The government is understood to be preparing to back new legislation to ban cash payments for scrap metal after a private members bill was thrown out last week.
It is understood the Cabinet is this morning (Wednesday) discussing an amendment by Lord Faulkner to the Legal Aid Bill currently before Parliament that would also introduce unlimited fines for trading stolen material.
Labour MP Graham Jones attacked ministers for putting “politics above action to save war memorials and train lines” after they objected to his private member’s bill to tackle metal theft last week.
Jones suggested there was resistance to the proposed law from within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which favours deregulating industry through the Red Tape Challenge.
He also accused ministers of “vanity” for preferring to introduce similar measures in the government’s name than through his bill.
Jones criticised the idea of ammending the Legal Aid Bill, saying it would only go before the House of Commons again briefly as it was currently in the House of Lords.
“New measures added in the Lords won’t be properly debated in the Commons in the hour or two backbenchers have to go through the potentially long list of other amendments”, he said.
The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) welcomed reports that the Cabinet was discussing the issue.
BMRA director general Ian Hetherington said: “We are aware that the Cabinet will be discussing Lord Faulkner’s amendment to the Legal Aid Bill, which proposes a ban on cash transactions, and we anticipate a ministerial announcement following the meeting.
“However cashless transactions will not solve the problem and will simply push the trade to illegal scrap yards.”
MRW is awaiting a response from the Home Office. BIS declined to comment.
The developments come as police in the North-east of England made 35 arrests and closed several scrapyards while searches for stolen metals were carried out.
Last week’s coordinated raids involved officers from Northumbria, Durham, Cleveland and Transport police and officials from the Environment Agency, Northern Grid and BT.
Durham police’s chief superintendent Dave Orford, regional lead for metal theft, said: “This operation is to help the scrap metal industry achieve its aim of ensuring those who operate within it do so lawfully. One of our key aims to that end is to choke off the market for stolen metal.”
Merchants in the region have reported to MRW that the police raids have futher slowed gate trade already affected by the Operation Tornado voluntary ID check scheme. One trader said he was turning away up to half of all gate trade.
Jones’ bill proposed a ban on cash trade, a dealer’s licence fee to fund regulation, mandatory photo ID for sellers and police powers to search any scrapyard and close yards where stolen material is found.