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Metal Theft

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 12th December 2011.

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Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Conservative, Gravesham 2:30 pm, 12th December 2011

What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

What steps she is taking to tackle metal theft.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government recognise the growing problem of metal theft and are taking urgent steps to address it. The Home Office is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders, including introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments. We are also working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to establish a dedicated metal theft taskforce.

Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Conservative, Gravesham

Metal theft costs us a huge amount of money in this country, as the Minister knows, whether it is of dodgy copper wire or lead from churches such as those in Ifield in my constituency. Is there any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I certainly recognise the impact that metal theft has on our communities, with the estimated cost ranging anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum. We underline and recognise the seriousness attached to metal theft, which is why we are seeking to establish a new taskforce better to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

Calder Valley private and social landlords have reported to me the rising number of instances of houses in between tenancies being totally ripped apart—including water pipes, gas pipes and, indeed, electric wiring—causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Does the Minister agree with me that the time has come for legislation to clamp down on rogue metal dealers who trade in such items?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Government do not legislate lightly and have undertaken a range of work to tackle metal theft through non-legislative means. However, we have now reached the stage where the only conclusion is that new legislation is needed to tackle metal theft. We are therefore in discussion with other Departments to agree on the most appropriate option for bringing these changes forward.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Does the Minister think it is time to change the law on the scrap metal industry? On Friday I met Alf Hitchcock, the chief constable of Bedfordshire, who informed me that his police force had targeted the dealers. The police found people coming along with stolen scrap metal, some of whom had driven vehicles there with stolen red diesel. The law at the moment pertains to an Act that was designed around the days of Steptoe and Son; is it not time to change the law?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As I thought I had already indicated, we believe that existing regulation of the scrap metal industry through the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 needs to be revised, as the law is no longer fit for purpose. We need to combine that with further enforcement and better intelligence, which is why the ACPO metal theft working group is seeking to equip police forces with the necessary tactical information to assist Bedfordshire and other police forces in cracking down on this crime.

Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

Has the Minister had any discussions with Virgin Trains, for example, and the police about what happens to the metal stolen from the railway lines, which can pose a severe hazard to public safety?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the risk, threat, inconvenience and serious harm that can be caused by stealing cabling and signalling equipment from the railways. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the British Transport Police has the lead role in respect of the work conducted by ACPO; it is actively engaged in that and is working with the rail industry, recognising the particular problems that the hon. Gentleman has identified and the threats posed to rail infrastructure.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Is the Minister aware of the appalling crime two years ago in the area of the former Auchengeich pit in my constituency relating to a beautiful piece of sculpture built by the community in honour of the 47 brave men who had lost their lives in a tragedy of 1959? The community came together again and built another statue. I have no criticism of Strathclyde police, but does the Minister agree that on such issues the closest co-operation among forces throughout the UK is helpful?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Many sickening crimes have occurred where monuments and places that exist to celebrate our war dead or important historical incidents have been desecrated. I think the whole House will join me in utterly condemning those responsible for these appalling actions. That is why we are moving forward by tackling the problem with the new taskforce. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that providing better intelligence and co-ordination is helpful, which is precisely what we will do and are already doing.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I welcome the importance that the Minister attaches to this issue, but it should not be too difficult to sort out. All he needs to do is to ensure that sellers verify their identity when selling metal and that each transaction is recorded, and to make cash payments for scrap metal illegal. That seems pretty simple to me and to businesses in the black country that are calling for those measures. Why can we not get on with this more quickly?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We are moving forward with this quickly. That is why we are taking the action that I have outlined today. We are also dealing with the aspects that he mentioned—on the regulation of the scrap metal industry, on having stronger enforcement powers to ensure that those responsible for these actions are held accountable for them, and on ensuring that we move to a cashless model of payment. Those are precisely the areas on which we are focusing, and we will report back to the House shortly.

Photo of Mark Garnier Mark Garnier Conservative, Wyre Forest

My hon. Friend will know that not just schools and churches but voluntary organisations, such as the one that runs the Severn Valley railway in my constituency, have been victims of this invidious crime. He will also know that an all-party group on combating metal theft was set up last week under the joint chairmanship of my hon. Friend Chris Kelly and Graham Jones. Will the Minister agree to meet me, along with other officers of the all-party group, to discuss how we can combat metal theft?

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am aware of the strong interest that the House attaches to this issue, which is evidenced by the fact that there are nine questions about it on today’s Order Paper. I believe that that constitutes a record number of Home Office questions on a single issue. My noble Friend Lord Henley, the Minister responsible for crime prevention and antisocial behaviour reduction, is well aware of the concern felt by Members of both Houses, and has told me that he would be very willing to meet members of the all-party parliamentary group.