Backbench Business — [Unallotted half day] — Metal Theft

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 7:50 pm on 7th February 2012.

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Photo of Graham Jones Graham Jones Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 7:50 pm, 7th February 2012

I am aware of that, and it appears that that figure is falling as a result of the escalation in lead thefts from church roofs. That is of some concern, especially as insurance is very hard to come by for some of the churches that have suffered.

The measures in this motion were agreed by the affected industries and, importantly, by members of the all-party group on combating metal theft. However, the Government’s two announcements somewhat sit in isolation, and that is where the concern lies. The Legal

Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is an unsuitable legislative vehicle, so we need to move beyond it. It appears to be have been commandeered at the 11th hour and, unfortunately, no other measures have been allowed to be added to it. The Bill only passed through this House last November and notably absent were any measures to tackle metal theft. That raises further questions about this House’s ability to scrutinise last-minute amendments from the Lords.

In November, the Chancellor announced a £5 million pilot which has been started in the north-east—Operation Tornado. However, it will not report back until July, when the Olympics begin and Parliament starts its summer recess. I am concerned about that, as the approach being taken all seems a little disjointed, and I appeal to the Minister to bring coherence to the Government’s strategy.

Metal theft is a very particular type of crime. That is because, as my right hon. Friend Mr Spellar said, its effects are disproportionate to the impact it has on other people; stealing £20-worth of metal can cause £100,000-worth of damage. Such a theft can remove a war memorial or result in the loss of life, and it cannot be calculated in financial terms in some cases. A theft in the Dartford tunnel area caused £29 million-worth of damage and a recent metal theft in Glasgow caused a further £14 million-worth of damage, including the part closure of a hospital.

Metal theft is also a very particular type of crime because the effectiveness of policing it is limited; the nation’s metal estate is so vast that there is not a police solution. The Government must look more intelligently and co-operatively if we are to “design out” the problem. We are talking about a failure of regulation and of joined-up working, not of policing.