Transport minister Norman Baker has told MPs there is a “prima facie” case for toughening up regulations to prevent theft of copper cabling and other metals.
Speaking to the Transport Select Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into rail cable theft, Baker said a cross-departmental group was considering whether to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. This could include outlawing cash transactions.
He indicated that tacking the supply chain would be more effective in stopping what he has called a “full blown national epidemic”. In answer to a direct question from the committee, Baker said he supported amending the Act, but that consensus had to be reached with other Government departments, including the Home Office.
He said: “Reform has not been ruled out, but there is no one simple cure… I agree the [current] system is not particularly robust.”
Baker also warned there could be “unforeseen consequences” of policing scrap metal yards more thoroughly, as criminals could find other ways to unload stolen metals.
Several committee members strongly supported reform of the 1964 Act, with one labelling it “useless”. Currently there is no central register of scrap metal merchants as the data is held by local authorities.
Baker reported there were concerns within Government that any new legislation should not be a burden and added: “Is business well served by the present arrangements? Doing nothing, in my view, doesn’t help business.”
He said the Government was also considering introducing new offences of aggravated trespass and aggravated theft.
The inquiry heard from Baker after more than 40,000 people signed a petition calling on the Government to outlaw cash transactions on scrap metal yards.
Labour MP Graham Jones has introduced a private members’ bill that would abolish cash payments for scrap, make photo ID mandatory for sellers and give police powers to close any yard where stolen material was found.