HC Deb 29 June 1972 vol 839 cc1638-40
3. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he intends to take to ensure that retailing systems, the introduction of which he believes has led to an increase in shoplifting, are controlled.

Mr. Carlisle

This is a matter for the retailers themselves, not for control by legislation.

Mr. Adley

Did my hon. and learned Friend see the Law Society Gazette last week after the Adjournment debate that week? Does he accept that there is a connection between the increase in shoplifting and the increase in the number of supermarkets? Will he now give some assurance to those of us who are concerned about the problem that he is prepared to take the bull by the horns and to consider legislation on the subject?

Mr. Carlisle

Obviously it is arguable that there could be some connection between the way in which goods are displayed, temptation of the customer and the amount of goods that disappear, but I do not see that it is a matter for Government legislation. Methods of merchandising and the way in which shops conduct their business must surely be a matter for them to decide.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that retailers who operate self-service stores and supermarkets will not take any action unless the Government force it upon them? Is he aware of the very high rate of acquittals of those who plead not guilty? Is it not time the Government took steps?

Mr. Carlisle

In reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman's first point, perhaps I should have added that a working party on internal shop security is, as my hon. Friend knows, considering problems of shop-lifting and theft by shop staff. I repeat, however, that the manner of merchandising must be a matter for the shopkeepers, although advice may be given. On the hon. and learned Gentleman's second point, all I can say is that prosecutions are a matter for the relevant authorities, or private prosecutions for the shops themselves if they decide to bring them. There has always been freedom to bring private prosecutions, and I have on various occasions expressed the view that I do not think we should be justified in interfering in that long-standing right.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept from one who still practises in magistrates' courts that the statistics of these offences bear no relation to the deep agony and misery caused to many people and their families, often for a lifetime, and will he seriously reconsider his reply?

Mr. Carlisle

Of course I accept that when anyone is wrongly charged with any offence it is a matter of great distress to him. But I do not think there is any evidence to justify the Home Office in altering what has been the long-standing practice with regard to prosecutions.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

But does not the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that as it was the present Government which wound up the Consumer Council, which might well have been able to give advice on supermarket display, a heavy responsibility falls upon the Government to avoid precisely the kind of distress to which his hon. Friend has referred?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not think the question has anything to do with winding up the Consumer Council. I am sure that Governments of either complexion would feel that we should not legislate to control how shops carry on their business. They must take into account the views of the public and take what they believe to be the appropriate action.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that it is not always fair to blame the supermarket owners, as some hon. Members are doing, and that there is occasionally a liability on the public to be honest?

Mr. Carlisle

Exactly. The fact remains that modern methods of merchandising of goods are popular with both shoppers and shopkeepers.

Mr. Janner

And with thieves.

Mr. Carlisle

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend says about the responsibility of the individual.

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