The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013, which received Royal Assent on 28 February 2013 and came into force on 1 October 2013, will be welcomed by many including: commuters whose train has been delayed as a result of the theft of copper signalling cable; the numerous PCCs who are struggling to make up the shortfall between the replacement costs and the cap on insurance payments for lead theft. In a Church of England interview, Sir Tony Baldry MP, the Second Church Estate Commissioner welcomed the Bill becoming law, stating
“[t]he scrap metal business becomes the first business in the country that hasn’t been in law allowed to deal in cash”,
and Anne Sloman, Chair of the Church of England’s Church Buildings Council is quoted in a Press Release as saying:
“t]he Council has worked hard with the Home Office to get this legislation on the statute book and we are grateful to Ministers and officials who have approached this problem with such determination.”
For the government, the Home Office has issued an announcement “Scrap metal laws to stop metal theft come into force”, which usefully provides a summary of the new legislation.
We would not wish to detract from the significance of the achievement or the undoubted hard work necessary for the Bill to become law. However, it should be noted that:
– There was sustained resistance from some MPs and parts of the industry to amending the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and associated legislation, and several earlier attempts at amending the law in this area were unsuccessful. These are reviewed in our post “The Commuters, the Churches, and the Coalition”;
– The Scrap Metal Act 2013 was a result of Richard Ottaway’s Private Member’s Bill, which was given its first reading on 20 June 2012; Although it had government backing, there were serious attempts to derail the Bill, and a government amendment  to introduce a “sunset clause” was voted down by the House of Lords;
– Section 18 of the Act requires the Secretary of State to undertake a review of the Act within 5 years of its enactment, which will provide another opportunity for opponents to attempt to attack its provisions;
– Although the banning of direct cash payments for scrap metal was introduced through section 148 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, a major scrap metal recycler has used this as a business opportunity and, consistent with the legislation, pays traders for scrap by cheque and subsequently offers an encashment option on its facilities.
The Act alone will not prevent or reduce metal thefts unless supported by enforcement by the regulatory authorities, and prosecution of thefts under legislation that carries the appropriate tariffs.
– Sections 147 to 147 of Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 did not become effective until 3 December 2012 , but by mid-October there had been a significant reduction in the incidence of metal thefts from churches and other building  which was attributed to: falling metal prices; increased security measures; and a co-ordinated approach by the police and local authorities in applying existing legislation.
– In 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service launched specific guidance for lawyers on tackling metal theft, which highlights the significant and damaging impact it has on communities and industry. This guidance also brings together other existing policy, and reminds prosecutors of a number of approaches to encourage robust prosecutions:
– to add firearms or offensive weapons charges where appropriate to indictments for aggravated burglary where weapons are carried;
– any charge or count on an indictment should specifically indicate when the building is a dwelling or residence. If a building is inhabited this will have an impact on sentencing; ensuring that third burglaries of dwellings are dealt with where appropriate using the “Third Strike” domestic burglary rules so that they attract the mandatory minimum sentence in the Crown Court;
– considering charges of robbery where violence, force or intimidation is used to steal in the course of a burglary.
The churches too have their part to play, through the introduction of preventative measures, such as those suggested by the insurer Ecclesiastical.
 Lord Faulkner of Worcester notes “At the very last-minute two Conservative MPs appeared ready to talk out the bill by tabling over 70 amendments on a single day – even though tackling metal theft was seen as a huge priority by everyone, the government included. They were only persuaded to drop their filibuster by a promise that ministers would table an amendment in the House of Lords which would add a so-called “sunset clause” – a measure which would have caused the Act to expire altogether after five years”.