Here is my column, published yesterday in the Ham & High, on the government’s decision to ban wheel clamping on private land.
Denver booted out!
When the Denver boot (wheel clamp) was introduced in this country – I remember wondering what the logic was of this new ‘solution’. A car is parked illegally or dangerously – so let’s make sure it stays in its illegal or dangerous position for much longer – by immobilising it!
Ever since then – this poor solution (albeit to a very real problem) – has caused untold misery. The horror stories abound: from the disabled man who was frog marched for twenty minutes to a cash point on a freezing November evening to a disabled man who had his wheelchair actually in the car that was clamped who had no money and so was left, stranded, by the clampers. However – it’s not just the extreme horror stories that matter – it is the every day horror story of a punishment completely out of kilter and disproportionate to the actual crime. Release fees of hundreds of pounds are made for what is, after all, a parking offence.
Parking regulations have to be fair and just if we want people comply and support them. Parking regulations should be used to improve traffic flow and improve safety – not act as revenue raisers. Wheel clamping – which was originally about putting off motorists from parking illegally on the highway has developed into a £1billion per year industry.
Successive governments have tried to deal with rogue clampers. Licensing of individuals working for vehicle immobilisation companies was the first attempt to rein in the industry because so much abusive behaviour was reported by people about the way they were treated by the clampers. The Independent Security Authority currently licenses the individuals working for a clamping company at a cost of £245 per annum.
However, licensing individuals did not stop the abuse and neither did it stop the poor signing, extortionate fees or the non-provision of receipts – because it is the companies that set the level of release fee or the position of the signage – not the individuals.
As soon as I became a Home Office minister with wheel clamping as part of my portfolio, I was deluged by letters from other MPs (representing their constituents) asking when we would do something about rogue clampers.
It seemed that we were continuing to try and make something work that never could or would. There had been little or no enforcement when complaints had been made against rogue clampers – even though they were now licensed. The police, with the best will in the world, did not have this as a priority in crime fighting. To move to licensing the companies as well as the individuals working for them and setting up an independent appeals process for aggrieved motorists would have been the next step. That would have meant more regulations that would not be enforced. As to the cost – an independent appeals process would cost £2million just for set up costs – and people would pay forever after for the running costs out of the fees they were charged.
The other option was to ban wheel clamping on private property altogether. Towing would have to be banned too – otherwise people would just find their vehicle disappeared instead of clamped. Banning had been introduced in Scotland in 1992 and had worked extremely well.
But what to do about the owners of private land? Of course – there has to be something to take the place of wheel clamping – some deterrent to prohibit people from parking on private property. Landowners have an absolute right to protect their land from people parking on it. So – in Scotland private landowners either protected that land by a barrier method or switched to ticketing.
Ticketing is highly regulated and consumer protection legislation already applies. There is already an independent appeals process in place – and it is a good and proportionate deterrent. A couple of people have raised the issue of there being so many unregistered / unlicensed cars – particularly in London, for example, and that these car owners would ignore a ticket. To that I would say to Boris and the Met police – about time this was properly dealt with rather than the go after ever more punitive methods for those who do pay up. It’s always the good guys who act responsibly and pay up – because they are good guys. Let’s go after the bad guys!
The legislation that is needed will be brought in through the Freedom Bill in or around November. If you would like to raise any issues or make any suggestions to inform that legislation – please feel free to write to me at the Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF