Clause 4 - Revocation of licence and imposition of conditions

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 11th September 2012.

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Amendment made: 24, in clause 4, page 3, line 27, at beginning insert—

‘If the licensee or any site manager named in the licence is convicted of a relevant offence,’.—(Mr Jeremy Browne.)

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

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

I do not want to delay the Committee, but I want some clarification. Clause 4 rightly says that the

“authority may revoke a scrap metal licence if it is satisfied that the licensee does not carry on business at any of the sites identified in the licence” as well as for other reasons outlined in the clause. It also indicates that licensees may appeal the revocation.

I simply want clarification from the hon. Member for Croydon South or the Minister about what happens during the appeal period, because I understand that currently dealers can potentially continue to trade for the duration of the appeal.

I notice that subsection (5) states:

“The authority may vary a licence by adding one or both of the conditions set out in section 3(8).”

Clause 3(8) states that the authority may, for example, stipulate the hours in which a scrap metal dealer may receive metal.

Do clause 4 and clause 3(8) give the authority the ability to specify that no scrap metal can be received pending an appeal? Otherwise, a licensee could continue  to operate for the appeal period of 21 days despite a local authority’s having taken the serious step of withdrawing the licence. The discussions so far suggest that having a licence revoked is an extremely serious matter and not one that we would expect on a regular basis.

My question—either for answer today or for reflection pending further consideration of the Bill—is about what happens during the appeal period. If clause 3(8) satisfies the conditions that the licence could be varied so that no trading could take place during the appeal period, that would satisfy my curiosity today. If work can continue at a site during the appeal period, that is a potential concern, because a scrap metal dealer who has had their licence revoked due to not meeting the strictures of the Bill could still operate for a period of 21 days—or, potentially, for as long as a judicial review took.

I did not table any amendments to clause 4, because the matter I am raising is a clause stand part issue. I would welcome some reflection now, but if that is not possible, I want an assurance either that such matters are covered or that the measure will be considered for tightening up at a future date, so that in really serious circumstances the authority has the ability—as the police do with an errant local pub—to close the premises down immediately, pending an appeal.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I am grateful for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman phrased his inquiry. As I understand it, the position is that if the dealer is trading when they appeal, they can carry on trading until the appeal is heard. If they are not trading, however, they carry on not trading until the appeal is heard, so the status quo prevails.

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

That leaves with me with an element of concern. If a local authority has determined that a licensee, who is already trading, is unsuitable to trade because it has committed serious offences, its licence will be revoked, which is what clause 4 does, but the licensed premises could continue to trade pending an appeal. We are trying to stop the abuse of that scrap metal licence, yet the authority will have to sit back and watch some organisation that it has deemed unsuitable continue to trade.

My only question is on clause 4(5), which states:

“The authority may vary a licence by adding one or both of the conditions set out in section 3(8).”

Clause 3(8) states that

“the dealer must not receive scrap metal between specified hours of the day”.

Would it be legal and feasible for the authority to say under clause 3(8) that the dealer could not operate between the hours of 24 and 24 for the next 21 days? I am simply seeking clarification. If it was such a serious offence that the authority wished to do that, would clause 3(8) cover that? If it was not such a serious offence or if the authority would not have the power to do that under that provision, would the promoter of the Bill and the Minister look at what the procedure would be on the appeal period? That seems to be of some concern. Even if the offence was serious and the appeal was undertaken, we would still have a rogue trader  operating and the only sanction would be the revocation of their licence and the imposition of a fine. Even if they committed a further offence in that 21-day period, that punishment would not change—there would be no disincentive not to commit further offences in that period.

Another concern is public confidence in this matter. If, as the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark indicated, the Dr Salter statue has been stolen from Bermondsey and tracked down to Mr Jones’s scrap metal dealer in Bermondsey, which has had its licence revoked because of that offence, and the people of Bermondsey see that Mr Jones’s business is operating for a further 21 days while he appeals, that does not seem to be particularly fair. I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn in picking that name. The provision needs some reflection on, and I would welcome clarification on whether clause 3(8) would apply, and if it would not, I would welcome the promoter of the Bill and the Minister examining these matters in detail before later consideration of the Bill.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

As the right hon. Gentleman has been speaking, I have been quietly consulting, and he is making a valid point. We will have a look at the matter and if necessary revert on the point.

On the rest of the stand part debate, I think that we have debated this long enough without my repeating the points.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.