HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright has backed plans to make metal merchants more accountable in a crackdown on scrap thieves.
Fellow Labour MP Graham Jones will propose a private members bill in the House of Commons today that will call for a robust licensing regime for metal dealing and a stop to opportunities for thieves to profit from their ill-gotten gains.
The Metal Theft Prevention Bill campaigns for tighter requirements for dealers to establish the origins of materials, greater police and magistrate powers to close and prevent the re-opening of scrap metal dealers who flout licence conditions, a cashless system that would see payments made to debit or credit cards and proof of identity of both buyers and sellers.
If passed, the bill, which Mr Jones is urging the Government to support, will represent a significant step forward in the fight to stamp out metal thefts.
Mr Wright said: “Hartlepool has an issue in terms of metal theft, and anything to strengthen the regulations to prevent crime is to be welcomed.
“I have spoken to Graham Jones about this, and I support what he is doing.
“I have also asked Parliamentary questions about this as well.
“You will not be able to sell any metal without proof of identity, or you can’t receive cash in return.
“It lends itself to criminal activity and we are just trying to strengthen the controls to ensure we can eradicate crime out of metal sales as much as possible.
“With metal prices being as high as they are, there’s almost an incentive for people to be ripping metal from various buildings.”
The Mail reported earlier this year how Hartlepool was being “systematically” pulled apart by thieves with manhole covers, live electric cables and gas meters among a host of essential items being stolen, leading to people’s lives being disrupted.
Chief Superintendent Dave Orford, regional police lead on metal theft, has told the Mail it accounts for 10 per cent of all recorded crime in the North-East.
Mr Jones, MP for Hyndburn, in Lancashire, said: “This bill will finally close the holes in the regulatory system around metal theft which make it far too easy for people to make money from stolen metal.
“It’s time to get tough on this endemic crime.
“Metal theft in this country is a crime which is out of control and it’s about time the Government took swift firm action.”
The proposals have received widespread support from energy providers, which have recorded six metal theft-related fatalities in the past 12 months, including a 16-year-old boy in Leeds who died after trying to steal copper from an electricity substation.
Energy Networks Association chief executive David Smith said: “The current legislation is unfit for purpose.
“This bill has huge potential to be a vehicle for the change in law we need to see.
“Only by stopping the means of benefitting from the crime can we stop the mindless acts of criminals.”
If supported, the bill would need to become law by the end of the current Parliament session in May 2012.