Shipley MP Philip Davies, whose constituency includes Culling-worth and Denholme, claims a new Parliamentary bill to crack down on unscrupulous scrap metal dealers will “not make a blind bit of difference” unless it comes with tougher sentences in the courts.

He spoke out after the Bishop of Bradford urged the district’s MPs to vote for The Metal Theft and Scrap Metal Dealers Bill to outlaw the selling of scrap metal for cash to help stop churches being plundered by thieves.

The diocese is calling on people to put pressure on their MP to support the proposed legislation, describing the theft of metal from churches as a “huge issue”.

The Bishop, the Right Rev Nick Baines, said: “The theft of metal from the roof brings other consequent losses due to rain ingress damaging the contents, and sometimes irreplaceable artefacts.

“As well as the inconvenience and financial burden, it causes significant distress and, as we approach Remembrance Day, we need to remember that all our church monuments are vulnerable.”

Mr Davies, who has previously argued in the Commons that the legislation was unnecessary, said the Government had already outlawed cash payments for scrap metal under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which is due to come into force on December 3. However, the ban on cash payments does not apply to itinerant collectors under the new law.

Now Mr Davies has received a letter from the Bishop urging him to change his mind.

The letter states: “This Bill has been the result of two years’ careful consideration by the Home Office with the police, the scrap metal trade and the Church of England, all of whom are now convinced that the measures it contains will make a substantial difference and will curb this crime which has caused such damage to our churches and war memorials – as well of course to the infrastructure of the railways and communications’ industries.”

But Mr Davies said the Bill, which was put forward by Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, would not work unless it included tougher sentencing for illegal scrap dealers.

He said: “It is the worst kind of gesture politics. This is saying that if you do not support this Bill, you do not want to do anything about metal thefts. I do want to do something about it, but the only way of doing that is by having proper sentences. This Bill says nothing about sentencing.

“People can already go to court for this but get derisory sentences. I have said to Richard Ottaway that if he puts something in the Bill to give people proper, serious sentences, then I would support it. Otherwise, it will not make a blind bit of difference.”

Keighley MP Kris Hopkins said he would look closely at the legislation. He said metal theft, particularly cables, caused huge problems for people across the district.