Monday, 17 September 2012

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill passes through committee stage

As observant watchers may realise, I have been at the forefront nationally of trying to tackle the costly crime of metal theft.

Doing live TV news and an incredible amount of media, broadcast, online video and written has been fascinating.

So it has been pleasing to see Richard Ottaway MP private member's Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, albeit a dressed up version of my private members bill last spring, progress last week.

The government has quite frankly handled this in a shambolic way. Dithering and lack of direction in dealing with metal theft has embarrassed the Home Office over how to deal with regulation of scrap metal dealers a significant increase in thefts.

Following defeat of my private members bill by the government, the Home Office brought forward a late and undebated addition to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to ban cash payments and increase the tariff for offenders.

Clause 16(f) of the Bill sponsored by Richard Ottaway MP, which the Home Office supports, attempts to repeal sections 145 to 147 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 even though it has not come into force.

That part of the Act was brought about by Home Office amendment earlier this year. That Act received Royal Assent only a few weeks before the this new Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons.

It is not the way to do business and whilst MP's may consider they are in a 'political process' - read political advantage - as many firms planning for the future of their businesses will wonder 'what the heck is going on' at the heart of government.

What this Bill will achieve most of the six key elements I put forward in Novermber 2011:
  1. Firstly, we need to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. Instead of the current registration scheme, the UK needs a robust licensing regime, with scrap metal dealers paying a licence fee to fund the regulation of the licence.
  2. Second; property obtained through theft should be regarded as criminal assets. This would allow the provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to apply.
  3. Third; in line with alcohol licensing powers, police authorities should have the power to search and investigate all premises owned and operated by a scrap metal dealer, and to close scrap metal dealers where criminally obtained materials are discovered.
  4. Fourth; trade in scrap metals should be restricted to cashless payments, and there should be a requirement that scrap metal must not be sold or processed until payments have been cleared. Photo identification and CCTV should be mandatory to identify sellers of scrap and their vehicles. This is a policy which has been successfully introduced in France.
  5. Fifth; magistrates should have powers to add licence restrictions and prevent closed yards from re-opening.
  6. Finally; the Theft Act and related Acts should be amended so that suspects caught should be charged and if found guilty, sentenced in such a way that is proportionate to the consequences of the crime, not the scrap metal value.
Much has been done by the DPP on Proceeds of Crime and the other five points have been accepted within the Bill.

On the upside, local authorities can add licence restrictions. On the downside nothing is being done about stolen metal that may be containerised out through ports to China and which does not pass through the Scrap Metal Dealers.

The Government have brought in a licensing scheme lite. It only asks operators and dealers to be licensed, not individuals or criminals who will be allowed to carry on within the industry. My amendment to bring in (quick - low cost) personal licenses that individuals must acquire themselves to work in the industry. This does little assist local authorities in determining the fitness of owners and may lead to licences being kept that shouldn't or vice versa.

On amendment that did get tacit approval was vehicle badging. Mobile collectors must display a visible licence number so the public can be assured they are dealing with a bona fide collector and crucially, those not licensed will be visible to the public, the police and the local authorities.