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Sunday, June 20, 2010

A worthwhile ban

It has always been my view that banning things is an action of last resort and that there has to be clear benefits for the vast majority of the population before it can be considered.

The smoking ban fell into that category because it amounted to a health and safety measure for workers in pubs, bars, nightclubs and other premises where secondhand smoke damaged their health. Their right to work in a smoke free environment trumped the right of others to smoke because, let's face it, the smokers could always go elsewhere to enjoy their guilty pleasure. I have not yet seen a convincing case to take these measures further without slipping into nanny-statism.

The one thing that I am happy to ban is the exploitative tactics of private wheel-clampers and I am pleased to see that the new UK Government propose to do precisely that. Although landowners do have the right to protect their land against illegal parking and obstruction the tactics that have been employed by many of the companies who operate a clamping regime go beyond what is reasonable. In many cases they are seeking to sucker the motorist into paying as much money as possible to recover his/her vehicle, instead of properly managing the land concerned.

As the Mail on Sunday says: Motoring organisations have been deluged with complaints about rogue clampers who fail to properly display parking regulations – then charge extortionate fees to free vehicles.

More than 1,900 companies have the power to hit drivers for up to £800 a time to release cars left ‘too long’ in supermarket, hospital or railway station car parks.

Now Ministers have drafted proposals to abolish all private clamping in England and Wales, 20 years after the practice was outlawed in Scotland.

Under the Home Office plans, firms involved in the £240million-a-year business would only be able to immobilise cars if they are contracted to do so by local authorities. Without an official council warrant, firms would be restricted to issuing parking tickets.

And it is not just private companies who profit. The paper adds that the Labour Government made more than £15million in five years by selling the names and addresses of six million motorists to wheel clampers and car park operators:

The information was passed to unscrupulous operators such as convicted criminals Darren Havell and Gordon Miller, who ramped up profits for their Portsmouth wheel clamping company by deliberately blocking in drivers with a van and immobilising cars as they were being driven away.

Abuses include charging drivers three times for the same parking offence, failing to offer any appeals process, and insisting on cash-only payment – then frogmarching motorists to cash machines if they cannot pay up. And as Labour MP, Rosie Winterton says it is "vulnerable elderly people, young mothers with children, and people who can least afford it are being stung for large amounts of money."

What is most heartening is that it is a Liberal Democrat Minister who is leading this clean-up. Transport Minister, Norman Baker is working with Liberal Democrat Home Office Minister, Lynne Featherstone to get the change in place as soon as possible. I hope that they succeed.
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