Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Question 93: To ask the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the vehicle immobilisation regulation Bill 2010 that has been published by Fine Gael; if he intends to use this Bill as the basis to regulate the clamping industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35400/10]
I take the opportunity of welcoming Deputy Simon Coveney as transport spokesperson. I did not have the opportunity to do so before the summer recess. I welcome Deputy Tom Hayes as spokesperson on road safety and road matters generally. I look forward to what no doubt will be robust exchanges but also the level of co-operation that we have, particularly in regard to road safety matters.
I am aware of the vehicle immobilisation regulation Bill 2010 published in August by Fine Gael.
The road traffic legislative code provides for clamping by local authorities or by companies under contract to local authorities as an enforcement tool in respect of parking on the public road or in local authority car parks. However, a fundamental principle under road traffic law is that regulatory provisions apply only to the public road. Clamping of vehicles on private land goes beyond the remit of my Department and I have no proposals to regulate it.
I, too, look forward to what I hope will be constructive dialogue. It will be critical at times but I will try to ensure that, where possible, we are constructive from this side of the House.
Fine Gael's bringing forward of this legislation is an example of that. We have looked at what is working elsewhere and what is not working and, therefore, what I launched some weeks ago is straightforward legislation which essentially states in simplistic terms that if someone intends to operate a vehicle immobilisation company, that is, a clamping company, he or she will have to get a licence to do that. If they are clamping people's cars in a private car park, whether that is in an hotel, a hospital, an apartment complex, a restaurant, a shopping centre or whatever, they will have a set of rules and a code of conduct that is legally enforceable applied to them. Unfortunately, there have been examples of companies abusing their position of power by using clamping to charge ridiculous sums of money, which is an over punishment for people parking in the wrong place. This is about getting a balance between ensuring that clamping is responsibly used as a tool to manage car park facilities and also protecting consumers from being abused.
I do not accept that the Minister's remit does not allow him to legislate for this issue. It has already been legislated for in many European countries where they have simply put a regulatory mechanism in place to regulate this industry in which, unfortunately, there are some cowboys operating. I ask the Minister to look at it again. This is supported by the legitimate parking industry in Ireland who want to see this industry cleaned up.
I am aware that some other countries in Europe had such legislation but not under the road traffic Acts. The United Kingdom Home Office, which is probably the equivalent of our Department of Justice and Law Reform, introduced it and it was used as part of a licensing system along the lines the Deputy is talking about. It must be noted, however, that the current UK coalition Government proposed to amend those arrangements it has in place to prohibit clamping on private land as it considers that regulation of that kind is not successful. It is in place in England and Wales also. While I do not disagree that cowboys operating in the area should be eliminated from it, it is not a matter for a transport Minister to do that. If they are doing something that breaks the law or is against consumer interests, it is probably other codes of legislation that should be used.
The difficulty with that is that I have met the National Transport Authority on this issue. The National Transport Authority was set up at the start of this year by the Minister. It is the obvious office to deal with regulating this industry. All transport matters are being amalgamated into the National Transport Authority and it has said it sees no reason the National Transport Authority would not have the capacity to act as a regulator and to provide an appeals mechanism for consumers who believe they have been abused by clampers. It is the obvious Ministry to deal with this issue and to have the Minister for Transport who oversees the National Transport Authority to introduce the legislation. If he is not the suitable Minister he certainly has the responsibility to ensure that an appropriate Cabinet colleague would attempt to bring forward the appropriate legislation. The "do nothing" approach ignores the fact that we have a segment within the traffic management industry that is unregulated and is abusing that position. Does the Minister find that acceptable?
I do not want to start off on a bad note with the Deputy but I do not regard clamping on private property as a traffic management issue and neither do I regard it as a priority for the National Transport Authority, eager and all as the Deputy might say it is to take on this issue. It will have enough regulation to implement when it takes on board taxi regulation, the regulation of bus licensing and various other responsibilities. I repeat what I said earlier. If this is a problem, and it is a problem in some areas, and if the public are being abused in regard to it, there are other agencies that can deal with it.