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House of Commons Hansard
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Assaults on Retail Workers (Offences)
09 October 2018
Volume 647

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about offences when perpetrated against retail workers; to make certain offences aggravated when perpetrated against such workers in the course of their employment; and for connected purposes.

My reason for wanting to bring about the Bill is simple: to protect shop workers in the course of their jobs, recognising that they are working in the public interest. I will define that shortly. The Bill would mean that future assaults on workers in the retail sector are treated as aggravated assaults, and that the perpetrators of the violence we often see our shop workers subjected to will receive greater punishment. This protection would act to prevent further assaults and properly punish those who seek to behave in such a manner.

I have been asked quite a few times in recent days why I have singled out retail workers for the Bill. That, Mr Speaker, is because I believe they represent a very specific case. Over the years, Parliament has legislated for shops to regulate over 50 types of products, including cigarettes, alcohol, weaponry and acid, which is of course currently in the news. At the moment, we ask shop workers to act not just in the interests of businesses but in the public interest to make sure that the rest of us are safe. We perhaps do not even know that that is happening. In that moment, the shop worker is in a potential conflict situation. Like lots of us in this place, I have worked in a shop. I know that telling someone who is drunk that they cannot have anything more to drink, or someone who is probably the right age to buy a product but has not brought the right ID that they cannot purchase it, is quite a difficult thing to do. Every time that happens, it presents a potential flashpoint situation with the wrong individual. When researching this issue, I was shocked by the level of such flashpoints. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, USDAW, the shop workers’ union, says that shop workers are on the receiving end of 250 such violent situations each day, six involving knives and two involving guns. It behoves us to act.

Here are a couple of cases from my own constituency, kindly gathered by the Co-operative Group, which is, I know, 100% committed to protecting staff:

“A bloke entered the store and nicked some chocolate rice crispies and hid them under his jacket. The store manager approached him and asked him to return the food. This was when the bloke became aggressive. He threw the food at the manager and made a headbutting gesture to the manager and another colleague. Once he’d left the store, he pulled out a small knife and made a gesture towards the colleagues”.

Secondly:

“Another guy came into the store and filled a basket with 7 bottles of booze, he also hid one inside his jacket. On his way out, 5 colleagues cornered him and he left the store. He came back 10 minutes later to try again and pushed a colleague to the floor. When challenged, he also tried to hit her with the bottle but missed and the bottle broke on the floor. 3 other colleagues chased him, but he gave up and handed the bottles back. Whilst leaving, he threatened that he would be ‘back to do them in with a bottle’”.

Incidents of that nature are happening up and down the country in all our communities in high volume, with nearly 2,000 every single week.

I strongly believe that anyone who was assaulted while doing their job should be afforded all the protections of the law, but I believe that what sets retail workers apart is that they have been entrusted with an important civic responsibility that goes above and beyond their duties and responsibilities to their employer. We in this place, as a legislature, should be acutely aware of this, because we are the people who gave these workers these extra responsibilities. Effectively, we have asked them to police the law on the sale of alcohol, knives, glues and now acid on behalf of us all. We have asked them to step forward to protect society, and now we need to show them that we have their back while they do so.

It is also worth recognising that the retail sector is unrepresentative of the wider population that uses the shops. Nearly a third of retail employees are under 25 and nearly 60% of people working in this industry are women. That means we have a young and by no insignificant margin predominantly female workforce. In this place, we are often accused of being distant from the reality of the day-to-day-lives of the people we serve, and I think we have a really good chance with this Bill to show that that is not the case.

We have public support, too. The Co-operative party—I am a Co-op MP, of course—commissioned polling with Populus that showed that 85% of people, when asked, supported my proposal. That reflects how much people appreciate the work of retail workers and want to work free from the fear of violence. I pay tribute to USDAW for its years of campaigning on behalf of shop workers across the country, and to the Co-operative party and my 36 Labour and Co-operative colleagues who have fought so hard for these workers across the country. I feel I need to apologise in advance for being able to have only 11 sponsors, given that they all wanted to sponsor the Bill. We are proud to stand with USDAW, campaigning to take forward the proposals in my Bill.

This must go hand-in-hand with supporting new clause 1 to the Offensive Weapons Bill, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson), which is due to be debated on Monday. I am relatively new to this place, but it might be that the ten-minute rule Bill process might not be the best route to getting the change I want secured. It was the best path available to me at the time, which is why I took it, but we have good opportunity on Monday to show that we get this and I hope that Members will take that chance.

I am glad that the Ministers are in their place, and I call on the Government to give this subject time. I know where this Bill will go next, and it might well get buried if it is passed today, but if we have the proper time to talk about this issue we could make a real difference.

I know that we support shop workers, and 80% of them believe that the law needs to be strengthened because they are worried about things at work. I think we should hear their call. Through this Bill, we can ensure that those individuals who seek to assault our hard-working retail staff face the appropriate consequences. This is not a party political or partisan issue. It is about protecting those people who support our day-to-day lives, in many cases without our even realising it. I asked Ministers and colleagues across the House to support the Bill. Doing so will help to protect thousands of each of our constituents and to fail to do so will risk the situation worsening. Within the past year, there has been a significant increase in the number of these violent offences that I have talked about. I believe that the Bill is based on our shared values of tolerance and that nobody should be subjected to violence in their place of work.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Alex Norris, Luciana Berger, Anna Turley, Mr Chris Leslie, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Tracy Brabin, Jo Platt, Mr Paul Sweeney, Preet Kaur Gill, Alex Sobel, Jim McMahon and Stella Creasy present the Bill.

Alex Norris accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed (Bill 270).