There have been 37 exchanges between David Hanson and Home Office
|Tue 5th November 2019||Retail Crime Prevention (Westminster Hall)||25 interactions (3,440 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (15 words)|
|Mon 28th October 2019||Major Incident in Essex||3 interactions (61 words)|
|Wed 23rd October 2019||Major Incident in Essex||3 interactions (52 words)|
|Mon 15th July 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (56 words)|
|Mon 17th June 2019||Violent Crime||3 interactions (93 words)|
|Mon 10th June 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (48 words)|
|Wed 15th May 2019||Serious Violence||3 interactions (56 words)|
|Tue 7th May 2019||Places of Worship: Security Funding||3 interactions (106 words)|
|Thu 11th April 2019||Retail Crime (Westminster Hall)||29 interactions (4,433 words)|
|Thu 4th April 2019||Gender Pay Gap||3 interactions (40 words)|
|Mon 1st April 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (49 words)|
|Fri 22nd March 2019||Emergency Summit on Knife Crime||3 interactions (56 words)|
|Mon 18th March 2019||Far-right Violence and Online Extremism||3 interactions (66 words)|
|Mon 4th March 2019||Knife Crime||3 interactions (77 words)|
|Mon 21st January 2019||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (46 words)|
|Mon 7th January 2019||Migrant Crossings||3 interactions (52 words)|
|Wed 19th December 2018||Future Immigration||3 interactions (56 words)|
|Wed 5th December 2018||European Union (Withdrawal) Act||7 interactions (124 words)|
|Mon 3rd December 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (36 words)|
|Wed 28th November 2018||Offensive Weapons Bill||25 interactions (1,937 words)|
|Mon 5th November 2018||Leaving the EU: Rights of EU Citizens||3 interactions (26 words)|
|Wed 27th June 2018||Offensive Weapons Bill||7 interactions (162 words)|
|Thu 21st June 2018||EU Settlement Scheme||3 interactions (68 words)|
|Wed 6th June 2018||Rural Crime and Public Services||17 interactions (1,765 words)|
|Mon 4th June 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (25 words)|
|Tue 22nd May 2018||Serious Violence Strategy||9 interactions (239 words)|
|Tue 8th May 2018||G4S: Immigration Removal Centres||3 interactions (29 words)|
|Mon 16th April 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (25 words)|
|Wed 28th March 2018||Police Funding||9 interactions (139 words)|
|Mon 26th February 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (51 words)|
|Mon 5th February 2018||Immigration White Paper||3 interactions (29 words)|
|Mon 8th January 2018||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (42 words)|
|Thu 14th December 2017||Asylum Accommodation (Westminster Hall)||3 interactions (25 words)|
|Mon 20th November 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (26 words)|
|Mon 16th October 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (42 words)|
|Mon 3rd July 2017||Oral Answers to Questions||3 interactions (45 words)|
I congratulate my right hon. Friend both on securing this debate and on all his campaigning on this issue. He is rightly highlighting the economic cost of retail crime. Does he agree that there is also a human cost to retail crime and that we must do all we can to protect those who work in shops from threats of physical violence?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate. I draw the House’s attention to my membership of and support from both the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the GMB, which represent shop workers in my constituency. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) have mentioned attacks on shop workers. In the Trafford Centre in my constituency, there have also been physical attacks on shoppers—gangs were threatening them with knives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just protection of shop workers that is a crucial factor in this debate, but the wider protection of the public?
The right hon. Gentleman talks about crime prevention measures. Does he not see that there is a difference between the large shops—the Sainsbury’s and so on of this world—and the smaller shops, the small businesses, which have great difficulty in coping with the costs of retail crime? Do we not need a differentiated approach for the two?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful to understand, should the Minister’s party be returned to government, what its view is on the use of facial recognition technology, which has been tried in the Trafford Centre, but is controversial? It has the potential to address crime, but we need to know what protections would be in place for personal privacy.
I thank my right hon. Friend for securing such an excellent debate. Having worked for USDAW for nearly 20 years, I have spoken to thousands of shop workers who have suffered abuse. They often felt that their employer was not doing enough to be on the side of their staff who were facing abuse. That has happened over decades. Does he agree that the Government should take a lead on this and make it clear that it is never right to abuse or threaten staff on the front line?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has done so much in this area. I agree that reducing shoplifting to the status of a parking offence has sent entirely the wrong signal. Does he agree that one of the perverse effects has been on the insurance industry? The police will say, “You have insurance.” If a small retailer makes a claim, its insurance goes up and the customer pays more. The shoplifter is the one person getting away with it, but everyone else is paying for the crime.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his brilliant work over the years to support shop workers and the way that he has tried to get the Government to change their approach to the law. The wider damage done by crimes against shop workers affects staff, businesses and, at a time when retail is struggling, communities. Does he agree that, for all those reasons, if this Government are re-elected, they must act? If the Labour party is elected to Government, we will take the action required.
I, too, commend my right hon. Friend for the immense amount of work he has done over the years on this topic. Does he agree that policing is particularly relevant in rural areas, where we are seeing a massive loss in coverage by shops, particularly little independent shops? In my constituency of Warwick and Leamington, we have communities with a single shop—the one shop in the village—and they are the ones that are most vulnerable to retail crime.
Order. Looking at the number of Members who want to speak, I will give a guideline speech limit of six minutes for each Member. If Members exceed that, those at the end of the debate will get less time.
Break in Debate
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, albeit in a different forum from the last one we met in. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing the debate about a matter that he has worked on for some time. He worked closely with my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), now the Minister for Safeguarding and Vulnerability, who took the matter seriously. I listened carefully to the contributions of all hon. Members and I will try to address some specific points that were raised.
As I hope hon. Members realise, the Government recognise the significant impact that retail crime has not only on businesses and those who work for them but on shoppers, consumers and the wider community, as we have heard from several hon. Members. That is why we co-chair the national retail crime steering group to bring together the Government, trade organisations and enforcement partners to ensure that the response to crimes affecting the retail sector is as robust as possible. We have seen the benefits that that group can achieve in its recent response to the issue of violence and abuse towards shop workers, which was overseen by my hon. Friend the Minister for Safeguarding and Vulnerability, but we know there is more to do.
The right hon. Member for Delyn raised the issue of violence and abuse toward shop staff. I pay tribute to his work on raising awareness of the issue. I am aware of his discussions with Home Office Ministers on the topic during the passage of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 in the last parliamentary Session, to which he referred. Violence and abuse remains the biggest concern for retailers and we are determined to tackle it.
Every day, we ask shop workers to deal with whatever comes through their door, whether that involves enforcing an age restriction on certain products or confronting shoplifters. Like anyone else, shop workers have the right to feel safe at work without fear of violence or intimidation. That is why, on 5 April, we launched a call for evidence to inform our response—I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his submission. We sought information on four key areas: prevalence and data, prevention and support, enforcement and the criminal justice system, and best practice.
As was mentioned, the call for evidence closed recently. We received more than 800 responses, including many first-hand accounts from shop staff. Although Home Office officials have completed an initial analysis, we have not yet published our response. That will disappoint hon. Members who referred to it, but we want to ensure that the detailed responses received are subject to a thorough and accurate analysis. Given that Parliament is about to be dissolved, I will take the opportunity to share our initial findings with hon. Members and to reassure them that we are engaging with key organisations to consider the next steps.
An initial analysis of the responses shows a widespread belief that violence and abuse towards shop staff has increased in recent years. The most common reason given was in the context of challenging individuals committing shop theft. Many respondents felt that a lack of a suitable response from the police resulted in offenders not fearing repercussions. Many felt unsupported by their organisation’s policies and management when dealing with verbally abusive customers. A significant number of respondents stated that they felt that incidents were becoming more violent and that they had experienced threats from individuals with knives, needles or other sharp objects.
That is obviously unacceptable. Nobody should be subjected to such violent attacks, especially in the workplace, and I reassure hon. Members that we are keen to take action in those areas, and in some cases, we already are.
I will come on to that. I am not wholly convinced that we are without the tools that we need to deal with the issue, but we might need to address whether we are using them correctly.
On serious violence, we published the serious violence strategy, which has a particular focus on early intervention, in April 2018, so there has been action in that area. We allocated £22 million to the early intervention youth fund and, in the long term, £200 million to the youth endowment fund to ensure that those most at risk are given the opportunity to turn away from violence and to lead more positive lives. We launched a public consultation on a new multi-agency public health approach to tackling serious violence, following which we announced that we would introduce a new legal duty on statutory agencies to plan and collaborate to prevent and reduce serious violence. We gave the police extra powers to tackle knife crime through the Offensive Weapons Act, including new knife crime prevention orders.
Those wider measures will help, but we recognise the importance of focusing our efforts on measures that are specifically targeted on tackling retail crime. This year, the Home Office provided £60,000 for a targeted communication campaign, led by the Association of Convenience Stores, to raise awareness of the existing legislation to protect shop workers. We published guidance on gov.uk about the use of the impact statement for business, which provides victims with the opportunity to tell the courts about the impact that a crime has had on their businesses. We also worked with the police to develop guidance for staff and retailers to use when reporting emergency and violent incidents.
The right hon. Member for Delyn and other hon. Members have asked the Government to consider introducing a new offence of attacks on shop staff, or to increase the severity of existing offences. I hope that he is aware from previous discussions that powers are already available to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to deal with that type of offending and to provide protection to retail staff.
There are a number of assault offences and corresponding differences in maximum penalties. At the higher end of the scale, causing grievous bodily harm with intent and wounding with intent carry maximum penalties of life imprisonment. The sentencing guidelines on assault include an aggravating factor of
“offences committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public”,
which should be taken into account by the courts when deciding what sentence to impose and may be applied to retail staff conducting their duties. In addition, the Sentencing Council is reviewing its guidelines on assault. A consultation on the revised guidelines is anticipated in 2020. I advise hon. Members to respond to that consultation with a specific focus on assaults on retail workers.
Let me turn to some of the specific points raised. Several hon. Members called for me to publish the review of the call for evidence as quickly as possible. The fact that we are going into an election will make that quite difficult, but I give my undertaking that, as soon as we come back, if I am in the job, we will try to get it out as quickly as possible. Obviously, the five-week election campaign gives officials a bit of an easier time, so they can digest the responses and get it out as soon as they can.
The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) raised the issue of facial recognition technology. Obviously, we are supporting the police as they trial the use of new technology across the country. It has become clear that facial recognition technology has significant crime-fighting possibilities. A recent court case established that there is a sufficient legal framework for its use and operation in this country, but as its use is expanded, possibly by police forces, in the months and years to come, I have no doubt that it will have to come to the House for some sort of democratic examination at some point. Thus far, however, where it is being deployed, we are seeing significant benefits from it.
Break in Debate
I thank all Members for their co-operation in keeping to the time guidance. I call David Hanson to wind up.
I would like to express my sympathies to the family. That is a dreadful tragedy, and I would of course be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the family to hear much more about that case.
We have an ambitious programme of work for our future security arrangements. Other countries, such as the United States, have a relationship with Europol —in fact, I think the United States has the biggest attendance there at the moment. Europol is still an important part of our future as part of our future negotiations.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and, being a neighbouring Member of Parliament, I do know Harwich. He is right to point out that all port operators and border staff around the country will be looking at what has happened over the last week with shared horror. They will be taking the right action in their own day-to-day work on risk-based checks, but at this stage I want to give the House the assurance that we are giving Border Force all the support it needs and we are working collaboratively with port operators. I also thank my hon. Friend for his work with Essex police when he has raised concerns in respect of the port of Harwich and on how to deal with those issues.
I have gone through that report and seen the recommendations. I am currently reviewing aspects of them, but in particular how we can make them more relevant, because that was a report from 2016—although the findings were published in 2017—and things have clearly moved on since then. But of course there is another factor here: the extent of the organised international criminality, as well as many of the port security features that were raised in that report that also need to be looked at.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He speaks with great personal insight and experience, and he is right that the trauma following such an incident will be shattering for all those involved in the recovery and emergency services. It is an important point that, for anyone who works in a frontline service or an emergency service, the trauma and post-traumatic stress of being involved in such incidents, as well as in life-saving incidents, comes back later. We will therefore not only be investing but ensuring that we support those individuals who are doing so much work locally today.
This is now a live murder investigation, so all agencies will be activated in sharing information and working together. As the right hon. Gentleman says, there is a degree of organised criminality and, whether we are inside or outside Europe, we will always stand firm against this and make sure that we collaborate with all our partners.
As my right hon. Friend says, I will not comment on any sensitive intelligence matter, but he is right to be concerned about the rise in hostile state activity. There is ongoing activity across Government to ensure that our democracy is protected. We have taken many steps and co-ordinated them across Government and the relevant authorities. He will also be pleased to know that, now that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 is on the statute book, it gives us many more powers to counter hostile state activity.
Action we have taken in the past 12 month includes: the serious violence taskforce, chaired by the Home Secretary and attended by the Mayor of London; the ministerial taskforce, chaired by the Prime Minister, to drive cross-governmental action; the establishment of the national county lines co-ordination centre, which has seen more than 1,000 arrests and more than 1,300 people safeguarded; the Offensive Weapons Act 2019, which is tightening the law on knives, acids and firearms, including through knife crime prevention orders; Operation Sceptre, which has been rolled out by police forces in weeks of action, the most recent of which saw nearly 11,000 knives taken off the streets; the anti-knife crime community fund, which funds small local projects—68 of them last year; the £22 million early intervention youth fund, funding 29 projects across the country; the #knifefree national media campaign, which has had more than 6 million views and 20,000 teachers receiving lesson plans in June; investing in Redthread intervention work in A&E departments in London, Birmingham and Nottingham; setting up the £200 million youth endowment fund; closing the public health duty consultation at the end of this month—and we are responding as quickly as we can; setting up an independent review on drugs; commissioning and receiving voluntary commitments from major retailers to prevent the under-age sale of knives in stores and online; giving more than £1 billion extra to the police this year, including £100 million from the serious violence and with the help of police and crime commissioners; making it easier for officers to use section 60 stop-and-search powers; investing £96 million to support victims and witnesses, through the Ministry of Justice; and supporting a new national police capability to tackle gang-related activity on social media.
That shows the complexity and range of the actions we are taking. I hope the hon. Lady is asking the same question of the Mayor of London, because we all bear a responsibility—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady laughs as I say this and does some funny actions. I do not know why she is taking this in such a light-hearted fashion. This is deeply serious. This is the commitment of the Government and our local partners, and we all should really be working together to stop this violence.
The right hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that PCCs across the country are recruiting up to 3,000 new officers as a result of the new settlement that we—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service reminds me that Labour Members voted against this new settlement. As I was saying, this is as a result of the £1 billion extra we are investing in policing.
Yes, I can reassure the House that intelligence sharing will go on unchanged. The relationship between intelligence services under national security, irrespective of our status within Europe, will not diminish, and the same goes for our status within the Five Eyes community—a strong partnership for intelligence. In addition, when it comes to law enforcement tools, our relationships are also underpinned by the 1957 Council of Europe convention on extradition and the 1959 European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters, and those will continue no matter what the settlement is.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about investment in our border. However, I had a quick discussion with the Home Secretary, who does not have the same recollection of what he announced at the weekend. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman writes to the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary will set out the position.
One thing that will certainly help in our capital is the violent crime taskforce, which is dedicated to fighting violent crime in London, as well as other measures that I will come to in a moment—for example, the resourcing specifically for fighting serious violence, in the Metropolitan region and elsewhere, including new police officers specifically dedicated to that fight.
It is not the only increase. In the previous year, I think it was around £460 million—something over £400 million, anyway—and this is double what it was the previous year, so I cannot confirm that because it is not correct.
The police also told me they needed more powers, so we are changing the law through the Offensive Weapons Bill, which is expected to gain Royal Assent tomorrow. The Bill will make it harder for young people to buy knives or acid and will introduce the knife crime protection orders that police asked for. They also told me they needed urgent support to deal with the immediate challenge. They asked for £50 million, but I doubled it to £100 million, with two thirds going straight to the police. Last week, I announced that £63.4 million of that had been allocated to the 18 worst-affected forces. It will pay for surge activity and additional patrols. A further £1.6 million will help to improve the quality of data to support planning and operations, with the remaining £35 million being used to support the creation of violence reduction units.
The police also told me they wanted targeted stop-and-search—because it works. The Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has linked its increased use in hotspot areas to the fall in youth stabbings. For that reason, I have made it simpler for the police to use these powers by relaxing the rules on section 60 searches in seven of the worst-hit areas. At least 3,000 more officers can now authorise searches in areas where violence is anticipated, which will help to take more weapons off our streets.
Last year alone, police in England and Wales made nearly 8,000 arrests for possession of weapons and firearms following a stop-and-search, so it undoubtedly works, but we will continue to work with the police and communities to ensure its use remains targeted and intelligence-led. Of course, officers should never search people based on their race or ethnicity. This is not about any specific community; it is about protecting those most at risk. A black person is four times more likely to be a victim of homicide than a white person. In London, 53% of knife crime victims are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. If the targeted use of stop-and-search can save any one of these victims, it can only be a good thing.
The £5 million training fund was announced in the week after the atrocity in Christchurch, and we are trying to make it available as soon as possible. During our early discussions with some members of the community, we talked about what would be the best way to use that fund, and how it should be focused. The hon. Lady asked me about a specific event that will take place very soon. I gathered that she would attend that event, or had been invited. I think it is great that Members of Parliament are supporting iftars around the country. I will check on whether the training will be available in time for the event in the hon. Lady’s constituency, and if she will allow me, I will write to her.
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the issue of closed groups on social media—the more private groups—is being taken seriously, and is being looked at. He also asked about intelligence. As he will know, the gathering of intelligence on potential terrorist activities is led by Counter Terrorism Policing, a national policing command working with police forces across the country, together with the domestic Security Service. Its budget has been increased significantly over the last three to four years, and it remains an absolute priority to ensure that it has all the resources that it needs to gather that intelligence.
I apologise for missing the very start of my right hon. Friend’s contribution. I have been told by a number of representatives of shops and supermarkets that when shoplifting takes place and is reported to the police, quite often the police are not really interested, and it is down to the shop staff to try to recover the goods. If that message gets out, the problem of shoplifting will only grow.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does he share my concern about how reductions in the police service have affected response times and confidence in the police? The Central England Co-operative has suffered 18 armed robberies, and its staff are very concerned about how vulnerable not knowing whether the police will turn up for some crimes makes them feel. Clearly, the police will turn up for armed robberies, but there are a great deal of threats and violence against our shop workers.
It is very important that we also recognise that those shops provide vital services in our communities and on our high streets, which are under a lot of pressure. We as a society have to support businesses and individuals who contribute to our local economies at a time when there is a lot of concern about the future of the communities in which we live.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate. I know how much he cares about this issue. Many Members will know that, in a previous life, I was a trainee butcher in Tesco for many years. That is where I did all my butchery training. On low-level abuse, one of the things that is not highlighted enough is that this is not just about robbery or abuse; it is also about the customers who come into the store. I remember vividly when I worked on counters that if we did not have a particular type of stock, the customers would feel free to scream abuse at us. There was no response to that; we simply had to take it. I now know that lots of retailers are developing safety training to counter the abuse that staff face and training on how to deal with aggressive customers. It is a sign of the times that more and more staff face abuse because people are having a bad day and cannot get the goods that they want. That cannot be allowed to carry on, particularly given that those people provide key services and are there to do a job. I have friends who still work in the industry and feel that they cannot stay because of the abuse that they receive.
I apologise for not being able to stay for the whole debate. Like my right hon. Friend, I am proud to be an USDAW member, and I very much welcome the debate. He is right to highlight the theft of high-value goods, which is sometimes related to addiction and sometimes—particularly in the case of women offenders—results from coercion by others to obtain goods that can be sold for those coercive partners to benefit from. Does he agree that it would be well worth the Minister’s while to look at the initiative undertaken in Manchester, where women caught shoplifting in such circumstances are diverted not to the criminal justice system per se, but to women’s centres? Good, preventive work can be done there to deal with addiction, domestic abuse, coercion and other causes of this kind of retail crime committed by violent and dangerous offenders, and also some vulnerable offenders.
My right hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. To complete that picture, I visited a local Co-op store in my constituency, and the feedback was absolutely about drug and alcohol issues, but also that staff noticed a significant rise in people who just had no money, perhaps from universal credit delays; several women were caught stealing sanitary products, baby milk and nappies. It is absolutely right to point that out, but there are bigger issues in society that drive some of this that also need to be addressed.
It is not just in the shop that people can be targeted. They can be targeted on their way home, particularly if some of the offenders live in the locality. They can be subject to that sort of attack all the time.
On the particular issue of CCTV, the right hon. Gentleman is correct to raise the prospect of the Home Office considering whether CCTV infrastructure across the UK can be improved, particularly in our towns and cities. Not only would that help the detection and prosecution of certain instances of retail shop crime, but it would act as a deterrent. I am glad to say that in my part of Wales, Dyfed-Powys police and the commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn, have recently reinvested a lot in CCTV infrastructure. Shopkeepers in Aberystwyth and Cardigan are keen to see that return.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) for securing the debate and for his excellent speech.
For nearly 20 years I worked for USDAW, the shop workers’ union. I spoke day in, day out with shop workers affected by abuse, threats and violence. When I started out, I heard abuse mentioned as part of the banter in the coffee room, or members would speak at conferences about the abuse that they had received, trying to support each other and laughing at customers who abused them. They were trying to see the funny side, as so many working people do to get through. I soon realised that such offences were not laughable and not just the odd occurrences; this happened day after day, week after week, sapping away at people’s energy, self-confidence and self-esteem, and their ability to do their job.
I therefore worked with USDAW to set up the Freedom from Fear Campaign, with workers from across that great union, from shops and companies, and from all across the country. I am pleased to say that we had an enormous amount of engagement from shop workers, who welcomed the fact that at least they had a voice to speak about what was happening to them in the workplace. Also, professional support could be put together through companies, the trade union and professional organisations to ensure that incidents got reported as far as possible, and that employers did as much as they could to support their staff, putting investment into CCTV, reporting systems or counselling for people who were traumatised.
Shop workers have to put up with far too much abuse, threats and violence each and every day. On the basis of our surveys, we worked out that every minute of every working day another shop workers suffers abuse. Each day, more than 1,000 threats of violence are reported. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) commented, those threats do not just affect people in the workplace; threats are made by people who live in the same towns and communities as shop workers, so not just those workers but their children and families are affected.
Each day, 737 assaults are reported, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Far too many threats, assaults and instances of abuse are not reported either to an employer or to the police. As a union, USDAW has worked very hard to try to change that culture—to try to get the reports in place and to get employers and police to act on them. But too often, the impact on shop workers is not taken into account. We have fewer police on our streets and fewer police cells and custody suites; my local one in Buxton is due to close in a couple of months. That will impact on the number of arrests that can be made and the number of offenders who can be dealt with. Courts are closing down. We are seeing a reduction in arrests and prosecutions and, at the same time, a lack of the support services that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) said exist in Manchester. I wish that such services were available in my rural area to refer prolific offenders to; too often, they are not.
Victims of crime over the years have told me how they have struggled to get back to work after being threatened or assaulted. They can have flashbacks; they suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, for which there are very few treatment services. That affects them in the workplace as they try to return to work. They might find that impossible, so they lose their job and livelihood as well as their confidence, self-esteem and courage to go out into the community.
The impact that I have described simply is not taken into account. With the reduction in the number of staff in retail, employers also have to play their part. There should not be lone working, particularly in areas that have seen assaults and antisocial behaviour in stores, but we see this far too often—staff, often women, left to cope alone at night with gangs of teenagers or with possible offenders. Employers have a duty of care to staff, and I am pleased that many employers, such as the Co-op, have put a lot of investment into supporting their staff, but others do not and we need to send out a message from this place that that is not acceptable and that employers have a duty of care that includes protection against known threats of violence.
If police get involved with employers, working with CCTV and the evidence that employers gather as part of their work, they will find that they can work with both employers and shop workers. In an era when we are seeing a massive reduction in community policing, the police need to do that; they need to reach out to shop workers and to cafés and so on. If people want to know what is going on in a community, a sure way to find out is to ask the local shop workers; they will know. The police and the justice system need to give those workers the respect that they deserve. They need to take into account the impact of crime on those workers and their families and the impact on stores and on our high streets, which are too often suffering a decline. If they can work with them to tackle persistent offenders and get evidence on the drug dealers who are too often pushing drugs to victims who then go out and commit shop crime, they will find that they can improve the policing in their area and improve their links with the community.
For many years, I have worked with USDAW to argue for a separate offence of assaulting a worker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn set this out. Shop workers do not feel that assaults and threats against them are taken seriously enough. The sentencing guidelines are extremely complicated. I worked with previous Governments on them, and there are so many factors to be taken into account that it is almost impossible for a victim of crime to see how the impact on them has had any impact on a sentence, even when an offender is actually brought to justice. A separate offence would simplify sentencing. It would encourage prosecutions, because it is simpler to get a prosecution in place through one branch of the law and through an Act. It would have a deterrent effect as well and shop workers would feel that the law is on their side. It sends the message that assaulting a shop worker is not preferable to being caught shoplifting. We in this House must send out that message to all shop workers, bar workers and café staff. They need to know that we, the police and the criminal justice system are on their side, because they are always on our side.
Break in Debate
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I pay great tribute to my near neighbour and right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) for his thorough introduction to the debate and his extensive campaigning on the issue. I also thank all other hon. Members who have contributed.
I represent the most beautiful and nicest constituency in Parliament; there is nowhere that quite compares with it. It is 240 square miles and contains many vibrant communities. There is also a strong sense of community. Almost any shop worker who lives in my constituency will speak about that strong sense of community; how much they enjoy their job, in many cases; and how important their shop is in the community. That is all true, but unfortunately, it is not true all the time.
One deeply concerning UK-wide statistic, which came from the excellent USDAW, is that more than 280 retail staff are violently attacked every day across the country. That should cause us to be very concerned. Those shop workers go to do their jobs in the same way that others go to do their jobs, and that level of attack is concerning.
In my constituency, we have a good mix of small and medium-sized stores, and a few supermarkets, and the bulk of them take the issue very seriously. I put on the record my particular thanks to the Co-op Group, however, not simply because I am a regular shopper at the Rhosllanerchrugog and Johnstown stores, but because it has sent briefings on individual constituencies and has had the honesty to say some of the bad things that have happened in its stores.
I do not like reading things word for word, but the Co-op gave three examples of things that happened in its stores in my constituency. The first example is:
“A drunk man came into the store and started abusing one of our colleagues. This colleague asked him to calm down and stop swearing. The bloke carried on shopping and on his way out carried on the abuse so he was escorted out of the shop. When outside, he started swinging his shopping bag and throwing punches. He ripped the colleague’s glasses of his face and threw them into the car park. He then ran off.”
This is the second one:
“Two hooded men came into the store with a large knife. One of them grabbed a colleague and put a knife to her neck, and the other one went behind the till and grabbed another colleague. They emptied the safe and the tills and ran into a waiting car.”
This is the third account:
“Four blokes came into the store, they threatened colleagues with a knife and nicked all the cigarettes that had just arrived from the delivery.”
The people affected by that are ordinary working people in our communities. In that case, it was in Clwyd South, but there are examples from across the country.
I welcome what the Co-op Group has done with its community fund. In addition to security measures and the like, it supports projects that tackle crime and crime prevention measures. Its corporate social responsibility in that regard is very much to be welcomed. Of course, we need to tackle the root causes as well as the problem itself.
Reflecting what everyone else has said, I want to say this to the Minister: whatever is happening at the moment—my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn spoke about that in great detail—it is clear that we have to do more. I echo the calls to make attacks on shop workers and other retail workers aggravated offences. When the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 was going through Parliament, and in the campaign that preceded it, we heard many reasons why it was not possible. The campaign continued, and I am pleased to say that the Government supported it. That was very important. Many of us were co-sponsors of the Bill, and we worked on a cross-party basis. I am pleased that it got Government support.
As my right hon. Friend said, it is important that we look at creating an aggravated offence for attacks on shop workers, because shop and retail workers are a bit different from other workers. The argument will always be made that we cannot have aggravated offences against everyone. Clearly not, but the difference is that people know that shop workers have ready access to cash and have to handle it all the time.
Absolutely so. I agree wholeheartedly. Those are the everyday dangers that shop workers have to face, and they should not have to do so. They have to deal with people who are being obstructive outside their store. I have heard examples of shop workers who have had to deal with people who did not want to pay 5p for a carrier bag. I urge the Government to commit to doing something more on this issue. Let us work together, because it is not right that people in those shops, whether in the beautiful constituency of Clwyd South or anywhere else around the country, are affected in that way.
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Members for a really thoughtful and thought-provoking debate. I am particularly grateful to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for such a brief response, because that gives me plenty of time to answer the many important points that have been raised.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson) on securing this debate on a matter that I know is of huge importance to him and his constituents. It has been a genuine pleasure to work with him and members of the all-party parliamentary group on retail crime, chaired by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), particularly during the passage of the Offensive Weapons Bill, because we have made real progress. I hope we will make much more in future.
I will make a gentle point for Hansard regarding a comment that was made earlier. This debate is taking place alongside a very important statement by the Prime Minister in the main Chamber, about the European Council. I know that many hon. Members will have had real difficulty deciding which important debate they should take part in.
The importance of our local shops and convenience stores unites us all; every single constituency has such shops. I take this opportunity to thank the local shops in my wonderful Louth and Horncastle constituency. I may get into a battle with the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) about whose constituency is more beautiful, but I have the pleasure of having some special market towns in my very rural constituency, as well as many independent shops on our high streets that we are keen to preserve. I hope that all the shops in all our constituencies will have a busy and profitable Easter period in week or two ahead.
Right hon. and hon. Members have very powerfully made the point that crimes against our local shops and businesses are not victimless—everyone who spoke made that point strongly. I think that we were all struck by the examples given by the hon. Member for Clwyd South and indeed by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who brought some of her own experiences to the Chamber. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell) talked about the cultural impact of such crimes, not just on the immediate victims, but on the wider shop staff community and then on villages and small towns. I am grateful to him for making that important point.
Violence and abuse remain the biggest concern for retailers. That is the No. 1 priority for the National Retail Crime Steering Group, which I chair, and I am delighted to see members of the group in the Public Galley. The group brings together retailers, trade bodies, police and others, to help to ensure that our response to tackling those crimes is as robust as it can be. Our last meeting, a month or so ago, was extraordinary and focused solely on the issue of violence. I am grateful to the members of the group for helping my officials to draft the call for evidence in such a way that we get the richest evidence we can from shop workers and others in the retail industry.
I am absolutely determined to tackle this problem. Every day, we ask shop workers to enforce the law, whether by refusing to sell age-restricted products to those whom they believe are below the legal age, or by confronting criminals who are trying to steal from their business. Shop workers, like all employees, have the right to feel safe at work, without fear of violence or intimidation. That is why, on April 5, I launched a call for evidence to enable us to learn more about the scale and extent of the issue and inform our response.
We are seeking information in four key areas. First, information on prevalence and data will help to address gaps in our understanding and to build a more accurate picture of the nature of violence and abuse toward staff. Secondly, information on prevention and support will help us to gather evidence and information about what works in preventing such crimes, including how businesses can support their staff. Thirdly, information on enforcement and the criminal justice system will help to develop our understanding of the reporting of incidents, application of the current legislative framework, and the response by the police and wider criminal justice system. Fourthly, identifying further best practice will help to establish what works and to consider potential non-legislative solutions.
The call for evidence will run for 12 weeks, to ensure that those with an interest have sufficient time to respond. Obviously, we will consider the responses carefully and publish our response as swiftly as possible after the call for evidence closes.
My intention is to publish it in the autumn. I ask all right hon. and hon. Members to spread the word through their networks and encourage local shopkeepers to contribute to the consultation, because the richer the tapestry of evidence that we have, the better we will be able to respond.
The call for evidence is supported by a wider package of measures. The Home Office is providing £50,000 of funding for a targeted communication campaign, led by the Association of Convenience Stores, to raise awareness of the existing legislation to protect shop workers. We have published guidance on gov.uk about the use of impact statements for business, which provide victims with the opportunity to tell the courts about the impact a crime has had on their business. From my experience of working in the criminal courts, I know that those statements can make a huge difference and have a real impact on judges as they are considering how best to sentence offenders.
We have also worked with the police to develop guidance for staff and retailers to use when reporting emergency and violent incidents. As I say, I encourage everyone with an interest to respond to the call for evidence, including shop staff who have been directly affected by violence and abuse at work.
Interestingly, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who is sadly no longer in his place—he may be in the main Chamber—made a wider point about courtesy and the use of language. I am sure that we all consider that an important point that we will encourage people to remember as they visit our shops. Shop workers deserve politeness and courtesy, as does anyone else in this world. The example was given of an item of stock running low, which can be frustrating, but we should try to behave with courtesy.
I will quickly touch on the issue of police funding, which a couple of hon. Members raised. It has largely been a debate of great collaboration and agreement, but I must point out that police funding will increase by more than £1 billion in 2019-20, including, with the help of council tax, extra funding for pension costs and the serious violence fund. The Home Secretary has also stated that he will prioritise police funding at the next spending review.
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A delegation from the Scottish Parliament—from Glasgow, specifically—came to see me about that and described the problems. It seems that there is more scope for precision policing in the local area. Policing in Scotland is now devolved, and where there are alleyways with drug paraphernalia, as the delegation described, I think there is a role for precision policing.
The hon. Lady will know that there is work ongoing with the local authorities to look at other ways of treating drug addiction, including more targeted heroin-assisted treatment. I am sure that, like me, she is pleased that more adults are leaving treatment successfully compared with 2009-10. The average waiting time in England and Wales to access treatment is now two days. On 2 October, we announced a major independent review of drugs as part of a package of measures to tackle serious violence. The review will look at a wide range of issues, including the system of support and enforcement around drug misuse, to inform our thinking about what more can be done to tackle drug harms.
Hon. Members raised the issue of alcohol dependency. The two phases of the local alcohol action areas programme, which works with a total of 52 areas across England and Wales, suggest that theft to support alcohol dependency is not as prevalent as one would imagine. Although many LAA areas have had problems with street drinking, none felt the need to take action to prevent alcohol-related thefts, interestingly. The reasons for that may be manifold, but I wanted to introduce that into the debate to ensure that hon. Members are satisfied that we have looked into it and will continue to do so.
Many hon. Members spoke about shoplifting of items with a value of less than £200. I will take a moment to clarify the law on that, because there appears to have been a misunderstanding. I am delighted that this debate gives us the opportunity to clarify the law. In 2014, we changed the law to enable cases of theft from a shop of goods of a value of £200 or less to be dealt with as swiftly and efficiently as possible. The changes enable certain cases to be dealt with as summary-only offences, so they can be prosecuted. The simple offence of theft is triable either way—in other words, in the magistrates court or the Crown court. We have said that shoplifting offences of values of less than £200 can be tried only in the magistrates court in order to speed up the process, in terms of defendants choosing trial by jury.
That procedural change was designed to improve proportionality and lay the groundwork for the police to prosecute uncontested cases in the future, much as they do with some driving offences. The change has had no bearing on the ability of the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute a person for theft from a shop, or on the courts’ powers to punish offenders. An offender convicted of theft in a magistrates court can still face a penalty of up to six months’ imprisonment for a single offence. I am happy to discuss that further after the debate in order to clarify people’s understanding. The value of shoplifting in irrelevant, because it can still be prosecuted even if it is under £200.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak raised the issue of banning orders. We introduced a range of powers through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; these can be used by local agencies to redress antisocial behaviour that relates to retail crime, and can impose a range of conditions, such as banning an individual from entering a particular premises or area. Many of the powers are not limited to the police; some can also be enforced by local authorities. Again, if colleagues would like more information on how those powers can be used, I am very happy to share details after the debate. The more we can help our partners across local government and elsewhere to use those powers, the better I suspect it will be for our local communities.
I absolutely understand why the right hon. Member for Delyn and many others have asked the Government to consider introducing a new offence of attacks on shop staff. As he is aware from our previous discussions, powers are already available to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to deal with this type of offending and provide protection to retail staff. There are a number of criminal offences available to cover a wide variety of unacceptable behaviour, ranging from abusive and threatening language to offences against the person. In addition, the independent Sentencing Council is planning to consult on a revised guideline for assaults during the summer. The call for evidence presents us with another opportunity to understand how the current legislation is being applied. I am very keen to look at the efficacy of community schemes, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central and others. At the end of the call for evidence, I am very happy to see what it suggests.
I am very grateful to hon. Members for what has been an interesting and important debate on retail crime. As well as hearing concerns, we have heard about the positive work that is going on in response to retail crime. Although much more can be done to reduce such crime, there is much that we can take heart from in the efforts of a range of communities, organisations and partners to respond to this problem. I know that we all share a common aim to create safer communities for the public we serve, and that, once again, we all thank our local shops and convenience stores, which are open at all sorts of hours of the day and night in order to provide us with a pint of milk, our dinner after a late day at work or a bit of chocolate when we need cheering up. All shops play an incredibly important role in our local communities, and I join hon. Members in thanking them all.
The hon. Lady is right to raise this issue. That is why we were so keen to introduce free childcare for children aged three and above. I will happily raise the point about local nurseries with the Secretary of State, but we are trying to encourage businesses and employers to think more imaginatively about how they can retain the talent from which they benefit. They may have spent many years training and developing female employers through schemes such as flexible working and shared parental leave—bold schemes that will make a cultural as well as a practical difference.
I expect them to look at the variety of diagnostic tools that are available on the gov.uk website, and to seek advice about how to better diagnose and then deal with their gender pay gaps. This is not an insurmountable problem, and health trusts need to understand that the gender pay gap expectation applies to them just as it applies to any large multinational company.
It is the first duty of a Government to keep the public safe and the Home Secretary and I could not have made it clearer that our priority going into the spending review is police funding. More money has gone into Bedfordshire police and we intend to take police funding as a priority into the next spending review.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the additional public investment in North Wales police, as seems to be the case. That is part of a trend, which I hope he would welcome, of increased public investment in policing. If we want more to go into policing, we have to pay as taxpayers. Whether it comes from central Government or local government is not the point. He will know that most funding for local policing comes from the taxpayer through the centre. I will take no lectures on precepts from the Labour party, which doubled council tax when it was in power.
This is a really interesting idea. There has been success in rolling up these powers—for example, in the cases of the Mayor of Greater Manchester and of course the Mayor of London—so there is a lot of evidence that it can work. My hon. Friend is right that decisions about reserves are made by police and crime commissioners. How they spend their money is their decision, and they are accountable to the public. I am delighted that police and crime commissioners are committed to recruiting more officers with the increased funding that they will receive this year. If that is what the public want, that is what police and crime commissioners should deliver.
We are working through the details of how the £100 million is to be spent and sent out. Last week, we listened to police and crime commissioners, who put forward some interesting suggestions, and it would only be right for us to consider those suggestions carefully. The structure of the allocations is also being worked through. I have ideas as to how we will communicate information on the summit to the House. I am clear that this is an important topic for the House to hear about, and we will be letting the House know through a variety of channels.
The communications service providers around the world need to get the message that we know that they seem to manage to do something when they really want to. We know that their algorithms are often designed to maximise viewing numbers and profits, rather than the safety of our constituents, and we need them to realise that we are on to that and are going to do something about it. Last year, Facebook took down 14.3 million pieces of content, 99% of which was done by automated tools. Before that, it took the Government to set up the Counter-Terrorism Internet Referral Unit—not the CSPs. That unit, on its own, managed to take down 300,000 pieces of content. If we can do it, those multi-billion-pound global corporations can invest more in artificial intelligence, and they can do so much quicker.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned the work of the Hollie Gazzard Trust and reminded us of how, through that tragedy, the family and friends came together to try to turn it into something that could help others. Indeed, I think the victims Minister met Mr Gazzard as well.
My hon. Friend asked me about the work that is being done to look into the drugs markets and drugs misuse. That is vital work because one thing that is clear is that sadly the changes in drugs markets seem to be driving much of this violence. If we can understand those changes better, we can come up with even more policy responses.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions an important issue about leadership. This is such an important issue that it requires, as we are seeing, leadership across different levels—not just at national level, but in local government. We have talked today about some of the mayors and their responsibilities, the police and crime commissioners and the chief constables. It is important that all that work is co-ordinated as well. The work of the serious violence taskforce, for example, is important in this, as is the work that the National Police Chiefs Council co-ordinates and the work of the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre. So leadership at many levels is required.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the security relationship we have with many other countries, including, of course, with our “Five Eyes” partners—that is a critical relationship—and the NATO alliance. That does not take away from the fact that we also want to continue co-operating with the EU, and I am sure that we will.
That is quite straightforward. If the right hon. Gentleman takes the time to read the political declaration, he will see that it refers to establishing arrangements—for example, for the quick and efficient surrender of individuals. They are not necessarily exactly the same instruments, but we have done this in a way that is consistent with our taking back control of our laws.
My hon. Friend mentions the UK-France joint co-ordination centre now opened in Calais. It is not that it does not work—it makes an important contribution—but it is not enough on its own, and its work needed to be supplemented, which is why we have taken further action in recent weeks, including working much more closely with the French on disruptions. As I mentioned earlier, of all the crossings we know about, the French have successfully disrupted just over 40%. We need to step up law enforcement co-ordination—the French have recently made several arrests—and ensure better co-ordination of maritime patrols and shared intelligence, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Law enforcement work is an important part of this operation. Since April 2018, UK law enforcement authorities have disrupted 46 organised criminal gangs involved in people smuggling. In November 2018, two men were jailed for eight years each; in September 2018, seven members of an OCG were jailed with sentences totalling 48 years; and last February, two men were jailed for over nine years.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the issue of the importance of control. One of the clear messages from the EU referendum was that people wanted to see control of our borders, and the new system will provide just that. Under this system, everyone who enters the UK will need permission, and that will give us a level of control that we have not had for four decades.
I will happily do so, although I do not have the exact paragraph before me. In terms of the SIS II database, the document refers to the wanted and missing persons database. It also refers to another database—on European criminal records—in a similar vein. The declaration says that we will consider co-operation on those databases, but it does not guarantee that.
The agreement clearly refers to the mutual exchange of data on passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints, vehicle registrations and fast-track for extradition—which I will cover later in my speech—as well as continued co-operation with Europol and Eurojust.
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I will come to that point, but I will say now that the Prime Minister’s red lines, one of which was the ECJ, may well prove to have been reckless. The EU insists on treaty arrangements governing key aspects of international security, justice and policing, as do we. Without a treaty, courts have no legal basis to implement arrest or extradition warrants and cannot allow third countries access to criminal and other databases. We are on course to become a third country in our relationship with the EU. Because there is no security treaty planned or even aimed for in the exit documents, the level of co-operation between the UK and the EU post Brexit could be severely and unavoidably downgraded.
Ministers will be aware that neither France nor Germany will automatically extradite to non-EU countries—their constitutions say that. There will be a mutual loss of the use of the European arrest warrant, and the UK will no longer be able to access the Europol database in real time. In addition, as a third country, the UK’s access to databases of criminal records, fingerprints, DNA and missing and wanted persons will be compromised. Ministers promise a future security partnership between this country and the EU. However, the assurance on access to SIS II and the European criminal records information system is only that
“the UK and the EU have agreed to consider further how to deliver capabilities that, as far as technically and legally possible, approximate those enabled by EU mechanisms”.
That is not the same as assuring us of the same level of co-operation that we have today. In relation to the European arrest warrant, there is not even that promise. On passenger name records and the exchange of DNA, fingerprints, and vehicle registration, the agreement says:
“The UK and the EU have agreed to establish reciprocal arrangements”.
It does not say that they have established reciprocal arrangements; it is a wish for the future. However, without appeal and oversight by a court—that role is currently played by the ECJ—all these things could be subject to legal challenge in practice.
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. It is about resources—that is why we saw an increase in police resources last year; and there will be a police settlement statement soon, which will look at resources going forward—but it is also about powers, and I remind him that we will shortly be bringing forward a draft domestic abuse Bill.
The purpose of my amendments 23 and 24 is to avoid banning lever-release rifles. They are probing amendments; I just wish to explore the Government’s position, and I do not intend to press them to a Division.
I would like to start by thanking Little Chalfont Rifle and Pistol Club and my constituents who are members of it for helping me better to understand lever-release rifles by allowing me to fire several of them. Lever-release rifles are built and designed in the UK. They have a mechanism by which the rifle unloads itself with propellant gas but stops short of reloading. In a sense, they are self-cocking, but not self-loading. A lever is pressed to release the working parts and load the next round. My amendments would allow lever-release rifles but ban so-called MARS—manually activated release system—rifles, which allow the working parts to come forward using a second trigger press.
The lever-release mechanism was produced within current firearms law to be suitably used and owned on a section 1 firearms licence. These rifles are a valuable resource for disabled and elderly shooters in particular, who can struggle with conventional operating actions, and are no more dangerous than any other legally owned firearm of a similar calibre. The mechanism is not a bump stock, which has no place in target shooting; there seems to be unity about that.
The National Rifle Association has provided evidence that lever-release systems do not significantly increase the rate of fire capability of rifles. Lever-release rifles have a comparable rate of fire to bolt-action rifles—that is, one to two rounds per second, against one or less with a bolt-action rifle. Those rates of fire are based on un-aimed shots. In reality, the rate of fire for aimed shots, including the time taken to come back to aim and replace magazines, will yield an aimed shot about every two to four seconds in the hands of an expert marksman, regardless of the system used. I can certainly testify to that, having tried them. They have considerable recoil, and the idea of having a high rate of fire with aimed shots is really for the birds.
The lever-release system can allow an able-bodied shooter to maintain their firing position, assisting accuracy in a sport that is defined by accurate shooting. According to British Shooting, disabled people currently make up 25% of recreational shooters—a number that it is committed to increasing further. The NRA has informed us that 42.5% of its members are aged 60 or older. Lever-release rifles can allow less able people to continue to participate in the sport.
It seems unnecessary to ban lever-release rifles. My amendments would ban so-called MARS firearms, where the trigger is pulled a second time. I would like the Minister to set out exactly why shooters with lever-release rifles should have those weapons taken from them. A cornerstone of democracy is minority rights. I do not think that these weapons represent a significant additional risk for having a lever-release mechanism, and though I am only probing the Government’s position, I would like the Minister to set out in detail why owners will be stripped of those firearms.
Finally, in the original impact assessment, published alongside the consultation document, the Government estimated the total cost of compensation for the owners of these firearms to be between £1 million and £1.1 million in the first year of the policy. Responses to the consultation suggest that this was a considerable underestimate, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us a new and more accurate estimate of the cost of the compensation.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when the firearms legislation was revised in 2002, just before he became a Northern Ireland Minister, it brought anything firing a projectile with over 1 kJ of energy within the ambit of a firearms certificate? That distinguishes between airsoft and air rifles, so every air rifle in Northern Ireland has to be on a firearms certificate. That does not ban them, but it brings in the security protections and measures that he has outlined.
I wish to speak to Government amendment 26 and other related amendments. I had not intended to speak, but I feel duty bound to do so. Some time back, when the proposal to ban .50 calibre weapons came to the fore, like many of my Conservative colleagues, I wrote to the Minister to ask for the evidence base for it. The response I got back did not ultimately persuade me that there was such an evidence base. I think of myself as a libertarian, and if we are going to ban anything, there needs to be a justification for doing so. I was very much part of raising that query and concern.
I absolutely supported the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), which would have tightened up some of the rules around gun clubs with regard to these weapons. I am speaking in order to do almost an about-turn—I touched on this in my intervention during my hon. Friend’s speech—and this has really come to light for me. The issue is not so much about the .50 calibre weapons. I take the point, and it is well made, that one would not be able to remove and use this type of weapon in such a way; they are used for a specific purpose. None the less, if we are not careful with our gun clubs and do not make sure that the rules are tight, there will be situations where there are breaches that have tragic consequences. I want to reference what I touched on in my intervention.
I will run through the exchange that happened during the court process. Mr Craig Savage, the constituent I referred to—in fact, this happened just into a neighbouring constituency—managed to book his local gun club. It is my local gun club—I have actually used it—and the same one that has written to me to try to persuade me how safe it is and what a great pursuit the sport is.
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I am extremely concerned to hear that, but I wonder why the local police are not using the powers already available to them, because if a gang is behaving like that, there are offences that would enable the police to deal with that threatening behaviour, and any violent acts.
The Sentencing Council has set out, in its definitive guideline on assault offences, that it is an “aggravating factor” for an offence to be committed against those who are either working in the public sector or providing a service to the public, and an offence against either group could result in a more severe sentence within the statutory maximum for the offence—and that includes retail and shop staff.
However, there is more to this than the shape of the legislation, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree. That is why, in October 2017, the National Police Chiefs Council—with the support of Home Office funding—launched the national business crime centre, a repository for good practice, standards and guidance for all business nationally. It also acts as a national alert and data feed service, to enable businesses to have more information regarding crime in their local area.
They are of course free to do so, but we have looked carefully at the law. However, I chair the national retail crime steering group, which brings retailers and police together to tackle retail crime, and I am happy to ask the police, in that forum, why retailers feel this way.
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he has identified one of the problems with which we grappled in Committee. The Bill includes a clause specifically for overseas sales. The requirement is that any delivery company that enters into a contract with an overseas retailer or manufacturer must itself conduct the checks as to the age of the person to whom it is delivering. Arguably, the checks are more arduous on delivery drivers for overseas retailers than for UK-based retailers. He will understand that, if a retailer resides in China, there is very little we can do to require it to comply with these laws, but we have tried to address that point.
I hope and believe that the Bill addresses the concerns that have been raised about the sale and delivery of corrosive products, the possession of corrosive substances, the sale and delivery of knives and so on. I will listen with interest during the rest of this debate because hon. Members have tabled several interesting amendments. I hope that I have answered their concerns with regard to the amendments and new clauses I have spoken on thus far, but I may seek to address one or two amendments at a later stage if there are particular questions they would like me to answer.
As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, I worked for Asda for 12 years before I first entered this place, and what he has said about shop staff is absolutely right. It is a hellishly difficult job working on the checkouts in a supermarket—or in any shop, for that matter—and we ask an awful lot of those people, who are not paid an awful lot to do the really responsible job that they do. I agree that the least that we can do in this House, when we put such pressures on them, is to give them the support that they need. On that basis, I very much support his new clause 1.
I, too, support my right hon. Friend’s new clause 1. Does he agree that there is a particular point about staff in small shops that are often open until 8, 9 or 10 o’clock at night? The shop will often be the only place open in that community and not in an area where people are walking past. The one or two staff in there could find themselves under immense pressure from people wanting to buy substances, and they have to reject them with nobody about to help.
I, too, support my right hon. Friend’s new clause. Does he agree that workers in rural locations, where shops are often single-staffed and the distance from the nearest police station may be significant, are often left in a very vulnerable situation indeed?
I support my right hon. Friend’s new clause. I visited a Co-op shop in Croydon recently. The manager there had had a knife pulled on him. There had been several occasions in recent times when incidents had occurred but the police had not come, because the incidents were not deemed important enough. Those shop workers were having to deal with all kinds of incidents. They feel a lack of protection, and they support what my right hon. Friend is trying to do.
At the moment, many of our constituents seem to think the only thing we are discussing in this place is yet more Brexit, so it is with great pleasure that I am here to speak about something so important, unfortunately, to the daily lives of many of our constituents.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a group of 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency. Colleagues will know that that can sometimes be quite a challenging group of constituents to please. When I told them that one of the things we were working on in Westminster was a new law that would make it so much more challenging to buy and sell dangerous knives—zombie knives and the like—on the internet, they stood up and clapped, because it is so near the top of their list of concerns and of their agenda for how to keep themselves safe when they are out on the streets. They have been shocked, as we all have been shocked, by the rise in violent crime across the country. When violent crime increases, it is, unfortunately, very often our young people who suffer. I believe that it is the first job of politicians to try to keep our constituents safe, and that is why I welcome the Bill.
We have discussed the sale of knives online, stopping them being sent to residential addresses, and if they are legal sales—in other words, sales of a permitted bladed article to someone over the age of 18—making sure that those who receive them provide identification. I welcome the parts of the Bill that make it illegal to possess the most offensive weapons in private as well as in public, including zombie knives and knuckledusters. New clause 16, moved today, will make the offence of threatening with an offensive weapon in a private place part of the Bill. This new offence of making it unlawful to have offensive weapons in private means that, when the police find a zombie knife in a private place or someone’s home—as members of Chelmsford police have—they can arrest and charge the owner with the proposed offence and remove the weapon from the owner.
I am extremely pleased that the Bill extends the current offence of possessing such bladed articles or offensive weapons on school premises to cover all further education premises in England and Wales as well as schools. As I have said, it is this group of 16 to 18-year-olds in my constituency who have campaigned very hard since my election for stronger laws against this type of crime and for stronger action against this type of weapon.
In Essex, we have the highest number of violent incidents relating to urban street gangs and county lines in the whole of the east of England, but we have a police and crime commissioner who is committed to reducing that. While violent crime across the country has increased by 12%, the police and crime commissioner in my own county—the police, fire and crime commissioner; she has now taken on the fire commissioner role as well—told us just last Friday night that it has increased by 3% to 4% in Essex. That is lower than the national rise, but it is still increasing.
Thanks to Ministers listening to the pleas from Essex police, we will now have 150 additional police officers on the streets in Essex, because we have been able to increase the police precept. Essex MPs were united in asking for the increase in the police precept. I am sure the Minister will be very glad to hear that a whole tranche of those new Essex police officers will hold their passing-out parade on Friday afternoon. We are very proud to see that decision actually turning into reality.
At the end of the summer, I spent a day and a night on patrol with my local police. While I have the Minister’s attention, I will mention some other items that I would like her to consider. The officers in my district alone did 172 stop and searches last month. They said that the power to stop and search is vital for tackling county lines and getting on top of the increase in violent crime. Stop and searches quite often result in the seizure of offensive weapons, such as the ones we have been discussing.
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I am very grateful to the Minister. That is a really good step forward, and I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Delyn would like to comment.
I am not sure this is how these things often work on the Floor of the House, but this is a helpful way forward for all sides. I am grateful to the Minister and the right hon. Gentleman.
On that note, I have said all I want to say on new clause 16, which I think is good, and new clause 1, which will be taken away for consideration.
The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have all made it very clear that there will be no removals of EU citizens; we want them to stay. They are welcome here and they play an important role not just in our communities, but in our health service, as the hon. Lady pointed out. The settled status scheme is open in its testing phase and we will open it fully in the new year, but it is really important that we convey a message to everyone that we want EU citizens to stay. Seeking to sow seeds of uncertainty and division is actually really unhelpful to them.
The Bill does not focus on drugs, but my hon. Friend has made an important point. It is clear from the evidence that we have seen at the Home Office that changes in the drugs market are a major factor in the rise in serious violence, not just in the UK but in other European countries and the United States. We want to take a closer look at the issue to establish whether more work can be done on it.
The Bill covers three main areas: acid attacks, knife crime, and the risks posed by firearms. We have consulted widely on these measures, and have worked closely with the police and others to ensure that we are giving them the powers that they need. The measures on corrosives will stop young people getting hold of particularly dangerous acids, the measures on online knife sales will stop young people getting hold of knives online, and the measures on the possession of offensive weapons will give the police the powers that they need to act when people are in possession of flick knives, zombie knives, and other particularly dangerous knives that have absolutely no place in our homes and communities. I believe that the Bill strengthens the law where that is most needed, and gives the police the tools that they need to protect the public.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support for the Bill. As he will understand, we want to restrict sales of these items in order to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands, but he has made an interesting point about those who may feel that they are under some threat, particularly from the kind of people who would try to buy knives of this type in the first place. If he will allow me, I will go away and think a bit more about what he has said.
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I heartily recommend that the hon. Lady reads the Home Office’s own analysis, which suggests that cuts to neighbourhood policing and early intervention have played a part in the rise of serious violence, but of course I accept that some excellent work is going on throughout the country. That is exactly the point I am making: we need a proper evidence-based analysis of that work to make sure that we roll out the successful pilots.
Let me turn to the possession and sale of corrosives. We welcome the move to clarify the law. In March, the Sentencing Council explicitly listed acid as a potentially dangerous weapon, but it is welcome that that is made clear in the legislation. Nevertheless, concerns remain about the lack of controls on reportable substances. We welcome the passing of secondary legislation to designate sulphuric acid as a reportable substance, but the time has come for a broader look at the two classes of poisons to determine which are causing harm and should therefore be subject to stricter controls.
The purpose of the legislation prior to the Deregulation Act 2015 was to allow the sale of commonly used products while protecting the individual from their inherent dangers. The sale of such poisons as hydrochloric, ammonia, hydrofluoric, nitric and phosphoric acids was restricted to retail pharmacies and to businesses whose premises were on local authorities’ lists of sellers. That situation was not perfect, but in considering reform we should note that the Poisons Board preferred a third option, between the previous system and what we have today, which would have designated as regulated all poisons listed as reportable substances, meaning that they could be sold only in registered pharmacies, with buyers required to enter their details.
The Government have conceded the point that some acids that are currently on open sale are dangerous and so should not be sold to under-18s. Schedule 1 lists hydrochloric acid and ammonia as two such examples, but we know that only one in five acid attacks are conducted by under-18s. That means that four in five attackers will be free to purchase reportable substances despite the clear evidence of harm. Of the 408 reported acid attacks, ammonia was used in 69 incidents. In the light of that, will the Government conduct a full review of the designation of reportable substances and bring forward regulations to re-designate those causing clear harm?
We note that the Government have failed to extend to corrosive substances the specific provisions on the possession of knives in schools. There can surely be no justification, beyond a reasonable defence, for the possession of corrosive substances on a school premises. If we are to send a message that the possession of corrosive substances will be treated with the same seriousness as the possession of knives, it should follow that the provisions that apply in respect of knives in schools are extended to acid.
On knife possession, the measures on remote sales and residential premises are important, but a cursory internet search demonstrates the easy availability of a wide range of weapons that are terrifying in their familiarity: knives disguised as credit cards and as bracelets; weapons designed with the explicit purpose to harm and to conceal. With the increasing use of such weapons and the widespread use of machetes in certain parts of the country, we wish to explore with the Government what further action can be taken to bear down on such pernicious weapons, and how apps and platforms on which such weapons are made readily available can be held to account.
As the Bill is considered in Committee, we wish to explore the concerns, mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) earlier, of retailers and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers about the offences imposed on retailers.
My right hon. Friend is a long-standing campaigner for the rights of shop workers and I echo his point about hoping that we can do this on a cross-party basis.
Concerns remain about the open sale of knives in smaller retail stores, which is an issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft). Many of the larger stores have taken steps to secure knives in cabinets, but the fact that it is far too easy to steal knives from smaller stores renders much of the control of knife sales ineffective.
It was surprising to see that higher education institutions have been omitted from the extension of possession offences, given that they were considered in the consultation earlier this year. The justification that the Government gave for the proposal then was, I think, right, so I am interested to hear why higher education institutions have been omitted from the Bill.
On firearms, the laws in the UK are among the toughest in the world, but there is concern that restricted supply might be leading to the repurposing of obsolete firearms, meaning that law enforcement must be alive to the changing nature of firearms use. There has been a significant rise in the use of antique guns that have been repurposed to commit serious crime: 30% of the guns used in crime in 2015-16 were of obsolete calibre. The repurposing of handguns designed to fire gas canisters, and of imitation weapons, has grown in the past 10 years. We intend to press the Government on whether the laws surrounding decommissioned firearms, which are not subject to the Firearms Act 1968, need to be strengthened. The availability of firearms has been shown to be increasing through the legal-to-illegal route, so we very much support the Government’s proposals.
I can always rely on my hon. Friend to ensure there is never any mischief from Corby. This is absolutely crucial. We have set out, both in previous announcements and commitments and today in our statement of intent, what we are seeking to do for EU citizens living here. I would like to reassure him that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I, when engaging with officials, leaders or ambassadors across the EU, are reiterating the point time and again about how important it is that UK citizens living in EU members states are extended the same rights and have it made clear to them how they should secure them.
We are very conscious, where there are durable relationships of the type the right hon. Gentleman describes, that it is important that that is clearly affirmed for them. We have set out in detail in the rules how we are going to address those different situations, including where UK citizens are married to EU citizens who may be living abroad and where EU citizens living here may have non-EEA partners or spouses. They will have an extension of the rights set out in the withdrawal agreement and the statements we have previously made. We will, of course, be providing further detail in due course.
May I thank the Opposition for securing this very important debate? I answer, of course, as a Minister, but I hope you will forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I occasionally speak from the heart, as a constituency MP who represents one of the largest rural constituencies in England—a mere 531 square miles. I have the pleasure of serving my county alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson). So, with respect to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), she does not need to tell us about the challenges of policing rural areas. In Louth and Horncastle, we have beautiful countryside—not just some of the richest farming countryside in the country, but the rolling hills of the Lincolnshire wolds and some of the most undeveloped, natural coastline in the country.
It is with that experience that I respond to the motion with interest. If I may say so, I think the Opposition have fallen into a trap in the first line of their motion, in which they refer to “rural crime”, because there is of course no definition of rural crime. The crimes that can be found in urban areas can also be found in rural areas. Indeed, I have just come from a very interesting debate in Parliament Street, run by the all-party groups on domestic abuse and on mental health, where we discussed exactly the point that domestic abuse knows no boundaries.
We are aware—looking across the House, I see there are some experts here—that modern slavery and human trafficking know no boundaries. These crimes are found in urban areas, but also in rural areas. Indeed, I commend Lincolnshire police for their extraordinary piece of investigative work last year in bringing together the largest ever modern slavery prosecution. It brought to justice the Rooney family, and nearly 100 years’ worth of imprisonment was delivered to the disgraceful defendants in that case.
We should not labour under the misapprehension that rural crime is different from urban crime, although it may manifest itself in different ways. However, there are of course particular types of crime that may have a unique effect in rural areas.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because I was about to come on to that point. There are crimes that have a particular impact in rural areas, but I am saying that we should not confine our discussion to those crimes. Important though such crimes are, we must reflect on the fact that rural areas deserve support and attention when it comes to crimes that are also found in urban areas.
If I may, I will draw on the point about antisocial behaviour. Such behaviour might not be at the most serious end of the range, but nevertheless it may well have a hugely detrimental impact on local people. Families living in isolated homes may feel that they have been targeted precisely because they live in an isolated location. We know of examples of organised crime gangs targeting farms—for example, in my county, with fly-tipping.
Organised crime gangs are also working in consort across county boundaries to indulge in one of the cruellest crimes that can be committed against animals, which is hare coursing. I suggest that colleagues on both sides of the House may soon be addressing us on the issue of hare coursing. We know that criminal gangs are profiting from animal cruelty, with dogs that can be worth up to £50,000, depending on how large their betting rings are. This type of crime has similarities, in terms of exploitation, with types of crime in urban areas, but it has a unique impact in rural areas.
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My hon. Friend raises a very important point. One of the challenges to the police over the past few years has been to get warranted officers, who hold positions of responsibility after we have given them their warrant and training, to use their powers and specialist skills in accordance with their warrant. I am delighted that the figures show that constabularies across the country have made extraordinary improvements in using warranted officers in frontline policing. That means more officers on the beat or investigating crime, doing the job they signed up to do, rather than sitting in human resources departments and so on.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I was just about to explain the funding settlement, but I make the point that there is no such thing as Government money: it is taxpayers’ money. Whether our constituents pay it through income tax or council tax, the fact is that it is their money that we take from them to support our public services.
If the right hon. Gentleman will please allow me, I will make a little progress. I shall deal with the funding settlement in some detail in a moment.
I was talking about transformation and technology, which is a really exciting area of policing. We have seen great innovation in recent years in how police forces can use technology to serve their communities and to use their specialist skillsets in the best possible ways. If I may, I must pay credit to my local police and crime commissioner, Marc Jones, a Conservative, who has purchased a drone for Lincolnshire police which, given the size of the county, is an invaluable tool for the local constabulary. Lincolnshire police have used the drone for a variety of reasons, including to locate missing people—one can imagine the difference that such an investment can make in a very rural area—as well as to help with hare coursing investigations, in which a drone can make such a difference.
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I agree. How we slice the cake is certainly a topic to which we can return. I find myself in an interesting situation, because part of Cleveland is an urban community and part of it is a rural community. It is certainly important, as a matter of principle, that we have a funding settlement that is fair to all parts of our society.
I want to look at the positive things that are going on, and there are some very positive things going on in Cleveland. I want to congratulate Cleveland police today on opening its recruitment drive. It aims to significantly increase the number of special constables from the current number of about 50 to more than 200. That is a great tribute to our new chief constable, Mike Veale, but it is also a tribute to the police and crime commissioner for allowing it to happen; I welcome, on a cross-party basis, his decision to do so.
I think that lots of people in East Cleveland will want to take up the opportunity to serve as a special constable. I have heard lots of enthusiasm from people who want to serve their communities and who know them well, which means they can establish a bond and will be likely to be able to identify problems before they arise and tackle them decisively. I hope that any constituents listening to the debate will proceed to the Cleveland police website and look at the recruitment process.
A huge amount can also be done through sensible reform. I have met our new chief constable, and he has talked about things such as greater use of technology, so that officers are not obligated to return to station every time there has been an incident and write it up, but can do so while out on the beat, and flattening the force structure. The chief constable has been talking about removing certain ranks from the force structure, to free up more funding for constables who will be out on the beat. It is the sergeants and constables who so often make a real difference on the ground by extending availability of cover. That is an extremely healthy mindset and something that I hope we will see progress on in the years ahead.
There is an opportunity to restore confidence to communities such as Loftus and Brotton. I am holding a series of meetings in those two villages this Friday with the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner precisely to try to identify how, while recognising the financial realities, we can deliver a better balance of policing between the urban and rural areas of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and I am sorry for interrupting just as he was finishing. Does he think it might be helpful to reintroduce a form of licensing or registration for dogs so that we know where they are and who owns them?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we are helping the police to respond to the changing demand that he mentions with the extra £460 million overall. Many PCCs have made a commitment to increase frontline policing. Gloucestershire has received a £3.6 million increase this year and I am sure that that will help. In addition, I will prioritise more police resources in the next spending review.
The Metropolitan police does a fantastic job and its officers are incredibly dedicated. Over the past few weeks that I have been in this role I have had the opportunity to meet many of them. We must ensure that they have the resources they need. That is why the Metropolitan police received a record increase in the recent financial settlement, which has been welcomed.