TYNEMOUTH MP Alan Campbell is calling on the government to take tougher action to tackle metal theft.
Speaking in a debate on the issue in Parliament last week, he praised Home Secretary Theresa May and junior Home Office minister James Brokenshire but also urged them to go further.
Mr Campbell, pictured, said: “I agreed with the Home Secretary when she said last month that people who deal in stolen metal are criminals pure and simple. Yes, they are.
“I also agreed with Mr Brokenshire when he said that metal theft is not a victimless crime. No, it is not.
“My constituents would agree with both those statements, particularly if they use the east coast rail line, where cable theft seriously disrupts services at least once a week.
“Tynemouth residents would agree too, because they are angry when war memorials are vandalised or cowardly thieves steal commemorative plaques from seafront benches.
“They ask why it is taking such a long time to get to the right place on the matter.
“The government sometimes stand accused of going too far, too fast, but on this issue they are not going far or fast enough.
“It is baffling. Why has it taken so long to act?
“Did the Home Office fail to see the link between commodity prices and theft and thus what was coming?
“What can be done? Certainly cashless sales and increased fines will help, but the answer is not reform of the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act but its replacement.
“The police need real powers to enter scrapyards and to close premises if necessary.”
Mr Campbell is also calling for rogue scrapyards to be targeted by joint task forces including Department for Transport officials and tax investigators as well as the police.
“If people are breaking the law by illegally selling and buying scrap metal, they will be breaking other laws,” added the former Home Office junior minister.
“It is important that officials work together in what used to be known as the Al Capone approach.
“If we cannot get them for scrap metal sales, get them for something else.
“We need to license scrapyards, which is important not simply to crack down on illegitimate dealers, but to protect legitimate businesses because they are being dragged down by some of the practices elsewhere.
“Criminals must pay for their crimes, not just through increased fines but by our making sure that when they are convicted, their assets are seized.
“The government needs to act quickly to get a grip on the problem.
“It cannot even give a proper estimate of the cost to the public purse and to the community of metal theft. Figures vary from £220m million to £770m.
“That is a big gap, and I am not sure even those figures give a proper view of the scale of what is going on.”
“Nor can the government say in how many cases assets are seized after conviction of the perpetrators.