Amendment 292Q

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (11th Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 24th November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 8:15 pm, 24th November 2021

I reiterate that the Government agree with the noble Lord. I can only repeat what I said earlier: we are working at pace and I commit to updating him before we get to Report. I hope that there will be a helpful outcome.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has Amendment 292U on metal theft. This is an important subject and one that my noble friend Lady Williams recently discussed with the noble Lord, as he acknowledged. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Birt, for his contribution and his examples. I shall say a bit more about that meeting in a moment.

The Government recognise the impact of metal theft on infrastructure companies, including theft of cable from railway projects, construction companies and solar farms, as well as from heritage and community assets such as churches. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013 was introduced to tackle the metal theft that was affecting many people’s day-to-day lives at that time. Under Section 12 of the 2013 Act, it is already an offence for a scrap metal dealer to pay for scrap metal using cash. The 2013 Act also places requirements on scrap metal dealers to hold a licence, verify the identity of those supplying scrap metal and retain records of metal bought and sold. These elements, together with powers for the police and local authorities to enter and inspect the premises of scrap metal dealers, make the Act an effective tool to tackle the sale of stolen metal.

The noble Lord’s amendment seeks to extend the provisions in the 2013 Act to make it an offence for anyone to sell scrap metal for cash. Although I understand the intention behind this amendment and the desire to have additional powers to tackle those who see metal theft as a profitable crime, the Government do not consider this amendment to be needed. The amendment would broaden the remit of the 2013 Act beyond the responsibilities placed on scrap metal dealers. Should an offender encourage, assist or incite the cash purchase of stolen metal by a scrap metal dealer, they could be found guilty of an inchoate offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007.

I will set this in a broader context. The noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Williams had a very productive meeting, as he acknowledged, on 9 November to discuss this important subject. They were joined by members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Metal, Stone and Heritage Crime: the noble Lord, Lord Birt, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and Andrew Selous MP, together with a representative from the British Metals Recycling Association. I understand that it was a constructive discussion and I hope that the noble Lord was left in no doubt as to the seriousness with which the Government view this crime.

At that meeting it was agreed that enforcement of the 2013 Act is key to tackling metal theft. The Government are committed to supporting partners to increase the enforcement of the Act. The Home Office provided £177,000 of seed-corn funding in the last financial year to establish the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership. The partnership is spearheaded by the British Transport Police and was set up to better co-ordinate police forces and other agencies to tackle metal theft from rail, telecoms and utilities companies.

At the meeting on 9 November, concerns were also raised about the disparity between metal theft figures published by the Office for National Statistics and figures held on the police national computer. We are looking into this and my noble friend Lady Williams—who, by the way, expressed to me that she would have liked to answer the noble Lord’s amendment—will write to the noble Lord when we have clarification on this. However, let me be clear: no one is trying to play down the problem or argue that statistics somehow show things are not as bad as some suggest.

The all-party parliamentary group agreed to provide the Government with a paper setting out its recommendations for tackling metal theft. My noble friend looks forward to receiving this and we will give it careful consideration. The right reverend Prelate and Andrew Selous, who is a Church Commissioner, agreed to see what more could be done to gather data and intelligence about thefts from churches, particularly of lead roofs. That is something that I welcome. I am sure that your Lordships all share my concern about these attacks on our heritage and recognise the particular vulnerability of churches, many of which are in isolated and remote areas. We look forward to continuing to work with the noble Lord and others who have contributed to the work of this all-party group. I hope that he is in no doubt of our commitment in this respect.

In the light of my comments and the undertaking to give sympathetic further consideration to Amendment 292S, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to withdraw his amendment.