In a flurry of statements at the start of the new Parliament, new Ministers vowed that this would not be a "regulating" government. Hands off wherever possible – that was the mantra. But, as the Ministers' red boxes start to pile up, they are realising it's not quite as easy as that. Regulation can be a force for good and to my mind the private wheelclamping industry is one where regulation is long overdue.
The Yorkshire Post has reported a number of incidents across the region, particularly in the tourist village of Haworth and more recently in Hull where members of the public have suffered at the hands of private wheelclamping companies. For people in Doncaster, this isn't a new story. I first became involved in this campaign 14 years ago when I realised the extent of the misery and distress rogue wheelclamping companies were causing in Doncaster.
Here's just two examples of what has happened to my constituents:
An older man who had just had both his hips replaced was clamped and told to hand over 100 in cash. Not being a person who carried around that sort of money, he had to walk to the cashpoint to get it. When he returned, he was confronted with a further demand for 55 to cancel a towing vehicle that had been ordered in the time he had spent away. He had to trudge back to the cashpoint to get more cash – this was on a Sunday night in February when we were experiencing some of the coldest temperatures for a generation.
Two ladies – one in her 60s and one in her 70s – were fined 250 each to release their vehicles. When they came to see me, they said they felt threatened by the man who clamped them – he was not wearing a uniform and his vehicle was unmarked. When they rang the number to have the car released, they were told that if they did not pay the fine by 4pm they would have to pay another 100 and a cheque would not be acceptable. She said of the incident: "I am a pensioner and to be bullied over the telephone… is very intimidating. The stress and anxiety caused – having to obtain money, hire a taxi and locate the whereabouts of the vehicles left me bereft and traumatised."
These are just two accounts of the way people are treated. The AA and the RAC have received literally thousands of complaints from pensioners, disabled drivers, mothers with young children about the activities of private wheelclamping companies. They even had a case of a Good Samaritan who stopped to help a victim of a hit and run accident and was clamped, despite explaining what he was doing.
Some progress was made under the previous Labour government. In 2005, the Security Industry Authority was set up to license individual clampers. This was a breakthrough, but did not solve the problem. It became clear that the only way to guard against rogue practices was to license the clamping companies themselves, not just individual clampers, to make adhering to a strict code of conduct and having a fair appeals process a condition of getting a licence That's why the last Government brought in the Crime and Security Act.
So we now have an Act which can at last properly control rogue wheelclamping companies. But we now need the regulations to implement the Act. Unless those regulations are brought in, we will not have the control over the rogue companies we need.
In the House of Commons this week, I called on the Minister to bring in the regulations as quickly as possible. I cited the fact that the new coalition Government agreement said: "We will tackle rogue private sector wheelclampers." In response the Minister condemned activities which amounted to "entrapment" and "abusive behaviour". This was encouraging – as was her comment that "we must act".
My worry is that the Minister may be considering "looking at all the options" – which smacks to me of delay. What I would say to all readers of the Yorkshire Post is that if you have had any experience of rogue wheelclampers – tell your
MP and ask them to lobby the Government for quick action
At the moment, drivers continue to be terrorised by a small but active number of rogue wheelclampers. No time should be lost by the Home Office in putting a stop to their appalling practices.
So the answer to the question "to regulate or not to regulate" on this occasion is "yes please – and as quickly as possible".