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22 July 2008 : Column 692

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Having called for this statement on two successive points of order, yesterday and two weeks ago, I am pleased that the Secretary of State has now come to the House. With his well-developed political antennae, he will understand the alarm and dismay that will be present in 20,000 staff rooms and in 1 million families. Will he at least aim to write to those 20,000 schools at some point in this process to explain what has happened? At that time, will he explain what has happened to the QCA due diligence report into ETS, whose voracity has clearly exceeded its competence to undertake this hugely important task?

Ed Balls: The large majority of primary and secondary schools received their marks on time, so my hon. Friend is wrong to say that this has caused consternation in 20,000 staff rooms around the country. As I have said, however, I regret the fact that some schools received their results late. Some schools are still waiting for the full suite of their results, and that is something that needs to be sorted out. Indeed, it is being discussed today between the QCA and ETS Europe.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Head teachers have reported the need to check their SATs results against the teachers’ assessments. I thought that the purpose of the national tests was to check the teachers’ assessments. Is it not therefore time that we had more confidence in the teachers’ assessments, particular at key stage 3?

Ed Balls: As the hon. Lady will know, because we discussed this in the Select Committee last week, it is one of the purposes of the Making Good Progress pilots to allow more teacher discretion in setting the level of tests for a child to take. These tests play more than one role, however. They are an aid to teacher assessment, and they also provide a way of allowing parents to see the independently validated progress of their child. They also provide a way in which we, and the hon. Lady, can compare performance school by school. All those functions can be performed only if we have universal, externally validated tests. However, that does not mean that we cannot make changes to give more discretion to teachers, and I am keen to do that if the evaluation suggests that it will work.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given the lack of confidence in the system and the likely increase in the number of appeals, what extra resources are being put into the appeals process?

Ed Balls: The advice to me from the QCA is that the appeals process will deal with the volume of appeals and, as I have set out, the longer timetable will allow schools more time. It is very important that the QCA and Ofqual ensure that the appeals process works in a proper, orderly and timely way. That is very much in their minds at the moment.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): In this as in so many other areas, smaller or less interfering government is much better. Will the Secretary of State change his policy so that there is less externally validated testing? We should trust teachers more: they are excellent, and they have the right judgment about children in their care. Trusting them more, especially around key stage 3, would save a lot of money and anguish.

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Ed Balls: I just explained to Liberal Democrat colleagues why I disagree with the approach that the hon. Gentleman sets out. I should like Making Good Progress to lead to more teacher discretion, but it would not be right for parents to move away from externally validated tests. I disagree with him, and believe that the information from the tests is a very important part of our drive to raise standards in primary and secondary schools. On this matter, we will have to agree to disagree.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Given that Ofqual is a new creation, what is the basis for the Secretary of State’s assertion that the quality of marking is at least as good this year as previously? Given what he has heard from hon. Members this afternoon, and in the media, is not it time that he admitted that there are serious concerns about the quality of marking? What is he going to do about it?

Ed Balls: As I have said already, the answer is that Ofqual, the independent regulator in these matters, wrote to me on 4 July to say that, in its judgment and according to the information that it had so far, the quality of marking was at least as high as in previous years. The chair of Ofqual said on the radio last week that the organisation was monitoring marking quality closely. If there is evidence of a problem with the quality of marking, Ofqual will act and also advise me, but that is not where we are today, and nor is it the advice that we are receiving. Advice on exam marking, standards and quality should not come from Ministers or the QCA, which sets the tests. It is much better for that advice to come from an independent regulator, and that is why we have introduced the reform.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Secretary of State has said that he is accountable. If that is so, why has he not resigned?

Ed Balls: I have already answered that question a number of times. I am accountable for schools policy, including the testing regime, but it is a principle of that regime that national curriculum tests are set and managed at arm’s length from Ministers. That is because Ministers should not interfere with how those tests are set and managed, and that is why the contract is managed at arm’s length by the QCA, with ETS Europe. A contractual discussion is going on between the QCA and ETS Europe, which together are responsible for delivering the test results. Both organisations have apologised because they have not met the expectations of pupils or the outputs that they specified in their contract. That is where the responsibility lies.

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Points of Order

2.23 pm

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Yesterday, this House and the other House had the honour of welcoming 120 British servicemen returning from Iraq at the north door of the Great Hall. Mr. Speaker was there to greet them, and it was a pleasure and an honour to see them. However, while we were waiting for them, the lunatic fringe that is the peace camp outside broke through the police lines and got into the ranks of those brave servicemen and women. Those people abused and attacked the service personnel, calling them cowards and other things that I will not repeat in this House. Can we investigate how on earth British servicemen and women returning from Iraq and marching through the streets of London to this House came to be attacked, and whether enough police were on duty? Next time we invite them, can we make sure that there are enough police on hand, so that we can welcome them in the proper way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): We are all aware of the demonstrations that are a permanent feature outside the House, and of how they may sometimes stray beyond the limits. As politicians, we are perhaps more used to such things than other people but, given that the soldiers to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred were here not only to be honoured by us but to be our guests in the Houses of Parliament, I think that what happened was a dreadful situation. I am sure that he will be glad to have his words on the record, and that they will be noted by everyone in the House today and by people outside it. Let us hope that that kind of thing does not happen again.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not see the attack on the servicemen, but I heard the persistent attempts to use amplified noise from the square to abuse them. Fortunately, that did not spoil the occasion, at any rate not significantly, but will you ask Mr. Speaker to investigate what has happened in respect of Westminster council? Representatives from the council came for a meeting with Mr. Speaker, the police and me following 50 complaints about broadcast noise from the square disturbing people at work. Westminster council assured us that the licence to broadcast from the square would run out in January of this year, which means that it has run out now, yet there appears to be no enforcement to prevent such broadcasting. The situation is intolerable and absolutely pathetic, and it is about time that the law was enforced in respect of these abusive people.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman raises two matters, and I think that I have dealt with the first already, although I should like to add that I hope that all the soldiers and their families who are here today will be seriously and strongly reassured by the feelings in this Chamber today. As for the second matter—noise—we are all well aware of what goes on out there. I shall draw Mr. Speaker’s attention to the matter and make sure that he reads the hon. Gentleman’s remarks in Hansard. Let us hope that some action can be taken.

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Theft from Shops (Penalties)

2.26 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I beg to move,

This Bill has cross-party support and I am most grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their support. The Bill is necessary because the use of penalty notices for disorder is ineffective in deterring crime, especially shoplifting and other crimes against business. Using PNDs for shoplifting sends out the wrong message, as the shoplifter or thief is treated in the same way as a motorist is treated for outstaying his or her welcome at a parking meter. Tough and effective sentences are needed to fight that type of crime.

The cost to businesses from shoplifting totals £6 billion each year. In 2007-08, a staggering 290,625 shoplifting incidents were recorded, but only 58,536 offenders were found guilty, and of them only 38,772 were given penalty notices. Therefore, the numbers clearly show that a large number of crimes are being committed by a small number of offenders. Those offenders are ignoring the threat of penalty notices, 40 per cent. of which are not even paid. That is why this Bill is so necessary, as it would delete any reference to theft from the list of offences in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 that attract a penalty notice.

It is important to recall that the crime of shoplifting is on the increase. In 1997, there were 274,000 incidents but, as I have said, the latest figures show that there were more than 290,000 in 2007-08. The current law means that penalty notices for theft apply only to retail and commercial theft. Crime against business is often thought to be victimless, but it most certainly is not. The victims are businesses that are employers, and the communities that small businesses sustain. The owners of small businesses face a climate of constant intimidation and violence.

Crime affects business in a number of ways. It leads to an inability to meet customer deadlines, damages profitability, wastes management’s time and affects staff morale, among other things. Some 57 per cent. of businesses are victims of crime every year, and in any 12-month period 45 per cent. of businesses say that crime has cost them up to £5,000; that is big money for a small business.

Crime against business costs the UK economy an estimated £19 million a year, which is approximately £5,000 for each business, and 12 per cent. of businesses estimate that crime costs them more than £10,000 a year, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. Not only does that have a direct impact on businesses, but the cost is passed on to consumers and individuals in society; it is reflected in the price of goods and in higher insurance premiums. The British Retail Consortium says that the retail sector alone loses £1.5 billion to retail crime annually. If we add the £1.43 billion that is invested in crime prevention, the total cost of crime for a year is £2.1 billion.

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Penalty notices for disorder can normally be given only for thefts up to a value of £100, or for criminal damage to the value of £300. The value of the average annual shoplift, or shop theft, is about £149 according to the Federation of Small Businesses. As that figure is below the cut-off point of £200, the majority of shoplifters are dealt with by PND, but 40 per cent. of PNDs go unpaid, as I have said. The FSB figures show that the cost to businesses of shoplifting is £6 billion a year, £4 billion of which is spent by businesses on crime prevention measures; £2 billion is the value of the shoplifting itself. The Federation of Small Businesses would like the police to re-focus on protecting the whole community, and to recognise that protecting the individual in their place of work is just as important as protecting them in their home.

The use of penalty notices for disorder for shoplifting is inappropriate. The crime of shoplifting needs to be punished, and the causes of that crime, such as the need to feed a drink or drugs habit or other addiction, need to be addressed. The courts expect the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to follow any guidance issued by the Secretary of State; otherwise, a case will be dismissed. The increasing use and inconsistent application of penalty notices for disorder, particularly for shoplifting, needs to be addressed. The Federation of Small Businesses appreciates that the police find PNDs attractive because they reduce the amount of paperwork, but it is worrying that just over half are paid, and that the fine may not even match the value of the items stolen. If the notices are to be used, there should be proper enforcement. Fines should be followed up, and the notices should not be used in the case of repeat and persistent offenders. Retailers should also be consulted before fines are levied. We encourage the police to consult in that way.

The British Retail Consortium and its members are concerned about the lack of guidance on the suitability of such notices as a means of disposal. That lack of guidance results in their inconsistent use. The BRC agrees that tough and effective sentences are needed for crimes against business. There should be clarity about when such notices can be used, and consistency of approach is vital. It agrees that penalty notices for disorder are ineffective in deterring crime, and it campaigns for more attention to be paid to the effects of the inconsistencies, as regards shoplifting.

In connection with my Bill, the director general of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, wrote to me to say:

He goes on to say that current guidance is insufficient. Given that the British crime survey is a survey of households and does not capture corporate victims, and given that 40 per cent. of businesses do not report such crimes, the indicators are likely to under-represent the true extent of the crime. The law was amended in 2001 to allow penalty notices to be issued for theft, and further offences were added to those for which penalty notices for disorder may be given, and for which fines
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may be levied. I propose to use my Bill to stop the overuse of penalty notices for disorder, and to amend the guidance that has been issued.

In conclusion, the current situation is unacceptable. The crime of theft from shops has grown considerably. The current guidelines permit different sentences and inconsistent approaches across the country. We want clear, consistent guidelines. We want to distinguish between first-time and repeat offenders, and between aggravated and non-aggravated offences, but we want the ability to ensure that the strongest possible penalties are given. We want to deal with the issue in a serious way, and we want the Bill adopted, so that we can ensure that such crimes are properly reported and recorded. We want to give the police the tools to do their job, and I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Anne McIntosh, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Frank Field, Lady Hermon, Mr. Mike Hancock, Patrick Mercer, Mr. Brian Binley, Bob Russell, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins and Mr. Shailesh Vara.

Theft from Shops (Penalties)

Miss Anne McIntosh accordingly presented a Bill to exclude the offence of theft from retail and commercial premises from the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 relating to fixed penalty notices; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 144].

22 July 2008 : Column 698

Summer Adjournment

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Ms Diana R. Johnson.]

2.37 pm

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): I am taken aback at being called so early in the debate; like most Members, I am used to sitting here for a few hours before speaking. However, I am pleased and grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me.

As is traditional on these occasions, I want to mention issues affecting my constituency. I shall mention two matters, both of which I have raised in the past, although events have moved on since then. The first relates to Southern Railway services between London Bridge and my constituency. I have an inner-London constituency south of the river. Overground services are particularly important to my constituents and me, as the north London underground railway, as it is known, has not yet come to our part of south-east London. Fortunately, that will be remedied in a couple of years’ time.

I have previously raised in the House issues arising from the route utilisation strategy for south London, and from the extension of the East London line to Crystal Palace and West Croydon. As part of the changes, Transport for London will take responsibility for the route, and for all stations from New Cross Gate to Crystal Palace and to West Croydon, and will take over the running of Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Penge West, Anerley and Norwood Junction stations to boot; they will become part of what will be known as the London overground network, although it will be run by TFL and will be part of the tube system. That, of course, is a great boon to my constituents and to right hon. and hon. Friends whose constituencies neighbour mine.

I raised the issue in the past because there was some doubt about whether the services would be at the expense of, or additional to, existing services. Fortunately, most of the problems have been resolved, and my constituents and others are looking forward eagerly to the considerable expansion of the public transport network in south-east London. It probably will be the greatest improvement since the arrival of the railways many decades ago.

With change comes difficulty, as everybody knows. New stations are being fitted with the Oyster card system, which has been hugely successful on the underground network and on London buses. Extending it to the national rail network will be to the advantage of passengers throughout the area and the country, wherever it is adopted. Bringing in the Oyster card service means bringing in gates, which is where the current problem exists. There is a plan at Sydenham and Forest Hill stations to introduce over two phases and by the end of this year automatic gates, which will be brought on line while the Southern Trains franchise is still in existence.

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