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    Supporting metal theft prevention in Parliament



Worcester’s MP, Robin Walker, spent a rare Friday morning away from Worcester and in Westminster last week in order to speak in support of his colleague Richard Ottaway’s private members bill to regulate the scrap metal industry better and crack down on scrap metal theft.

Robin, who is a vice chair of the All Party Group for prevention of scrap metal theft, spoke about the many problems caused by metal theft in Worcester including attacks on churches including Worcester Cathedral, damage to residential properties and long delays as a result of damage to rail lines.

He pointed out that the Government had already taken a number of actions to ban cash payments but argued that it was necessary and proportionate to go further, backing the steps suggested by Richard Ottaway, the Conservative Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Croydon South. Robin welcomed the fact that the bill had cross party support and although he had to leave before it was voted on, in order to get back to events in Worcester, he was delighted to hear later that it had passed unopposed.

The bill, if passed will complete the job of banning cash payments for scrap metal by extending the ban to itinerant collectors. It will also create a proper system of local authority licensing, funded by a licence fee to be paid by the scrap metal industry and with new powers of enforcement for police and local authorities. Separately MPs in the debate urged the government and the courts to get tougher on sentencing to make sure that people carrying out metal theft and dealing in stolen metal are punished according to the magnitude  of the impact of their crimes, not just in proportion to their economic value. The House heard that crimes that caused enormous damaged or targeted churches and war memorials would often only generate a few pounds worth of scrap metal.

The bill achieved its second reading with support from all sides of the House and will now go on to committee stage and then a third reading. In speaking Robin praised the work of the West Mercia Police in cracking down on metal theft in Worcester, saying:

“I commend the work of the West Mercia police in Worcester, who have cracked down on metal theft. One thing that made me eager to attend this debate was a recent neighbourhood watch meeting in St John’s in Worcester that I attended. Metal theft was by far the most significant issue on the agenda. I recently received an e-mail from the local policing sergeant in St John’s to update me on the police’s progress in combating metal theft. He started with the welcome news that such crimes were down in Worcester in the first six months of the year compared with the previous year’s figures, although only slightly. They were down from 165 reported offences in January to June 2011 to 103 reported offences in the same period this year. That is a drop of a third, and the credit has to go to West Mercia police. He went on to say: “I work closely with colleagues from the Environment Agency, VOSA and Smartwater. Our consensus is that the licensing is the best point of attack.” That is why this Bill is so welcome and important, and why it deserves the support of this House.”

He went on to mention the role that technology can play and highlighted the new technologies being pioneered by Qinetiq, a major local employer, saying

“We have had a brief debate about technology. Technology has an important part to play, but it is not something that we can legislate for. Alongside the legislation, it is welcome that we can use new technologies such as SmartWater. Yesterday at the Farnborough air show, I met QinetiQ, which has an exciting new technology called OptaSense, which effectively turns telephone wires into sensors. Using this technology, it is possible to tell where down the length of a telephone wire it is broken or whether digging is happening nearby. That might be very useful in protecting the railways and telecommunications systems in this country.”

He concluded

“This is a good Bill, it is well thought through and it is much needed. This is an example of Parliament working in the way that it should to respond to the concerns of our constituents and the issues that are raised with us.”

 The whole of the debate and Robin’s speech can be found here:

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