A new licensing regime for the scrap metal trade could be in force by February after proposed reforms passed a crucial stage in Parliament.
But new regulations could revised in five years after ministers were forced to make concessions to Tory rebels to ensure the survival of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill.
Richard Ottaway MP (Con) who is leading the Government-backed bill through Parliament, asked ministers to introduce a so-called ‘sunset clause’ in a compromise with two MPs it was feared could kill the bill.
Ottaway told MRW (See box) the compromise meant the new laws could be reviewed and amended if necessary five years after coming into force. “But my gut instinct is we’ve got all the basics right in the bill and it will just be fine-tuning.”
Speaking in the Commons, Home Office minister Jeremy Browne said the five year limit on the legislation, along with a review after three years, would give time for the bill to “bed in and take effect” and then be replaced, if necessary, with more effective legislation.
Tory backbenchers Philip Davies and Christopher Chope welcomed the Government compromise. The MPs had tabled a series of amendments bill supporters feared could drag out the debate.
Graham Jones MP (Lab), who co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft, told MRW that Davies and Chope had “felt the weight of public pressure and decided against wrecking the bill”.
“We had a close call but the strength of public feeling [over metal theft] allowed the bill to go through.”
He said he thought the bill would prove to be popular with the public making it difficult for a future Government to reverse the new measures.
Main points of the Ottaway bill:
- Require all scrap dealers to hold and display a licence.
- Empower councils to refuse, vary and revoke scrap metal dealers’ licences and charge a fee to cover the costs of the scheme.
- Force metal sellers to produce verifiable identification which is recorded and kept for two years by the dealer.
- Set up a national, public register of scrap metal dealers run by the Environment Agency.
- Empower police and councils to close unlicensed premises. Dealers would face unlimited fines for trading in cash, being unlicensed or failing to record deals.
- Cash ban to include itinerant collectors.
Industry leaders welcomed the passing of the bill into the Lords. Ian Hetherington, director general of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) said the sunset clause was an opportunity to review the act and “look at those things which are getting in the way of business and those that are working”.
“BMRA has long argued that a ban on cash alone will not have the desired effect on metal theft without a robust regulatory framework to back it up. We have worked tirelessly with Government and other organisations across UK industry to bring about the necessary reforms.”
“It is vital that the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill is implemented quickly by government to close off the loopholes created by the cash ban.”
Director at Alchemy Metals, Nicola Guest, who worked with Government on the legislation, said she was “delighted” the bill had reached the Lords “after a year of hard work, culminating in a fraught 48 hours when it appeared it would fall by the wayside”.
“The last minute change was as a result of much compromise and negotiation and it has restored our faith in the system that reform and regulation for our industry remains at the top of the agenda.”
A group of industry organisations including Sita, BT and Network Rail, said it hoped the bill could be shown to work in the coming years.
But Mark Schofield, director of scrap dealer J B Schofield and Sons, told MRW the bill was a “badly thought out, kneejerk reaction, aimed at the wrong people”.
“The problems now facing the smaller merchants are enormous, and many are frightened for the future of their business and extremely disillusioned that this has been allowed to happen.”
Two other new Government amendments to the bill require dealers to display their licences, and to keep more detailed records of metal disposed of.
The bill passed its third reading in the Commons and moved into the Lords. Ottaway said he did not expect any further changes to the bill which could now become law by the end of February 2013.
•Take part in MRW’s survey on how the industry is preparing for the cash ban.
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