Labour MP Graham Jones has proposed legislation tightening regulation of the scrap metal trade.
Jones, introducing his private members’ bill, told MPs metal theft had reached a “crisis point” and the current regulatory framework around metal recycling was “ineffective”. That, combined with rising international prices, created “incentives to steal metal”.
His bill, which is unlikely to make it into law due to lack of parliamentary time, would abolish cash payments for scrap, introduce a dealers’ licence fee to fund regulation, make photo ID mandatory for sellers and give police powers to search any scrapyard and close any yard where stole material is found.
The proposals come in response to growing concern from business, politicians and the public over an epidemic of metal.
Thefts are estimated to be costing UK business £770m a year and have caused six fatalities and over 50 serious injuries so far this year. Prime Minister David Cameron has said he was “determined to put a stop to this really appalling crime”.
Jones said “This bill will go some way to removing the incentives to steal created by weak regulation in the industry. This isn’t red tape, its intention is to reduce costs to businesses and reduce costs to the public purse incurred through damage to the nation’s infrastructure.
“This legislation would allow legitimate, law-abiding and socially responsible scrap metal dealers to flourish. Indeed, a few scrap metal dealers meet much of the requirements of this Bill in best practice.”
Transport minister Norman Baker had said earlier that the government would be prepared to introduce legislation if necessary.
The director general of the Metals Recycling Association Ian Hetherington has warned MPs against a “knee-jerk reaction” to the epidemic of metal theft. He told the Transport Select Committee inquiry into railway cable theft the industry was concerned that legislation banning cash would drive legitimate business into the illegal trade.
He said “Our concern here is that it’s tempting for politicians to reach for new law to demonstrate their power. There is a danger that Government under stress will reach for what they think is a silver bullet. The reality is, it is a much more complex issue.”
The BMRA supports the introduction of photo ID requirements for sellers and a crackdown on illegal operators to stem the outlets for stolen metal.
Other measures in Graham Jones’ bill include handing magistrates powers to add restrictions to dealers’ licences and prevent yards re-opening; allowing stolen property to be regarded as criminal assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act; and sentencing metal thieves according to the “consequences of the crime, not the scrap metal value.”
Jones’ proposals have received cross-party support and backing from BT, Lancashire Police and the Energy Networks Association. Last week the Local Government Association added its voice to calls for cash trade to be banned.