Wheel clampers

I hesitate to raise the topic of parking because I know that the introduction of new controls in many of our villages has caused controversy.  I don't get involved in these decisions as they are for local councillors to take, not Parliament.

But there has been one parking issue which has demanded my attention.  Excessive wheel clamping on private land has seen the extortion and intimidation of unsuspecting drivers, with people either forced in desperation to the nearest cashpoint or left stranded as their car is towed away.

I've received letters from a number of my constituents who have fallen victim to these cowboy clampers.

In one instance a 76-year-old man from Storrington went off to buy a ticket from the machine in Southampton and when he returned a few minutes later his car was being clamped.  Fortunately, he managed to get his car released there and then, but only after handing over more than his entire pension for the week.

He was told that if he didn't pay the fine of £115, he would be charged £500 for the car to be removed and still more for every day that it was stored at the pound.  Questioning the size of the fine, he was told that because it was on private land they could charge what they liked.

And when he complained that the signs were too small, the clamper said that if they were any bigger he would be out of a job!

Thankfully, an end to this menace is now in sight.  On Tuesday, my fellow Home Office minister, Lynne Featherstone, announced that there would be a ban on wheel clamping on private land.

The measure will be introduced in the Coalition Government's Freedom Bill in November.

More than 2,000 existing clamping licences will be revoked and, once in place, anyone who clamps a vehicle or tows it away on private land will face tough penalties.

Of course nobody is suggesting that people should be allowed to park on someone else's property without permission or without paying for a valid ticket.

But we have to put an end to the outrageous practices of clamping firms who behave like Dick Turpin.

Christopher N Howarth