Tougher laws to crack down on scrap metal thefts have moved a step closer as they cleared their first Commons hurdle.
Under the proposals, scrap yards run by rogue dealers would be closed and cash payments would be banned for all scrap metal transactions.
Tory MP Richard Ottaway, who is steering the legislation through the Commons, said the Association of Chief Police Officers had estimated the cost of metal theft to the UK economy to be more than £750 million, but he added: "In all honesty, the reality is probably much higher."
The Croydon South MP said metal thieves were holding society to ransom without fear of being caught. While thefts of plaques from war memorials and graves cause emotional harm, cable stolen from railways, telecommunications and electrical infrastructure sites cause chaos and hit the pockets of thousands of people.
Mr Ottaway said: "The police tell us that metal theft is emerging as a new acquisitive crime. It's a low-risk enterprise with plenty of vulnerable targets to plunder. Around 80% of people linked to cable theft live within six miles of the crime location. Clearly they have no fear of being caught."
His Scrap Metal Dealers Bill proposes a "tough but fair regime" which will support legitimate businesses but "penalise the parasites who profit from the things we hold most sacred".
Security minister James Brokenshire backed the private Member's Bill telling MPs: "These are crimes that are wanton, selfish and callous. They show no respect for our communities and, frankly, those who are responsible deserve our contempt."
He said the existing 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act was outdated, ineffective and needed to be changed, adding: "The Government believes action will be limited without necessary reform to regulate the scrap metal industry. The private Member's Bill before us today provides us with the opportunity to make this necessary change. We must seize this."
Shadow Home Office minister David Hanson said Labour supported the legislation. He said: "I believe the Bill will be a good addition to the armoury of the police in tackling metal theft." But he raised concerns that tightening restrictions in England and Wales could lead to problems with stolen metal being exported for processing beyond the reach of the authorities.
MPs agreed without a vote to give the Bill a second reading. It now goes for further Parliamentary scrutiny.