Clause 15 - Review of Act

Scrap Metal Dealers bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 12th September 2012.

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Amendment proposed (11 September): 14, in clause 15, page 9, line 5, at end add

‘and lay it before both Houses of Parliament.’.—(Mr Hanson.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment 4, in clause 15, page 9, line 10, at end insert—

‘(d) assess the prevalence of the export of stolen scrap metal through UK ports in the years following the passage of the Act.’.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) was in mid-flow when we ceased our discussions last night and, in the hope that he joins us soon, I shall continue the debate and give the Minister a chance to respond.

Amendment 14 is a simple proposal to ensure that whatever review is produced by the Minister, it would be laid formally before both Houses of Parliament rather than published privately for the hon. Gentleman or for the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the promoter of the Bill, or placed on a Home Office website without our being informed. I want an assurance that either the current Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 allows the review to be published formally before both Houses of Parliament or that the Minister will set a second precedent two days running by accepting an Opposition amendment so that the review will be laid before both Houses of Parliament.

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

The right hon. Gentleman is getting greedy.

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

One feast in seven and a half years of Opposition is hardly getting greedy.

I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn, because I was given the task of speaking to his amendment 4. I know that he will want to speak to his amendment, but may I say that I support it and I hope that, if the Minister and the promoter of the Bill cannot accept the amendment, they could at least consider assessing the potential for the export of stolen scrap metal through United Kingdom ports currently and in the future. We discussed that in some detail on Second Reading. The prevalence of containers carrying stolen scrap metal abroad for recycling is a matter of anxiety.

The Bill covers only England and Wales, not Scotland or Northern Ireland. Indeed, as the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) described on Second Reading, there is the potential for scrap metal to be collected and legitimately exported through her own port in Felixstowe, which, in effect, subverts the measures under the Bill to provide regulation of the outlet for that scrap metal when it is recycled. If scrap metal were collected by dealers and exported to France, the Republic of Ireland or other European countries, the material could have been illicitly stolen, bought for scrap metal recycling and taken abroad.

I support the principle of my hon. Friend’s amendment. I hope that the Minister can reflect on it and, as part of his review of the 1964 Act, whether formally under the amendment or informally as part of the commitment, consider with the promoter of the Bill the omission of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the Bill and the potential for exporting material. As part of his report to Parliament, will the hon. Gentleman assess whether progress has been made in Scotland and Northern Ireland in respect of similar legislation and whether the export of stolen scrap metal through UK ports is a problem that needs to be addressed for the future.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Most of what I want to say has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn. I emphasise the point that the Bill could last 50 years—the current Act has lasted since 1964—and we do not know what challenges there may be in relation to the theft of metal. Metal theft will continue, although we hope that the Bill will significantly diminish it. However, it may be displaced into channels other than the scrap metal recycling industry covered by the Bill. I think that that is the point that my right hon. Friend was making.

Any continuing review, therefore, on amendments to legislation must consider scrap metal theft in its entirety, so that the Bill can be as effective as possible, if it is to be amended in future. It is important in that context to have a broader assessment and review umbrella. In future that will have a bearing on legislation, and help MPs to determine what amendments are needed. I will end my comments there, as I think they are fairly obvious and straightforward.

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

Good morning, Mr Benton. I will not speak for long. The Government are sympathetic to the sentiments underlying both the amendments, but do not feel that they are necessary, in the first case, or appropriate to the Bill in the second.

Clause 15 meets the Government’s commitment to review all business regulation to ensure that it meets its intended objectives, and so that all unnecessary regulation can be identified and removed from the statute book if that is deemed necessary.

Clause 15(1)(b) requires that the conclusions of the report are to be published. The procedure set out by the Better Regulation Executive is that the report must be published as a Command Paper and laid before Parliament. Therefore, the clause already meets the requirement in amendment 14, which is thus unnecessary. The undertaking is in the Bill.

Amendment 4 would require the Secretary of State to review an issue that is outside the scope of the Bill, being incompatible with the precise focus intended by  my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South. The purpose of the review clause is to make sure that there is a continued need for the system of regulation contained in the Bill. The review is therefore limited to the provisions in the Bill and cannot deal with issues that are outside its confined scope.

We recognise, nevertheless, the importance of the problem posed by the export market, which the hon. Member for Hyndburn and others raised, and we do not seek to detract from its significance. To date, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the British Transport police have little intelligence to suggest the direct exportation of stolen metal. Instead, stolen metal is being laundered through rogue elements of the scrap metal industry before being exported.

The UK Border Force, police forces and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are, however, undertaking work to tackle the export of stolen metal. They aim to understand the extent of the problem and are developing intelligence to deliver more focused policing.

We recognise that there are issues to be dealt with at certain points in the system and are enthusiastic about the work being done by the police and others to understand fully the extent of the problem and how it can most effectively be tackled. However, a review of that work is a separate issue, important though it is to the Bill. We would not want a review to be less effective because it did not focus on the prime purpose of the Bill.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I am tempted to withdraw the amendment, but I want to press the Minister a little further. A cross-European organisation, Pol-PRIMETT, would contest the assertion that the stolen metal export market is insignificant or small. Its estimate of about 8 million tonnes is accepted by the British Transport police and others at all the engagements where those interested in dealing with metal theft meet. I have never heard that figure contested by anybody in the industry or in the police, including the British Transport police.

Export is clearly a problem. I am concerned—I want to press the Minister on this—that the review of the Act will have a big black hole in which there will be an absence of information around metal theft. Dealing with it within the confines of the Bill seems restrictive. For anybody reading the review, with the issue precluded from it, it will appear that there is not an issue. I accept that the Minister recognises that that is an issue and he is going to deal with it—I take him at his word—but does he not recognise—

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

Order. That is a lengthy intervention. Perhaps at this juncture the Minister might like to reply.

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

I was not making light of the issue—I know the hon. Gentleman did not say I was. The issue that everybody needs to understand better—the more work that is done in this area, the more we will understand it—is the degree to which stolen metal is exported directly or whether it is effectively laundered through domestic industry sites and then exported. Of course, if it is initially laundered through a domestic site, the provisions of the Bill should be the pinch point where we seek to stop that happening.

The Bill is about more effectively and more tightly regulating the scrap metal industry in England and Wales. It is not about seeking to understand the international scrap metal market more effectively, important though  that is. That is clearly a parallel piece of work. The review is in five years’ time. I hope that the greater understanding that we seek to acquire about the nature of the export market might be brought forward and reviewed on a shorter time scale than envisaged for the review of the Bill as a whole, which is five years. If anything, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we wish to attach even greater urgency to the task than he is asking us to do.

Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I accept the point that the Minister is making. I think we are on the same page. However, I will point out that we have people who cut overhead power lines down—111,000 V, 250,000 V, and the latest is 400,000 V. The lines are being cut on site by experienced people who know precisely what they are doing. The metal is obviously taken away with mechanised equipment that is able to carry heavy loads. It is being put straight into containers. It is not going to scrap metal yards. It is going straight out to China as a bulk export. I just wanted to highlight that issue.

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

I accept the points made by the hon. Gentleman. In my time as a Home Office Minister, I intend to try to do what I can to address the problem in its entirety, but in terms of the Bill we are keen that there is a reporting mechanism, as I said with regard to amendment 14. There will be a formal report to Parliament in any case, but we are keen that the report is on the precise content of what will be in the Act—the regulatory regime that applies in England and Wales—and will not have extra features beyond the precise scope of the Act.

We recognise the importance of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman, but for the purposes of the reporting process, we would like the report to be contained to what is precisely in the Act, rather than being a more sprawling and wide-ranging process.

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

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.