26/01/2012 06:33 GMT | Updated 26/01/2012 08:13 GMT

MPs Call Scrap Metal Dealers 'Weak Link' In Railway Theft Crackdown

MPs exploring ways to curb the explosion in metal theft across the UK have targeted scrap metal dealers, describing them as the "weak link".

The Transport Select Committee is calling on the government to take urgent action on the matter, which caused delays or cancellations for around 3.8 million rail passengers last year. A according to its Labour chairman Louise Ellman, metal theft is costing Network Rail "more than £16m".

Ellman said, "cable theft from the rail network is part of an increase in metal theft across the country, made easy by the way in which stolen metal can be sold to scrap metal dealers."

"We need urgent reform to improve the audit trail generated by the scrap metal industry so that criminals selling stolen metal into the trade can be identified much more easily."

The Committee has recommended a raft of measures designed to tackle the problem, including creating a new offence of "aggravated trespass on the railway" as well as giving British Transport Police the right to enter scrap metal sites. They also call for a reform in the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, to require that individuals selling metal have to show proof of identity.

They also call on Network Rail - already in breach of its licensing conditions due to its poor performance, in part due to the cable theft problem - to find ways to make cable more difficult to steal. The Committee further insists for clarity in compensation arrangements so that train operators cannot profit from disruptions caused by cable theft.

As Huffpost UK reported late last year, the government is accused of being way behind the curve on metal theft, having watched the problem grow rapidly over the past decade. Most people affected by it believe co-ordinated action across several government departments is needed.

Tory Committee member Paul Maynard MP welcomes the report, saying "I support the Committee's recommendations to update the 1964 Scrap Metal Act, but I am clear that this may not be enough unless we also ensure that the trade in stolen goods is not deflected into the unlicensed scrap metal market which might grow as a result of these restrictions."

The Blackpool MP said: "the Government is rapidly moving in the right direction and this should be welcomed."

Home Office Minister James Brokenshire has previously estimated the wider issue of metal theft to cost the country "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum".