A war of words has broken out between two MPs leading the battle against metal theft.
Labour MP Graham Jones, whose bill to reform the scrap trade was thrown out earlier this year when ministers refused to back it, has labelled the Government’s support for a new bill a political move.
Jones, who co-chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on metal theft, told MRW the Government was still not getting it right on the issue despite throwing its weight behind Tory MP Richard Ottaway’s private members’ bill - which he backs.
Jones said his bill would have contained similar proposals. But he claimed the Government had delayed reform because it wanted “to be seen to take the initiative”.
But Ottaway told MRW that “there is no room for egos as we agree on the right way to proceed”. He added that Jones should “direct his energy toward supporting my bill”.
MRW revealed last week that Ottaway’s bill would introduce local authority licensing of scrap merchants, who would have to pay a fee, as well as heralding a national register and greater powers for councils and police to tackle unscrupulous dealers.
Jones warned that there would be a loophole for metal thieves even if legislation was successful at regulating the scrap industry.
“What some of the more devious and able thieves will do is use containerisation for export through the ports,” he said, claiming that containers for export are not being sufficiently inspected by the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Jones said: “The UKBA and the Home Office cannot say how many containers [of scrap] have been exported. They claim they take an intelligence-led approach,
but very few containers for export are ever X-rayed or inspected.”
He said this issue was more about Home Office resources than legislation and the Government needed to take a more holistic approach.
In response, Ottaway said that most stolen metal finding its way into the containers had been through scrap metal dealers’ yards first.
“[That] is where my bill comes in - nipping the problem in the bud,” he said. “But I am not naive to think that new legislation will stop metal theft.
“I hope Mr Jones will be supportive of this bill because he knows as well as anyone that private members’ bills have a low success rate, and it could take just one dissenting voice to thwart it.”
A spokesman for the Border Force said: “We work closely with SOCA and police forces to help combat crime at the border. Where there is reason to suspect that goods for export may be stolen, Border Force officers can stop the goods leaving and refer the matter to the police for them to take any necessary further action.”