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Metal Theft

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

The Government are delivering a coherent package of measures to tackle metal theft, which includes: banning cash payments for scrap metal; enhancing law enforcement through the national metal theft taskforce; and improving the traceability of stolen metal. We are also working with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) to support his private Member’s Bill to reform the scrap metal industry.

Scrap metal theft is a huge issue in my constituency, so what protections will there be for responsible and legal scrap metal dealers who blow the whistle on those who act in an illegal and criminal manner?

I will make two brief points on that. First, we are keen to encourage people to report wrongdoing in this sector, where there has been widespread abuse, as it is important that that is addressed. Secondly, I hope that one of the main benefits of the measures that have been introduced is that legitimate scrap metal dealers, whose businesses have been hampered by having to compete with people who are breaking the law, will now be able to operate in a culture where it will be easier for their businesses to be profitable

In the light of the Government’s laudable decision to commemorate the centenary of the first world war, does the Minister agree that my Scrap Metal Dealers Bill will do much to counter the vandalism of graveyards and war memorials? Does he also agree that to support the Bill is to recognise the significance of the first world war, a legacy that future generations should never forget?

The House will not be surprised to learn that I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Scrap metal theft is a serious crime that can have serious and expensive consequences, but Members in all parties will feel that when it involves the desecration of war memorials, particularly those relating to the two great wars of the past century, in which so many British and Commonwealth soldiers died, that is particularly offensive to our sensibilities. I very much hope that his private Member’s Bill, and other measures being taken by the Government, will help to address that appalling behaviour.

The theft of war memorials is a real problem, so what conversations is the Minister having with the taskforce chaired by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on how the Departments can work together to tackle this problem further? I say that notwithstanding the excellent work being done by the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway).

I am happy to have discussions with any parties that are interested in trying to ensure that we can make improvements, but I can tell the House that new measures will be introduced as early as 3 December to create a new criminal offence that prohibits cash payments in the purchase of scrap metal. We are putting a series of measures in place; we are not merely waiting for my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill to come into effect, which we hope will happen. We are acting more swiftly than that and I am keen to draw on support from all parties and none to try to ensure that we tackle this serious crime as effectively as possible.

I understand the intense concentration on what is a dreadful crime, but does my hon. Friend agree with me that, as I know from my experience as a police officer, effective and robust regulation of brokers and recyclers will have a far greater effect on the prevalence of this crime than concentration on a particular payment method?

I partially agree with my hon. Friend. It is important to consider payment methods, because cash payments make it easier to facilitate criminal activity than more easily recordable methods of payment. I do not for one moment believe that dealing with that will be effective in itself, however, so it is necessary to see it as part of a package of proposals, which is the approach that the Government are taking.