By Matthew Barrett
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The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill actually passed through the House. Philip Davies and Christopher Chope did not talk out the Bill – which they are certainly adept at doing – as expected, and it passed through to Third Reading. The Government supported the Bill – although it was a private member's bill, rather than a government bill – and tough action for illegal scrap metal dealers is on its way.
There's going to be a strange spectacle today in the House: a Tory private member's bill supported by many Tories (and many other MPs) looks likely to be talked out of Parliament by two Tories, despite the Government supporting it.
The legislation before the House is the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, introduced by Richard Ottaway. This is an issue where plenty of support for action exists, and which has the power to get traction outside Westminister. Nevertheless, Philip Davies and Christopher Chope have tabled tens of amendments, ensuring the Bill will not get passed today.
There are some legitimate concerns about whether the content of the Bill is strictly limited to eradicating illegal scrap metal dealing. One can read the many, many amendments, and find Davies and Chope have attempted to remove from the text, for example, a clause which would mean "No person aged under 21 shall sell or attempt to sell scrap metal."
But why has such a widely-supported policy of getting tough on illegal traders been left to a private member's bill, where proper, helpful amendments cannot really be made? Why is the Government willing to take another series of negative attacks from Labour, especially during Remembrance weekend?
James Brokenshire, a Minister at the Home Office, implied that the Government supported tougher measures. He told ITV News last night:
"I well understand the impact that these appalling crimes have when you have a monument to remember those who’ve given service to our country. We’re certainly examining the options – the Prime Minister has indicated that as part of our review of theft more generally, the sentencing guidelines council looking at that, whether there is justification for further enhanced measures where attacks take place against these types of monuments because I well recognise the concerns, the anger that is generated when these take place. It’s also looking at whether we can get further regulation of the licensed premise, to actually put that into place – there’s a Private Member’s Bill that’s being debated in Parliament tomorrow."
So why did the Government not simply allocate Government time in the Commons to debating, amending and scrutinising the measure, and getting it passed? I am told that the Government refused to allocate any free time to this Bill (for example, from time when the House of Lords reforms would have been discussed).
Having decided against allocating any time now, the Government has two choices: it could pass an imperfect Bill which deals with an issue, perhaps a little heavy-handedly at first, but which could be amended later on, or it could risk the Bill being talked out by two of its own MPs, and have to introduce more-palatable-for-filibusterers legislation on the issue months down the line.
Either way, the Government has opted to risk a Bill being talked out which it ostensibly supports rather than give it proper time, and it seems a great pity. Many MPs will be hoping the Government gives a guarantee that scrap metal trading will be legislated for in Government time as soon as possible.