Retail Crime — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of David Hanson David Hanson Labour, Delyn 1:30 pm, 11th April 2019

I accept that, but we have to be careful not to equate poverty with shop theft. There are many people who have honour in themselves and will not commit crimes. However, I understand and accept that desperation can lead people to do things that they would not in perhaps more economically improved circumstances.

That background leads us to ask what we can do about this situation. I know that the Minister is engaged on this issue, and I give her credit. I moved amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill to make age-related sales an aggravated offence. We discussed those matters formally in the Chamber, and we have discussed them informally. The amendments were withdrawn on the basis that the Minister would look seriously at the issue. I am pleased to say she had a roundtable, which I went to, as did all the parties I mentioned earlier—the retail organisations, the Co-operative Group and USDAW—so that solutions could be aired.

A helpful letter of 5 April that I had from the Minister indicates—I thank her for this—that she has now undertaken a 12-week consultation on issues including violence and age-related sales, prevention and support, the role of the criminal justice system and best practice. I urge Members and organisations to respond to it. I think that the Minister will find there is a unified voice, and that the solutions are clear to all. The challenge for the Minister will be to take them forward. She has supported an additional £50,000 of Home Office funding to the ACS, for running communications campaigns. She has looked at publishing impact statements for business, and is working with the police to develop guidance. That is all welcome.

I want to conclude with my six asks for the Minister. She looks worried. Some of them are things she will already be aware of. I started my speech by setting out what the BRC, the ACS and USDAW thought the level of attacks and violence against staff to be. I want first to ask the Minister to bring that together, so that we can identify retail crimes, their incidence, and the overall level. All those organisations, the newsagents and the ACS and USDAW, are acting individually and not as part of a formal Government response. They indicate that there is a great deal of under-reporting to the police because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton said, the police may not be able to respond owing to their lack of numbers. Also there is a question about what the scale of the problem is. As I quoted Paddy Lillis saying earlier, the crime is not victimless. People who are threatened in shops are traumatised. People who are injured in shops go home and have days off sick. People go to their doctor and fear coming back to work. Shops have to increase security. It is not a victimless crime. We must bring a record of the whole matter together, and the Home Office is a key part of that, in conjunction with Police Scotland—I see my Scottish colleagues are here for the debate—and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Secondly—this will come out of the consultation, but I must mention it now—the Government should consider legislating for an aggravated offence with respect, in particular, to age-related sales and abuse of shop staff. We have tested that through the Offensive Weapons Bill and it is part of the consultation discussions. I want the Government to do it, because in addition to the traumatic experiences I have mentioned, and the potential for long-term injury and for people to lose their jobs because of assaults, staff who are required to enforce the law are the frontline, and the Home Office must back them up.

Current sentencing is complicated. The sentencing guidelines for all kinds of assaults are that

“an offence committed against someone working in the public sector or providing a service to the public” is “an aggravated factor”, but there is no clarity about what is contained within that. If someone is abusive that factor should be taken into account—perhaps for a community sentence, which might be the most appropriate route. I want the shop worker at the front of the Co-op on their own to be able at least to say to someone, “Look, there is a sign there. If you continue this poor behaviour you are liable for an aggravated offence. Please stop.” It is a protection, if not a final conviction.