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House of Lords

Thursday, 12th February 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.

Wheel-clamping on Private Land

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to regulate the activities on private land of authorities and firms concerned with wheel clamping of vehicles.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Government are still considering the most effective way to regulate the activities of private wheel-clamping firms as a part of our commitment to a programme of better regulation. Unscrupulous wheel-clamping firms have caused a great deal of distress to many people. It is a situation which cannot be allowed to continue. We are still looking at all the options in this area in order to prevent abuses by wheel-clampers.

The issue arises in the context of regulating the private security industry as a whole. We have conducted a consultation exercise seeking the views of the industry and others on the best way to take forward regulation. A number of bodies which have an interest in wheel-clamping, including the AA and the RAC, have responded to this exercise and we shall be making recommendations for action when we have analysed the results of the exercise.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. His assurances are most welcome. Does he agree that in view of the fact that, according to the RAC, wheel-clamping is a £150 million business and involves a great deal of malpractice and humiliation, regulation should come sooner rather than later? When framing the regulations, will the Minister consider exempting emergency vehicles, disabled vehicles and particularly vehicles such as hearses, as recently a hearse was clamped outside a church with the body still in it?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I certainly agree that regulation should come sooner rather than later. A previous administration put out a consultation paper in 1993 but did not announce a conclusion. That is why we are attending to the problem ourselves. The question of emergency vehicles must be considered. I believe that every sympathy should be given to those whose vehicles are used for the public benefit as opposed to private convenience.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in Scotland as long ago as 1992

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wheel-clamping on private land was judged as extortion and theft? As the Lord Justice General said:

    "an activity as sensitive to abuse as wheelclamping requires careful regulation under law".

Does he agree that at present the legitimate landowner in Scotland is unable to protect his property--I refer in particular to hospitals, supermarkets and so forth--whereas in England the motorist has no protection from cowboy clampers? I grant the Minister's comment that the previous government did nothing about the problem over a long period, and I hope that we can expect better from him.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what an opportunity! I can assure your Lordships, hand on heart, that you can always look to me to do better than the previous government, with every confidence, satisfaction guaranteed.

Under Scottish law, theft is differently defined; it is simply appropriation of another's belongings. In England and Wales, one must establish dishonesty and the intention permanently to deprive. A case in the Court of Appeal in our jurisdiction in England and Wales, Arthur and Arthur v. Anker, held that the clampers act legally as long as they provide adequate warning signs and the release fee is reasonable. There is no doubt that the practice is a social menace. We believe that it is part of the general malpractice in some parts of what is wrongly called the private security industry, where there are criminal and unscrupulous elements. The Government's policy is to introduce regulation and possibly licensing. We believe that the clamping of motor cars is part of a wider problem, although it is a distinct aspect of it.

Party Political Fund-raising

3.11 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that, in any future legislation relating to party political fund-raising, there will be a requirement that any allegation that money donated to a political party has been stolen or derived from improper sources will be referred to an arbitrator or commissioner who will have the power to order the money to be repaid either to the donor or to a charitable organisation.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Government are committed to banning the foreign funding of political parties and to requiring disclosure of donations above £5,000. We are awaiting the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, on the review it is undertaking of the funding of political parties.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he recall that in the case of Mr. Asil Nadir, the £365,000 which he stole from Polly Peck and paid into the coffers of the Conservative Party has still not been repaid? There was also the strange

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episode of the £1 million paid to that party by a family in Hong Kong with a strong relationship with the drugs trade. In future, should not such episodes be rigorously investigated by some form of independent commissioner?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, to the best of my knowledge, the money which was donated by Mr. Asil Nadir, presently a fugitive from justice, has never been repaid. If I am wrong, I dare say that I shall be corrected.

In respect of the £1 million from the Ma family, my right honourable friend Mr. Straw thought that that was a matter of such public importance that he wrote to the present leader of the Opposition on 21st January asking why Mr. Ma gave the money to the Conservative Party and who negotiated it and also a number of other questions. He ended by saying:

    "In the light of this information do you think it appropriate for the Tory Party to keep this money? ... Would not the best outcome be for the Tory Party to donate the £1 million to anti-drug charities? ... I look forward to your speedy reply".

That was on 21st January. I believe today to be 12th February. He is still waiting for the speedy reply.

Ofsted: Annual Report

3.13 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their views on the latest annual report just published by Ofsted.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England confirms that there have been improvements in standards of teaching and learning. Schools and teachers are to be congratulated on that. It also confirms that there is still much work to be done before we achieve our aim of creating a world-class education system in which every child has an equal opportunity of success.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Will he not agree that the congratulations that he has made to the teaching profession ought also to go to the inspectorate for their part in improving standards and congratulations also for the clarity with which they identify areas in which further improvement can be made. In this connection, would the Minister agree that an area of vital importance is that of initial teacher training? May I refer him, in the hope that he may share it, to the concern expressed by the chief inspector on page 61 of that report with reference to a sample 25 per cent. of teacher training institutions which were inspected and which had,

    "some areas where the quality is clearly less than satisfactory",

with student teachers showing "serious weaknesses" in the very skills that,

    "had been judged at least adequate by the providers"?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, first, I fully endorse the words of the noble Lord in relation to the teaching profession and, indeed, the work of the inspectorate. Teachers have often received a lot of stick from

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politicians and I think where improvements are seen this House should record them and pass on congratulations to the teaching profession.

As regards teacher training, we are concerned at the inspectorate's findings. We have already identified that there are problems in that area and we have taken steps to improve teacher training. We have introduced new standards for initial teacher training and we are in the process of introducing a national curriculum, starting with the vital basics of English and mathematics at primary level. That will be extended next to science and information and communications technology at both primary and secondary level and English and mathematics at secondary level. The Teacher Training Agency is currently consulting on those ambitions.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the best training in the world cannot turn people into good teachers unless they themselves have a high quality of education and a great deal of skill and affinity with the job that they are doing? Will he tell the House what the Government are doing to improve the recruitment of the really top students in sixth forms to attract them towards teaching?

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