Tougher legislation that will make it harder for criminals to deal in “the growing menace of metal theft” is good news for farmers, the NFU said.

Under new proposals, cash payments for scrap metal are to be outlawed and fines imposed under the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act “significantly increased”.

The ban on cash trading will be implemented by a new clause in the Legal Aid Bill, which is currently before MPs.

In addition, the government is also ready to scrap the £1,000 limit on fines for trading stolen scrap metal. Both measures are expected to come into force by April.

The plans,announced by home secretary Theresa May, come after the government announced a crackdown on metal thefts.

“The government considers that legislation is the only sustainable, long-term solution to the growing menace of metal theft,” said Ms May.

“There is an urgent need to make stealing metal less attractive to criminals, and tackling the stolen metal market will act as a significant deterrent.”

However, the announcement falls short of proposals by Graham Jones, the Labour MP for Hyndburn, who called for anyone selling scrap metal to provide proof of identity.

But NFU chief rural affairs adviser David Collier said the union was “very pleased” to see this move from the government as metal theft “has become a scourge for the farming industry”.

“This will make it so much harder to sell stolen metal, and we hope it will deter criminals from engaging in this practice.”

The NFU has identified a number of other steps that it believes should be taken, including giving the police powers to close scrapyards that support criminal activity and magistrates powers to restrict dealers’ freedom to operate.

Metal theft is estimated to cost the country £1bn a year, with more than 1,000 offences taking place every week.

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