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Urgent reform of scrap trade required, say MPs

MPs have called for urgent reform of the scrap metal industry to tackle theft from the railways.

The Commons Transport Committee report on railway cable theft recommends the government amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act to require sellers to provide ID and give police powers to inspect unlicensed yards.

It also recommends ministers “explore the possibility” of a trial in cashless trading. The report recognises concerns in the industry that a ban on cash could drive away legitimate sellers and even increase illegitimate trade as legitimate sellers turn to illegal dealers so they can be paid in cash.

The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) welcomed the conclusions of the report. BMRA director general Ian Hetherington, who gave evidence to the committee, said: “We are pleased that the committee has raised concerns that the proposed introduction of cashless trading may have ‘potentially negative effects’ upon legitimate dealers.

“Also that they have called for the Government to explore the possibility of a trial of cashless trading, rather than introducing legislation that will drive the problem of metal theft underground.

He added “We also welcome their observation that the police need new powers to enable them to effectively inspect unregistered sites, as we believe these sites provide a market for stolen metal.”

Louise Ellman, Transport Committee chair, said: “Cable theft on the railway must be tackled with more urgency. Last year over 35,000 journeys were delayed or cancelled due to this crime which also cost Network Rail more than £16m.

“Cable theft from the rail network is part of an increase in metal theft across the country made easy by the way in which stolen metal can be sold to scrap metal dealers.”

“Current legislation for regulating scrap metal dealers is out of date. We need urgent reform to improve the audit trail generated by the scrap metal industry so that criminals selling stolen metal into the trade can be identified much more easily.”

As previously reported by MRW, the government is thought be preparing to announce its backing for legislation to tackle metal theft, by supporting an amendment to the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill currently before Parliament.

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