Environment Minister Lord Taylor has announced that anyone convicted of any crime relating to metal theft would be barred from working legitimately in the scrap business.
Further changes proposed for existing legislation would also mean anyone convicted of transporting stolen metal could be forced out of business by having their carrier registration taken off them.
Lord Taylor said: “Stolen metal will be too hot to handle. Mindless criminals who steal from our railways and historic buildings, and the scrap dealers who fuel the market, are causing misery and anger for countless people.
“We’ll purge the industry of rotten elements by flushing them out of legitimate businesses, or shutting dodgy businesses down altogether.”
Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster said: “Metal theft continues to be a major problem so we welcome the wider range of convictions that will be available to us when deciding whether to issue or remove environmental permits.
“This builds on work we are doing to support the British Transport Police’s crackdown on metal theft and our on-going work to tackle illegal waste sites. Waste crime puts people and the environment at risk and undercuts legitimate businesses who take their responsibilities seriously.”
Previously, the Environment Agency was only able to decide whether a person or business was suitable to run a waste facility or act as a waste carrier based on whether they had a conviction relating to pollution, harm to the environment or nuisance to nearby communities.
From April 2012, the Environment Agency will also take into consideration convictions linked with metal theft alongside other criteria when scrutinising all new applications for an environmental permit to run a scrap yard in response to the rising incidence of metal theft.
As a result of changes previously made to legislation on waste permitting, the Environment Agency expects to handle up to 1,000 new applications for permits by October 2013.
It may also revoke the permit for existing sites in certain circumstances.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also said that further changes to legislation will be made probably by April 2013. This will mean most waste carriers will need to re-register every three years, and under the changes all applications would be scrutinised using the additional tougher criteria. Registered carriers subsequently convicted of a relevant offence may have their registration revoked.
This was announced after a debate in the House of Commons called on the Government to introduce enhanced identity requirements for scrap metal customers. The Backbench Business debate, which lasted more than two hours, was secured by Graham Jones MP who saw his recent metal theft bill rejected by the Government. He asked when the Government would introduce a timetable for additional legislation. Previously Home Office Minister Lord Henley had said in the upper chamber that measures would be “brought in as soon as possible”.
While Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone said in the Backbench Business debate that the Government wanted to get legislation right and had used the Legal Aid Bill to introduce cashless payments as a quick fix, but more legislative changes would be forthcoming.
She added: “We are considering how the existing registration scheme can be strengthened, with a robust licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers to replace the current registration scheme, and we agree that the existing scheme under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act is outdated and in need of improvement. The Home Office is already seeking to make such changes as soon as parliamentary time allows.”