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Volume 889: debated on Thursday 10 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he has taken to implement the recommendation of his Department's working party document on the prevention of shoplifting.

The working party's report was widely distributed to the retail trade and placed on sale, and a shorter version was made available free to small shopkeepers. Action to implement the recommendations on ways of preventing shoplifting is a matter for individual retailers.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that none or very few of them are likely to take any notice of the recommendations of the report unless his Department does something about it? Is he not slightly concerned at the apparent creation of a wholly new criminal class, like clergymen's wives, specifically as a result of problems encountered in food supermarkets?

First, the working party did not make any recommendation which called for Government action. Secondly, we have made available as widely as possible the recommendations of the working party, and it lies in the hands of retailers to act upon them if they wish. Thirdly, I have no evidence, and I very much doubt whether the hon. Gentleman has, which suggests that clergymen's wives are very much at risk in this area.

Is not my hon. Friend aware of the vast risk which the ordinary decent shopper runs of being wrongfully charged with shoplifting? Will he consider requiring any prosecution brought by a private person or by an independent retailer to have the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions?

That would be wholly inconsonant with the degree of mischief which might exist in this area. It might be possible to consider whether the police should bring the prosecutions, but there remains an important principle in people bringing their own private prosecutions if they wish. However, since my hon. and learned Friend repeats his allegation, may I point out that the number of acquittals in this area is not markedly higher than the number of acquittals over the criminal law generally.