asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of women who pleaded not guilty to shoplifting charges before Crown courts were acquitted by the jury concerned in the last year for which records are available.
The latest year for which detailed figures are available is 1971, when 62 per cent. of women who pleaded not guilty to charges of shoplifting at the Crown courts were acquitted. I shall provide my hon. Friend with more up-to-date information as soon as I can.
Does the Minister feel that the persistently high acquittal rate for this offence shows that the law on shoplifting is not being properly administered and that too many innocent people are being put at risk in respect of this very prevalent offence?
As a result of the recommendations of the working party in 1973, chief police officers have been consulting to see whether there should be greater uniformity in the way in which prosecutions are brought. Although my hon. Friend says that the acquittal rate is persistently high, he will note that it compares with an average of about 51 per cent. of all criminal offences in the Crown courts, and in relation to the totality of shoplifting offences only 5 per cent. of those charged with the offence are acquitted.
Does the Minister agree that the layout of many shops on the help-yourself principle is an inducement to shoplifting? Will he examine that aspect?
That aspect is rather outside the confines of the Home Office. It has been examined on earlier occasions by shopkeepers and other interested bodies. There are certain conflicts between the consideration of amenities for shoppers and the ease with which people who wish to steal can do so.