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

A delegation from the Scottish Parliament—from Glasgow, specifically—came to see me about that and described the problems. It seems that there is more scope for precision policing in the local area. Policing in Scotland is now devolved, and where there are alleyways with drug paraphernalia, as the delegation described, I think there is a role for precision policing.

The hon. Lady will know that there is work ongoing with the local authorities to look at other ways of treating drug addiction, including more targeted heroin-assisted treatment. I am sure that, like me, she is pleased that more adults are leaving treatment successfully compared with 2009-10. The average waiting time in England and Wales to access treatment is now two days. On 2 October, we announced a major independent review of drugs as part of a package of measures to tackle serious violence. The review will look at a wide range of issues, including the system of support and enforcement around drug misuse, to inform our thinking about what more can be done to tackle drug harms.

Hon. Members raised the issue of alcohol dependency. The two phases of the local alcohol action areas programme, which works with a total of 52 areas across England and Wales, suggest that theft to support alcohol dependency is not as prevalent as one would imagine. Although many LAA areas have had problems with street drinking, none felt the need to take action to prevent alcohol-related thefts, interestingly. The reasons for that may be manifold, but I wanted to introduce that into the debate to ensure that hon. Members are satisfied that we have looked into it and will continue to do so.

Many hon. Members spoke about shoplifting of items with a value of less than £200. I will take a moment to clarify the law on that, because there appears to have been a misunderstanding. I am delighted that this debate gives us the opportunity to clarify the law. In 2014, we changed the law to enable cases of theft from a shop of goods of a value of £200 or less to be dealt with as swiftly and efficiently as possible. The changes enable certain cases to be dealt with as summary-only offences, so they can be prosecuted. The simple offence of theft is triable either way—in other words, in the magistrates court or the Crown court. We have said that shoplifting offences of values of less than £200 can be tried only in the magistrates court in order to speed up the process, in terms of defendants choosing trial by jury.

That procedural change was designed to improve proportionality and lay the groundwork for the police to prosecute uncontested cases in the future, much as they do with some driving offences. The change has had no bearing on the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute a person for theft from a shop, or on the courts’ powers to punish offenders. An offender convicted of theft in a magistrates court can still face a penalty of up to six months’ imprisonment for a single offence. I am happy to discuss that further after the debate in order to clarify people’s understanding. The value of shoplifting in irrelevant, because it can still be prosecuted even if it is under £200.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak raised the issue of banning orders. We introduced a range of powers through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; these can be used by local agencies to redress antisocial behaviour that relates to retail crime, and can impose a range of conditions, such as banning an individual from entering a particular premises or area. Many of the powers are not limited to the police; some can also be enforced by local authorities. Again, if colleagues would like more information on how those powers can be used, I am very happy to share details after the debate. The more we can help our partners across local government and elsewhere to use those powers, the better I suspect it will be for our local communities.

I absolutely understand why the right hon. Member for Delyn and many others have asked the Government to consider introducing a new offence of attacks on shop staff. As he is aware from our previous discussions, powers are already available to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to deal with this type of offending and provide protection to retail staff. There are a number of criminal offences available to cover a wide variety of unacceptable behaviour, ranging from abusive and threatening language to offences against the person. In addition, the independent Sentencing Council is planning to consult on a revised guideline for assaults during the summer. The call for evidence presents us with another opportunity to understand how the current legislation is being applied. I am very keen to look at the efficacy of community schemes, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central and others. At the end of the call for evidence, I am very happy to see what it suggests.

I am very grateful to hon. Members for what has been an interesting and important debate on retail crime. As well as hearing concerns, we have heard about the positive work that is going on in response to retail crime. Although much more can be done to reduce such crime, there is much that we can take heart from in the efforts of a range of communities, organisations and partners to respond to this problem. I know that we all share a common aim to create safer communities for the public we serve, and that, once again, we all thank our local shops and convenience stores, which are open at all sorts of hours of the day and night in order to provide us with a pint of milk, our dinner after a late day at work or a bit of chocolate when we need cheering up. All shops play an incredibly important role in our local communities, and I join hon. Members in thanking them all.