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Protection of Freedoms Bill

Part of Resource Extraction (Transparency and Reporting) – in the House of Commons at 9:11 pm on 1st March 2011.

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Photo of Bob Russell Bob Russell Liberal Democrat, Colchester 9:11 pm, 1st March 2011

I shall support the Second Reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, although I hope that some of the reservations I am about to express will be taken note of in Committee. There are at least two unintended consequences in the Bill concerning not so much the protection of freedoms for the law-abiding, as making life so much better for two categories of antisocial people. The first are those who park illegally on other people’s property, and the second are those who cause undue misery with late-night parties and so on. I cannot believe that there is a single Member here who has not had casework from constituents complaining about late-night noise or antisocial noise on summer afternoons. If the Bill passes as proposed, with its subsections and so on, I regret to say that it will be an open invitation for the antisocial noise people to up their game in the confident knowledge that local authorities will have fewer powers at their disposal to deal with them.

I will, however, begin with the wheel-clamping provision, which has been added to the Bill because—I think—it was here to have things added to it. I am not here to defend the rogue firms of wheel-clampers. I do not think that anyone in the Chamber is prepared to speak up for those cowboys, although I always think that to describe them as that is an insult to cowboys. Nevertheless, there are companies and individuals who have abused the wheel clamp, which used correctly and in the right way is a tool that helps the law-abiding.

The Minister for Equalities started this debate on 17 August last year. I have raised the matter on the Floor of the House before and spoken to her, so I am not saying anything that will come as a surprise. She announced that the freedom Bill would provide for an outright ban on clamping on private land, where it is carried out by private companies. I can just about understand that if the private land is a commercial property, but I am not sure about the idea when applied to private land owned by individual householders. At the moment, the Bill proposes that if somebody parked in the Minister’s drive, he would be restricted in the action that he could take to deal with the problem.

I want to quote the case of the Balkerne Heights residential area, which is right next to a multi-storey car park on the edge of Colchester town centre. The communal parking for the area’s housing became a magnet for illegal parking by late-night revellers, weekend shoppers and so on. The notion that polite requests not to park in people’s private parking areas will be acceded to is a little optimistic. The people causing the problem generally responded with certain words, the second of which was “off”. The only way that those parking abuses were dealt with was through the introduction of the wheel clamp. I would say that the Minister’s front drive is exactly the same as the communal parking area of people living in flats or communal housing. It is their drive: it is where they park their cars.