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Shop Theft

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on guidelines to prevent re-offending by those convicted of shop theft. (253532)

As a matter of course, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and I consider the guidelines and offer comments when they are subject to consultation. The guideline on theft makes it clear that a fine should be the starting point for an opportunistic theft from a shop, for example, but that custody is the appropriate starting point for those involved in gang-related shop theft. Following discussions with the hon. Lady and representatives of the retail industry and the police, revised guidance on the use of fixed penalty notices for shop theft are due to be issued shortly. We accept that there are plainly instances of the guidance not being followed, and that penalty notices for disorder are not appropriate for repeat offences or, normally, if the value of the property involved exceeds £100.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that full reply. I know that he recently met the Magistrates Association, which is deeply concerned about fines being imposed for a shop theft that might be fuelling a drug or drink habit. Will he use his good offices to intervene in the issuing of guidelines, to ensure that that set of circumstances will be met and that there will be a referral to court where appropriate?

Yes, and I commend the hon. Lady for her work on this matter and the way in which she has drawn it to the attention of the House and me. I recently met the Magistrates Association and the association of chairs of benches of magistrates—[Hon. Members: “Chairs of benches?”] Well, they were the chairmen of benches, some of whom were female.

The guidance is clear, stating at paragraph 6.21, that PND disposal for shop theft

“may not be appropriate for those who are known to be substance misusers.”

There are two issues here. The first is whether the guidance should be changed, and we do intend to change it. The second, whatever the guidance, is ensuring that the police follow it properly and that there is a proper audit of what they are doing.