Network Rail and BT push for bill to prevent metal theft

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Network Rail and BT (LSE: BT-A.L - news) are among companies urging MPs (BSE: MPSLTD.BO - news) to press ahead with a new law to try to limit metal thieves who are costing the economy an estimated £770m a year.

The companies are backing proposals requiring all scrap metal dealers to be licensed in an attempt to stop the illegal trade in stolen metal.

The third reading of the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill 2012-13 is due in the House of Commons on Thursday, but fears are growing among its supporters that MPs including Philip Davies will attempt to "talk out" the Bill, preventing its passage to the House of Lords.

Mr Davies said it was “totally inappropriate” that such a major piece of legislation should be a Private Members Bill introduced by MPs who are not government ministers - and not a Government Bill. He added the Bill’s wording was a “shambles” and he would seek amendments.

“I’m not prepared to nod through a Bill that is flawed and should be a Government Bill,” he said.

A spokesman for BT said theft of copper phone and broadband cables had “serious consequences for communities” as well as being disruptive to business.

“It can prevent villages from making vital calls to emergency services and can leave severely ill and infirm people disconnected and isolated,” he said.

“This Bill is a vital part of the solution to metal theft, which seriously inconveniences railway passengers and disrupts freight,” a spokesman for Network Rail said.

The thefts have been fuelled by the rising prices of metals, with the copper price rising threefold since 2009.

Plans to require licensing are also supported by the Church of England and War (SNP: ^WARY - news) Memorials Trust, which both suffer at the hands of metal thieves, as well as SITA UK, the recycling specialist.