New Clause 2 — Records of dealings: disposal of metal
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‘(1) This section applies if a scrap metal dealer disposes of any scrap metal in the course of the dealer’s business.

(2) For these purposes metal is disposed of—

(a) whether or not it is in the same form in which it was received;

(b) whether or not the disposal is to another person;

(c) whether or not the metal is despatched from a site.

(3) Where the disposal is in the course of business under a site licence, the dealer must record the following information—

(a) the description of the metal (including its type (or types if mixed), form and weight);

(b) the date and time of its disposal;

(c) if the disposal is to another person, the full name and address of that person;

(d) if the dealer receives payment for the metal (whether by way of sale or exchange), the price or other consideration received.

(4) Where the disposal is in the course of business under a collector’s licence, the dealer must record the following information—

(a) the date and time of the disposal;

(b) if the disposal is to another person, the full name and address of that person.’.—(Mr Jeremy Browne.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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John Bercow (Speaker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to Government new clause 2, in subsection (3), after ‘record’, insert ‘and verify’.

New clause 4—Sale of scrap metal

‘(1) No person shall sell or attempt to sell scrap metal other than to a scrap metal dealer licensed under the provisions of this Act.

(2) No person aged under 21 shall sell or attempt to sell scrap metal.

(3) A person who sells or attempts to sell scrap metal in breach of subsection 1 or 2 above is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.’.

New clause 6—Metal marked with smart water

‘(1) A scrap metal dealer must not purchase scrap metal from a person without first checking that the metal has not been marked with smart water.

(2) If a scrap metal dealer purchases scrap metal in breach of subsection (1) he shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.’.

Amendment 66, page 5, line 39, in clause 10, leave out ‘3’ and insert ‘1’.

Amendment 67, page 6, line 3, leave out ‘3’ and insert ‘1’.

Amendment 98, page 6, line 10, in clause 11, leave out subsection (2).

Amendment 71, page 6, line 25, leave out ‘5’ and insert ‘1’.

Amendment 72, page 6, line 25, leave out ‘5’ and insert ‘3’.

Government amendment 18, page 6, line 26, in clause 12, divide Clause 12 into two clauses, the first [Records of dealings: receipt of metal] to consist of subsections (1) to (5) and the second [Records: supplementary] to consist of subsections (6) to (11).

Government amendment 19, page 6, line 30, leave out ‘type and weight’ and insert

‘type (or types if mixed), form, condition, weight and any marks identifying previous owners or other distinguishing features’.

Amendment 87, page 6, line 38, at end insert—

‘(f) whether the metal has been tested for smart water and the result of that test’.

Government amendment 20, page 6, line 42, leave out subsections (4) and (5) and insert—

‘(4) If the dealer pays for the metal by cheque, the dealer must keep a copy of the cheque.

(5) If the dealer pays for the metal by electronic transfer—

(a) the dealer must keep the receipt identifying the transfer, or

(b) if no receipt identifying the transfer was obtained, the dealer must record particulars identifying the transfer.’.

Amendment 73, page 7, line 7, leave out subsection (6).

Government amendment 21, page 7, line 7, after ‘subsections (2) and (5)’, insert

‘and section [Records of dealings: disposal of metal](3) and (4)’.

Government amendment 22, page 7, line 13, after ‘subsections (2) to (5)’, insert

‘and section [Records of dealings: disposal of metal](3) and (4)’.

Amendment 74, page 7, line 13, leave out ‘3 years’ and insert ‘1 year’.

Government amendment 23, page 7, line 14, at end insert

‘or (as the case may be) disposed of.’.

Government amendment 24, page 7, line 15, after ‘under’, insert

‘section [

Records of dealings: receipt of metal

], section [

Records of dealings: disposal of metal

] or’.

Government amendment 25, page 7, line 18, after ‘at’, insert

‘or (as the case may be) despatched from’.

Amendment 76, page 7, line 27, leave out ‘5’ and insert ‘1’.

Amendment 77, page 7, line 27, leave out ‘5’ and insert ‘3’.

Government amendment 26, page 8, line 24, clause 13, leave out ‘section 12’ and insert

‘section [

Records of dealings: receipt of metal

] or [

Records of dealings: disposal of metal

]’.

Amendment 101, page 10, line 10, in clause 18, leave out from ‘(a)’ to ‘whether’ in line 11 and insert

‘collects, purchases or sells discarded metal suitable for reprocessing for reward’.

Amendment 132, page 10, line 13, leave out paragraph (b).

Amendment 133, page 10, line 19, leave out subsection (4).

Amendment 30, page 10, line 19, leave out ‘carries on business’ and insert ‘engages in activity’.

Amendment 134, page 10, line 32, leave out ‘includes and insert ‘is’.

Amendment 102, page 10, line 33, leave out ‘old’ and insert ‘used’.

Amendment 135, page 10, line 33, after ‘old’, insert ‘used’.

Amendment 103, page 10, line 36, at end insert—

‘(c) any new product article or assembly which is made from or contains metal and is not being used for the purpose for which it was intended when originally purchased.’.

Amendment 136, page 10, line 36, at end insert—

‘(c) items made from or containing metal which are of sentimental or heritage value,

(d) war memorials that are made from or contain metal,

(e) property made from or containing metal belonging to any place of worship, and

(f) property made from or containing metal belonging to or used for the purposes of rail travel.’.

Amendment 104, page 10, line 38, leave out paragraph (a).

Amendment 138, page 10, line 39, at end insert—

‘(c) platinum, iridium, osmium, palladium and ruthenium, and’

Amendment 105, page 10, line 42, leave out subsection (8).

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the excellent timing with which you brought our debate on the previous group of amendments to a conclusion and for allowing me to introduce this second group of amendments.

This group relates to the trading in scrap metal. Within this grouping, the Government wish to create one new clause and make seven amendments to the Bill.

Unfortunately, like the previous grouping, there are a significant number of other amendments which we fear may dilute the effectiveness of the Bill, although hon. Members are entirely within their rights to table them. It is therefore not our intention to accept those amendments. I do not propose to address each of them separately, though I have sought and will continue to do so, to clarify points where that may help the House.

On the Government amendments, clause 12 currently requires that scrap metal dealers record all metal that is received in the course of their business, and includes a criminal offence of failure to fulfil the requirement of the clause. Following discussion with the police, they have suggested continuing the requirement in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 to record both the metal being received in the course of their business and the metal being dispatched. We have considered that suggestion and believe that there are merits to justify its inclusion, allowing law enforcement officers and local authorities to trace metals through the scrap metal sector.

New clause 2 outlines that requirement, defining the meaning of disposed of metal and stipulating information that needs to be recorded by scrap metal dealers, both in respect of mobile collectors and those who hold a site licence. As I have said, although the amendment creates a new requirement in the Bill on the scrap metal dealer, recording metals that are dispatched is not a new burden on the industry—an important point—as that provision already exists in the 1964 Act, which currently applies. It should be noted that the proposed recording requirement for collectors appears slightly less onerous than that for site licence holders.

We considered carefully what information should be recorded to bring value to the records that are kept. Collectors should not process metals; they collect metals and then sell them to scrap metal dealers who operate a site to process it. Therefore, the metal that a collector receives and records must be the metal that they dispatch. It is for that reason that the regulations differ slightly for them and are slightly less onerous. We did not therefore consider it necessary to require collectors to double-record the metal; rather we are simply requiring them to record to whom the metal was sold and when.

I do not believe that the amendment to new clause 2 is necessary. All records that a scrap metal dealer is required to retain as part of this new scrap metal regime should be accurate. Amendment (a) to new clause 2 requires that information relating to disposed of metals be verified, which, aside from the person’s name and address, is an almost impossible task and one that makes the amendment unworkable.

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Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)

Clause 10 covers the verification of suppliers’ identity. If verification is so difficult, why are we legislating for it in clause 10?

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

We feel that we have the appropriate level of verification and the means by which it can be effectively undertaken, so we do not feel it is necessary in this regard.

I shall turn to the other Government amendments. Amendment 18 separates clause 12 into two. The first proposed clause relates to the requirements when recording received metal, and the second deals with the requirements relating to record keeping more generally, including the criminal offence of not fulfilling the requirement. This

separation, together with amendments 21 to 25, will ensure that the main thrust of the record-keeping requirements and the criminal offence will apply to both metal received and metal disposed of, with the same principles applying to both.

Since Committee, we have come to the view, following advice received, that we need to define more accurately the information in the descriptions of metals received. The current draft, requiring only that its type and weight be recorded, allows the scrap metal dealer to be as vague as they wish, potentially reducing the value of the records. Amendment 19 seeks to expand upon the wording, requiring that information on the metal’s type, form, condition and weight be included. Marks identifying the previous owner and other distinguishing features must also be recorded. That should considerably increase the value of the records, allowing for the metal to be identified, as opposed to the vagueness that the current Bill allows.

Amendment 20, on the recording requirement to keep evidence of non-cash payments, is a drafting improvement and does not amend the principle of the provision. Amendment 26 allows for officers of a local authority and police force to require the production of, and to inspect, records of received and disposed of metals. The power in the current Bill relates only to received metals.

Two further new clauses have been tabled—new clauses 4 and 6. New clause 4 relates to sellers of metal and would create a criminal offence covering two issues: first, individuals would be able only to sell metal to licensed scrap metal dealers; and, secondly, no one under 21 would be able to sell metal. The requirement to sell metal only to licensed businesses is a desirable outcome, but in the Government’s view it must be done through education and raising public awareness, as opposed to a criminal sanction. The displaying of a licence and the single national register will assist with that.

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Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)

The Minister has made an assertion, but can he give some reasons? Surely, if we legislate to prevent anyone from selling or attempting to sell scrap metal other than to a licensed scrap metal dealer, we will be promoting the cause of licensed scrap metal dealers and undermining the criminal fraternity.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but our feeling is that the level of licensing proposed in the Bill will have his desired effect.

I turn to the point about age. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 included the requirement not to purchase metal from anyone under the age of 16. This has been removed in the current Bill, and there is no age restriction. In part, that is because placing an age restriction would be discriminatory on the grounds of age and contrary to section 13 of the Equality Act 2010, which deals with direct discrimination. The law allows for direct discrimination on the grounds of age only where it can be demonstrated that less favourable treatment is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and proportionate. Since there is no evidence base suggesting that abuse is concentrated in the under-21 age group, it would be extremely difficult to demonstrate that an outright ban

on under-21s selling scrap metal is proportionate. We do not believe, therefore, that such a ban would be lawful.

Finally, new clause 6 would create a new criminal offence, which would apply where a dealer purchased scrap metal without checking that it had not been marked with SmartWater. We cannot support the creation of this offence for a number of reasons. We do not believe it would be appropriate for the Bill to refer to one particular commercial product, rather than the full range of products. Although SmartWater is a known product, it is one of many known forensic property markers on the market. I am not aware of any independent evaluation of its effectiveness; nor have I seen any comparison with other products on the market. In addition, what would happen if we specified one product in legislation and a superior product entered the market, or if SmartWater ceased to exist? The approach taken in new clause 6 does not facilitate our objective to future-proof the legislation further.

A number of scrap metal dealers check for forensic property marker products when purchasing metal. That is a good practice, and certainly something we want to see encouraged. However, mandating it as a requirement, as the new clause seeks to do, would create a significant burden for the industry. It might also create an unachievable burden, given the vast quantities of metal that enter scrapyards on a daily basis, and I know that hon. Members would not wish the regulations imposed by the Government to be unduly burdensome on businesses going about their legitimate day-to-day trade. Therefore, for the various reasons I have outlined, the Government would resist new clause 6.

I do not propose to talk to the other non-Government amendments at this stage, so perhaps I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion and let others make their contributions.

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David Hanson (Shadow Minister (Home Affairs); Delyn, Labour)

I will not delay the House for very long because the official Opposition support new clause 2 and welcome the Government’s consideration of this matter.

As the Minister said, new clause 2 has come about because the police have said that they want the record of dealings to be tightened and the Government to introduce measures to improve proof of accuracy. I am pleased that Richard Ottaway and the Minister have responded to those requests with new clause 2. As the Minister said, it will require dealers to record more information about metal disposed by paying attention to the description of the metal and the date and time of disposal, as well as who disposed of it, to whom it was disposed and any consideration received. This is an important matter, because the new clause adopts a firmer approach to tightening the outlets for stolen metal, as does the rest of the Bill. In our earlier discussions we were clear across the House that our approach to the desecration of war memorials and damage done to railways, churches and voluntary organisations needs to be tightened considerably. The way to do that is to cut off, at source, openings for the disposal of stolen metal through metal outlets. New clause 2 is an additional measure in supporting that approach.

I wish to make two quick points about new clause 4. I can understand why Mr Chope has tabled it, but—I am in danger of

sounding ministerial—I agree with the Minister’s approach. There is no evidence to my knowledge that individuals under the age of 21 are committing more offences than those over 21. I do not believe the Bill should contain a discriminatory clause that, if enacted, would prevent people under 21 from engaging in legitimate metal dealings. If people are committing offences, it does not matter whether they are 19 or 23. The important thing is the offence being committed. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue new clause 4. If he does so, he will not have the support of the official Opposition, which I know will trouble him greatly.

I also agree with the Minister that the use of SmartWater, as proposed by new clause 6, would be restrictive rather than expansive. SmartWater is a trade name. It is not necessarily the final product: other products may eventually come on the market. New clause 6 would be restrictive, rather than creating fuller powers under the Act—as I hope the Bill will become shortly—to be implemented in a reasonable way. With those few comments, I give the Minister a fair wind.

Photo of Philip Davies

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

I intend to speak to my amendments in the group and, in doing so, say how disappointed I am that the Minister chose entirely to ignore them. We might have to tease him into leaping to his feet at some point to clarify certain points. I will leave it to my hon. Friend Mr Chope to explain his amendments, as he will be able to do that far better than I ever could.

My amendments 66, 67, 71 and 72 relate to clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill. Their purpose is to tease out the appropriate level of fines for the offences involved. The Bill, as drafted, sets them at level 5, which involves a maximum of £5,000 that could change to an unlimited amount in the future. I believe that that could be disproportionate.

My amendments 73 to 77 relate to clause 12. Subsection (6), which the amendment would remove, prescribes that all information needs to be

“recorded in a manner which allows the information and the scrap metal to which it relates to be readily indentified by reference to each other.”

That is micro-management on a grand scale. If there is to be a general legal duty for people to keep records, I believe that it should be up to the scrap metal dealers to prove that they have done what is required of them. The level of detail set out in the Bill could penalise people who are untidy yet perfectly well organised and who know what they are doing. The Bill places a rather over-the-top requirement on such people.

Amendment 74 relates to clause 12(8), which requires a scrap metal dealer to keep all the paperwork associated with each transaction for three years. That is a very long time. Surely one year would be more than adequate, given the purpose of the measure. Funnily enough, the time period was actually increased in Committee, from two years to three. A requirement of two years was onerous enough, never mind three. I would prefer it to be just one.

Amendment 75 relates to site managers. I have already talked about that matter in our debate on the earlier group of amendments, so I shall not go into it again. Amendment 76 relates to the fine to be levied

for not getting every single piece of paper in order for a sale. That fine is currently set at level 5, which is the maximum level. As I have said, it involves a £5,000 fine, with the possibility of an increase to an unlimited amount. Given the onerous requirements in the Bill relating to how long people need to keep every single piece of paper, and how they have to keep them, the prospect of a £5,000 or possibly unlimited fine is slightly over the top. The amendment would reduce it.

Amendments 132 to 136 relate to clause 18. This is where the Bill brings those in the motor salvage industry into the whole new licensing regime, and amendment 132 deals with that. As I understand it—the Minister will be in a better position to clarify it—motor salvage operators have a separate licence. I am not entirely sure what the conditions of the licence are, but I suspect that they are unlikely to be as onerous as they would be under this Bill. I am aware of the Motor Salvage Operators Regulations 2002 and of changes that a 2001 Act made to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, which have not yet been introduced, but I am not entirely sure that there is any suggestion that any of the problems that this Bill seeks to address relate to the car industry—other than, perhaps, the odd rogue dealing in used cars as a cover for having a load of scrap metal in the boot. It seems to me, however, that that could be fixed easily under existing law, so I am not entirely sure why this Bill should affect the motor salvage industry. Amendment 133 relates to the motor salvage industry, too, and makes same point.

Amendments 134 and 135 are going to need some clarification from somebody—whether it be the Minister, the Bill’s promoter or whoever. I am happy to take advice from wherever it comes. We have a problem with the definition of a scrap metal dealer and with what scrap metal actually is. Clause 18(6) says that

“‘scrap metal’ includes—

any old, waste or discarded metal or metallic material…and…any product, article or assembly which is made from or contains metal and is broken, worn out or regarded by its last holder as having reached the end of its useful life.”

Amendment 134 changes the word “includes” to “is”, essentially making this a definition of scrap metal. As it stands, the Bill says that scrap metal “includes” what is set out in subsection (6)(a) and (b), but it does not say whether that is the last word on the matter, whether that is it, or whether there is something else somewhere else that we should refer to. It just says that it “includes” those definitions. Perhaps the Minister will explain whether that definition is as the Government intend it to be or whether there are other things as well that are not listed in this particular subsection. I am not entirely sure whether it should mean “includes” or “is”, and my amendment seeks to clarify that particular point.

Amendment 135 seeks to change the definition of scrap metal, because I have a feeling that there are going to be lots of disappointed people out there when they look at what is included in the definition of scrap metal. I have heard that many people are understandably concerned about war memorials and the outrageous examples we have seen of thefts from them. Church roofs are another example. I just want it to be clear, as I am not entirely sure that the current wording is specific enough.

The current wording on what scrap metal “includes”—or it would be “is” if my amendment 134 were accepted—is, first,

“any old, waste or discarded metal or metallic material”

and, secondly,

“any product, article or assembly which is made from or contains metal and is broken, worn out or regarded by its last holder as having reached the end of its useful life.”

I am not entirely convinced that that includes church roofs, for example. They do not seem to be old or waste; they are often in good working order and have not reached the end of their useful life. All those people clamouring for this Bill may well be disappointed to find out that their main item of concern is not covered in the listed description of scrap metal—and the same applies to war memorials.

I really urge my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway and the Minister to look seriously at this problem, as otherwise people might have their hopes dashed. I have therefore added, after the word “old”, the word “used”. If we put something that has been “used” in there as well, it makes it perfectly clear that the things to which I have referred, which I think lots of people want to be referred to, are included. As drafted, the Bill is not entirely clear about whether those things are included in it, and it would be an absolute outrage if people got off on that kind of technicality, when I am sure the will of the House is that they should not get off. I really urge the Minister and my hon. Friend to look very carefully at that definition of scrap metal.

Amendment 136 proposes the inclusion of further definitions of scrap metal in clause 18 for the purpose of clarity. It inserts the following definitions to ensure that they are all covered by the Bill:

“(c) items made from or containing metal which are of sentimental or heritage value,

(d) war memorials that are made from or contain metal,

(e) property made from or containing metal belonging to any place of worship, and

(f) property made from or containing metal belonging to or used for the purposes of rail travel.”

12:45 pm
Photo of Nick de Bois

Nick de Bois (Enfield North, Conservative)

I entirely support the Bill and its intention, and hope very much that it will make progress today and subsequently become law. However, while my constituents, like many other commuters, have suffered all the train delays that we have talked about, it is also the case that the treasure of Forty Hall has been ransacked far too often. I hope that the Minister will assure me that the Bill in its current form covers theft from the roofs of such properties.

Photo of Philip Davies

Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

We all want to ensure that the Bill covers such thefts, but I fear that it does not. If accepted, my amendments 135 and 16 would make it clear beyond any doubt that they were covered. If we are building up people’s hopes, it is in all our interests to make the position clear in the Bill. I am not suggesting the replacement of any definitions; I merely wish to ensure that everything is covered.

Although I think that the word “used” would be more appropriate than the word “old” in clause 18, amendment 135 adds the word “used” rather than deleting the word “old”. I have a feeling that those who drafted

the Bill intended the clause to contain the word “used” rather than the word “old”, but the fact is people might well take advantage of the technicality, and that would disappoint me just as much as it would disappoint my hon. Friend.

Clause 18 lists the metals that are not to be treated as scrap metal. Amendment 138 inserts the further metals listed in the original Bill, minus one, namely rhodium. Reducing the number of metals covered by the Bill surely reduces its scope. The 1964 Act contained the same exclusions as the original Bill, so I am not entirely sure what has changed.

Although 135 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, I signed it because, although I am sure all his amendments are good, I thought this one was particularly good. Clause 18 enables the Secretary of State to change the definition of scrap metal by order. It seems to me that the definition could change all the time as a result. People could be caught by the definition of a scrap metal dealer one day, no longer caught by it the next day, and caught by it again the day after that, which is not an entirely satisfactory state of affairs. Given that the whole Bill is about scrap metal and scrap metal dealers, a proper definition is surely not too much to ask. We do not want to have to keep revisiting the definition.

If the Government and my hon. Friend are willing to accept my earlier amendments specifying exactly what is meant by scrap metal, we can safely get rid of this part of the Bill, which is what my hon. Friend’s amendment would do. As things stand, there could be some controversy. It seems to me that the Bill in its current form would allow someone to continue to operate a business under the name “Stolen War Memorials R Us” outside Parliament, because it does not make clear what the definition of scrap metal includes. Time is pressing, but let me particularly commend the amendments relating to that definition. We want everyone outside this place to know exactly what the Bill covers, and to ensure that there are no loopholes. I hope that the Minister will respond favourably.

1:00 pm
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Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)

First, I want to repeat the final point made by my hon. Friend Philip Davies: there is no proper definition. The public will be amazed to learn that at this late stage we still do not have an exhaustive definition of what we mean by “scrap metal” and “scrap metal dealer.” There is therefore an enormous amount of misunderstanding.

It is clear from the letter we have received from the British Metals Recycling Association that its idea of the Bill’s definition of a scrap metal dealer is incorrect:

“We particularly welcome the provisions with the Bill to: extend the definition of a scrap metal dealer to all those businesses and individuals that collect, purchase, process or sell discarded metal suitable for reprocessing for reward”.

It supports them

“in order to close current loopholes relating to the limited scope of current legislation. We also believe, on the question of which metals should be covered by this legislation, that the definition of scrap should be as inclusive as possible”.

I have to tell the BMRA that if that is what it thinks the Bill says, it needs to have another look at the text, because it does not say anything of the sort. That shows

the problem with so much of this Bill. The Government will the end, but they do not will the means. They want to sort out the metal theft problem, but there are enormous loopholes in how they propose to set about achieving that.

There is, for instance, a loophole relating to individuals and those who steal metal for gain but who are not part of a business. There is another loophole to do with the material involved and whether it is new or used. Much of the material that is sold as scrap is new, but the Bill specifies that it must be old. That is why I tabled an amendment proposing that we should replace the term “old” with “used”.

Further evidence of the fact that the Government are going through the motions of wanting to put something on the statute book to deal with this issue without having worked out whether it will achieve the objective was provided by what I can only describe as the Minister’s very lame response to the discussion of new clause 4. It states:

“No person shall sell or attempt to sell scrap metal”—

that points to the key issue: people steal scrap metal to sell it and to make a profit so that they have money to spend at the local pub or wherever—

“other than to a scrap metal dealer licensed under the provisions of this Act.”

If we want to boost the status and standing of licensed scrap metal dealers and force those who are not licensed dealers out of the business, what would be more logical than to say that people can only sell scrap metal to a licensed scrap metal dealer? The response we got from the Minister was, “Well, we believe in education and raising the public profile on this matter.” Why will the Government not legislate against the villains who are selling, or attempting to sell, scrap metal to people other than scrap metal dealers licensed under this legislation?

There is a secondary issue to do with the age of people. I proposed that nobody under 21 should sell, or attempt to sell, scrap metal. That is because people might use others who are under 21 as intermediaries knowing that the likely penalties they will suffer in the event of being caught will be small and they will be able to plead ignorance. If we want to tighten up this regime, we should put in place an age limit. After all, we have age limits for the purchase of lawful commodities such as cigarettes and alcohol. We have provisions dealing with the sale of illegal drugs, so why can we not deal with this by saying that anybody who sells or attempts to sell scrap metal to an unlicensed scrap metal dealer is committing an offence? If there were ever something that exposes the big vacuum between the Government’s avowed intent and what is actually going to happen in practice, this is it.

New clause 6 provides another example of where the Government could do something more. It proposes:

“A scrap metal dealer must not purchase scrap metal from a person without first checking that the metal has not been marked with smart water.”

Meg Hillier raised this issue in Committee. She said that she was a trustee of the War Memorials Trust and bemoaned the fact that people steal war memorial plaques to sell them for the value of the metal, little realising their value in terms of sentiment and their part in our history and heritage. She referred to the work the

trust was doing with SmartWater Technology Ltd, which I understand has agreed to put its product on every war memorial in the country. If we want a positive message to send out on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, surely it would be: is that not a fantastic example of co-operation between the private sector and the public interest? If we put SmartWater on all the memorials, that should, in principle, deter people from stealing them.

However, that approach will not work unless we have a way of detecting SmartWater on the product after it has been stolen. I discussed the issue with the Archdeacon of Bournemouth, who said that the priory church in my constituency has suffered on several occasions from having lead stolen from its roof, despite having both CCTV and SmartWater. His impression was that indicating that there was SmartWater on the metal was almost an invitation to potential thieves to think it was worth stealing and it did not, therefore, have the necessary deterrent effect. That is because people can take metal to their local scrap dealer and it will not be tested for SmartWater, and once the metal has gone into the system and been processed, the SmartWater mark will have been eliminated.

If the Government were really serious about this, they would be saying, “Why don’t we tighten up this area so that nobody can sell other than to a licensed scrap metal dealer and every licensed dealer must test the product to see whether it has SmartWater on it?” The Minister says that such an approach uses just one particular commercial product. If he prefers to say that dealers must test metal for any forensic property markers, which could include other products and thereby be future-proofed—again, I use what he was saying—so be it, but instead of a constructive alternative suggestion from the Minister, we heard a rubbishing of this one. It is put forward in all seriousness—it has support from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley and, no doubt, others—as a sensible way of trying to tighten up the system.

It has been suggested that such a provision would be burdensome on licensed scrap metal dealers. I talked to one experienced and successful scrap metal dealer last week, and I do not think he would find it a burden. He would see it as a way of ensuring that the whole trade is cleaned up. He does not want to take a stolen product. One way of ensuring that he does not is to test it for the presence of SmartWater.

I find the Government’s approach negative in the extreme. More than that, it is distressing that they are not prepared to engage in a way that would tighten up the regime significantly for the benefit of the public. One is left wondering whether they are worried about too many people being locked up or charged if we start outlawing the sale of scrap metal other than to licensed dealers or about the fact that there might be quite a lot of metal stolen that would be identified by this SmartWater test. Perhaps it is a case of “not invented here” syndrome, because SmartWater was invented not by the Government but by some rather clever people in this country who understand the science. It could be used effectively to facilitate a tough clampdown on the theft of war memorials, in particular, as well as of other metals. The Government are not seizing every opportunity available to them to take action effectively in this respect.

Let me refer briefly to some of the other amendments, as I know that time is constrained.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

While my hon. Friend is trying to find his place in his notes, I wonder whether he would like to comment on my amendments, which specify property from war memorials and places of worship as part of the definition of scrap metal. Does he think that that would be helpful?

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Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)

I think that it would be extremely helpful. It comes back to the point we were making originally about the lack of any clear definition. If a church roof is renewed and the new lead is taken away and sold, that is new product, not old product. It is used product, however, which is why I have tabled the amendment to incorporate the word “used”, which is not in the Bill at the moment. Perhaps the Minister will tell us that he will accept amendment 102, which would clarify that matter for the benefit of all.

Amendment 98, the last of my amendments, concerns the power to amend the means of purchase by regulation. I do not see the need for that and the Minister has not made the case for it. Amendment 87 deals with the need for a test in relation to SmartWater, and amendment 101 deals with the definition and uses the exact words provided by the scrap metal dealers association, the British Metals Recycling Association, which thought they were already incorporated in the Bill. If the Minister responds to nothing else, perhaps he could explain to members of that association why what they told us in their briefing for Third Reading and Report is not in the text of the Bill.

These amendments contain a lot of constructive suggestions to strengthen the regime for controlling scrap metal theft and to ensure that those guilty of it are brought to justice. I regret that the Government are not prepared to be bigger-hearted, particularly on the eve of Remembrance Sunday.

1:15 pm
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Richard Ottaway (Croydon South, Conservative)

I am afraid that I cannot offer much comfort to my hon. Friend Mr Chope either. Although I support the Government’s new clause and their amendments, I am afraid that I am not persuaded by the amendments tabled by him and my hon. Friend Philip Davies.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

I will engage briefly with the points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Christchurch (Mr Chope).

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley spoke to amendment 66 on financial penalties. Of course, we can always believe that such penalties should be higher or lower, but we believe that those in the Bill are proportionate. He also tabled amendment 73, on proper records, and amendment 74, on the requirement to keep paperwork for three years. A desire to regulate the industry effectively goes to the heart of the Bill. Obviously, we need scrap metal dealers to keep proper, orderly records; otherwise it is not possible for local authorities or the police to check that they are buying and selling the metal that they claim to be buying and selling. We cannot have a Bill in which there is no requirement to keep proper records, because that would mean that we would have to be satisfied with improper, sloppy or inadequate records instead. We are seeking to be consistent and to make the Bill sufficiently onerous in order for it to be effective.

In amendment 66, my hon. Friend seems to be concerned that the fines are too onerous. It is a difficult situation, because my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch thinks that the Government are too worried about punishing transgressors, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley seems to have adopted a whole new approach, namely that the Government’s attitude is overly tough and that they fine at a level that is, in his view, inappropriately high. We think that we have struck the right balance.

On amendment 132, I am reliably informed that most metal salvage operators are scrap metal dealers. We do not want two overlapping schemes. The way in which my hon. Friend Richard Ottaway has framed the Bill should reduce the regulatory burden on motor salvage operators.

There has been considerable discussion of what constitutes scrap metal and a scrap metal dealer. We are satisfied with the definition in the Bill. It does not specify every single item that could be construed as being scrap metal, but we think that the definition encompasses them, to the satisfaction of my hon. Friend Nick de Bois. On the difference between old and used, as I understand it, if I have an old car that has reached the end of its life—this is the crucial point—it might be suitable to be turned into scrap metal. Under the definition provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, if I had bought a car yesterday and had driven it back from the showroom and it was then turned into scrap metal by someone on my behalf, it would also be regarded as scrap metal, but I think that most people would understand the distinction that it would not be old and, therefore, not scrap metal.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

Does the Minister think that the definition is suitable for everything that we want to be covered by the Bill? What harm would by done by accepting amendment 136? It would not take anything away from the existing definition, but add, for the sake of clarity, items of sentimental or heritage value, war memorials, places of worship and metal used for the purposes of rail travel, so that we were certain that they were all covered.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

The Government do not agree with the amendment, because we believe that the definition covers those items and because I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for legislative simplicity and for not implementing legislation that is too difficult for people to understand or comply with. People in this House or beyond may have strong beliefs about how inappropriate it would be to steal and trade other types of metal. It would be impossible to have an exhaustive list in the Bill of every single type of metal, what form it takes and in what circumstances it is displayed. We are confident that the definition includes exactly those items, which is, in part, why the Government are such enthusiastic supporters of my hon. Friend’s Bill.

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Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative)

I am afraid that that is entirely unsatisfactory, because nobody is asking for a comprehensive definition of every type of metal. Amendment 136 would not take away anything from the definition in the Bill, but would simply add to it. The Minister said that he does not want the legislation to be complicated. The amendment would make it more

simple, because it would make it abundantly clear that such matters are covered by the Bill. Whether the Minister thinks that my amendment is needed or not, I do not see how he thinks that it would make the Bill worse.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

The definition in the Bill covers the items with which my hon. Friend is concerned, so there is no need to list them in addition.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

I can think of literally nothing else that could add to the points that I have made. It would detain the House unnecessarily to give way, because there is nothing further to add on amendment 136.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley talked about amendment 138, which lists platinum, iridium and other elements that remind me of being at school. He proposes to take those metals out of the legislation, but the Government want them to be in the legislation, because theft of those materials, for example from catalytic converters, has grown.

Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch spoke about SmartWater. The Government do not want to discourage the kind of work by private companies that he described. Quite the contrary: we are enthusiastic about it and believe that it can provide an extra safeguard. However, I think that he will understand that the Government cannot endorse a particular product from a particular manufacturer, nor can we reasonably put a product in the Bill when other products in the field may claim to be as effective or more effective. That includes products that have not yet been invented, but that might become usable within the lifetime of the Bill. That we have not included SmartWater in the Bill does not mean that we do not think that it is one measure that can be used to mark metal and deter thieves. However, the Bill is not an advert for companies that have theft-reduction products, but is meant to be broad and all-encompassing and to stand the test of time. For those reasons, we do not think that it would be appropriate to name a particular commercial product.

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Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative)

I take the Minister’s point about not naming a particular product, but why could we not have a provision that deals with such products generically and, to future-proof it, that provides for the Government to widen the definition as appropriate? Surely this is an essential safeguard. If we force scrap metal dealers to test whether such products have been used on the material that they have, we will be more likely to find out whether it has been stolen.

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Jeremy Browne (The Minister of State, Home Department; Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat)

I will return to what I think is a tension in the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Shipley. They seem to be arguing, at the same time, that the proposals are unduly burdensome on scrap metal dealers and that they should be far more burdensome. We are trying to strike a balance that will work in practice between dealing, to a large degree, with the terrible problem of scrap metal theft and not unfairly penalising legitimate scrap metal dealers, who we believe will be perfectly able to keep records and comply with the Bill presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South. That is the balance that we are seeking

to strike, and we believe that he has got that balance broadly right. That is why, with a few minor Government amendments, we support his Bill.

Question put and agreed to .

New clause 2 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.