May I take the opportunity to express my delight that you are in the Chair, Mr Benton? Back in the mists of time, I may have served under your chairmanship, but it was sufficiently long ago for me not to remember precisely when—we have both been here for a long time. On behalf of everyone on the Committee, I welcome you to the Chair.
I also welcome the Minister, who may not have realised, a week or so ago, that he was destined to represent the Government on this Bill. He may have thought that as my day job or my other job is as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as he has been a diligent Foreign Office Minister for the past two and a half years, he had got shot of me. However, I am delighted that we are now working together on this important Bill.
I set out the purpose of the Bill in a lot of detail on Second Reading, and I do not intend to repeat it now, other than to say that this serious issue has to be addressed. There has been an epidemic of metal theft in this country, and I was delighted that the Bill received a unanimous Second Reading. It was the virtually unanimous view that the problem has to be addressed and that the Bill goes a long way towards doing so.
Clause 1 provides that any individual or business engaged in any commercial activity in relation to the buying or selling of scrap metal will need a licence to operate. It also creates a criminal offence of operating without a licence, which will support compliance with the regime. The definition of a scrap metal dealer and of what constitutes scrap metal is dealt with in clause 8, which we will move on to later.
Some Members may question the need to regulate the scrap metal industry at all, but if regulation is considered necessary, which is the Government’s view, clause 1 is essential. The scrap metal industry is currently regulated by the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, and there is widespread agreement that the regime is outdated and in need of reform, which is why the Government support the Bill. The current registration regime has several limitations and, in truth, does little to stop the purchase of stolen metal, which is one factor behind the rapid growth of metal theft over recent years.
By requiring scrap metal dealers to obtain and comply with the terms of a licence, we will raise trading standards across the industry, particularly in relation to record keeping and the procedures that apply when purchasing and paying for metals. The requirement to have a licence to trade will also allow local authorities better to manage who can operate in the sector, in that only operators who are deemed suitable by a local authority will be issued with a licence and there will be appropriate powers to tackle those who operate without a licence. The factors that should be considered when determining suitability are dealt with elsewhere in the Bill, so I will not touch on them now.