Retail Crime — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:36 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Susan Elan Jones Susan Elan Jones Labour, Clwyd South 2:36 pm, 11th April 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I pay great tribute to my near neighbour and right hon. Friend David Hanson for his thorough introduction to the debate and his extensive campaigning on the issue. I also thank all other hon. Members who have contributed.

I represent the most beautiful and nicest constituency in Parliament; there is nowhere that quite compares with it. It is 240 square miles and contains many vibrant communities. There is also a strong sense of community. Almost any shop worker who lives in my constituency will speak about that strong sense of community; how much they enjoy their job, in many cases; and how important their shop is in the community. That is all true, but unfortunately, it is not true all the time.

One deeply concerning UK-wide statistic, which came from the excellent USDAW, is that more than 280 retail staff are violently attacked every day across the country. That should cause us to be very concerned. Those shop workers go to do their jobs in the same way that others go to do their jobs, and that level of attack is concerning.

In my constituency, we have a good mix of small and medium-sized stores, and a few supermarkets, and the bulk of them take the issue very seriously. I put on the record my particular thanks to the Co-op Group, however, not simply because I am a regular shopper at the Rhosllanerchrugog and Johnstown stores, but because it has sent briefings on individual constituencies and has had the honesty to say some of the bad things that have happened in its stores.

I do not like reading things word for word, but the Co-op gave three examples of things that happened in its stores in my constituency. The first example is:

“A drunk man came into the store and started abusing one of our colleagues. This colleague asked him to calm down and stop swearing. The bloke carried on shopping and on his way out carried on the abuse so he was escorted out of the shop. When outside, he started swinging his shopping bag and throwing punches. He ripped the colleague’s glasses of his face and threw them into the car park. He then ran off.”

This is the second one:

“Two hooded men came into the store with a large knife. One of them grabbed a colleague and put a knife to her neck, and the other one went behind the till and grabbed another colleague. They emptied the safe and the tills and ran into a waiting car.”

This is the third account:

“Four blokes came into the store, they threatened colleagues with a knife and nicked all the cigarettes that had just arrived from the delivery.”

The people affected by that are ordinary working people in our communities. In that case, it was in Clwyd South, but there are examples from across the country.

I welcome what the Co-op Group has done with its community fund. In addition to security measures and the like, it supports projects that tackle crime and crime prevention measures. Its corporate social responsibility in that regard is very much to be welcomed. Of course, we need to tackle the root causes as well as the problem itself.

Reflecting what everyone else has said, I want to say this to the Minister: whatever is happening at the moment—my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn spoke about that in great detail—it is clear that we have to do more. I echo the calls to make attacks on shop workers and other retail workers aggravated offences. When the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 was going through Parliament, and in the campaign that preceded it, we heard many reasons why it was not possible. The campaign continued, and I am pleased to say that the Government supported it. That was very important. Many of us were co-sponsors of the Bill, and we worked on a cross-party basis. I am pleased that it got Government support.

As my right hon. Friend said, it is important that we look at creating an aggravated offence for attacks on shop workers, because shop and retail workers are a bit different from other workers. The argument will always be made that we cannot have aggravated offences against everyone. Clearly not, but the difference is that people know that shop workers have ready access to cash and have to handle it all the time.