Police have begun drawing up plans to tackle a potentially sharp increase in the amount of scrap metal being exported illegally, according to a senior officer.
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther said his officers were concerned that the proposed radical shake-up of scrap metal laws, slated to go live next year, could lead to criminals targeting the export market.
He told a media briefing: “We have been working with the UK Border Agency for some time looking at exports and the routes out the country for this material.
“We are conscious of the potential, and I put it no stronger than that, as the cashless model is brought in, then people will look to get round that. One possible way that they might choose to explore, is whether they export it.”
Minister for crime prevention Lord Henley added that the Home Office was also concerned that tighter UK regulations could lead toa shift in illegality.
Henley said: “In the future we will have to look at the borders. It is possible that there will be displacement of this crime, i.e. it will move from the scrap yards if we tighten up there, it might be that some metal will go straight to export metal.
“We will have to work hard on that but it will be a somewhat easier task dealing with some 30 or 40 ports rather than the vast number of yards we are having to deal with at the moment.”
The Scrap Metal Dealers Bill passed a crucial hurdle in the House of Commons on 13 July after receiving cross-party support at its second reading. It will go before a parliamentary committee in September and remains on course to become law by autumn 2013.
The private members’ bill, put forward by Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, would beef up regulation of the industry by councils and outlaw cash payments by scrap metal dealers, a process which is already underway.
A cash ban is set to be introduced under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 this autumn.
But so-called itinerant dealers, such as house-to-house collectors, and motor salvage firms are exempt from this. Until Ottaway’s bill becomes law, there will be a two-tier system where some dealers will be able to accept cash and others will not.
The British Metal Recycling Association said this created an unlevel playing field but Lord Henley dismissed the concerns: “It’s something that we are aware of. It’s limited in scope. The Home Office has issued guidance to authorities.”