Metal dealers in the West Midlands have criticised Government proposals to ban cash payments for scrap.

Britain’s £5 billion-a-year scrap industry is facing tougher regulation as part of a government crackdown on metal theft with people selling scrap being required to register and face identity checks.

The Government is also looking at banning cash payments to make metal transactions easier to trace, Home Office minister, Lord Henley said.

Tougher regulation would be welcome, according to the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA), which has 300 members, but a cash ban could be counterproductive – encouraging illegal trade.

Ian Hetherington, director general of the BMRA, said: “Our members do not particularly relish the use of cash.

“But their customers do demand they are paid in cash and their customers range from plumbers to builders, roofing contractors, demolition contractors and the whole range of people who on a day-to-day basis sell scrap for cash.

“The BMRA accepts that regulation needs to be updated to clamp down on the issue of metal theft.

“That is why we are working with the authorities to trial new proposals for identification requirements.

“Until policing of illegal operations is demonstrably improved, imposing such restrictions on legitimate metal recyclers is untimely, unwelcome – and will not help to combat the issue of metals theft.

“With improved enforcement and stronger identification requirements for those selling scrap metal in place, it may then be appropriate to consider the potential for introducing a cashless trading system in the UK.”

Hospitals, railways, utility companies, churches and war memorials have all been targeted in recent years by thieves attracted by the rising prices of non-ferrous metals such as copper.

“I think it likely that we will have to regulate,” said Lord Henley, the Home Office minister responsible for crime prevention.

“We will have to improve the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act which colleagues have been saying is well past its sell-by date.”

Lord Henley also said he wanted to encourage the scrap industry to adopt a cashless system voluntarily backed up by proper ID checks.

Legislation could be in the form of a private member’s bill currently before Parliament, but Lord Henley said the government would need to see the proposals in detail before deciding whether to back them.

But the British Transport Police also wants cash transactions banned.

A spokeswomen for Simms Metal Management, which has sites across the Midlands, said: “All out sites ask for ID.

“We never accept metal from people on foot or in taxis and we take vehicle registrations and use CCTV.

“We get regular alerts from the BMRA about metal thefts.

“Cashless transactions won’t work unless they are rigorously enforced across the industry. We need existing regulations enforced.

“If we stop cash it will drive customers to the illegal ones that just accept cash. We need to clamp down on illegal operators.”