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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 hope that my hon. Friend is correct in his understanding, but that has to be spelt out in the Bill, because it is not my understanding. If he is right, no problem—but if I am right, there is a problem. That is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be fleshed out and firmly written down, because clause 54(3)(a) refers to cases where

“there is express or implied consent by the driver of the vehicle to restricting its movement by a fixed barrier”.

Whether the barrier is up or down is irrelevant. Currently, the local planning authority may well refuse an application to start erecting barriers in carefully designed new housing areas, with landscaped grounds and all the rest of it, but if the Bill goes ahead, they will have to erect barriers to meet the very point that has quite rightly been made. Those are the unintended consequences.

I would argue that if residents living on a private housing estate with their own private communal parking areas wish to put a wheel clamp on, why can they not do so? It is an extraordinary state of affairs when the coalition Government are putting forward a Bill with a clause that would give more rights to the illegal parker than the person who owns the land where the car is illegally parked. The notion that residents could run off to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or whoever else to get fines paid, and all the rest of it, is fanciful. Therefore, with the greatest of respect, what I would say is that more work needs to be done on that one.

The House of Commons Library has produced some excellent research—as ever, by the way—on the Bill. If Members who have the briefing would care to look at pages 26 through to 28, they will realise that the authors of the Bill need to dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s in Committee, because—I repeat—what we have at the moment is an opportunity for those who want to park illegally in other people’s private, communal, residential parking areas to do so almost with impunity. Under a heading entitled “The Bill’s provisions”, the research paper tells us:

“The Government had not previously indicated that there would be any parking-related measures in the Bill, or in fact that it was planning to make any changes to parking regulation at all.”

Therefore, those provisions have been bolted on. People who live in town centres have the advantages of the town centre, but sometimes one of the disadvantages is people coming into town, not parking where they should and abusing other people’s private parking areas. I ask the Minister to address that issue in Committee. I understand the need to tackle rogue wheel-clamping firms, but, with the greatest respect, I think that private home owners should have the right to use wheel clamps on vehicles parked on their private property, whether it is a private drive or a communal parking area.

The second unintended consequence of the Bill relates to those people whom we all love and who delight in causing problems for their neighbours by, among other things, having all-night parties. Chapter 2 of the Bill covers safeguards for certain surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. I am grateful to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health for drawing my attention to the serious consequences of these provisions. There cannot be a Member here tonight who has not been contacted by constituents as a result of noisy antisocial neighbours.

As an aside, I would like to make an important observation as the former chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on noise reduction. I wish that the coalition Government would introduce regulations to require greater noise insulation in new house building. A lot of attention is paid to heat retention in such buildings, but nothing is done about noise elimination. Perhaps another Government Department could pick that one up.

It has been suggested that the Bill has been prompted by claims in the popular press of unjustified snooping by local authorities, because it contains provisions to restrict the surveillance activities of those authorities by inserting additional tests into the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. One such test would require authorisations given by senior local authority officers to be approved, in addition, by a magistrate. That would make the process of authorisation more time consuming, and it would make things harder for increasingly stretched authorities—not least at night, when most complaints of this nature are made. The likely outcome of the proposal is that many fewer noise complaints would be investigated.