the closest thing to individuals' heartscloser, sometimes, even than their family members. Therefore, as I said then, vehicles must be jealously protected. Faced with the choice of paying a fine or having the precious vehicle clamped and possibly sold by order of the court, we believe that many defaulters will find the money.
The knowledge that the fines officer can and will use this sanction without the need to return to the court, should be a powerful incentive to pay up. If it works as intendedand this will be determined by the pilot schemesthe number of defaulters who are actually
The pilot schemes will reveal whether clamping will cause significant problems. Should any element of the scheme fail to operate as intended, we will take the opportunity provided by Clause 31 to make any necessary adjustments before putting the final scheme to Parliament for approval.
There is already a precedent for vehicle clamping without a court order. The legislation for congestion charging allows for a vehicle found to be within the congestion zone to be clamped if that vehicle has three outstanding fines. There does not need to be a prior reference to the court, and authorised enforcement officers are able to order the clamping of the vehicle. This would obviously be a matter about which the court could express a view at the time of imposing the sentence. It could caution or advise the defendant that this may be a method which would be used to enforce those decisions.
We think this is a useful incentive. Once we have evaluated the results of the pilot, we will of course reflect on whether it proves to be as effective as we hope. However, we have a way of expunging this proposal if it is not as successful as one would like. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
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