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Shop Theft

Volume 459: debated on Monday 30 April 2007

8. What his assessment is of the proposals in the consultation paper by the sentencing advisory panel on the offence of theft from a shop. (134280)

We will consider the proposals when the Sentencing Guidelines Council comes forward with a draft guideline. The Government’s position on sentencing is absolutely clear: prison should be reserved for serious, dangerous and violent offenders, and we need better ways of dealing with less serious offenders. They should be punished, make reparation to the community and be helped to stop offending, which means that they are normally better punished in the community, with tough sentences that ask a lot of them.

Shoplifters already view their crimes as victim-free, so will the Minister do everything he can to ensure that the crime does not end up as punishment-free? Theft from shops threatens the viability of businesses and pushes up prices for genuine customers. In some of our big cities, children are being used, Fagin-style, in organised theft from shops. Will the Minister do everything he can to ensure that the punishment reflects the serious nature of the crime?

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Lady. She is right: we have to stop serious shop theft. In 1993 2.5 per cent. of people convicted of such theft were imprisoned, but by 2003 the number had gone up to 19.5 per cent., so the Government have been tough on shop theft. However, we need to work with the British Retail Consortium and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers to support shop workers and retailers in making sure that shopping is safe.

Sixty-five per cent. of people arrested for theft, including shoplifting, test positive for drugs, so the proposal to issue penalty notices to shoplifters will mean that the underlying problems of substance abuse go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated. Does my hon. Friend agree that that will lead to an increase in shoplifting, thus putting shop workers at risk?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who does a tremendous amount of work in that area, supporting USDAW and retailers. She is right. Penalty notices are not given to people with drug problems, because it would be inappropriate, but they are important in low-level, high-volume shoplifting for first offenders. We need to make sure that we look at serious repetitive offenders, but it is sensible for the Sentencing Guidelines Council to look into what is going on and make recommendations. There will then be a period of full consultation.

Is the Minister aware that I have received a letter from Morrisons, the supermarket chain, telling me that the proposals will be a shoplifters charter. What is the Minister’s response to Morrisons?

Clearly, I do not read all the hon. Gentleman’s correspondence, but I am aware of the letter from Morrisons, whose headquarters are in Bradford—my patch. Morrisons and other retailers want us to get the balance right and that is what we intend to do, so it is important that when the advisory panel makes its recommendations to the Sentencing Guidelines Council we can all consider them, and I am sure that there will be an opportunity for full debate.