HC Deb 25 May 1972 vol 837 cc1597-9
1. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce legislation to require proprietors of self-service and supermarket stores to obtain the approval of the police before instituting prosecutions for shoplifting.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

No, Sir. The right to institute a private prosecution is a long-standing one and there is no justification for restricting it in respect of shoplifting.

Mr. Janner

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I have received a telegram from the President of the National Union of Small Shopkeepers which shows that thousands of shopkeepers are extremely concerned at the right to prosecute being left in the hands of the shopkeeper? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that the doctrine of "Let the courts decide" means that thousands of innocent shoppers are put in peril and fear for long periods? Will he at least warn holiday shoppers of the risks they face and of the need to take great care to avoid any sort of suspicion attaching to them?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not accept that at all. The position of a shopkeeper is the same as that of other individuals. There has always been a right for an individual to bring a private prosecution if he wishes to do so. The position of the small shopkeeper is the same as that of a supermarket or self-service store. If he chooses to bring a prosecution which is proved to be unfounded he might well end up by having to pay the costs of both sides.

Mr. Adley

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is a real problem here? One county police force is refusing to take cases brought by one chain of supermarkets. The police and others feel that supermarket proprietors are using the courts to do their dirty work for them and that they should be spending more time on prevention and less on cure. Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that an increasing number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are becoming concerned about this problem?

Mr. Carlisle

I accept that in the end the policy is determined by the chief constable of the police force concerned, and it is right, as my hon. Friend says, that there are wide variations in practice between one force and another. Some forces undertake the conduct of prosecutions while others prefer to leave it to the individual shopkeeper to bring the prosecution. What I do not accept is the use of the phrase "the courts are doing their dirty work for them".

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the main points here is that shops in some way attract shoplifting by the way in which they set out their goods—

Mr. Carlisle indicated assent


Mrs. Williams

—the provision of piped music and so on? Would it be possible for the Home Office to indicate to shopkeepers that they ought not deliberately to lure shoppers into committing crimes?

Mr. Carlisle

One accepts at once that the temptation is often present because of the manner in which goods are displayed. I do not think anyone would doubt that that is one of the major causes of the substantial increase in shoplifting. In the end, however, it must be a matter for the individual shopkeeper to decide how he lays out his goods and the way he conducts his business.

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