Barely a week goes by at present without a story in the press about metal theft. This is not petty thievery but large scale organised crime which affects all sections of the community including churches, schools and businesses. As is clear from media reports, this phenomenon has increased rapidly in recent years due to the increasing price of certain metals on the world's commodities markets. Metal theft is serious business and the cost to Scotland alone in 2011 was estimated to be £7.5 million.
The Scottish Government wishes to clamp down on such thefts and is currently consulting on increased regulation of the scrap metal industry. This is round two of the clampdown on metal theft. Increased regulation of metal dealers was originally consulted upon in late 2011/early 2012. Following the responses received at that time, the current legislation was amended so as to bring all metal dealers within the current licensing regime, apart from those with an annual turnover exceeding £1 million, who could apply for an exemption from the system. This is the system which currently operates in terms of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.
It is having regard to some of responses received to the 2011/12 consultation on this matter that the Scottish Government is proposing further regulation of this business sector. In light of the massive scale of the problem of metal theft throughout the country, the Scottish Government is of the view that all metal dealers should be licensed in order that the entire industry is properly regulated.
This move will require amendment to primary legislation, and the current round of consultation seeks views not only on the licensing of the entire industry, but also on the conditions which could be attached to such licences.
The Scottish Government proposes that all metal dealers' licences contain mandatory conditions regarding record keeping and identity confirmation. Other proposed discretionary conditions, which may be attached to such licences at the instance of a local licensing authority, relate to CCTV and the taking of an image of an individual selling metal items.
There is a proposal to do away with the statutory 48 hour period for retention of metal and the Government is also seeking views on the appropriate manner in which itinerant metal dealers could be regulated in order that such dealers do not create a loophole allowing stolen metal to be recycled.
However, potentially the greatest tool in clamping down on metal thieves is contained in the proposal to create a new criminal offence the effect of which would be to ban scrap metal dealers from buying scrap metal in cash. Consequently, such transactions would require to be carried out by cheque or electronic banking, thus creating a paper trail which may be something of a disincentive to metal thieves. The proposed ban on cash transactions would apply to all metal dealers, including itinerant dealers and, at present, it is not proposed to have a de minimis transaction value, for fear that this could create artificial back to back transactions designed purely to get round the new legislation. This proposal reflects the system which is currently in operation south of the border.
The consultation period runs until 3 July 2013 and the consultation document itself can be viewed here.