Thursday, 1 November 2012

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill - progress report

The Private Member’s Bill to reform the scrap metal industry is about to go through to report stage on Friday, 9th November.

The scourge of metal theft that blights all of our constituencies.

Scrap Metal Dealers Bill 2012 proposes a rigorous licensing scheme that ensures every sale of scrap metal is accounted for, and that all people trading in scrap are doing so legitimately. For too long the cash-in-hand and ‘no questions asked’ culture in the scrap metal industry has allowed criminals to ply their trade under the cloak of anonymity.

As a result of this largely unregulated £5.6bn industry – up to £1.5bn of which thrives tax-free because of a lack of honest record keeping – our transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructure is under constant threat.

One example of the consequences of the metal theft epidemic will resonate with us all was an attempted theft of cable on July 25, just two days before the Olympics opening ceremony, near Bedford. The mere damage to the cable resulted in 927 delayed trains, 203 cancelled trains and 65 part cancelled trains. If the theft had been successfully executed the thief could have expected to sell it on for less than £100.

This is no petty crime. There are regular reports of metal thefts that cut off power to communities and hospitals, putting people’s lives in danger. Even more sickening are the attacks on our churches, crematoriums and war memorials. Many tributes will be paid to this nation’s heroes who laid down their lives for this country on Remembrance Sunday.

The Bill builds on amendments the Government included in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Act earlier this year to create a new criminal offence that prohibits cash payments to purchase scrap metal, increases fines for all offences under the existing Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and gives the police power to enter unregistered premises.

These amendments address the problem of cash transactions, but the scope of LASPO did not allow for a wholesale revision of the outdated regulatory scheme in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 to take place which is, frankly, no longer fit for purpose.

This Bill will therefore repeal the 1964 Act and replace it with an Act which empowers local authorities with a more robust and enforceable licence regime for all who deal and collect scrap metal.

This is not extra regulation – it is reform of ineffective regulation and it has the support of a range of prestigious organisations including the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, War Memorials Trust, the Church of England, Arts Council England, Tate Galleries, the Henry Moore Foundation, the Local Government Association, the British Transport Police, Network Rail and BT.

Its key features are:

1. Any individual or business that carries on business as a scrap metal dealer must complete an enhanced application process to get a licence – local authorities can refuse unsuitable applicants and have the power to revoke licences

2. All sellers of metal must provide verifiable ID at point of sale which is recorded and retained by the dealer

3. The cashless offence will apply to all scrap metal dealers without exception including ‘mobile/itinerant collectors’ who conduct house to house collections

4. Police will have the power by court order to close unlicensed premises

5. Creation of a single national publicly available register of all scrap metal dealers

6. Definition of scrap metal dealer to include motor salvage operators, thereby bringing that licensing scheme within one new scrap metal licensing regime

If the Bill gets onto the statute books, the public and those affected can all look forward to a much better regulated industry as early as October 2013 that will make an immeasurable difference to the lives of all of our constituents.