In England and Wales in 1983, 1,133 persons were acquitted in the Crown court of theft from shops, and 3,362 were found guilty. Corresponding information for 1984 and 1985 is not yet available.
As I am sure the Minister will agree, the situation in this area of law and practice is totally unsatisfactory. Will he confirm that when the new independent prosecution service comes into operation the prosecution of accused shoplifters will no longer be left to shopkeepers, and that meanwhile he will give instructions to the police to follow the same sort of procedures when deciding whom to prosecute—where they do—as are now followed successfully and well in areas such as Essex and Leicester?
I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's interest, which I share, in this matter. I am happy to confirm that one of the many beneficial consequences of the new independent prosecution system will be that in the one area of the country where prosecutions for these offences are habitually undertaken by the stores—that is, in Greater London—prosecutions will be taken over for the most part by the independent prosecution service. The hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome the fact that in the circular sent out by the Home Office in February about cautioning, particular attention was drawn to the importance of cautioning in relation to vulnerable elderly offenders. He will also be interested to know that of the number of offenders over 60 cautioned and found guilty, the proportion cautioned increased from 48 per cent. in 1980 to 61 per cent. in 1983. The circular will probably lead to an increase in those figures.
Is my hon. Friend aware that as long ago as 1972 I had my first Adjournment debate on this subject, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) accepted that there was a direct link between the increasing number of self-service stores and the increase in shoplifting? Does the Home Office accept that where trading methods cause crime, that cause and effect should not be ignored by society?