Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that cash payments for scrap metals will be banned and penalties for handling stolen metal increased.
In a statement to Parliament, she said the Government intends to lay an urgent amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.
This would create a new criminal offence to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal and significantly increase the fines for all offences under the existing Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 that regulates the scrap metal recycling industry.
The Home Secretary said: “People who deal in stolen metal are criminals, pure and simple. Their activities are bringing misery to individuals and communities as well as damaging our economy.
“We’re putting a stop to cash payments and we’re imposing unlimited penalties on anyone who breaks the law. This Government will do what it takes to protect the public, business and our national heritage from the scourge of metal theft.”
Theresa May also said that further measures to crack down on rogue dealers will be outlined in due course.
In her written statement to Parliament announcing the move, the Home Secretary said: “Cash transactions for scrap metal are often completed without any proof of personal identification or proof that the individual legitimately owns the metal being sold. This leads to anonymous, low risk transactions for those individuals who steal metal. In addition, the widespread use of cash facilitates poor record keeping by the metal recycling industry and can support tax evasion activity.”
British Metals Recycling Association director general Ian Hetherington welcomed the focus on dealing with metal theft, but he outlined the belief of much of the metal sector that banning cash transactions will not help.
He said: “The proposed ban on cash transactions as part of the amendment to the Legal Aid Bill will not solve the problem and will simply push the trade to illegal scrap yards.
“While we support the long-term ambition of removing cash transactions, a range of other reforms plus effective enforcement of current legislation are needed to solve the problem.”
The Home Secretary announced the measures on the same day that the Transport Select Committee called for reform of the scrap metal industry to tackle the amount of metal that was stolen from railways each year. Network Rail has had £16 million worth of cost in 2010/11 due to theft of metal.
Transport Committee chair Louise Ellman said that more powers should be given to British Transport Police, She said: “The Government should introduce a new offence of aggravated trespass on the railway to help deter cable thieves. The British Transport Police should be given new powers so that officers can enter both registered and unregistered scrap metal sites along with additional resources to carry out their enforcement work.”
The committee also recommends:
- The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 should be reformed so that individuals selling metal have to provide proof of their identity before a transaction can take place
- The Government should test the use of cashless trading in the scrap metal industry
- There should be greater clarity around compensation arrangements so that train operators cannot profit from disruption caused by cable theft
- Network Rail should develop a costed programme of measures to make cable more difficult to steal
- The Department for Transport should update the Committee on work being undertaken to help passengers stranded on trains near stations to complete their journey.