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Scrap Metal Dealers Bill

Volume 741: debated on Friday 30 November 2012

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, I am pleased to present the Second Reading of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill to your Lordships’ House as a result of its successful passage through another place, where my honourable friend Richard Ottaway MP chose to reform the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 when he drew second place in the Private Members’ ballot. Metal theft and its illegal disposal have increased in recent years in line with world market prices for a range of metals commonly used in cabling, buildings and street furniture, among other things. Copper, aluminium, brass and lead are all widely used but so too, due to rising prices, are rare earths found in smartphones, computers and wind turbines. Thieves are quick to diversify their activities.

For too long, the disruption caused by the theft of metals has had a damaging impact on thousands of people and businesses. According to Network Rail, a cable theft in Crewe in October last year caused huge problems on the west coast main line as far as Preston and Liverpool, with 67 trains cancelled and 944 delayed as a result of that one incident. In Woking in June last year, 56 trains were cancelled and 43 part-cancelled when cable theft resulted in passengers alighting on to the tracks, causing extra delay and putting lives at risk. In Bermondsey in September last year, the theft of 65 metres of cable caused massive delays to services from London Bridge, with 146 trains cancelled and 840 delayed.

The Energy Networks Association reports an average of 20 attacks a day on its systems. The removal of BT cables from a small village can affect everyone: the till in the village shop, people working at home from computers and elderly people living alone with safety pendants who are suddenly left without a lifeline.

The cost to the economy is estimated by the Association of Chief Police Officers to cost £770 million a year, but the damage goes further than this. The theft of metal plaques from war memorials and graves causes great anguish to the loved ones. I saw only last week that a memorial bench on a cliff-top walk I take regularly had had the small brass plate removed. It was a couple of ounces at most, but the removal would be a distressing experience for the loved ones who placed it there.

Then there is the removal of lead from the roofs of churches. Many experience the theft several times over, with consequential difficulty in getting reinsurance. When I was a Minister at the Home Office in 2011, I was seized of the need to change the 1964 Act, as it was clearly inadequate. Among those making the case for change was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, who is in his place today. I am looking forward to his contribution.

At this point I should mention the work that has gone into mitigating the damage caused by metal theft. New technologies to mark metal cables, smart water and alternative materials to be used on roofs have all been adopted wherever possible. The combined efforts of the national metal theft task force, supported by the police, the industry and the Government, have been brought to bear to try to frustrate and stop the criminals. This work needs to continue, but weak regulation needs changing as it currently favours the criminal over the legitimate trade.

The Bill before us today will enable a more robust licensing scheme by repealing the 1964 Act. It will be replaced with legislation which will require an application for a licence which the local authority can turn down or revoke. Local authorities will have the power to turn down unsuitable applicants. There will be a more rigorous identification scheme at the point of sale. Sellers will have to provide recordable personal identification; there have been too many sales transacted by Minnie Mouse and D Duck. There will be new powers for the police and local authorities to enter and inspect sites. A central register will be created of all licensed dealers, which will be held by the Environment Agency. The definition of a scrap metal dealer will be widened to include motor salvage operators. The offence of buying metal with cash will be extended to itinerant metal collectors.

I know from previous debates in your Lordships’ House that cash transactions for the purchase of scrap metal have been a contributory factor that has compounded the rise in illegal sales of metal, and I am pleased that this has been addressed in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, due to a clause tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who is in his place. I pay tribute to the hard work he has done on the proposed reforms before the House today.

It is encouraging that the Bill has received support from so many people across the political divide and among organisations that wish to see an end to illegal trading, not least the legitimate trade which is the target of metal thieves, losing some 15,000 tonnes of metal a year from its sites. The director-general of the British Metals Recycling Association told me this week,

“The association is in complete support of the steps being taken to replace the out-dated and ineffective Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. Urgent regulatory reform is necessary to bear down on metal theft, give the authorities robust and enforceable powers to tackle illegal operators and deliver a much improved environment in which the legitimate metal recycling trade—the largest and most successful recycling sector in the UK—can operate. We endorse the Bill unreservedly”.

Metal theft is not petty crime. There is evidence that it is part of organised crime. It causes significant economic damage and personal distress, and too many criminals—those who steal and those who receive—have got away with it for too long. We now have the opportunity to support the legal trade and tighten the law on the illegal trade. My honourable friend’s Bill has the support of the Government, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken time to attend today’s Second Reading. I look forward to the contributions from the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I offer my congratulations and thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning. I congratulate her on introducing the Bill with such skill, and I thank her for the very kind things she said about my contribution to this issue over the past year and a half or so. I am delighted that she has taken on the responsibility of piloting the Bill through your Lordships’ House. There is no better champion for it. In the regrettably all-too-short time that she was a Minister in the Home Office, she demonstrated commitment and sureness of touch on this issue. I have seen some of the letters that she wrote in support of measures that are not very different from those that are contained in the Bill before she left office in September 2011.

I also congratulate the honourable Member Richard Ottaway for his patience and skill in getting the Bill through the other place. There was a very trying final day when it looked as though some of his honourable friends might have sought to talk the Bill out. Happily, that did not happen, and the Bill is in front of us today in a form that I hope the whole House will be able to support. As the noble Baroness said, the Bill is supported by all responsible members of the scrap metal and recycling industry, by numerous trade bodies, the Local Government Association, the British Transport Police and the civilian police.

The noble Baroness referred to the fact that I raised the issue of metal theft in 2011. In October, I put a Question to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, whom I am delighted to see in his place, and I look forward to his speech. It was on cashless transactions, a cause that I pursued in March this year with an amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. I was happy to accept the Government’s alternative version, despite the inclusion of exemptions for itinerant sellers and motor salvage operators, the logic of which I never understood, and which I am happy to see disappear in this Bill.

The cashless provisions of the LASPO Act finally come into force this Monday, 3 December, and I would be most grateful if the Minister, when he replies, could give some indication of how he expects these measures to work. The measures in the LASPO Act were never intended to be the last word, and we all agreed that nothing short of a rewriting of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 would do. That is exactly what your Lordships have in front of you today. There is no need to go through the provisions of the Bill clause by clause. We will have the opportunity to do that if we have a Committee stage, although I hope it does not take too long or delay the Bill’s passage.

The need for the Bill is undeniable for all the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said. I am sure that I am not alone in having received persuasive briefing from organisations as diverse as the Local Government Association, the Energy Networks Association, Network Rail, the British Metals Recycling Association and Alchemy Metals. All of them, without exception, fully support the Bill, and I have had no representations expressing a contrary view. It is worth putting on the record some of the points that they have made. I shall do so without repeating any of the points that the noble Baroness has made. The Local Government Association, for example, says that it carried out research into the levels of metal theft experienced by councils between April 2009 and early 2012. Only one in 10, or 12%, of respondents had not suffered any metal thefts. The Local Government Association says:

“Not only is there disruption to public transport, there is also the theft of lead from schools and other council buildings, the desecration of war memorials, along with the loss of bus shelters, street signs, and manhole and gully covers. This puts members of the public at risk of serious injury or harm and imposes a further financial burden on councils in replacing the stolen property”.

The Energy Networks Association reports that there continue to be deaths as a result of attempted metal theft, including a 16 year-old boy killed trying to steal earthing cable from an underground trench. He was aided by two other boys and, it is assumed, others to remove a 1.5 tonne concrete block used to access the trench for maintenance. Another example is of a father and son who had cut down a wooden pole to steal cable. The son was fatally electrocuted while trying to coil up the cable and his father suffered burns to the hands and arms. On presenting himself at hospital he denied all knowledge to the police that his son had been killed or that he had even been there.

Network Rail says that incidents of cable theft were responsible for,

“causing nearly 22,000 hours of passenger delays in past four years and costing the rail industry £61 million”.

I am sure that there are very few Members of your Lordships’ House who use the railway who have not been delayed as a consequence of theft of signalling cable.

The company Alchemy Metals has written to me to say,

“the 1964 Act … is abundantly unfit for purpose. The removal of loopholes such as the Itinerant Trader and Motor Salvage Operator exemption must now pass to law as a matter of urgency. This, combined with further police powers and a comprehensive registration system will give the relevant authorities and the scrap industry itself the powers needed to combat metal theft once and for all”.

Amid all this gloom there is a little heartening news, which the noble Baroness referred to. That is the success of Operation Tornado, for which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, certainly deserves credit, and the activities of the National Metal Theft Taskforce programme, announced by the Government on 29 November 2011. That received funding of £5 million for extra operational activity to tackle metal theft. The lead in this was taken by the British Transport Police, which set up a central team to manage the programme and provide dedicated co-ordination and support in each region of the country. The taskforce programme has financially supported the pilot of Operation Tornado and the implementation of Tornado tactics by forces and agencies across the country. It is an enhanced identification initiative agreed by the British Metals Recycling Association and the police. Of the forces providing figures, 72% of yards have signed up to Operation Tornado.

What has been the effect on metal theft? The British Transport Police tell me that there has been a decrease in reported metal theft of 52%. This is particularly good news for Network Rail, as it has led to a reduction of 59% in the total amount of delay minutes and has reduced the company’s compensation payments by £5.6 million. I understand that the Ecclesiastical Insurance company has reported that the number of claims for theft of metal from church buildings have fallen sharply; no doubt we will hear more about this from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, whose speech I am also very much looking forward to.

If we look at the national average reductions achieved in reported metal crime, currently 38%, and make a comparison with the figures in the Deloitte report in 2011 in which they said that metal theft costs the UK economy £220 million to £260 million a year, then it is likely that the £5 million taskforce money has delivered harm reduction for the UK of between £83 million and £98 million. That is a pretty good rate of return, as a relatively small investment of public money seems to have led to a substantial reduction in metal theft. Of course, this is a pilot study, not a complete picture. It needs now to be followed by the implementation of the measures contained in the Bill.

I have a question for the Minister on Operation Tornado. Its funding and that for the taskforce are due to come to an end in March 2013. Do the Government intend that this will be renewed, at least until the provisions of the Bill are fully implemented? The danger is that if the funding stops, police forces will start to focus on other priorities, and the momentum that they have gained will peter out. I cannot believe that that is what the Government would like to see happen.

Meanwhile, I am very happy indeed to support the Bill. I congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing it, and I hope that it can pass speedily through this House.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill. I had come here prepared to hear a number of anecdotes—indeed, horror stories—ranging on a spectrum from the inconvenient to the tragic; we have already heard some of them. It was clear that there was a real problem when the monitor of national concern, “The Archers”, had a storyline about metal theft.

When the issue hit the headlines, I found that every time I went past a group of people with a white van digging up the road, I started to suspect whether they were legitimate. I had to tell myself to take a rather more positive view of society. That was fulfilled by the occasions when members of the public got together to subscribe to replace war memorials, which happened locally to me in Twickenham. I heard of a scrap metal dealer in Sutton, I think it was, who spent £20,000 restoring a memorial for the sake of the reputation of his own trade. These things, as has been said, should never have happened in the first place.

There are a lot of statistics around this. The one which really grabbed my attention was seeing that almost 2,000 offences relating to metal theft occurred each week last year. I am delighted that the noble Baroness has been able to advance the Bill following its steering through the Commons by Richard Ottaway, MP. However, my biggest question is why this hand-out Bill did not come from the Government, who would not have needed to use a great deal of ingenuity to tack this on to their own legislation; it might well have been shoehorned, for instance, into the Crime and Courts Bill. One should not call into question House of Commons procedures, but hand-out Bills seem to be a way of going about things which detracts from the ability of Private Members’ Bills to be used for the large number of purposes for which there is a call. I do not expect the noble Baroness to answer that. Indeed, having once, many years ago, been able to move that “The Bill do now pass”, I certainly do not begrudge her the rosy glow that there will be in a very few weeks’ time. Some of that glow should spill over to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. It is clear that legislation is needed, even though the taskforce has actually undertaken tasks and not been a talking shop.

The second biggest puzzle to me, although it is one that one gets used to, is that of Treasury rules, which in this case have precluded the Environment Agency using income from the regulated sector to pay for enforcement work in the unregulated sector. It is to the credit of the legitimate trade that they have not just supported but actively promoted the Bill. It was not until I saw their briefing that I completely made the connection with the recycling industry and the need to use and re-use resources, and all those benefits that will come with this legislation. That will include reputational benefit. Disrepute can spill over. The first time that I went to Italy, the first phrase which was translated for me was “divieto di scarico”: “no tipping”.

I understand the call for extending the regulatory regime to second-hand domestic appliance traders; that is assuming that the appliances are not salvageable and refurbishable. However, I will not be pressing that amendment, nor any amendment. I understand the need to get the Bill on to the statute book. Enforcement has been mentioned. I wonder whether there will be teething problems as the industry becomes used to recording all the information that is required under the Bill. The dealers will require some of the information, such as type, weight and so on, for their own purposes. They also will be required to record identifying marks and “distinguishing features”, and I hope that they are never faced with having to work out how to describe a Barbara Hepworth or a Henry Moore again. They also will have to record,

“information and the scrap metal to which it relates to be readily identified by reference to each other”.

That could cause some challenges but they will have to face them.

I was concerned that I might hear that these provisions would be a burden on local authorities. I checked that their briefing, which I had printed out, was not more than one page. I remembered that my printer had run out of paper at about that time but the briefing was only one page and it was supportive. Local authorities will have new duties, so there will be burdens on them. The new duties will require more than just checking some tick-boxes, especially when they have to ensure that an applicant has demonstrated,

“adequate procedures to ensure that the provisions of”,

what I hope will soon be an Act, have been complied with.

I end with one question for the Minister. Will he tell the House when the Government will bring forward the regulations and guidance that will be needed to ensure that this Bill, when it is an Act, will not be just a piece of paper but a living and enforceable set of arrangements?

My Lords, perhaps I may add my voice to those of other Members of your Lordships’ House who have paid tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for the way in which she has introduced this legislation and for her sustained zeal in continuing to focus on this area. When it comes to prizes for sustained zeal, I think that we all are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for his assiduity in following up this matter.

Of course, we are all grateful to Richard Ottaway. He has produced workable legislation having, as we have heard, worked not only with the Home Office but with the trade and the enforcement agencies to produce something that will make a difference. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has said about the extreme importance of continuing the funding in the short term for Operation Tornado. As we know, it started in the north-east and has demonstrated that cashless transactions and closer ID examination reduce this crime.

However, Operation Tornado has also shown how necessary it is that we should have this new legislation, as the police have no powers to enter unlicensed yards or to close them down if they find strong evidence of illegal trade. It is vital that time is given to get this Bill through the necessary stages. As we have heard, metal theft is a major threat to the infrastructure of the whole country.

Of course, I represent one particular part of this problem and I must declare an interest as chairman of the church and cathedrals division of the Church of England. Perhaps our experience can underline the need for urgency as we look countrywide at a situation where there are, on average, three such thefts a day from churches alone. This year, ecclesiastical insurers already have handled 831 claims between January and October, which, in our small constituency, amounts to £1.5 million.

Security marking, roof alarms and increased vigilance are having some effect. In my diocese a neighbour acted promptly when, detecting people were on the roof lifting the lead, they simply removed the ladders which the felons had used to make their ascent. The neighbour phoned the police and the felons were still there fuming when the constabulary arrived. But those measures are not sufficient.

Since the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has provoked us to give examples, I shall give one or two from all over the country. St Peter’s Plemstall, a grade 1 listed building, is in the diocese of my brother, the Bishop of Chester. Because a comparatively small amount of lead was taken from the central valley of the roof, rain got in. The church had to be closed for several months to enable the interior to dry out. There was thousands of pounds worth of damage to the organ and the roof repairs cost a considerable sum. Those charges fall on volunteers who look after an inheritance of art and architecture which belongs to the whole community.

The church of St Mary, Wrawby, in the diocese of Lincoln, also a grade 1 listed building, has had eight thefts and has no indemnity left on its insurance. Therefore, at the moment the roof is felt, pending yet another campaign to replace it with something more adequate. In my diocese, All Saints Fulham had a bronze memorial sculpture by Helen Sinclair, which was a community, millennium project. Hundreds of people contributed to it. The thieves tried pulling it off its plinth but it had been installed too stoutly, so they took an angle grinder to it. We are looking at replacing it with stone resin. Finally, All Saints’ Church, Evesham, has been the victim of five thefts in seven months. The vicar, Andrew Spurr, has said, “Every time we have a roof replacement bill it damages our ability to serve the community in other ways”. Even the local policeman from the Evesham police station said that it was “an appalling theft from a community building which has only just had the roof replaced following a previous theft”.

I could go on but noble Lords cannot bear it now and I think that we are largely of one mind in your Lordships’ House. But suffice it to say that one-third of our 16,000 parish churches have suffered. There have been 10,700 claims, amounting to £27 million, which certainly is an underestimate of what it has cost local communities to repair the damage.

The scrap metal trade, which is worth more than £6 billion a year, is, as your Lordships know well, vital to the UK economy. Wearing another hat, as chairman of the church’s recycling and conservation campaign, I could not support measures that would harm the trade or have a negative environmental impact, because they do things of considerable value to the whole community.

However, certainly in view of the evidence that we have heard from the trade associations, I most emphatically support this Bill and underline the need to make sufficient parliamentary time available to pass it into law sooner rather than too late. I end again with gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for having brought this matter to the House today.

My Lords, as always, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate, particularly as he ended with remarks about the importance of the recycling industry. As a former Defra Minister, and particularly when I was a Home Office Minister with responsibility for metal theft, I always felt that it was very important that whatever we did, we maintained the success of that industry and continued to see that as much recycling of metal went on as possible but to make sure that it was legit. I think that that is what we are all trying to do.

I also thank the right reverend Prelate because I think that he was the first to come to see me after I moved to the Home Office to tell me about the problems that the church in particular was facing in terms of metal theft. I seem to remember that the day on which he came to see me also was the day when a few local difficulties were starting at St Paul’s. He might have had other matters on his mind but certainly he put his point to me forcefully. That point has been made by my noble friend Lady Browning and others as regards the problems that we are facing as a result of metal theft and the increased price of metal. We have seen an increased amount of metal theft. My noble friend made clear the problems we have been having with train delays and problems with the emergency services, hospitals losing power, loss of communications, theft from war memorials and churches, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said, we are now seeing deaths occurring as a result of metal theft.

In my time as a Home Office Minister, I made it clear that the old 1964 Act was past its sell-by date. I think that was the phrase which I used. New legislation is necessary. Therefore, I am very grateful to my honourable friend Richard Ottaway and to my noble friend Lady Browning for bringing forward legislation. However, legislation should not be the only method that we look at to help solve this problem. Therefore, I am also very grateful to my noble friend for stressing the importance of mitigation by means of design. I am very grateful for all the work that has been done in the Home Office. I hope that my noble friend will refer to that when he replies to the debate. That work involves making metals more traceable and looking for new materials which are less stealable to replace some metals. I appreciate the work that is being done on mitigation measures and that which has been done on enforcement.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for his comments on the success of Operation Tornado. I seem to remember that in the initial stages of that operation there was a decline in occurrences of this problem of something like 50% in the north-east. I would be grateful if my noble friend could give us further figures on declines in the incidence of this problem not only in the north-east but in the rest of the country.

I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for the amendment that he brought forward on the LASPO Bill. As he put it, he could not quite understand why we had to have the exemption for itinerant sellers in that Bill. I hoped that I had explained why it was necessary to have that exemption at the time, but the noble Lord obviously did not understand the explanations that I gave on that occasion. However, that problem will be dealt with in this Bill, so I hope that it will go away.

I wanted to make only a brief intervention in this debate to offer my support as a former Home Office Minister, and one who was very grateful for the fact that my honourable friend was able to introduce the Bill in the Commons. I am even more grateful for the fact that my noble friend was able to bring it forward in this House. I look forward to a very speedy passage of this Bill through this House. Given the support for it that we have had so far in this debate, and which I am sure it will continue to have, I am sure that it will be a very speedy passage. Like others, I commend it to the House.

My Lords, I start by reminding the House of my interest as a district councillor for Pendle in Lancashire. I think that I should have declared the same interest in a previous Second Reading debate this morning, on the Prevention of Social Housing Fraud Bill. I apologise for not doing so at that time and do so belatedly now.

I, too, support all the past—and probably all the future—speakers in this debate in welcoming this Bill and supporting it. My noble friend Lady Hamwee said that we would hear lots of anecdotes from people about the situation in different areas and I am always reluctant to disappoint my noble friend. One of the main problems in my part of the world in east Lancashire is the theft of metal gully grates. That obviously causes great danger to people and expense to Lancashire County Council, which has to replace them. However, in many cases the county council refuses to replace them because they are in unadopted streets, and so potentially there could be, literally all over the place, very dangerous large square holes, particularly in back streets, which at this time of the year will be full of leaves and litter. In the event, it comes down to the borough council of Pendle and town and parish councils to put their hands in their pockets and provide the money for replacing the gully grates because relying on house owners and landlords to do so is an impossible situation.

There are also real problems with back yards in closely packed terraced streets, where people will simply take away anything that is left in a back yard, or they will go in and take pieces of the downspouts and the troughings—anything that they can come round and check out and then return at two o’clock in the morning to remove. I received an ironic telephone call fairly recently. Pendle council has a service for taking away washing machines, dishwashers, fridges and anything like that. You leave it out in the back yard, tell the council you want it removed and it comes and takes it away. Somebody rang me up and asked why the council was employing people to remove their washing machine at two o’clock in the morning. Of course, it was not the council but somebody who was taking it away and doing the council’s job for it. We hear accounts from the local police, who are obviously involved in all this, that raiding parties from over the border in Yorkshire often come and take away all this stuff. This seems to be their excuse, although it appears that people do come over the border from Yorkshire and steal our stuff. It is not just metal either. Metal theft is just part and parcel of a wider problem. This Bill is clearly restricted to metal theft.

As a Yorkshireman living in Lancashire, I sometimes find myself with dual loyalties. However, I can assure my noble friend that it is not Yorkshire as a whole that people blame: it is specifically people from Bradford. As a Bradfordian, I still have dual loyalties there.

Obviously, this Bill is just about metal. However, people steal not just metal but stone. Colne is a stone town and people will come and remove copings from people’s back yards and flagstones. They came to the parish church and raided not just the lead from the roof but took the big stone balls which were on top of the gate pillars outside the church. We are talking about a grade 1 listed building. So it is a huge problem. The most ludicrous example occurred last week. The council had just provided new turf to grass over a rather overgrown area where houses had been pulled down. Some people came, possibly over the border from Yorkshire, rolled up some of the new turf and took it away. It is quite extraordinary what people will do. I am not quite sure whether they wanted it for their cricket pitches in Yorkshire.

It would be out of character if I did not pick up a couple of detailed points. Perhaps the Minister or the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, can answer these points, or they can write to me later if they cannot answer them today. There is a question about the exclusion of residential premises from Schedule 2, which refers to closure notices and closure orders, and exactly what is meant by residential premises. I think that there was very brief discussion of this in the House of Commons Committee on whether, if somebody has a scrapyard and they put a caravan on it and have somebody living there, that counts as residential premises. To what degree would a house surrounded by a big garden have to be used for the purposes of buying and selling scrap metal before it was defined as a scrapyard? There is an issue there which may need resolution.

On the question of inspection and enforcement, I think it is fairly clear that the cost of the licences that people will have to take out under this Bill will be expected to cover a local authority’s administrative costs in running the system. Will they also be expected to cover the additional costs that will inevitably exist for local authorities that take seriously their duties of inspection and enforcement within the system? Inspection and enforcement will in part be the duty of the local police, working with the local authority, but clearly there will be extra work for the local authority. Will it be able to cover those costs from licensing?

The Bill will not solve all our problems. Noble Lords talked about other things that will be necessary, particularly an effective local neighbourhood policing system that can collect together the local knowledge and information that is so often necessary in order to track down people who are doing this—even if they are coming over the border from Yorkshire. However, it is a useful and necessary step forward. It may not be a panacea but it is welcome and I, too, join my noble friend in asking the Government to give guarantees that they will bring the legislation into operation pretty quickly after it has—as we hope—passed through your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who is already beginning to apply his forensic skills to the Bill. It is a great pleasure to welcome the Bill and to join so many others around the House who have already given it their support. Private Members’ Bills are often precarious little craft. The whole House has expressed its pleasure in knowing that this Bill is in such a safe and experienced pair of hands as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning. The way she introduced it demonstrated her complete grasp of the issues. It will be a pleasure to engage with the Bill as it goes—I hope very swiftly—through the House. It is very good to know that it has the support of the Government. It can do nothing but bring credit to them. The fact that it has the support of the scrap industry is also extremely significant. Clearly it meets the industry’s aspirations to be seen as reputable and determined to outlaw rogue traders. That is extremely encouraging.

My reason for supporting the Bill is obvious. I declare an interest as the chair of English Heritage. We have been very concerned for a long time about metal theft. We have taken active steps to protect the very precious heritage that is put at risk by the very wicked activity of metal thieves. We very much welcome the Bill as a beneficiary of what it will do rather than as a body that will be directly concerned with its operation. At first sight it may seem an unglamorous Bill, but often the best legislation that has the greatest impact is not glamorous. Both in the House today and at the excellent Second Reading debate in the House of Commons, many examples were given of the way in which metal theft creates private grief and impacts on public safety, of the failure of existing regulation to prevent it, of the timeliness of the Bill and of the complete chaos that exists around the identities of traders, record-keeping, transactions and tax. I hope that the Bill will address those issues.

We are talking about scrap metal, but the title of the Bill is something of a misnomer because these metals are very precious, for example because of the churches they protect. We very much welcome the words of the right reverend Prelate. English Heritage has been very proud in recent years to work with the Church of England and to do what it can. The metals are precious because of the names of our war heroes that are etched in their surfaces, and perhaps because of the extraordinary art and craftsmanship that their form displays. We are dealing with metal that has a value far beyond its market price and which reflects much of our history.

In recent years, all of that has proved vulnerable in a way that we could not have predicted. Like many other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner. I am glad to hear that the task force has had such an impact, and I join him in hoping that that will continue. Metal theft is a relatively new threat to our heritage, which we are now addressing. The Bill is an act of public service and we welcome it. I shall not address the detail of the regulatory measures, but obviously we support the Bill because it will simply and effectively reduce the ease with which stolen metal can be converted into cash. We need prevention because the damage that is done is often irreversible. There is no cure.

We are not talking about a handful of distressing cases. As we heard, it is a large-scale problem. The crime is neither casual nor opportunistic, although there are such elements in the community that conducts these thefts. The operation is very sophisticated and well organised. It is driven by a market in metals that has shot up in recent years because it is very hard to control demand. Our research shows that last year 6% of all listed buildings were harmed by metal theft. That means around 22,000 of our nationally important, historic buildings suffer damage every year from metal theft. With that rate of attrition every year, we are looking at a potential catastrophe if it continues—a real danger that this generation will fail in its duty to protect our fabulously rich heritage.

The right reverend Prelate gave some very graphic illustrations of the impact of this crime. It is no surprise that churches and war memorials are the most vulnerable and worst hit buildings. The church’s own inquiry into metal theft in 2011 reported a 33% increase year-on-year in the number of claims and the cost of the crime. The average cost of a metal theft is £27,000. However, insurance cover is often capped at £5,000 or £10,000, so even the richest congregation has a challenge on its hands. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, who cannot be in his place today, urged me to speak about Wales as well, which I will do with great pleasure. He drew attention to the situation in Wales, where the church has to look after 1,400 churches and where in the past five years it has paid out £300,000 on 90 insurance claims. Again, the insurance did not cover the costs. He referred to a particularly distressing case involving the theft of dozens of brass plates from a garden of rest. It is really hard to contemplate the nature of the people who commit these sorts of crimes. Our own research suggested that 14% of churches suffered metal theft in 2011 and Ecclesiastical Insurance says it has received 9,000 claims, worth £25 million, for churches in the past four years alone..

As we all agree, reeling off statistics hardly gives an idea of the real distress and damage caused to the confidence of small congregations who try their best with overwhelming problems and face yet another—maybe a third or fourth—attempt on the church roof. I have seen many sad cases in recent years. Most recently, I was in Yorkshire. I am sorry that the noble Lord from Yorkshire has left his place, because I was going to tell him how wonderful Yorkshire is, although I did not particularly want to join that debate. I was at St John’s Church at Birkby, near Huddersfield, where an extraordinary thing had happened. The thieves attached the end of the copper lightning conductor to a rope that was fixed to their getaway vehicle and they drove it away from the building. The lightning conductor was pulled away, but it brought down with it the top half of the steeple, which then crashed through the roof of the church. I leave you to imagine how the congregation is coping—and the cost, anxiety and frustration of it. The danger does not need to be described.

As for war memorials, it is absolutely impossible without quickly getting very angry to contemplate the contrast between the sacrifice of those whose names are inscribed and who died for the freedoms of this country and the callousness of the thieves. As we approach the centenary of the First World War, we are becoming more sensitive to the need to remember and record that debt. The legislation will provide a proper regulatory framework that will identify the decent traders and protect them but, as other noble Lords have said, it is not the only answer. I am pleased to say that we in English Heritage have been dealing with heritage crime of different sorts for a long time. We have received a fantastic response from the police and the other partners we have engaged with in our heritage crime programme. We have our own policeman in English Heritage who leads this work for us. For the past few years we have been working not just with the Church of England but with police and local authorities all over England to improve crime prevention for historic places and ensure that the law enforcement matches the seriousness of the offences.

It is a perennial task, but it is bearing fruit. For example, we recently worked in partnership with Lincolnshire Police and the Church of England in bringing justice to a gang which admitted stealing lead from more than 20 churches across that county. That case, among many others, shows the industrial scale of the threat as well as the benefits of conservation and law enforcement professionals working together. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for raising the wider issues around the theft of historic fabrics. When flagstones, cobblestones and building materials go, the character of the neighbourhood goes into a rapid decline. It is totally demoralising. These materials are vital.

The Bill is a significant step forward and I am cheering it on heartily, but I ask the Government, local authorities and the police and crime commissioners in particular to complete the task and really aid us in this, and ensure that heritage crime is embedded in all relevant law enforcement activities, as it should be. We are pleased that Chief Constable Andrew Bliss of Hertfordshire Police has agreed to be the national lead for heritage crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers. I know that he views this as a matter of great importance. I am grateful to both the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, as Ministers, for giving a lead to the police on this. I will shortly write to police and crime commissioners to bring these issues to their attention and direct them to the help that English Heritage can give through the programme that we have devised.

In conclusion, I do not want to repeat anything that has been said, although it is clearly the case that metal theft does serious and rapid damage to public safety and to so much else in the country. It attacks the places where we should be able to see investment and economic life flourishing. When one drives out crime, one drives in investment, which is a wider story. I am confident that the Bill will have a swift and successful passage through the House. There is so much support for it and I can assure the noble Baroness that I will assist her in every way that I can.

My Lords, although this is a Private Member’s Bill, it is nevertheless still a Bill of 23 clauses and two schedules. I gather it is what is known in the parliamentary trade as a handout Bill, which is apparently a Bill offered by the Government to a Back-Bench MP to take forward as a Private Member’s Bill. It seems that Governments do this either because they cannot find the time in their legislative programme or because, for some other reason, they do not want to present it themselves. I am not sure in which of those two categories this Bill falls.

Last year we called for tougher powers to close down rogue traders; for everyone selling scrap to have proof of identity and a record from the point of sale; for the licensing of scrap metal dealers, rather than the current method of registration; and for a move to ban cash transactions, especially for large-scale, high-value scrap metal deals. These measures formed the basis of much of the Private Member’s Bill—the Metal Theft (Prevention) Bill—introduced by the Member of Parliament for Hyndburn in November 2011. That Bill, which amended the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, made provision for a new registration scheme for scrap dealers, restricted financial transactions to cashless payments and gave police officers new powers to enter, inspect and close scrap yards.

Unfortunately, the Bill was blocked at Second Reading in the Commons, with the active support of the government Front Bench team there. The following week, the Government announced that they would introduce their own amendments to the 1964 Act, banning cash payments by scrap metal dealers, but with an exemption for itinerant collectors; increasing the level of fines available for offences; and giving police new powers of entry to scrap yards. These amendments were introduced into what became the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

Now the Government have accepted that their amendments to the LASPO Act 2012 were inadequate. This was pointed out at the time, not least by my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who has done so much to push successfully for the provisions in this Bill. The Government are now supporting the Bill we are debating today, which is very similar to the Bill from the Member of Parliament for Hyndburn that was blocked in the Commons last year. This Bill also repeals amendments—the Government’s own amendments —which were inserted into the LASPO Act 2012 only a few months ago, and which are in the process now of being repealed before they have even been implemented.

For a reason that is not clear, the Government did not produce a Bill of their own following the blocking of the Private Member’s Bill in the Commons last year. As a result, the Government are now supporting this very similar Private Member’s Bill after a year’s delay and, as a consequence of the measures being in a Private Member’s Bill, it appears that the Government found themselves boxed into a corner at the end of the proceedings on the Bill in the Commons by a handful of their own Back-Benchers and had, apparently, to agree to bring forward what is, in effect, a sunset or expiry clause for this Bill after five years in order not to risk losing the Bill in the Commons due to lack of time—a situation which, if I am correct, would not have arisen had the Government produced their own Bill. While this Bill is most welcome, the Government’s handling of legislation on this issue has not been without delay and indecision.

The Bill includes the measures for which we have been calling for some time and addresses the issues so powerfully highlighted and explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, which have been the cause of real concern. This is not only about the hundreds of millions of pounds that metal theft is costing the UK economy each year, serious though that is—with the biggest economic impact being on the telecoms, utilities and transport sectors, as well as on local authorities through the theft of lead from schools and other public buildings and the theft of street signs and manhole covers—but about the dangers to life and limb that metal theft can bring, not least, as has been said, on our railway network. This applies not only to those carrying out such thefts but, much more significantly, to the far greater numbers of those who might suffer not only serious and costly disruption and delay to their journey but could also conceivably be injured or killed in a railway accident attributed in part or in whole to such thefts which damage or put out of action line-side and other equipment crucial to the safety of the network. It is also about the wanton desecration of war memorials which mean so much to so many; it is about damage to our churches, which are part of our heritage as well as places of worship and centres for communities large and small; it is about the premeditated heartlessness, and often brazenness, of those who plan and commit these crimes, which are certainly not spur of the moment acts. Indeed, in the area in which I live, individuals dressed up to look like workmen were stripping the roof of a town hall in broad daylight.

With the rise in the value of metal, metal thefts have increased in number and in value and to many of those involved it has become big business. This Bill cannot, of course, stop people committing such thefts. However, what it can and does do is make it much more difficult to sell on the stolen metal without leaving a clear link back to the perpetrators of the theft, the handlers of the stolen goods or both. The scrap metal industry is the main outlet for stolen metal. It is inadequately regulated, with cash transactions all too often the norm, providing anonymity and a lack of traceability of stolen metals. No records are kept and almost certainly insufficient tax is paid. This Bill will do much to bring to an end the relatively risk-free way that metal thieves have for quickly disposing of stolen property and equally quickly converting it into cash.

Scrap metal dealers are already subject to controls under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The LASPO Act 2012 introduced further changes to the regulation of scrap metal dealers, including creating a new offence of buying scrap metal for cash and laying down that a scrap metal dealer must not pay for scrap metal except by a cheque or an electronic transfer of funds. That important but insufficient step began to close the door on transactions being undertaken that left no audit trail to help identify those involved. However, a number of issues still remained to be addressed, including limited powers to enter and inspect unregistered scrap metal dealer sites; inadequate record-keeping of transactions by scrap metal dealers; the inability by local authorities to revoke or vary licences granted to scrap metal dealers; and the fact that the ban on scrap metal dealers paying for metal with cash did not extend to all those who deal with scrap metal.

These issues and others are addressed in this Bill, which seeks to replace the 1964 Act. The Bill extends the offence of buying metal with cash to itinerant metal collectors; it gives new powers for the police and local authorities to enter and inspect sites; it requires all sellers of metal to provide personal identification at the point of sale, which is then recorded by the scrap metal dealer; and gives local authorities the power to revoke or vary a licence where appropriate, as well as the power to turn down unsuitable applicants for a scrap metal dealer licence. However, I want to raise a few points.

Concerns have been expressed that second-hand domestic appliances have been excluded from the Bill and that that creates a significant loophole because it will not be easy to distinguish whether an old appliance that is sold is scrap metal or a second-hand item that might be considered for repair. Secondly, gold and silver have been excluded from the definition of scrap. We have all seen the traders in the high street offering cash for gold. Since, under the Bill, they will continue to be able to offer cash, will they not provide unfair competition for more orthodox operators, as well as a potential ready outlet for quickly converting stolen metal into cash, when the Bill seeks to stop such transactions? Once again, what is the response to that concern?

Thirdly, the Bill extends the offence of buying metal with cash to itinerant metal collectors who, like scrap dealers, will not be allowed to pay for scrap metal except by cheque or by an electronic transfer of funds. However, payment by cheque may not necessarily achieve the desired objective. The dealer gives a cheque to the individual from whom he is purchasing scrap metal. The individual gives it straight back to the dealer, who is also an agent for one of those operators who offer people cash for cheques. Since the cheque the dealer is receiving back is not made out to him and he is acting as an agent for the cash-for-cheques operator, he now gives the individual from whom he is purchasing scrap metal cash equivalent to the value of the cheque. The cheque is then processed through the cash-for-cheques operator, and it could then involve considerable time and resources by the police to trace it back to the dealer and particular transactions. The effect would be very similar to a cash transaction for the potentially stolen scrap metal, in terms of finding an audit trail. Why was it not possible to say that payment for scrap metal had to be through a transfer of funds via the bank accounts of the dealer and the seller, and not leave a potential loophole open through payment by cheque?

Fourthly, local authorities will be managing a greatly enhanced licensing scheme. What is the estimate of the additional costs that this will place on local authorities and will all the additional costs be covered by the licence fee? What is the estimate of the likely level or range of the licence fee in order to cover the anticipated additional costs involved, bearing in mind that a local authority will have to have regard to the guidance issued from time to time by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury? What will the additional workload for local authorities represent in terms of additional full-time posts? Will skills be required to carry out the new, enhanced role that do not currently exist, or do not currently exist to the required extent, within local authorities?

Apart from Clauses 20 and 23, when will the other provisions of the Bill be brought into force? The Explanatory Notes say that a period of at least six months will be required between Royal Assent and commencement,

“to allow licensing authorities to put in place suitable infrastructure to meet the new demands”.

What is this suitable infrastructure and will local authorities be able to recover these apparent start-up costs through the licence fee?

Finally, the minimum period for bringing in the Bill is at least six months. What is the maximum period after Royal Assent that the Secretary of State will allow to elapse before bringing in the provisions of the Bill, which everyone seems to accept are urgently needed? Does the delay after Royal Assent before bringing in the provisions of the Bill mean that the sections of the LASPO Act 2012 on prohibiting cash transactions for scrap metal dealers will be implemented, if they have not already been, and remain in force pending the provisions of the Bill coming into force?

We congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for sponsoring this badly needed Bill, which we support. We will do what we can to see that it is passed in good time. We hope that we will not see in this House the kind of antics we saw from some government Back-Benchers in the Commons.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Browning for introducing so skilfully the Bill for noble Lords’ consideration and for her important contribution to developing the war against this abuse of metal theft, about which all noble Lords have spoken very robustly today. There is considerable consensus around the House that this illegal activity needs to be tackled. It is fitting that my noble friend was asked to take on this Bill by its sponsor, Richard Ottaway MP, because as noble Lords will know, my noble friend was a Minister in the Home Office when the metal theft epidemic erupted. During her term of office she played a considerable part in developing the Government’s response. I also join all noble Lords in acknowledging the work of my honourable friend the Member for Croydon South, Mr Richard Ottaway, and for bringing forward this Bill. He has immersed himself in this topic by meeting and consulting with stakeholders, and then developing and fostering cross-party and industry support. We have that evidenced in the correspondence that Peers in this House have received. There is widespread support for the Bill.

How pleasant it is for me to be able to thank my noble friend Lord Henley not only for his contribution to this debate, but also as my predecessor in the role that I am now undertaking. I know how deeply he was engaged in dealing with the challenge of legislating for this problem in the Home Office. It may not be particularly appropriate to use the analogy of apostolic succession, but at the very time that my noble friend moved to the Home Office, I was in Defra. We were working in conjunction with the Home Office through the Environment Agency to set up the task force and other arrangements for dealing with this abuse. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will forgive me, but we have an apostolic succession here today and noble Lords have been able to hear from all three of us.

Let me make it clear that this Bill has wholehearted government support, and it is important to note that the support does not just end there. We have witnessed the support for it here in this Chamber. It is supported by police forces, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, and it is supported by the Local Government Association and local authorities across England and Wales which are keen to be given the powers to regulate scrap metal dealers properly. One of the problems is that there are insufficient powers for enforcement agencies actually to deal with this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about local authorities’ attitude to seeing this legislation through. I know that they have made it clear that they are keen to see this legislation enacted and implemented as soon as possible. A number of other bodies have written to noble Lords, all expressing their support for the Bill. It is supported by those who have suffered from metal theft, including private industry, those responsible for transport infrastructure and, indeed, the church. More importantly, it is supported by many legitimate scrap metal dealers who seek more effective regulation of their sector. Before I move on, I would like to express my particular thanks for the contribution of the British Metals Recycling Association and its director-general, Ian Hetherington. The BMRA has worked closely with Richard Ottaway on the development of this Bill and with the Government on wider measures to tackle metal theft. The association has at all times sought to represent its members’ interests as well as those of the wider industry, and it continues to provide challenge to government on their behalf. Time and again we have heard examples of unscrupulous scrap metal dealers prospering at the expense of legitimate operators. I believe that this Bill will change that and level the playing field across the metal recycling sector.

The Bill seeks to reform the regulation of the industry, which is currently regulated by legislation dating back to the 1960s—the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. The Government believe that this Act is outdated and no longer reflects the 21st century. This is a £5.6 billion industry, and its development means that the legislation needs to be correspondingly robust. It may interest noble Lords to know that the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 originated in this House, and that the Bill was introduced by Lord Auckland. However, its days are numbered and this Bill is designed to replace it.

Reform of the industry is important for many reasons but I believe that it will make a significant contribution to tackling metal theft. Parts of the scrap metal sector offer the principal market for stolen metal. Unscrupulous scrap metal dealers either purposefully purchase stolen metal, knowing full well what they are doing; or they purchase it without undertaking any checks or due diligence, knowing that lax regulation will allow them to do so without attracting the adverse attention of the authorities.

The rising commodity prices of metals on the world market, coupled with this low-risk, “no questions asked” marketplace, have seen the theft of metals turn into a growing, acquisitive crime. I have a number of examples of my own but will not rehearse them as noble Lords have all been able to come forward with very graphic examples of the economic and cultural damage that has been caused by this pernicious crime.

Metal theft peaked in the UK in 2010-11. Since then, there has been considerable work by a range of organisations to tackle metal theft, which is having some success. Last month, ACPO estimated that reported metal thefts have fallen by around 39% this year; an excellent achievement. I have some Home Office figures here that will perhaps help my noble friend Lord Henley, who wanted to know what the impact had actually been of the Operation Tornado task force and of the anti-theft design of many materials. I will read out this tabulation as it will be useful to put it on the record.

Scotland has seen a 64% reduction, north-east England 53% and north-west England 58%. I do not know what the noble Lords, Lord Greaves, and Lord Willis, will make of that. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, is not in his place now but Yorkshire and the Humber has only seen a 16% reduction. We would have to calculate whether that was because they were all going across to the north-west, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, alleged. The east Midlands has seen a 29% reduction, the West Midlands 48%, Wales 26%, south-west England 50%, south-east England 49%, London 29% and the east of England 60%. These are sizeable figures and show that there has already been an impact as a result of having more confident enforcement in this area. How much better it will be when we have these measures in place, which is why I hope we will be able to implement them.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, asked about funding. I cannot give him a positive response. Of course, we are awaiting the Autumn Statement. We are aware of the considerable representations that have been made on this issue, and will be looking at whether it will be possible to implement it. This debate has reinforced the continuing importance of this enforcement drive.

The reduction in metal theft can be put down to a number of different activities, including: greater law enforcement activity by a number of organisations, assisted by the £5 million made available to the national metal theft task force; seeking design solutions, which has made a great deal of difference, as my noble friend Lord Henley mentioned; strengthening the intelligence on metal thefts and offenders; working with the scrap metal industry to voluntarily improve its trading standards, in particular through Operation Tornado; and seeking to strengthen the criminal justice system response to metal theft cases, including working with the Crown Prosecution Service and metal theft victims to inform the courts of the full costs, including consequential costs, of all metal theft offences, especially to help inform sentencing decisions.

All this activity is making an impact and we hope the response will be strengthened further by the measures, commencing on Monday, that the Home Office included —at the prompting of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner—in the LASPO Act 2012. These measures include: the prohibition of cash payments to purchase scrap metal, which will bring greater traceability for those selling metals—I assure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that cheques given in payment need to be crossed, and a paper trail will still exist even in the circumstances that he described; increasing the financial penalty for offences in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964; and revising the police’s powers of entry into unregistered scrap metal yards, which was an anomaly that I think all noble Lords accept was one of the biggest difficulties for the police.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, asked how these measures will work. The Home Office has worked very closely with the British Transport Police and ACPO to deliver guidance in relation to the new provisions that come into force on Monday. We are confident that they will make a difference.

The Bill has been refined in its passage through the other place and I believe that it now provides effective and proportionate regulation of the scrap metal sector. The Bill has many important features. I will not talk about each one but will limit myself to what I consider to be the most important. The Bill will allow for local authorities to properly manage this sector, allowing them to decide who should and should not be licensed. The fee covers not just the costs associated with administering the licensing procedure but the enforcement that is involved for local authorities. Although the guidance will be given by the Secretary of State and we expect local authorities to abide by that, we anticipate that local authorities will be able to recover the costs that this Bill imposes upon them.

The Bill will also provide much needed closure powers to tackle unscrupulous dealers who operate without a licence. My noble friend Lord Greaves asked what “residential premises” are. No definition is provided in the Bill; it would be for the police to decide whether premises were predominantly used as a home or were business premises. This will be a question of substance rather than superficial appearance. I hope that that provides some answer to my noble friend on that issue.

The Bill will also require scrap metal dealers to record fully the metals that they are purchasing and disposing of, as well verifying the identification of the people with whom they transact. The Bill will end the exception for itinerant collectors, which the Government no longer wish to continue. Finally, the Bill will integrate the separate regulation for motor salvage operators with the scrap metal sector.

I know that the Bill was written and developed following close consultation with many legitimate scrap metal dealers, who, as the House knows, fully support the Bill. The Bill strikes the right balance between supporting legitimate operators and providing powers to tackle those who wilfully break the law. It should contribute to raising trading standards across the whole of the scrap metal sector. It will restrict the market for stolen metal that part of the industry currently offers. As noble Lords will know, there is a point at which stolen metal enters this trade, and it is sealing off that point of entry that the legislation is designed to do. The Bill will provide local authorities and the police with the powers they need to tackle businesses that operate illegally. The Bill will build on good practice already used by parts of the industry, such as strengthening the record-keeping requirements that have formed the key component of the successful Operation Tornado.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, asked about the commencement of the provisions of the Bill. As has been said in guidance, it is recognised that around six months will probably be needed for local authorities to have in place the necessary provisions so that licensing can commence. Subject to any requirement to adhere to common commencement dates and the introduction of regulations, the dates are mandated by BIS, so we need to work this together. However, it is the Government’s intention that the Bill should be effective and brought into play as quickly as possible.

The response to metal theft does not rest with this Bill, but I remain convinced that the only long-term response to metal theft is to introduce a new, more robust system of regulation for the scrap metal sector, which is what this Bill is designed to achieve. I am delighted that it has been welcomed by all corners of the House.

My Lords, there was a suggestion that the Government intended to move an amendment in Committee to insert a sunset clause into the Bill. The Minister has not referred to that, and I cannot see why it should be necessary when one views Clause 18, which provides for review after five years. Is the Minister able to clarify that?

The noble Lord is right about the review, but my honourable friend the Minister for Crime Prevention, Mr Jeremy Browne, made a commitment to insert a sunset clause into the Bill. I imagine the details of that will be presented to this House in Committee. That provision was agreed by the Government during the Bill’s passage through the other place. I am pleased to confirm that. It was alluded to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

I was in full-flight oratory, saying how much I welcome the support of the House at this Second Reading. We all wish the Bill well. It is designed to tackle an abuse that we all condemn. The Government give the Bill their full support.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister for rounding off the debate. It has been encouraging to hear so many contributions that clearly all travel in the same direction to bring about legislation that will put an end to this illegal trade. I am grateful, too, to the opposition Front Bench for its support for the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has worked hard on this. Given his persistence, I hope that he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even if not, I hope he will enjoy bathing in the rosy glow that my noble friend Lady Hamwee bestowed on him today. Of course, I thank her, too, for her contribution. As always, my noble friend had done her homework with attention to detail. She reminded us of the parts of the Bill that we need to focus on. If the Bill comes forward in Committee, I hope that we will be able to satisfy any concerns that she has.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London described the sheer scale of the damage to churches around the country, the word “plunder” came to mind. I do not know why but it did. It seems to be on that scale. It is quite horrifying that church communities have had to deal with that scale of illegal action. It has not just damaged the fabric of churches but also caused such damage to the hearts and souls of those who care for and look after these wonderful buildings.

My noble friend Lord Henley brought his support from experience in two ministries—Defra and the Home Office. I am enormously grateful for his contribution and for the fact that he carried the baton through the Home Office. As many noble Lords will know, however obvious the need for legislation and whatever Government are in power, it is not simply a matter of sitting down and saying, “Hey, I have a good idea: we really ought to do this as there is a problem here”. You have to battle and fight for change in all Governments. I thank my noble friend for the part he played.

I do not want to get too involved with my noble friend Lord Greaves in the Yorkshire/Lancashire thing but nor do I want him to be too disappointed. If the Bill is passed eventually, I do not think that it will solve the pending “War of the Roses”, which I sense is coming up over the hill. That might be for another piece of legislation. He explained the way in which gully grates are stolen; we have gone today from some of our most famous buildings down to gully grates. That just shows the scale to which these people will go to steal things that are not theirs for cash.

There is such an interest across the whole country in the heritage and buildings that are so important us. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, reminded us that that value is beyond market prices. That message went through many of the contributions we have had today. I am very grateful to everyone who has taken part today. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 1.19 pm.