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LONDON (Reuters) - A bill to curb metals theft moved a step closer to becoming law Tuesday with safe passage through the House of Commons, as industry groups called for tougher punishments for thieves and tighter regulation of the scrap metal trade.
The bill would establish a robust licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers coupled with greater police and judicial powers to close scrap yards found flouting the law.
"Ideally this would be adopted and passed by government legislation within the current parliamentary year ... by early summer," said Tim Field, a spokesman for Energy Network Association (ENA), an industry group involved in drafting the bill.
ENA represents telecoms provider BT and Network Rail, among other companies.
The bill also proposes to require scrap yards to make cash-less payments and require proof of identification and address from any potential seller.
Introduced by MP for Hyndburn Graham Jones, it received cross-party support and will now be drafted in more detail before going before lawmakers again on January 20, Field said.
Prices of metals such as copper have shed 20 percent of their value this year due to worries over the global economic outlook, but their resale value remain lofty enough to lead to about 700 incidents of metal theft per month against energy networks, according to ENA.
Support for the bill has also come from farming groups such as the Country Land & Business Association, hit as regional areas are targeted by thieves.
Such thefts that have led to widespread communications and rail network disruptions in Britain and across Europe as well as damage to heritage sites.
They cost the domestic economy upwards of 770 million pounds, according to figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers in July.
Reporting by Melanie Burton, editing by Jane Baird