By Lord Faulkner of Worcester - 3rd October 2011
The theft of scrap metal is a crime which has reached "epidemic proportions", argues Lord Faulkner of Worcester.
As a consequence of the rise in its value (particularly of copper), the theft of scrap metal is a crime which has reached epidemic proportions.
The Association of Chief Police Officers' estimate for 2010 was that it cost the UK economy £770m a year – it's almost certainly a lot more now – with electricity power lines, statues, war memorials, drain and manhole covers, telecom cables and railway signalling wire all being stolen on an almost routine basis, causing huge public inconvenience and threat to life.
The theft of signalling cable on the railways caused 16,000 hours of passenger delays in the past three years, and cost the industry £43m. That's 52 per cent up on the previous year and there are now on average six attacks every day, so the problem is getting worse. There are few regular travellers whose journeys have not been delayed as a result of thieves taking signalling cable for its copper.
Industry is desperately looking to the government for some help in tackling the problem. They may not be able to do anything about the world price of copper, but they need to look urgently at the Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964. It's now hopelessly out of date, and needs to be replaced by new legislation which increases maximum penalties, makes cash transactions illegal, and replaces the present registration system for scrap metal dealers with a proper licensing system.
I am encouraging anyone who shares my views about the seriousness of the problem to sign the online e-petition Cashless Scrap Metal Trade – Amendment to Scrap Metal Merchants Act 1964. It can be found at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/406.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester was raised to the peerage in 1999. He is a Labour peer.