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Volume 931: debated on Saturday 5 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied that the trading methods employed by food supermarkets do not encourage shoplifting; and to what he attributes the simultaneous increase in the number of food supermarkets and the number of shoplifting charges being brought.

The number of persons proceeded against or cautioned by the police for shoplifting in England and Wales rose from about 70,000 in 1971 to about 107,000 in 1975. Figures for offences in different types of shop are not available, and I cannot therefore say how far, if at all, the increase in the number of food supermarkets contributed to this increase. Trading methods are a matter for the retailer, but I am glad to be able to tell the House that my noble Friend the Baroness Phillips has recently accepted our invitation to join the Home Office Standing Committee on Crime Prevention as a representative of the Association for the Prevention of Theft in Shops.

Will the Minister accept from me, after discussions with magistrates and solicitors, that the problem involved in the weekly food shopping at supermarkets is wholly different from the activities which attract headlines in the West End of London? Will she also accept that the trading methods employed by the supermarkets are directly responsible, because of the reduction in the numbers of staff, for the increase in food supermarket shoplifting? If she accepts this, will she further accept that it is unsatisfactory for the Home Office to continue to say that it is up to the stores, and that if it is known that a given system increases crime the Home Office has a responsibility to look very carefully at the system which prevails?

I appreciate that the hon. Member has a very keen interest in and knowledge of shoplifting, but I remind him that the working party set up by the Home Office on internal security made recommendations that were concerned mainly with prevention rather than with detection and that it did not recommend any Government legislation or Government action. The recommendations were addressed to the retailers, and the Government are doing everything possible to encourage the retailers to adopt them.

Is not the danger of a mistaken charge of shoplifting much greater in a department store than in a supermarket, because in a supermarket people are reminded to pay by having to go through turnstiles?

As I said in my first answer, we do not have any figures for offences in different types of shops, but I am sure that all these points are taken into consideration by those who run the shops.

Is not the most disturbing aspect of shoplifting the fact that the big increase is among children? Is the Minister aware that the police believe that this occurs largely because of the great increase in truancy from schools? Will she consider this very seriously with the Department of Education?

I shall certainly consider with my right hon. and hon. Friends the aspect that the hon. Gentleman has raised.