I beg to move, in page 6, line 39, to leave out "any offence under" and to insert:
an offence under section 2 of
Would it be convenient, Mr. Speaker, to take with this Amendment the Amendment in page 7, line 23, at end insert:
and the court by which he is convicted may, if it thinks fit, make in relation to him a further order under that subsection".
The Clause deals with additional requirements which a court can impose upon a dealer convicted of certain offences. Most of the Clause follows upon recommendations made by a working party which, in 1955, examined all the problems associated with scrap metal dealers. Clause 5(2) substantially repeats Section 8(2) of the Old Metal Dealers Act, 1861, which is wholly repealed subsequently in the Bill.
When this matter was discussed at some length in Committee, certain points were raised about the possible severity of the additional requirements which could be put on conviction of a technical offender. As subsection (1, b) is now drafted, it makes a—
person for the time being registered under this Act as a scrap metal dealer"—
of any offence under this Act, or"—
on conviction of certain other offences, subject to the penalties, at the discretion of the court, provided for in subsection (4).
It has been pointed out that, under the Bill as a whole, there could be quite a number of what I may call technical offences, or offences which take place because the dealer is not wholly sensitive of time factors. For example, a dealer could be found guilty of failure to notify a change in the particulars of registration under Clause 1(7). He could be convicted under Clause 1(8) if he did not give notice that he had ceased business. An itinerant dealer could be found guilty of failure to keep receipts for two years. A dealer could he found guilty of acquiring scrap metal from a person under 16, or of obstructing inspection by the police or an authorised person.
It may be felt that offences of that kind do not call for the severity of the additional requirements of subsection (2) and I am happy to restrict the additional punishment to what is, in spite of what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) said, the major effect of the Bill, which is clearly set out in Clause 2, namely, the keeping of records. That is the real drive in the Bill.
The effect of the Amendment would be that if a person had been convicted of contravening Clause 1(1) by not registering—seeking to carry on business illegally, as it were—or if, having registered, he did not keep the records required by Clause 2, the court may, if it thinks fit, impose upon the dealer the additional requirements as set out in subsection (2) of Clause 4, which repeats what has been the law since 1861.
By my second Amendment, any person found guilty of an offence under Clause 4 would he subject to further additional requirements to be imposed upon him by the court which might find him guilty of an offence under subsection (4). My two Amendments seek to limit the restrictions which can be placed upon a convicted person who is a scrap metal dealer. These concessions are reasonable. They do not detract from the effectiveness of the Bill and would enable the honest dealer to carry on business.
In that event, I should like to say a word or two on the addistional point raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) in line 40. I agree that this procedure will speed up matters, because we are all anxious to get on with this and other business which is to follow.
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Luton seeks to delete the additional conviction which would make a scrap metal dealer subject to the additional requirements set out in the Clause—that is:
or is convicted of any offence which in the opinion of the Court convicting him, is an offence involving dishonesty".
The object of the Clause is to ensure that there is a closer degree of supervision on any dealer who is proved guilty of dishonesty. A dishonest motive must be involved in the crime with which he is charged. It is for the court at the
time of conviction to decide in its discretion whether to impose the additional requirement for supervision.
The Amendment seeks to delete certain words from Clause 4(1,b) and to limit it solely to an offence of receiving stolen goods. On reflection, it will be seen that this is too keen a limitation. It would eliminate the offence of stealing. A dealer might have stolen or obtained the goods by false pretences. There might be a variety of other ways in which he is charged and found guilty of an offence involving dishonesty.
It has been pointed out that in this matter at least, dishonesty is indivisible. If a dealer is dishonest, he will know the penalty and if he is found guilty the court may impose the additional requirements as set out in subsection (2) that he will be limited to receiving metal at his place of business within certain defined hours and that he may have to keep it for a period of 72 hours from the time when he received it.
That is the existing law concerning convictions for dishonesty of that nature. It is a repetition of certain provisions of the Old Metal Dealers Act, 1861, and it is a desirable check. The scrap metal dealer who might think of committing an offence which involved dishonesty might well pause and not commit a crime because he will know the consequences which may follow.
If my hon. and learned Friend had had the opportunity of studying the report of the working party, he would have found that the evidence given therein is to the effect that there is at present no restriction upon anybody applying to be registered as a scrap metal dealer. The Bill does not make any such additional requirement. The evidence is fascinating, because it affects the city which the hon. Member for Hillsborough represents. At the inquiry in 1954 and 1955, the chief constable of Sheffield gave evidence to show that no restriction was put upon a convicted person applying for a licence. It was desired rather to have him in the open, to know what he was doing and to have him registered.
I am in complete agreement with the two Amendments which the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) has introduced. I should like merely to comment on my Amendment in page 6, line 40. My feeling is that as it stands, the Bill is unreasonably wide and sweeping in its demands. I can think of no real reason why any offence involving dishonesty should put a dealer in the position that restrictions might be placed upon him. I realise that the court is not bound to impose these restrictions, but it might do so.
The purpose of the Bill is, presumably, to catch those scrap metal dealers who steal, or deal in stolen goods, but "an offence involving dishonesty" covers quite a wide range of offences that dealer might commit apart from his type of business. It seems unreasonable to me that when an offence involving dishonesty is committed, it should, in the case of these dealers, carry not only the usual appropriate fine but also a threat to the man's business.
A trivial example of an offence involving dishonesty is that of the person travelling on a train without a ticket and without meaning to pay the fare. I agree that the court would probably not bring to bear the full weight of punishment in that case, but it could do so if these words are used. It would be more logical and reasonable to limit the range to those offences that are themselves within the ambit of business dealings.
In my Amendment, I have particularised the receiving of stolen goods which seems to be the main offence involving dishonesty that would arise here, but my plain purpose is to narrow the unduly wide range of the wording.
What the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) seeks to do is to limit the limit, but I think that he would make it far too narrow. The hon. Member fairly says that a scrap dealer who is caught in dishonesty is punished for that offence and should not incur any further penalty for it, but we are trying to close the gate to a particular type of offence. If the court is allowed to impose certain further conditions it may prevent the man committing the offence again. I do not think that the hon. Member for Luton would disagree with me on that point.
I am a little worried lest my hon. Friend's Amendments should deal only with the person who is working on registered premises. It has already been said that certain categories of dealer are only caught by Clause 5 as it stands, which means that the itinerant dealer, caught by Clause 5, would not in any way be affected by this Amendment—
Perhaps I may interrupt my hon. Friend to deal with that point at once. The object of the first of my Amendments is to relieve the itinerant dealer of the heavy additional charges that could be imposed on him by the court. As the Bill comes before us this morning, an itinerant dealer who, first, does not get a receipt for any metal he sells and, secondly, does not keep that receipt for two years, can be guilty of an offence under that Clause, but not in respect of these additional requirements in the subsection. This is an easement of the burden, which I think most of us are anxious to make.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry). I cannot say the same of the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) because, though I have considerable sympathy with his object, the words he uses would narrow the offence too much. His Amendment refers only to receiving stolen goods, but one thinks at once also of larceny, burglary and various other more serious offences which should come in here just as much as receiving stolen goods. I agree that we cannot go as far as to prevent a man carrying on this kind of work just because he has been convicted of travelling on a bus without a ticket, and we want to make sure that the wording does not include that sort of thing.
Should my hon. Friend decide not to press his Amendment and these proceedings are read in another place, a short list of relevant offences could there be inserted in the Bill in place of the rather vague and imprecise reference to "dishonesty". In that case, my hon. Friend's purpose would be accomplished, and we would all be satisfied.
Like the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) I hope that, if it is agreed that the wording in Clause 4(1,b) is imprecise, the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State will suggest that it, too, can be dealt with in another place. I agree with the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry), I also have a great deal of sympathy with the purpose of the Amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) because, as the Bill now stands, the impression is given that a man is to be punished twice for the same offence. At the same time, I agree that if a man has been sentenced for an offence, the restrictions the court may then put on him are part of his punishment.
But it gives the impression that the kind of second punishment that he gets is really a second punishment for the same offence. If the man has stolen metal or has received stolen metal the magistrates hand out to him the punishment which they think he deserves in terms of the law. They fine him or send him to prison. But when he comes out of prison, or when he has paid his fine, these restrictions are still placed upon him.
As to the question which was raised in Standing Committee, the proceedings of which I have read, the man who may be charged and punished for a technical offence would obviously not be landed in difficulties, because one cannot conceive of a magistrate handing out this kind of punishment for the sort of technical offence to which my hon. Friend has referred. But it seems to me that if the offence of dishonesty is not more tightly drawn so that it relates to the business of metal dealing, we can get the man into difficulties, and not only himself but his employees, if the effect of the restriction makes it difficult for him to carry on his business.
It may be that such a man has been punished in court quite properly, for instance, for selling a car which has a hire-purchase transaction attached to it, and he has not told the buyer that there is an outstanding hire-purchase transaction. He may be charged and convicted for stealing a woman's handbag out of her shopping basket. As the Clause now stands a magistrate, without any reference to what may be the offence of dishonesty, could place this restriction upon his business.
I do not want to defend the criminal in this sort of case. In fact, I strongly hold the view that quite a lot of the punishments for people who are rightly convicted are far too light. But we have to look at this matter very carefully indeed. As I say, it is the owner of the business, if he has committed the offence, who has the restriction placed upon him, but it may be that his innocent employees also would, to some extent, suffer for what he has done.
Therefore, the Clause should be tightened up so that the offence which calls down the restriction should be related to the scrap metal business in some way or other. Frankly, I would deprive such a man of his registration; we do not want people of this kind continuing in business.
My hon. Friend's Amendment attempts to do all this, but it has the effect, which has been pointed out, that even if it were acceptable in its present form it would cover only the case of receiving stolen goods and would let out the thief if he were the person in the scrap metal business who actually stole the stuff. I hope this point will be looked at again.
There is another angle which should be considered. It was implicit in the Report of the Committee that went into this matter and reported in 1955, and it is implicit also in the Bill, that stolen metal in present circumstances is often very difficult to trace, that if a suspected receiver, or a person who has been known to be a receiver of stolen metal and has been convicted, can be compelled to keep the metal for a period of 72 hours before processing it, the police might find it easier and he himself might be persuaded not to continue stealing or receiving stolen metal.
This proposition in the Clause seems to me to be full of suppositions that ought not to appear in this kind of Statute. As I see it, it supposes that a once-convicted thief or receiver will continue so to act, that these are the people who are going to do the stealing in the future. But they may go straight, and yet they will still have the restrictions placed upon them, although I agree only for a limited period. It may be that there is not much in that point, but I do not think it is the kind of restriction which will give the right kind of encouragement to the penitent thief.
The man who does not steal again. The hon. and learned Member knows precisely what I mean. I am merely trying to speed things up.
The Clause also supposes that a man has not mended his ways, but that he will be stupid enough to obey the law and will keep the stolen metal for three days in order to help the police, if he commits a later offence, to apprehend him and charge him. It also supposes that in order to assist the police, he will not sneak stolen metal into his yard during the hours of darkness. Of course, such a man will go on doing these things and I do not see how these restrictions will help.
I know. That is what I was coming to. I see no defence in saying that this has been the law since 1861. There are quite a number of old laws that I want to change, and I am sure many lawyers in this House would like to change them too. It would be out of order to give a list, and, in any case, if I were to do so I would be speaking until 4 o'clock. Nevertheless, it is no defence to say that this is and has been the law since 1861.
I do not think my hon. Friend's Amendment covers the point. I hope the Home Office will look at this point again and will see whether the wording of the whole Clause can be reconsidered in another place so that we can get the whole thing into good order and it will be acceptable to this House.
I speak only on the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie), and I regret to say that I have to speak against it.
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has said. I see no reason why the wording should not remain as it is at present. For several days we have been considering the Resale Prices Bill, and throughout we have said, "Let us define the gateways and leave the rest to the Restrictive Practices Court." That is exactly what I say about this Bill. If the words were amended as he suggested, I think that they would be too harsh, because the court would be left with no discretion. But here the court has an absolute discretion to do what it likes.
If the hon. and learned Member will look at the reports of the speeches made by the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade on the question of the gateways, he will see that on every occasion his right hon. Friend said that the gateways must be precisely defined.
Yes, but the question whether a person gets through the gateway must be left to the Restrictive Practices Court. However, I would be out of order if I were to pursue the argument on those lines.
There is only one small technical point to which I should like to refer. The court by which a man is convicted very often sends the case to another court for sentence because that other court has wider powers. If this Clause were applied to a bad case, the superior court might say, "We did not convict this man. We have only got him here for sentence." That is a point which the Home Office should remember when the Bill is in another place.
No, the magistrates send him up for sentence. Magistrates should remember that before sending him. But sometimes before sending a man to a superior court, they forget. That is a matter which, I hope, will be looked into.
I want to correct something said by the hon. Member for Luton and, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) and the hon. Member for Hillsborough. They spoke about technical offences, and one hon. Member referred to travelling on a train or a bus without paying the fare. But this is not the offence. The offence is travelling upon a public transport vehicle with the intention of avoiding paying the fare.
If I misrepresented the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I accept the correction. How far it is or is not dishonest to travel on a public transport vehicle with the intention of avoiding paying the fare is a matter of opinion. My view is that it is a very dishonest thing to do, though whether or not in a particular case, having regard to previous convictions, the courts would say that such an offender should be subject to these restrictions is a matter which should be left to them. To accept the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Luton would restrict the powers of the court to one very special type of case.
Dishonest scrap metal dealers are only a minority, just as there is a minority of dishonest persons in every occupation and profession. Of course, they do not only receive stolen scrap, metal; they steal it then selves sometimes. If a person is found guilty of housebreaking, the court may be told that he is a registered scrap metal dealer and, on receiving this information, the court may say, "You have several convictions for housebreaking, and here is another. We think that you are an unsuitable person to carry on this trade except under the restrictions which we propose to impose". But I urge that we leave this to the courts. Let us give them the discretion.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hillsborough in thinking that the power ought really to go wider and the court should be able to say, "We will order your name to be removed from the register because we think that you are wholly unsuitable to carry on this type of business". Obviously, if carried on dishonestly, it is a business which lends itself to the assistance of thieves, because, without receivers, there would be no thieves. However, I should be out of order in discussing Amendments which are not down. I merely say that I should like this point to be considered. In my view, the House should not accept the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Luton. Perhaps he may, on reflection, not wish to press it.
I beg to move, in page 7, line 9, to leave out "nine" and to insert "eight".
Perhaps it would be convenient, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to consider, at the same time, my Amendment in line 14, at the end to insert:
Any dealer registered under the provisions of section 1(2,c) of this Act shall be exempted from these requirements.
There have been frequent references to the fact that much of this new Bill re-enacts the law of 1861, which was rather a long time ago particularly with respect to what punishments are suitable for certain crimes. I am left with the impression that punishment was rather more Draconian in 1861 that it is now, and I am inclined to think that some of the Draconian provisions of the Old Metal Dealers Act, 1861, have been allowed, rather unreasonably, to creep into this modernising Measure.
Punishment should do two things. It should punish, but it should also allow opportunity at least for reformation or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) called it, penitence. In my view, the punishments laid down in Clause 4 (2) are unduly severe. My first Amendment is a minor one, to reduce the period laid down in paragraph (a) during which a scrap dealer convicted of dishonesty shall not conduct his business. It is proposed that he shall not receive scrap metal between the hours of six o'clock in the evening and nine o'clock in the morning, the obvious intention being that he shall not receive stolen goods during that time, and, presumably, not steal them himself either.
In my view, the period is too long. In this trade, dealers begin their day's work at half-past seven or eight o'clock in the morning. They begin their honest and legitimate work at that time, and to limit them to doing no work until nine o'clock would be unfair. It would very much limit their competitiveness—a point which will, I assume, appeal to the Government Front Bench—vis-à-vis other scrap dealers in the area who will be given a head start of an hour or two in the morning. I cannot see how this particular provision would encourage the penitent malefactor to behave himself in the future.
More important is my Amendment in line 14. The general intention of paragraph (b) is that all scrap metal shall be maintained for a period of 72 hours in the form in which it is received, the perfectly reasonable idea being that maintaining it in that form will ensure that it is recognisable to the police who will then be able to trace stolen material without too much difficulty, provided that they get wind of it.
In the ordinary way, I have no great objection to this, except on one ground. It is intended by the Bill to permit certain dealers to be registered and to carry on their business although they have no office other than their own home, and they have no scrap yard. As I see it, such a man would, as a result of paragraph (b), be literally unable to carry on his business. If he has no scrap yard and carries on business from his lorry—which is permitted under the Bill—he will, if he has this restriction put upon him, either have to acquire a scrap yard somewhere or keep a lorry load of scrap metal patrolling the streets, perhaps, for 72 hours before he can do anything with it.
I regard this limitation as an unduly severe punishment on such a scrap metal dealer, the man who is properly registered but has no scrap yard, and I hope that the sponsor of the Bill will accept the., Amendment.
I am attracted by the Amendment in line 9, moved by the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie), to make the time limit eight o'clock in the morning instead of nine. I think that it would provide more reasonable hours of work for such a merchant. I had it in mind to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) on introducing the Bill and on the enormous amount of work which he has put into bringing it to this stage.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has now suggested that the Home Office might be behind the drafting of the Bill. If so, it is understandable to me why the figure "nine" is in the Bill instead of "eight". This provision was obviously drafted by someone who works in offices and not in mills and shops, with which many of us are associated. For him, nine o'clock in the morning might be a very early hour. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry will, in the interests of trade, accept the Amendment in line 9.
I wish briefly to endorse what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) has said. It would be wholly reasonable to accept the hour of eight o'clock rather than nine o'clock. I am delighted to say this, having had to oppose, largely on technical grounds, the last two Amendments.
On the Amendment in line 14, I must take up my previous attitude, not because I think that it is a wrong Amendment, but because it is technically covered and therefore is superfluous. If the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) considers the matter in connection with an earlier provision in the Bill, he will find that the point is already covered. Subject to that, in view of all the efforts of the hon. Member for Luton to improve the Bill, I hope that we can give him the satisfaction of amending the hour of nine o'clock to eight o'clock.
I think that we should accept the Amendment in line 9.
I am worried about the Amendment in line 14. I understand the worry of the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) concerning the scrap metal dealer who has a lorry or a barrow. He cannot possibly keep it on the road without unloading it on, more or less, the same day. I think that that is the basis on which the hon. Member has worked. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M, Bennett) said, this matter is covered by another provision. However, this is not obligatory. It is a permissive right which the court can enforce if is thinks fit. Perhaps the court would think it necessary, in the case of a man who has five or six convictions, to ensure that the law was not continuously flouted. I think that we would do w ell to accept the Amendment in line 9 but to reject the Amendment in line 14.
I am happy to tell the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) that I shall be delighted to accept the Amendment in line 9. The proposal with regard to nine o'clock was a repetition of an existing law which was passed way back in 1861. However, it has been reviewed by successive Acts since then, and it was reviewed as recently as 10 or 15 years ago in certain local Acts. I gladly accept the proposition that eight o'clock in the morning is a reasonable hour to start business.
It was intended originally to deal with shady dealings which take place in the hours of darkness. Slum clearance has played its part in the location of scrap yards. Town planning is playing its part in the laying out of them. Street lighting today in some parts of the country is better than it was in 1861. Well it may be open to doubt whether it has improved in some places. However, on the whole, it is reasonable to allow a matt, if he is to be subject to these additional requirements, to start his business if he wishes to do so at eight o'clock in the morning.
I do not think that the Amendment in line 14 is necessary. Clause 4(2) says that
The said requirements are that, at any place occupied by him as a scrap metal store".
It therefore follows that if a man has not a scrap metal store these restrictions will not be imposed on him.
In drafting the Bill, I have been much more lenient that the recommendations of the Working Party in 1955, because it said that if the court saw fit to make an imposition of this kind, even if it meant that a man had to acquire a yard or go out of business, he must suffer the consequences of a dishonest transaction or offence. I hope that the hon. Member will seek leave to withdraw the Amendment in line 14.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The Bill resulted from the findings of the working party which was established to look into the law and practice relating to the sale of old metals and the control of dealers in old metals. In effect, it repeals, in part or in whole, six public Acts, the most ancient of which has been in operation since 1861, and, in part, it repeals 27 local Acts passed over the last 80 years.
As the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Howie) has said, the object of the Bill is to modernise and bring up to date the law on this subject. I believe that it is welcomed by the trade and that the trade associations welcome the opportunity of putting the law in a more up-to-date form and to make it abundantly clear that an honest dealer in scrap metal has nothing to fear from any of the Bill's provisions. However, woe betide the wrongdoer and the scrap metal dealer who seeks to indulge in dishonest activities.
Would not my hon. Friend agree that one of the most attractive features of the Bill is that not only has the trade adopted a neutral attitude to it—it is not a case of House of Commons imposing restrictions on the trade—but the reputable members of it have for a number of years been the most active element in trying to bring about reforms in their own business?
The reasonably short speech made by my hon. Friend in that intervention amply sums up many of the things that I should have sought to state.
The Bill requires all dealers to be registered in the areas where they carry on their trade or business. It requires them strictly to record all the dealings in metals which pass through their hands. Its object also is to assist the police in their endeavours to catch up as quickly as possible with people dealing in stolen metal.
I need not elaborate on the aspect of the Bill which comes within that compass, but I think that I should say this. I know that at one stage some concern was expressed about the small man, the itinerant dealer, and about whether he could be asked to suffer all the implications of the Bill. The Bill as now drafted clearly provides for exceptions to be made for the itinerant collector. He will have to be registered and he will have to get receipts for metal which he sells and he will be required to keep those receipts for a reasonable time. But this does not call for an elaborate system of book keeping or understanding of restrictions in connection with his dealings.
On the whole, I hope that the Bill will be regarded, as the hon. Member for Luton put it, as part of the process of modernising and bringing the law up to date generally. I hope that it is a useful contribution to that end.
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) on having brought this Private Member's Bill so far to success. I hope that within a short time it will receive its Third Reading here and will have a happy passage in another place.
We have had short debates on one or two matters which have helped some of us who were not so familiar as others with the Bill. I had intended to congratulate my hon. Friend on the drafting of the Bill, which is very long for a Private Member's Bill, but he has explained that he has not personally written every Clause but has had some help from the working party.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) attacked the Home Office about some of the drafting. The Bill may be returned to us from another place for our consideration of certain Lords Amendments, but there is still time for us to consider them and for the Bill to be passed before this Parliament ends.
I welcome the Bill, believing that, on the whole, the House lags behind what many members of the public want done about many trades such as this. It is not that we are imposing restrictions and regulations on certain trades, but that 90 or 95 per cent. of the members of those trades want regulations because they are honest and good traders and because only a small number evade their responsibilities. For example, a Bill about cruelty to horses is now before the House and I have a Bill about motor driving establishments—90 per cent. of which want it—which has not so far found unanimity in the House and whose Second Reading is down for later this day.
These Measures show a general desire throughout the country for tidying up the law. Reputable merchants will have no difficulty about complying with these regulations and it is only a small section which will. It is no great hardship for a trader to keep the very minimum of books for which the Bill asks. When we all have to pay Income Tax, and so on, a trader who does not keep books or accounts does not deserve to be in business.
This is an opportune time for this Bill. There is great interest throughout the country in scrap merchants. I am told—I have watched them myself—that the activities of a firm of scrap merchants going by the name of Steptoe and Son are followed by hundreds of thousands of people through another medium. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will deal with the Bill fairly fully. I should like to know from her whether she thinks that there is anything in it which will prevent the activities of Steptoe and Son from continuing, or whether she believes that with what skill they have they will be able to comply with the regulations. The Bill is not to become law until April, 1965 so that we may have a rather long time before we see how they deal with it.
This is a good Bill for dealing with transactions in scrap metals, a commodity in which it has been easy for dishonest people to deal. There is one offence in particular—we have not seen so much of it lately—of cutting old lead from church roofs at night—which is sacrilegious—which has been easy for the thieves because no one has been in the churches at night and because the metal could not be traced. If the Bill does something to stop that kind of theft, it with have been worth while.
I conclude by again congratulating my hon. Friend and also the hon. Member for Luton on the interest he has taken in trying to improve the Bill and on getting an Amendment accepted, which is not always easy. I hope that the Bill will receive Home Office support.
I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) on his Bill's having reached this stage very nearly unscathed. It has been improved in one or two ways today. A number of criticisms have been voiced about one or two aspects of it and I hope that when the Bill reaches another place there will be at least sympathetic consideration of some of those criticisms. I very mud hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss them again.
I again congratulate the hon. Gentleman and with the general notion underlying his Bill every success.
The attention of the House and the public was drawn to this matter not only by the activities of Mr. Steptoe, but by those activities, particularly after the war, which resulted in the roofs of many buildings which were lying vacant—not only churches where the crime was sacrilegious and therefore more serious—being stripped of their lead. The lead found its way to scrap metal dealers, who themselves were in the unenviable position of finding it difficult to trace the origin of the lead which they wished to purchase.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) has tackled an immense subject in a Bill which has meant the repeal of many Acts. Like many other hon. Members, have discussed this matter with some of the trade associations. It is interesting to note that the Bill has not only the approval but the active support of many of the trade associations who have been working under very old laws, and, for that reason, under great disadvantages.
The Bill now makes their position much clearer. A classic illustration of the sort of difficulty is that a scrap metal dealer was previously prohibited from buying from private persons. In other words, even if he knew that the private person had come by the metal in a perfectly orthodox and reasonable way, he could not purchase it.
This Measure, which I hope the House will approve, will overcome a large number of real difficulties which the trade was facing. I have always regarded the trade as falling into two categories—the large main dealers who are well known to us all, and the small man who is known as a totter. He goes round with his barrow, but he has become a less frequent visitor to many parts of London. At one time he was quite a common figure with his horse and cart, or with his barrow, and he collected old baths and pieces of scrap metal.
One of the great advantages of the Bill is that it does not attack the small man, provided he runs his business in an orthodox and reasonable way. It is not unreasonable that a man in a small way of business should keep a check on his trading activities. If he does, and if he is stopped in the street and asked where he obtained his metal, he will be able to say that he purchased it from such and such a source, and that he has a receipt for it. That will help him considerably, because he will not then be regarded as a receiver of stolen goods. It will also help the police in making their inquiries.
Many of the thefts are from buildings which are unoccupied. Often the theft is carried out by a worker in a builders' merchant's yard. The stolen articles are not listed in the firm's books, but are passed out as it were through the side door. If the Bill is passed, I think that everyone in the trade will feel that by having to keep the records suggested in this Measure, they will have much more protection than they had in the past.
I should like to pay a final tribute to my hon. Friend. On looking at the Schedule, I realise that he must have done an enormous amount of research on ancient Acts of Parliament. My hon. Friend has consolidated all these old Acts into a Measure which is not only worth while, but has the support of the trade, and I am sure that it will have the support of everybody who is interested in this subject.
I have been anxious not to intervene unnecessarily during the course of the debate because I know that hon. Members are anxious to proceed with other business. I should, however, like to take this opportunity to record our appreciation of the manner in which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) has conducted the Bill through its various stages, and to congratulate him on the efficiency with which he has handled some of its complicated provisions, and on his initiative in introducing this useful and necessary piece of reform.
The White Paper published last week made it clear that it is the constant concern of the Government to maintain and improve the defences of society in the war against crime. The object of the Bill is to renew those defences on a particular front by strengthening the means for the prevention and detection of thefts of metal, and we warmly welcome the improvements that it seeks to make.
As hon. Members have said, there is nothing radically new in the Bill. Provision for the registration of old metal dealers and the keeping of records of dealings in old metal was made as long ago as 1907, and other parts of the present law date back to 1861. It has been apparent for some time, however, that these provisions are no longer adequate for present-day conditions.
The need for an improvement in the law was first felt forcibly in the immediate post-war years when the scarcity of metals made them especially attractive to thieves and receivers. The Report of the official Working Party on which the Bill is based describes fully the widespread incidence of thefts of metal at that time, and, as hon. Members have said this morning, there have been many impudent cases of the complete stripping of lead from the roofs of churches and old buildings. But those were only the more spectacular cases. The high price which the metal commanded made no amount too insignificant to be taken, and the cases reported ranged from the stripping of a church roof to the cutting of a few inches of overflow pipe from a water cistern.
The attraction of lead for the petty criminal at that time was graphically illustrated in the Working Party's Report by the extract of evidence from the Chief Constable of Lancashire. He said:
It was during 1952 that we were particularly troubled by thefts of lead water cistern and waste pipes from houses. These attacks were usually upon a good number of houses in one neighbourhood and invariably during the hours of darkness. Two men committed 103 such offences in one locality before they were arrested.
The Working Party noted that by the time of its inquiries there had been a material decline from the post-war peak in the number of thefts of metal, and of course there is reason to believe that, despite the trend in other types of crime, this decline has continued. But I do not think that that in any way invalidates the case for the rationalisation of tile law on the lines proposed in the Bill.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the decline in the theft of lead is due to the fact that at the time about which she is speaking lead was worth about 100 a ton, whereas today it is worth about half that sum.
I agree, but I was going on to say that that in no way invalidates the reason for having a Bill on the lines proposed here.
The Working Party observed that
Notwithstanding the reduction in the total volume of metal stealing…we are convinced that this is a serious and continuing problem
which calls for permanent machinery designed to give the police reasonably adequate powers of investigation and supervision.
Our recent inquiries of the police have confirmed that view. Thefts of metal, though fewer, are still a continuing problem, and likely to remain so.
The improved procedure for the registration and supervision of dealers which is provided by the Bill will, I am sure, be of benefit both to those who enforce this branch of the law, and to those who are subject to it. We have been particularly concerned with keeping the balance between these two necessities. It will assist the police and the local authorities because it makes their powers more precise and more effective. It will assist the dealer because it clarifies his position under the law, and in particular because it makes all dealers subject to the same law. I assure my bon. Friend that his favourite firm will be adequately protected. I am sure that it will be able to continue entertaining him in the way that it obviously does at the present time. It is an unsatisfactory feature of the existing law—and dealers with businesses in several areas are only too well aware of this—that the obligations upon the dealer at present vary from place to place according to whether the 1907 Act has been adopted, or some other control has been imposed by local Act.
There is one other aspect of the Bill to which I think we should draw attention, namely, that apart from the positive improvement in the procedure for registration and supervision which it makes, it also cuts out much dead wood which is useless and in some cases an impediment to the trade. It gets rid of the unworkable provisions of the Old Metal Dealers Act, 1861, and it abolishes the out-dated and unnecessary additional restrictions imposed on marine store dealers by the Merchant Shipping Act.
But most important of all, it repeals Section 13 of the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871. This provision at present prohibits a dealer from buying certain metals in any quantity less than the minimum prescribed in the Act—112 lb. in the case of lead, and 56 lb. in the case of other metals. The original purpose of this was to prevent the petty theft of metals by controlling the means of disposal of small quantities of stolen metal. But, as the Working Party's Report shows, it has long been felt that it imposed an undue restraint upon legitimate trade and the useful recovery of scrap, without effectively deterring thieves and receivers. I know that the disappearance of this petty restriction will be warmly welcomed by the trade.
We had a useful discussion of the Bill in Committee, just as we have had today. Hon. Members have been properly concerned to see that the provisions of the Bill contained nothing which was unreasonable. I understand the anxieties of those who have entertained doubts about certain aspects of the Bill, but I think that the Amendments made today, and the discussions that we have had, will ensure that the Bill in its final form will do what we want it to do.
The honest trader has nothing to fear from the Bill, and this fact is well understood by the trade. The Working Party defined its objective as the finding of ways and means to improve the present law so as to combine the maximum protection against crime with the minimum of interference with legitimate trade. The present Bill reflects that approach, and I am glad to support it.
I conclude by once again congratulating my hon. Friend not only for introducing the Bill but for allowing it to go forward in its present form.
I join in the congratulations which have been offered to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry) upon bringing the Measure before the House and getting it as far as this, but in two or three of the speeches that have been made I detected a somewhat unusual note, at this stage in our proceedings. There has been a suggestion that this is not a good and perfect Bill even now, and hopes have been expressed that when some other people consider it they will do more than the House has been able to do.
I do not like sending a Bill to another place in that condition. I was hoping that the Under-Secretary would be able to tell us what attitude the Government adopted towards that aspect of the situation. If this is not the Bill that the promoters hope will finally become an Act—and the Government have given a general blessing to the Bill—it seems to me that we ought to know whether the Home Office regards the Measure, even now, as one which could safely be brought into operation and, if we are not to expect to have a Scrap Metal Dealers Bill in this House every year, how long it will be before these desired Amendments can be brought before Parliament so as to add to the safeguards which already exist.
Undoubtedly, just after the war the stealing of metal was very common. During a weekend all the lead might be stripped off a church roof, and it would be quite impossible to find where it had gone and who had taken it from its proper place. If, with the fall in the price of lead, the temptation to commit that kind of crime no longer exists, I hope that nothing that we do today will make it easy for that sort of crime to be restarted.
I would be a little surprised to think that Steptoe and Son should come into the Bill. I regard that very amusing programme as being part of the eternal conflict between old age and youth and I hope that nothing that happens as a result of this Bill will tend to make that programme less interesting, or the conflict between father and son less lively and less personal.
I hope that before it reaches the Statute Book the Bill will be made as strong and as sound as possible in its general principles. I am only sorry that nothing has been said by the Under-Secretary to indicate how far she shares the doubts of the promoters.
I have expressed no doubts as to the validity of the Bill. I think that it is a very good Bill, and that it is well drafted. It was one or two remarks from hon. Members opposite that indicated the other point of view.
Everybody may be proud of his own handiwork. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) expressed the doubts to which I have drawn attention. I regret that the report of the Home Office did not indicate how far it accepted the view, not of the promoter but of the hon. and gallant Member, as to the need for some alterations in this Bill before it reaches the Statute Book.
I thought that I had made it clear that with the improvements that we have incorporated in the Bill this morning we now have a Bill which does what we set out to do, namely, maintain a fair balance between retaining security against the criminal while preserving the efficiency of the trade as a whole. I hope that I had made it clear that the Government endorse not only the intention of the Bill, but its shape after this morning's deliberations.
May we take it that whatever may be the doubts of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye about the perfection of the Bill, the hon. Lady, as Under-Secretary, has no such doubts, and that if the Bill goes unamended through another place she will rejoice in its being put on the Statute Book, no matter what may be the feelings of the hon. and gallant Gentleman?
I shall speak very shortly. Perhaps I shall hold a balance between the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I am sure that ii there are any doubts my hon. Friend will look into them. If there is any need to improve the drafting I am sure that it can be improved in another place, and that everybody will then be happy.
I suppose that I have a closer association with the criminal classes than most other hon. Members here today, although I am probably not very popular with criminals. One rule to remember is that there are no thieves unless there are receivers. A person who steals lead from a church roof—and this is extremely common; in the criminal classes it is referred to as "bluey"—or from the roofs of blocks of houses which have been closed for redevelopment, has to find someone who is willing to buy it from him.
A local authority often purchases a whole area and fences it off, with the intention of building something on it later. By the time the builders come along, however, nothing is left but bricks and mortar. That could not happen if there were not receivers. A new police station is being built in Brighton, and already copper pipes for it have been stolen before the building has been finished. Since I have to deal with the alleged thieves next week I will say no more about that.
I will express no views as to those upon whom the loss will fall in such cases, but it is right to point out that not only derelict and old buildings are affected. Valuable metals disappear from the sites of buildings under construction. They have to find their way to a scrap metal dealer or some other dealer—often referred to as a general dealer—before any cash comes to the thieves. It the Bill prevents that it has my blessing, whether or not its wording can be improved.