Police should have the power to search and investigate scrap yards to check for stolen metal, according to a Labour MP.
And the Government has said it will consider these measures.
In a Commons debate on Tuesday this week, MP for Hyndburn Graham Jones said that police should have the power to search for stolen metal and if found, be able to close scrap yards and that a cashless system should apply to trade of metals.
He also asked the Government to consider amending the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 in order to help prevent theft from companies involved in industries such as the energy and rail networks.
As part of this, he also called for a “robust” licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers who would then need to pay for a licence to help regulate the industry.
He added: “Property obtained through theft should be regarded as criminal assets; that would allow the provisions in the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to apply.
“In line with alcohol licensing powers, police authorities should have the power to search and investigate all premises owned and operated by a scrap metal dealer, and to close scrap metal dealers where criminally obtained materials are discovered.
“We should restrict trade in scrap metals to cashless payments, and introduce a requirement that scrap metal must not be sold or processed until payments have been cleared. Photo identification and CCTV should be used to identify sellers of scrap and their vehicles.
“Magistrates should have powers to add licence restrictions and prevent closed yards from re-opening, and criminal gangs should be charged in a way that is proportionate to the consequences of the crime, not the scrap metal value. I ask the Minister to use all his efforts to ensure that something is done before it is too late.”
Minister for climate change and energy Charles Hendry responded that the Government is looking at a range of measures to tackle the problem and said that it will consider tightening regulations on the scrap metal industry, as the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 does not reflect the current £5.6 billion industry.
He added: “The first priority, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands, is to decide what are the best courses of action and determine what needs primary legislation and what can be done through secondary legislation. We are at the stage before that, but I hope that I am showing him that, with the new Minister, Baroness Browning, coming in, a great sense of urgency is being given to the sort of solution he has been highlighting.
“Baroness Browning also spoke about closer links to environmental legislation and the licensing requirements for waste management and the need for more stringent identification requirements when selling metal, to identify both the seller and the owner of the material. The current regime requires little more than any name written down on the dealer’s records.
“The power to close scrap metal yards where there is clear evidence of sustained illegal activity is being considered, as is the possibility of moving away from cash as a method of payment for this industry, thereby removing the perceived easy access to cash. We are absolutely looking at the issue the hon. Gentleman has highlighted.”
The Minister also revealed that the Government believes organised crime has been involved in widespread metal theft and measures to prevent metal being stolen were also included in the Government’s organised crime strategy.