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Shop Workers: Protection from Violence

Volume 674: debated on Monday 23 March 2020

14. What recent steps her Department has taken to protect shop workers and owners from violence and crime. (901692)

We are committed to driving down crime and violence in all its forms, which is why, to strengthen our understanding of the scale of violence and abuse towards shop staff, we launched a call for evidence. The findings are supposed to be published this month, and it is still my ambition to do so, but we will see what happens given the current circumstances. We will continue to work closely with the police, industry and other partners to ensure a robust collective response.

Many colleagues from all parties will share the concern that the criminal justice system can be too slow and too lenient when dealing with those who cause violence against shop workers and owners. Right now, will the Minister share his expressions of solidarity with all the shop owners and workers who are putting themselves on the frontline to help those in our community to be fed and looked after? Can we send a message out from the House that we expect those people to be treated not just in line with criminal standards, but with respect and gratitude?

I wholeheartedly endorse my hon. Friend’s remarks. He is right that when we emerge from the crisis that is engulfing our country, there will be a general reassessment of who is important in this country and what a “key worker” means. He is right that those on the frontline, delivering, stacking shelves and taking money at tills, are as much part of the national effort to beat this coronavirus as a police officer or NHS worker, and we thank them for it.

On the question of protecting shop workers and owners, as was referred to earlier, we have all seen the unfortunate recent scenes of disorder in supermarkets when persons attempt to stockpile in response to the coronavirus. We have seen shelves swept clean just hours after the shops open, the apparent shortages of very basic products such as paracetamol, and the elderly being unable to purchase their basic needs. A number of measures are being taken to deal with the situation, but we note that even when supermarkets tried to set aside hours at the beginning of the day for the frail, elderly and NHS workers, others just barged them aside. No one on the Opposition Benches wants to see police officers in supermarkets, but if the situation remains unmanageable, will the Minister consider talking to the shops, the supermarket owners and their security officers to see whether patrols by police community support officers in the vicinity of some of the larger supermarkets might play a role?

The right hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. I hope to reassure her that we are in very close contact both with the police about the patterns of behaviour they are seeing, and with representatives from the food industry, particularly from the supermarkets, which I know are meeting regularly with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to monitor the situation. We hope and believe that, over the next few days, things will settle down. Our food and supply chains in supermarkets are extremely strong, and we are reassured by those companies that they can fulfil the demand as it comes, but she is right to hold us to the challenge of monitoring the situation. If we need to take further steps, obviously we will. As the Home Secretary said, we are also talking closely with the Security Industry Association about the welfare and capability of its staff in these circumstances. We want to ensure that this is managed proportionately and calmly, but we are keeping an eye on it.