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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)(Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with Bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

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Consumer Protection

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.

Mr. Speaker: With the leave of the House, I shall put together motions Nos. 7 to 9.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Contracting Out

Question agreed to.

Delegated Legislation


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Crime Prevention (Small Businesses)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Dan Norris.]

10.16 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I was pleased to secure this debate to raise the problem of crime that is blighting small businesses throughout the country. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who secured a debate in a similar vein on 14 May. I want to cover the small retail sector as opposed to larger stores. They, too, suffer from retail crime, but I want to concentrate on the smaller end of the market this evening.

I declare an interest as the owner of a retail business, which my sister now runs—and makes a profit—now that I have gone. I do not apologise for being passionate about my beliefs in small businesses and the small retail sector; involvement in such businesses has been an important part of my life. The fact remains that being a small retailer these days is far more dangerous than in the 1930s, when my grandfather started his store. We have seen considerable changes since, with many smaller enterprises closing down. There used to be a small corner shop on virtually every street—the "Open All Hours" of Ronnie Barker fame. Sadly, many of those have disappeared.

The problems that such businesses face have also increased. As the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East told the House on 14 May, the retail industry employs 2.7 million people, with just fewer than half working in the smaller end of the business—not the Asdas, Tescos, Sainsburys and Safeways, but the smaller retail outlets. They employ 1.1 million people and produce more than 4 per cent. of the UK's turnover.

Small retail business is part of the fabric of what was once described as a nation of shopkeepers. Many smaller businesses tend to be one-man bands or perhaps a husband and wife run the stores, and many work on the margins. If they employ anyone, it will be disproportionately female staff, who often work all hours just to make a living. It is mainly a cash trade, not credit cards or cheques, and the businesses are vulnerable.

I should like to do my Huw Edwards impersonation by reading one or two articles from Convenience Store, which has run on a weekly basis some of the problems that retailers face up and down the country. It states:

Another article says:

when a stun gun was used against him.

A further example says:

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I shall not read them all, because there are too many, but such stories appear every week in Convenience Store. For example, it says:

Those are the sort of crimes that are now being committed in stores around the country. We could have a whole other debate on shoplifting, but retailers have to face violent crime every day. I pay tribute to Convenience Store magazine, which has published "Zero Tolerance" to give advice and guidance to retail owners about the actions that they should take to try to protect themselves. We should have zero tolerance for this crime. Some 20,000 attacks took place in 2001—an increase of 40 per cent. I understand that new figures from the British Retail Consortium will reinforce that trend. In total, thefts and robberies have hit a new record level, and the cost to the nation of retail crime is topping £2.4 billion.

For smaller businesses, with few resources, crime can threaten their very viability and the employment that they provide. Business crime is sometimes seen as a victimless crime, but it cannot be victimless when violence is used against the employers or employees. The Alldays chief executive, in charge of 600 stores, stated that it is difficult to get staff in areas in which a store has been attacked.

People also tend to think that goods are insured, so there is no problem. However, in many cases, the goods are not insured. The premiums for some of the smaller stores are so high, especially to cover money, cigarettes, top-up cards for phones and lottery terminals, that they cannot afford the insurance. It has also been estimated that when an attack takes place in a store, up to 40 per cent. of the staff have to take time off afterwards to recover in hospital or just to get over the trauma.

Some of the smaller stores are working at the margins. The bigger stores can make 5 or even 7 per cent. profit on turnover, but some of the smaller stores are not making the money, even though they may have a large turnover.

Barbara Follett (Stevenage): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the smaller stores are suffering from the success of some of the 250 retail crime partnerships that have been set up by the British Retail Consortium? Those partnerships benefit the bigger stores but the smaller convenience stores are outside the system, so they are even more isolated. The people who are being excluded from the bigger stores by the retail crime partnerships are now attacking the convenience stores, so they are even more at risk than they were before.

Mr. Evans: I agree with the hon. Lady. Many of the smaller businesses do not know anything about the crime partnerships and they feel as if they are on their own. Only a small percentage of businesses in the

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Ribble valley, for example, have anything to do with the crime partnership. We need to look again at how we can involve smaller businesses in crime partnerships. Small businesses that are only one or two-man operations may not be able to send someone to meetings, because they do not employ any cover. We must be alert to the realities of what we can do for those smaller businesses.

Smaller businesses may not be able to afford security measures. They may have a high turnover, but they make only 5 per cent. on lottery tickets and less on some of the phone cards.

Even if a business has a respectable turnover, it might make only a small profit. Such businesses do not have the money to invest in the security measures installed in some of the larger stores.

The National Federation of Retail Newsagents carried out a survey in my area, which is seen as fairly affluent, and in Blackburn. It painted a picture of a rising trend in the fear of crime. People are afraid. The postmaster in Chatburn, one of my local villages, told me that there is a fear factor; even there, people fear attack. He lives above the shop and told me how, in the middle of the night, youths smashed a window, broke in and stole the automatic cash machine. The raid was obviously well planned, but the people living above the shop were afraid of what might have happened to them if they had gone downstairs and caught those thieves. When people read all those articles in Convenience Store, they are afraid.

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