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Shoplifting (Sentencing Guidelines)

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2008

The hon. Lady has made a number of representations on sentencing guidelines for shoplifting offences and we have met representatives of retail trade organisations to discuss available disposals for shoplifting. The independent Sentencing Guidelines Council has today published its definitive guideline on sentencing for theft from a shop.

May I thank the Justice Secretary for the kind words that he recently said about me to the Magistrates Association? May I also refer him to the representations that the association has made on this issue? Will his hon. Friend the Minister go so far as to admit that the Magistrates Association still has concerns about fixed penalty notices being imposed for first time offences, about fines going unpaid—[Interruption]—she should feel free to answer for herself, rather than conferring—and about community sentences not being completed? Does he or she therefore share my concern that there should be a court—

The hon. Lady is simply showing the great interest in this matter that my right hon. Friend was right to say that she has shown over a long period of time. We are aware that the Magistrates Association has concerns, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), who has responsibility for the Courts Service, will meet its representatives tomorrow and will no doubt have an opportunity to discuss some of those concerns. I should like to point out to the House that more people are prosecuted for shop theft than receive penalty notices for disorder, that the use of custody to punish shoplifters has increased in percentage terms since 1997, and that the courts are empowered to make custodial sentences for this crime and, where appropriate, do so.

Are not the Minister’s remarks a little complacent? Paragraph 11 of today’s announcement by the Sentencing Guidelines Council makes it clear that burglars and shoplifters who steal to feed an addiction will get a lesser sentence. She must be aware that the retail sector is suffering from a chronic recession, so this must surely be the worst possible time to downgrade and devalue those offences. Is not there a danger that this will encourage even more retail crime, and a likelihood that this will be seen as a shoplifters’ and burglars’ charter?

I absolutely refute the hon. Gentleman’s latter point, as no doubt would one of his hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench, who last year was urging us—quite rightly, in my view—during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to ensure that those who commit crime through addiction get proper treatment. Indeed, early-day motion 132, tabled by the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), makes that very point, and urges the Sentencing Guidelines Council to ensure

“that the sentencing guidelines are enforced to ensure that offenders with drink or drug problems are issued with sentences that recognise those problems with an appropriate rehabilitation order”.

That is all that the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is independent of the Government, is saying—that drug rehabilitation orders should be given, where appropriate, to try to ensure that those who commit crime in part as a result of their addiction have a chance to get rid of that addiction. The evidence shows that those who complete those tough community orders are only half as likely to reoffend as those who do not complete such orders.