Shoplifting

Oral Answers to Questions — Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 July 1979.

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Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington 12:00, 23 July 1979

asked the Attorney-General if he will request his noble Friend to convene a conference about sentencing policy on shoplifting.

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

There have been not less than six sentencing conferences entirely devoted to this subject since January 1978, and such conferences will continue to be held either specifically or in conjunction with other sentencing problems.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington

I think that I heard what my hon. and learned Friend said. Is not he merely commenting, therefore, on the growing concern about this problem? Is he not aware that the courts are becoming increasingly confronted with people of impeccable character who find themselves on shoplifting charges and that 70 per cent. of women on such charges are facing a court for the first time? In the light of what my hon. and learned Friend said, does not he feel that it is time for a full examination of the effect that the trading methods of self-service stores are having on the increase in the shoplifting statistics?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

Yes, of course. There is great concern about the matters about which my hon. Friend speaks. He was good enough recently to send to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General a booklet prepared by him and others on this subject entitled "Take it or leave it". It has been read with great interest. I was specially interested in what my hon. Friend and his colleagues said about the necessity to sort out the persistent and deliberate offender from the absent-minded and confused. Of course, these matters cause great concern, and the Home Office already has made some research into them. It is hoped that its results will be published quite shortly.

Photo of Mr Jeffrey Thomas Mr Jeffrey Thomas , Abertillery

On a more practical note, does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the recommendations of the National Consumer Protection Council that supermarkets should be required by law to have an area where customers may leave their own shopping bags on arriving at the store and that it should also be mandatory for stores to provide receipts?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

Yes, I am aware of those problems. As long ago as 1973, a Home Office working party made specific recommendations on those aspects of the problem. Now the research unit set up by the Home Office has been inquiring into these matters and will be reporting very shortly.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Flint West

Will my hon. and learned Friend deprecate the practice of certain stores of automatically prosecuting anyone accused of shoplifting within their premises? Will he state that it is really the function of the store manager to satisfy himself that the person concerned intended to take away goods without paying for them before prosecuting?

Photo of Sir Ian Percival Sir Ian Percival , Southport

Before prosecuting, the store has a duty to make such a decision. However, the ultimate decision must be made by the court before which the proceedings are brought. If proceedings are wrongly brought, the court has the power to deal with matters by way of costs.