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Perhaps I have cornered the market in those who have problems with clampers, but I have heard plenty of concerns expressed. I have had complaints nearly every other week. It got to the stage where I was on first name terms with the people in the companies concerned, although I am not sure whether that was good for them or me.
In my area, a firm of clampers was brought in by residents, but the clampers began to clamp visitors to those residents along with everyone else, and it was realised that there was no regulation of clamping and that the clampers were a law unto themselves. We have all heard horror stories about clamping firms. I won a case in which a lady was clamped who had a disabled child and needed her vehicle for transportation and so paid the fine. Unbelievably, the clampers informed her after payment that the guys who unclamped vehicles were headed home for the weekend and she would have to wait until Monday. After a number of phone calls, I got them to come back and do the right thing by letting her drive away. It is abhorrent that such daylight robbery, though morally defunct, was legally acceptable. The Home Office estimates that 500,000 drivers every year are clamped on private land. The week before last, I read in a newspaper that a lady who worked in a taxi firm had come outside to find her car had been clamped. She contacted her firm, and the taxi drivers, like a wagon train, surrounded the clamping car until the impasse was sorted out.
It is estimated that the public pay out £55 million in clamping fees, which benefit nobody apart from the clamping companies. Towing away will also be outlawed, with private landowners still able to regulate parking by erecting a barrier to keep drivers out or charging regulated parking fees. The ban will apply only on private land and will not affect clamping and towing by lawful authorities such as the police, local authorities or Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland. That means that those who do not pay appropriate tax or adhere to signage will be held accountable. That must be good news, and a system is in place to ensure that that happens. Councils will continue to have the power to tow away cars abandoned on private land. Police can also remove vehicles that are causing an obstruction or are dangerously parked, providing a redress for home and business owners. In relation to clause 56, however, I believe that a reasonable standardised fee should be introduced to regulate extortionate fees that may still be levied. I hope that the Minister will address that point, because the Bill provides the opportunity to clarify maximum fees.
In one of his plays, Shakespeare wrote, “Kill all lawyers,” which was a bit extreme, but some people have used similar terminology in relation to clamping companies. I tell them that that is just words and does not mean much, but I am hopeful that it will no longer be the quotation used in my constituency if the Bill is amended and tightened up.
Harking back to the need to control legislation, there was a great deal of concern some time ago about local councils spying on people through bugged litter bins. I hope that the Bill will provide protection in that regard.
I would commend the use of CCTV, which is a kind of sleeping policeman that observes at a distance all that takes place. While one Member mentioned that he had only one complaint against CCTV, every person who comes to me tells me that they want more CCTV. In my opinion, CCTV is a weapon that we should use, as the coverage that such cameras record enables us to catch those involved in unlawful incidents. As someone who watches late-night television programmes such as “CSI”, I am always impressed by the number of policemen who come on to a crime scene outside a pub or restaurant or in the street, and I just wish that some cases in the past had had the same level of response.
I commend the Bill, although I have concerns that I hope will be addressed in Committee. If that is not the case, I put down a marker that we will address those matters on the Floor of the House when the opportunity arises.