I said in the previous post that I'm against extra regulation unless there is a very good reason. But I'm pleased that one bill for which there does exist such a very good reason is making progress.
The new Scrap Metal Dealers Bill has been passed by the House of Lords without amendment and, therefore, does not need to go back to the House of Commons. The Bill can now go to the Queen for Royal Assent.
I have been lobbying ministers for some time for tougher action against metal theft and one aspect of this has to be tighter laws governing scrap metal dealers.
The new Bill will see the whole metal recycling industry better regulated, including a proper licensing scheme for both fixed site and itinerant dealers in scrap metal, as well as increased police powers to deal with those that fail to trade lawfully.
The insertion of a so-called “sunset clause” that had been called for by MPs opposed to the Bill in the Commons was not agreed by the Lords. It means the Bill will not need to be reviewed in three years and won’t expire in five years, as would have happened if the clause had been included.
Metal theft is a scourge of modern society and the people responsible, and anyone who helps them, need to be put behind bars.
The industry in which I work - Telecommunications - has been badly affected by metal thieves. Here in Cumbria just over a year ago, thousands of families, and other people as far away as Lancashire, lost phone services, including the ability to make emergency 999 calls, for part of the weekend after a bunch of idiotic criminals attacked a section of telephone cable near Workington.
The motive appears to have been a futile attempt to steal copper wire - in which they were unsuccessful because copper was replaced by optical fibres in BT's trunk network years ago.
About 13,000 homes and businesses lost all telephone service for a time, the main areas being hit in West Cumbria being Harrington, Cleator Moor, and parts of Whitehaven, though some customers in Lancaster were also affected. BT engineers working round the clock over the weekend made temporary repairs which restored service to all customers by Saturday afternoon, though it took until 2am on Sunday to complete permanent repairs. The damage also caused a reduction in network capacity that caused congestion for customers across a much wider area.
That wasn't the only metal theft in Cumbria in the past few months which could have had fatal consequences. Last year thieves stole copper gas pipes from a chapel in Maryport. This resulted in what police described as a "significant" gas leak which could have had "very serious consequences."
On that occasion, and by the grace of God, the leak was discovered and plugged before anything ignited the gas.
But there could easily have been a devastating explosion. In the early hours of 12th March last year, a bungalow near Wisbech in Cambridgeshire was destroyed by a gas leak caused by metal thieves who had stolen pipes in exactly the same sort of offence.
This kind of crime has to be stamped out, and that means getting a grip on the outlets which the criminal gangs who steal metal used to sell it.
Simon Davies, BT general manager for cable and payphone theft, said of the progrerss of the act that:
“This is an excellent result and a fitting reward for the huge amount of effort put in by BT and the host of other companies and organisations that joined the campaign to encourage the government to act quickly and decisively, which is exactly what they have done."