Clause 13 - Right to enter and inspect

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 11th September 2012.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 6:45 pm, 11th September 2012

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 13, page 7, line 33, leave out subsection (3).

This probing amendment would delete subsection (3) from the clause, which states that

“Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to residential premises.”

Having had discussions with the hon. Member for Croydon South, I accept and understand that, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, a warrant of entry must be issued for the inspection of residential purposes and premises. I want to test the views of the hon. Gentleman and the Minister about those undoubtedly occasional residential premises with scrap metal yards  attached to them. Throughout the country, there are premises that dispose of metal with residential premises as part of the total site. Although a warrant can be applied for, the purpose of the right of entry and inspection under the clause is so that a constable or local officer can inspect at relatively short notice and potentially have a deterrent effect, as well as the enforcement effect of being able to check sites and records accordingly.

I am sure that such matters will not be a major problem, but how long is it anticipated it will take for a warrant to be issued? Between the warrant being applied for and it being issued, evidence could be discarded or destroyed accordingly by someone who was contravening the spirit of the Bill, which itself would be an offence. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the police and the local authority can enter premises. Given that residential premises will in some case have facilities for the disposal of scrap metal attached to them, is that a loophole that needs to be considered?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I understand the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. The reason why the Government will resist the amendment is for exactly the reason that he outlined, which is an anxiety about what is an appropriate power for the state by which it could enter a person’s private premises without an advance warrant. We believe that the Bill has achieved the right balance between protecting the individual from excessive state interference, while at the same time achieving its purpose.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Conservative, Romsey and Southampton North

There have been several instances in my constituency of residential premises attached to scrap metal yards. Has the Minister considered whether the Bill might encourage scrap metal dealers to establish in their scrap metal yards a mobile home or other residential property that would enable them to get round that very point?

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I would need greater legal guidance about whether an operator of a large scrap metal site with a mobile home in the corner could have legal grounds for stopping an inspection of the site as a whole, as distinct from the mobile home that is on the site. I would also need guidance on whether people could classify a massive warehouse as being their place of residence on the basis that they had a camp bed in the corner of it and were therefore less subject to the inspection regime than they would be if the camp bed were removed, and the premises were just a warehouse rather than a residential dwelling.

I hesitate to go deeper into such a discussion because I am not entirely sure of the likelihood of that being a practical way of circumventing the Bill. Members of the Committee would also wish the Government to be mindful of not giving the police or other authorities the power to go into people’s homes without a warrant, and that is the difficulty we are seeking to navigate.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North for her intervention. There is a potential problem to be considered, although I am not arguing that it is definitive. I understand the Government’s position in respect of the Protection of Freedoms Act, but is it worth while for the hon. Member  for Croydon South and the Minister to consider whether there is scope to ensure that, if a business were operating from residential premises, a police officer or local authority could inspect them without a warrant? Perhaps we can have some clarity on how long a warrant would take to be issued, so that evidence cannot be destroyed in the meantime.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

I have been informed that the Association of Chief Police Officers has said that it is content with the warrant-obtaining mechanisms, that the criteria to obtain a warrant to enter a residential premises are not considered onerous, and that the criteria are lower than those in the 1964 Act. I hope that the concerns rightly raised by the right hon. Gentleman will not happen in practice. However, I share his anxieties that someone could create a loophole in the law by having a substantial amount of scrap metal in their house or in somewhere that is designated as a house. I suppose that one could have anxieties on the other side, that someone had received payment for one small item of scrap metal that they put in their bedroom, and the police saying that on that basis they no longer needed a warrant to enter the house. He asked whether I would look at how the situation would work in practice, and I am happy to ensure that the Home Office and the Government as a whole are satisfied that we are not waving through legislation with a big loophole that can be exploited by criminals.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Will the Minister look also at the definition of residential premises? My concern is not that someone has scrap metal in their bedroom, but that there is a house on a property, with a substantial two or three acres of land, where scrap metal is utilised as part of the business.

Photo of Jeremy Browne Jeremy Browne The Minister of State, Home Department

Yes. I was making a point from the other side of the argument. I would not wish the state to use the legislation to go into someone’s house on the basis of a spurious justification about scrap metal. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point that the Committee is much more likely to be concerned about someone who either has scrap metal in their extended garden or designates a building that does not appear to anyone else to be a residential property, making themselves appear not to be subject to the Bill when they are. With his permission, I do not wish to accept the amendment, because it would be a big step to take without further consideration. However, I am happy to look further into it, as he requested.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.