Scrap Metal Dealers Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Kate Emms, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The Chair: I welcome everyone to this important Committee. Before we begin consideration of the Bill, we must deal with the sittings motion, which stands in the name of the promoter, so I call Richard Ottaway.
That, if proceedings on the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee do meet on Wednesday 12 September at half-past Nine o’clock and half-past One o’clock and on Thursday 13 September at half-past One o’clock.
Richard Ottaway: May I take the opportunity to express my delight that you are in the Chair, Mr Benton? Back in the mists of time, I may have served under your chairmanship, but it was sufficiently long ago for me not to remember precisely when—we have both been here for a long time. On behalf of everyone on the Committee, I welcome you to the Chair.
I also welcome the Minister, who may not have realised, a week or so ago, that he was destined to represent the Government on this Bill. He may have thought that as my day job or my other job is as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as he has been a diligent Foreign Office Minister for the past two and a half years, he had got shot of me. However, I am delighted that we are now working together on this important Bill.
I set out the purpose of the Bill in a lot of detail on Second Reading, and I do not intend to repeat it now, other than to say that this serious issue has to be addressed. There has been an epidemic of metal theft in this country, and I was delighted that the Bill received a unanimous Second Reading. It was the virtually unanimous view that the problem has to be addressed and that the Bill goes a long way towards doing so.
Clause 1 provides that any individual or business engaged in any commercial activity in relation to the buying or selling of scrap metal will need a licence to
Some Members may question the need to regulate the scrap metal industry at all, but if regulation is considered necessary, which is the Government’s view, clause 1 is essential. The scrap metal industry is currently regulated by the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, and there is widespread agreement that the regime is outdated and in need of reform, which is why the Government support the Bill. The current registration regime has several limitations and, in truth, does little to stop the purchase of stolen metal, which is one factor behind the rapid growth of metal theft over recent years.
By requiring scrap metal dealers to obtain and comply with the terms of a licence, we will raise trading standards across the industry, particularly in relation to record keeping and the procedures that apply when purchasing and paying for metals. The requirement to have a licence to trade will also allow local authorities better to manage who can operate in the sector, in that only operators who are deemed suitable by a local authority will be issued with a licence and there will be appropriate powers to tackle those who operate without a licence. The factors that should be considered when determining suitability are dealt with elsewhere in the Bill, so I will not touch on them now.
‘(c) a personal licence.’.
Graham Jones: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Benton, on what is quite a momentous day. The past 12 months have seen the issue of metal theft rise in the public’s mind. They are more conscious than ever of its impact. I thank the hon. Member for Croydon South for leading on the Bill, which seems to have considerable support. I hope that it will be enacted in the near future.
The Bill is very good but, going from 99% to 100%, or whatever the uplift is, a couple of small changes would make it better. One change would be the introduction of a personal licence as well as an operator’s licence. Nobody wants to add to local authorities’ red tape and bureaucracy. I certainly do not. My local authority is stretched, as are the local authorities of other hon. Members, but I do not think the proposal would bring extra red tape or burdens. We have a system at local authority level for licensing taxis, with an operator’s licence and a personal licence. It would be advantageous to have one system for a local licensing committee rather than two.
It would be easy to replicate the way the licensing of taxis operates and have a personal and operator’s licence in the scrap metal industry. It would also help local authority licensing committees, because it would give them more information about the fitness of the operator, and who exactly is being employed at various sites or in vehicles, or at some of the lesser intermediate sites. It would cover people who trade out of skips or out of the back of industrial buildings. It is not just about scrap metal dealers and mobile collectors; there are intermediaries as well. It would help to flag up who is dealing in or handling metal and give the local authority more information about the operator of the licence. It would also keep criminals in view; we know that they are operating in the sector. That is an important element for the police and for the Environment Agency and local authorities working together. For those reasons, the provision would be valid.
Is this more red tape? How big a problem would it be to introduce personal licences? I asked my local authority. We have about five scrap metal yards that employ about five individuals each: 25 employees. The police suggest that there are around 12 transient or mobile operators, with two or three people in each vehicle. Possibly another 25 people might be working in the industry, with 75 at most, but probably fewer.
If we consider taxis in my constituency, there are 400 to 500 personal licences. When we balance the cost of the introduction of a personal licence and the burden on the local authority against the benefits, the benefits vastly outweigh the costs. It would be a significant step forward. We know that criminal elements operate on certain sites, and they would be flagged up if, like taxi drivers, they had to get a personal licence.
Criminals’ other illegal activities would also be flagged up. Should scrap metal yards be used as a front for other criminal activity, and there is an indication that that sometimes is the case, the provision would allow that information to come before the licensing committee and the police. It would also allow those authorities to be able to assess the suitability of the operation and the operator’s licence as well as individuals in the particular business.
The site operator could feel pressurised about people on the site who are operating under his site licence and about whether the licence is vulnerable, so the increase in information will surely help him. Some big issues are involved. There is no doubt that in decades gone by, the underworld used scrap metal yards, and probably still do. The Krays used scrap metal yards, and Hollywood films are full of dead bodies being sent to scrap metal yards. We need to know who is on scrap metal yard sites and who is involved in the industry on a personal level. Putting the burden on the operator is unreasonable and assumes that the operator or manager will always be present on site, which is not necessarily the case because he may have several members of staff. It is grossly unfair to put such a burden on the site manager in an industry that probably does not have a good reputation and is difficult to manage.
Finally, let me turn to mobile collectors. Calling them an evasive group is not an unfair criticism. When I made a freedom of information request about collectors in Lancashire, the police suggested that at least 12 were operating in Hyndburn, but my local authority did not have even one itinerant mobile collector registered. When I asked the 14 authorities in Lancashire, I found that 10 were registered, which I thought was a bit of an improvement, only to find that nine were registered in Lancaster and one in Burnley. Twelve authorities have no mobile collectors registered at all.
Mobile collectors are an evasive group of people. We may register the driver of the vehicle, because many of them are single businesses, but some may be operating different vehicles, which raises an issue about managing different vehicles on the road. For example, if an operator has two or three vehicles, how can he be a site manager responsible for the drivers and the activities of the other vehicles operating under that business?
If an operator has a rogue employee, again it is unfair for the site licensee to be persecuted for that. We could have criminals knocking at the door of old age pensioners because we do not have a system for assessing those in the industry who are engaging with people in our constituencies. There is a real issue about who is actually operating. Whenever I, or others, stop a mobile collector, their evasiveness can be quite clever. They may say, “I wasn’t there. I didn’t know about it.” We will be putting licensing committees under undue pressure, because they will have to decide whether to take away a licence from a firm. They will have to decide whether the operator is telling the truth about an employer who may have been in another vehicle or about a manager who might not have been in the vehicle at the time. They will have to make a sharp distinction in deciding whether to take a livelihood away from an individual. In my constituency, where there are 50 or 75 personal licences compared with 500 licences for taxi drivers, the proposal would not be a burden and it would present the committee with flexibility in determining licences that come up for
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr Jeremy Browne): It is a pleasure to serve under your experienced chairmanship, Mr Benton. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, who is an assiduous Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. As the newly appointed Minister in the relevant Department, I am pleased to be present in a supporting role for his Bill.
Let me say quickly, because I do not want to be out of order, that the Government remain strongly committed to my hon. Friend’s Bill. We share the anguish and anger of Members in all parts of the House about what has happened in the sector and about the numerous stories of metal theft from war memorials, art exhibitions, cabling and church roofs. All those crimes are well understood by our constituents. The Government and the Home Office have a strong desire to take new powers to enable the police and others to deal more effectively with the problem of scrap metal theft, and with dealers who collude in that practice. We are committed to the Bill.
I am speaking to a string of amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hyndburn, but I recognise that private Members’ legislation is a collective effort. Everyone serving on the Committee shares the same overall objective, so I do not want to take the position that I have sometimes seen Ministers take—mainly when I was in opposition—which seemed to be excessive inflexibility and perhaps a lack of willingness to acknowledge that Members on both sides of the House might have useful ideas to contribute. The Government have views, but I hope they are not so set in stone that we are not willing at least to consider or accommodate in a mature way some of the representations of Members who have taken a long-standing interest in the area.
Having said that, I am getting off on a footing that might not be entirely agreeable to the hon. Member for Hyndburn. The Government’s view is that clause 2 already introduces two licences, one for a site and the second for a collector, and that introducing a third licence, for an individual, would be excessively onerous and burdensome upon local authorities and the owners of sites.
Graham Jones: I appreciate the Minister’s point of view. Can he provide any empirical evidence to the Committee that local authorities consider a licence burdensome? How many local authorities has he spoken to? Can he present any evidence to the Committee today that would clarify that view, or is it only his opinion?
Mr Browne: The point I am seeking to make is that there is always a judgment to be made about how administratively burdensome legislation should be. Obviously, the more burdensome one makes it, the more one can claim that no areas of activity are failing
Mr Browne: In a moment. Both licences require the licence holder and the site manager to be named. Even without being named, however, all employees must comply with the requirements of the licence, not least with regard to the criminal offences created in clauses 10, 11 and 12. An individual employee on a site, therefore, could not indulge in criminal activity without the fear that the Bill, which we hope will become an Act, will apply to them. Under clause 8, further measures are stipulated to ensure that rogue employees are not behaving in a way that puts them beyond the law. Should an employee undertake any activity that brings into question the suitability of the business to operate as a scrap metal dealer, local authorities will be entitled to consider revoking the licence under clause 4. My point is that the Bill as it stands, and not amended in the proposed form, achieves the objectives that the Committee wishes it to achieve. The amendments would create an unnecessary and considerable extra layer of administrative burden for local authorities, which will not substantially help deliver the objectives that we all share.
Graham Jones: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time, and for the conviviality of the debate. I accept and share his view, and that of other Members: we all want to see the Bill go through. However, I want to press the Minister on something, because he seems to suggest that it is his opinion, not a local authority one, that the proposals are burdensome. Will he clarify, for the record, whether it is a local authority opinion or the Minister’s own opinion? If it is a local authority one, will he tell us which authorities hold it?
He mentions that employees will be liable for prosecution under the law, but that is provided that rogue employees are caught. There is the presumption that those who act outside the law will be caught, and I am not sure that such a presumption can be taken for granted.
Mr Browne: If a licensed individual broke the law and was not caught, the fact that they were licensed would no more make them subject to the force of the law, or the consequences that would flow from their illegal activity, than if they were not licensed. It is the Home Office’s view that we can achieve the objectives of the Bill, which are shared by all members of the committee, by introducing two licences.
In case the Committee has overlooked this, the proposals in the Bill are far more onerous than the existing position, so we are taking a big step towards greater regulation. I read the Hansard record of the Second Reading debate over the weekend, and in that debate Members criticised the Bill for being far too onerous,
Rebecca Harris (Castle Point) (Con): Does the Minister agree that this is analogous to the situation of pub licensees? The licensees hold the licence but their staff are also liable if they commit a criminal offence, by serving alcohol to under-age drinkers, for example. It would not be sensible to licence every possible pub employee, nor would it be feasible to do so, but the system seems, nevertheless, to work well.
Mr Browne: I will probably get into trouble with some lawyer if I concede that there is a precise analogy, but I accept my hon. Friend’s point. The broad analogy appears to apply, which is that the site manager has responsibility for his or her site and the behaviour of the employees. In later clauses and amendments, we are keen to toughen up provisions regarding the potential loophole whereby it could be argued that an employee—a rogue employee if you like—is acting without the knowledge of the site manager. We understand that concern, and are seeking to accommodate it, but we feel that two licences is a sufficient burden, for the reasons I have just given.
Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): The hon. Member for Hyndburn mentioned the position of councils, and it might help to say that the briefing that a number of Members have received from the Local Government Association mentions a licensing regime analogous to that of pubs and gambling organisations rather than making a comparison with taxis, as the hon. Gentleman did. That might imply that local government, and certainly some local government organisations, would support such an institution-based regime, rather than a personal one.
Mr Browne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that additional clarification. It is worth drawing to the Committee’s attention that the second type of licence—not the site licence but the collector’s one—would apply to the individual collector, so there is that individual feature for when there is no geographically-defined site.
Graham Jones: Just for the record, as I understand it—I stand to be corrected—regarding the licensee trade, to which the hon. Member for Castle Point referred, I think one needs two licences, including a personal licence, to serve alcohol in off-licences. It is not just in taxis, but in licensing as well, that we have personal and owners’ and operators’ licensees. We have to look at the issue through the eyes of local authorities and try to simplify it, and not create a duplicated system.
Mr Browne: I do not want to try your patience, Mr Benton, by going around in circles. I am anticipating debate on future clauses, but it is worth saying that the terms of the licence will be quite strict and onerous. They include having regard to previous criminal activity and there will be sanctions in place.
In summary, requiring a site operator to comply with those more onerous conditions and an individual collector, who is non-site specific, will be a considerable additional burden. I would not wish the Committee to feel that we have taken only a timid half-step in the direction in which we all collectively wish to go. We are putting a considerable burden on local authorities. As I say, we feel that that burden is adequate to meet our collective objectives.
I should declare an interest. I have been a non-remunerated trustee of the War Memorials Trust for more than 10 years. One reason why I was keen to serve on the Committee was the raft of metal thefts we have been seeing across the public realm. We know that the Bill is supported by Network Rail, the Energy Networks Association, reputable scrap metal dealers, of whom there are quite a lot out there, the War Memorials Trust—I am here, obviously, as a Member of Parliament, but I am a trustee of that trust, which supports the Bill—and the Local Government Association.
It is a pleasure to serve on a private Member’s Bill Committee with Government support—without that, we would possibly not be here. To have secured the support of the Treasury is a small miracle. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on framing the Bill in a way that has managed to garner broad support across the arena.
Before I touch on some issues raised by clause 2 and the amendment, I would like to talk about some of the impact of metal theft, particularly on war memorials. It is worth reminding members of the Committee why the Bill is important. While there have been steps by Government to tackle metal theft previously, the law needs tightening up.
The War Memorials Trust, the charity that deals with the preservation solely of war memorials across the country, receives some funding from English Heritage for preserving certain memorials. We estimate that on average, around one report a week of a memorial suffering theft or damage is received by the trust. Last November, around Remembrance Sunday, when war memorials were, effectively, advertised to the scoundrels who steal metal from them, there were three reports a week of metal theft from war memorials.
People who do that are clever. There have been discussions about changing the law differently from the Bill, and creating an additional or more severe offence for theft of metal from a war memorial. Sadly, I feel that the people who steal metal from war memorials do not care that they are stealing from war memorials particularly—they want the metal wherever it comes from—and that may not act as a deterrent. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the Bill and the way in which it will regulate the industry, if it gets a fair wind.
The trust has embarked on other measures to try to tackle the problem. I have heard, in discussions of the Bill outside this room, that there could be other methods of doing that. The trust has been in collaboration with the SmartWater foundation to introduce a scheme called, “In Memoriam 2014”, recognising the centenary of the start of the first world war. That will protect war
Not long ago, I was on a walkabout in my constituency when a local resident said, “It’s terrible—I came out one day and the downpipe outside my wall, which was copper, had just been removed. It was not even a metre long.” Metal theft is rife. People will steal it, whatever deterrents exist; they will still think it is worth doing. That is why I welcome the measures in the Bill, which I think are proportionate. I am not in favour of extra regulation for the sake of it, but the measures are important for saving our war memorial heritage, and ensuring that our railways run on time and that our works of art are not destroyed.
The issue of personal licences is interesting. I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn, but I also recognise that we want to put legislation on the statute book to ensure that we can track those who deal in scrap metal, whether they operate from a site or are mobile collectors. The Minister’s proposal seems reasonable, but I think that the clause could include space for amendments, perhaps made in regulations, if what is proposed does not work.
Having sat on Committees over the past seven years or so, both on the Government Front Bench and as a Government and Opposition Back Bencher, I know that we often want to write so much detail into a Bill that it can be changed only by further primary legislation. Realistically, I think that all of us here know that it has taken a long time and a lot of effort for the hon. Member for Croydon South to get a Bill to this stage in the House. The chance of it happening again during the next couple of Parliaments is relatively slim. It would require the Government to be willing and co-operative.
It might be a solution to the discussions that we have just had if we added a line—I have not tabled an amendment formally, but maybe we could discuss it outside this room—to allow for further changes in regulation, should the Minister’s proposed regime not deliver as intended, because I think that we are all united on the intent. I suggest that as one option.
Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon South on introducing the Bill, negotiating the slalom course set for him, and getting to this point. We are being given a remarkable, possibly unprecedented opportunity to do something about an issue that affects every single one of our constituencies, regardless of party.
In a way, I am sorry that, on a private Member’s Bill, we have already divided Opposition and Government; I do not think that that is a good way to proceed. The division in the Committee, which I hope is minor, is between Members of Parliament who represent their constituencies assiduously, as we all do, and the Government. I welcome the Minister to his new position. I was pleased to hear him say that he will listen and take note of the great expertise across the Committee, so that we can improve the Bill. That is refreshing to hear on the first day of a Public Bill Committee.
We all have our own particular ideas for improving the Bill, but I say to all colleagues that the battle we must win is to pass the Bill. Whether we like it or not, it would be easy for Government, with so much else on their plate, to pull the plug and say, “We can’t be bothered. Get the Minister back in the Department; we’ve got other priorities.” I am not suggesting that we should not propose amendments, argue passionately for them or vote on them, but I want us all to keep our eyes on the bigger picture, which is ensuring that we take this unique opportunity and get the Bill to its next stage, so that we can do something practical for our constituents.
We all know of cases involving the railways, manhole covers or war memorials. To give a simple example, on Friday, I was at one of my local churches, St Martin’s, parts of which date back to the 1300s. The lead on the tower roof has historical graffiti on it that goes back to the Victorian era. It is irreplaceable because it is a work of art. It is part of the local culture and history, as well as being possibly £50-worth of lead. It has been stolen. That is one tiny example; there are many more hurtful and economically consequential examples, which I am sure we will hear as the Bill proceeds.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch listed a number of organisations that are behind the Bill—few are against it. One important group that is in favour of the Bill is the decent scrap metal dealers. They exist in great numbers, and they, as much as any of us, are strongly in favour of squeezing out the illegitimate traders and the people who feed this business of stolen scrap metal. I am delighted to serve on the Committee, Mr Benton. You have let me range far and wide in my first contribution. I will try to be much more in order in future.
Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Nottingham North had the sagacity to cross the Floor to catch your eye more easily, Mr Benton. I want to make only one contribution to this Committee stage, in my capacity as Second Church Estates Commissioner. At one stage 10 churches a day were having lead stripped from their roofs. I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch said and almost all of what the hon. Member for Nottingham North said. The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch put the position very well.
To follow up on what the hon. Member for Nottingham North said, as I understand it, the Bill has Government support. I suspect the system still works. When I was a Minister there was something called the legislation committee. I assume that this Bill has been ticked as being approved by that committee as a Bill that is acceptable to the Government.
I spent last Friday in the Chamber considering a completely different private Member’s Bill. A small group of parliamentary colleagues see it as a sport, almost, to come along—I described them as sextons and pallbearers—to try to bury any private Member’s Bill. Quite often they are encouraged by the Whip on duty to try to bury any private Members’ Bills that have not had their box ticked by the Government’s legislation committee. Sometimes they cannot quite work out the difference between those private Members’ Bills that the Government are keen on, and those on which they are not.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Minister is responsible only for the conduct of this Bill, not for the allocation of Government time, but I ask him to consider giving the Committee an undertaking that he will go with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South to tell the Leader of the House that if there is any scintilla of a suggestion that this Bill will be filibustered on Report and Third Reading, they will apply to him to ensure that there is further consideration on Report in Government time. The Bill had universal support on Second Reading and clearly has considerable support across the Committee, albeit that there are some parts that, between us, we wish to interrogate. If it were frustrated on Report and Third Reading, there would be real anger in the dioceses and churches I represent across England. I think that would apply to all sorts of other sectors.
The Minister needs to work out how he will get the Whips to call the attack dogs off and keep them in their kennels on Report and Third Reading. If he cannot do that, we will have to make it clear to them that sufficient Government time will be made available to get the Bill through its remaining stages in proper and decent order.
The Chair: Order. We have had sufficient preamble on the Bill’s merits. I warn the Committee that it must now stick strictly to the amendments. Although all the contributions so far are welcome, we have now moved on.
We have got through Second Reading. There are a group of MPs who are ideologically opposed to private Members’ Bills, and I have had a constant dialogue with them. We can worry about Government time when we get there, but the matter has been addressed. I have offered them a meeting with the scrap metal industry in October, assuming the Bill passes through Committee, before Report and Third Reading. Hopefully, we can assuage them and meet their views. I want to work with them, not against them. Indeed, one of them has already told me that he will not oppose the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury is right to be concerned, but there has been some thinking on that.
I also welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham North. Younger members of the Committee may not be aware that, once upon a time, I was the Member for Nottingham North—until I was defeated. Obviously, any contribution from a Member for Nottingham North is wise and important. We are right to follow his views.
I am grateful for the work of the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch on the War Memorials Trust. I passed through her constituency several times in the past few weeks going out to the Olympic park. I appreciate the War Memorials Trust’s tremendous support of the Bill, and the hon. Lady is not alone in her support. I am pleased that the Institute of Directors has announced its support, which may help my more ideologically driven colleagues. The Bill’s supporters are not lightweight. They include: Arts Council England; the Church of England; the Energy Networks Association, which includes BT and Network Rail; the Henry Moore Foundation; the Tate galleries; the British Metals Recycling Association, an important trade association; Ecclesiastical Insurance; and British Transport police. We have to take the views of the hon. Member for Nottingham North seriously and keep our eyes on the big picture.
Although I can see where the hon. Member for Hyndburn is coming from, I think amendment 62 would result in additional cost and burden on the industry. He asked a straightforward and genuine question about where the local authorities are on this. The Local Government Association’s brief states that it wants a “proper licensing system,” comparable to the alcohol and gambling licensing regimes, which is the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester. The LGA is comfortable with the regime set out in the Bill.
The Bill sets out two categories of licence: the site licence and the collector’s licence. Between them, the licences cover all categories of person who might trade in metal. The amendment does not define the purpose or requirements of the licence it proposes, which would potentially require every scrap metal dealer employee to register, regardless of role or terms of employment.
On whether individual employees are responsible for the behaviour, individual employers can take action against their employees should their conduct warrant such action. Individual employees will also be criminally liable for their activities should they do anything that breaches the requirements in clauses 10, 11 and 12 to verify the seller’s identification, not to pay in cash, and to complete records for every transaction. In addition, they would also be liable for any further offence committed: for example, offences of handling stolen goods under the Theft Act 1968 or breaches of health and safety legislation. The hon. Member for Hyndburn is absolutely right to bring the matter to the attention of the Committee, but I believe that his concerns are covered by the terms of the Bill and I urge him to withdraw the amendment.
Graham Jones: From my extensive conversations about the issue with the industry during the past 12 months and my dealings with the residents of Lancashire, Merseyside and Manchester as well as the police authorities, I know that they would support the amendment and want it to be pressed to a Division.
Mr Browne: As is invariably the case, the Government want some clarity added to the Bill, which is what the four amendments will do. I will not detain the Committee long, but will explain briefly the purpose of each amendment.
Without amendment 18, some scrap metal dealers with site licences would require many licences to conduct their businesses from a single site. Such matters are best illustrated by example, as I found when trying to understand the purpose of the amendment. If a scrap metal dealer in Lambeth wished to open another site in Southwark, they would require a separate licence from Southwark council as well as the licence they hold from Lambeth council; but if they wished to collect metal from Southwark to bring to their Lambeth site, their Lambeth licence would be sufficient for them to do that, and if they had more than one site in Lambeth, that would also be fine, because they would be licensed by Lambeth council. Conversely, collectors have to have a licence for each area in which they operate, so if they operate in Southwark and in Lambeth, they would have to have a licence from both Southwark and Lambeth councils. The purpose of the amendment is to avoid penalising a site that collects metal from areas outside the local authority in which that site is located. Some sites might be right on the boundary of a local authority so they might literally be unable to collect metal from the other side of the road and bring it to their site without the burden of getting an extra licence from a different authority. We feel that the amendment is a sensible and practical way to head off potential problems.
Amendments 19 and 46 add clarity by removing the requirement that a collector cannot operate from a site. Collectors, by definition, do not have a site; if they had a site, they would need a site licence rather than a collector’s licence, so there is no need to include stipulations for collectors regarding whether they have a site.
Amendment 47 may interest the Committee more, because it makes a more substantial change. Removing the words “house to house” and replacing them with “door to door” may seem to be a minor change, but the amendment would enable collectors to collect from non-domestic properties—a house is interpreted as a domestic property, whereas a non-domestic property could have a door without being a house. The amendment gives collectors greater scope. It was felt to be unreasonable to prevent them from collecting scrap metal from commercial sites where that was an entirely legitimate part of their business.
Meg Hillier: I support the amendment because it makes sense to limit bureaucracy for operators and to streamline the process for local authorities. The Minister highlighted an example from London, and as a London MP, although I do not have any such businesses actively working in my constituency, I think it would be ridiculous if one could cross a borough boundary without even being aware of it and thus inadvertently break the law. As long as there is a base in the local authority area that is clearly identifiable with a postcode, it will be easy for a local authority to track down an operator that may be collecting from its area. That would be the same arrangement as in other regulatory regimes, so it makes sense.
The words “door to door” make a difference, for the reasons outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn. Because different types of operator, perhaps with different codes, may be involved, some control is necessary over who is collecting door to door from often quite vulnerable people, and that is better determined very locally. The suggestion that one local authority licenses each site-based operator makes considerable sense.
‘(e) be displayed clearly and visibly at the point of purchase and sale.’.
‘(c) requires the licensee to display a large and visible identification badge on their vehicle(s), provided by the local authority.’.
‘(c) must be visibly displayed alongside road tax disc;
(d) must be carried at all times by the collector; and
(e) list all the vehicle registration details which are being used for the purpose of such business.’.
Graham Jones: Amendments 63, 3 and 64 all deal with strengthening the ability to police the legislation. Under the Bill as drafted, only the police, the local authority and the Environment Agency can police its
There is huge scope for extending the policing of the Bill by way of badging, as we do with taxis and other licensing regimes, so that the general public would be more aware that mobile collectors, at whom the amendment is aimed, are licensed by the local authority and that everything is probably in order, whereas operators without a badge would be operating illegally and likely to be identified far more quickly. Having the public police legislation is as desirable outcome, because that eases the burden on the police and local authority, barrelling in on abuses and on operators that are not operating within the law and offering the opportunity to identify rogue traders much quicker and more easily.
If the amendment were made, mobile collectors would be regarded as similar to taxi drivers: for example, a simple, cheap magnetic number plate that must be displayed at all times could be placed on the side of a vehicle, so that people could see precisely who is travelling up and down back alleys. In my constituency, a lot of metal is stolen by thieves who climb over back yards, or drive around suburban estates and enter via the front or the back to take anything they can out of the garage. Whatever they were carrying, people would see who those operators were and what the number on the vehicle was and could report that to the local authority, or, if there was not a number, they could report that to the local authority or, more appropriately, the police.
Containerisation is a huge issue that is not addressed in the Bill. The Bill covers scrap metal dealers, but organised criminals in the industry are stealing metals such as those in overhead power cables, and some evidence and analysis—or a guesstimate—seems to show that some 8 million tonnes is going out of the country in illegal exports in containers. There is some evidence that those metals do not even pass through the scrap metal industry. A lot of exported scrap metal goes to China to be reprocessed, because reprocessing does not really happen in this country. Vehicle badging will introduce a process of elimination for containers at ports, allowing ports authorities, police and highways authorities to identify stolen metal that is not badged and therefore is likely to have been stolen, meaning that those responsible would be in breach of the Bill. That is also an important aspect of the Bill. It is not an onerous or expensive provision. It is reasonable that those carrying metal identify themselves to the authorities and the general public. The legislation that we all want to succeed could do so even more significantly if that happens.
Site licences should be visibly displayed so that people can know and be assured, on entering a premises or a site, that the operator is cautious. That would seem obvious and perhaps unnecessary for those going to a big scrap metal yard, but, as has been mentioned in many discussions, a lot of intermediary sites are neither mobile collectors nor scrap metal yards, as might be determined by passersby. People would not know whether such sites, run by those making a living dealing out of skips or industrial units, or dealing in smaller quantities, were licensed. It is particularly important to consider those intermediary—the grey middle—sites.
The mobile collectors and the general public would feel a great deal of confidence, knowing that mobile collectors are licensed by the local authority with a visible licence. That would give much greater confidence in the legislation and would also have other minor benefits.
Mr Browne: The Government ask the Committee not to accept this series of amendments. Clause 2 stipulates some criteria for the licence being given. Although the amendments do not directly change subsection (7), that says,
The amendments would tie to a greater degree than is currently envisaged the hands of the Home Secretary when she or one of her successors decides what form the licence will take. We do not regard that as necessary. For example, the requirement to issue a badge could be regarded as excessively burdensome on local authorities. The requirement to collect a badge that had been issued to a licensee who no longer warranted the licence because they had offended may create an additional burden.
It might sound like a minor debating point for a Minister to put to the Committee, but essentially the degree of flexibility has been allowed for a reason, rather than setting out precise requirements for the colour and size of the badge, where it would be hung and how many would have to be shown at each site in order to comply. We share the objectives but are fearful that the measures would be cumbersome.
Mr Browne: Before I give way, I propose an analogy, though it is not absolutely precise. People who drive cars are required to have a driving licence but not, as envisaged by this series of amendments, to stick it on their windscreens next to their road tax disc. I understand the point being made by the hon. Member for Hyndburn but, for reasons similar to the ones I gave earlier, we are keen that the burden of regulation is not excessively prescriptive.
Meg Hillier: I have a question about clause 2(7). As it is a matter of regulation, the Secretary of State could surely prescribe a minimum type of licence. I have seen in London’s Public Carriage Office the changes for minicabs, which now have a very distinctive badge. Whatever type of vehicle, be it a limousine or minicab at the cheaper end of the scale, it has to have a licence with a number displayed. That is different from the analogy the Minister raised of a driving licence. It does not include any personal information. There is obviously a small cost to produce them, but it does mean that anybody can see clearly that the operator is legitimate.
Under subsection (7), could the Secretary of State in regulations suggest something akin to the system used for minicabs in London that different local authorities could introduce along the lines they use for other regulatory regimes? That would keep costs low but would provide the much needed protection that my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn outlined.
Mr Browne: My understanding is that the Secretary of State could do precisely that. Indeed, the Secretary of State could also do something broadly in line with what is envisaged in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hyndburn, if she chose. Our nervousness is about prescribing in greater detail the precise nature of the licensing arrangements for the visible product. We regard it as worth while that the Secretary of State should have the opportunity to consider whether the cost is justified, in terms of the burden put on the person applying for the licence, as well as whether we are being excessively prescriptive, whether the process would work in practice, whether the licences themselves would be too easily copied, whether there would be scope for fraud, or whether there would be practical considerations about licences being returned, if the holder of the licence were to infringe in some way.
My point is not that the Government do not share the concerns set out by the hon. Member for Hyndburn and others, but this is a question of whether the Government wish to constrain themselves to such a degree that the Secretary of State would be prevented from dealing with considerations that members of the Committee might regard as reasonable because the Bill was so tightly framed. We wish to retain a reasonable degree of flexibility—not absolute flexibility, obviously, because the clause makes all kinds of provisions—and we regard additional measures such as
Meg Hillier: Perhaps the Minister will indicate the Home Secretary’s views, given that it is her responsibility to put forward regulations prescribing the form of the licence under clause 2(7). The Minister might have to take such regulations through Parliament, but will the Government provide the time for that? There is merit in having something very visible, because it would be difficult for anyone to tell the difference between one white van and another going around collecting metal. The bad, unscrupulous scrap metal collectors might not have properly licensed vehicles that could be tracked down. There is merit in having a kind of visible licence that says, “You are handing over something to a legitimate collector.” Will the Minister indicate the Secretary of State’s thinking and the time scale in which regulations might be introduced?
Mr Browne: My point is that there are lots of activities for which a person requires a licence, but we do not necessarily stipulate in legislation the precise terms of how that licence should be produced and displayed. We want to retain a degree of flexibility. It may well be that the Secretary of State, after being advised by Parliament and others, thinks that a visible badge is the right way to proceed, although I suppose somebody might challenge what constitutes
as set out in amendment 3. I would not want the Secretary of State to fall foul of the amendments on the basis that such as badge was not as large as that envisaged by the hon. Member for Hyndburn. It might seem that I am making a trivial point, but it is not entirely trivial, because flexibility allows the Home Secretary
Graham Jones: We are having a good debate, but I must say to the Minister and the hon. Member for Croydon South that the amendment is not prescriptive, apart from its use of the word “large”, although that is to ensure visibility. Given the localism agenda, I do not see why there is an objection to local authorities determining what is reasonable in terms of visibility, and that is what we are discussing. Does not the Minister accept that local authorities are able to determine reasonably what visible identification means, as they do with other licences, particularly in relation to vehicles?
Mr Browne: The hon. Gentleman talks about localism. In theory, the Secretary of State could choose to put a less onerous system on local authorities than that envisaged in his amendments. Alternatively, she could choose to make the system more onerous and require even larger badges than he envisages. It could cut both ways.
I have just been given a note, and it might help the Committee if I say that, following a conversation with the Home Secretary, I am happy to provide in writing an indication of what form of identification she feels would work most effectively in practice. However, I accept that as she may not stay in her post for eternity, that might not provide ongoing satisfaction for the hon. Gentleman. Regulations under clause 2(7) will be made after Royal Assent, but before the commencement of the legislation.
Mr Hanson: Will the Minister therefore consider consulting with local authorities and police forces about the undoubted merits of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn and then reporting back to the House as part of the regulation-making process? We could then be assured that his view reflects that of police forces and local councils, whether that is in his terms or those expressed by my hon. Friend.
Mr Browne: I am happy to give that undertaking to the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Hyndburn and the Committee. I do not want hon. Members to think that we are operating at cross-purposes. There is value in having a clear demonstration of this licensing process, and in people understanding it and having the doubt removed about when they are transgressing. It may well be that the Home Secretary envisages a system that closely resembles that put forward in the amendments. I am more than happy to discuss this, but I just ask the Committee to give the Home Secretary the flexibility to make a judgment about precisely what form that system may take after taking account of a range of factors that she feels are appropriate, such as the potential for fraud and cost. I think that all members of the Committee would accept that it would be reasonable for her to consider such factors.
Mr Walker: I want to add one other factor that the Home Secretary should take into account. One of the things that motivated me to get involved with this Committee was my experience talking to neighbourhood watch organisations in my constituency. They feel strongly
I hope that the hon. Member for Hyndburn will not press the amendment to a Division. We want a system that is onerous on scrap metal dealers, but that is not unduly onerous on legitimate scrap metal dealers. We want a system with proportionate costs. We want the Home Secretary to have scope to exercise discretion on the precise details of the scheme so that it is likely to be as effective as possible. Greater flexibility will allow for tweaks to be made over time on the basis of good practice, but that would be harder to achieve if the Home Secretary’s choices were restricted after the Bill is passed. We all envisage something similar, but I am just making a plea that the Home Secretary may bring what she might have in mind to the attention of Committee members, and that hon. Members will work on the basis that she will seek to act in good faith in line with their sentiments.
Richard Ottaway: If the hon. Member for Hyndburn presses the amendment to a Division, I am afraid that I will not be able to support it, for the reasons that the Minister set out. The right hon. Member for Delyn made a sensible suggestion to which the Minister responded favourably, so I hope that the hon. Member for Hyndburn will withdraw the amendment.
Graham Jones: Given the Minister’s comments, I am inclined to withdraw the amendment, but will he confirm that he will write to all police authorities and local authorities as part of a consultation on vehicle badges and make the information publicly available on the timetable that he described before the Bill comes into force?
Mr Browne: I am a little reluctant to concede that I will write to all local authorities and police authorities, but I certainly give an undertaking that a considerable number of representative bodies will be consulted so that we can ascertain the views of people in police and local authorities. It might be excessively burdensome to trawl absolutely as widely as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I hope that his objections will be served by the undertaking that I have just given.
Mr Hanson: Does my hon. Friend agree that, as a minimum, it would be appropriate to consult the Local Government Association and the Welsh Local Government Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers and, perhaps, the British Transport police, and that the
I am happy, through the hon. Member for Hyndburn, to communicate to the right hon. Member for Delyn that such an exercise with those types of representative bodies was what I had in mind. The Home Secretary could carry out such an appropriate consultation speedily, and that would inform the process and, I hope, satisfy the Committee. I undertake to do that.
Richard Ottaway: We have had a good debate on this clause, so I will not delay the Committee other than to say that the clause authorises the licensee to carry out business as a scrap metal dealer in the local authority area, whether that be operating a site or collecting from door to door. The clause creates two separate licences. The first is a site licence, which should be obtained by any business that operates from a specific site, or sites, within a local authority area that is used to buy and sell scrap metal or where the business of a motor salvage operator is carried out. A site licence will cover all the premises operated by that business in the local authority area. The clause, as amended, will allow site licence holders to collect metal from any local authority area.
The second licence is for mobile collectors, who are referred to under the 1964 Act as itinerant collectors. Those individuals collect metals and are reliant on selling such metals to the scrap metal industry. The clause requires that collectors obtain a licence in each local authority area from which they will collect. That is right as it will allow local authorities to have control over the individuals who operate in their areas. That differs from a site licence, where holders can collect from any local authority area.
() “site manager” means an individual proposed to be named in the licence as a site manager,’.
Mr Browne: Amendments 20, 21, 48, 53 and 54 are grouped together as they seek to clarify the use of the term “site manager” throughout the Bill. Amendment 20 seeks to ensure that local authorities consider the suitability of all individuals proposed to be named in the licence as a site manager at the point when the licence is being applied for. That is built upon further by amendment 48, which clarifies that the term “site manager” should only be used to define individuals who have day-to-day management control of a licensed site, rather than an individual manager of a proposed site.
Finally, amendments 53 and 54 seek to clarify the application process as outlined in schedule 1, making it clear that applications for a site licence should be accompanied by information relating to the
The amendments reflect the change made to the definition of a “site manager” by amendment 48, so that applications are not accompanied by information relating to licensed site managers; rather, information is provided on all proposed managers. Alternatively, in summary the definition of a “site manager” was thought to be a bit loose and the amendments seek to tighten it.
The official Opposition—Her Majesty’s Opposition—support the Bill in general terms, but we have tabled a number of amendments. I just want to place on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Croydon South for his courtesy in discussing the Bill, both prior to and after Second Reading.
However, there are a few amendments that we have tabled. Amendments 5, 6 and 7 to clause 3, which stand in my name, are designed to be helpful, as are all my amendments—genuinely, on this occasion—and to strengthen the Bill and provide consistency of approach across the country.
I welcome Government amendment 22, which looks at local authorities, but I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to two points about clause 3(7). The first is the word, “may”. Amendment 5 would delete the word, “may”, and insert the word, “must”. That is a simple approach to ensure that we have consistency across the country in relation to consultation.
For example—I pick these constituencies randomly—in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hendon, Barnet council “may” decide to consult the Environment Agency and a police officer, whereas in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Southwark council “may” decide not to do that. Alternatively, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch, the council “may” decide to consult the agency and the police, whereas in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead the council “may” decide not to do that. In London alone, we would potentially have four approaches, because the word “may” allows an authority to decide whether to consult the Environment Agency. Information from the Environment Agency may or may not be supplied. The word “must” simply gives certainty that the authority will consult as part of their consideration of subsection (1), which concerns the suitability of a person to carry on business as a scrap metal dealer.
The deletion of “may” and insertion of “must” gives consistency of approach from every local authority: in considering subsection (1), every local authority must
be inserted. Again, it might be that such matters will be dealt with by officers of local authorities. Even under “may”, an officer of a local authority may consult the local PC that they know or the local superintendent or inspector. They may give a view as the local superintendent, local PC, or local inspector. If they consult the chief constable, the chief constable will undoubtedly delegate it down, but in delegating it down it will have been dealt with by the force, not by an individual officer. My amendment is designed to strengthen “may” to “must”, and to give a senior level of authority to the consultation that is undertaken.
I have also included “other environmental groups”, which I accept is a woolly statement and not one that legislation likes. When I was a Home Office Minister, I, too, was passed notes by the officials here today. If such an amendment had been proposed by the then Opposition, I am sure that notes would have been passed to me and drawn to my attention. I accept that it is a woolly statement, but I would welcome the Minister’s view on whether we should widen “Environment Agency” to “other environmental groups”. If the Minister feels that that is woolly, I am happy not to press that amendment. However, I feel strongly that “must” should replace “may”. I feel strongly that
I welcome the amendment that the Minister has proposed. In doing so, may I welcome him to his post? It is a great privilege to serve at the Home Office. I am sure he will enjoy it. We look forward to dealing with him when he explains which bit of the Home Office he is ultimately dealing with. Some of us in the Opposition will deal with him on those matters in due course.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Mr Benton, welcome to the Chair. It is a pleasure to serve under you. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South for bringing forward the Bill. I have spoken before on this issue in the House. Like many colleagues, I have a constituency history of noticing that the law clearly needed to be improved and therefore the opportunity to contribute a little to this debate was much appreciated.
I want to say two things. First, I am sympathetic to the argument made by the right hon. Member for Delyn. I will obviously listen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane—the new Minister—will say. I welcome him to his new job. I will also listen to what the sponsor of the Bill will say. One thing that I hope the amendments will address is the mischief of tracking back, as it were, through people and companies that were existing under one guise and now exist under another. In the world of small businesses, the rogues often trade under one name. They then disappear under that name, either because they have gone bankrupt, because of financial difficulties or because they attracted
When we have looked at this group of amendments and the other amendments to do with whether somebody, or a company, is suitable, I am keen that we look at who the director is, who the secretary is, and so on. We also have to look at local authorities’ engagement with the company—whether it has been refused, what its history is—so that we do not remain blind to the use of company law to disguise whom we are dealing with. That is a common problem for consumers—not necessarily in this industry alone. Recently, I have had other dealings with constituents who have not been paid by a trader, whom they then discover is trading under another name very happily—doing business down the road and clearly being paid for something else. We must ensure that people are not allowed to get away with that. There are a lot of good practitioners, good scrap metal dealers—I have some in Southwark, and there are many others—whom we need to ensure are allowed to get on with business reputably and whom we need to support.
Graham Jones: I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman’s points. Does he consider Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be one of the organisations to which he refers? HMRC has been heavily involved in Operation Tornado and other initiatives to combat metal theft. It clearly has a stake as regards some of the larger sites—a considerable amount of cash was found at some of them during Operation Tornado, and HMRC was tracing all of that. That would be relevant to whether someone should have a licence to operate or a licence to operate across several sites.
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: HMRC is a relevant player. Like most members of the Committee, I am keen to have a smaller Bill, rather than having lots of extra things added in. None the less, I hope—the right hon. Member for Delyn made the same point—that we do not get stuck with the same old phrase, which might come off the word processor in any Department, to describe something. For example, clause 3(7) states:
I know that last phrase is the traditional term of art, but the logic is that we go to the head of a force who then delegates the responsibility. I hope that we can be sensible and imaginative in getting the right words, so that the Bill says what it means and so that people reading it can understand it as clearly as possible.
The obvious players—the hon. Member for Hyndburn mentions one—should be seen to be people with whom checks are carried out, certainly including the Treasury, HMRC, the police, the Environment Agency and the local authority. Environmental groups, I accept, are a slightly broader issue. That information will be out there, and they could be covered by something along the lines of “other groups with an appropriate interest”. Obviously I am happy to hear what colleagues say, but in the end we must get it right.
Simon Hughes: There are ways of dealing with the hon. Gentleman’s points without ending up with a whole list a mile long—we could have government agencies, secondary legislation, guidance as to who can be consulted and so on. I am keen to get some clear legislation for people in the business and who deal with the business and for prospective punters who are looking for loopholes through the system.
I shall mention my example once and then I shall not have to do so again: people in my constituency got most agitated recently not because of churches or railway lines, although those might have been reasons, but because two valued works of art suddenly disappeared—the Barbara Hepworth sculpture down in the south of the borough and a lovely statue, on the wall in Rotherhithe, of one of my most eminent predecessors, Alfred Salter, a great Member of Parliament for Bermondsey. They were seen by many visitors, but were there one day, gone the next—nicked. They were of no real value in scrap terms, but of huge value in historical, local, cultural and interest terms. That really offended people.
We want to ensure that the so-and-sos—I could use a six-letter word—who think that they can get away with it in the end know that—[ Interruption. ] There are boundaries of parliamentary appropriateness, but I know what we would call them in Bermondsey. They should not be able to find loopholes through the system. That is what we are about: having tight legislation that catches the people who abuse the system but ensures that good traders have a good business and that in the end we have legislation that is readable, easy to understand and means what it says.
Mr Browne: With your permission, Mr Benton, I will speak to Government amendment 22 and then amendments 5, 6 and 7 in the name of the right hon. Member for Delyn. Government amendment 22 concerns the person whom it is recommended that authorities consult although, as I will say in a moment, they are not obliged to do so. Subsection (7) gives the Environment Agency or an officer of a police force as examples of organisations that could be consulted. The amendment would add “any other local authority”. That gives a little more consistency to the Bill but in practical terms it would make sense to consult another licensing authority if there were reason to doubt the record of the person presenting himself or herself. Other licensing authorities are likely to have relevant background information, so it was felt useful to recommend that that conversation take place. I do not think that it is particularly controversial.
Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): Senior officers often move from one local authority to the neighbouring authority, or to one nearby. The hon. Member for Walsall North is here; I know that officers from my local authority in Dudley have worked for Walsall and vice versa. These officers also take their expertise with them. It would be a good idea for local authorities to talk to each other at a senior level and exchange information. That is often done on a personal level through a relationship with an officer who once worked with another officer in a neighbouring authority.
Mr Browne: I thank my hon. Friend. Indeed, a scrap metal dealer who has operated in a quite a confined geographical area might seek to expand his business into another part of the country. It would not be unreasonable for the authority there to ask the authority in the area where the dealer had predominantly operated whether it had ever had reason to withhold a licence from him. There is nothing to stop that happening now. Members of the Committee may think that the amendment is unnecessary, but we saw some value in it, partly for reasons of consistency with other parts of the Bill. It is not particularly controversial.
It would be slightly more controversial if amendments 5, 6 and 7 were agreed to by the Committee. Then it would become a requirement, rather than just an option, for the local authority to consult other local authorities. It is worth reminding the Committee that there are quite a lot of obligations on the licensing authority. Subsection (1) states:
I would not wish the Committee to form the impression that this is very loosely defined. The bit that the right hon. Member for Delyn seeks to change from “may” to “must” is about a consultation process in which other views may be sought. The Government are nervous about this point, because the list is not exhaustive. Local authorities can—may if they wish—consult any number of organisations if they feel that that is necessary in order to do their job properly. We are talking not about a definitive list, but merely a recommendation. There may be circumstances in which a particularly respected bona fide dealer has been operating for decades, is extremely well known in a tightly prescribed area, and renews their licence on a periodic basis. The absolute requirement in law to consult the Environment Agency may not be deemed to be necessary by the local authority. It may wish to do that, but we feel that it would be excessively onerous to require it to do so in those types of circumstances, which is why we do not support amendment 5.
Amendment 6, as the right hon. Member for Delyn acknowledged, is somewhat woolly. I am not sure what the definition of “other environmental groups” is. If the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion were still here, she may have regarded a consultation with her as being a stipulation under amendments 5 and 6, if both were to be passed. The Environment Agency is a clearly understood group, and the term “environmental groups” in broad, non-specified terms is too loose for the Bill.
Amendment 7 puts a routine burden on very senior police officers. If amendment 5 were passed, chief constables would be required to approve every single roving or site scrap metal licence in their area of jurisdiction, which seems a rather routine task for an officer of such seniority.
Mr Hanson: The chief constable would not have to approve the licence application. The simple requirement is that the authority must consult the chief constable, and therefore the force as a whole. Let me give the Minister an example. In Flintshire, the local police officer who may be consulted could be the superintendant
as stipulated under subsection (7)(b). The Government are arguing that councils have all kinds of obligations placed on them under the legislation, but we should like to have a degree of flexibility in the consultation, particularly because in the case of some applicants—it may be just a small minority of them—it would not be necessary, or should not be a requirement, to consult that widely if there was confidence in the local authority that that person was suitable. As for the level of organisations consulted, it is felt by the Government that those stipulated in the legislation are adequate.
Meg Hillier: The Minister said—I paraphrase—“In my view, this would be handed on to an officer of the police force.” There is a difference between the local chief constable delegating it to the right officer of the police force, and any officer of a police force being the statutory consultee, as is provided for in subsection (7). Let us talk through what would practically happen. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn has said, this would land on the desk of the chief constable. In my area, it could be done at borough level if that were more appropriate, because the Metropolitan police has a slightly different set-up. If it happened in my area, the borough commander would receive it and it would be delegated, probably without him even having sight of it, to the relevant officer or officers, rather than just any officer. I have a number of neighbourhood police teams in my area, so if the scrap metal merchant was based in their area, it might be good to consult them, depending on what was going on. If there was a suspicion that that scrap metal dealer had a wider area of work, then that would be picked up much more effectively at the higher level of a police authority.
Mr Browne: Let us have an example. A scrap metal site dealer in Taunton Deane borough council administrative area applies for a licence to operate the site. The legislation puts all kinds of requirements on the local authority, and also suggests that it may wish to consult widely on the suitability of the applicant and the sites with, for example—this is not an exhaustive list—the Environment Agency, the local police and, if amendment 22 is agreed to, other relevant local authorities. There is a big difference between that and saying that when a person, perhaps a door-to-door collector, walks into Taunton Deane borough council’s offices, the council “must” consult the chief constable of Avon and Somerset police, whose headquarters are 50 miles away in Bristol—he has one of the biggest force areas in the country—and not the relevant chief superintendent in Taunton. People might regard the latter as a more sensible or suitable level at which to check on the reputation of an individual in Taunton Deane.
Opposition Members have conceded that if someone went along to the chief constable in Avon and Somerset and asked him what he thought of all the applications he had received from Taunton Deane borough council, he would say that he had not read them, because they would have passed so quickly across his desk. The Opposition appear to be putting a requirement on the chief constable that he would not be able to discharge to his satisfaction.
Mr Hanson: Let me engage in some active negotiation with the Minister. I will not push amendment 7. However, regarding amendment 5, if it is a good thing for the authority to consult the Environment Agency and
whoever that might be, why is the Minster allowing that an officer of a local authority “may” take that decision, rather than “must”? There might be information with the Environment Agency, or with whichever officer of a police force is consulted, that might have a material impact on the authority’s issue of a licence under subsection (1), yet the Minister says that it is a matter of choice for the local authority to consult, not a matter of need. He might as well not put the provision in the Bill, because there is no legislative framework for “may” consult; the authority “may” consult whether subsection (7) is there or not.
Mr Browne: I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point. I may defer to the person whose Bill it is on why subsection (7) is in the Bill, on the basis that the authority may consult whomever it wishes—nothing in the Bill prevents the authority from doing that. It may consult the right hon. Gentleman—we could add that as an amendment as well. What we are nervous about is obliging the local authority to consult a list of organisations in all circumstances, even when it has good reason to believe that that is not necessary. If we make consulting a requirement rather than a suggestion, it makes more sense to make the list exhaustive, just to ensure that there are no organisations that could have been consulted that are not stipulated in the legislation.
Mr Hanson: Let me give the Minister an example. If the authority satisfies itself under subsection (1), without consulting the Environment Agency or a police force, that a licence is suitable, and subsequently it comes to light that the police force had information that would have had an impact on a decision under subsection (1), what liability does the authority have?
could include an officer of the British Transport police. It would not necessarily have to be someone in the police force that geographically was responsible for the
Mr Walker: The Minister has mentioned a number of times a situation where local authorities might feel that someone is legitimate before they consult on them. Is there not another important situation that we need to deal with, where the licensing authority has information that someone should not be a scrap metal dealer and should not be licensed? The authority should not be forced to go through a long and arduous consultation process, but should be free to act. Would we not want our local authorities to be able to act without having to go through the process of writing to numerous organisations?
Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes a good point. If somebody is clearly unsuitable, why should the local authority be obliged to waste the time of people at the Environment Agency when they already know the outcome?
Mr Hanson: If that is the case, why do later clauses allow for 21 days and an appeal, and people to operate even though they have been denied a licence in the first place? We can return to that later.
In active negotiation, I will not press amendments 6 and 7. However, if the hon. Member for Croydon South felt that it was merited to mention that the Environment Agency and the police force may be consulted, those are two organisations put in the Bill as potentially having information that will materially impact on subsection (1). At the moment, in the Bill, consulting is left to the discretion of the local authority, rather than being compulsory. I wish the Minister and the hon. Member for Croydon South to consider “may” and “must”. In the spirit of co-operation, I will not take forward the concerns dealt with in amendments 6 and 7.
Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester put his finger on it. I can see what is being attempted here, but one has to trust the local authorities to a degree. They have discretion, and if they conclude that Hanson Rag and Bone Ltd, operating in Delyn, has behaved impeccably, as I am sure it would, for three years, why should they be bound by “must” to recheck and re-consult? One must give the local authority the discretion. I will ask the Home Office to look at the point and review it. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Delyn for his words. He has presumably said he is withdrawing amendment 5.
Mr Hanson: I am not necessarily withdrawing the amendment. I am trying to be helpful; we do not want to delay the Committee. The words “may consult” in the Bill are worthless, because the authority may or may not consult. There will be inconsistencies between authorities, both in London and in other areas. Some
However, there is also the spirit of ensuring that we have traders who, in accordance with clause 3(1), are “suitable” applicants to carry on a business as scrap metal dealers. The police might have information of which the local authority may not be aware. Hanson Rag and Bone Ltd in Delyn may have been operating fairly for many years, but the police may have information that it is not. The police might or might not want to volunteer that. If the authority has a statutory duty to consult the Environment Agency and a police force, the police force will have to respond to that “must”, rather than “may”.
In the spirit of co-operation, I will take it that the hon. Member for Croydon South wishes to consult Home Office officials. However, before I withdraw the amendments, I seek to know at what stage that consultation will take place and whether he will agree to report back to me by letter on the outcome, so that there is the potential for an amendment on Report or in another place.
Richard Ottaway: I am not in a position to bind the Home Office; I am simply promoting the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman made the point, with regard to amendment 5, that the police may have some information. I have spent a lot of time in recent weeks talking to the police and local government about this. If the police had information, local government would certainly know about it because the co-operation of local government is needed to get into the yard and to carry out action. We will discuss that later.
‘() any other local authority;’.—(Mr Jeremy Browne.)
‘If the applicant or any site manager has been convicted of a relevant offence,’.
‘(c) other such conditions as are consistent with preventing crime.’.
‘(c) that all sales and purchases should be supported by photographic evidence.’.
‘If the licensee or any site manager named in the licence is convicted of a relevant offence,’.—
( ) the inclusion in a licence of a condition under section 3(8), or
( ) ’.
One could say that the dealer will not receive metal between 4 o’clock in the afternoon and 3 o’clock the following afternoon. In other words, the dealer would be allowed to operate for only one hour in every 24-hour cycle. The point has been raised that, as set out in the Bill, that would give the local authority a potentially draconian power and appear to assume impropriety, even when there is no good reason to believe such impropriety exists.
Government amendments 23 and 24 would ensure that, instead of the conditions potentially being imposed by a local authority on any scrap metal dealer, the conditions could only be imposed on a scrap metal dealer if a transgression had taken place. The conditions would be probationary arrangements where there was reason to believe that the revocation of the licence would be excessive but where practices mean such greater restrictions were appropriate. In our view, giving local authorities the ability to impose such restrictions as a matter of course would be excessive for the reasons I have set out.
Government amendments 60 and 61 would put in place an appeals process. Again, the point was made to us—it is reasonable, because we want people to be able to operate legitimate businesses freely without feeling persecuted by the state—that if a local authority were to implement such onerous conditions under subsection 8(a) that it became impossible for a scrap metal dealer to operate on any commercially sensible basis and if the dealer felt that the grounds for suspicion did not justify such constraint, they should be able to appeal. I hope that the Committee regards that as naturally just.
seems extraordinarily wide, covering crime in all its forms. If Government amendment 23 were passed, we could add specific extra conditions covering criminal activities that might be relevant and should be taken into account, but considering all crime in its grisly entirety is, in our view, too wide-ranging to be accommodated in practice.
is excessively onerous to deploy as a matter of course, and would impede legitimate businesses unnecessarily. As I said, if amendment 23 were accepted, we could consider putting a probationary requirement of that type on businesses that had already transgressed and shown errant behaviour, but the Government regard requiring it as a matter of course for all scrap metal dealers, even when there is no reason to assume that their behaviour as anything other than proper, as too burdensome on business.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Let me start by saying what is pretty obvious, as I spoke on Second Reading: I fully support the measure before us. Even the provocative and controversial remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North, who is not here at the moment, will not provoke me to controversy.
The wording of the amendments is on the amendment paper. Basically, they propose to provide some flexibility to local authorities on the cost and conditions of the licences to be granted. They are meant to be constructive and not controversial.
The amendments would allow local authorities to impose local conditions on the licence to be granted, in the same way as other forms of licensing. In many respects, it would also give local authorities the opportunity to deal with the sorts of dealer who are not considered to be acting in the public interest, and certainly not in the interest of the local community.
I have received a letter from Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite, the chair of the Lambeth metal theft scrutiny commission, who explained that Lambeth council in south London has established that commission to investigate what steps the council and others can take to reduce metal theft in and around the borough. She wrote:
“However, from the work we have undertaken it is clear that the ability to impose local conditions on a licence would enable us and our neighbours to better target the particular issues that we face in Lambeth and across South London. The flexibility in the Licensing Act 2003 has already proved successful in enabling the authority to address the local circumstances we face, such as responding to street-drinking.”
I have mentioned Lambeth in south London. I have become involved, by speaking on Second Reading and being a member of this Committee, because my borough of Walsall in the west midlands is absolutely plagued by
There is no doubt that the Bill is required, but I simply reiterate that it is most important for local authorities to have some flexibility. I take the Minister’s point that preventing crime in the way he described would be to widen the issue, and I am willing to listen to other Members on that particular aspect. However, I hope that, even if the amendments are opposed in Committee, the Government and the promoter of the Bill will consider introducing some amendments on Report to provide the flexibility that the Bill now lacks.
Meg Hillier: I am interested to hear both sides of the argument. It puts me in mind of a case when I was first selected as a local authority councillor years ago. I had to deal with people illegally fixing cars on the street and illegally parking. As a local councillor, I had to pull together a large number of different agencies, including everything from—nationally—the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to different aspects of the council’s regulation process.
Although the activity was clearly antisocial, with bits of it verging on the illegal, it was very difficult to get the police or other licensing authorities to act in the round because the law was too prescriptive in each individual area. It took a great deal of co-ordination to attempt to tackle the problem effectively. I therefore have a lot of sympathy with the aims of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North.
I wonder whether, in the spirit of good will outlined by the Minister, the Home Office and the promoter of the Bill might look again at the wording; I back the intent. I clearly heard the Minister say that if the Bill is drawn too widely, without any restriction, issues might arise. I have to say that, in the spirit of the Government’s attachment to localism—I went into local government as a strong neighbourhood localist—I have some sympathy with such a position. It seems to me that if we trust local government to make its own decisions, we should listen to colleagues such as Councillor Jennifer Brathwaite in Lambeth and others, and trust them to do their job. After all, they are democratically accountable.
In our view, that would cast the net very widely, but provided that the case for new permissions was made and that they applied after conviction, we could look at toughening up that provision or the stipulations within it. As the hon. Member for Walsall North said, we could, with the permission of the sponsor of the Bill, consider ways of injecting a little bit more rigour without creating impracticalities.
Mr Browne: It is not my Bill, but I can say on behalf of the Home Office that, assuming that the Government amendments are agreed to, we could consider what probationary measures are imposed on transgressors in a way that may satisfy the Committee to a greater extent than it is currently satisfied.
‘(10) The local authority can charge for licences and the fees chargeable must be published 28 days before taking effect.’.
Mr Hanson: I want to speak briefly to amendment 15, which, if I have drafted it correctly—I may not have done so—simply deals with the Secretary of State’s determining the level of the fee in schedule 1(6) and the guidance about it, which is important for local authorities.
If the Minister cannot agree to the amendment, I hope that he will reflect on whether the guidance should be considered by resolution in the House, thereby allowing hon. Members, who will undoubtedly receive representations about the guidance, at least to exercise their vote accordingly. That would provide the Minister with discretion do exactly what he wants, but with the House giving final approval.
Mr Browne: Having said at the beginning that I was keen to try to be accommodating, and having not been that accommodating in the past two and a quarter hours, I now have the opportunity to be a bit more
The Home Office has given further consideration to the arrangement and, on that basis, has introduced Government amendment 57, which effectively removes the cap for a number of reasons. First, there is concern about why a cap is appropriate. If it is seeking to recover costs, which may vary in different parts of the country, for example, a cap may not be the right way to proceed.
There may be a tendency for local authorities to set their fee at the cap, as if there were a central-Government-stipulated level, which was not the intention. As members of the Committee can see, instead of having the cap originally envisaged, amendment 57 proposes that, in setting a fee under that paragraph, the authority must have regard to the guidance issued from time to time by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury.
If Government amendment 57 were endorsed by the Committee, amendment 15, which proposes that the cap should be approved by Parliament, would no longer apply, because there would be no cap for Parliament to approve. Amendment 17 would also be redundant.
The matter about which I am most keen to be conciliatory is amendment 66, introduced so concisely by the hon. Member for Hyndburn, under which the local authority could charge for licences and fees chargeable, but the amount that they could charge would have to be published with that notice period so that people had an understanding. Other fees levied by local authorities have stipulated notice periods so people know where they stand and, if the fee were to change substantially, people may wish to take that into account.
With the indulgence of the Committee, I would prefer that the spirit of amendment 66 were taken away by the people at the Home Office who draft such measures and that the Government came up with their own version of the amendment. That is not because we wish to steal the thunder of the hon. Member for Hyndburn, but because those who draft policy on behalf of the Home Office seem to regard their ability to be superior to his when it comes to getting the details right.
The underlying sentiment of the hon. Gentleman’s argument is regarded as reasonable, so I hope that the Committee will remove the cap by supporting Government amendment 57, making amendments 15 and 17 redundant, and that amendment 66 is withdrawn with my undertaking that we shall seek to accommodate its spirit, although in our own precise drafting form.
Graham Jones: I appreciate the tone of the Minister’s comments and thank him for accepting that the measure was drafted to help scrap metal dealers and the industry rather than hinder them. I presume that he did not mean 1966, but I shall take away the spirit of that year. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Richard Ottaway: A limitation of the 1964 Act was the inability of local authorities to refuse to register businesses as scrap metal dealers, regardless of how unlawful their behaviour was. The clause will remedy that by giving local authorities the ability to license only those operators who are considered suitable against set criteria.
The grounds against which suitability should be assessed are outlined under subsection (2). Suitability should be assessed in relation to previous relevant convictions; any previous relevant enforcement action; any previous scrap metal dealer and/or environmental permit application refusals; whether any scrap metal dealer licences have been previously refused; and whether the application has demonstrated that adequate procedures will be in place to ensure that the licence conditions will be met. A licence holder will need to demonstrate that the appropriate procedures are in place to comply with licence conditions and, in particular, whether people have a bank account to comply with the requirement not to purchase scrap metal for cash.
The requirements are not intended to be onerous; the clause reflects the views that I have perceived in a range of organisations and aims to help ensure that only law-abiding individuals and businesses are allowed to trade as scrap metal dealers. I believe that the grounds for suitability are reasonable and proportionate, and that there are enough safeguards under the Bill to ensure that local authority decisions are well considered and that there is a proper judicial appeal process.
I simply want clarification from the hon. Member for Croydon South or the Minister about what happens during the appeal period, because I understand that currently dealers can potentially continue to trade for the duration of the appeal.
Do clause 4 and clause 3(8) give the authority the ability to specify that no scrap metal can be received pending an appeal? Otherwise, a licensee could continue
My question—either for answer today or for reflection pending further consideration of the Bill—is about what happens during the appeal period. If clause 3(8) satisfies the conditions that the licence could be varied so that no trading could take place during the appeal period, that would satisfy my curiosity today. If work can continue at a site during the appeal period, that is a potential concern, because a scrap metal dealer who has had their licence revoked due to not meeting the strictures of the Bill could still operate for a period of 21 days—or, potentially, for as long as a judicial review took.
I did not table any amendments to clause 4, because the matter I am raising is a clause stand part issue. I would welcome some reflection now, but if that is not possible, I want an assurance either that such matters are covered or that the measure will be considered for tightening up at a future date, so that in really serious circumstances the authority has the ability—as the police do with an errant local pub—to close the premises down immediately, pending an appeal.
Richard Ottaway: I am grateful for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman phrased his inquiry. As I understand it, the position is that if the dealer is trading when they appeal, they can carry on trading until the appeal is heard. If they are not trading, however, they carry on not trading until the appeal is heard, so the status quo prevails.
Mr Hanson: That leaves with me with an element of concern. If a local authority has determined that a licensee, who is already trading, is unsuitable to trade because it has committed serious offences, its licence will be revoked, which is what clause 4 does, but the licensed premises could continue to trade pending an appeal. We are trying to stop the abuse of that scrap metal licence, yet the authority will have to sit back and watch some organisation that it has deemed unsuitable continue to trade.
Would it be legal and feasible for the authority to say under clause 3(8) that the dealer could not operate between the hours of 24 and 24 for the next 21 days? I am simply seeking clarification. If it was such a serious offence that the authority wished to do that, would clause 3(8) cover that? If it was not such a serious offence or if the authority would not have the power to do that under that provision, would the promoter of the Bill and the Minister look at what the procedure would be on the appeal period? That seems to be of some concern. Even if the offence was serious and the appeal was undertaken, we would still have a rogue trader
Another concern is public confidence in this matter. If, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark indicated, the Dr Salter statue has been stolen from Bermondsey and tracked down to Mr Jones’s scrap metal dealer in Bermondsey, which has had its licence revoked because of that offence, and the people of Bermondsey see that Mr Jones’s business is operating for a further 21 days while he appeals, that does not seem to be particularly fair. I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn in picking that name. The provision needs some reflection on, and I would welcome clarification on whether clause 3(8) would apply, and if it would not, I would welcome the promoter of the Bill and the Minister examining these matters in detail before later consideration of the Bill.
Mr Hanson: I do not wish to detain the Committee, but I want to know something. Clause 5 indicates that under paragraph 2 of schedule 1, the authority may vary the licence. In doing so, are the local authorities going to, bound to, or entitled to charge a fee for the varying of a licence? There would be an additional cost to the local authority in varying that licence. The local authority can charge for issuing a licence, but what is the procedure for varying a licence? Does it have the ability to recharge the costs of that licence?
Richard Ottaway: The clause provides that schedule 1 has effect. Schedule 1 sets out the procedural issues relating to the licence—in particular, the terms of the licence, the application process, the offence of making a false statement and the appeals process. Within the schedule is a fee-raising power. One of the limitations of the existing registration scheme in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 is that it does not allow local authorities to generate any funds, so all activity associated with administering the scheme and ensuring compliance must be funded by the local authority. As a result, activity in relation to the current scheme is barely adequate at best. Recognising that issue, the Bill rightly includes a fee-raising power to allow local authorities to recover the cost of administration and compliance activity in relation to the Bill.
The Local Government Association believes that providing funding through the licence fee will ensure the integrity of the new regime. The Home Office has discussed this facet of the Bill with representatives of the scrap metal industry, who accept that that is a small price to pay for a scheme that works and removes illegal operators from the industry. The Home Office has worked with the LGA to estimate the likely cost of a licence, but costs will be determined locally. It believes that this is a reasonable and proportionate process. Throughout the process, the views of the scrap metal industry and the LGA have been sought.
A key element of the new regime is to ensure that only businesses and individuals who are considered as being suitable should be permitted to operate as scrap metal dealers. The application will require information on key business personnel, other held licences and permits, relevant convictions, wider business issues and the procedures in place to comply with the cash prohibition. They will all contribute towards painting a picture about the suitability of the operator. A criminal offence of providing false information has been created to ensure accuracy.
Although the Bill is prescriptive about the information that it requires, schedule 1 permits local authorities to request further information as appropriate to consider fully each application. That will therefore equip local authorities with the information that they need to ascertain fully the applicant’s suitability. As far as the specific inquiries made, no particular note has come my way at the moment, so I have to confess that I do not know the answer. If something turns up later on, I will find a way to work it in, to give the right hon. Gentleman the answer that he is after.
Mr Hanson: I would be grateful to the hon. Gentleman if at some stage, perhaps with assistance, he dropped me a note to that effect, just so we have some clarity. I would not want a situation in which local authorities did not accept or understand their powers.
‘() any trading name of the licensee,’.
‘( ) “Trading name” means a name, other than that stated in the licence under section 2(4)(a) or (6)(a), under which a licensee carries on business as a scrap metal dealer.’.
( ) any proposed trading name,’.
Mr Browne: Amendments 25, 26, 27, 49 and 52 are all drafting improvements to the Bill, clarifying the use of the wording in relation to the name of the business that applies for and has raised a scrap dealer’s licence. Schedule 1(3) requires that the name of the business is supplied to the local authority when applying for a licence. In addition, clause 7 requires that the business name is recorded on the national register, and clause 8 requires that any changes to the business name are notified to the licensing authority. In each of those three places, the wording of the requirement is slightly ambiguous—something that the amendments seek to clarify. The term “trading name” is defined in amendment 49, which is to be used for the purposes of the Act, as the name
With regard to detailed public registry information, I went on the Environment Agency’s website today and drew off a number of examples of mini-skip hire licences in my constituency. If that can be done, is it a requirement here? If the Minister can say yes, I will now sit down. If he says, “No, they can’t,” I will return to the debate in due course.
When I was preparing for the Committee, I asked whether the provision would be satisfied if the register was available for half an hour at the office in London on the second Tuesday of every month, with 14 days’ notice. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was making a rather good point in amendment 8, and we should
I suppose that is a reasonable position for the Government to adopt, because as soon as we start specifying in what forms the information will be available, we could make all kinds of arguments about other arrangements. For example, people who do not have access to computers might ask why there is not also an amendment to cater for their provision. We might have people who do not speak English asking why there is no provision to cater for them, and this would become a sprawling clause. The wording,
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the form in which it is envisaged that the register will be available to the public for most people to look at is precisely that envisaged by him in amendment 8, which is online. I am not going to die in a ditch over this—it will happen anyway—but he may feel that, because that is the intention, his amendment is no longer required.
actually meant. As the Minister has indicated, it could mean that the register is available on the second Thursday of the month in London, on request, with 200 days’ notice. There are all sorts of ways around that, and there is no stipulation in the legislative requirement to the Environment Agency to make the register of scrap metal licences open to the public. However, I hear what he says. For my own benefit, I will repeat that he said that he anticipated it being online. With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘() any notification given to the authority under subsection (2) or (4),’.
() any revocation by the authority of a licence.
‘(6A) Notification under subsection (6) must be given within 28 days of the notification, variation or revocation in question.’.
‘Variation of licence
3A (1) A local authority may, on an application, vary a licence by changing it from one type to the other.
(2) If there is a change in any of the matters mentioned in section 2(4)(a) to (c) or (6)(a), the licensee must make an application to vary the licence accordingly.
(3) But the power to amend the name of the licensee does not include the power to transfer the licence from one person to another.
(4) An application under this paragraph—
(a) is to be made to the authority which issued the licence, and
(b) must contain particulars of the changes to be made to the licence.
(5) A licensee who fails to comply with sub-paragraph (2) is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(6) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this paragraph to prove that the person took all reasonable steps to avoid committing the offence.’.
Mr Browne: This is a rather long string of Government amendments. For the record I will explain, with reasonable brevity, the purpose of each of them. For those who are not following our deliberations in minute detail—perhaps on television, but not in the Chamber—the most practical effect will be to create a framework for local authorities to inform the Environment Agency. There is a requirement for the Environment Agency to hold a central list, but there is not a standardised procedure in terms of timings for local authorities to convey the information to the Environment Agency. The agency would not necessarily be able to hold an up-to-date list, because the authorities will not have given it to them, so we are trying to make practical changes to which I find it hard to believe any member of the Committee would object.
Government amendments 50, 51, 55, 58 and 59 give effect to Government amendment 56, which would insert new paragraph 3A in schedule 1. That would permit the local authority to vary a licence, including any of its particulars, and the licence type. However, licences cannot be transferred from one person to another on the grounds that that may circumvent the suitability test.
Amendment 56 also creates a criminal offence of failing to comply with the requirement to apply to vary a licence in circumstances where the individual is required to make the application to vary. That offence is needed so that the local authority is kept informed of all changes to a licence, ensuring that information remains accurate and up to date. Circumstances that will necessitate a licence being varied include changes to the site manager and the sites that a site licensee operates from. The ability to vary a licence necessitates clause 8, which relates to notification requirements. Clause 8(6) requires the local authority to supply any information in relation to licence variations to the Environment Agency—the point I was making.
Amendments 28, 29 and 30 seek to strengthen the requirement for the local authorities to inform the Environment Agency, including adding a time limit: the Environment Agency should be informed by local authorities no later than 28 days afterwards of any variations to a licence or whether a licence has been revoked. The Environment Agency is required under clause 8(7) to amend the national register accordingly, which will ensure that the register is kept as up to date as practicable. We are trying to strengthen the national register and to make sure that there is a requirement for speedy conveyance of information so that those who wish to look at it online or, indeed, to book an appointment on the second Tuesday of each month or whatever other arrangements are arrived at, can be satisfied that they are inspecting an up-to-date register when they do so.
() any revocation by the authority of a licence.
‘(6A) Notification under subsection (6) must be given within 28 days of the notification, variation or revocation in question.’.
‘() any person who, under arrangements made by a person within paragraph (a) or (b), has responsibility for verifying the name and address.
‘(5) It is a defence for a person within subsection (4)(a) or (b) who is charged with an offence under subsection (4) to prove that the person—
(a) made arrangements to ensure that the metal was not received in breach of subsection (1), and
(b) took all reasonable steps to ensure that those arrangements were complied with.’.
‘(d) the employee who receives scrap metal.’.
‘() any person who makes the payment acting for the dealer.
‘(5) It is a defence for a person within subsection (4)(a) or (b) who is charged with an offence under this section to prove that the person—
(a) made arrangements to ensure that the payment was not made in breach of subsection (1), and
(b) took all reasonable steps to ensure that those arrangements were complied with.’.
‘(d) the employee who receives scrap metal.’.
‘() any person who, under arrangements made by a person within paragraph (a) or (b), has responsibility for fulfilling the requirement.
‘(10) It is a defence for a person within subsection (9)(a) or (b) who is charged with an offence under this section to prove that the person—
(a) made arrangements to ensure that the requirement was fulfilled, and
(b) took all reasonable steps to ensure that those arrangements were complied with.’.
‘(d) the employee who receives scrap metal.’.
Mr Browne: The amendment relates in part to tightening up requirements on individual dealers on a site. We kicked off our deliberations two and three quarter hours ago by discussing this issue. I hope that this provision will reassure those who participated in or listened to that part of our debate.
Clauses 10, 11 and 12 create three requirements in relation to the scrap metal dealer’s conduct of business: to verify the supplier’s identity; to prohibit the dealer purchasing scrap metal for cash; and to keep records of all business. Each clause also creates a criminal offence to cover any breaches of the requirements which currently apply to the scrap metal dealer, the site manager and the manager.
Government amendments 33, 34 and 37 seek to widen these offences, so that front-line workers, employees whose direct actions result in the requirements being complied with, are also included. I hope that this point will find favour with the hon. Member for Hyndburn. Amendments 9, 10 and 16 seek to achieve the same result, but they will not work in practice as individuals responsible for tasks such as paying for the metal may not be receiving the metal. We seek to provide greater clarity on the term “receives,” which may seem a straightforward concept, but receiving the metal might mean taking it off the back of a van or receiving the payment for it. Therefore, we seek an unambiguous requirement for compliance.
To reflect different working practices, Government amendments 33, 34 and 37 seek to address employees who have been delegated responsibility by the scrap
The Government amendments also provide a defence for scrap metal dealers if they can prove that they have made arrangements to ensure the requirements in clauses 10 to 12 are met and that they have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the arrangements are complied with. That is right because it would not be fair for a manager to be held liable for a rogue employee’s actions if they are not in line with the approach taken by the company. We do not intend to define “reasonable steps” owing to the different activities that the term could describe, but evidenced training courses, written and visual material, and new procedures to seek compliance could all be considered by the courts as reasonable defences for the site manager.
Graham Jones: The Minister is right in his submission that I am sympathetic to the amendments, although they are a halfway measure compared with what we discussed earlier. How would he guard against the rogue employee dismissed by a business who discreetly seeks employment in the industry elsewhere? That scenario is likely because such people would want to remain in familiar employment.
Mr Browne: I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that the amendments are not as all-encompassing as he envisaged with amendment 62, which would have individually licensed every person employed in the industry, but I hope he recognises that the amendments cover the transgressions of individual employees, rather than just the site manager. As he acknowledged, that is a step in the direction he favours, even if it does not reach the destination he would have liked.
Mr Browne: My understanding is that a rogue employee would self-evidently have difficulty applying for a collector’s licence because he would be applying as an individual. Were he to seek a job within another site or business, I imagine the site manager applying for the licence or appealing against the licence’s revocation would need to explain why he thinks that employing a person with a proven record of transgression is consistent with his continuing to have a licence. I accept that individual licensing creates a system where it is easier to track each individual, but as I said earlier, it places a considerably greater burden on local authorities, which is why we were reluctant to go down that path. As I said, I hope that the measure will move in a direction that satisfies.
Mr Browne: I am not sure that I have more to add to what I have already said. We are trying to create legislative circumstances in which an honourable, law-abiding site manager will not be punished directly if he is doing everything that he reasonably can to comply with the requirements of the Act, but in which a rogue employee working for him can be targeted and caught if that employee behaves inappropriately, without the site manager automatically losing their licence.
We are trying to get a balance in which wayward behaviour is caught in the net but respectable, honest site managers and employees are not punished as a consequence of inadvertently employing someone who behaves improperly without their knowledge. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. I suppose that that person could then go and work in all kinds of sectors of the economy where criminal inclinations might cause difficulty in one regard or another. It is hard to put every safeguard in place. The requirement that we seek is perhaps more tightly prescribed than that, but I hope that the Committee will think it a reasonable measure.
Mr Hanson: I will speak briefly to amendments 9, 10 and 16. I am grateful to the Minister for tabling his amendments after ours. The purpose of my tabling amendments 9, 10 and 16, poorly drafted though they are, was to highlight the fact that the Bill, as currently proposed, simply makes the scrap metal dealer or site manager liable in legislation for the failure to abide by the licence conditions.
As ever, there will be rogue employees who might seek to subvert the law and provide an outlet for stolen metal. There might be poorly trained employees who do not abide by the site managers’ and scrap metal dealers’ rules. I wanted to establish a principle of employee liability, so that everybody working on the site knows that if they transgress the regulations of the Act, they are liable for a fine of the magnitude set out in the Act.
I know from personal experience that if my constituents working in supermarkets sell alcohol to under-18s, the manager is not responsible; they are personally liable at the point of sale. From my perspective, a similar principle should apply here. The Minister’s amendments meet that, as do his remarks, so I am happy not to press any of my amendments and to support the Minister’s objective that all people who deal with applications on site are liable to prosecution in the event of failure.
‘( ) any person who, under arrangements made by a person within paragraph (a) or (b), has responsibility for verifying the name and address.
‘(5) It is a defence for a person within subsection (4)(a) or (b) who is charged with an offence under subsection (4) to prove that the person—
(a) made arrangements to ensure that the metal was not received in breach of subsection (1), and
(b) took all reasonable steps to ensure that those arrangements were complied with.’.—(Mr Jeremy Browne.)
Simon Hughes: Obviously this is a key provision in the Bill and one of the key proposals intended to regulate the industry. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South and possibly the Minister to say whether they think this is the best and sufficient way of dealing with what is obviously the biggest problem that people have, namely identifying who comes and trades in scrap metal.
I ask that question because of a point made by one of the practitioners in Southwark. I am sure that he will not mind being cited and I know that he has been in touch with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South. He is a gentleman called Tom Pratt, who runs Southwark Metals, which is a very reputable organisation based just outside my constituency, in the constituency of the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). Nevertheless, it serves the whole of the borough and it is certainly very well regarded in my part of the borough.
Mr Pratt’s argument is that although this is an understandable proposition, the best way to regulate and catch people, by and large, is to make sure that the transactions must happen in certain places, namely registered sites, and that we get on CCTV the people, their licence plates and so on. He has put the argument that the best way to catch people is not by having cashless payments. He also makes the wider argument—I have argued the contrary, so I am not adopting his argument but just asking the question—that this measure is a discrimination in relation to this industry, when we are not banning cash payments across all other industries. He asks, “Why should we be singled out as an industry? Loads and loads of people pay in cash for all sorts of things. That’s how lots of business is done.” So I would be grateful for a considered reflection on the wisdom of going down this road, as opposed to going down the roads that he and other people in the industry are apparently suggesting.
I am aware that, by and large, the scrap metal industry, representatives of which have written to us, is supportive of this proposal, but it would be worth making sure that we understand that there are other views, and if they are views held by reputable, successful, concerned, socially aware and politically conscious business people we need to address them.
“Adequate procedures” include procedures to ensure that any employee who is hired does not have relevant criminal convictions that would impact on the ability of the licensee to comply with the regulation. I hope that addresses the right hon. Gentleman’s point.
I have simply added the words “excluding cash payments”, so that we do not find that the principle of the Bill is undermined by a future Secretary of State, of whichever party, who determines that they want to unpick the Bill by order. Someone might be able to clarify that that is not possible under subsection 11(2), but my reading of it is that a future Secretary of State could decide that our worthy commitments and discussions today were meaningless, and introduce by order an amendment to allow cash again. Our discussion of the matter, for many hours, could be completely undermined by a Secretary of State who determined that it was not worth a candle.
Mr Browne: I must admit that when I considered the amendment I thought that we would be having a brilliantly circular debate about whether, under a clause entitled “Offence of buying scrap metal for cash etc”, it was necessary to introduce an amendment saying that the Secretary of State should not allow scrap metal to be bought for cash.
The purpose of the clause, which I appreciate allows a bit of flexibility, is to future-proof—that dread word—against potential future methods of payment. Were the legislation to have been passed 20 years ago, paying on the internet would not have been possible. Legislation then might have stipulated payment by cheque. Some types of payment become less fashionable or practical over time, and others more so. It is certainly not envisaged that a Home Secretary would act in such a way, and that is not what is intended under subsection 11(2).
The only matter in which I would defer to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South is that I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point that were a bloody-minded future Home Secretary intent on sabotage to come into office, he or she might seek severely to undermine the legislation by acting in a manner that was the 180 degrees opposite of what is intended by, I imagine, every member of the Committee, and if that were the case there would be no formal means to prevent them from doing so.
Richard Ottaway: I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that the title of the clause is “Offence of buying scrap metal for cash etc”, so it would be pretty perverse if a Secretary of State sought to introduce provisions that went against that heading. I do not know precisely what the legal remedies are, but I suspect that he or she would not get far.
Mr Hanson: It was never my intention to press the point, but this is legislation for as long as it exists. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 is only now being amended, so we could be dealing with legislation that remains in place for 50 years, and a subsequent Secretary of State or Minister theoretically could, under the Bill as drafted, without recourse to the House, by order—presumably even by an order that was not debatable or had to be prayed against—simply change the payment method. I am just testing the point and will not make a big meal out of it. I simply want to say that with the amendment we could have ensured that primary legislation was needed rather than the whim of a Secretary of State, but I am happy to withdraw the amendment if there is no movement on the matter. [Interruption.]
Simon Hughes: I do not want to get involved in this particular debate about the amendment, Mr Benton. We are about to come on to the stand part debate, and I do not want to catch my hon. Friend the Minister without any notice. Before we conclude this issue about cashless payments, which is a repeat of the current legislative position rather than something new, it would be helpful if the Minister, with the help of his civil servants, could put on the record the other places where, in legislation, we currently ban such payments. We should be careful about legislating for a particular solution in a particular industry if we do not understand what the implications are elsewhere. This is really a heads-up to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, who might be able to give me the answer when we debate clause stand part in a moment.
Mr Browne: I do not know which other sectors of the economy face such draconian measures, but in response to my right hon. Friend, my understanding is that this requirement is needed because the abuses in this sector are so often achieved by using untraceable cash payments. Were we not to take the rather radical step of banning cash payments altogether, we would have a Bill with a massive hole in it which was open to abuse, because we would not be able to correlate the recorded information that is required in the Bill with the registered payment that would show the paper trail of the transactions. Therefore, we would not be able to catch transgressors.
My understanding is that large sections of this industry welcome the change. It may cause some inconvenience for them on the margins, but if they are behaving properly, they may feel that it would remove the disreputable parts of the industry—or at least severely impinge on them—which may well compete on an unfair basis with them as well as doing something that is morally wrong. I do not think that that is seen by the industry as a whole as being a bad proposal. On the contrary, it welcomes it even though it recognises that in some circumstances it may require some small degree of administrative difficulty.
Simon Hughes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his answer. As I said, I was not seeking to catch him on the hop. I do not dissent from the fact that there is a benefit to the proposed measure and that there are people in the industry who see the benefit. It allows them to show the paper trail, which proves that they and those who work with them are clean. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend could arrange, at some convenient moment before Report, for a note to be given to those of us in the Committee who want the promoter of the Bill and the right hon. Member for Delyn to meet, which shows the consideration of the matter. I am clear that this is unusual. We want to ensure that it is justified and it would be really helpful to see if there are any other examples in English law.
Mr Browne: While we have been having this conversation, I have sought further guidance about in which other sections of the UK economy it is specified in UK law that cash payments are forbidden, and I am told that there are no other sections. We are dealing with unique circumstances. There is such proliferation of criminal activity in this particular industry—I do not mean all the people who operate within it—that is aided and abetted by cash payments. The promoter of the Bill, supported by the Government, felt that this rather dramatic step was necessary to give the legislation the best chance of working in practice.
Simon Hughes: I am grateful. That is helpful. It was a quick speech providing communication update, which is appreciated. I will reflect on whether there is anything else that it might be helpful to get on the record for people in the industry.
Yes, there is a big problem in the industry and people want to remedy it. Yes, this may be the best available solution. We have already had that debate once during
Graham Jones: On the issue of cash, I cannot think of an example in UK law—I accept the Minister’s comments—and this is not setting a precedent culturally or with the public out there, because in a lot of situations cash does not exist any more and there is not really an option to pursue a cash payment. Online is the big example: many companies just will not entertain people’s trying to use cash. The other big example is payment machines, because people cannot pay cash into a lot of those. People have to accept that and they kind of accept it. Culturally, but not in terms of UK law, we are moving towards a cashless society. People accept that and there is not a great resistance to it, although one might believe there may be.
Simon Hughes: Just one last thing. I am really pleased that we have not gone down that road so far, although in the end we agreed that cheques and chequebooks should disappear. I was clear that, in spite of some in industry arguing for their disappearance, lots of my constituents and other people still want cheques as a means of paying for things and receiving money for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness, that will happen.
‘() any person who makes the payment acting for the dealer.
‘(5) It is a defence for a person within subsection (4)(a) or (b) who is charged with an offence under this section to prove that the person—
(a) made arrangements to ensure that the payment was not made in breach of subsection (1), and
(b) took all reasonable steps to ensure that those arrangements were complied with.’.—( Mr Jeremy Browne .)
Mr Jeremy Browne: I beg to move amendment 35, in clause 12, page 7, line 2, leave out from ‘allows’ to end of line 3 and insert ‘the information and the scrap metal to which it relates to be readily identified by reference to each other.’.
There was concern in drafting terms that that may be interpreted as the paperwork’s being literally connected to the scrap metal by means of a nail, for example, or a staple—[Interruption.] Or Sellotape. The information needs to relate in administrative terms, rather than being physically connected to the scrap metal. I am sure that Committee members will regard that clarification as helpful, if they thought it was insufficiently clear to start with.
Amendment 12 may find some favour with the Committee. In the collegiate spirit, the record-keeping period is stipulated as two years because that is the period under the 1964 Act. All existing scrap metal dealers have therefore become accustomed, possibly over decades, to keeping their fiscal records for two years. Perfectly reputable and honourable people have done that in a way that works well for them, and it was thought an undue burden would be placed on them if they were required to keep records for longer.
My only concession—not in Government Minister terms, but in debating terms—to the right hon. Member for Delyn is that the licence period in the Bill is three years, so one could argue that a record-keeping period of three years would be consistent with that. One could also argue that two years is quite a sufficiently onerous administrative burden, and why increase the burden when it is not the matter of concern? We would not be legislating for that in isolation. By requiring perfectly honourable people who keep their records for two years to keep them for three years, we may create a pinch-point that does not have much, if any, impact on those who we are seeking to disadvantage. I do not feel strongly about the issue. The two-year period comes from the 1964 Act. However, if my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South or the right hon. Gentleman, or the Committee as a whole, feel that three years would be superior to two years, I would not regard it as a failure in my political career to have prevented him from making that change.
Mr Hanson: The Minister has outlined the reasoning behind amendment 12. The licence period is three years and yet the record-keeping period is two years, which seems to be an inconsistency. If we have a three-year licence period, records should be kept for the period of the licence, so that those records can be checked.
I have been a Member of Parliament for 20 years. I had five years in opposition before 1997 and have had two and half years in opposition since 2010. In all my seven and a half years in opposition, not once have I had an amendment that I proposed accepted by a Government Minister. He could really break a long duck if he accepted the change from two years to three. As a Minister for 13 years, I did accept amendments from the Opposition, even though he is doing what we did, which was to look at them again and replace them
‘() any person who, under arrangements made by a person within paragraph (a) or (b), has responsibility for fulfilling the requirement.
‘(10) It is a defence for a person within subsection (9)(a) or (b) who is charged with an offence under this section to prove that the person—
(a) made arrangements to ensure that the requirement was fulfilled, and
(b) took all reasonable steps to ensure that those arrangements were complied with.’.—(Mr Browne.)
Having had discussions with the hon. Member for Croydon South, I accept and understand that, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a warrant of entry must be issued for the inspection of residential purposes and premises. I want to test the views of the hon. Gentleman and the Minister about those undoubtedly occasional residential premises with scrap metal yards
I am sure that such matters will not be a major problem, but how long is it anticipated it will take for a warrant to be issued? Between the warrant being applied for and it being issued, evidence could be discarded or destroyed accordingly by someone who was contravening the spirit of the Bill, which itself would be an offence. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the police and the local authority can enter premises. Given that residential premises will in some case have facilities for the disposal of scrap metal attached to them, is that a loophole that needs to be considered?
Mr Browne: I understand the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. The reason why the Government will resist the amendment is for exactly the reason that he outlined, which is an anxiety about what is an appropriate power for the state by which it could enter a person’s private premises without an advance warrant. We believe that the Bill has achieved the right balance between protecting the individual from excessive state interference, while at the same time achieving its purpose.
Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): There have been several instances in my constituency of residential premises attached to scrap metal yards. Has the Minister considered whether the Bill might encourage scrap metal dealers to establish in their scrap metal yards a mobile home or other residential property that would enable them to get round that very point?
Mr Browne: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I would need greater legal guidance about whether an operator of a large scrap metal site with a mobile home in the corner could have legal grounds for stopping an inspection of the site as a whole, as distinct from the mobile home that is on the site. I would also need guidance on whether people could classify a massive warehouse as being their place of residence on the basis that they had a camp bed in the corner of it and were therefore less subject to the inspection regime than they would be if the camp bed were removed, and the premises were just a warehouse rather than a residential dwelling.
I hesitate to go deeper into such a discussion because I am not entirely sure of the likelihood of that being a practical way of circumventing the Bill. Members of the Committee would also wish the Government to be mindful of not giving the police or other authorities the power to go into people’s homes without a warrant, and that is the difficulty we are seeking to navigate.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North for her intervention. There is a potential problem to be considered, although I am not arguing that it is definitive. I understand the Government’s position in respect of the Protection of Freedoms Act, but is it worth while for the hon. Member
Mr Browne: I have been informed that the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that it is content with the warrant-obtaining mechanisms, that the criteria to obtain a warrant to enter a residential premises are not considered onerous, and that the criteria are lower than those in the 1964 Act. I hope that the concerns rightly raised by the right hon. Gentleman will not happen in practice. However, I share his anxieties that someone could create a loophole in the law by having a substantial amount of scrap metal in their house or in somewhere that is designated as a house. I suppose that one could have anxieties on the other side, that someone had received payment for one small item of scrap metal that they put in their bedroom, and the police saying that on that basis they no longer needed a warrant to enter the house. He asked whether I would look at how the situation would work in practice, and I am happy to ensure that the Home Office and the Government as a whole are satisfied that we are not waving through legislation with a big loophole that can be exploited by criminals.
Mr Hanson: Will the Minister look also at the definition of residential premises? My concern is not that someone has scrap metal in their bedroom, but that there is a house on a property, with a substantial two or three acres of land, where scrap metal is utilised as part of the business.
Mr Browne: Yes. I was making a point from the other side of the argument. I would not wish the state to use the legislation to go into someone’s house on the basis of a spurious justification about scrap metal. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point that the Committee is much more likely to be concerned about someone who either has scrap metal in their extended garden or designates a building that does not appear to anyone else to be a residential property, making themselves appear not to be subject to the Bill when they are. With his permission, I do not wish to accept the amendment, because it would be a big step to take without further consideration. However, I am happy to look further into it, as he requested.
‘(d) assess the prevalence of the export of stolen scrap metal through UK ports in the years following the passage of the Act.’.
Mr Hanson: The amendment is a probing amendment to ensure that any final review is laid before both Houses of Parliament. If that is the case, or an assurance can be given, I am happy to withdraw the amendment or have it accepted as part of the Bill.
Graham Jones: I would like to speak to amendment 4, on the issue that I have raised regarding vehicle badging. The legislation deals with the dealer channel, but not with displacement outside the industry. That matter is ongoing with the British Transport Police, and Operation Tornado is being rolled out nationally. I am concerned about people trying to evade the law by not using registered scrap metal dealers, but dealing in metal themselves, like with vehicle badging on containers.