Metal theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Driven by rapid industrialisation in countries like India and China, the value of scrap metal has increased tenfold in just a decade.
Thefts of machinery from garages and farms have been an ongoing concern. Businesses have been affected as power cables and telephone lines are stolen, sometimes badly disrupting rail services when signalling was damaged.
The problem has become increasingly serious. Metal theft is now estimated to cost the UK economy up to £800 million a year.
But it was the theft of art and the desecration of churches and war memorials that, understandably, really upset people and brought the issue to public attention.
It has affected us in the South Downs, and I recently visited Bramber Church to discuss once such incident that occurred 18 months ago.
As the Vicar, the Rev John Challis, told me, “the damage it does is often not just physical but has an emotional effect, too.” Fortunately that story had a happy ending, as students from Chichester College heard about the incident and donated their time and materials to replace what had been taken.
The value of art is often more than could ever be realised in their materials. When a bronze statue of Steve Ovett in Preston Park, Brighton, was stolen in 2007, the sculpture was worth fifty times more than the scrap value of its metal. And, of course, war memorials and art can be priceless.
I was a Minister in the Home Office when we decided that new measures were needed to tackle this problem. So I was pleased that last week a Bill to update the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 passed through its final stages in Parliament.
The new measures introduce compulsory licensing for scrap metal dealers, as well as punitive fines and increased enforcement powers for police and local authorities. Other new measures being taken include the end of ‘no questions asked’ cash payments which have allowed unscrupulous traders to evade checks.
Obviously it is also important to detect these crimes. So the Government has allocated £5 million of funding to a dedicated metal theft taskforce.
Together, I hope that these new measures will help to deal with metal theft. Many constituents told me how upset they were about these crimes, so I am pleased to be able to report the action that has been taken.
If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at email@example.com.