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Theft (Shops)

Volume 494: debated on Thursday 18 June 2009

9. How many prosecutions have been brought by the Crown Prosecution Service for offences of theft from shops in each of the last five years; and if she will make a statement. (280579)

The Crown Prosecution Service records count defendants proceeded against for offences of theft and handling, but they do not separately identify the premises where the offence takes place, so we cannot tell the hon. Lady about theft from shops, which I believe she is interested in. I can, however, tell her the overall number of people prosecuted for theft, which is reasonably constant at around 140,000 to 150,000 a year, but the conviction rate has risen considerably over the period in which she has an interest.

I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for that full answer. Will she support my private Member’s Bill, which will be considered tomorrow, in which I call for more cases to appear before the courts when there are persistent offenders or when the goods taken from a shop are of high value? The credit crunch has led to a higher incidence of shoplifting and shop theft, and I know that the Government are concerned about that. If a first-time offender is involved or goods of only a small value are stolen, I can understand the value of a fixed penalty notice, but the thrust of my Bill is to allow the cases that would best benefit from coming before a court to do so. That would allow for restorative justice, and for the offender to get some treatment if it is—

I have a sense that the hon. Lady and I are growing old with her asking me questions about shoplifting and me trying to answer them even though we do not have the figures that she perpetually seeks. She knows that appropriate use of penalty notices is a constant concern within Government, and we keep it under review. She makes a powerful point about the impact of the credit crunch, which has to come into all our considerations. She knows that the decision whether to prosecute has a public interest component, and I am reasonably satisfied that all those factors are kept under review and applied consistently and conscientiously.

On the specific question whether I will support the hon. Lady’s Bill tomorrow, I am afraid that I will be in Redcar.

Has not the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) got an important point? The problem with fixed penalty notices, particularly for shoplifting, is that the person involved does not have contact with the prosecution authorities or the courts. The underlying reasons for the offending behaviour are never recognised, so they are not dealt with. It seems to me, and I think to a lot of people, that if we are stop those who shoplift because they have a drugs habit or extreme social difficulties, it is better that they are placed before a court, which can take appropriate action. Fixed penalty notices get in the way of that.

It does depend on what kind of offender is before the authorities. Where there is a clear need that has a criminogenic component—drugs, drink or whatever it is—I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is appropriate that that be tackled. Otherwise, there is no getting to the root of the problem. It is intended that penalty notices should be used when those factors are not present.

There is a scale as to when diversionary penalties of one kind or another are intended to be used—knowing the hon. Gentleman’s responsibilities, I am sure that he has seen it—with a penalty notice for disorder right at the bottom. Where particular causes become obvious, there are such things as conditional cautions right at the top of the scale, which then leads quickly into court. I agree in principle that the hon. Gentleman is right, but we need to ensure that PNDs are used against the right people. They are a useful tool for the police, as they can deal on the spot with a minor offence that does not show any signs of the causes that he mentions, and as such they have considerable use, but in principle he is quite right.