I am in close discussions with ministerial colleagues from the Home Office and other Departments about the severe impact of metal theft on transport and more generally. We are actively discussing measures to tackle this, including amendments to legislation. We are also working with the police to establish a dedicated metal theft taskforce.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Network Rail estimates that by the end of 2011, railway passengers will have suffered half a million minutes-worth of delay as a result of metal thefts. Those delays are discouraging people from using railways and Redditch is looking to improve business links. What assurances can the Minister give to businesses in Redditch that this House will legislate to protect the UK economy from this crime?
The Home Office is the lead Department for legislation, but all Government Departments are fully seized of the need to deal with this issue as a matter of urgency. Discussions are taking place about options. This issue affects not only railways but the highway network and the coastguard service, for example. Most despicably, the theft of cable in the Vale of Glamorgan recently forced the cancellation of 80 operations.
As passengers up and down the country could tell the hon. Gentleman, performance on Britain’s rail network is getting worse and metal theft is a major factor. On the basis of the Department’s own figures, metal theft is set to cause up to 7,000 hours of delay this year. When are the Government going to act?
The Government have already acted with the measures announced by the Chancellor in his recent statement to appoint the special taskforce to which I referred. As I have mentioned, there are also ministerial discussions taking place across Departments. I assure the hon. Lady that discussions are taking place. Particular proposals are being considered and evaluated and there will be an announcement quite shortly, I hope.
The hon. Gentleman is right to recognise the importance of this issue, but passengers want to see action, not just discussion and a taskforce. With passengers facing rail fare rises of up to 11% and given that the
Department calculates that this issue is costing Network Rail more than £16 million every year and a further loss of £10 million in economic cost to passengers and the economy, when will the Government listen to Network Rail, agree to legislate to tackle the illegal market in scrap, and ban cashless transactions?
Under the 13 years of the hon. Lady’s Government nothing much was done to amend the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and we are now taking action on that front. The issue of cashless payment was referred to by my ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend James Brokenshire, at Home Office questions on
As chairman of the all-party group on heritage rail, may I say that this matter affects heritage railways up and down the country? They often rely on volunteers and charitable donations and I add my voice to those urging quick action on the problem.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the impact on heritage rail. With the Bluebell railway partly in my constituency, I am very well aware of the impact on individual bodies such as that, which are sometimes less able to respond financially than the public sector. I am afraid that all sections of society are being affected by selfish metal theft and it is important that we take action to deal with it.