By Joseph Willits
Follow Joseph on Twitter
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Brokenshire MP, has answered questions from four Tory MPs about the Government's plans to combat metal theft. Brokenshire said that "the Home Office is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders". Some of the measures to do so, he said, would include "introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments" and establishing a "metal theft taskforce" together with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Responding to a question from Gravesham MP Adam Holloway about the financial implications of metal theft, Brokenshire said the cost could be "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum". Holloway asked whether there was "any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods". Brokenshire confirmed that this was one of the reasons for a new taskforce, "to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice".
Craig Whittaker MP (Calder Valley) spoke of the implications for private and social landlords, who had reported "the rising number of instances of houses in between tenancies being totally ripped apart". Whittaker said that "water pipes, gas pipes and … electric wiring—causing thousands of pounds worth of damage" had been stolen from tenanted property. Discussion was ongoing with other departments on the "most appropriate way" of tackling the problem, replied Brokenshire, who stated that "the only conclusion is that new legislation is needed to tackle metal theft".
Nadine Dorries MP (Mid Bedfordshire) was critical of the current "Steptoe and Son" Act concerning the scrap metal industry, saying it was "time to change the law" on the industry as a whole. Brokenshire replied that "existing regulation of the scrap metal industry through the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 needs to be revised", and once again reiterated the importance of intelligence to allow police to crack down on this crime.
Questions were also asked about the effect metal theft was having on the railway industry, and on local communities. Brokenshire spoke of the "risk, threat, inconvenience and serious harm that can be caused by stealing cabling and signalling equipment from the railways", saying that the British Transport Police has a lead role in the Government's planned taskforce with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Labour MP Tom Clarke referred to the desecration of a monument commemorating a coal mining disaster in his constituency. Everyone in the House is united in their condemnation for these "sickening crimes", Brokenshire said, which have occurred where monuments and places that exist to celebrate our war dead or important historical incidents have been desecrated".
Voluntary organisations, as well as churches and schools were the victims of this "invidious crime", said Mark Garnier MP (Wyre Forest), such as the Severn Valley Railway in Shropshire and Worcestershire. Garnier also announced that an all-party group on combating metal theft was set up last week. It is under the joint chairmanship of Chris Kelly MP (Dudley South) and Labour MP Graham Jones.