Retail Crime — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 3:24 pm, 11th April 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members for a really thoughtful and thought-provoking debate. I am particularly grateful to the shadow Minister, Carolyn Harris, for such a brief response, because that gives me plenty of time to answer the many important points that have been raised.

I congratulate David Hanson on securing this debate on a matter that I know is of huge importance to him and his constituents. It has been a genuine pleasure to work with him and members of the all-party parliamentary group on retail crime, chaired by Steve McCabe and my hon. Friend Richard Graham, particularly during the passage of the Offensive Weapons Bill, because we have made real progress. I hope we will make much more in future.

I will make a gentle point for Hansard regarding a comment that was made earlier. This debate is taking place alongside a very important statement by the Prime Minister in the main Chamber, about the European Council. I know that many hon. Members will have had real difficulty deciding which important debate they should take part in.

The importance of our local shops and convenience stores unites us all; every single constituency has such shops. I take this opportunity to thank the local shops in my wonderful Louth and Horncastle constituency. I may get into a battle with Susan Elan Jones about whose constituency is more beautiful, but I have the pleasure of having some special market towns in my very rural constituency, as well as many independent shops on our high streets that we are keen to preserve. I hope that all the shops in all our constituencies will have a busy and profitable Easter period in week or two ahead.

Right hon. and hon. Members have very powerfully made the point that crimes against our local shops and businesses are not victimless—everyone who spoke made that point strongly. I think that we were all struck by the examples given by the hon. Member for Clwyd South and indeed by Alison Thewliss, who brought some of her own experiences to the Chamber. Gareth Snell talked about the cultural impact of such crimes, not just on the immediate victims, but on the wider shop staff community and then on villages and small towns. I am grateful to him for making that important point.

Violence and abuse remain the biggest concern for retailers. That is the No. 1 priority for the National Retail Crime Steering Group, which I chair, and I am delighted to see members of the group in the Public Galley. The group brings together retailers, trade bodies, police and others, to help to ensure that our response to tackling those crimes is as robust as it can be. Our last meeting, a month or so ago, was extraordinary and focused solely on the issue of violence. I am grateful to the members of the group for helping my officials to draft the call for evidence in such a way that we get the richest evidence we can from shop workers and others in the retail industry.

I am absolutely determined to tackle this problem. Every day, we ask shop workers to enforce the law, whether by refusing to sell age-restricted products to those whom they believe are below the legal age, or by confronting criminals who are trying to steal from their business. Shop workers, like all employees, have the right to feel safe at work, without fear of violence or intimidation. That is why, on April 5, I launched a call for evidence to enable us to learn more about the scale and extent of the issue and inform our response.

We are seeking information in four key areas. First, information on prevalence and data will help to address gaps in our understanding and to build a more accurate picture of the nature of violence and abuse toward staff. Secondly, information on prevention and support will help us to gather evidence and information about what works in preventing such crimes, including how businesses can support their staff. Thirdly, information on enforcement and the criminal justice system will help to develop our understanding of the reporting of incidents, application of the current legislative framework, and the response by the police and wider criminal justice system. Fourthly, identifying further best practice will help to establish what works and to consider potential non-legislative solutions.

The call for evidence will run for 12 weeks, to ensure that those with an interest have sufficient time to respond. Obviously, we will consider the responses carefully and publish our response as swiftly as possible after the call for evidence closes.