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Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill

Overview

This Member’s Bill was introduced by Daniel Johnson MSP. It aims to give greater protection in law to retail workers, particularly where they are providing goods and services that are age restricted. This is where the law says you can’t sell them to someone who is under a particular age. The Bill applies to retail workers while they are doing their jobs (for example, in shops, bars and restaurants). It makes it a specific, new criminal offence to:

  • assault them
  • threaten or abuse them
  • obstruct or hinder them

If the offence was committed because the worker was applying an age-restriction (for example, asking for proof of age from someone trying to buy alcohol), this would count as an “aggravation”. This could potentially make the offence more serious. 

You can find out more in the document prepared on behalf of Daniel Johnson MSP that explains the Bill.

Why the Bill was created

Retail workers often face violence and threats while doing their jobs. Daniel Johnson believes this is wrong and that a new law could help to tackle this problem. He thinks the Bill will make it more likely that workers will report problems to the police and that offenders will be punished. 

You can find out more in the document prepared on behalf of Daniel Johnson MSP that explains the Bill.

Becomes an Act

The Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill passed by a vote of 118 for, 0 against and 0 abstentions. The Bill became law on 24 February 2021.

Introduced

The Member in charge of this Bill, Daniel Johnson MSP, sends the Bill and related documents to the Parliament.

Stage 1 - General principles

Committees examine the Bill. Then MSPs vote on whether it should continue to Stage 2.

Have your say

The deadline for sharing your views on this Bill has passed. Read the views that were given.

Committees involved in this Bill

Who examined the Bill

Each Bill is examined by a 'lead committee'. This is the committee that has the subject of the Bill in its remit.


It looks at everything to do with the Bill.


Other committees may look at certain parts of the Bill if it covers subjects they deal with.

Who spoke to the lead committee about the Bill

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First meeting transcript

The Convener

Under agenda item 4, we will take evidence at stage 1 of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill, which is a member’s bill. We have three panels of witnesses today, so we will be tight for time. I ask all members and witnesses to try to keep their questions and answers tight, so that we can get through everything efficiently.

I welcome Gillian Mawdsley, who is a policy executive from the Law Society of Scotland, and Superintendent Ian Thomson, who is with safer communities at Police Scotland. Members will ask questions, and we will start with Richard Lyle.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I remind everybody that I am a member of the cross-party group on independent convenience stores.

The committee is aware of concerns about high levels of violence and abuse that are directed at retail workers and that the situation might be worsening. What is the scale of the problem? Is it getting worse? I direct that to Superintendent Thomson, because I want to know the police’s experience.

Superintendent Ian Thomson (Police Scotland)

Is the situation getting worse? It is difficult to say on the basis of what is reported. One issue that we have in understanding the extent of the problem is that our processes for recording crime do not facilitate an intuitive way of breaking down the information to identify the specifics in relation to crime against retail workers.

From a general point of view, we have seen a decrease in violent crime over a number years. There is evidence that it has flatlined over the past year or so. The police recognise the significant impact of violent crime—it affects every community in Scotland—and we see tackling it as a priority. We continue to work not just in the legislative framework but, more importantly, with our partners, with a view to preventing violent crime and finding a sustainable solution in that regard.

Richard Lyle

There is a perception that the justice system does not always take abuse of retail workers seriously—the point that you have just made, I think—and that reporting of incidents will not lead to prompt or rigorous police action. It is perceived that cases will not be prosecuted and that, if they are, they result in light sentences. Would you like to comment? The question is perhaps directed to Gillian Mawdsley.

Gillian Mawdsley (Law Society of Scotland)

That is quite a general statement, so perhaps we can break it down. It is important to look at the criminal justice system as a whole. As you know, there are different stages in the process. It would be useful to ascertain at exactly what stage of the process there is a failure to address violence towards workers, which is clearly unacceptable and a problem.

In my written evidence, I refer to the different stages. I am aware of the committee’s time constraints, but I am happy to go through that. You mentioned light sentences, which is, if you like, the conclusion of the process. I did not find in my work any suggestion that, where such offences are being convicted, there is light sentencing. That particular aspect could be addressed if it were a problem, because clearly there are rights of appeal with regard to sentencing. There is also the Scottish Sentencing Council, which has a role in guidelines, if that were felt to be appropriate. That is only one stage.

I would pick up one point from what Superintendent Thomson said. The Government keeps official statistics on crime, and the difficulty here is that there is a generality of offences that occur in retail environments or towards retail workers. Better specification or availability of information would inform us whether there has been failure to report, failure by the police, failure by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service or failure by the courts. Does that help?

Richard Lyle

Yes.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

My question is for Ian Thomson. I am curious to know what factors the police take into account when deciding what action to take when there is an incident of abuse against a retail worker.

Superintendent Thomson

That will depend on the circumstances. We treat violent crime, antisocial behaviour and disorder as priorities across Scotland, whether they involve a retail worker or any other member of the public. We recognise the important role that retail workers play in the community.

When we receive a call to say that somebody has been physically assaulted or abused, we ensure that the police attend. We have a process of assessing the risk to the individual, based on the circumstances. Police officers will attend and carry out the appropriate investigation, which primarily involves speaking to the victim, getting a note of the circumstances, identifying whether a crime has been committed and, even if a crime has not been committed, considering whether other action needs to be taken. If there is sufficient evidence to arrest, which can come from many places, such as closed-circuit television, witness interviews or police officers’ observations, the individual will be arrested and subsequently charged. The investigation carries all the way through to a report to the procurator fiscal.

Jackie Baillie

My experience locally, though, is that the violence stops after the police have attended and no further action is taken. Is that common, or is it peculiar to my area?

Ian Thomson

It is difficult to comment without knowing the circumstances. No police officer will have a policy of saying, “We will not take further action on this.” The decision will be based on the individual circumstances, and if there is evidence to suggest further criminal activity, that will be taken into account. We have a duty to keep people safe to report evidence of a crime having been committed, including recording it.

Jackie Baillie

My next question is for Gillian Mawdsley. Do you anticipate any practical or legal difficulties with enforcement, based on the way in which the proposed offence and aggravation are framed?

Gillian Mawdsley

The aggravation element raises an interesting question about the bill, which contains an offence and an aggravation. The problem with an aggravation is that one can argue that one source of evidence might not be sufficient if the aggravation is a fundamental part of the crime, so there might be a need for corroboration. That is a potential difficulty in relation to how an incident sparked off.

The other issue is that we are used to dealing with aggravations in relation to protected characteristics. In a matter of weeks, Parliament will be considering the hate crime bill—we expect it imminently—and that might provide some guidance on how we deal with aggravations. That might provide an opportunity to consider the type of aggravation that is being framed in this bill. Depending on how that bill is set out—I have no idea about that—it might provide the opportunity to highlight the issue. That is my suggestion, which I hope is helpful.

Jackie Baillie

It is. Thank you.

The Convener

I have a question for clarification from Mr Thomson. You have said that the decision would be based on what has occurred, and Gillian Mawdsley commented on corroboration being an issue, but in your experience does lack of corroboration cause cases not to be taken forward?

Superintendent Thomson

If we do not have corroboration, it can be difficult to substantiate the crime. Corroboration can come from different places and depends on the individual circumstances—for example, CCTV can be valuable. I do not want to speak on behalf of the lawyers, but it is important to understand that the sufficiency of evidence to charge does not need to be at the same level as is needed to get a conviction. That means that the corroboration can give us sufficient evidence and confirmation of the crime and indicate that the accused person was identified. I hope that that answers your question.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

Police Scotland’s written submission suggests that non-punitive measures might be appropriate when dealing with young people who have engaged in abusive behaviour. Will you expand a wee bit on that and say when it might be considered appropriate?

Superintendent Thomson

That is important. There is a challenge in striking a balance between how we prevent crime and the potential impact on the people who are affected by the crime or on those who commit it. From my experience, and from the work over the past few years on violence reduction, it is evident that enforcement activity alone is not a successful approach to preventing crime. Enforcement is an important element, but it must be part of a wider plan. That wider plan involves understanding the causes of crime and of people acting in certain ways in order to build on that primary prevention element and try to intervene before crime takes place.

As we have seen in other areas, criminalisation of children is not always the best outcome in relation to the life chances of an individual and their ability to carry on their life without going back to offending. I believe that there is more value in providing an opportunity for a child to do something else. That could be through a referral to an appropriate third sector organisation or other organisation that can assist with the child’s offending behaviour, with a view to changing the behaviour, rather than putting the child in front of the court and imposing a punitive measure.

Colin Beattie

I am thinking about the evidence that you gave to Jackie Baillie about deciding what action to take in relation to a specific incident. You were clear that you respond to calls from retailers that have a problem and that you intervene and try to take evidence, but that sometimes you have problems with corroboration. How would all that change if the bill were to be enacted?

10:00  



Superintendent Thomson

In relation to the incident itself, there would be no significant change in how we go about our business. However, the bill adds a bit about “hinder and obstruct”, which is not covered by other legislation, so that would change our response because there would be an additional offence. However, if the circumstances are such that there is legislation for a crime or offence and that crime or offence takes place, our approach would in effect be the same.

Colin Beattie

So you would follow the same police procedure to try to determine whether an offence had taken place and whether action needed to be taken. Would that change at all?

Superintendent Thomson

No, it would not.

Colin Beattie

You mentioned the offence of obstruction or hindrance, which is a big issue in the bill. Currently, that is not a criminal offence. Can you give an example of an incident involving obstruction or hindrance? How would you define that? It is a slightly unfair question, but I am asking it just the same.

Superintendent Thomson

If the bill is enacted, we need to be clear about that definition. From the point of view of an operational police officer, a lack of clarity is not good when you are going to attend an incident. From training all the way through to practical operational application, it needs to be made clear exactly what would constitute an offence.

Colin Beattie

If the new offence of obstruction and hindrance is to be introduced, should it be subject to criminal sanctions?

Superintendent Thomson

I have concerns about the end-to-end process and the outcomes, given what the bill is trying to achieve. The ultimate aim is to make a safer environment for retail workers and to prevent crime from happening in the first place. From what I have read, it would appear that the bill is lowering the threshold of criminality. From my experience, if it involves age-restricted products, that introduces the possibility of involving offenders who are children and young people, and—

Colin Beattie

Are you thinking about the sale of cigarettes and alcohol?

Superintendent Thomson

Absolutely. There is a risk that the end does not justify the means. The outcome might not be achieved and it would criminalise children and young people, which would have an adverse impact on their life choices. That is not to say that one person is more important than another, but I go back to the outcome that we want to achieve. It is deplorable if anyone working in the retail trade feels that they are likely to be a victim and is afraid. That is not acceptable and that abusive situation must be eradicated and prevented. We will do everything in our power to do that. However, we need to think about the outcome. I am not sure that going through a criminal process and going to court will necessarily prevent such crimes from taking place.

Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I have a follow-up question for Superintendent Thomson. It would be helpful for the committee to understand what the police see in practice when they get a call in relation to retail sector workers who are being abused. Are there typical circumstances or one or two scenarios that the police see commonly when they are called out, perhaps involving drugs or alcohol? Can you paint us a picture of what you see in practice?

Superintendent Thomson

Members will understand that, as a superintendent, I no longer turn up at shops and deal with such incidents. However, I am aware of what happens through my experience and through speaking to officers. There is no typical example—it is dependent on the individual circumstances and the behaviour of the individual who is causing the alarm or committing the violent crime. It is evident that a range of things can happen, from people standing there and being abusive—a hate crime element can sometimes come into that—to people being physically assaulted. From a policing point of view, the important thing is to understand what powers are available to us to deal with those circumstances. Ultimately, that protects everybody concerned at the point of risk of harm to the individual.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

My question is for Gillian Mawdsley. The submission from the COPFS argues that current laws allow it to respond appropriately to reports of abusive behaviour against retail workers. What is your view on that issue in general? Do we need the bill?

Gillian Mawdsley

The bill has an excellent motivation. We are aware that there is a problem, because it has been reported and there is lots of evidence. The problem is that a number of offences can already be used for prosecution. I agree with the Crown Office submission that there is a range of offences that can be used.

As we identified in our submission, it would be useful if various offences that are currently not being prosecuted were identified. They could then be analysed so that it could be considered whether there are gaps in the current legislation. If gaps can be demonstrated, there might well be a need for legislation, whether through this bill, the hate crime bill that is to be introduced, or other legislation. I am having difficulty identifying gaps.

An example was given to me this morning of a retail worker being spat at. That is totally unacceptable and would be prosecuted as an assault under current legislation. The problem is that somebody has to report it to Ian Thomson in order for him—with sufficient admissible corroborated evidence—to take it to the Crown Office to be prosecuted in the public interest. It might be that a gap in corroboration or in awareness is causing the problem. I am open to scenarios being presented and to being asked whether something can be prosecuted under current legislation.

Willie Coffey

Thank you.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

I declare that I am the convener of the cross-party group on independent convenience stores.

Carrying on the conversation about whether there is a gap in the legislation, I have a couple of points to raise. The British Retail Consortium’s survey suggests that there has been a 100 per cent increase in incidents of violence involving retail workers. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has suggested that 70 per cent of shop workers in Scotland have experienced verbal abuse, 42 per cent have been threatened by customers and 18 workers are assaulted every day.

If there is no gap in the legislation, why are we seeing an increase in attacks on shop workers? What is the problem? Is it underreporting? What is causing the situation in which we see crime generally in Scotland dropping, yet an increase in retail workers facing problems, whether it be harassment, obstruction or physical abuse? What is the real issue that we need to tackle?

Gillian Mawdsley

For the criminal justice system to be engaged, an incident needs to be reported. I do not doubt that the figures that you have quoted clearly show a rise in incidents.

The first thing that we need is better specification of exactly what is meant by those figures. Violence is obviously unacceptable—Mr Thomson has referred to that and we totally agree—so the question really is, what sort of conduct do those figures represent? Once you have identified what sort of conduct it is, you can ascertain whether it is criminal.

We talked about hindering, and I completely echo what Mr Thomson said in relation to it. Clarity of the law is needed—is the law clear? I would have thought that the law has a range of offences that can be used for the majority of incidents, but as I keep saying, I am more than open to being presented with a scenario and someone saying “No, there is a gap—that is not prosecutable”.

There probably is underreporting, although that is speculation by me. There may be a lack of understanding—

Gordon MacDonald

On that point about underreporting, do you have figures to suggest how many cases are reported, in how many cases it is decided that a crime has occurred, and how many cases arrive in court?

Gillian Mawdsley

Those are the figures that I alluded to earlier. It would be useful to have them. The official statistics come from different organisations. Some come from Police Scotland, and some come from the Crown Office or the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service. They all treat things differently, as I know from my previous professional experience.

We do not have information that says, “This violent incident occurred in the retail sector.” What is recorded is an assault and a conviction. It may occur in a shop, and many convictions may relate to shops or to the premises that you are concerned with. We need a better evidence base. I do not doubt the information that the retail organisations are giving about a rise in criminal problems for their staff. There is a better evidence base across the whole Scottish criminal justice system, which I alluded to when we talked about question 8. If we could get that clearer, we might have a better understanding of the point in the system at which the failure arises.

There may be underreporting, and Ian Thomson gave some potential reasons for that. People might not think that anything will happen if they report, so they do not do it. They might not realise something is a crime; they might think it is the norm for the job. We are aware of all those underlying issues, not just in relation to this type of offending but to offending in general.

People need to have confidence. Employers must support them, rather than saying, “You don’t want to report that; I don’t want to lose you when you go to court as a witness.” Some people look at the justice system and think that it will take forever to get a result, or that the results will not be fed back to the staff, or that the staff will still have to deal with the same people coming into the same shops and doing the same thing. How are you going to stop them? A fine will not stop them. Community payback may or may not stop them. That all illustrates why people underreport. There are problems at the source and there are things that we could do to understand that better.

Gordon MacDonald

You are suggesting that there must be a culture change. Do you agree that introducing the bill would send a clear message that society should not tolerate abusive behaviour? Would that not improve retail workers’ fear of going to work to face daily abuse?

Gillian Mawdsley

I would agree with you if the legislation addresses gaps. My concern is that legislation, or criminal prosecution as Ian Thomson has said, tends to be a last resort. People need to be empowered to know that what they are suffering is criminal, and that it should be prosecuted. They need better awareness of the raft of measures and they need better information, better support from employers and perhaps some kind of directed campaign.

We talked about what has been done for the national health service in England. That could be the model for better joint working among all the criminal justice partners and the retail sector to try to start a campaign here. There have been some successful public awareness campaigns for issues such as speeding. If the Government was really behind it, something like the English NHS campaign might be a first step.

That runs in parallel with what we spoke about earlier: the need for a better understanding of underreporting and of which part of the system is failing to support retail workers.

Superintendent Thomson

It is important to have clarity about the information that is available and the events that take place. You asked about the causes of behaviour. That is the crux of the matter. If we understand that, we have an opportunity to build in preventative measures that will divert people away from that behaviour. The offences would not happen, and that would be a success.

There are lessons to be learned from some of the work that we have done recently. Relying on just the police data is a point of failure. There is underreporting, so we do not get the full picture from the police data; we get the full picture from the partnership data. The surveys on how people are feeling are a rich source of information that helps our understanding. We work with partners in an effort to understand the issues and identify the earliest opportunity to intervene and be proactive to stop the person offending in the first place.

10:15  



We are absolutely committed to working with the retail trade. We do that across Scotland at local level and at national level, through the Scottish Business Resilience Centre. We do a lot of engagement on education and understanding the rights of the individual at work, how people can keep themselves safe, the encouragement of management, and the layout of shops. We do a lot of proactive work in that area, because it is valuable in reducing the impact of poor behaviour.

The Convener

A few years ago, the early and effective intervention to divert 16 and 17-year-olds from prosecution was introduced. It has been suggested that if the bill was enacted, it would make people feel safe, and shop workers would feel better because there would be prosecutions. However, in many cases, diversion from prosecution would cut right across that. Would that be an issue?

Superintendent Thomson

No. Diversion from prosecution is about the outcome. It is there for a reason—it represents an attempt to prevent criminalisation of people and to give them the best life chances by setting them on a path that will avoid their becoming criminals who cause harm in the community.

The legislation that is in place that allows interventions to be made in relation to individuals’ offending behaviour is extremely important in helping people to recognise that it is unacceptable to put up with that behaviour but, ultimately, we want the people who commit such offences not to commit them again.

The Convener

If the bill was enacted, it would allow the police to be called and the person to be charged, but there could then be a diversion from prosecution on the basis of a “Two or three strikes and you’re out” approach.

Superintendent Thomson

That would be further down the line. There is already legislation in place that allows the police to be called, and they will deal with that.

The Convener

You do not feel that it is necessarily the case that diversion from prosecution would cut across the bill.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I want to pick up on some of the points that Gordon MacDonald raised. The Law Society’s submission talks about the need for research on whether cases are being reported and not progressed and on whether, when cases are reported, issues have arisen to do with the need for corroboration. Is it the Law Society’s position that you do not believe that the bill is necessary until research shows that there is a need for it?

Gillian Mawdsley

There is a difficulty with the bill. It is well motivated, but the difficulty lies in identifying where there are gaps at the moment. If the gaps exist, the scenarios would demonstrate where there is a failure. There are lots of things happening here, and it is a complicated landscape. If we could find the gaps—the absence of criminal offences or behaviour that is not being prosecuted that should be criminal—the bill would be necessary, but there is an absence of such data, and that comes back to some of the points that I made earlier.

Andy Wightman

Although most of the offences that the bill would create are already covered by existing legislation, it has been suggested that, if it were to become law, it would send a message to retail workers in particular that would show that we care about them and about the fact that they are suffering abuse. As a matter of public policy, is the law there to send messages?

Gillian Mawdsley

The law is very useful for sending messages. That is why we have legislation that criminalises or decriminalises offences. The law is important in that respect.

As Mr Thomson said, other things can happen before we get ultimately to legislation. We are all aware of campaigns, to which I have already referred, that talk about the existing law. We are not talking about a lacuna here; as far as I am aware, law is available to prosecute most of the offences that are being referred to and I am not aware of any gaps. There is a need for more awareness, and encouragement and support need to be given. A lot can be done without necessarily making new legislation.

As to whether I think that a specific campaign is needed, I would certainly encourage something being done. We should not sit here and say that the position that is being reported by the retail organisations and all the figures are okay. Something is not working; however, there are solutions we could use before we get to new legislation.

Proposed bills, such as the hate crime bill, that are coming through will be major pieces of legislation for the Scottish Parliament. They might provide other opportunities that we do not know about at the moment. Something should happen, but I am not sure that it should be legislation.

Andy Wightman

I will move on to the proposal to create a new criminal offence of obstructing or hindering retail workers. Comparisons have been made with existing legislation on emergency workers that makes it a criminal offence. What are your views on that comparison? Is it a valid one?

Superintendent Thomson

Again, I recognise the importance of what retail workers do.

The legislation that exists around restricting access to goods such as age-restricted products, that can cause harm in the community, is an important part of keeping people safe; there is no getting away from it. The community works together and with the police to do that.

I am a wee bit uncomfortable with the direct comparison with emergency workers. My powers and duties as a police constable are enshrined in law, and are primarily for prevention of crime and protection of life. I understand why there is an offence of obstructing police officers or other emergency workers, because the consequences could be—I am not saying that they are all the time—life-threatening. Equally important is the fact that the powers that have been conferred on me as a police constable are very different in relation to shop workers.

It is about what we are trying to achieve. If such an offence were to exist, what would its value be to prevention of crime? It will not come with the additional power for an individual member of the retail trade to act in a particular way. If somebody obstructs or hinders me while I am at the locus, I can arrest them. I have a power that supports that.

Turning obstruction or hindrance into a criminal act that means that offences would go through the criminal justice system. If ultimately the person is not going to be prosecuted in court or be given a custodial sentence—I understand that there is a presumption against custodial sentences of less than 12 months—it loads the activity at the point when the call is made and the police get involved. If the Government and the legislators decide that that that is the right thing to do, we will fully support that, and we will attend and carry out the law; that is what we are there to do. However, we need to look at the potential outcome and what we are trying to achieve, to see whether that is the best way to do it.

Andy Wightman

Do you have anything to add, Ms Mawdsley?

Gillian Mawdsley

I support much of what Ian Thomson says. Retail workers who carry out those assessments are, in effect, complying with legal requirements, so there is a similarity. However, the police have certain powers that retail workers do not have. There is a similarity with organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive and trading standards departments, which have similar powers of inspection and whose staff would not have the type of protections that are being envisaged for retail workers.

There is a difficulty with using words such as “obstructing” and “hindering”. Although you and I might have concepts in mind if we were to define them, they almost leave what might be unclear concepts to be defined by case law or reported decisions in due course. That would mean that there was no clarity in the law at the outset. If you are considering creating criminal offences, the one thing that we support is absolute clarity, so that people know that if they take action X, it is criminal, which is the ultimate sanction. That is the difficulty with using the words “obstructing” and “hindering”.

Andy Wightman

I might be wrong, but my understanding is that “obstructing” and “hindering” are not defined in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005. Is it your position that those words are more easily discernible in that act because police constables, firefighters and ambulance workers are clearly on a mission, as it were?

Gillian Mawdsley

I have probably been a little bit broad in what I said, because “obstruction” is definitely used in legislation and we have a common understanding about it.

It is perhaps “hinder” that is the issue. If I hinder you, I can do so in lots of ways, such as by not answering your questions. There is also the point that you are making about the fact that if, for example, the police were to arrive on a scene and I refused to give information, that would be an offence, because the police have certain powers. This is not quite the same situation, which is one of the difficulties in widening the offence to include the word “hinder”, because it could just be me being a bit stroppy.

We should not criminalise conduct that should not be considered criminal and perhaps we should not leave it to case law and the courts to clarify whether something is criminal. I have concerns about that particular aspect.

Andy Wightman

I presume that there are statistics on the use of the powers under the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005.

Gillian Mawdsley

There should be statistics on the number of convictions and prosecutions.

Andy Wightman

We can follow that up.

I want to talk about the proposed statutory aggravation that has already been referred to.

The Convener

Mr Wightman, before you continue, I think that Mr Thomson wants to come in.

Superintendent Thomson

I want to make a further point on “obstructing” and “hindering”.

In some of the written submissions, a concern was expressed around the age restriction for the sale of alcohol, which is particularly challenging for some retail workers. I want to highlight and make people aware of the powers that sit under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. If somebody was to refuse to leave premises where alcohol is sold, there is a power for a police officer or other appropriate person who has been empowered to come along and ask the person to leave. If they did not leave, they would be committing an offence and could be removed by force. That legislation means that, although a police officer needs to turn up and deal with the situation, if the person refuses to leave and prevents the retail worker going about their business and serving other people, there is an opportunity for something to happen.

Andy Wightman

Okay. Thank you.

Let us move on to the statutory aggravation. Do you agree that, given that statutory age restrictions on products are designed in the public interest, retail workers carry out a duty that advances the public interest?

Gillian Mawdsley

Yes.

Superintendent Thomson

Yes.

Andy Wightman

Do you see merit in the proposed statutory aggravation? I ask because the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service tells us that, in the prosecution guidance, there is already a ground for aggravation if an offence is committed against someone

“in the course of their employment”.

Is more research on that needed? Is the prosecution guidance sufficient or would a statutory aggravation in primary law help?

10:30  



Gillian Mawdsley

I said that aggravation is interesting because I equated it with the proposed hate crime bill. As far as prosecution is concerned, the circumstances of the incident will be taken into account, exactly as the Crown Office has said, to decide whether it prosecutes in the public interest. Arguably, aggravation is not required. Similarly, any sheriff would take into account exactly how something arose.

The point that we were making was that we see the fact that an employee has a duty to ask for something, if you like, as a trigger. The circumstances are probably already taken account of and I was concerned about the need for corroboration of how the incident started. I could see that as a difficulty, whereas the incident itself—the broad picture of the abuse, no matter how it occurred—might well be prosecuted anyway. As the circumstances come out in court, one source of evidence might be, “This started when I asked for identification,” then the sheriff would be able to say, “I’m sentencing here and I note that this incident arose out of the retail worker exercising their absolute right to ask for proof of age.” That point could be emphasised in sentencing without the need for aggravation.

Andy Wightman

The problem is that you are relying on the discretion of individual sheriffs to think about that, whereas if there were a statutory aggravation, the prosecution could clearly draw attention to it and ask for it to be considered, and it would have to be considered. The question could not be avoided.

Gillian Mawdsley

That is probably a fair comment. If we want to be sure, the fact that the incident occurred because somebody was doing their job and asking for identification needs to come through from the police report into the Crown Office report, then into the court for it to take account of it. I would like to think that that happens; I am not saying that it does.

Richard Lyle

Mr Thomson, various changes have been made to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 in the past few years. We cannot buy alcohol before 10 am and we certainly cannot buy it after 10 pm. Has the 10 am change made any difference to the number of assaults on shop workers?

Superintendent Thomson

The easy—or difficult—answer is that I do not know.

Richard Lyle

It is amazing the amount of people who go into my local shop at 9 o’clock in the morning wanting to buy a can of beer. They have to be told that they cannot, and they do not want to wait about for an hour. It would be interesting to know whether there is any information about that.

Superintendent Thomson

I do not have that information.

Richard Lyle

I will certainly ask the next panel of witnesses the same question.

Superintendent Thomson

No bother. It makes sense that if the period in which you cannot buy alcohol—

Richard Lyle

As a policeman, do you think that we should relax the licensing laws?

The Convener

I think that we are straying from the issue and should move on.

Alison Harris

The written submission from the Law Society says that

“the problem of violence against retail workers requires a multifaceted approach.”

What does that involve? Could you expand on that, please?

Gillian Mawdsley

I think that I expanded on it at the beginning. There is clearly a problem—that has been outlined. Whatever the solution is, it is not working.

By “multifaceted”, we mean that it starts with the person who is receiving the abuse. They have to be empowered to be able to report it. They need the support of their employer—there needs to be that complete engagement. There is also a role for the police in the community with regard to the person who is perpetrating or the people who are offending. Is that role in the local schools? Are there particular targets? That is about local policing.

Assuming that an incident has been reported, we move on to the need for a better understanding. The general role of the legal profession is to make sure that people understand the law and the reasons for either prosecution or failure to prosecute because of insufficient evidence.

The Crown Office is the prosecution side and it proceeds in the same way as it does in any other criminal case, but it has a role in communicating public interest prosecutions.

When the cases go through court, sheriffs should be encouraged to give reasons for sentencing. There is a role in looking at sentencing in the way that Superintendent Thomson has talked about. We are talking about low-level offending. I am not suggesting that it is not serious, but it is unlikely, given the presumption against short sentences, to result in a custodial sentence, so offenders are not being taken out of the picture. It comes back to some of the alternatives to prosecution—not quite mediation, but some of the other alternatives—and a community approach.

By “multifaceted”, I meant looking as a community at the problem—at whether, in your local constituency, there are particular hot spots—and looking at the bigger picture for Scotland, which is your duty here at this committee. That is what I meant by “multifaceted”.

Alison Harris

Thank you. Do you want to add anything, Superintendent Thomson?

Superintendent Thomson

No—I agree with everything that Gillian Mawdsley said.

Alison Harris

That is helpful—thank you.

Dean Lockhart

I appreciate that Superintendent Thomson will not have the precise numbers, but roughly what percentage of reports of abuse of retail workers end up being prosecuted?

Superintendent Thomson

I do not have that information, which is one of the challenges. Although the offences are within that bigger umbrella, as has been said, and we have processes in place for dealing with them, we do not currently have the reporting facilities to extract that information intuitively, so it is difficult to access.

Dean Lockhart

I appreciate that. Thank you.

The Convener

Before we close this evidence session, I will introduce Daniel Johnson, whose member’s bill this is, and give him the opportunity to ask questions.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I remind the committee that I am a member of USDAW, the shopworkers union, and I am a director of a business that has retail interests.

Can Superintendent Thomson explain the utility of section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012?

Superintendent Thomson

You will need to remind me of section 90.

Daniel Johnson

Section 90 describes it as being

“an offence for a person to assault”

a person acting in the capacity of a police officer and it creates an offence of obstructing or hindering a police officer.

Superintendent Thomson

I am sorry—what is your question in relation to that, again?

Daniel Johnson

Is that bit of legislation, which was passed a mere few years ago, useful?

Superintendent Thomson

Yes, absolutely; it is a useful bit of legislation—

Daniel Johnson

If there was already a common law offence of assault, why was it necessary to rearticulate that in the 2012 act?

Superintendent Thomson

I understand, from the information that I have to hand, that it was about recognising the potential threat to life to emergency workers, in particular police officers and fire officers, and the consequences and impact that could result from an individual’s action. However, I was not involved in that conversation.

Daniel Johnson

I am sure that the panel recognises that legal requirements are placed on retail workers to ensure, through challenge 25 and other measures, that people who buy age-restricted items are old enough to do so. Is it fair to say that retail workers, when they are conducting those age checks, are upholding the law and, in that regard, are acting as agents of the law?

Superintendent Thomson

It is about definitions, I suppose.

Daniel Johnson

Are they upholding the law or not?

Superintendent Thomson

They definitely play an important part in relation to upholding the law—absolutely. It is a key element of keeping people safe. The law is there primarily to prevent harmful products and items going into communities in the hands of people who are not seen to be fit to be in possession of those things. Shopworkers who prevent such items getting into communities make a really valuable contribution to the wider safety of those communities.

Daniel Johnson

When people uphold the law, which retail workers do—there is a sanction of up to a year in prison for failing to do so—it is only right that they have the specific protection of the law, such as police officers have under section 90 of the 2012 act. What are the panellists’ reflections on that?

Gillian Mawdsley

We have answered that question in the sense that we have alluded to differences between the police position and the position of retail workers. I totally accept that those positions interact, because retail workers uphold the law. That is a precursor of the criminal prosecution that might follow, and it is important that that is part of the circumstances of the offence. The circumstance initiates what happens afterwards.

I suggest that offences already take account of that factor. If the punishment is not specific enough, that is a different matter, which I referred to in a previous answer.

Daniel Johnson

I have a final comment. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 has been used 8,251 times since it was passed. Almost 100 offences were convicted under that legislation last year.

The Convener

I would like clarification on that point. Somebody who is selling an age-restricted product is required to comply with the law, and to uphold the law as they know it. If there is any breach of that law, it is the police who are called to deal with that, not the shopworker. The protection for police officers in the 2005 act is to prevent somebody from hindering a police officer who is trying to arrest or get to an offender, and to prevent people from stopping the police dealing with an incident. Is that correct?

Superintendent Thomson

Absolutely.

The Convener

Thank you for the helpful evidence that you have given. We will suspend for a couple of minutes while we change panels.

10:41 Meeting suspended.  



10:43 On resuming—  



The Convener

We will recommence. We are quite short of time, as we have three panels today.

I welcome our witnesses—and please excuse my pronunciation; this is a challenge for me today. Dr Pete Cheema is chief executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation; Ewan MacDonald-Russell is head of policy and external affairs from the Scottish Retail Consortium; Paul Togneri is senior policy manager for Scotland at the Scottish Beer and Pub Association; and Paul Gerrard is campaigns and public affairs director of the Co-operative Group.

We have a series of questions from the members. You can decide who wants to answer, though we will be short of time for all four of you to answer. We will keep it quite tight.

Richard Lyle

I know that USDAW will be represented on the next panel, but I am going to quote from a page on its website, which says “Customer under the influence” was

“refused alcohol and became abusive and threatened staff.”

This is from Bellshill, in my constituency:

“Because Scottish licensing laws are not clear to customers, I receive abuse on a regular occurrence.”

This is from Irvine:

““Daily abuse from customers under the influence of drugs and alcohol.”

This is from Glasgow:

“Couldn’t sell alcohol before 10 am got an earful and told I’d ruined her life.”

The committee is aware of the concerns that exist about the high levels of violence and abuse that are directed at retail workers, and the situation might be getting worse. How would you describe the current state of affairs? What are the causes? Is some of the abuse a result of the changes in the licensing law, which mean, for example, that alcohol cannot be sold before 10 am? What would you do to remedy the situation?

10:45  



Paul Gerrard (Co-operative Group)

You asked what the scale of the problem is. The latest data that we have for the Co-op Group, which has 350 stores in Scotland, shows that there was a 1,800 per cent rise in abuse between the end of quarter 3 in 2017 and the end of quarter 3 in 2019—a two-year period—and the number of cases of violence increased by 650 per cent over the same period.

It is true that that is partly a result of better reporting. It is also partly a result of a broader phenomenon that is evident in the USDAW and British Retail Consortium data, which shows that violence against shopworkers is getting worse. It is getting worse from the point of view of not just the incidence of such cases but the level of violence and abuse. It is at levels that my colleagues in the Co-op have never seen.

I would like to give a voice to one of my colleagues by recounting an incident that illustrates the point about alcohol. A customer was refused a bottle of wine, and she took exception to that. That resulted in the customer assaulting three members of the team, as well as another customer. The police were called, and she was eventually arrested, charged and released. My 67-year-old colleague on the till was left shaken and confused about why she should put up with that level of abuse. Every week in Scotland—this is just in the Co-op stores, although others on the panel will say the same—nearly 100 colleagues are abused or attacked.

Richard Lyle

Are those assaults committed during the day? Are there assaults between 9 and 10 am in the morning, or are they committed later in the evening? Some Co-op stores are open until 11 o’clock at night, and some are open 24 hours a day.

Paul Gerrard

The most common time for assaults is between 12 and 6. However, a significant number of assaults—probably about a quarter of all incidents—happen before 12. I do not have the data on the number of incidents that occur before 10 am, but I can find that out and send the information to the committee, if that would be helpful.

Richard Lyle

That would be interesting to know.

Dr Pete Cheema (Scottish Grocers Federation)

I will not give the committee any statistics because, for the past five years in my role as chief executive of the Scottish Grocers Federation, I have done just that. Every year we provide members with statistics. We have said the same thing at a parliamentary reception and we have run campaigns. We have done everything that the previous panel talked about and we have had enough.

When I came to Scotland in 1988, I was shocked by the torrent of abuse that I received. We have 248 age-restricted products to deal with. The Parliament legislates and we have to deal with all that legislation every day. I have been spat at, called names, threatened, attacked and had my tyres slashed and my windows broken, and not just in one store—I have had stores right across Scotland. That is current.

Legislation changes from time to time. When I came here in 1988, the amount of racial abuse that I used to suffer was incredible, and it was not until the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 that people stopped calling me “Paki” or “Black bastard”. That act changed the culture and the attitude. What needs to happen now is that the bill needs to go through so that retail workers can do their jobs properly and in a safe environment.

I was told that abuse of a retail worker is a low-level crime. Is it really? Let us say that a retailer breaks the law by giving out an age-restricted product to someone when they should not. A low-level worker on the national minimum wage who earns between £8 and £9 an hour will be fined £5,000, yet abusing a retail worker is a low-level crime. Is it really? The police do not come out because it is perceived to be a low-level crime.

People talk about underreporting. Really? What do they expect people to do when they have no faith in the police or the procurator fiscal? It is time that that changed.

The Convener

That silenced everybody.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell (Scottish Retail Consortium)

It is statistically probable that, during the course of this morning’s evidence, a retail worker will be abused. There are nine incidents a day and thousands of incidents a year. The updated BRC crime survey will come out later this week and we will send that to the committee when it is published.

On Mr Lyle’s question, the Scottish Retail Consortium has been supportive of measures to tackle alcohol. We have supported the processes that have been introduced. We implemented minimum unit pricing two weeks after the price was set by the Scottish Parliament. However, our workers and colleagues are having to deal with the consequences of implementing public policy. They are happy to do that. It is our duty and we work on behalf of society. As we see society changing, we see more duties being placed on retail workers. We accept that we can do those things and we play our role in the community. However, we are talking about finding a mechanism and a way to do that.

The status quo is not acceptable. Every way we look at it, from the experiences of our members, the national statistics and the experience of the members of the Scottish Grocers Federation, we can see that something has to be done. We think that aggravation is the right way forward and we are very supportive of Daniel Johnson’s bill. Our main point is that the status quo is not acceptable and we are asking for help for our workers.

Paul Togneri (Scottish Beer and Pub Association)

I concur with the messages that have been conveyed by my colleagues on the panel. Since 2005, when we introduced the “Challenge 25” process on a voluntary basis, we have seen an increase in the number of incidents in which there is a challenge or an altercation—that is when most of the abuse happens. In 2010, it became a statutory requirement that everyone under the age of 25 be asked for identification and that has increased the number of instances that have the potential to lead to abuse.

Specifically on Mr Lyle’s point on changes to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, currently the provisions regarding licensing are covered by five different acts. We have called for a consolidated act, as have colleagues on the panel. That would be helpful. Separately, the member’s bill would specifically address the issue of abuse, which is a problem that our staff face on a daily basis, and which is increasing.

Richard Lyle

Would the bill also cover people who work in pubs?

Paul Togneri

Yes, it would.

Richard Lyle

Dr Cheema, I stand with you on your comment that racial abuse—and any kind of abuse—should be opposed. I can understand why you are really—actually there are no words that I can say. There is a perception that the abuse of retail workers is not always taken seriously enough. Do you agree that that is a problem and, if so, what impact does it have?

Dr Cheema

The impact is huge. People who work in retail are usually family members or people who know one another—they are people who work in the community, and the knock-on effect is huge. Often, people do not want to work at the counter because they know that they will get abuse, so they would rather do something else. We are the biggest private sector employer. We need this protection.

The committee asked the previous panel about sales between 9 o’clock and 10 o’clock in the morning. We have had scenarios where someone wants to buy alcohol before the permitted time, the sale is refused—the retailer cannot do anything else; all that he can do is refuse—and the person decides to take the product and throw the money down. That person has decided that he has purchased the product. I ask the committee: what would you do? If you phoned the police, would they come out? Has an incident actually taken place? I will tell you what would happen. The police would ask, “Did you get paid for it?” You would say, “Yes” and they would say, “So, what’s your problem?” That is just one scenario in which the new offence would kick in.

Richard Lyle

I am certainly not advocating that anybody do that.

Dr Cheema

I understand that, but it happens. We have 248 age-restricted products to deal with. The “Challenge 25” process was introduced by the Scottish Grocers Federation many years ago, even before it was legislated for. We are responsible retailers; all that we ask is that the legislation that you pass on to us will help us to deliver that.

Paul Gerrard

Just to build on that, we have done a freedom of information request across all 43 constabularies in the United Kingdom on police response rates to issues that we report in our stores. That gives some evidence relating to what Dr Cheema said. A number of police forces, one of which is Police Scotland, have not responded, but if we get that data, I will provide it. However, I can give you an idea of the figures. We should bear it in mind that only the most serious offences are reported to the police, because there is little confidence in their response, so it is a bit of a vicious circle. Across the UK, two thirds of issues that are reported to the police result in no police attendance. Those will be cases involving the kind of incident that Dr Cheema has described—and I could describe more. In those cases, two thirds of the time, the police do not attend.

A second point is that the impact on colleagues is not just immediate; it lasts a long time. Last year, we published research by Dr Emmeline Taylor. Her report was called, “‘It’s not part of the job’: Violence and verbal abuse towards shopworkers—A review of evidence and policy”, and I will happily provide it to the committee. Dr Taylor said that the consequences of some of the abuse and attacks that shopworkers face are akin to post-traumatic stress disorder. As Dr Cheema said, many of our colleagues need to work in a certain shop, as it might be the only shop that they can work in. If such a person has been attacked in that shop, they will need to return to the place of their trauma. We never normally ask anyone who has suffered such trauma to go back to the place where they suffered it.

Honestly, I think that we all agree that retail workers do not believe that the police care or that the criminal justice system cares, and they are not sure whether elected representatives care about them, because so little is being done.

Dr Cheema

The Co-op and Scotmid Co-operative have put in place processes with local police stations whereby the retailer fills out forms and delivers the audio and video evidence to the police station, to speed up the process. However, even though that work has already been done, it sometimes takes the police four to six weeks to respond.

Paul Togneri

What Mr Gerrard said about shopworkers’ perceptions is certainly the case with bar workers. Their perception is that the law is not on their side and, in fact, that it is up to them to uphold the law. Bar workers are told a lot about the restrictions on them relating to who they can sell to and what state the person can be in, and they face a £5,000 penalty should they fail to uphold some of those restrictions.

Anything that sends the message to retail workers that the law is on their side and that Parliament supports them would therefore be a welcome addition. In the previous five to 10 years, there has not been much that has sent a clear message of support, and I believe that the bill would do that, which is one of the reasons why we welcome it.

We believe that the bill would also highlight certain incidents and lead to an increase in reporting of incidents. As has been said, many retail workers think that not much action will be taken, as it is a low-level crime. Some people say that dealing with such issues is part of the job and is to be expected in that line of work. We do not think that that is true; that is not a reasonable excuse. The bill would help to end that view.

11:00  



The Convener

I think that Jackie Baillie wants to explore those issues a bit more.

Jackie Baillie

Some of the issues have already been explored by the panel. As you might have heard from the previous panel, the police said that all reports of intimidation, threats and violence towards retail workers are taken seriously and all are investigated. I have to say that that is not my experience, and it does not sound as if it is the experience of your members. Mr Gerrard, is the two thirds figure that you gave typical? Does it apply across the board or does it relate just to your stores? I am curious to know.

Paul Gerrard

The two thirds figure is from a freedom of information request covering all 43 constabularies in the UK. Not all constabularies have responded, and not all constabularies hold that data. That figure does not include Police Scotland, because, as you heard earlier, Police Scotland does not hold that data.

I would be surprised if the situation differed much among constabularies—that is point 1. Point 2 is that it is not our experience that the police always come out when an incident is reported. I am a former law enforcement officer, I worked for Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise for 20 years and I feel nothing but support and sympathy for police officers. However, the truth is that they are very stretched and they do not consider the matter to be a priority. If you asked my 5,000 colleagues in the Co-op stores in Scotland, they would agree that the police very rarely come out to incidents.

Jackie Baillie

Do you think that passing the bill would make the police change their minds about how they behave?

Paul Gerrard

I think that that would do a number of things. It would send an important message; sometimes legislation is about the message that it sends. Dr Cheema’s experience of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 is a really good example of that—I think that the impact was in the message.

When I was in HM Customs and Excise, I was afforded protection under section 16 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, because I was carrying out public duties. For those who now work in HM Revenue and Customs, section 31 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 does the same thing.

What my colleagues do for those 240-odd age-restricted items is what I used to do in customs. I was abused and I was threatened there, but I had protection, and that made me feel that I was not on my own. I think that, too often, shop colleagues—as Dr Cheema just described in relation to the gentleman who refused to sell alcohol at 9 in the morning—feel that they are on their own. I would not underestimate the importance of that messaging to hundreds of thousands of retail staff.

Jackie Baillie

I assume that everyone on the panel agrees with that, so I will move on to the next question—forgive me. Let us assume that you get past the barrier that is the police. What happens with prosecution in the courts? Are you confident about prosecution and sentencing?

Dr Cheema

Nobody ever comes back. The process is there, but it does not happen. That is the reality.

In response to the earlier point about data recording, we know that the police do not record. Nor does the Scottish Government.

At the time when the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 came in, race crimes were not recorded; it was not until after that that race crime started to be recorded. We cannot wait another five or 10 years for this bill to be passed while we carry on in the same vein. We just cannot. We need this now. We need it not only to give retail workers confidence but to send out a message, from you, that there is zero tolerance of crime.

Jackie Baillie

Mr Togneri, is the experience different in the pub sector, or is it the same?

Paul Togneri

It differs. It differs by area, and within an area it differs from pub to pub, depending on the situation, I think. However, we definitely share the view that Dr Cheema is conveying about the message that such incidents are entirely unacceptable. We entirely back that.

Colin Beattie

The police have said that it is sometimes appropriate, when dealing with young people who are being abusive, to use measures other than prosecution. The main reason is to avoid the negative impact of a criminal record on their future; a criminal record builds problems for times to come. What are your views on that?

Dr Cheema

I will turn that around. What is your view about a retail worker breaking the law in order to protect a young person?

Colin Beattie

That is an impossible question to answer.

Dr Cheema

Is yours not also an impossible question for us to answer? As far as I am concerned, there should be zero tolerance. If the young person is breaking the law, they are breaking the law, but we are unable to deal with it because there is nothing in place, yet there is something in place for the retail worker who breaks the law.

Colin Beattie

Let us look at this logically. Might we be in danger of unnecessarily criminalising a whole group of young people? Is that necessary? Is that what we should be doing? I am thinking of situations in which there is obstruction and hindrance, which is an uncertain offence.

Dr Cheema

What, in that case, is the difference between a young person slapping somebody or putting a knife into somebody and them threatening a shop worker to make them sell an age-restricted product?

Colin Beattie

I did say that, as yet, we have no definitions of “obstruction” or “hindrance”.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

There are a couple of points to make to address the question. On the point about young people, one of the aims of putting in legislation retail workers’ right to be protected is deterrence. We want to acknowledge that shop workers deserve not to be abused or hindered. To an extent, we do not want prosecutions because they would in some ways represent a failure of the legislation because they would imply that the behaviour that we are trying to stop is continuing.

How “hindrance” is defined will be important. I am not nearly knowledgeable enough about criminal law to have the details, but we note in our written evidence that, particularly in relation to intentionality in hindrance, we must be cautious to ensure that what happens is appropriate. If there were other ways to deal with the issue, it would not be a primary issue for us. The point is about whether we are making an offence to change how retail workers are looked at and protected.

Paul Gerrard

I absolutely agree. I am here to defend and speak up for the safety of my colleagues.

A difference can be made, however, in terms of what happens next. Superintendent Thomson said this extremely well—ultimately, there is the outcome to consider. A prosecution might lead to a custodial sentence or a fine, but many cases, particularly those involving young people, might require different kinds of interventions. I have an example that is not from Scotland, so I apologise for that, although it is applicable.

An offender in the Midlands had a £1,000-a-week crack and heroin habit, so she was having to steal £160,000 a year from stores. She did that for 20 years, from the age 14 to age 34. She stopped when she was eventually put on a rehabilitation course and she got treatment. She has now not offended in three years. Moreover, she is counselling young people about not getting into that kind of situation.

I agree that it is never, for any reason, acceptable to attack a shop worker, but what happens to an offender is important. They might need a custodial sentence, but let us not lose sight of the ability to change people’s lives. That does and must exist.

Colin Beattie

We can all quote extremes of what might happen with retail workers. I could use Dr Cheema’s example of a knife being pulled, or whatever. That is already a criminal offence that would be dealt with fairly seriously.

I am trying to understand where the offence of obstruction or hindrance would apply? What are its extremes? How do we determine what is criminal and what is not? It seems to be difficult. Should we consider a more general offence that applies not just to retail workers but to other people who are going about their business? Should not they be protected in the same way? I am thinking of people in utilities services and so on, who are also subjected to abuse from time to time.

What examples can you give of obstruction or hindrance that would crystallise them in our minds?

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

The situation is slightly different for retail workers, although if there are analogous examples, we would support protection for them.

Retail is unlike any other profession. You cannot control the space, and you cannot control people coming in and doing things in your physical premises. That is why shop work is distinct from other roles. We must remember that retail is not just about stores; it also includes online shopping and hospitality. There might be two people in the environment, but people often work alone. There are lots of scenarios in which we are trying to find the right mechanism for protection.

On defining hindrance and obstruction, that is about how we find the right way to prevent somebody holding a worker, or blocking them from getting out of a flat, or blockading them in a store. At the moment, nothing can be done about those things, beyond involving the police if the situation gets serious. That is what we are grasping at; we recognise that it is a difficult area.

Colin Beattie

I still have not heard a definition that clarifies what would constitute obstruction and hindrance and at what point that would become criminality.

Dr Cheema

You are asking for a scenario. Let us work on one. Somebody comes in before the permitted time and requests an age-restricted product, but the retailer says, “I’m sorry, but you can’t have that. It’s not the right time, so you’ve got to come back after 10 o’clock.” The customer then insists on getting the product, although it has been explained to him that the shop is not allowed to sell it, and that there will be a £5,000 fine if it is sold to him. That is when such behaviour is triggered and the person becomes abusive.

Colin Beattie

Age-restricted products are a specific area of concern. To my mind, that is a different argument. What would count as obstruction and hindrance in a general retail situation, outside sale of age-restricted products?

Dr Cheema

Age-restricted products are the main issue.

Colin Beattie

They are the main issue?

Dr Cheema

They are the main issue. We are also being hindered in carrying out our duties. Those duties are the legal obligations that the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament have given to retail workers.

Colin Beattie

What examples do we have of that? I understand the issue of age-restricted products. I have a lot of sympathy, but it is a separate issue.

Dr Cheema

When you say it is a separate issue, what do you mean?

Colin Beattie

It is a separate issue in so far as it is a definable issue, where there is already a considerable concern. It is separate from the generality of the retail trade.

Dr Cheema

If workers are being stopped from carrying out their duty, they are also hindered. Let us say that a queue forms, and the second and third people have to get to work but the shop worker cannot carry on with their duties. Surely that is a hindrance?

The Convener

I think you should wind up. We are going around in circles.

Colin Beattie

We are not getting anywhere, but it seems that age-restricted products—which are the main examples that you are giving, and the only examples so far—should be looked at separately. I will leave it at that.

The Convener

You are saying that there are jobs that staff need to get on with, and that they can be hindered from getting on with those if somebody is kicking up a fuss about an age-restricted product.

Dr Cheema

The average number of staff in a convenience store in the retail sector is two to three at any time.

The Convener

We will move on, as we are short of time. I can give time at the end if you want to pick up on anything.

Alison Harris

I will not ask my question, having heard previous evidence.

The Convener

Do you have any other questions?

Alison Harris

I will come in later.

Dean Lockhart

We are looking at the Scottish position, for obvious reasons, but can any of the panel indicate whether there are more effective powers elsewhere in the UK to deal with the concerns that are being raised?

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

My British Retail Consortium colleagues are campaigning on the issue across the four UK nations. We want to see action. Scotland is a little ahead at the moment: we would like the Scottish Parliament to lead on this. We are looking for more powers and protections across the board.

In response to the issue that was raised earlier about data, to substantiate Mr Gerrard’s point I note that we collect data from across our whole membership, in Scotland and UK. We do not see a huge change in the trend, but there is an increase in the problem.

11:15  



Paul Gerrard

The Co-op has for the past 18 months been running a campaign called “Safer colleagues, safer communities”.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell is right that Scotland is ahead on the issue. Debates at Westminster—at Prime Minister’s questions last week, and at Westminster hall two weeks ago and before the UK general election—are at nowhere near the same point. There is a private member’s bill from Alex Norris, who is the Labour and Co-operative Party MP for Nottingham North, which is similar to Daniel Johnson’s. However, at the minute, although there is recognition of the seriousness of the issue, the rest of the UK is not nearly as advanced as Scotland. I have seen no conversation in Westminster of such detail and clarity.

Dean Lockhart

Thank you.

Just so that I understand the nature of the problem, are the abuse and concerns the same across the UK, or do you face particular issues in Scotland?

Paul Gerrard

I can speak for the Co-operative Group. We have 2,500 stores across the UK. The issues are similar in Glasgow and Gillingham: challenging shoplifters causing violence and abuse, age-restricted product sales and general abusive behaviour in stores.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

The only differentiation that we see is between types of store. Larger stores that tend to have more colleagues are better for members of staff to support each other. It is harder for convenience stores, although our members from that sector put in a huge amount of security, including CCTV. The fewer people there are, the harder it is. Overall, it is a huge challenge.

Dean Lockhart

That is helpful. Thank you.

Andy Wightman

Dr Cheema and Mr Gerrard both said that there is little faith in the police and in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in relation to prosecution of people who assault, threaten or abuse retail workers. Would the bill change that? Legislation, in and of itself, will not change anything if the problem is that the law enforcement and prosecution services are not following up as they should.

Dr Cheema

You heard the previous panel say that it is “low-level” crime. Low-level crime does not get picked up by the police; they just do not deal with it. There have been instances in the past—

Andy Wightman

We must not take those comments out of context; I do not think that Gillian Mawdsley from the Law Society was saying that assault was “low-level”.

Dr Cheema

If you look back, you will see that what she said was that those types of crime are—I quote—“low-level”.

Andy Wightman

Is it your position that the crimes that are specified in section 1 of the bill are not low level? They vary from assault to hindering.

Dr Cheema

As I said earlier, no type of crime should be tolerated.

Andy Wightman

I understand that. What I am trying to find out is what difference will legislation that, in effect, restates law that already exists make, if your members and retail workers do not have confidence in the police and the Crown Office?

Dr Cheema

Legislation will give them a bit of faith that somebody out there is listening to them. It will enforce—

Andy Wightman

But will it make any difference? If Parliament were to pass the bill, or something that is broadly its shape, that would provide a lot of reassurance and all the rest of it, but if it is not followed through with enforcement, we are just gesticulating.

Paul Gerrard

I would not underestimate the power of a sovereign Parliament “gesticulating”, because that can be really powerful. It would also be powerful for law enforcement, because the truth is that the issue is not prioritised. An aggravated offence that carries a higher tariff very often prompts a better police response.

As I said, I speak as a former law enforcement officer. There is the issue of resources being needed in order to be able to respond. It is not out of badness or wickedness that police are not responding; it is because they do not have the resources. The proposed legislation would increase the importance of the issue—the Scottish Parliament will have passed an act. What needs to follow is for the police to have the resources.

I apologise for speaking more from a UK perspective than from a Scottish perspective, but I point out that cuts across the police services have hit neighbourhood policing; neighbourhood police were often the people who would respond to problems in stores.

Andy Wightman

I understand the issue of resources, but if we elevate the offences in one element of the criminal justice system without changing the resources, the deficit will simply fall elsewhere.

Paul Gerrard

Policing is all about prioritisation.

Andy Wightman

I understand that, but the committee is not involved in scrutiny of policing budgets.

I will ask about the proposed age-related products statutory aggravation. Colin Beattie indicated that he is quite sympathetic to doing something in that area, as am I. I cannot speak for other members of the committee. As has been said, the people who work in retail provide a public service that we have asked them to provide.

However, the problem with the bill is that the aggravation would apply only to section 1 offences. Parliament might not approve some or all of the section 1 offences, in which case the aggravation would fall. I am just speculating on what Parliament might do. We do not know what it will do, but it might take the view that the offences are already covered elsewhere and are therefore not needed. As a consequence of that, the bill’s aggravation provisions would also fall.

Should the aggravation apply not only to the section 1 offences but to any offence against a shop worker that is prosecuted, whether under the common law or the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010? At the moment, it does not apply to those offences.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

I think—after a quick read-through to make sure that I cover this—that the SRC’s answer would be yes. We think that it is easier to take a broader aggravation approach. It is not that we are not supportive of what the bill proposes; we simply support the easiest way of ensuring that we catch such offences properly.

There are temporal elements to consider—for example, when a shop worker refuses an age-related product sale and somebody gets them later in the car park. There is a question about how we amend or develop legislation to capture those sorts of things. We are not precious about how we get to that outcome.

I apologise for not giving a very specific answer, but I do not want to get it wrong.

Andy Wightman

Let us take the hypothetical situation in which section 1—or part of it—falls. Let us say that the obstruction and hindrance provision falls. Is it the case that you would like the aggravation to apply in respect of any prosecution of someone who assaults or threatens a retail worker, regardless of whether that prosecution is pursued in relation to the offences in the bill?

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

Yes.

Andy Wightman

Do the other witnesses agree with that?

Paul Togneri

That would be helpful and would go a long way towards starting the cultural shift that is required. It would send the message that we have all highlighted needs to be sent.

Andy Wightman

What is your response to the evidence from the Law Society of Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and the Scottish Government that all the offences in section 1 are already covered? Assault is covered by the common law, threatening and abusing is covered by the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 and, according to the COPFS, obstruction and hindrance could be prosecuted under breach of the peace. The aggravation of committing an offence against someone while they are in the course of their employment is already covered by the prosecution guidance. What is your response to that?

I understand that action is not being taken—that the police are not investigating such offences and that people are not being prosecuted—but the argument is that laws exist that can deal with the situation as it stands.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

I will be very brief so that I do not repeat myself. It is a question of recognising that retail workers and retail places are different. The aggravation would be to ensure that the penalties are sufficient and are more of a deterrent.

I have another small point to make, which might sound inconsequential but is not. Much of the behaviour that we are talking about is behaviour that will always be hard to identify in law. I am thinking of instances of micro-aggression and behaviour that might constitute abuse for which there will not be corroboration, because it involves a single person speaking at a checkout where there is no audio recording or other evidence from colleagues. By creating an offence that makes it clear that retail workers are different and deserve protection, we can change the people’s calculus on that circumstance. We will make workers feel more confident that they will not be subjected to such behaviour, and make customers think differently and recognise the need for respect. That is a minor thing that involves a cultural shift.

That is partly why I think that we must not underestimate the value of a legislative approach that seeks to change the culture for ordinary people who might be frustrated, such that they do not take that frustration out on retail workers. That is what we are reaching for in a very general way.

Andy Wightman

Okay. Finally, I want to pick up on your earlier point about the retail environment being different because members of the public have unhindered access to it. That is unlike a solicitor’s office or the Parliament, for example, where who gets access is, or can be, controlled at the door. Is that difference an important factor in your support for the bill? How significant is it?

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

How retail works and the responsibility to engage with everyone are quite important. There are lots of reasons why the bill is not analogous to the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, but the original justification for that act was about how emergency workers will always be vulnerable because they have to go to places and cannot control their circumstances. That element is becoming more and more true of retail workers. Obviously, the other parts of the 2005 act about life-saving are not analogous to the bill. The point about not controlling the environment is a relevant criterion, which is why we draw on it.

Dr Cheema

In retail, there are circumstances in which there are lone workers. The difference for the retailers is about ensuring that they can carry out their legal duties in a safe and proper environment without being hindered and aggravated.

Andy Wightman

Okay. Thank you.

Alison Harris

Would you like any changes to be made to the bill?

Paul Togneri

A lot of age-verification checks take place at the doors of premises by door staff. We would like the bill to branch out to include protections for those staff, who will be on the front line of age-verification checks in many cases.

Dr Cheema

I think that the bill will carry out everything that we require.

Paul Gerrard

We work very closely with USDAW, and it will be interesting to hear what it says in the next evidence session. It is not usual for all the major trade bodies, employers and unions to speak with one voice on an issue, but it has been very noticeable from debates across the United Kingdom that the major retailers and USDAW are absolutely at one on the matter.

Gordon MacDonald

Because of our time constraints, I will ask a couple of brief questions. Will you confirm the number of workers whom the bill would protect, whether they work in the convenience store sector or in the bar and club sector?

Dr Cheema

There are 44,000 workers in our retail members. That does not include the beer and pub and hospitality sectors.

Paul Togneri

There are 45,000 workers across pubs in Scotland.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

The most recent Scottish annual business survey says that there are about 240,000 retail workers.

Gordon MacDonald

Thank you very much. That helps to paint the picture of what the bill could do.

We have talked a lot about needing a culture change, possibly similar to the change that was needed in relation to the legislation on seat belts and the laws on drink-driving, for example. We need to send the message that the abuse of retail workers is not acceptable. The bill is not a panacea for all the ills that the convenience store and pub and club sectors face. What other action that is not included in the bill does the sector want in order to help to protect retail workers?

Paul Gerrard

As I said before, I think that Scotland is ahead of the rest of the UK on the issue in general. Last year, one thing that the UK Home Office did was a public awareness campaign, which focused more on shopworkers and getting them to be comfortable and confident about reporting abuse. The #AlwaysReportAbuse campaign was run by the Association of Convenience Stores in England and Wales and was really helpful. It did two things: it encouraged colleagues to report and it encouraged businesses to ensure that they do the right thing.

I do not agree with what the Law Society of Scotland has said about businesses possibly preventing or discouraging colleagues from reporting abuse, because I have never seen that—certainly not through the Co-operative Group. I would be very surprised if that were true of many businesses. However, the need to have a public awareness campaign or a sector awareness campaign on the importance and unacceptability of abuse says something.

11:30  



Ewan MacDonald-Russell

From our point of view, there are three points around coherency. First, we speak to our members a lot and, to echo Mr Gerrard’s point, we know that a huge amount of effort is put into protecting workers. Across the UK, our members spend more than £1 billion a year on protecting workers and on crime prevention, and that will continue.

Secondly, we want to work in partnership with the police. The Scottish Business Resilience Centre is a good example of that joint working.

The third point, which concerns what goes on in this building, is about the coherency of public policy. Many of the triggers for the behaviour that we see are consequence of public policies. Some of those policies are good decisions, and we support them, but there must be coherency and clarity, people’s voices must be heard and there must be a strategic approach.

Obviously, we are working with Government on a retail strategy. That kind of wider and more sectoral work on understanding the impacts of policy is essential. That is one thing that is often not thought about when we talk about public policy measures that retail workers enact.

Gordon MacDonald

You mentioned that your members spend £1 billion on protecting workers and so on. Can you give us a flavour of the nature of that spend? Obviously, employers have a duty of care for their employees. Furthermore, there are a lot of family-owned businesses in the convenience store sector, and the employers want to protect their family members. The same thing goes for bars and pubs. What are the various sectors doing to protect employees and family members?

Paul Gerrard

I can speak only for the Co-op. Although we are a relatively big business, we are a small-format business, which is a slightly different thing. Also, we do wholesale to lots of family-owned independent stores and independent co-operative societies, such as Scotmid.

In the past three years, we have spent about £140 million UK-wide, and we will do that in the coming three years, too. About £20 million of that was spent in our Scottish stores. That spending is on a few things: physical stuff, guards and the design of stores, which involves issues such as where you put stuff.

One of the most important things that we have done concerns the use of technology to connect colleagues on the shop floor. Sometimes, there will be three or four colleagues in the store—one in the back, one on the till and one on the floor, and so on. All our colleagues have headsets, which means that they can speak to each other at any point, which is important. We have also connected our colleagues to a central control room, which is provided by a private supplier. That enables them to be connected to the outside world. If there is an incident and they press the alarm button, that store is taken over by the central control function, and the control room gathers the evidence to send to the police, instructs the colleagues what to do and sends out announcements.

You need to spend money. A big business such as the Co-op can afford to spend the equivalent of £8,000 a year, on average, on security measures in a store, but my worry is that many of the most at-risk stores—the small, family-run independents—do not have that resource. We are at risk because of our format: our stores are small, local and community based. The equivalent family-run businesses might not have the same kind of money to spend, which means that they will be most at risk.

Ewan MacDonald-Russell

That is a far better explanation than I could give. The only thing that I would add is that, now, we often see retailers acting almost as quasi-judicial bodies whereby, if someone is acting in a way that is bad but their behaviour is not at the level at which the police will or can take action, a retailer will ban that customer and start other internal processes. In those situations, there is a lot of support for workers. That might not count towards the spend that we are talking about, but it involves recognising that there might be a degree of post-traumatic stress, which will require mental health support and so on. A lot of that sort of thing goes on, too.

Paul Togneri

On our part, there is the promotion of best practice via the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, and there is the Best Bar None Scotland’s accreditation scheme, which all pubs in Scotland are eligible to join. Our approach also involves partnership working. Pubs that might have a problem with violence, abuse or other such issues will usually work at having the best relationship possible with licensing standards officers and local police. Ensuring that those connections exist is an important part of our work.

Dr Cheema

One factor that has been missed so far is the amount of community work that retailers carry out to ensure that they know everybody and that, ultimately, they are safe. They try to get on with everybody in order to eradicate the kind of thing that we are talking about. Yes, we invest in CCTV and so on, but it is important to note that more and more people are becoming stressed in their work because of the situations that we have been discussing today. That is why we have employed the Retail Trust and are using its retail hub: we are trying to eradicate some of that stress by putting services behind our efforts. However, the situation is difficult, and it is getting worse.

Daniel Johnson

May I make a point, convener?

The Convener

We are short of time, so only if it is really important.

Daniel Johnson

The previous panel was questioned about legal protection and the idea of employers of other categories of worker being obliged to protect the life and limb of their employees. Retail workers are upholding the law by restricting access to age-restricted items such as alcohol, tobacco, battery acid and offensive weapons—items in relation to which there could be real consequences to life and limb if they are sold inappropriately. Is that a fair reflection of the situation, Mr Gerrard?

Paul Gerrard

I think that it is. Certainly, however, there are some differences. For example, we do not sell knives in our stores now because of the risk that poses, but we sell things such as acid and so on. If such items get into the wrong hands, there can be devastating consequences. That also goes for other age-related items such as alcohol and so on. I am not sure that the impact of those sales would be exactly the same, but I would not underestimate the implications of those products being sold in an unrestricted way. That is why Parliament brought in the safeguards.

The Convener

I thank the witnesses for what has been an interesting session. If anyone thinks of something that has not been covered today, they can write to us to let us know.

We will suspend the committee for a minute while we change witnesses.

11:36 Meeting suspended.  



11:37 On resuming—  



The Convener

I welcome Stewart Forrest, who is the Scottish divisional officer for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and Robert Deavy, who is an organiser at GMB Scotland.

Gentlemen, you have just heard the previous evidence session. We are looking to build on that and will be asking you about broadly the same issues.

Richard Lyle

USDAW has collected examples of abusive behaviour, which I will quote. On age-restricted sales, we see this example:

“Broxburn—‘Customers very aggressive when refused sale of age restricted products, particularly alcohol.’”

On the throwing of goods:

“Inverurie—‘Customer threw items of their shopping at me as they were unhappy about the price’”.

On shoplifters:

“Fife—‘Shoplifter tried to head-butt me’”.

On belittling behaviour:

“Wick—‘Asked if I was stupid, spoken to like a child.’”

On assault:

“Dingwall—‘One customer elbowed me on purpose when I went past’”.

On verbal abuse:

“Dundee—‘I have had customers shout at me if something doesn’t go right and called many names’”.

and

“Inverness—‘A Woman was very upset about our lack of 10p bags and got verbally abusive.’”

Finally, on what can happen after work:

“Edinburgh—‘I have been stopped in the street going home and verbally abused by a family member of a shoplifter that I had caught previously that day. I feel very uncomfortable being put in that situation as these people know where I live and are known to be violent!’”

Are you saying that this is regularly happening all over Scotland?

Stewart Forrest (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers)

Yes. I want to start by stating that a job in retail is a real job, just the same as being a police officer, an emergency service worker or a firefighter is a real job. A lot of people spend their whole career in retail.

USDAW represents 30,000 members in retail in Scotland. The survey that you quoted from was part of our freedom from fear campaign. We have been running the campaign throughout the UK since 2003. A Scotland-specific survey is part of that campaign, and we have noticed that, since 2015, assaults and abuse of our members in Scotland are increasing significantly. You quoted our 2019 survey, which we would be happy to share with the committee on request.

Richard Lyle

Many committee members know that I was a grocery manager in a Co-operative for 14 years in the early part of my career. For my last question, I will again quote USDAW, which says that life on the front line of retail can be pretty tough for many shopworkers, that there is still a lot to do to help protect them, and that USDAW’s message is clear: abuse is not part of the job. Do you agree with that?

Stewart Forrest

Yes, absolutely.

Richard Lyle

Thank you.

Jackie Baillie

You may have heard the police say in their evidence that reports of threats, intimidation or violence against retail workers are all taken seriously and thoroughly investigated. Is that your members’ experience?

Stewart Forrest

It certainly is not the experience of USDAW members. Through their participation in our surveys, people are telling us that that is not the case. Such reports are not taken seriously. They see that, when people have been abusive, if they spend a lot of money in the store, they might be excluded from the store for that one shopping visit, but then they are back in. The majority of our members live in the community that they work in, and that can cause problems outside work.

Robert Deavy (GMB Scotland)

I had to deal with an incident in Blantyre about a year and a half or two years ago. A gang of youths was consistently robbing the store in Blantyre, threatening the security guard with a knife and baseball bats, telling him that they were going to stab him and attack any staff who got in their way. The store would call the police, who would not turn up, although they knew who those youths were. It took a critical article in a national newspaper for the police to act and to go to the store and deal with the incident. I will happily send that article; it is easy to find.

The experience of GMB members is that the police do not appear. There is no point in reporting crimes such as shoplifting; the police do not have the resources to deal with them. The bill, if it becomes law, would empower shopworkers to feel more confident in reporting.

Everyone who spoke in the earlier evidence sessions, from the Law Society to retail representatives, admits that this is a growing problem. Is that not enough to tell you that the current law is not doing enough to stop it? We need to try something different.

Jackie Baillie

Assuming that people get through the stage of police involvement, do you have confidence in prosecutions and sentencing? Have you any examples?

Robert Deavy

People do not have the confidence to report an incident in the first instance. First and foremost, they do not feel that they get support from the management in the store. In the stores that I deal with, when I raise with the manager what a member has said, the overriding response is that the store is too busy. They want to deal with that customer and get them out as quickly as possible, rather than report an incident. I believe that the bill will help to give retail workers the confidence to say to their manager, “I need to report this—it is a crime.”

We all know that we cannot assault people. We all know that we cannot verbally abuse people for their ethnicity, or for being pregnant. However, in retail there is an acceptance, and certainly we hear this from our members, that verbal abuse—although not so much assault—is just part of the day-to-day job.

We keep mentioning the sale of age-restricted products—alcohol, tobacco and so on. That is just one part of it. These things happen all over stores, whether in the front, when someone is selling alcohol, or up the back, when someone is getting goods for a customer. The problem is that, as we all know, the retail market is volatile. Retailers are struggling to keep pace with one another. Reductions in staff are leaving a lot of our members as lone workers in parts of the store. The problem is not just to do with age-restricted goods: it is happening in stores all over Scotland. It does not matter where someone works.

Does that answer your question, Ms Baillie?

11:45  



Jackie Baillie

It does. Thank you.

Stewart Forrest

It is USDAW’s opinion that some employers are more reluctant to push for a prosecution than others.

If the bill became law, knowing that there is a stronger law that would be more enforceable would be of comfort to our members.

11:45  



Willie Coffey

The experience in Blantyre that Robert Deavy described sounds as if it was criminal behaviour in any case. Mr Deavy, if the police fail to turn up to such incidents, would the bill solve the problem?

Robert Deavy

It might, because, as the previous panel mentioned, these incidents would become a priority and the police might react to them as a priority.

The problem that our members faced in Blantyre was that the police knew who the individuals were—they were young boys who were well known for their behaviour. The police decided that they would let them do what they were doing and pick them up later. The police did not go to the scene of the crime where our members were being threatened—they might have picked them up later in the local park, for instance.

Willie Coffey

But you think that the bill would help to overcome that issue.

Robert Deavy

I do not know; it is about giving retail workers more empowerment in their job by knowing that someone has their back.

If any committee members were to go into a store now and ask retail workers whether they believe that the Government supports them and the law protects them, I think that most of them would say no. That is very sad.

The Convener

Is it not an education and training issue? There are laws, but if retail workers do not feel that those laws are there for their protection, does that mean that there is a disconnect in terms of their understanding of the existing laws?

Stewart Forrest

There is training on the implementation of some laws and the consequences that our members would face if they do not adhere to them.

I do not think that a lot of employers encourage our members to report verbal abuse to the police. Having a stronger law and a campaign to advertise it would be better for our members. They would feel more comfortable knowing that better protection would be in place. At the moment, they do not believe that there is protection.

The Convener

Is a stronger law required, or just a law with a specific name? Are you saying that the current laws are not strong?

Stewart Forrest

It is our opinion that the current laws are not being enforced. Based on what the previous panel said, we all have a joined-up approach to this: us, the trade representatives who gave evidence earlier and the Co-op, which does a lot of work with us in the UK. We support the bill for the benefit of our members.

The results of USDAW’s UK survey—which has been going for a number of years—are bad, but the Scottish results, when they are separated out, are even worse. There is a major problem here, and it is growing. Colleagues on the previous panels have said that they recognise that the problem is growing.

The problem is not only with age-restricted sales; it is with drunk people who go into shops with alcohol and try to buy more but are refused it, or with people who are refused alcohol when they try to buy it for minors. There are a lot of trigger points, and it falls on retail workers to police them. If they do not, they get disciplined and potentially fined and taken to court.

Robert Deavy

Willie Coffey asked whether the bill would help to overcome the problems. Laws were already in place to protect emergency services workers in the police, fire and ambulance services before the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 was brought in. It is reasonable to say that that act has helped those workers to do their jobs. Although the laws were already there, tightening them up and making them more specific has helped those workers.

Bringing in a law that is specifically for retail workers would tighten up laws that are already there and give retail workers a bit of support and encouragement to report crimes. I believe that it would help.

Colin Beattie

Stewart Forrest said that the current laws are not being enforced. If more new laws were brought in, would those be enforced?

Stewart Forrest

We would hope so. As someone on one of the previous panels said, if a stronger law was in place, there would be more chance of the police attending an incident and enforcing that law. At the moment, our members are telling us that they feel that the issues that are happening in retail are not being taken seriously, and they have to live with that. We do not want them to be scared to go into their work. There might be various reasons why they work in their own community—childcare, for example—so they cannot just move stores if they have a bad experience. They go into work every day, so they need to know that a strong law is in place for their protection.

Colin Beattie

If current laws were properly enforced, would that do the job?

Stewart Forrest

I cannot answer that question, because they are not being enforced.

Colin Beattie

Okay.

Robert Deavy talked about the focus on age-restricted products. When I asked the previous panel about alterative scenarios involving the obstruction and hindrance of retail workers, they could not come up with any examples. Are you able to give me an example that does not relate to an age-restricted product, which, to me, is a different scenario?

Robert Deavy

I do not know whether members have seen the video that was taken in a store in Toryglen, which went viral. One of our members was given an instruction by their management to place reduced items—stuff that was going out of date—on the shelf so that it could be sold that day. A crowd of customers was already there waiting, and when our member went to put out the items, he never got close to the shelf. He was basically set upon, as if by a pack of wolves, and received an injury in the line of work. Would that not be classed as hindrance? He was doing his job, but people could not wait five minutes while he put stuff on a shelf to get a 10p lettuce, a chicken, or whatever it might have been. The video is out there—I believe that another colleague filmed it because the situation was so vicious. Our member received an injury in the line of work that day.

I think that the previous panel touched on what happens if someone refuses to leave the store. What are our members supposed to do? If they call the police, the police will not turn up. Are they supposed to just stand there all day? They cannot do that as they have a job to do, so that is hindrance. Would a manager accept a member of staff standing there all day with an abusive customer because they refuse to leave the store?

There is a policy in place that, if a customer gets abusive or violent towards one of our members, the member is supposed to remove themselves from the situation. However, that is not always possible because the abusive person might physically stop them.

Colin Beattie

There is a concern that, if young people are being abusive, we will criminalise them by prosecuting them for causing hindrance and obstruction. I have heard one or two examples of hindrance and obstruction, but I do not really understand what the limits are. What behaviour would be considered hindrance and obstruction? You have given an example of an extreme case, but which lesser cases would trigger criminality? I am concerned about young people being unnecessarily criminalised at an early age, which would affect their entire future.

Stewart Forrest

In the convenience sector, groups of youths sometimes stand outside stores, or come in and out of the store and annoy or are abusive to the retail staff, which can be viewed as hindrance. Some of our members have been abused and followed home after they have tried to put people out of the store. That behaviour is hindrance and is not related to age-restricted products. A law to support workers must be put in place as the current law is not working. Although I agree that we might not want to see youngsters with a criminal record, what else should we do?

Colin Beattie

So you believe that, if the bill became law, it should be vigorously applied to young people causing problems in shops.

Stewart Forrest

If they were causing problems with the police, would the law be vigorously pursued? I am sure that it would be.

Robert Deavy

None of us wants to criminalise every young person in Scotland. We were all young at one point, although it was a long time ago for me. The bill is about sending a message. We are talking about people who are doing their jobs and, as the first panel mentioned, they are low-paid jobs. The people doing those jobs are predominantly females and they deserve protection at their work.

I am sorry but, whether someone is young, middle-aged or old, if they go into a store with the deliberate intention of abusing a shopworker, yes, they should be criminalised—I stand by that. If someone is willing to learn from their actions and if that criminalisation makes them see the error of their ways and prevents it from happening again, that is a good thing. We go on about people carrying a record for the rest of their lives, but that is a bit of an exaggeration—it does not really work like that, because there are spent criminal records and so on, so we need to be careful about that.

We need to protect people at their work. A specific law protecting retail workers might encourage employers to give more importance to protecting their workers and their duty of care. Simply putting up a poster at the front of the store that says that people will be prosecuted for certain actions might make people think twice. It has certainly worked on public transport. For example, there are posters on trains saying that abuse of staff will not be tolerated but, at the moment, we do not see such posters in many stores. Those might prevent people from being abusive.

The Convener

I will move on to Andy Wightman, because he wants to pick up on some of those issues.

Andy Wightman

On that last point, such posters could be put up now, because assault, abuse and threatening behaviour are crimes.

Mr Forrest mentioned the issue of somebody not leaving a store and that being a hindrance. If the bill became law, in that sort of situation, you would still rely on the police turning up, which you say they are not doing at present.

Stewart Forrest

In the first instance, the retail worker would try to get the person to leave the store. In an extreme case, the worker would maybe end up having to get the police. A lot of times, people leave reluctantly after abusing our members but before it becomes a police matter.

Andy Wightman

You said that, since 2015, there has been an increase in incidents, although I cannot remember exactly what the increase was. The USDAW survey shows that there was an increase after 2015, but that followed a decline. There was a spike in verbal abuse in 2017. There is a graph showing physical violence, which had declined to quite a low level in 2015 and was down further in 2016, but there was a spike in 2017. What is the cause of that spike to pre-2015 levels? Do you attribute it to anything in particular?

Stewart Forrest

Austerity is part of it. A lot of people have had more difficult times. The number of retail staff is shrinking, which perhaps means that there is more opportunity for theft and so on. It seems to be a sign of the times. As I mentioned, particularly in Scotland, the survey is telling us that the situation is getting worse. Our survey found that six in 10 retail workers suffer abuse on an almost daily basis.

Andy Wightman

I just wondered whether you were alluding to any particular piece of legislation or anything like that.

Stewart Forrest

No, I was not.

Andy Wightman

I will return to the question that I asked the previous panel on the section on aggravated offences relating to age-related products. That aggravated offence would apply only if any of the offences in section 1 were to become law. Given the strong evidence that we have heard about the public duty that retail workers are fulfilling in upholding those age-related restrictions and the penalties that they face, do you believe that the aggravated offence should be available for any crime that is being prosecuted, regardless of whether it is a section 1 offence under the bill? Ultimately, it is up to the prosecution authorities to decide whether to prosecute under the common law and breach of the peace or some other approach. The authorities can decide which approach has the best chance of success in the courts. If they were not prosecuting a section 1 offence, they could not have the aggravation.

Stewart Forrest

We would welcome it if the measures were to be extended to other groups, but we believe that Mr Johnson’s bill should be progressed in the form that it has been put before the committee.

12:00  



Andy Wightman

Okay. Just to be clear—we have rehearsed this—you are saying that, at the moment, the police and prosecution authorities are not doing enough to protect retail workers. I do not doubt that that is the case and I do not doubt the evidence that you have brought about the level of abuse and the need for something to be done.

The question for this committee is whether the bill is the right way to do what is needed. Is it your view that the bill is mainly—although not exclusively—about sending a clear message that reassures retail workers?

Robert Deavy

I want to be absolutely clear: it is not me but our members who say that the system is not working and that they are facing abuse every day of their working lives. We can only take their word for it; they are in the firing line and they are telling me, as their trade union representative, that they get no protection at work either from their employer or from the police and the courts, who are meant to uphold the law.

Andy Wightman

Do you agree that, if the bill passes as it stands, it will be deemed pretty ineffective if the police and prosecuting officers do not enforce it?

Robert Deavy

Yes, that will be the case if they do not enforce it. That is the same for any law, is it not?

Andy Wightman

Absolutely. That is what I am suggesting.

The Convener

Does Alison Harris want to come back in at this point?

Alison Harris

No, thank you. I have heard a lot of evidence.

Gordon MacDonald

I have a question that is similar to the one that I put to the previous panel. We have talked about the culture change that is needed and the message that we need to send about protecting workers. We have heard about the number of workers who could be protected by the bill, and, thanks to the evidence that we have heard from you guys on the panel, we understand the problem, to an extent.

The bill is not a panacea that will deal with all the ills that are faced by retail workers and people who work in pubs and clubs. What other action, which is not covered in the bill, should be taken to protect retail workers?

Robert Deavy

I would like more duty to be placed on employers than is currently the case. I can give you a good example. One of my members was assaulted after a situation escalated from verbal abuse to physical abuse. We took the case through the company’s procedures to try to get the customer banned. The case went all the way to a senior director of the company, and the end result was that the company would not ban the customer. The company’s answer to our member was, “If that customer enters the store, leave the floor.” Now, there are 75 other workers in that store. Are they all meant to leave the floor, or is it just that member who is supposed to do that?

I think that the bill will put greater emphasis on the employer’s role, but there needs to be a greater duty of care. There is a duty of care, and there are health and safety rules and so on, at the end of the day, but due to the cuts that we see happening all over the retail sector, I think that there is less and less emphasis on the issue, every day.

Gordon MacDonald

Store owners and retail sector representatives told us that they are spending, on average, £8,000 per store—I think that that was the number—to try to protect workers. Are employers doing enough? Apart from the example that you have just given, what other issues would you like to be dealt with?

Robert Deavy

The sector representatives mentioned guards in stores, but there are numerous examples of guards being removed and made to stack shelves, simply because there are not enough staff. I accept that companies are spending a lot of money on CCTV and so on, but guards have a pivotal role. They are there as a deterrent. If someone walks in and sees a guard, they might think twice, but if the guard is not on the podium at the front of the store because they have had to go and put bread or tins of beans away, it is a bit easier to shoplift—as Stewart Forrest said, shoplifting has become much easier because of the lack of staff.

Stewart Forrest

Security has certainly been cut back, as part of the cutbacks that we have seen in stores. A member of the previous panel said that there is more emphasis on CCTV and verbal communications, but the deterrent is the store security guard, and guards are being moved about at certain times or taken away altogether.

It is not just the employer. USDAW has said that the public also needs to be educated, and we do that through the freedom from fear campaign and the respect for shopworkers events. We go out to supermarkets, large stores and small stores, and try to educate the public by saying, “Look, the people working here are not here to be abused.” A good strapline that we use every November is “Keep your cool at Christmas”. That time is a flashpoint, because stores are busier. Two or three years ago in Dundee, a large retailer had to close a store because of people fighting over stuff on black Friday. Our members are in that melee, getting injured and abused because they are doing their job.

The public needs to be educated, but Mr Johnson’s bill also has to send a message to workers that they will be treated seriously. We also have to get the police and the Crown Office to treat abuse of shopworkers seriously.

The Convener

From what you have said so far, the gaps seem to be in police attendance and prosecution when there is an incident. You have also talked quite a bit about employers’ responsibilities and what they need to do.

I am taking a wild guess that the people who abuse shopworkers are not going to pay much heed to new laws that are passed or to what the laws say. How will the message of a new law get to the people who commit those offences in the first place? How will it make a difference to them? Do we need some high-profile prosecutions to get the message out? Is that not the real disconnect?

Stewart Forrest

No—education is the disconnect when it comes to how people behave when they deal with retail workers, although it might take some high profile prosecutions to get the message home.

Again, the police are an issue. They have had cuts, but they also do not take this offence as seriously as some other offences. If there were a stronger piece of legislation that said that such behaviour was breaking the law, maybe they would.

The Convener

Having listened to the evidence today, I note that Gillian Mawdsley said in the first session that it was about understanding where the gaps in the legislation are that need to be filled in order to prevent this problem. There clearly is an issue—I do not think that anybody disputes that—but the panel in the earlier session today said that the laws are there, and nobody seems to have disputed that. You are saying that stronger law is needed, but when I asked the direct question “Is it about stronger law?”, you said no.

It seems that the main issues that we have heard about are police response times or their not attending at all, shopworkers’ understanding of their rights not to be abused, and the fact that the offenders who are doing it, for whatever reason, do not much care what the law is anyway, given that the law to prevent them from doing it is already there. I am trying to understand how you feel the bill would change those factors. What is the gap that the bill would fill?

Robert Deavy

If someone goes into a store with the intention of abusing or physically assaulting a shop worker, no law that you could produce would stop them. If that is their mindset, you will not stop it.

However, if a law specifically targeted people who believe that the customer is always right—we have all heard that phrase—and so it is their right to abuse a shopworker, it might make them think twice. It might stop them.

I do not think that there is a quick fix. You will never get it down to zero, as much as we all want a situation in which everybody goes to work with absolutely no chance of being assaulted or verbally abused and so on. Realistically, that is never going to happen, but you could do something that puts a greater emphasis on retail workers. A specific law that empowers them by giving them the confidence that they are being protected and that lawmakers and those who are employed to uphold the law—the police—will give them more protection should they face abuse is more important.

Yes, we all know that the law is that you cannot assault people. Most people know how to behave, but that is not to say that there are not some who believe that it is acceptable to assault someone because they are “only a shopworker”. I think that that is what has happened. It now seems to be the case, certainly among my members, that retail workers believe that being abused is part of their job. The proposed law would change that mindset and give people a bit of confidence to report abuse.

The Convener

Are you saying that shopworkers are different to other workers who also deal with the public, or should there be such a law for every category of worker that deals with the public, in order to protect them from abuse from the public?

Robert Deavy

I would welcome anyone being protected at their work. Bear it in mind that we already have a law that protects police officers, firefighters and so on. Are we saying that they are in a higher class of worker than a retail worker? I think that we need to be very careful. In my eyes, a worker is someone who is trying to earn a living to provide for their family. In my opinion, people should return home from their work in exactly the same condition in which they went to their work, although perhaps a little more tired.

The Convener

Should we therefore not ensure that the laws that we already have apply to all workers, rather than create new layers of law for each specified type of worker?

Robert Deavy

Sometimes you need to create a new layer to make sure that the previous laws are enforced, such as the law relating to emergency workers.

Stewart Forrest

Which is another layer of law.

The Convener

I will leave it there. Mr Johnson, do you want to add anything?

Daniel Johnson

I will follow on from Colin Beattie’s and the convener’s questions regarding the types of people who cause issues. There seems to be a characterisation that the people who fail to comply with requirements around age-restricted products, either because they are under age themselves or are with someone who is under age, are typically under age or are people who generally do not comply with the law. Is there is a typical type of person who causes difficulty for and abuses shopworkers?

Stewart Forrest

Often the behaviour occurs across the board. It was mentioned that there are 200-plus age-restricted products in stores. People might have to be challenged when they buy them, so the behaviour applies across the board.

Robert Deavy

I also think that it goes across the board. The example that I used about escalation involved a 62-year-old woman. I do not think that you would normally associate a 62-year-old woman with that level of abuse. It is not specifically young people or old people—there is a broad spectrum.

Daniel Johnson

On the point about the customer “always being right”, will you reflect on some of the behaviours that might typically be found in a store, such as customers not moving away from the counter and holding up the people in the queue behind them because the retail worker has not done what they asked, whether that is to sell them an age-restricted item or go and check the stockroom? Are people encountering that behaviour and can it escalate?

Robert Deavy

It is certainly more common in the case of sales of age-restricted alcohol or tobacco that, if our members refuse to serve a customer, they will not move. Our member will then call for their manager, who will, in my experience, sometimes override our member’s decision and serve the customer just to get rid of them. That seems to be the only way to remove such people from the store.

The issue does not exclusively relate to age-restricted products. I am aware of an incident in a store relating to the self-service facility. Self-service is becoming a large part of retail as stores do away with manned checkouts. I have not used one, but if you have, you will be aware that there are often problems with the bagging area. There is usually only one member of staff to deal with 14 or 16 self-service checkouts, and if they do not get there quick enough, the customer can, for want of a better phrase, throw a strop. We had an incident in which a customer threatened to slash our member’s throat, and the manager’s way of dealing with that was to take the customer to another till to serve them, rather than remove them from the store. It is quite common for customers to stand there and refuse to move.

The Convener

Thank you. As there are no other questions, I thank the panel for coming to give evidence. If there is anything else that you wish to add, please feel free to write to us.

12:14 Meeting continued in private until 13:02.  



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Second meeting transcript

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is our main item of business, and is a continuation of our evidence taking on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill. We previously took evidence on the bill on 3 March. I am pleased to welcome our witnesses, Ash Denham, the Minister for Community Safety, and her adviser, Philip Lamont, head of the criminal law, practice and licensing unit in the Scottish Government’s criminal justice division. I invite the minister to make a short opening statement.

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham)

Good morning.

I start by recognising the key role that retail workers play in local communities and in the Scottish economy. During the coronavirus outbreak, the contribution that they are making has only been emphasised to us all as the retail trade helps communities across Scotland to get through these challenging times. It is right that retail workers should be protected by our criminal laws.

The committee has heard evidence on a range of criminal conduct that retail workers can be exposed to, which can involve verbal abuse, threatening and abusive behaviour and physical attacks, including spitting. Clearly, such conduct is completely unacceptable, and perpetrators should be held to account.

A wide range of existing criminal laws is in place. Examples include the offence of threatening or abusive behaviour and the offence of assault. Those existing laws give courts discretion to impose maximum penalties far in excess of those that are proposed in the bill.

Of course, legislation needs to have a practical effect. Daniel Johnson’s bill is very well intentioned. However, the new offence contained in the bill largely restates existing, more general offences, but with lower penalties. The Scottish Government’s view is that, where the new offence seeks to extend the law, it does so in a way that sets too low a threshold for criminality in respect of the new hindering and obstructing offences.

Obviously, enforcement of the law is for Police Scotland, the Crown Office and, ultimately, the criminal courts. As Police Scotland said in its evidence on 3 March, the bill would not change the enforcement of the law in respect of threats against and abuse of retail workers, as Police Scotland already takes those issues seriously.

More can always be done to ensure that measures are in place to encourage the reporting of violence against and abuse of retail workers so that a clear message is sent to perpetrators that such conduct is wrong. However, creating new laws that replicate existing laws, or extending the law in a way that lowers the threshold for criminality to hindering or obstructing a retail worker, does not seem to be the answer to helping to keep retail workers safe.

However, I will follow all the evidence to the committee with interest, and I will, of course, reflect carefully on the committee’s report when it is produced.

The Convener

Thank you, minister.

I move on to questions from members. I will invite each member to ask their question and then I will go to the minister. I will come back to each member for follow-up questions or points of clarification. Once each member has asked all their questions, I will move on to the next member, until every member has had the opportunity to speak. I will take supplementary questions from any member if they are points of clarification or if they drill down on a specific point. We have gone over how to do that.

I ask everyone to keep questions and answers succinct and to give broadcasting staff a few seconds to operate your microphone before you begin to ask a question or provide an answer.

We will start with Alison Harris.

Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

Good morning, minister. Representatives of retail workers and businesses have presented evidence that points to a serious problem of abuse. Does the Scottish Government agree with that evidence?

Ash Denham

Clearly, there are instances of abuse, and any attack on a retail worker is unacceptable, as are threats of abuse towards retail workers. Members will be aware that there are no official national statistics on offences against retail workers. The victim’s occupation is not recorded in offences of assault or of threatening or abusive behaviour.

I am sure that the committee is aware of surveys that have been carried out by trade unions that give a sense of the scale of incidents in the retail trade. A detailed survey completed by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—USDAW—of those in retail who have suffered violence and threats paints a picture of trends that have, I would say, fluctuated over recent years. There does not seem to be a clear overall trend.

We would all recognise that Scotland is a much safer place than it was about a decade ago. The Scottish Government is committed to investing in funding for violence-prevention initiatives. However, we are not at all complacent, even though some of those initiatives have been very successful—I am sure that the committee is aware of initiatives such as the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and others. We are carrying on with investments in such projects. Other initiatives that the committee may be aware of include No Knives, Better Lives, Mentors in Violence Prevention and the navigators programme. Those programmes are extremely important, and the Government will continue to invest in them.

We are all clear that retail workers are entitled to be able to carry out their work free from any type of abuse. When they experience abuse, they should report that to the police; there is protection available to them under existing laws.

09:45  



Alison Harris

I have a question on the enforcement of existing offences. There is a perception that the justice system does not take the abuse of retail workers seriously, that the reporting of incidents does not lead to prompt police action and that cases are not prosecuted or, if they are prosecuted, they result in light sentences. We have received conflicting evidence on that subject. Will you comment on that, please?

Ash Denham

I would concur that this is a serious matter, and I think that all the justice partners would agree that they take it seriously. The committee will understand that these are operational matters that are clearly for Police Scotland, the Crown Office and the judiciary, and I will not pass specific comment on how those organisations use their independent powers. However, I listened carefully to the evidence that was given to the committee on the subject, and I think that it is fair to say that there was a difference between the views that were expressed by Police Scotland on the one hand and those expressed by the representatives of the retail trade on the other. I reiterate that Police Scotland said in its evidence—I am paraphrasing—that it treats the matter as a priority.

With all crimes, there are often different perceptions of the response of different organisations in the justice system. Of course, there will always be individual incidents where the expressed policy of Police Scotland is, unfortunately, not delivered. However, the police were clear that they prioritise violent incidents and antisocial behaviour, and that certainly includes incidents where retail workers are the victims.

The Crown Office, which is responsible for prosecuting cases, said in its evidence that, when cases are reported to it that are criminal, it takes them “very seriously”. Once cases reach court, sentencing is a matter for the independent court. I am not aware of any specific evidence that shows that sentencing is not operating effectively, but I am sure that the Scottish Sentencing Council would be happy to consider any further evidence that the committee has in that area.

Alison Harris

Thank you, minister.

The Deputy Convener (Willie Coffey)

I think that we may have lost the connection with the convener for a moment. I invite Richard Lyle, who is next on our list, to ask his questions.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I begin by declaring that I am a member of the cross-party group on independent convenience stores and that one of my first jobs was as a grocery manager.

Is it reasonable to argue that passing the bill would help to send a clear message that the abusive behaviour that it deals with will not be tolerated?

Ash Denham

The challenge for the committee is to consider whether the sending of a message is an appropriate primary function of changes to the criminal law. In assessing that, I invite the committee to recall the evidence that Police Scotland gave to the committee in March. The witness from Police Scotland said that, if the bill was passed,

“there would be no significant change in how we go about our business.”—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, 3 March 2020; c 7.]

The Scottish Government’s view is that, obviously, legislation needs to have practical effect for it to be progressed, and, if that practical effect is accompanied by the sending of a message, that is a secondary benefit. I am sure that the committee will look in detail at all the proposals in the bill and assess whether they would add value to the operation of the criminal law.

The policy memorandum says that the benefits of the bill would include

“increased awareness of the issues”

and an increase in reporting to police. Both those things would be extremely beneficial, but it is for the committee to reflect on whether the right way to achieve those benefits is to change the law. That is the question that you need to grapple with.

Richard Lyle

Grocery workers, like national health service workers, are on the front line. Having been a grocery manager, I pay tribute to them for what they are doing. During the current coronavirus pandemic, many retail workers are doing vital work in difficult—sometimes very difficult—circumstances. Given their front-line role, will the Scottish Government reconsider its position on the bill? If not, what does the Government propose?

Ash Denham

That is a really good point. Retail workers are carrying out an important service for us all at this time, and they are key workers—I am acutely aware of that. Every time that I venture out to the supermarket, I see people sitting cheerfully on the checkout who know that they are probably putting themselves at risk to make sure that we all have the services that we need.

The Scottish Government is clear that the full force of the law can be used against anybody who assaults, threatens or abuses a retail worker. That is true today during the coronavirus outbreak, and it was true last week, in January and last year as well.

The outbreak has emphasised the valuable role that retail workers play and the fact that they are key workers. They are helping communities right across Scotland as we all try to get through this difficult time. My view is that the existing criminal law can and should be used to deal with attacks on retail workers. Our justice partners, such as Police Scotland, have confirmed that they treat such attacks as a priority.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

If you had drafted the Government’s memorandum on the bill this week rather than a month ago, would you have made any changes to it?

Ash Denham

No. As I said in my answer to Richard Lyle, we are all realising—if we did not already realise it—how important retail workers are. They are key workers and they are helping us by going to work and keeping going to get us all through this difficult time.

Andy Wightman

Paragraph 20 in your memorandum on the bill talks about situations involving a customer reacting in a threatening or abusive way in response to being required to provide age verification. It goes on to talk about food standards and situations in which an authorised officer is obstructed from doing their important regulatory work. The memorandum says that it is important that those officers have protections, because they need to keep the public safe. Do you accept that one thing that the past eight weeks has shown us is that retail workers are responsible for keeping the public safe, too, and, indeed, are expected to police regulations that are made by your Government and passed by the Parliament in relation to things such as physical distancing?

Ash Denham

Yes. Clearly, when retail workers are checking people’s ages in relation to the sale of age-restricted products, that can be a trigger for abuse—we all agree that that is the case. Therefore, such workers require the protection of the law, and that is provided under the existing law. Offences concerning assault, threatening or abusive behaviour and breach of the peace provide that protection.

I refer the committee to the evidence that was given by Police Scotland. One of the key age-restricted products is alcohol, in relation to which powers exist under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005. If somebody refuses to leave premises where alcohol is sold, a police officer has the power to ask the person to leave. If they do not leave, they are committing an offence and can be removed by force. Obviously, a police officer has to turn up in order for that type of enforcement to be carried out, but there is protection in the law to deal with such a situation.

From the evidence, I can say that there is an issue with the culture that exists. As we have just discussed, the work of retail workers is important during this time of crisis, as well as in normal times, with regard to public health and the sale of age-restricted products and so on. We need to get across the message that abusive behaviour that is directed at retail workers when they are carrying out their work is completely unacceptable and should be reported so that our justice partners can take action.

Andy Wightman

I was talking specifically about the obstructing and hindering issue and the comparison that your memorandum makes with public hygiene officers. I wanted to know whether you think that the act of obstructing and hindering—not the act of assault or abuse—is just as relevant to retail workers enforcing the law in relation to physical distancing as it is to such officers. However, given the pressures of time, I will leave that line of questioning there, although you can come back to it if you like.

Is the Scottish Government’s objection to the bill fundamental, or can you see any scope for the bill to be amended at stage 2 in a way that results in a bill that provides additional useful and proportionate changes in the law to protect retail workers?

Ash Denham

It is interesting that you used the word “proportionate”.

On your point about obstructing and hindering, there is a question for the committee about whether including an offence of obstructing and hindering places the criminal bar too low given the type of activity that would be captured by the provision. That is something for the committee to reflect on.

The Government cannot support the bill in its current format. I would be happy to work with Daniel Johnson and to have conversations about what could be done about it. I think that he will give evidence to the committee next week, and I will watch that session with great interest to hear the evidence that he puts forward and to learn what he has to say about the shape that the bill is in now.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

From your opening remarks, it was clear that you feel that the proposals in the bill duplicate, or in some cases reduce, the impact of existing legislation. We all accept that retail workers face problematic behaviour. Based on the evidence that has been given so far, do you think there is any aspect of that behaviour that is not covered by current criminal laws?

10:00  



Ash Denham

That is a key question. Some of the evidence that the committee took points to the view that there is not necessarily a gap in the legislation. Rather, the committee heard issues about raising awareness, the reluctance to report issues to the police and enforcement. In strict legal terms, I do not think that there is a gap in the law, and the proposals in the bill largely replicate existing criminal provision, except for, as the committee is aware, the hindering and obstruction part, which we have discussed in answering a previous question.

Colin Beattie

Within that, an area that I have a lot of sympathy for is that of retail workers enforcing the laws on sales of age-restricted goods. Those workers are seeking to uphold the law in the wider public interest. Do they deserve additional protection for that? From the evidence that has been given, that seems like a key area where problems arise—not uniquely, but mostly. Can something perhaps be done to strengthen the powers there?

Ash Denham

Currently, when a case progresses to court in which someone has been a victim of criminality as a result of going about their work, the judge will take that into account. However, it might be worth considering the idea of some type of aggravator that would capture the behaviour that you are talking about. That would send a message about the kind of criminality that takes place when retail workers check age in order to ensure that they sell products only to people who are entitled to buy them. I would be interested to hear the committee’s views on that. I wonder whether that could be considered.

Colin Beattie

Would you consider dealing with that through the bill?

Ash Denham

That is a good question. I would not want to commit right now to saying exactly how that could be progressed. As I said, I will listen to what Daniel Johnson says when he gives evidence next week, and I will certainly be open to working with him on the issue. If the committee thinks that it is important for us to consider the issue, I put on record that the Government would be open to looking at the suggestion.

Colin Beattie

That is helpful.

My final question concerns the issue of obstructing and hindering. Obviously, there have been concerns about the interpretation of that provision. From the evidence that I have heard, I have gained the impression that many of the issues in that regard concern sales of age-restricted goods—perhaps not uniquely, but a lot of them. How practical would it be to incorporate into the discussions on age-related restrictions on sales some sort of provision that covers obstruction and hindrance? I am using the words that are used in the bill, although perhaps they are not the right terms. I am talking about situations in which a worker is prevented from doing their duty as a result of trying to enforce the law.

Ash Denham

There are a couple of issues there. Clearly, different types of conduct are involved. For example, currently, if someone is standing in the door of a shop, shouting abuse at a shop worker, preventing them from coming in or out of the shop and being threatening or abusive, that—not the obstructing part, but the threatening and abusive part—is already covered under the offence of threatening and abusive behaviour. Criminal protections are already in place to cover that type of conduct. However, if someone is standing in the doorway and is, in a non-aggressive way, obstructing or hindering the work of a retail worker and their comings and goings, the law does not currently cover that. It is up to the committee to decide whether that should merit a criminal sanction.

Other examples that would come under the banner of hindering or obstructing could be someone switching off an electronic till, or someone debating extensively with a retail worker—maybe about a refund—and refusing to move to allow the worker to get on with serving the next customer. Those examples are not currently covered by criminal law, and it is up to the committee to consider whether they should be.

It seems to me that criminalising such behaviour would be a low bar to set. If we are talking about age-restricted products in particular, we might capture more children by reducing the threshold to hindering and obstructing. It is up to the committee to think about whether that is appropriate, but I think that capturing children in the criminal justice system might not be appropriate.

The Convener

My apologies, committee—there were a few technical difficulties and I lost you all for a while. We will move on to Rhoda Grant.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I cannot help but wonder whether, had this law been in place, the abuse that retail workers have been getting when they are putting in place Covid-19-related restrictions would not have happened, because we would all know that it was unacceptable to do that. If the Scottish Government cannot support the bill, what will it do to protect retail workers when they are carrying out duties that it has imposed?

Ash Denham

We need to get out the message that it is not acceptable to abuse retail workers when they are carrying out their job—if anything, the current situation underlines that.

Over the past few weeks, I have spoken to a couple of retail workers. When I thanked one of them for what they are doing, she said, “Oh, it’s so nice to be thanked. A lot of the other customers are being really quite unpleasant.” I think that that is a reflection of how stressed people are—and they are taking it out on completely the wrong people. We need to get out the message that such behaviour is not acceptable.

I return to my earlier point that, although legislation can change perceptions and the culture, if we are trying to raise awareness about the complete unacceptability of that behaviour, is legislation the best way to do that, or is there another way? Maybe there could be a public awareness campaign on a zero-tolerance approach to abusing retail workers, which could utilise the existing criminal provision. Perhaps that would be a way to progress the matter.

Rhoda Grant

I believe that retail workers need enhanced protection. We have seen them take abuse as they work on the front line during the epidemic. They are putting their own health in danger to serve the public. We need to protect them properly and not just through the normal criminal law.

Police Scotland’s written evidence states:

“Having an improved understanding of the extent and the circumstances in which these crimes or offences have been committed will better facilitate the monitoring of trends and allow the identification of emerging threats to ensure early intervention and effective harm prevention activity can be undertaken across the retail arena.”

Is the Scottish Government looking at ways to collect data? To return to the current situation, one could have foreseen that retail workers, when they were stopping panic buying and enforcing distancing measures, would get a fair amount of abuse, because they are not subject to any enhanced protection under the law.

Ash Denham

Yes, we have seen that. That is quite right. I explained in a previous answer that we do not have the data. We do not currently have that disaggregated data by occupation. We would always be interested in considering whether there is other data that we could collect or that we should be collecting that would be helpful. I would certainly be open to the committee’s views on that. If the committee thinks that the Government should be looking at that, I would certainly give an undertaking that we will look at that.

Philip Lamont might be able to give members a little more detail about the types of data that we collect. That might be helpful.

Philip Lamont (Scottish Government)

As the minister has explained, if someone has committed an assault or their behaviour has been threatening or abusive, the victim’s occupation is not currently recorded in the general criminal justice data. That could be considered. It would be for the justice agencies—all those involved in the collection of data across the criminal justice system—to decide how best that could be progressed. The Scottish Government would certainly be happy to consider that.

To pick up on what the minister said earlier about potentially considering a more general statutory aggravation in relation to offences that have been committed against retail workers, one of the benefits of that would be the improvement of record keeping. One of the reasons—it is not the only reason—why we have statutory aggravations across the criminal justice system is to improve the recording of data in certain areas. That is why we have a statutory aggravation in relation to domestic abuse, for example; it allows better data to be recorded and kept. There might therefore be lessons to be learned from other areas on the recording of data if the committee and Daniel Johnson wanted to consider further a more general aggravation.

Rhoda Grant

So you are saying that none of the abuse towards retail workers, especially in the current crisis, is currently being monitored or collected in any way.

Philip Lamont

It is being monitored in the sense that, whenever an offence has been committed, the police are called out. If the incident was in a retail premises, the police will deal with it and do what they need to do to gather evidence. However, because an assault of a retail worker or a threat made against them is, as with any other occupation, dealt with under the general criminal law, the victim’s occupation is not recorded under the current recording standards that are used.

Rhoda Grant

I think that the bill would be one way of protecting retail workers now and going forward as they carry out the work that is imposed on them by the Government, and I hope that the Government will take that on board.

The Convener

Thank you, Rhoda. I hope that the Scottish Government is listening to what is being said today.

We will now move to Willie Coffey. I thank him for stepping in every time I disappear.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

It is a pleasure, convener.

I want to tease out a little more the issue of obstructing and hindering, which seems to be at the core of the Government’s concerns about the bill. Paragraph 29 of the Scottish Government’s memorandum to the committee states:

“if the obstruction or hindering was carried out in a threatening or abusive way or ... amounted to an assault or breach of the peace, then the existing criminal law already criminalises such conduct.”

Is that a correct interpretation of what the Government is saying?

Ash Denham

Yes—that is right. I gave examples earlier. If the obstruction, hindering, getting in a person’s way or refusing to move has a threatening or abusive element, that is already covered under the existing criminal provisions.

Willie Coffey

Penalties for such offences are already allowed in the criminal law; in fact, those penalties are in excess of the penalties that are proposed in the bill. Does that mean that, if we passed the bill unaltered, we would impose lighter sentences than we already can?

10:15  



Ash Denham

The proposals in the bill for sentencing are less stringent than the existing legislation, but existing provisions would still remain and the prosecution would be able to use those. If the offence was very serious, I am sure that the prosecution would continue to use those provisions in the event that the bill was passed. I will ask Philip Lamont to give you an overview of how the existing provisions work and how the provisions in the bill differ from them.

Philip Lamont

If the bill was passed, in the case of an incident such as an assault on a retail worker, the Crown Office, which decides whether to take forward a prosecution, would have to decide which offence to libel in the prosecution. It would look at what the eventual sentence might be. If there is an incident of threatening or abusive behaviour against a retail worker that the Crown Office thinks is particularly serious, it will most likely libel the general threatening or abusive behaviour offence that exists already, because that carries a maximum sentence of up to five years. The offence in this bill has a maximum penalty of 12 months. In essence, even if the bill was passed in its current form, more serious incidents of assault, threats or abuse would still be prosecuted under existing laws.

Willie Coffey

Minister, in your opening remarks, you mentioned that there might be a case for encouraging more reporting. You also talked about potential aggravation. Might that be a way forward for Daniel Johnson to improve his bill at stage 2 and beyond?

Ash Denham

I am sorry Willie, but could you repeat the question? You were breaking up there and I could not quite hear what you were saying.

Willie Coffey

I was just asking for the Government’s view on how we can better protect workers and retail workers, especially when there are so many respondents who seem to be supportive of the principles of the bill. You mentioned encouraging the reporting of this type of offence and you also talked about having an aggravation. Would that be the way forward at stage 2 and beyond?

Ash Denham

Yes. More can always be done and retail workers clearly face problematic behaviour, some of which is covered by existing criminal provisions and some of which is not. A lot of it is undoubtedly very irritating and makes it frustrating when people who are just trying to do their work are facing this type of behaviour.

Awareness raising is key, but I have covered that in detail already. I also believe that employers have a role to play. When staff are being obstructed or hindered and, in the worst cases, attacked or abused, employers have a role to play in keeping their personnel safe and in encouraging reporting. That is really important. They need to encourage reporting so that cases can be passed on to the justice agencies and progressed from there. That, in itself, sends a message. If behaviour escalates and becomes aggressive, the existing laws should be used.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

I just want to pick up on some of the points that you raised about a public awareness campaign. The Law Society told us in evidence that people need to be empowered to know that what they are suffering is criminal, and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers said that the public also needs to be educated. If a public awareness campaign is the way forward, who would it be aimed at?

Ash Denham

You have raised some really good points. It came out loud and clear to me during evidence that retail workers need to know whether something that is happening to them is problematic and may even be criminal. The level of understanding is probably not what it should be. A campaign to raise the level of awareness would be useful. Members of the public need to know very clearly that threatening or abusing retail staff is a criminal offence and that they will be held to account for it—you have touched on that point. Raising awareness in this area would also be useful and I think that the Government would definitely consider it.

Gordon MacDonald

There are two aspects to food retailing: the small, independent family-run businesses and the chains—I will not mention names, but we know that large supermarket operators are moving into the convenience store market. How can we differentiate between the two? The first group needs protection; the second is large organisations, whose local management, as you have rightly said, might not want to deal with a problem in a store. They want to get the customer out of the door as quickly as possible rather than cause a fuss. We are dealing with two clear groups, so how would we focus on getting the information across to staff and customers in two entirely different settings?

Ash Denham

You are right to point out that there are different settings, which have different opportunities and challenges. We need to make sure that larger stores have a culture of reporting. It is important that incidents do not go unreported because such an approach is quicker or easier. That message needs to be got out there.

It is too early for me to say exactly how the Government would do an awareness campaign. The strands would all need to go together, and we would need to discuss them with stakeholders and the public to make sure that we develop something that would be as useful and impactful as possible. I will certainly reflect on the issue.

Gordon MacDonald

Thank you, minister. I probably should have mentioned that I am the convener of the cross-party group on independent convenience stores.

Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Good morning, minister. I will go back to the issue of data and reporting. The committee heard evidence from the Scottish Grocers Federation that the reported number of assaults and attacks on retail workers is just a fraction of what actually happens. Many workers are subject to abuse and attack almost daily. Is that a situation that the minister recognises? Does it increase the need for specific laws and protections in this area?

Ash Denham

There is undoubtedly underreporting in this area. As I have said, once something is reported and progressed into the criminal justice system, we are not able to disaggregate by occupation. The point about the absence of data on which to base policy is coming across strongly from the committee, and I will take that issue away and reflect on it further.

Dean Lockhart

Thank you very much. I will also go back to the legal analysis. I think that the committee recognises that, from a strict legal perspective, the concerns that are covered by the bill might be largely covered by existing laws. As we considered earlier, legislation often sends a message about the priority of public policy and can change culture.

You mentioned earlier that you think that there will have to be a culture change in this area. Given the role of retail workers on the front line of the Covid-19 crisis, the committee’s view is that, although existing legislation might cover the issue from a legal perspective, there is value from a public policy perspective in sending a message to the public that the issue is a policy priority. That might bring about the culture change that you mentioned. Do you see the merits of that secondary aspect of the legislation?

Ash Denham

I see that, and I take it on board. There are definitely instances in which legislation has completely turned our culture around. I am sure that members have their own memories of specific laws. As I remember it, the legislation on seat belts and on smoking changed the way we did things. In those areas, the culture was completely changed by introducing legislation.

Perhaps the committee would agree, however, that we are not in exactly the same situation with this bill. In the examples that I mentioned, there was a gap between the law and the policy intention, and the law was changed in order to match that intention. Many of the proposed elements of this bill are already covered by provisions in existing criminal legislation, so there is not a gap in the law per se. However, I very much take on board the committee’s interest in doing something about the issue.

I said this earlier, but it bears repeating. The primary benefit that we are looking to get from the bill is a raised awareness that it is unacceptable to attack shop workers, and that there is zero tolerance for such incidents and they should be reported and taken forward. However, is that the primary function of legislation? I will leave the committee with that thought.

As I mentioned earlier, some type of aggravator could potentially be a way forward—it would send a message, but it would not replicate existing provisions. I would be very interested to hear the committee’s views on that.

Dean Lockhart

That is very helpful, minister.

The Convener

Before we move to the next committee member, I want to ask the minister a couple of questions.

First, you have indicated throughout the meeting that you acknowledge that threats against shop workers are an issue. Throughout our evidence sessions, we have been made aware that the issue is particularly acute in small shops. Women often work in them on their own, for example, and assault might not necessarily be physical, but can involve threatening behaviour, which can cause considerable distress and fear to people who work in small shops. That is particularly the case because the individuals who cause such fear might frequently return to the shop. Given that we are aware of all that, why has the Government not already moved to have some sort of public campaign? Why do we have to have a bill to move the discussion forward?

My second question concerns the police response. The committee heard evidence to suggest that, although the law exists, a shop worker who calls the police about an incident does not get priority under the priority response system that the police operate. How might that be overcome if we do not pursue the bill or if you reject it?

Ash Denham

I acknowledge those issues. We can all see that there is a big difference between a lone worker in a small convenience store and 40, 50 or 60 staff working in a large supermarket where there is a security guard. There are instances of threatening behaviour by perpetrators who keep returning to a store, which can be very distressing. I reiterate that threatening behaviour is covered by an offence and should be reported to the police.

On enforcement, the committee heard evidence from Police Scotland in March; it said that it takes such incidents seriously. It is probably fair to say that that is Police Scotland’s policy, and that that is what it is striving to do. Police Scotland is doing an incredible job in response to the Covid-19 crisis, and it prioritises those types of incidents. Clearly, however, there will always be individual instances in which the police do not respond in that way.

10:30  



I will reflect on what more could be done. I am interested to hear where the committee thinks there could be most impact in how we go forward. It is coming across loud and clear that we need to increase awareness among retail workers and members of the public and, perhaps, among repeat perpetrators who cause so much trouble.

The Convener

A lot of that is about messaging and being clear with the public and shopkeepers that there is a zero tolerance policy for such behaviour when they are providing that service. We have heard repeatedly that the behaviour is often linked to licensed products—predominantly alcohol, but also tobacco. That is where there is a problem. Retailers pay a licence fee in order to be able to stock such products and are expected to uphold the law, as is required under, for example, the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015. Since the introduction of the 2015 act, those costs have gone up quite considerably, and the requirements on shops to invest and to do other things in order that they can stock such products have increased. Many retailers feel that they are doing their bit, but are not receiving in return protection for doing the job that the Government has asked them to do. How do you respond to that?

Ash Denham

I hear that point. Clearly, retail workers have an extremely important role in verifying the age of people who buy age-restricted products. We rely on them to do that for wider societal benefit. You make the point that shopkeepers feel that they are not getting the response that they should. I will reflect on that.

The Convener

Thank you. I will go to Daniel Johnson, who is the member who introduced the bill.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I begin by thanking the committee for its on-going work on the bill, and by paying tribute to retail workers who are doing a fantastic job right now to keep us safe in ways that I do not think many of us would have anticipated just a few weeks ago. I thank the minister for her constructive approach. I would be more than happy to work with her on the possibility of taking forward the point about aggravators.

What are your reflections on the usefulness of the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005? About 250 convictions are made each year using that legislation, but according to many accounts, the section 1 offence replicates existing or other offences including common law assault. Given that, is it useful legislation?

Ash Denham

Of course it is useful legislation. If the committee will bear with me for a second, I have some notes specifically on that, which I cannot see. Philip Lamont will come in with some detail on that point, then I will follow up in a moment, when I find my piece of paper.

Philip Lamont

It is perhaps worth reminding the committee that when Parliament passed the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act in 2005—I am sure that some members here were in Parliament at the time—there was a lot of debate about whether the bill, which applied only to emergency workers, should be extended to other categories of workers, which Mr Johnson’s bill seeks. There was extensive debate. Parliament reflected on the matter and ultimately decided, because of the nature of the work emergency workers do—being asked day in and day out to risk their lives to save others and protect communities—to legislate for emergency workers and to draw a distinction between them and other categories of workers, including retail and other public-facing workers. That was 15 years ago. There are other types of workers in relation to which we could have a similar debate.

Ash Denham

I can come in now—I have found my information.

The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 brought in the offence of hindering or obstructing emergency workers because they risk their lives to help others. That means that, if they are hindered or obstructed, it is not only their lives that are put at risk, but those of the people whom they are working to save. At the time, Parliament felt that emergency workers were in a unique position, which is why their position is reflected in law as it is.

Daniel Johnson

On public protection, I am sure that people would agree that, even outwith the current circumstances, retail workers perform a critical public safety function through restricting the sale of alcohol and similar products. Along with the 2005 act, section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, section 22 of the UK Borders Act 2007 and section 32 of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005 all provide protection against abuse, assault and hindrance or obstruction in ways that could be said to replicate the common law. The basis of those provisions is the principle that people who are asked to uphold the law should have specific protections in law. Given the important functions that they perform, it is important that such protection is extended to them.

I invite the minister to reflect on that principle. Does she agree that people who uphold the law and provide public protection should receive specific protection in law?

Ash Denham

That is a good point, which I take on board. Retail workers perform a very important function on behalf of all members of society in restricting the sale of products such as those that Daniel Johnson mentioned. However, I would not say that what they do falls into the same category as enforcement or emergency work; I can see a difference.

The role of our emergency services workers is unique, so I ask the committee to reflect on that: do members think that there is a difference in what our emergency service workers do to protect us that explains why they have protection under the law? That is not to take away from the fact that retail workers perform an important role, as we all recognise at this time.

Daniel Johnson

My final question extends from Colin Beattie’s question about compliance. From challenge 25 through to the plastic bag levy, we have in recent years expected retail workers and staff to implement a number of public policies, as part of their job. Do you agree that when, in the future, we introduce new legislation or policy, we should be careful to ensure that there are legal protections related to the duties that we place on retail workers to administer, over the shop counter, obligations on the public to comply?

Ash Denham

I very much take that on board. Daniel Johnson and other members of the committee have made important points about that. I will take them away and reflect on them.

The Convener

We have some time in hand, and I know that Andy Wightman is keen to ask a few more questions. If anybody else wishes to ask more questions, let me know.

Andy Wightman

I want to follow up on a question that the convener asked about public awareness. The stage 1 report of the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill from 2010, which Parliament did not pass, said that the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee was

“of the view that the introduction and application of both sentencing and prosecution guidelines ... would be beneficial in tackling the perception that aggravating circumstances are not taken seriously. Any such introduction should be linked to a high-profile publicity campaign.”

So, back in 2010 there was awareness that we needed to do more in terms of public awareness. Can you clarify or confirm, as a matter of fact, whether any work on that has been undertaken in the past 10 years? If so, when did it take place and what was the impact?

Ash Denham

I have seen the information that you have relayed from that 2010 stage 1 report.

On action that the Scottish Government has taken, we have legislated for and funded the operation of the independent Scottish Sentencing Council. It was established in 2015 with a responsibility to improve transparency and consistency in sentencing. Parliament set it up in such a way that the council decides its own work in respect of producing sentencing guidelines, which Andy Wightman has just raised. The committee might want to think about asking the council whether it is considering guidelines in that area.

Philip Lamont can outline the publicity campaign that has been undertaken over the past few years.

Philip Lamont

The other element that sat alongside sentencing guidelines that the previous committee looked at during consideration of the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill 10 years ago was whether prosecution guidelines should be introduced. It might be helpful to make it clear that that would be a matter for the Lord Advocate—as this is one for the independent prosecution service. It is not for the Scottish Government to offer a specific view on that matter, although the committee has received, directly from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, details in written evidence on how it approaches prosecutions and assesses evidence in cases that involve retail workers.

There has been no specific publicity campaign. A recommendation was made in respect of sentencing guidelines and prosecution guidelines, and a public awareness campaign being tied to their development. Although we now have the independent Scottish Sentencing Council, there are no specific sentencing guidelines on offences against retail workers. As the minister said, the council might wish to consider that and the committee might wish to raise it with the council. The publicity campaign that was proposed would have been tied to development of sentencing guidelines and prosecution guidelines.

The Government is happy to be involved and to reflect on what the committee thinks about that. If there were to be sentencing guidelines—indeed, guidelines in any area—it would be expected that the Sentencing Council would undertake a publicity campaign, because that is how it goes about its business. It always raises awareness of guidelines and does extensive consultation before developing them. That might be something to raise with the council directly.

Andy Wightman

Thank you. I have one more question for the minister. According to the Scottish Government’s memorandum, it does not support the bill as it is set out. As a matter of practical law, if—for the sake of argument—the bill were to be passed in its current form, would it be competent? Philip Lamont might be able to answer. Is the bill workable, or are there defects? I am not talking about defects that one would disagree with in policy terms. In practical terms, would it work?

Ash Denham

There are some issues around drafting in relation to the reasonableness defence. I ask Philip Lamont to give the committee a little more detail on the impact that that might have.

10:45  



Philip Lamont

As the committee has heard, the offence in the bill replicates existing laws. One law that it replicates is the offence in section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, which is the threatening or abusive behaviour offence. That contains what is called a reasonableness defence, which means that a person who is charged with an offence of threatening or abusive behaviour can raise a statutory defence in law that their behaviour was reasonable in the circumstances. That exists because there can be occasions when someone would act in a threatening or abusive way, but in response to a situation or context that makes that behaviour reasonable. In those circumstances, the statutory defence in law in relation to the section 38 offence can be used to ensure that a person is not convicted.

The bill contains no similar defence. That means that a member of the public could, under the bill, be charged with an offence involving threatening or abusive behaviour against a retail worker in what might be a scenario in which they were responding to such behaviour from the retail worker. The bill would not allow the person to raise the reasonableness defence. If the bill progresses in its current form, the committee might, at the very least, wish to consider whether that is how it would want that bit of law to work.

Rhoda Grant

I have a brief question. Sale of age-restricted products to people who are under-age is an offence, and the law in that regard is binding on retail workers and businesses. What would happen to a retail worker or business that breached the law on that, perhaps because the worker felt that they were being threatened into doing so?

Ash Denham

Philip Lamont will give the detail on that.

Philip Lamont

If a person working in a shop felt that they were under undue pressure or influence because of threats or abuse from a member of the public, and that worker ended up selling something and breaching an age-restricted products law, action would be taken only if that became known to the police. If it became known, it would be the police’s responsibility to investigate all the circumstances of the offence. Obviously, the police and the COPFS have discretion on whether action would be progressed in the circumstances.

In the scenario that Rhoda Grant described, if the evidence was clear that the shop worker felt that they had no choice but to sell the product because of threats and abuse, even though they suspected that the person was under-age, the police would have discretion. Obviously, the COPFS can prosecute only if doing so is in the public interest; it would have to apply that test carefully before deciding what action, if any, to take in that situation.

Rhoda Grant

The worker could be prosecuted, however, and would currently have no protection.

Philip Lamont

The protection lies in the discretion that is available to enforcement agencies in applying the law.

The Convener

Members have no more questions.

In the current Covid-19 crisis, our retail workers have clearly had to step to the fore, and we owe them thanks. As we are taking evidence on the subject, it is incumbent on us to acknowledge that many retail workers have gone above and beyond the call of duty. They are in the line of danger at the moment, because they are often finding it difficult to keep their distance from people and are having to deal with angry customers. Whatever the outcome in relation to the bill, it is important that retail workers understand that we are looking at the issue seriously and that we recognise the challenges that they face—not only now, but generally—with customers, who can at times be extremely unreasonable.

I thank the minister and Philip Lamont for their time and their evidence. The minister has acknowledged on numerous occasions during the meeting that she has listened to what has been said and to members’ questions, and that she will reflect on the issues that have been raised, some of which are serious and affect people’s safety and lives. I hope that we will hear back from her on her thoughts. The committee will now discuss the bill, and I am sure that we will have recommendations to make.

That concludes the public part of the meeting. As was previously agreed, we now move into private session. I thank everyone for attending, and I thank those who have been watching. We look forward to seeing you again.

10:50 Meeting continued in private until 11:38.  



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Third meeting transcript

The Convener

Our main item of business is continuation of our evidence taking on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill. I am pleased to welcome our witnesses: Daniel Johnson MSP, who is the member in charge of the bill; Andrew Mylne, who is head of the non-Government bills unit; and Kenny Htet-Khin, who is a solicitor for the Scottish Parliament.

The bill has been proceeding through our committee, and we have taken evidence from a number of people. This is our final session, in which we will take evidence from the member who introduced the bill. I invite Daniel Johnson to make a short opening statement.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Thank you very much for that introduction. I thank the committee for its diligent work in examining my bill and for resuming its work in doing so. Parliamentary time is at an absolute premium, given that we are limited to online sessions, so I am truly grateful that the committee has prioritised examination of my bill.

I was struck—I am sure that the committee was, too—by the powerful testimony that was given by trade unions and the industry in the evidence that the committee took at the beginning of March. They powerfully brought to life the real issues that shopworkers face, such as being subjected to abuse and violence just through doing their job and upholding the laws that we have created for them. The witnesses brought to life the clear survey evidence that the industry and trade unions have to back that up.

In its survey, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers estimates that 15 shopworkers are assaulted every single day in Scotland. Every respondent to the Scottish Grocers Federation retail crime report stated that they had experienced abuse when a sale was refused for failure to provide proof of age, and the Scottish Retail Consortium has published its findings that the vast majority of workers do not believe that the police take the problem as seriously as they should.

In the context of the current crisis, those facts become even more stark. We have all become much more aware of how vital the work that shopworkers do is. Shopworkers have very much been on the front line of the Covid-19 response and have assumed a key public health function that none of us could have foreseen.

Unfortunately, a conspicuous minority of people have responded to the restrictions in stores by swearing at, abusing and, in the worst cases, threatening to cough and spit on retail workers. USDAW has reported a doubling of the rate of incidents of violence and abuse against shopworkers through this period.

The primary objective of my bill is to respond to and deal with such abuse and violence, and the general principles of my bill stem from those issues. Shopworkers are required to uphold the law and, if they fail to do so, they face a possible penalty of a £5,000 fine or three months in prison.

Emergency workers and police officers are protected by the specific statutory offences of assault, obstruction and hindering, which carry penalties of £10,000 or a prison sentence. It could be argued that those offences duplicate common law. However, we deem them necessary, given the public protection role that critical workers undertake. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 is effective; hundreds of people are convicted under the legislation every year.

In carrying out identity checks, shopworkers act as agents of the law, but that function triggers acts of violence and abuse against them. The statutory aggravation provision in my bill would provide a key recognition of that vital function and the seriousness with which shopworkers undertake it.

My bill seeks to address a well-demonstrated issue. It would apply a legal approach that is well established elsewhere in law. I appreciate that there are various points of detail to consider but, as the committee assesses the purposes and general principles of the bill at stage 1, I hope that you will agree that retail workers play a vital role in upholding the law and keeping us safe, and that there should be much more focus on ensuring that they get the protection that they deserve. I hope that my bill provides an opportunity for the Parliament to take a step forward, and I look forward to answering the committee’s questions.

The Convener

Thank you. I will invite each member in turn to put questions to you, to scrutinise the bill. I will come back to you after each question.

I will ask the first question, to set out the context. You have talked a little about why you think that the bill is required. However, much of the evidence that the committee has received suggests that the problem is to do with not a gap in the existing criminal law but awareness, reporting and effective enforcement. Is that a reasonable suggestion?

Daniel Johnson

There is an important principle at stake here. When we ask people to uphold the law, they should have the protection of the law. I would go further: we should give them specific legal protections.

The analogy of the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 is useful: the bill that became that act was introduced to address a serious issue of violent acts against first responders. At the time, we heard many of the arguments that you are describing. However, the existence of case-specific protection has reduced the phenomenon of violence against emergency workers; we do not hear as much about that in the media. Furthermore, the legislation is used.

Communication is a valid function of the law, as Lord Bracadale acknowledged recently in his independent review of hate crime legislation in Scotland. It is important that we make the key clarification that abuse of retail workers is unacceptable and illegal. Furthermore, when retail workers ask for proof of age they are acting as agents of the law; that is a critical point, which needs recognition in law.

The Convener

Will you clarify whether you are saying that there is a gap in the existing criminal law or agreeing with the suggestion that the issue is not a gap in the law but how the law is understood, promoted and enforced?

Daniel Johnson

The key issue is that there is no recognition in the law of the important legal function that retail workers carry out when they uphold proof-of-age legislation. The bill seeks to provide that recognition and to ensure that the issue is taken into account when people who commit crimes against retail workers are sentenced, through the creation of a statutory aggravation.

As we heard from the Minister for Community Safety last week, the bill would—at the very least—ensure that we had an accurate picture, because we would have the statistics.

Whether we understand this as being about addressing a gap in the law, ensuring that the law better reflects the important role of retail workers, ensuring that crimes against retail workers are taken seriously and dealt with appropriately in sentencing, or simply getting more information, the bill seeks to address all those issues.

The Convener

You keep using the word “recognise”—you say that the bill is about recognising people’s contributions. However, the law is there not to recognise people’s contributions or the job that they do but to identify where a crime or an offence takes place and to deal with that adequately. Is that what you mean by “recognise”, or are you really talking about sending a clear message to people that they cannot behave like that and that if they do, they will be punished? Can you make that clear?

Daniel Johnson

The bill would cover both those points. The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, and section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, which creates the offence of assaulting, obstructing or hindering a police officer, reflect in law the important role that those people carry out. That ensures that when such crimes are committed, they are dealt with adequately. The function of providing communication and clarity also stems from those pieces of legislation, which both set a precedent for the bill.

Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

The Minister for Community Safety suggested to the committee that a high-profile campaign might be a more effective way of raising awareness among retail workers and the public, highlighting that abuse towards workers is not acceptable and that people will be prosecuted under the current laws. Do you think that such a campaign would be effective or have any benefit?

Daniel Johnson

Any effort to raise the issue would be welcome. However, I note that in response to previous attempts to introduce such legislation, the argument has been made that a campaign should be formed, and yet nothing has happened. It is not an either/or situation. Passing my bill into law would not preclude running an information campaign—indeed, such a campaign would greatly help, and I suggest that we do both.

Alison Harris

Is data collection part of the problem? Would you agree that—as has been suggested—other non-legislative measures such as an improvement in data collection would help to ensure that the police and other parts of the justice system have a clear understanding of the scale of the problem and treat it with the seriousness that it deserves?

Daniel Johnson

There are various strands to what my bill may do, including communication, legal and data collection aspects. There is also a broader issue for policing policy and criminal justice with regard to the data that we have available; it is a source of frustration that we do not have greater insight. Other options for collecting those data might well be open to Government, but it is Parliament that is currently considering the merits of my bill and the options in front of it. If members are interested in improving data collection, passing the bill is the one key step that will do that, which is a point that the minister acknowledged in committee last week.

The Convener

We move to questions from Richard Lyle.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

First, I declare an interest: I am a member of the cross-party group on independent convenience stores and, as members know, I previously worked as a manager in the grocery trade.

Daniel Johnson’s bill will cover some, but not all, public-facing workers. Is it right to say that it will not cover bus or taxi drivers or refuse collectors? What is the position in relation to postal workers and other courier services?

09:45  



Daniel Johnson

I might bring in Kenny Htet-Khin and Andrew Mylne on the full technical details of that.

As a preamble, there is a balance to be struck in introducing any bill, and particularly a member’s bill, as the available resources are limited. When Hugh Henry attempted to bring in legislation in 2010, one of the key criticisms of his Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill was that it was too broad.

The observation that my bill starts from is that there is a key legal function that retail workers carry out in upholding age restrictions. Indeed, that responsibility has increased because of the introduction of challenge 25, which is welcome and important. I sought to start from that observation on that key legal function and to ensure that, if people are carrying out that function and are exposed to risk because they are carrying it out, they will have a degree of legal recognition and legal protection.

As we were preparing the bill, we were very aware that the nature of retail is changing and we wanted to ensure that we protected not just people who carry out that function at a shop counter but people who are involved with the transaction at any stage, however customers might purchase goods. With the rise of online retail and people delivering, proof of age might well be requested at the doorstep rather than at the shop counter. Therefore, we sought to include, for example, delivery staff who might ask for proof of age in relation to the sale of goods. We extended the approach to people who sell age-restricted goods and services in a non-retail context, so the bill will protect bar staff and people who carry out door-to-door sales, for example.

In drawing up the bill and focusing on age restrictions, we have not covered bus drivers or other public-facing workers. A criticism of Hugh Henry’s bill was that having a broad definition of public-facing workers meant that there was a clarity issue about who would have protection. I have sought to avoid that lack of clarity.

I genuinely hope that the bill will cause the Scottish Government to reflect on the broader issues of public-facing workers and which workers should have specific legal protections and what legal protections they should have. Examining those broader issues is a job that is much better suited to the much greater resources that are available to the Scottish Government.

I will bring in Kenny Htet-Khin or Andrew Mylne to provide greater clarification on precisely who is and is not included in my bill from the legal perspective.

Andrew Mylne (Scottish Parliament)

Obviously, our role in the non-Government bills unit is to deliver a legislative vehicle to reflect the member’s policy. Daniel Johnson has explained what his policy starting point was. The focus was always on retail workers, and that is what the bill focuses on. It was never about public-facing workers. Obviously, it is for Mr Johnson to explain why he made that particular choice, but that is the basis on which we developed the bill.

One of the challenges that we faced in developing the bill was identifying as clearly as we reasonably could who was covered and who was not. That was not straightforward, but we are fairly clear that the bill covers all the people whom Mr Johnson is interested in protecting. We tried to draw boundaries around that as clearly as we could. In paragraph 68 of the policy memorandum we have given as clear a list as we could of how the bill and its various provisions capture different groups of people in particular circumstances. We also put in a list of some of the people who are not covered.

To pick up on the things that were mentioned in the question—Daniel Johnson has already covered this to some extent—bus drivers, refuse collectors and postal workers are not covered. They are not people who specifically do retail work.

The bill has a specific provision for delivery drivers who deliver supermarket shopping to people’s doors, for example, which will sometimes include age-restricted goods.

I hope that that helps to clarify the position. With legislation, one does not always get perfect definitions at every point of the boundaries that are defined; at some point, it will come down to interpretation and precedent. However, we are confident that the bill provides as much clarity as it reasonably can.

The Convener

Does Kenny Htet-Khin have anything to add to that?

Kenny Htet-Khin (Scottish Parliament)

No, I have nothing to add.

The Convener

Does Richard Lyle want to ask anything else?

Richard Lyle

No. My question was about who is not covered by the bill’s provisions and Daniel Johnson has explained that.

Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

I welcome the fact that you have introduced your bill, because it highlights an issue that I know is a problem even in my constituency from time to time. However, there are some aspects of the bill that I have a wee bit of concern about, which you might be able to help me with.

Existing offences already allow for the prosecution of a person who assaults, threatens or abuses another person. Where appropriate, those offences can be prosecuted under solemn procedure, which allows for higher sentences than those that are available under the bill. Why should we not rely on those existing offences when a retail worker is assaulted, threatened or abused?

Daniel Johnson

I have two things to say about that. First, the provision in question is virtually identical to a provision in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 and the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, and those bits of legislation have not created a problem.

Secondly, it is up to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to decide what charges to bring. It can bring charges under different legislation if it thinks that that is warranted and believes that the higher penalties that are available under that legislation would better reflect the crime. That process is part and parcel of our legal system.

My bill does not preclude crimes being prosecuted under different pieces of law; indeed, it reflects what has already been acknowledged to be a useful legal provision in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 and in section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.

Colin Beattie

In your opening remarks, you mentioned your belief that, under the existing legislation, the police did not necessarily respond to reports of such offences against retail workers as quickly or with as much priority as they should. If the bill were passed, what would compel the police to respond more quickly and with more urgency?

Daniel Johnson

There are various strands to that. First and foremost, simply by having new legislation—the introduction of a new law is preceded by a process of discussion and discourse—the police will be required to re-examine their policies. That is what they have to do whenever new legislation is passed.

Furthermore, I point to the fact that the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 has been used, on average, between 200 and 300 times a year over the past few years. With regard to efficacy, that act is a useful analogue for what the bill might do and how useful it might prove to be.

Colin Beattie

I am still a wee bit concerned. If we are not getting the police to respond under the existing system, why will that suddenly change simply because the legislation in this area is updated or refurbished? I am trying to think of the practicalities here. We all know about police priorities, the call on police time and so forth. How do we get the police to treat such crimes as a priority without having to produce a whole slew of new legislation?

Daniel Johnson

I would not describe my bill as a slew of legislation. Through a few parliamentary votes, we might be able to provide the focus and priority on this issue that is needed.

In a sense, Mr Beattie, you are highlighting a dilemma that we have in our system. We have a system in which the police cannot be directed by politicians or ministers, and that is absolutely correct. What we can do, though, as politicians, is pass laws. By passing laws, hopefully we communicate our priorities to the public and ensure that the law operates in a way that reflects the seriousness of the crimes that are perpetrated and the duties and obligations that we place on people.

The bill does not necessarily automatically mean that there will be an overnight change in the way that the police respond to certain crimes. However, the options that we have available to us—the powers that we have as parliamentarians and as a Parliament—allow us to state what we think the priorities are and what we think that the law should do and how it should deal with people who commit such offences.

Colin Beattie

You seem to be indicating that the bill would highlight to the police the priority that should be attached to protecting retail workers. If that is the purpose of the bill, surely a high-profile campaign of the kind that we talked about before would have the same result, in that it would bring such crimes to the front of police priorities.

Daniel Johnson

As I said to Alison Harris, I do not think that it is a case of either/or. I would like both those things to happen. I urge Parliament to pass my bill and I urge the Government to produce a clear communication plan.

The issue is not purely one of communication, though. The statutory aggravation is an important element in ensuring that, when people commit such crimes, the sentence that they receive reflects the seriousness of the crime. That is not to say that that cannot already happen, but the bill would ensure that it would happen in future. It is not simply a matter of communication or of reprioritising the issue or making a statement. It is also a question of ensuring that, when those crimes are prosecuted and people are found guilty, the penalty reflects the seriousness of the crime. After all, the crimes that we are talking about are being committed against people who are simply trying to do their job and uphold the law.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Good morning, Daniel. At the committee’s previous meeting, there was quite a lot of discussion about obstructing and hindering. We heard evidence that that offence is already covered in law when it is accompanied by threatening and abusive behaviour and so on, and that the punishments are already more severe than those that are proposed in the bill. Some people believed that your bill, if it were to proceed unaltered, would, in effect, criminalise what they said amounted to irritating or nuisance behaviour, perhaps by children.

Could you set out your vision in that regard and give us an indication of whether you might consider changing that aspect of your bill in order to get wider support for it? I think that the minister said that she was open to looking at the issues and listening to people’s views, if the bill proceeds. I would be obliged if you would give us your perspective on that important issue, which was discussed by the committee.

10:00  



Daniel Johnson

I will begin by setting out the purpose of including that provision. There is a scenario that many people who work behind shop counters recognise, in which a situation escalates from seemingly innocuous beginnings. Someone might be refused a sale because they cannot produce identification, or they refuse to do so. The situation does not start with violence; it does not even necessarily start with abuse. It starts with someone saying something such as, “I’m not moving from this spot,” until they are sold a particular bottle or packet.

I was attempting to reflect the fact that, when shopworkers ask for proof of age, they are carrying out the serious and, indeed, solemn act of upholding the law. When a person interrupts, obstructs or hinders that process, they are doing something quite serious. I was also attempting to capture a set of behaviours that I think most people would agree are wrong and that can escalate to something much more serious. I wanted to draw a clear early line that shows where people trip over into doing something that is wrong and illegal.

In some ways, I was trying to reflect the fact that, for example, it is a crime to waste police time. When police are carrying out their investigations, inquiries or other duties, wasting their time is a quite serious thing to do; I was attempting to apply a similar logic here. That said, I recognise that, as the provision is currently framed, it is quite broad. The obstructions that are set out apply to the broad duties of retail workers and not just to those that relate to age restrictions. Therefore, I recognise the issues that have been raised.

The issue that Mr Coffey raises is exactly the sort of issue that it would be extremely useful to examine at stage 2. I am very open to amending the provision in question, restricting its scope or otherwise altering it. I do not believe that that part of my bill is of central or critical importance. The really critical aspect is the statutory aggravation provision, which acknowledges and reflects the important legal role and duty that retail workers carry out in asking for proof of age.

I hope that that explains the purposes of that part of my bill and my position on it.

Willie Coffey

That is very welcome. I have no more questions.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

To follow on from Willie Coffey’s question, you acknowledge that obstructing or hindering is part of the overall offence that is created in the bill and that it is not restricted or tied to the question of upholding statutory sale restrictions.

In paragraph 64 of the policy memorandum, you say that you do not think that a “physical element” should necessarily be

“present before an offence of ‘obstruct or hinder’ could be advanced”.

However, a person

“refusing to move on in a queue”

might be caught by the offence. You then say:

“Another example might be where a retail worker is using equipment—for example, a shopping trolley—and a customer refuses to get out of the way.”

In what world should obstructing a shopworker with a trolley mean a criminal conviction?

Daniel Johnson

The key point is that such obstruction would have to be accompanied by the clear intent of preventing someone from carrying out their duties as a retail worker or disrupting that work. Inadvertent or unintentional obstruction would not take someone over the threshold; there would need to be clear intent. That logic draws on the provisions in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 and section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 on obstructing someone from carrying out their duties.

I think that the issue of whether obstructing or hindering retail workers in carrying out their broader duties, as opposed to carrying out their duties in relation to age restriction, is sufficiently serious to create a criminal offence is one for debate; there should be a focus on that at stage 2. I concede that that is an issue, and I accept that the relevant provisions are perhaps set out more broadly than I might have wished.

The resources that are available to members who want to introduce legislation are such that, while the non-Government bills unit does a fantastic job, it has to help a number of members simultaneously. If I were a minister who had the full resources of the Scottish Government at my disposal, I would have preferred to have a much broader set of proposals that recognised the seriousness of the legal obligations and duties that we place on retail workers with regard to upholding the law and ensuring that people comply with it. I proposed the obstructing offence because of the precedent that was there, but there are probably issues to examine, and I would be more than happy to do so at stages 2 and 3, if Parliament gives me the opportunity to do so.

Andy Wightman

There is no need to apologise. We are scrutinising the bill in the same way that we would scrutinise any bill. That answer was helpful. I think that you are right. The issue has been discussed and there is probably a way through.

I want to move on to section 3, which is on the defence to a charge of obstructing or hindering a retail worker. It says that there is a defence in situations in which the

“behaviour was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.”

Could you say how you anticipate “reasonable” being interpreted?

Daniel Johnson

Yes. I assume that you are also interested in why we introduced the “reasonable” defence for obstructing a retail worker but not the other aspect. Would you like me to explain that as well?

Andy Wightman

That is a question for the Scottish Government.

Daniel Johnson

When it comes to obstructing or hindering, we can well understand that there could be a situation in which somebody who put a trolley, or stood, in the way of a retail worker who was carrying out their duties—if, say, the worker was walking on a path that might have led them to fall through a trapdoor in the floor that they had not seen—would be acting in a very reasonable way that would not cause the retail worker immediate harm but would prevent them from coming to harm by, in this case, falling through the trapdoor. There are other scenarios in which obstructing or hindering a person might prevent other harms and would therefore be reasonable.

Andy Wightman

You mentioned the question of the lack of a reasonableness defence with regard to abusing or threatening a retail worker, which the Scottish Government has raised. I do not have time to go into that now, but if there is time at the end of the meeting, I would like to do so.

Police Scotland has questioned the validity of the comparison that has been made between obstructing or hindering retail workers and obstructing or hindering emergency workers, given that, in many cases, emergency workers are trying to save lives, so obstructing them could be critical to life. Do you accept that the comparison is not as valid as you appear to have made out?

Daniel Johnson

I think that it is an important comparison. My bill draws fairly heavily on the logic of and measures in the emergency workers legislation.

The matters that emergency workers deal with are serious in that they often concern immediate matters of life and limb in a way that the duties of retail workers do not. However, by the same token, not everything that an emergency worker does will be concerned with such matters. In addition, the emergency workers legislation does not draw a distinction between when an emergency worker is dealing with immediate issues of life and limb and when they are carrying out other duties such as public information duties.

We should also consider the broader reasons for having age restrictions. Tobacco and alcohol are very significant causes of death in Scotland. We have age restrictions on those products because, ultimately, they save lives. Although upholding age restrictions is not the same as the immediate matters of life and limb that emergency workers deal with, it is wrong to say that it is not a matter of life and limb at all.

There is a discussion to be had as to whether obstructing a retail worker is as serious as obstructing an emergency worker. Although I fully accept that those two forms of obstruction are not necessarily of the same order of magnitude, it is clear that there is a parallel. Retail workers uphold the law, and upholding the law with regard to the age restrictions on certain products is important for protecting wellbeing in the broad sense. That is a valid argument to have. It is one that I hope that we can have at later stages of my bill and which I am happy to engage in.

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

Good morning. The committee has had very clear evidence that enforcing legal restrictions on sales can trigger abusive behaviour. Indeed, I think that we have all witnessed that, especially more recently when retail workers have been trying to enforce social distancing and to stop panic buying. How would an aggravation address that kind of behaviour?

Daniel Johnson

The aggravation does two things. First, and most important, it ensures that, when people are charged and found guilty of these offences, the sentencing reflects that. Secondly, it emphasises just how important it is that the enforcement of age restrictions is carried out by retail staff.

Indeed, one point that has been made to me by people working in the sector and by the trade unions is that, if nothing else, if the bill enabled there to be a very clear sign at the shop counter saying, “It is an offence to abuse or assault a retail worker,” or, “There is a statutory aggravation if you abuse or assault me while I am carrying out my legal responsibilities and duties in relation to age restrictions,” that would be useful. That is, having that clear law and being able to communicate that to customers would be useful in and of itself. The aggravation would make a real difference in relation to sentencing and in emphasising the seriousness of these issues and crimes.

Rhoda Grant

Your bill clearly covers age-restricted products and the like. However, as I said in my original question, we have all witnessed the abuse of retail workers in the current situation, when they are trying to keep everyone safe and make sure that there is enough stock for everybody to get what they need. Does your bill cover that kind of behaviour, or would it be possible to amend it to cover that kind of behaviour?

Daniel Johnson

The statutory offence that is created covers assault and abuse in broad terms; it is not specifically related to age-restricted items at all. In that sense, it would address, in part, that kind of behaviour. That important question has arisen in recent weeks and months. We have all seen retail workers enforcing social distancing in supermarkets. I have been struck by efforts in my local supermarket, where there are markings on the floor and retail workers are advising people where to stand and controlling the flow of customers into stores. Retail workers are carrying out a clear public health function that is required by the Government, if not necessarily by law.

10:15  



By coincidence, my bill affords us the possibility of looking at whether there are further protections that can be applied in light of the current context. More broadly, there is an opportunity to reflect on protections in other instances where we ask retail workers to carry out particular functions and where the Government sets out regulations that retail workers are required to uphold. Indeed, parliamentary procedure through stage 2 affords us the ability to take further evidence. Stage 2 and stage 3 proceedings would allow amendments to be lodged that may examine that in more detail, which I would welcome. I do not think that we can divorce my bill and the broad issues that it seeks to raise from the current circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Rhoda Grant

When you introduced the bill, you could not have possibly imagined the current circumstances, but it was right to look at protecting workers when they are in a difficult situation. The population as a whole would now applaud our retail workers: I am much more aware of the job that they do. We have talked about low-paid workers having to bear the brunt of the crisis. Do you think that the bill would send a clear signal to them that we value them and that we will take steps to protect them when they are on the front line?

Daniel Johnson

Yes, I think that it would send an important signal. In recent years, Governments of various hues and stripes have tended to think that public policy can be introduced through buttons on the till, most conspicuously with challenge 25 but also with other policies such as the plastic bag charge and the deposit return scheme. Although those are all useful and valuable propositions, there has been a sense that the Government can introduce such policies at no cost to it and they will be taken care of.

Retail workers are carrying out those policies, which are important public functions. It is important that we ensure that retail workers know that they are valued, and there is no better way of doing that than by recognising in law the age restriction and other duties that we ask them to carry out. Currently, a reassessment is being made of the value of all sorts of work; not just retail work, and it is important for us all to reflect on that.

Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

I remind members that I am the convener of the cross-party group on independent convenience stores. I agree with Mr Johnson that we need a culture change, but we also need to ensure that any changes to the law are correct.

Colin Beattie has already highlighted that existing offences can be prosecuted under solemn procedure and may attract higher sentences. Rhoda Grant has suggested that the aggravation would make a real difference to sentencing, yet paragraph 53 of the policy memorandum says that the aggravation in the bill does not increase the level of sentence that is available to a summary court. What would the proposed aggravation add to existing provisions?

Daniel Johnson

A statutory aggravation does not necessarily increase the sentence that is available to the court, but it requires sentences to take the behaviours or circumstances set out in the statutory aggravation into account when sentences are being passed.

The other thing that I will add before I pass on to Andrew Mylne is that, as I have said before, we are talking about the same situation as exists when crimes are committed against emergency workers and the police. The relevant bits of legislation are carried out under summary procedure, although there might be crimes available to prosecutors that carry a heavier sentence. When prosecutors bring forward charges, they might choose to use other bits of legislation to prosecute people if that is deemed necessary.

I will bring in Andrew Mylne to provide further explanation on how statutory aggravations work and the comparisons with other areas of law.

Andrew Mylne

The way in which the bill works is based on a lot of precedent in existing legislation. When you create a criminal offence, you have to specify what the maximum penalty available to the court would be, but of course the average or typical sentence is well below the maximum. I do not have exact figures but, at least in some cases, there is evidence that the average sentence is roughly half the maximum. Obviously, if you increase the maximum sentence, you increase the average as well, but a court will always exercise discretion according to the facts and circumstances.

The point about an aggravation is to nudge the court to apply a higher penalty than it otherwise might do, because of a particular factor that featured in the case. Usually, there is plenty of headroom, because the sentence that the court would normally apply in such cases would in most circumstances be well below the maximum, so the court can add on a little because the offence is aggravated. By having an aggravation, the fact that you are not increasing the maximum penalty does not matter very much in most cases.

The way in which the bill sets out the procedure for aggravation is modelled on the existing statutory aggravation legislation that the Parliament has put in place over a number of years. For example, the feature of the bill that means that the court would not be required to increase the sentence but would have to justify not doing so is modelled on what happens under existing legislation in such circumstances. The bill simply adds another statutory aggravation in a way that is in line with what is already there.

I hope that that helps a little.

Gordon MacDonald

It does—thank you.

It has been suggested that, to move the bill forward and gain Government support, an alternative legislative approach would be to create a new statutory aggravation that was applied to existing offences. Is that a possible way forward, especially if it was focused on situations in which a retail worker was seeking to enforce an age restriction?

Daniel Johnson

I am happy to examine any alternative approaches, particularly if that secures Parliament’s broad support. I will again bring in Andrew Mylne on that point, but it is important to point out that, in drafting the bill, we looked at that possible approach fairly thoroughly. The reason why we rejected it was to do with precision. As you will see, a reasonable amount of space in my bill is given to trying to define precisely what retail workers are. To take the approach that Mr MacDonald suggests, you would need to spend quite a lot of time deciding which offences to attach the aggravation to. Would you be saying that any offence committed against a retail worker could be aggravated in such a way, or would it be particular offences? That would become a fairly complex picture.

We felt that it is simpler to create a straightforward statutory offence so that we have clarity on precisely what the offence is and who it attaches to, and then to have an aggravation layered on top of that to reflect the seriousness of such offences when they are in connection with age restriction.

I will hand over to Andrew Mylne, who can probably provide a better technical explanation.

Andrew Mylne

Kenny Htet-Khin might be better placed to answer that particular question.

Kenny Htet-Khin

As the member says, we are keen to give clarity in the law. If the member wishes to consider it in the future, we can think about how we might apply an aggravation to more offences. We were trying to be as specific as possible about how people who are accused of offences can know what the offence is and what the sentence might be should they carry out that offence. We thought that the provisions would provide foreseeability and clarity as to what is expected of them in the law.

The Convener

If there are no further questions on that subject, we will move to Dean Lockhart.

Dean Lockhart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Good morning to Daniel Johnson and our other guests. In evidence given to the committee by representatives of the retail sector, we were told that the problems faced by retail workers here in Scotland are similar to those faced by—[Temporary loss of sound.]

Daniel Johnson

The sound seems to be breaking up—I did not hear that question, and I do not know whether Dean Lockhart is still speaking.

The Convener

Are you still with us, Dean? We may have lost him.

Dean Lockhart

Good morning again, convener. I am sorry—I seem to have dropped out. [Temporary loss of sound.]

The Convener

We have lost Dean Lockhart temporarily.

Dean Lockhart

Apologies, convener. The system dropped out for a few seconds. I want to ask about the protection that is available to retail workers elsewhere in the United Kingdom. When the committee heard evidence from representatives of the retail sector, we heard that the problems faced by retail workers in Scotland are very similar to those that exist elsewhere in the UK, including those of threat. Have Daniel Johnson or the other witnesses considered the protection that is available in legislation elsewhere in the UK? Are additional enhanced protections available for retail workers elsewhere? If so, we could have a look at that legislation or additional protection measures and compare them to the proposed provisions in the bill before us.

Daniel Johnson

My understanding is that such issues are faced across the United Kingdom. As with the situation that is faced by retail workers in Scotland, retail workers do not enjoy any particular additional legal protections elsewhere.

I will bring in Kenny Htet-Khin on this point, as he may be able to provide some insight into whether there is other relevant legislation in the UK, but the issue arose in the previous Parliament at Westminster, with attempts by David Hanson to introduce amendments to the Offensive Weapons Bill—now the Offensive Weapons Act 2019—that would have provided, in part, the sort of distinctions that we have discussed. In response, the UK Government entered into a consultation process, which I believe finished at the end of last summer. The UK Government has those findings now, but it has not published them. The consultation looked into whether legal steps could be taken to provide further legal protections.

A private member’s bill is being introduced at Westminster that would have a similar effect to mine. It likewise has a statutory aggravation that would apply to offences against retail workers in those situations. I do not believe that retail workers have any specific legal protections in other parts of the UK, but it is an apparent issue that is being discussed in other Parliaments in the UK. Does Kenny have any particular legal clarification to provide on what exists elsewhere?

10:30  



Kenny Htet-Khin

I do not have anything. [Temporary loss of sound.]

The Convener

I lost the end of that, but I think that Kenny Htet-Khin said that he did not have anything great to add.

Dean Lockhart

I thank Daniel Johnson for that explanation of the protections that are available elsewhere in the UK. I will follow up on a couple of issues that were discussed before about the different views on the need for the bill and what form it should take if it goes ahead—for example, the need for the hindering and obstruction elements of the bill. What are Daniel Johnson’s views on what elements of the bill could be stripped back from what is currently proposed without damaging the core protection for retail workers that he is trying to achieve?

Daniel Johnson

In my view, the most important element is the aggravation, which will reflect the seriousness of the responsibility that we place on retail workers for upholding age restrictions; ensure that sentencing takes that into account; and give us a better picture as to the extent of the problem of these crimes in society. By dint of that, having the statutory offence is important because it enables the statutory obligation and, for the reasons that we set out earlier, it is important and useful in terms of the precision that it affords. The other element of the statutory offence is that it provides a clear communication point.

Finally, the point about hindering and obstructing is important, but it is probably the least important of the three key provisions. It is important because it provides for an earlier threshold at which these situations could be nipped in the bud. As I illustrated earlier, a common scenario takes place when things start out as one thing and escalate to another; this is an attempt to stop that from happening. As I said earlier, I recognise the potential problems and the valid discussion about the comparability of the provision with the precedents that it is drawn from, so it is probably the least important element. I hope that that provides some clarity for the member.

Dean Lockhart

It does. Thank you very much.

The Convener

Andy Wightman wants to ask some questions and request clarification of some points.

Andy Wightman

I will follow on from Dean Lockhart’s question. You implied that statutory aggravation is one of your principal concerns and in your opening remarks you made quite a lot of play of that. It almost sounds as though you created the offences so that there could be a statutory aggravation. We have covered the question whether statutory aggravation could be applied to existing offences, so I do not want to look at that. However, rather than a statutory aggravation of offences that you create in the bill, an alternative approach would be to create a statutory offence of obstructing and hindering a retail worker in the course of upholding age restrictions. That would be a clear alternative. Could you respond to that?

Daniel Johnson

That is an interesting approach, which could be examined. When we looked at the matter, we had a range of possibilities for each of the different elements and we picked what we felt gave us the greatest precision and clarity.

I would not say that creating the statutory offence is purely to enable the aggravation; it is part of it. The point about clarity and communication is an important one. It is also about reflecting in law and indeed, in a sense, it borrows from the logic of the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 and section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012.

You have outlined an interesting approach in terms of creating that specific offence of hindering or obstructing in relation to age-restricted items, which it may or may not be possible to look at through stages 2 and 3 of the bill, if Parliament chooses to go down that route.

Andy Wightman

Thank you. One of the criticisms of your approach is that if prosecutors were to choose to prosecute someone who had abused a retail worker under the common law or, for example, under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, the statutory aggravation would not be available. Given the statistics that we have on the use of the emergency workers statutory offences, it may be that most prosecutions are taken under other laws and one of your key objectives—the statutory aggravation—would not be available in those circumstances. Could you clarify that?

Daniel Johnson

I may bring in Andrew Mylne or Kenny Htet-Khin on the strict technical elements. I will say that there are lots of instances in the law where there are overlaps or even duplications between different statutes.

I believe that there were just under 200 prosecutions in 2017-18 under the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005. It is clear that the 2005 act is used and it has comparable penalties to those that I seek to introduce, so I do not think that there is any reason to believe that prosecutors would not use the legislation if it were enacted.

Does that mean that the numbers are comprehensive? Clearly not. I doubt that the 190 offences committed in 2017-18 represent the totality of all the offences that were committed against emergency workers in that period either. This is not about statistical accuracy; it is about providing options. The numbers provide insight rather than precision in terms of the total number. Andrew Mylne may have something to add.

Andrew Mylne

The way that you characterise it, Mr Wightman, may get things slightly the wrong way round. I am not an expert in criminal law; I have certainly never been a prosecutor. However, my general understanding is that when prosecutors are deciding how to charge a particular offence, they often have choices. In this particular case, as we acknowledge, there is an overlap between the proposed new offence and existing common law and statutory offences.

My understanding is that prosecutors will generally favour a specific statutory offence rather than a general offence, whether that is common law or statute, where they have a choice.

If the bill is passed, the section 1 offence would become the default option for prosecuting offences of this nature. It is not so much that, if prosecutors chose a different option, the aggravation would not be available; the fact that the aggravation was available for the section 1 offence would be an additional reason to choose that option.

As we have acknowledged, there is still a small limitation. If a case is particularly serious and a prosecutor thinks that it would need to be prosecuted under solemn procedure, they will always have that option, but such cases would be very much at the top end of the scale.

I would look at it that way round. Aggravation, certainly in a case that relates to age-restricted sales and so forth, would be an additional reason to choose to prosecute under the new offence.

Andy Wightman

Thank you—that is very helpful indeed. I have one final question. Time is tight, so it may be helpful for you and for us if you were to write to the committee in fairly short order to elaborate on your response, because the matter is a bit complicated. I am talking about the Scottish Government’s policy memorandum, which refers to the three elements that are necessary for an offence to be created under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. The memorandum points out that the offence of abusing a retail worker as set out in Daniel Johnson’s bill could be committed by conduct that is not, as section 38 of the 2010 act requires it to be,

“likely to cause a reasonable person to suffer fear or alarm”.

It also points out that there is no reasonableness defence under the new offence in the bill, which again can be contrasted with section 38 of the 2010 act.

A two or three-minute answer is probably not the best means of articulating your response to that challenge, as set out by the Scottish Government in quite some detail in its memorandum, which is published on the committee’s website, but perhaps you can give a brief response now.

Daniel Johnson

I will take you up on your suggestion of writing to the committee, but the simple and short answer concerns intent and effect. In order for there to be threat or abuse, there has to be intent to cause fear or alarm. Whether that is ever reasonable, regardless of the circumstances, is questionable. It boils down to the question of what you are effectively saying. In a sense, it could be argued that you are saying that two wrongs can make a right.

There is potentially a problem in saying that, because these are lesser-order offences, it could be reasonable to respond to one offence with another offence. I am not convinced of that. As I said, in the end it comes down to intent.

I do not know whether Kenny Htet-Khin has any brief comments to add on the precise points that the Government has raised.

Kenny Htet-Khin

On the point about the defence of reasonable behaviour, that was something that we considered. It is clear that that defence exists elsewhere in legislation—[Temporary loss of sound.] However, although we considered the matter, we could not really think of a situation—[Temporary loss of sound.]—to threaten or abuse a retail worker, which is why we decided—[Temporary loss of sound.]

On Andy Wightman’s second point, about the “reasonable person” test, we were not too sure what such a provision would add to the specific circumstances of the bill. There are other situations in which the “reasonable person” test is not adopted in law—[Temporary loss of sound.]

The Convener

We are having a few problems hearing you, Mr Htet-Khin.

Daniel Johnson

We can cover those points in correspondence. I will add one final point: if a “reasonable” defence is thought to be necessary, it would be very easy to add that to the bill through amendments at stage 2 or stage 3.

Andy Wightman

Thank you. It would be very useful for the committee to have from you a clear exposition in response to what is quite a detailed critique, or objection, from the Scottish Government. That would assist us hugely with our scrutiny.

The Convener

I echo that comment, Mr Johnson—it would apply to anything that arises during the discussion that you might want to elaborate on.

We have reached the end of our questions, but I want to raise one small point. Throughout this process, what has become absolutely clear is the fear that is often instilled in shopworkers when somebody behaves in a threatening manner, especially when it is somebody local who returns to the shop routinely. Shopworkers therefore often experience psychological damage rather than a physical assault. We have also heard throughout the process that it is about the response if somebody is called.

You said that, if nothing else, a sign at the till saying that it is an offence to assault, intimidate or harass a retail worker would be helpful. Why are such signs not up already? Although there is no specific offence, it is still an offence to do those things, so should retail workers put up those signs at the moment?

10:45  



Daniel Johnson

I will deal with both of those important points. It is about providing clarity and precision by saying that such behaviour is an offence under a protection of workers act. If we talk about it being a common law offence, we start to get into the realms of legal terminology. Signs could and potentially should be put up, but the bill would send a much clearer signal. It is not just about that; there are also the other associated elements, such as the aggravation provision that the bill would provide.

The point that the convener started on is perhaps the most important. Crimes that are committed against retail workers are different, in part because of the legal obligations that we place on them, but also because someone who commits such a crime against a person who is at work and carrying out their legal duties is victimising them in a place to which they have to return. When someone is abused or assaulted at work, they have to go back to work the next day, which is extremely traumatic. That point needs to be taken much more seriously by us all, and I hope that my bill will enable us to address it in Parliament.

The Convener

Is there anything that you would like to add before I close the session?

Daniel Johnson

I simply reiterate my thanks to the committee, because I really appreciate the time that it is taking to consider my bill.

I add a word of thanks to Andrew Mylne, Kenny Htet-Khin and the other members of the non-Government bills unit. We are extremely lucky in the Scottish Parliament to have a system of members’ bills, which means that we have that resource available to us in a much more straightforward manner than is the case for other parliamentarians. I am thankful to them for all their efforts.

The Convener

I echo those comments. I thank Daniel Johnson and the officials, Andrew Mylne and Kenny Htet-Khin, for taking part in the meeting. I am sorry that we did not have very good communication with Kenny. We found it difficult to hear you; I would get on to your broadband supplier.

On behalf of the committee, I thank everyone who has contributed to the comprehensive evidence sessions on the bill. We will now consider our report, which I hope will reflect what we have heard over the past few weeks.

I take this opportunity to thank all our retail workers. Without a doubt, this has been a very unusual and difficult time, and retail workers in particular have had to step up to the plate. They have coped very well, and they continue to deliver what is an essential service to us all. We hope that we will do them justice in our consideration of this member’s bill.

As agreed at the beginning of the meeting, we move into private session.

10:48 Meeting continued in private until 11:50.  



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3 March 2020

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6 May 2020

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13 May 2020

Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee Stage 1 report 

Debate on the Bill

A debate for MSPs to discuss what the Bill aims to do and how it'll do it.

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Stage 1 debate on the Bill transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Lewis Macdonald)

The next item of business is a stage 1 debate on motion S5M-22226, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services (Scotland) Bill. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

15:28  



Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

This is quite a moment for me. Rising to speak in favour of my own bill brings with it a real sense of responsibility.

I pay tribute to the various organisations that have supported the development of the bill and that have campaigned with me to promote it. It has been hugely rewarding to campaign with trade unions such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, the GMB and Unite the Union, as well as employers’ representatives such as the Scottish Grocers Federation, the Scottish Retail Consortium, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, Scotmid and the Co-operative Group. It is a cause with regard to which unions and employers are of one view, and that alone should say something about the importance of the issue.

I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a member of USDAW and of the Co-operative Party as well as a director of a company with retail interests.

I thank the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee for its thorough and helpful scrutiny of the bill; I thank the non-Government bills unit for its help, advice and assistance throughout the process; and I thank Ash Denham for her constructive engagement with the bill.

We are six months into the pandemic, and it has brought a sharp focus on the crucial role that is played by shop workers. They make sure that we can obtain the bare necessities and essentials of life—shop workers have stepped up to keep us safe when we do so. The pandemic has also exacerbated the disturbing behaviours of a small minority who, when faced with restrictions, have responded with abuse, threats and violence towards shop staff who are simply trying to uphold those rules and keep us all safe. USDAW, the shop workers union, estimates that the number of such incidents has doubled during the pandemic, and almost 70 per cent of retail workers cite enforcing social distancing requirements as the biggest single cause of the abuse and violence that they face at work.

The pandemic has brought the need for the bill into focus. Shop workers have been on the front line of the response, as a consequence of which they have faced abuse and assault. That is unacceptable. Put simply, violence, threats and abuse are not just part of the job for anyone, whether they work behind a desk or behind a shop counter. It should not have taken the pandemic to provide that insight.

The challenge 25 age check has become the norm in recent years, and there are dozens of goods and services for which purchasing customers must prove their age. What most people do not realise is that it is the shop workers who are liable if they fail to ask for proof of age. They can be fined £5,000 or serve time in prison if they sell an item or a service to an individual without checking their identity. It is that same legal duty that also triggers incidents of abuse and violence. According to USDAW, 15 shop workers are assaulted in Scotland every day, and the Scottish Grocers Federation reports that half of its members receive abuse every day because they are asking for ID.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I agree with all that the member has said so far. How does he feel about other workers who are not retail workers? Should they, too, be protected?

Daniel Johnson

That is a useful intervention. Unfortunately, I am a solitary member and this is a member’s bill. There is a case for looking at the protection that all public-facing workers could and should enjoy, but, critically, retail workers are legally duty-bound to uphold the law, and there is a clear parallel with other such workers who enjoy the specific protection of the law when they do so.

That is the basic principle that my bill focuses on: when we ask people to uphold the law, they should have the specific protection of the law. Emergency workers, customs officers, border staff and tax inspectors all have such protection as a matter of statute. That principle and imperative was clear before the pandemic and it was why I introduced my member’s bill to the Scottish Parliament. It recognises the important legal duty that is fulfilled by people who work behind shop counters.

The drafting and language in my bill are directly comparable both with section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 and with the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005. When the latter was introduced in response to growing attacks on ambulance crews and firefighters, its necessity and rationale were questioned. However, that law has been used in more than 3,000 prosecutions since its introduction. The principle is clear, the legislative approach is well established and it is also clear that such protections are effective.

My bill has two central provisions. First, it creates a specific offence of assaulting a shop worker. Secondly, it creates a statutory aggravation when the offence occurs in relation to the sale of an age-restricted good or service.

The creation of a new statutory offence plays three important functions. First, it creates a clear legal scope and effect, which is, in turn, important for the statutory aggravation. Secondly, it provides a clear articulation in law that such behaviours are unacceptable. As Lord Bracadale stated in his review of hate crime legislation, it is a legitimate function of the law to communicate. That point was highlighted by trade unions and trade bodies in their evidence to the committee when they drew parallels with other behaviours that, although covered by other pieces of legislation or common law, required specific legislation to make the law effective.

Thirdly, the creation of the new specific offence means that much better data will be provided. Right now, we simply do not know the true scale of the problem, as this type of crime is not recorded separately. As a result, we rely on survey work such as that carried out by USDAW, the Scottish Grocers Federation and the Scottish Retail Consortium. That is particularly worrying, given the concerns that were articulated to the committee and that are reflected in the report regarding the underreporting of threats, abuse and assaults on retail workers.

Perhaps the most important element of the bill is the aggravation element, which places in law the seriousness of assaulting someone when they are undertaking their legal duty as required in statute. It will require those who pass sentence on people who commit such crimes to give due consideration to those circumstances in the sentencing.

In addition to those core elements, in its current form, the bill would make it an offence to obstruct or hinder a retail worker while they are carrying out their duties. That concept was taken from the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, and the intention is to prevent the familiar pattern of escalation whereby a simple refusal of sale results in someone refusing to move from a queue or move on, which then escalates to abuse, threats and violence. However, I note the committee’s concerns regarding the provision and I agree that it was drawn too broadly. I intend to lodge an amendment at stage 2 to remove the provision from the bill.

It is also important to note the scope of the bill. Drafting the bill required several decisions and the consideration of many options. I wanted the bill to be focused and to the point, but I also wanted it to recognise the broad range of contexts in which age-restricted goods and services are sold, as well as the changing nature of retail. As a result, the bill defines retail work in such a way that those who work in bars, restaurants and hotels will be covered. Likewise, the bill will cover delivery drivers who are required to ask for identification when delivering age-restricted items.

Shop workers provide a vital front-line service. The pandemic has brought new insight into the role played by those workers, but, in reality, they have always played that role. They keep us safe and they uphold the law. Let us take this opportunity to ensure that they have the protection of the law. It is the very least that we owe them for their vital public work.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Gordon Lindhurst will open the debate on behalf of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee.

15:37  



Gordon Lindhurst (Lothian) (Con)

As the saying goes, the customer is always right—it was the founders of Selfridges and the Ritz hotel who first popularised the phrase. Variations on the theme include: the customer is king; the customer is never wrong; the customer always has a reason; and, in its most extreme form, the customer is a god—with a small g. Unfortunately, there are times when the customer is not right and when the customer abandons all reason. Daniel Johnson’s bill relates to those times and the protection of shop workers.

Our appreciation of people who work in retail—supermarket staff, the man or woman in the corner shop and those behind the counter in pharmacies—has grown during these Covid times, and their role over the past six months has proved invaluable. We have acknowledged them all as key workers, and rightly so.

What we require from the bill—should it be passed—is that it is effective and that shop workers feel not only valued but safe and free to go about their work without fear, now and beyond the current restrictions. Indeed, much of the committee’s work on the bill preceded the pandemic.

The committee wanted to hear the views of shop workers and members of the public. In February, a pop-up Parliament stand was held in Paisley’s Piazza shopping centre. We asked retail workers and shoppers what they made of the bill and whether extra protection was necessary. Most people who spoke to us on that day said that it was.

A central plank of the bill is the recognition that those who are required to ask for proof of age should have additional protection on the basis that workers who enforce statutory age restrictions are upholding the law, as Daniel Johnson mentioned. That can be a trigger for acts of violence and abuse. The committee found the evidence of such behaviour against retail workers compelling, and it believed that that must be addressed. As a shopkeeper from Blantyre said in a recent newspaper article:

“Shop workers aren’t looking for a pat on the back, but they don’t need a kicking either.”

The committee’s stage 1 report encouraged the member in charge of the bill to speak to the minister to address the committee’s concerns about the bill’s scope and its definition of retail work. We also invited the Scottish Government to reflect on several areas: the reporting of incidents, data collection and awareness raising. What we have heard about that dialogue and the reflection on those points is encouraging. I hope that I am not overly repeating what the member in charge of the bill has just said or pre-empting anything that the minister plans to tell us, but I understand that she shares the committee’s concerns about the obstruct-and-hinder element of the bill and that she has indicated a willingness to continue her dialogue with the member on that through to stage 2.

I will pick up on a couple of other strands. Reporting and confidence in the system are closely entwined. There is a perception that the abuse of retail workers is not taken seriously by the police and that current laws are not being enforced. That worried the committee, because employers and employees should be encouraged to report crimes. The bill can raise awareness, but action must be taken regardless. The committee invited the Scottish Government to work with its justice partners to address enforcement issues and to ensure that those matters are given the priority that they call for.

In her written response, the minister said that operational matters sit with Police Scotland, but she also said that the Scottish Government would be happy to assist in any way that it can. Perhaps she can elaborate on that in a moment. The minister also argued that a defence of reasonableness should be added to the bill. The committee recognised that concern and recommended that it be considered at stage 2. No doubt, the minister will comment on that in a moment.

A recurring theme in our evidence was the importance of communication. The Law Society of Scotland recognised

“an overwhelming need for enhanced provision of education, training and awareness raising of the issue to the public.”

The Federation of Small Businesses called for a

“smart, well-resourced marketing campaign”.

The committee agrees that there is a need to promote cultural change in order to deter aggressive behaviour and to give shop workers the recognition that they deserve. We therefore called for the Scottish Government to work with retailers and others on an educational campaign that will target retail workers, employers and the public. It is pleasing that the minister has given a commitment to do just that. She has suggested that the focus will be on small retail outlets whose staff may feel more vulnerable. We look forward to hearing more when she sets out her position.

Daniel Johnson told us that previous attempts to introduce similar legislation had resulted in warm words but that those who were seeking protection were left in the cold, because nothing happened. Thomas Hobbes wrote in “Leviathan” that the law is the public conscience—or at least it should be.

The committee has made its concerns about certain aspects of the bill clear, and we welcome the continuing discussions between Daniel Johnson and the Scottish Government. We commend the member for bringing forward the bill and the minister for being attentive to the committee’s findings. The committee supports the general principles of the bill.

15:44  



The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham)

I begin by recognising the important role that retail workers play in our local communities and the wider Scottish economy. During the Covid-19 outbreak, their contribution has been highlighted as the retail trade helps communities across Scotland get through these challenging times. I appreciate the hard work and commitment of all those working in the retail sector in Scotland. They should be lauded for the work that they are continuing to do during these challenging and unprecedented times, and it is absolutely right that they should be protected by our criminal laws. Every worker in a front-line customer service role should feel absolutely safe and supported.

Daniel Johnson’s bill is well-intentioned and well-timed, given Covid-19.

I thank the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee for its thoughtful stage 1 report, as well as the clerks who assisted in preparing it. The job that we all have in this Parliament is—as the committee report says—to assess whether the bill will improve how the criminal law in the area of protections for retail workers operates.

Evidence to the committee showed that retail workers are exposed to verbal abuse, threatening and abusive behaviour and physical attacks, as well as spitting and other disorderly behaviour. We heard that that often occurs when people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or when the retail worker is carrying out age checks or enforcing core hours for the sale of alcohol. Let me be clear: that type of criminal conduct is absolutely unacceptable and perpetrators should be held to account.

Retail workers should feel that they are currently protected by the criminal law, and they are protected, of course. We have a wide range of existing criminal laws in place to tackle that type of offending behaviour—for example, the statutory offence of threatening or abusive behaviour and the common-law offences of assault and breach of the peace. Those existing laws criminalise the verbal and physical abuse of our retail workers and provide our courts with the discretion to impose robust maximum penalties. Enforcement of the law is for Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and, ultimately, the criminal courts. I fully support law enforcement agencies in taking robust enforcement action to deal with any attacks and threats made against retail workers if they consider that necessary in any given case.

However, the context for the bill is the concerns that have been raised by a number of trade unions, such as the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, and from a number of retail bodies, such as the Scottish Retail Consortium, which has explained why it supports the bill.

I pay tribute to Daniel Johnson. It is not easy navigating the member’s bill process—even with the help of the Parliament’s excellent non-Government bills unit. Daniel Johnson’s bill has already helped raise awareness of this important issue. We appreciate that such a bill will have the potential to make the public think more about their behaviour while interacting with retail workers, especially in such difficult and challenging times.

The committee recognised in its report that the new offence contained in the bill largely restates existing offences, and where it seeks to extend the law—by including hindering and obstructing as elements of the offence—we consider that it does so in a way that sets too low a threshold for criminal sanctions. The committee’s stage 1 report shared that concern. It indicated that it

“shares concerns raised about the practical impact of including ‘obstruct and hinder’ as an offence against retail workers and believes that this could be open to misinterpretation as currently framed in the bill.”

Subject to changes being made at stage 2 to remove the hindering and obstructing elements, I can advise that the Scottish Government will support the bill through the legislative process, including at decision time today. The approach should ensure that the seriousness of offending is highlighted through a specific offence and that the court—when sentencing—assesses whether higher sentences are required in the context of age verification and would allow for better data to be collected over a period of time. We understand from discussions with Daniel Johnson that he would be agreeable to such an approach.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

What is the minister’s view on the representation of the Association of Convenience Stores that the maximum penalty in the bill might not be strong enough?

Ash Denham

The maximum penalty in the bill would be up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to £10,000. We imagine that most offences will be captured under the bill and prosecuted as such, but more serious offences—which would, as I understand it, be much lower in number—would have to be prosecuted under the existing criminal law, in which they obviously carry much higher maximum penalties. The bill would operate in a similar way to the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, under which some offences are prosecuted while others are prosecuted under existing criminal law.

It is worth touching briefly on the age verification aggravation. We can understand why it has been included, but Police Scotland expressed some concerns that such a measure could impact mainly on young people. The Scottish Government agrees that that might happen, although it is also worth noting that, in cases in which the age verification aggravation applies and is related to the conduct of a young person or child, discretion would exist in respect of what action to take as a result of the alleged offending behaviour. With that reassurance, we can see the value of the age verification aggravation.

Laws have a key role to play, but they are not the answer to everything. As I indicated in my evidence to the committee, the Scottish Government is committed to developing an awareness-raising campaign to coincide with the implementation of the bill, which would highlight the importance of reports being made when retail workers are attacked, threatened or abused during the course of their work.

At decision time, the Scottish Government will support the general principles of the bill, subject to steps at stage 2 to improve it by removing the hindering and obstructing elements. I look forward to hearing more during the debate to help ensure that the bill can be as good as possible.

15:51  



Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am pleased to contribute to this stage 1 debate on the bill. Daniel Johnson knows that I am sympathetic to what he is trying to achieve, as we have discussed the matter on and off for the past two or three years.

I recognise the ills that he seeks to address, as I have been a retail worker at various times—as no doubt many across this chamber have—and was subjected to the sort of behaviour about which the committee has heard, although mercifully not of the severity that still far too many must endure.

Those who have been retail workers will recognise the issues that the bill covers, given the Scottish Grocers Federation’s report that 99 per cent of workers it surveyed had experienced violence and physical abuse, and USDAW’s evidence that a Scottish shop worker is abused, threatened or assaulted more than 20 times a year on average.

I witnessed a lone petrol station worker being subjected to a torrent of abuse late one evening around three weeks ago on the outskirts of Edinburgh, simply because his till had crashed and failed to register a loyalty card. I spoke to him afterwards to offer support and he was clearly shaken and scared. Did he report the incident to his boss or the police, as I suggested? He possibly did not—for reasons that I will return to later.

It is not difficult for the Scottish Conservatives to support the principles of the bill, which are about increasing the protection for workers in the retail sector, as the online executive summary to the bill suggests. I feel, however, that a number of areas ought to be explored in greater depth.

My colleagues will elaborate on these throughout the debate, but let me suggest some thoughts on which the member might wish to reflect and perhaps come back to when he closes the debate.

I noticed that, among others, the Scottish Government’s memorandum, the Crown Office and the minister herself suggest that the new offence would not significantly expand current legal protection and that provisions in existing criminal law cover many of the proposed elements. Regardless of whether that position is accepted, I note that the member’s response throughout the process has been that the key is to send a message that would

“communicate our priorities to the public”

and

“reflect the seriousness of the crimes that are perpetrated and the duties and obligations that we place on people”—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, 13 May 2020; c 9.]

Let us leave aside the question whether the primary aim of the law should be to send a message. In her evidence to the committee, the minister said that

“the sending of a message is a sort of secondary benefit" .—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, 6 May 2020; c 5.]

I am not readily persuaded of that. If the proposed bill does not fundamentally create anything new, the member ought to ask why the messaging of the current law does not work. Should we not work to establish where the current failure lies and what is required to fix it? The answer might well not be more law.

Should we not be asking whether retail workers are reporting incidents? Daniel Johnson referred earlier to the USDAW survey, which found that only 34 per cent of victims report incidents. If they are not reporting them, why not? Is it because they are afraid of the consequences? Is it because, as the Scottish Co-operative Party suggests, they are not being taken seriously? Is it because they are unaware of the current law and their rights? Is the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland right that only one in 10 businesses report incidents as a crime? If so, why is that? Is it ignorance of the existing law? Is it that the police do not have the time or resources to properly combat the problem? If so, that is a much bigger issue, which will not simply be addressed by the proposed new law.

Are there problems at prosecution level? Are cases falling on an evidential basis? If so, why? Will the proposed requirement for evidence to be from a single source address that? In addition, what message does the current sentencing regime give? What sentences are being handed down for the offences at the moment? Do those fail to send a message that that behaviour is reprehensible and will not be tolerated?

The Association of Convenience Stores believes that the proposed offence

“would act as a deterrent”,

but presumably that would be the case only if the sentences given were seen to be commensurate with the seriousness of the crime. However, the ACS states:

“The maximum sentence ... may not be high enough”.

The ACS might be right, because the penalty under the bill could be, as we heard from the minister, imprisonment for 12 months or a fine. However, it will not be lost on anyone watching and listening to this debate that just last year the Scottish Parliament voted, with the notable exception of the Scottish Conservatives, for a presumption against 12-month prison sentences. That means that the criminals who carry out the acts that the bill addresses, who the minister described as committing lower-end offences—I know that she did not mean that pejoratively—do not risk prison, and they know that they will get a fine or community sentence instead. However, we already know—and Daniel Johnson knows this very well—that one in three community sentences are not completed and one in four contain no element of work.

I ask Daniel Johnson to muse on that throughout the debate and address in his closing speech the inadequacies and myriad failures of the soft-touch justice approach pursued by the Government—I will welcome his conversion with open arms. Although that is perhaps a forlorn hope, it would be useful if he were to note the importance of addressing those underlying questions and acknowledge the importance of enhanced education, training and public awareness as crucial for the bill, as the committee convener flagged up earlier.

The Scottish Conservatives will support the general principles of the bill at decision time tonight.

15:57  



Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I declare an interest as a member of USDAW and the GMB, which both represent retail workers.

I am delighted to be able to speak in favour of the bill at stage 1 and I congratulate my colleague Daniel Johnson for all his hard work in getting it to the chamber. I know that the bill seeks to address issues that are close to his heart and I encourage members across the chamber to support the bill and call time on the abuse of shop workers.

The retail sector is Scotland’s largest private sector. If the past six months have taught us anything, it is how heavily we rely on the sector and how much we depend on quick and easy access to essential goods. Retail workers have played and continue to play a vital role in keeping our country stocked during the pandemic. They have coped with panic buying and the unnecessary stockpiling that took place in the early weeks and they are the staff who remind us all to wear our masks and keep our distance, which can often trigger abuse and violence towards them.

A survey by USDAW found that violence and abuse against retail workers had doubled since the beginning of lockdown. It is truly appalling that 59 per cent of shop workers have faced verbal abuse since the beginning of the outbreak and a further 4 per cent have been physically assaulted. Those figures are based only on those who took part in the survey, so the reality is likely to be even bleaker. The claps and cheers for our key workers mean absolutely nothing if we allow that abuse to continue. The least that we can do for them is ensure that they are properly supported and protected against physical and verbal abuse in their workplace, which we can do by voting for the bill.

The bill would cover almost 300,000 retail workers and 120,000 hospitality staff. That significant proportion of the Scottish population is going to work every day in fear of what they will come up against—and we have the power to help them.

The Scottish Retail Consortium tells us that around 10 retail workers are attacked every day in Scotland. Similarly, the Association of Convenience Stores says that there have been 50,000 incidents of violence and threats towards convenience store workers across the UK during the past year. In Scotland, we have around 44,000 local convenience stores. Last year alone, more than 8,000—one in five—independent retailers experienced violence. It makes me so angry to think of the many independent retailers along the high streets of my constituency who are facing such awful levels of abuse and violence for simply for doing their job.

As with any abuse, emotional scars linger long after the physical ones fade. USDAW found that abuse in the workplace can be traumatic to deal with and, indeed, move on from. That is because, every day, workers are forced to return to the scene of their abuse, not knowing if or when their abuser will come back to the shop. Even worse, some victims find the attack too traumatic to return to work at all. That leaves them without an income and livelihood, while their attacker faces no repercussions.

It is also not enough to assume that managers in shops are able to take control of a situation—not only are they also facing verbal and physical violence, but they are often unable to provide adequate support to employees, despite their best efforts.

We know that attacks happen for a variety of reasons—none of which are the fault of the shop worker. One of the biggest triggers for abuse aimed at shop workers is the law on age restriction and the responsibility that shop workers have to enforce it.

The Scottish Grocers Federation’s crime survey found that 100 per cent of survey respondents experienced incidents of abuse when sale was refused, or when simply asking for proof of age. I must admit, Presiding Officer, that it has been a long time since anyone asked me for that, but I live in hope.

The bill targets the abuse that shop workers face every day by making such abuse a criminal offence. It would also, as Daniel Johnson said, add aggravation to the offence if the shop worker who is abused is enforcing the law on age restriction. That would give shop workers the confidence to come forward and report the abuse that they receive. Far too many abusers get away with it because there is not adequate legislation in place to hold them accountable for their abhorrent behaviour.

It is time to let shop workers know that abuse is simply not part and parcel of the job that they do, and that their suffering can and will stop. The bill must be a warning to all those who have abused and will continue to abuse shop staff that the law will be on the side of the workers, and that offenders will finally have to deal with the consequences of their actions.

I again congratulate Daniel Johnson. His bill is an important and significant achievement.

16:03  



Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I, too, welcome the bill, and commend Daniel Johnson for his work to introduce it. The Scottish Greens support the general principles of the bill and will vote for it.

I am a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee. I thank fellow committee members, clerks, researchers and witnesses for their diligent work in scrutinising the bill.

I, too, agree with members who have commended the work of retail workers, particularly those who, in the early months of the pandemic, were very much on the front line, meeting and greeting thousands of customers and seeking to police a safe environment, much of which is mandated by laws passed by the Parliament, the latest of which is, of course, the regulation on wearing face coverings. All that is in addition to the existing laws on, for example, age-restricted goods and services that retail workers are required to implement. I thank retail workers for their hard work and for doing their bit to keep us all safe.

As the convener of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee said, we heard disturbing testimony about the routine threats and abuse facing retail workers. I found equally disturbing the sense of helplessness around not knowing whether such abuse would investigated if reported. That is very troubling.

I do not want to get into the arguments about the scale or nature or character of the police response—the police rebutted some of those allegations. Nevertheless, it was clear from the evidence that relying on existing offences does not appear to be sufficient to curb on-going abuse.

I am not a fan of legislating to send messages—I think that Liam Kerr is not, either—but sometimes a new offence that is clearly targeted at abusive behaviour against a defined group of vulnerable people is the way forward. Daniel Johnson mentioned using the law to communicate. I think that it should be used in that way only sparingly, but I am persuaded that this situation is such a case. The mere existence of a notice on the front door of a shop, clearly articulating that the legislation applies, might do something to curb the worst excesses.

It is also fair to say that introducing a criminal offence is never an easy or a straightforward process—nor should it be. No doubt Daniel Johnson was aware of that when he took up the issue. As he will know, the committee spent some time grappling with the legal choices that had been made. In particular, we questioned the need for a new offence of obstructing or hindering a retail worker. We recognise concerns about the lack of a reasonableness defence to the threatening and abusive elements.

I am pleased to note that there is now a measure of agreement on the way forward on those matters. In particular, I am pleased that the “obstructing or hindering” element has been dropped. I was never persuaded that it was analogous to similar offences against emergency workers, where such behaviour can—and does—pose a threat to life.

I want to pay particular attention to the question of the aggravated offence that would apply where retail workers are enforcing a statutory age restriction. We agree with that proposal, but we also agree that such a charge should be available to be pled in any proceedings, brought against anyone who is alleged to have assaulted, threatened or abused a retail worker, regardless of whether it is brought for that offence, other statutory offences or under the common law. We are pleased to note that the Government has not closed the door on that possible amendment.

One of the most valuable observations to have arisen from the committee’s scrutiny was the question why we have not, as a matter of routine, created an aggravation in relation to all offences that we create in law whereby ordinary workers—whether in public transport, shops, entertainment venues or wherever—are then required to enforce it, such as the law on age restrictions, and who may, as a consequence, invite and receive abuse or violence.

I hope that the bill will be passed. I also hope that we will learn that important lesson, and will never again legislate to create offences that we expect to be implemented and enforced by ordinary workers without there being requisite protection in the law. Indeed, had we been more diligent about that, Daniel Johnson might not have needed to introduce the bill—or, at least, not in its current form.

The bill is a worthy and welcome one, and the Scottish Greens will support it at decision time.

16:07  



Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Presiding Officer, I offer my apologies—to you, to the Presiding Officer who was then in the chair, and to other members—that I was not here at the start of the debate.

I join others in warmly congratulating Daniel Johnson on getting to this stage with his bill on the protection of retail workers. He has put in a tremendous amount of work to develop his proposals, and I think that the principles of the bill deserve the support of the Parliament; they have certainly secured the support of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

As I am sure that Daniel Johnson will recall, when he first approached me about lending my support to the bill, I was a bit concerned about the reach and the potential knock on-consequences of what was initially envisaged. However, I felt that it was still important for the Parliament to have the chance to consider his proposals, so I added my signature to the list of the bill’s supporters.

I am delighted that, since those initial discussions, Daniel Johnson has clearly worked hard with stakeholders, the minister and her officials to hone the bill, which is now more tightly focused and, as a result, will be more effective in tackling the problems that it has quite legitimately identified.

I also acknowledge and thank others who have been instrumental in getting us to this point. USDAW deserves particular credit for its long-standing commitment to the issue and for its freedom from fear campaign, which has been running for more than 15 years. The Scottish Retail Consortium, the Scottish Grocers Federation and a range of other organisations have also been strong supporters of moves to provide greater protection for retail staff. I commend them all for their efforts, too.

Of course, when the bill was conceived, the principal driver was a desire to take action to address violence, threats and intimidation towards shop workers, often brought about by conflict over the sale of age-restricted goods. There was growing evidence of the risks to retail staff who had the unpalatable choice of provoking anger from customers by asking for ID or facing potential legal action from police for failing to do so. That, Presiding Officer, is the very definition of being between a rock and a hard place.

Those problems have not gone away—if anything, they have increased, according to the latest crime survey figures—and the Covid pandemic, as others have observed, has brought with it additional challenges in this area.

I recall having conversations with managers and staff of various local supermarkets and shops in Orkney in the early stages of lockdown—I am sure that many members had similar conversations—who talked of their experience of wholly unacceptable behaviour from customers when asked to abide by Government advice or the restrictions in place to ensure that everybody had access to the food and supplies that they needed.

Toilet roll, pasta and bread flour may not be age restricted, but that did not stop those items being the source of flashpoints in shops and supermarkets up and down the country. In a community such as Orkney, though, this all felt particularly inexplicable, uncomfortable and at odds with the norm. At a time when shop staff were going out of their way to help to keep people in our communities safe and supplied, the idea that they would be abused or attacked for that is beyond reprehensible.

Thankfully, this appears to be a problem that has greatly diminished: the wearing of face coverings is more routine and panic buying feels like a thing of the past. However, with more stringent restrictions now back in place, there is always the possibility—although I hope not—that we could see a resurgence. Either way, the case for the protections set out in the bill, which are focused on the issues arising from the sale of age-restricted goods and services, is one that is well made and deserving of support.

As with all bills, there will be the need to scrutinise it robustly and amend it where necessary. Scope, definitions and penalties are among some of the issues that members of the committee have referred to. I share Andy Wightman’s hope that, as well as finding a more effective way of prosecuting crimes when they are committed, the legislation will act as a disincentive to those crimes being committed in the first instance.

For now, however, I congratulate Daniel Johnson once again on his progress, I wish him well and I confirm that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support the bill at decision time.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

We move to the open debate, with speeches of absolutely no more than four minutes, please. I do not want to delay decision time or cut out speakers.

16:12  



Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)

As a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, I support the general principles of the bill. It is important that we have a full debate on the important issues that are raised in this member’s bill, which aims to increase the protection of workers in the retail sector, and I commend Daniel Johnson for introducing it.

At the outset, I would like to thank retail workers across Scotland for the key role that they play in our communities. The coronavirus pandemic has only emphasised how vital retail workers are in our society. This period has undoubtedly been stressful for retail workers and has presented them with new challenges, as people have depended on them to provide access to key supplies and they have navigated new roles to keep the workplace safe.

I firmly believe that all workers should have the right to carry out their duties free from threat or fear. The bill focuses on two main principles. It

“creates a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening, abusing, obstructing or hindering a retail worker”

and it

“allows for aggravation of that offence where the retail worker is enforcing a statutory age restriction”,

for example, when selling cigarettes or alcohol.

The committee considered a wide range of views in the course of taking evidence and it quickly became clear that elements of the bill overlap with existing offences, such as common-law assault and the statutory offence of threatening or abusive behaviour, and that needs further investigation.

However, the evidence indicates that levels of crime against retail workers are already high and that those rates are only increasing. It seems that it is necessary to put something in place that adequately addresses the challenges that are faced by retail sector staff. That raises the question of whether the existing laws are adequate to deal with such incidents and the question of whether those laws are being adequately enforced.

One concern that I had relating to the bill, and I am pleased that Daniel Johnson is addressing this issue, is how we define the offence of

“obstructing or hindering a retail worker”.

The bill does not limit that offence to physical interference. It becomes a matter of judgment as to whether an offence has been committed and, in my opinion, that is not a robust principle. We should consider whether it is proportionate to make “hindering” a criminal offence. I believe that we should not be criminalising that, as it is too subjective and it could result in impairing the life chances of those whose behaviour has been perceived in a way that was not meant. I do not think that it is a strong enough concept to criminalise.

At the beginning of my speech, I emphasised that there is no doubt that retail workers are experiencing increased levels of harassment and crime. According to research by the Federation of Small Businesses, the majority of businesses do not report crimes. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has said that its opinion is that the laws are not being enforced. I believe that our starting point should be to persuade retailers to report crimes and make use of the many existing laws that could be enforced in such situations.

By encouraging retail workers to contact the police in situations of assault and threatened abuse, we can see a truer picture of incidents, and the police may enforce the laws that already exist. The Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham, has offered to work with Police Scotland and the Scottish Government’s justice partners to explore how data collection can be improved when recording and monitoring criminal incidents in shops, and I am certain that those discussions will be productive. If we can understand the extent of the problem, we can work with the police to come up with solutions as to how we can effectively enforce the existing laws.

I repeat my thanks to those who work in the retail trade and offer my support to attempts to find solutions for the challenges that are faced by all those who work in the sector. I understand the difficulties in enforcing age-related statutory restrictions and I hope that, through the bill, we can work towards solutions that ease the situations that those in the sector meet with. I look forward to further dialogue to create a robust bill with the best interests of workers at its centre.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

If everybody takes an extra five seconds, that makes us late. I call Alison Harris.

16:16  



Alison Harris (Central Scotland) (Con)

That is a challenge—thank you, Presiding Officer.

I, too, am a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee. Since Daniel Johnson introduced the bill, MSPs have received a number of worrying reports about the extent of the abuse, violence and threats that our shop workers face. Statistics from the Scottish Grocers Federation show that just about every retail worker in Scotland has experienced some kind of physical abuse incident or violent attack at some stage. Other figures have suggested that the average shop worker is abused on 20 occasions each year. We have heard from members from across the chamber about many other examples of abuse. It is simply not right that people should have to consider what abuse they might face as a result of simply going to work.

Clearly, the situation is completely unacceptable, and it is our job as MSPs and legislators to reduce that risk where we can. With that in mind, we are supportive of the bill’s aims, although we have reservations about how effective it will be, and we cannot ignore the irony of the Labour Party, which has traditionally been weak on issues of justice, suddenly deciding to stand up for victims of crime.

The maximum punishment that anyone who is convicted under the proposed new law can receive will be a year in prison. However, last year, Labour sided with the Scottish National Party Government when it launched proposals to abolish sentences of less than a year, resulting in people who are found guilty of domestic violence, serious drugs offences and even significant assault charges avoiding jail altogether and finding themselves back out on the street immediately.

In effect, Labour wants to create a new law that, at best, will see perpetrators waltz out of court with just a fine or community sentence. We know from previous form that, in the SNP’s justice system, it is easy for criminals to dodge paying fines in full or to shirk community service, in part or sometimes even in full.

Much of the evidence that the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee heard centred on the fact that attacks on shop workers are underreported. We heard evidence from the Law Society of Scotland and Police Scotland that there are existing laws in place to deal with abuse of shop workers. During one evidence session, we heard that an awareness campaign is perhaps needed to educate people. There would be two aims. The first would be to encourage people not to be violent towards shop workers, and the second would be to assure people that, once a matter is reported, it will be dealt with properly. I certainly agree that we need to raise awareness, and I hope that, if we educate people, there will be a much better understanding of what is acceptable behaviour.

Therefore, there are two arguments. There are the shop workers, who feel strongly that a law is needed to protect them, and there are those who believe that such legislation is already in place. For any new law of that kind to succeed, it will have to be matched by tough action at the business end of the justice system. We do not want our shop workers to be let down through the court process failing them. People who are found guilty of the proposed offence must be properly punished, or the legislation will soon get a reputation for being toothless and ineffective.

If the proposed law is passed, the Scottish Parliament cannot relax, merely satisfied in the knowledge that another piece of legislation exists. The new law will need to be constantly monitored, reviewed and, where necessary, improved.

Although we retain some scepticism about the bill, we agree that something needs to be done for a group of workers who are often undervalued. Therefore, we will vote for the motion on Daniel Johnson’s bill at decision time.

16:20  



Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

As others have done, I thank Daniel Johnson for navigating his member’s bill through stage 1. It is a robust bill, albeit that I know that some amendments are required. I also thank the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee and the Scottish Government for what has been, from what I can gather, strong, positive and constructive engagement on both sides. I will whisper this: sometimes, that is what the Parliament does, and maybe we should do it more often. Credit goes to the parliamentary system as well.

I take on board the fact that the “obstructing or hindering” part of the offence will be removed from the bill by amendment—I will say no more about that—but there will be a stand-alone offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing retail workers. It should not have to be said, but it has to be said that no one should be assaulted, threatened or abused while doing their job, in the line of duty or—the aggravation provisions apply to this—in performing their legal duty. That is not acceptable, but it happens. Such behaviour is committed by a vocal and sometimes highly visible minority.

I have seen at first hand the efforts that retail workers in my constituency have made during the Covid-19 outbreak in ensuring social distancing, assisting with queueing outside supermarkets, encouraging the use of face coverings and sanitising what is, in effect, their workplace, all while keeping the shelves stacked. I will make this point delicately; it is in no way a reflection on the workers. I have been contacted by constituents—I am sure that all members will have been—who have complained that, in their view, some shops and supermarkets have not done enough and should do more. There is the rub—huge expectations, stresses and pressures are put on those front-line workers when what they need is solidarity and support and the backing of law. That is what Daniel Johnson is trying to secure, and that is why I support his bill.

Questions have been asked about how many workers are impacted, how often retail workers are victims of such unacceptable abuse and how many people who are guilty of such behaviour are changed and prosecuted. I know that we do not know the answers to those questions, but Daniel Johnson provided some anecdotal yet robust figures from USDAW and the Scottish Grocers Federation, and it is clear that there is a problem that must be tackled. The creation of a specific offence will help to deal with that data issue and determine the extent of the problem.

The bill is not just about capturing data; it is about changing behaviour. That is why it is important that, in tandem with the bill, the Scottish Government has pledged to run an awareness campaign on the importance of reporting to the police incidents in which retail workers are attacked, threatened or abused in the course of their work. We should never normalise such unacceptable behaviour. Legally, it is unacceptable at the moment, but we must make sure that it is absolutely socially unacceptable. We should be clear about how quickly certain behaviour can become socially acceptable if we do not do something about it. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I do not have time to take an intervention.

In the time that I have left, I ask members to think about how some people treat call centre staff when they get frustrated and impatient. Those staff get abuse even though they are just doing their job. Imagine getting such abuse face to face every day at your work. When I was at school, I did some jobs in Jackie Baillie’s constituency—I sold tablet and macaroons around the doors of Bonhill, and I sold sports socks in the Vale market, which were both public-facing jobs. I preferred being a kitchen porter on Loch Lomondside, because it was not public facing.

Every day of the week, retail workers do public-facing vital jobs, and they deserve our protection. I will support the motion on Daniel Johnson’s bill at decision time.

16:24  



Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I draw members’ attention to my declaration of interests. I am a member of USDAW and Unite.

I am delighted to support Daniel Johnson’s bill and congratulate him and the committee on getting it to the chamber today. It is a much-needed piece of legislation that will send two clear messages—that retail workers have a right not to be abused or subjected to threats and violence in their line of work and that, if the worst happens, there is a mechanism in law to help workers to get justice.

The current system is failing retail workers. We know that because of the statistics that we have heard from members in today’s debate. They are damning, and they make it undeniable that the proposal is more important than ever.

We must remember that these workers are just doing their jobs. Many have committed decades to serving their community. Seven days a week, they do it with a smile, often on their feet for full shifts, and many of them do it for little more than the minimum wage. They are literally on the front line. They are key workers who have kept us fed and supplied with vital medicines during the pandemic, risking their own health. They have come into contact with thousands of people, some of whom will undoubtedly have been infected with Covid-19.

While ASDA has said that it is starting a crackdown on anti-maskers, Paddy Lillis of USDAW said yesterday that abuse has doubled since March. The very people who are helping to disinfect trolleys and self-service tills and ensure that there is social distancing have had to face increased threats, abuse, intimidation and, for 3.5 per cent of them, assault. Just as they are when they perform age checks, retail workers are simply upholding the law, and they are at the sharp end of implementing public health policy.

Just this morning, I spoke to an USDAW member at a Co-op in my region, and they described their experience of working through the pandemic. People have said to them, “You’re not the police”, “You’re not a doctor” and “You’re just a shelf stacker”, and have told them to F off. The irony that they are stacking the shelves to keep the community that they serve fed is not lost on that worker. The proposed new offence was necessary before Covid-19, and if it was already law, retail workers would have had added protection throughout the pandemic.

Outside the pandemic, USDAW has accumulated a decade of survey information on the issue, and the results for Scotland reinforce the need for the bill. It has found that, in previous years, Scotland’s figures have been well above the UK national average, with more Scottish members reporting threats as well as both verbal and physical abuse.

It is the law enforcement role that retail workers have that triggers the abuse. The British Retail Consortium has reported that violence and abuse are up 9 per cent in a year, and the members of the Scottish Grocers Federation who responded to its survey had universally experienced incidents of abuse after refusing a sale or requesting identification.

A worker who responded to USDAW’s freedom from fear survey said:

“We get abuse from customers about the think 25 policy. I have had many people call me the C word or the B word. It won’t be long before somebody will physically hurt one of us in the shop.”

Another said:

“An age-related sale customer with no ID started using foul language and threatened to come back at the end of my shift.”

It gets worse. One comment was:

“Customer was refused sale of alcohol as he was under the influence. He told me I was a F-ing B and to watch my back as he was going to get me.”

The committee and the Parliament have heard just how necessary the bill is. The situation that retail workers face is serious. I ask all members to support the bill.

16:28  



Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank Daniel Johnson for introducing his bill with the support of USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. It is on a matter that is important to the constituents of each and every one of us.

During the lockdown, we all regularly clapped our national health service workers for their phenomenal efforts in keeping our communities safe in the Covid-19 pandemic. In these challenging times, many of Scotland’s more than 375,000 retail workers have done equally fantastic work. Not only do they provide indispensable everyday life essentials such as food and medicine, but for many of us they have also been a rare and welcome source of face-to-face human interaction. They make a real and positive difference to people’s lives and their value should not be underestimated.

Sadly, however, retail workers have recently endured an unacceptable rise in assaults against them. According to the Association of Convenience Stores, which represents more than 33,500 local shops across the UK, last year there were more than 50,000 incidents, including verbal abuse, threats and physical attacks. Earlier this year, a woman was taken to hospital after an intoxicated man assaulted two female staff working at a local convenience store in Bourtreehill in North Ayrshire.

We should use the increased public attention that is currently being given to this issue to protect our retail workers by enhancing the long-standing existing laws. I therefore welcome the bill to strengthen the legislation and specifically protect retail workers against the minority of customers who assault, abuse or threaten them.

It is completely unacceptable that, according to the Scottish Grocers Federation, some retail workers now come to

“expect threatening and abusive behaviour as part of their job.”

It is certain that the real number of offences committed is actually much higher than official figures suggest, as many incidents are never reported to police. A number of colleagues have talked about how the police response is not what should be expected.

A new specific statutory offence to deter assaults, threats or abuse committed against retail workers would not only raise public awareness of the problem but reassure shop workers that the issue is being taken seriously and encourage the reporting of incidents. I welcome the minister for community safety’s offer to work in collaboration with Police Scotland and the Scottish Government’s justice partners on improving data collection when criminal incidents are reported and monitored on retail premises.

We expect our retail workers to uphold the law daily, with regard to not only current Covid-19 safety regulations but the protection of minors from the harmful damages of early exposure to alcohol. Therefore, it is our duty to ensure that the law sufficiently protects retail workers who enforce statutory age restrictions by requesting proof of age from young customers who want to buy alcohol or tobacco products, for example. For that reason, I also support moves to create a statutory aggravation for the offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker in cases where a statutory age restriction is being enforced.

The minister has shown willingness to engage with Mr Johnson to address some remaining concerns about the bill. I am not alone in my belief that some elements, such as impeding a retail worker from carrying out work in a non-physical way, set the bar too low for criminal behaviour. Of course, in cases where an obstruction or hindrance is carried out in a threatening or abusive way, the conduct amounts to assault or breach of the peace, which is already penalised under criminal law. I expect that there are many issues in the bill to be addressed at stage 2.

The bill will improve working conditions and the rights of shop workers to go about their work safely. It will increase their legal protections with a new specific offence and highlight to the wider public the unacceptable threats and physical attacks that shop workers often face. The latter is particularly important, because ultimately, only cultural change and increased public awareness will effectively deter abusive conduct and eradicate violent behaviour in our shops. We should therefore all unite behind an awareness campaign that addresses employers and customers.

I once again thank Daniel Johnson for introducing his bill.

16:32  



Michelle Ballantyne (South Scotland) (Con)

Without doubt, the bill has a commendable purpose. As I was convener of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee during the stage 1 process, I would like to thank all those who gave evidence, and the committee clerks for all their hard work in producing our report.

I had the opportunity to speak to Mr Johnson, and there is absolutely no doubting his commitment to addressing the issue. He was right, in his argument with me, to say that there was merit in introducing the bill—to raise awareness of the problems, as much as anything. The minister highlighted that, too.

The evidence that the committee received left us in no doubt that we have a problem. Dr Cheema of the Scottish Grocers Federation gave moving evidence on his experiences after coming to Scotland in 1988. He described how he had been

“spat at, called names, threatened, attacked and had”

his

“tyres slashed and ... windows broken”.—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, 3 March 2020; c 23.]

The Co-operative Group’s submission described

“unprecedented levels of violent, weaponised attacks”

on its staff.

The impact on retail workers is not just physical. Their mental health suffers as a result of trauma and intimidation. It is deplorable that the culture in our communities has brought us to this debate.

It is no surprise that there is strong support for the bill from the retail sector. The comment that struck me most strongly in the evidence session was from a representative of the Co-operative Group, who said:

“Honestly, I think that we all agree that retail workers do not believe that the police care or that the criminal justice system cares, and they are not sure whether elected representatives care about them, because so little is being done.”—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, 3 March 2020; c 26.]

Our debate should send one clear message: we care.

However, the challenge is that this is a bill to create law, but for the most part, it duplicates and crosses over existing law. The provision for the new statutory offence would carry a maximum sentence of imprisonment for up to 12 months, and/or a fine of £10,000, as we have heard.

We also recognise that the current Government supports the presumption against short sentences and that the bill does not significantly extend current legal protections. That said, I am delighted that Daniel Johnson has worked with the Government to address the issue and remove “obstruct and hinder” from section 1. Although that would have been a new protection, I do not think that any committee member was convinced that it would be workable, because it would set the bar too low and create more problems than solutions.

I was particularly struck by the fact that 284 age-restricted products are sold in shops and that they are often flashpoints for the abuse of shop workers. I agree that if we are asking retail workers to uphold our laws, there is a duty to ensure that they are supported and protected for doing so; as such, an aggravator should be applied when a worker is upholding a statutory duty. Andy Wightman rather stole my thunder on that, because he eloquently described why the committee felt the way that it did. The fact that that is now being taken forward is welcome but I, too, wish that it had been inserted into legislation such as the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015. That could have saved us a lot of problems now.

The committee heard conflicting evidence on how the current law is upheld. Police Scotland was clear that it takes all reports of violence and intimidation seriously, but we also heard that two thirds of incidents are allegedly not attended by the police. That gap in perception is clearly not helping retail workers’ confidence.

I am in no doubt that action needs to be taken to educate and raise awareness of the issue. Our citizens need to understand that we will not tolerate this behaviour, but punishment should be the last resort. We need to target the behaviour at the root cause—a view that is supported by the Law Society of Scotland.

If I have any concern, it is that the bill recognises the problem but will not necessarily offer a solution. However, I thank Daniel Johnson for introducing the bill and I wish him all the best in its progress through Parliament.

16:37  



Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I, too, congratulate Daniel Johnson on and commend him for his hard work and absolute determination to introduce the bill and reach this stage. I also pay tribute to USDAW and its members for their relentless campaign, which has led to the debate today.

The focus on the need to protect and support retail workers has never been more appropriate. Although it is important to state for the record that the role that retail workers play in our society has always been of importance, it is self-evident that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how essential retail workers are. No one could conclude other than that retail workers have been key workers in ensuring that we can all continue to access food, medicine and vital goods and services.

Although many people have been able to work from home, retail workers are obviously not generally in that position; we therefore owe it to them as legislators to do what we can to ensure that, at a minimum, those vital retail workers feel safe and supported at work and that the law is on their side. Although it has been acknowledged that the existing laws already criminalise much of that unacceptable conduct, I believe that it is helpful to clarify the law in that respect and send an important signal that such conduct will not be tolerated.

In the brief time available, I wish to note the following in relation to the provisions in the bill. A lot of the debate has centred, rightly, on the definition of the specific offence to be introduced. As currently drafted, the new statutory offence would include not only assaulting, threatening and abusing retail workers, but “obstructing or hindering” a retail worker, as we have heard. The inclusion of the latter has attracted comment from a number of sources, including the Law Society of Scotland—I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests wherein they will see that I am a member of the society. The society considered that the term “hindering”, in particular, was too vague and recommended that the term be either expressly defined in the bill or deleted from it. The society cited the example of a customer who may have a legitimate complaint that is raised in a reasonable way about a particular good or service, and it queried whether such conduct would fall foul of the proposed legislation.

I am pleased that, as we have heard, further to discussions between Daniel Johnson, the minister and her officials, a way forward has been worked out to address the concerns that were raised and, hence, to facilitate the Scottish Government being able to support the bill.

Other important provisions include the creation of the statutory aggravation, and I very much agree with Andy Wightman in that regard. How on earth can we impose a duty on vulnerable workers to check someone’s age and then put them in a position in which they feel that they are not supported when carrying out the task that the legislation has tasked them to do? I very much welcome the statutory aggravation.

I also welcome the improvement of data collection, the greater focus, I hope, on reporting and the Scottish Government’s commitment to mount an awareness-raising campaign.

Our retail workers deserve our support. I hope that the new specific offence will act as a deterrent, provide confidence and assurance to retail workers, and demonstrate that we recognise the vital role that they play and that they are as entitled to a safe place of work as any other worker is.

16:41  



John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I have been a member of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee off and on. I am currently a substitute member, but I was not involved in the bill at all, so I come to it today fairly fresh. I will comment on some of the issues that particularly struck me as I read the committee’s report.

Paragraph 22 talks of

“the low-levels of ... reporting to the police”

because

“retail workers have come to expect threatening and abusive behaviours as ‘part of the job’.”

That is, frankly, awful and totally unacceptable.

Some of the figures that we have received in briefings are particularly stark. The Association of Convenience Stores says that 20 per cent of independent retailers experienced violence in the past year, and USDAW says that 27 per cent of workers were threatened by a customer.

Paragraphs 29 to 37 of the committee’s report consider the scope of the bill and who should be covered. The scope of Hugh Henry’s 2010 bill was wider, and the committee has heard conflicting evidence on that point. My feeling is that retail workers deserve and need the kind of protection that is planned, but it is clear that other workers do, too. I wonder whether we will end up with a plethora of bills that each protect a different sector.

When I was a councillor in Glasgow, I remember being shown videoclips of the kind of abuse to which traffic wardens could be subject. It ranged from the driver pulling out a baseball bat from the boot of their car to the offending vehicle being driven at the warden. Other sectors need to be considered at some point.

On the other hand, I am pleased that bar staff are included in the bill. They also have to challenge customers on a range of issues, including whether people are already under the influence, and the range of issues has increased because of Covid. I have been in a number of bars and restaurants since the fuller lockdown was eased in mid-July, and they all varied in how they interpreted the regulations. On the whole, I have been impressed by the staff checking age ID, recording contact details and ensuring that masks are worn at appropriate times.

The most significant factor that I have not seen being enforced relates to groups of younger men who are all out together for a meal or a pint. It is pretty clear that they are from different households, but they are all round the one table with no social distancing, and there is no intervention from hospitality staff. I have seen groups of five right up to 11. I hope that the bill will encourage staff to be able to challenge such behaviour.

At paragraph 43, the report says:

“Police Scotland said that ... there would be no significant change in how”

it goes about its business. That might be because there is already an overlap with existing law. However, it seems that the police are having to prioritise the most serious cases. As a result, as paragraph 72 says, there is a lack of reporting, with only 26 per cent of retailers who experience abuse reporting the incidents to the police.

We have a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. Lack of reporting might mean that the police do not see the full scale of the problem. However, given the volume of incidents, the police inevitably have to prioritise. I suspect that that will always be the case.

A valid point is made at paragraph 59, in that we do not want to lower the threshold of criminality too much. I think that the minister used the word “discretion” in her speech. Criminalising young people for nuisance behaviour might not be the best long-term solution for anyone. Labour argued against criminalising young people in other circumstances—for example, in relation to the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012. On balance, I agree that we should tighten up on what is criminal, and then it is up to the police, the courts, the third sector and others to work out the best remedy in the individual circumstances.

Overall, I support what the bill is trying to do. I remain a little sceptical about how quickly it will have an impact and how great its impact will be, but I am certainly happy to support it at this stage.

16:45  



Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

I join colleagues in congratulating Daniel Johnson on getting his bill to Parliament and this stage. It is clear that there are more discussion and negotiation to be had, but Covid-19 has really brought to the fore how vital retail workers are to all of us—not just to our economy but to our day-to-day lives. I thank colleagues for raising that fact consistently throughout the debate.

I commend retail workers for their capacity to adapt to new circumstances and for their professional and warm approach to keeping us all going. It has not been easy for them. Earlier in the month, I visited Scotmid in Portobello and heard first hand from staff there about the challenges that they have had to deal with over the past few months, about how important it has been for them to make their customers feel safe, and about their role in supporting local residents.

As several colleagues have mentioned, the ACS sent us a briefing. It highlights the fact that 20 per cent of independent retailers have experienced violence. That is simply unacceptable. Even more worrying than that is that it highlighted that robberies and use of weapons are on the increase. That cannot be acceptable in Scotland today.

Many members have highlighted USDAW’s freedom from fear survey, which was carried out before the pandemic. It reported that more than six in 10 retail workers had experienced verbal abuse, that a third had been threatened by a customer, and that there were more than 15 assaults every day on Scotland’s shop workers. That is a shocking statistic. Although they have been designated key workers throughout the pandemic, retail workers have not stopped facing abuse for simply doing their day-to-day job. As Daniel Johnson highlighted, the level of abuse has doubled during the pandemic.

As several members have commented, retail workers are among the lowest-paid staff in our society, but they have significant responsibilities when it comes to enforcing the law. Several colleagues have mentioned that that has been one of the trigger points.

We have the chance to pass the bill through to the next parliamentary stage to drive real change, offer real protection to shop workers, and get the detailed provisions in the bill right.

One comment that I found interesting was about the low levels of reporting to the police of the abuse that retail workers face. It was highlighted that criminal prosecution depends on the employee and the employer reporting the case and that that simply does not happen often. That needs to change, and the bill needs to empower that change.

If enacted, the bill would make abusing retail workers a separate offence. That would not only protect retail workers; it would also raise awareness and encourage reporting. There has been an interesting debate about that this afternoon. With the increased provision of closed-circuit television in shops, we are better able to see evidence in order for prosecutions to take place. As almost every member has said, nobody should face abuse simply for doing their job, upholding the law, and serving customers. The bill will be key to ensuring that that becomes a reality.

The points that have been made about the importance of changing attitudes were powerful. Several colleagues mentioned that. We need cultural change and respect for retail workers, so public messaging is important. I hope that the minister will commit to that in her summing-up speech. There are things that the Scottish Government could do that would help to give that permission and set the bar higher.

Let us be clear: our shop workers urgently need the bill. I join colleagues in thanking USDAW for its fantastic campaigning, which has gone on for some time, and I thank all constituents throughout the country who have written to us to support the bill and help us to get to where we are today.

Let us support the bill and take a step to powerful legislation that will change people’s lives for the better.

16:49  



Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

It goes without question that no one should face violent abuse or untoward behaviour at their place of work. Sadly, however, violence against shop workers is far too common. I pay tribute to Daniel Johnson and recognise all the work that he has put in to get the bill to this stage.

Daniel Johnson said that

“unions and employers are of one view”,

and that the pandemic has increased incidents—in particular, due to the enforcement of safety measures. That is deeply concerning. Ash Denham highlighted that many perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and that, commonly, when identification was being checked, such behaviours began to come to the surface. Research that was carried out by the Scottish Retail Consortium estimated that 10 attacks are made on retail workers in Scotland every single day. Liam McArthur highlighted that every corner of Scotland has problems, even his native Orkney.

When I worked in a shop in Dundee, I would face threats and abuse on a regular basis. Liam Kerr spoke about his similar experiences when he was a retail worker. The Scottish Grocers Federation found that 99 per cent of the workers whom it surveyed had experienced violence—a point that was highlighted by Alison Harris, who said that it is just not right.

It is not only the physical violence that causes harm. Many workers suffer mental health issues as a result of attacks, and that is not to mention the fear that their families, friends and colleagues might feel. It has therefore been encouraging to hear members affirming their commitment to this simple commonsense proposal in today’s debate: shop workers have the right to work in a safe environment, free from harm and the fear of harm.

Jackie Baillie spoke about her anger that so many workers are facing abuse just for doing their jobs. She also said that she had not been asked for ID for a number of years. I have to tell her that if she walked into a shop that I was working in, I would, without hesitation, ask for identification. [Laughter.]

Let us remember the valuable contribution that shop workers make to our communities, which has been apparent to everyone these past months. Shop workers have been essential in keeping the country fed, maintaining access to medications and ensuring that life can go on as normally as possible. They have taken on new duties—for example, in monitoring health and social distancing regulations—on top of existing legal obligations, such as to do with age-related sales.

Shop workers being asked to carry out those duties creates potential flashpoints. I therefore believe that, because the law places that burden on shop workers, it also has a duty to protect them. Annabelle Ewing highlighted that point in her speech, and Michelle Ballantyne cited evidence from the Co-operative Group, saying that workers feel that no one cares. Today, Parliament has shown that we do care.

Speaking on behalf of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, Gordon Lindhurst highlighted concerns regarding the scope of, and definitions in, the bill, but acknowledged the need for action in this area. Andy Wightman described the bill as “a worthy and welcome” introduction. As he will, we will support the general principles.

It is worth noting that both the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores cite sentencing as a common concern; therefore, we must do more to strengthen sentences. Just as there is as scope to go further, we must also ensure that the bill gets the basics right. Arguably, none is more important than encouraging people to report attacks. The FSB’s research has shown that just one in 10 firms does so. We must also reflect on where other issues might arise. For example, “obstruction and hindering” have already been removed due to concerns about an overlap with existing offences.

Stage 2 will be an opportunity to explore and discuss the issues in more detail. I look forward to doing so.

16:54  



Ash Denham

I thank all members who have contributed to this debate on an important issue. It is clear that we all agree that the abuse of a retail worker is totally unacceptable, and I encourage anybody who has been affected by such criminal behaviour—no matter whether they work in a large retail store or in a local corner shop—to report the matter to the police. As Gordon Lindhurst said, there are times when the customer is not right. Bob Doris noted that there is a problem that must be tackled. Kenny Gibson reminded us that retail workers have played an invaluable role in society during Covid and that they will continue to do so.

Unfortunately, it appears that it is, at times, too easy to take such valuable work for granted and for people to show anger when they cannot get what they want when they want it. That should never happen. It is important that retail workers are recognised for their valuable contribution to our society and that they are always given the respect that they deserve.

We have learned a few things about members. Jackie Baillie would really like to have her age verified the next time she is at the shops, buying an age-restricted product—I will not say which. I am sure that someone watching the debate will oblige her the next time she is at the shops. We also learned that Bob Doris used to sell sports socks and macaroons and that Liam Kerr used to be a shop worker.

His mention of that reminded me that I worked in a fish and chip shop when I was 17. I worked late into the night, sometimes until 2 in the morning. On one occasion, a customer came in and—I cannot remember what the altercation was about—he picked up the salt shaker and threw it at me. It hit me on the shoulder, which was shocking at the time. I have every sympathy with shop workers who feel under attack or who are abused when they are just trying to carry out their work.

I will take the opportunity to address a point that Liam Kerr made. As the member knows, the presumption against short sentences is just that: a presumption. It is not a ban, and the courts can impose a short sentence should they wish to.

As we all know, laws have a key role to play but they are not the answer to everything. That is why the Scottish Government is committed to developing an awareness-raising campaign to coincide with the implementation of the bill. The details of such a campaign will be developed in conjunction with the Association of Convenience Stores and others in order to develop proposals for what could be delivered collaboratively to create an effective awareness-raising campaign.

Such a campaign would be designed to support the protection of retail workers across Scotland, encouraging them to report any instances of abuse, threats or violence. It is right that the campaign will focus on those smaller convenience stores where individual retail workers, perhaps working alone and late in the evening, can be at risk while they serve the needs of their communities.

I have been engaging directly with the main supermarket chains to understand their corporate policies and the approaches that they have in place to protect staff at work—and I have been encouraged by what I have learned. For example, mandatory training courses to deal with such incidents are available to staff and managers; staff are encouraged to report all incidents to their manages, and stores are being encouraged to report all incidents of violence and abuse to the police; panic alarms and good-quality CCTV are standard, as is the presence of security guards; and counselling is available for staff who are affected by offending behaviour. There are also regular calls with other retailers to monitor hotspots across the industry, and repeat offenders are excluded from stores.

I am saddened that such measures are necessary in Scotland today. However, it is important that all retail staff feel safe and that there are effective policies in place to ensure their safety. I hope that the bill will reduce the prevalence of such criminal conduct and will help all retail workers to know that we take the matter seriously and that we want them to feel safer in their jobs.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Daniel Johnson to close the debate. You can take us up to decision time.

16:58  



Daniel Johnson

I will do so gladly.

I begin by thanking everyone who has taken part in the debate. It has been encouraging to hear such a broad range of views and to have such constructive engagement from across the chamber. I know that hundreds of thousands of retail workers will be heartened to know that we are taking the issue—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Excuse me, Mr Johnson.

I know that we have a half-empty chamber, but it is awfully noisy. Could members take care, please?

Daniel Johnson

I know that those retail workers will be heartened to know that we take the issues that they face daily seriously.

Before I go much further I would like to restate my thanks to the clerks in the non-Government bills unit. It is a special feature of the Scottish Parliament that we have an enlightened process and approach to enable individual members to initiate legislation. It means that each of us has a genuine opportunity to do that. It is an opportunity that we take seriously, because it is not one that is enjoyed by all parliamentarians in all Parliaments. We should all recognise that and give thanks to the clerks in the NGBU.

The minister alluded to one of the big points in the debate, which is the broad reach of retail work. So many members told stories of their own experiences in retail work and the jobs that they have had in the past. Perhaps that should not be a surprise. As we heard from Jackie Baillie, more than 300,000 people work in retail—it is the single largest area of employment in the private sector—and more than 100,000 workers in the hospitality industry will benefit from the bill, which amounts to more than 400,000 people. For many people, retail work is their first job in the workplace and indeed, the job that they take in retirement. It affects so many different people.

The other broad point to come out of the debate, which Gordon Lindhurst made well in his speech, is that there is a cultural issue at stake. The concept of the customer always being right or being king has been taken too far. It has been interpreted by some as meaning that they can have a go simply because the person that they are speaking to is wearing a name badge and standing behind the counter. If there is one thing that we need to tackle with the bill—and I hope by taking other steps—it is that pernicious idea in our society.

I am glad that Michelle Ballantyne mentioned Pete Cheema’s evidence, because he spoke so movingly about the issues that he faces. He also spoke eloquently about the need to put the offence into law and the difference that a law can make. That is why we must at act.

Perhaps one of the most interesting issues is underreporting, which was raised by several members. There are several things to say on the topic. First, we need to look at how the police respond to retail crime. I have huge regard for the police. I have been out on several occasions with local police officers and I regularly meet my police inspector; I have good connections at all levels of the police service in Scotland. However, there is an issue with the way in which the police respond to retail crime. I have been in the presence of officers who have said that they cannot prioritise retail crime such as shoplifting because of the value of the goods concerned. When it gets to the point where a police response has a retail price on it, we have an issue. However, that is beyond the scope of what I can deal with as an individual member of the Scottish Parliament. Although I can introduce a bill, I cannot instruct the police or take other steps that other people usefully and constructively can do in relation to communication and awareness raising. However, I encourage the Government to take those steps.

Several members questioned whether the bill is necessary. I raised that point directly with the police. In 2012, the Scottish Parliament passed the bill that became the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. I encourage members to read section 90 of the act, which makes it an offence to obstruct or assault a police officer. I asked Police Scotland what the usefulness of that provision was. The police were very clear: it is about the seriousness of the crime. It is quite possible to prosecute someone for assaulting a police officer without that section of the act. However, the police were clear that the act is vital because the police are charged with upholding the law. That is the same point that I make in regard to retail workers: we ask them to uphold the law and therefore they must have the specific protection of the law. It is an established principle in law that, when people have those duties, they have specific protections through specific offences.

I thought that Andy Wightman and Liam Kerr raised the most interesting points, which were about whether the bill breaks new ground and how it will operate. To some extent, Andy Wightman’s exploration of the aggravation point demonstrates how it will work. First and foremost, it will require sentencers to take such crimes more seriously and to issue sentences that are commensurate with the crimes. That is not to say that that cannot happen now, but the new law will ensure that it does happen.

Andy Wightman’s point about a general aggravation is interesting and it is one that I considered. Again, because of the restrictions in lodging a member’s bill, I decided to limit my scope to make it very clear. I was worried about the aggravation applying to other crimes and having unintended consequences. However, I absolutely agree that future legislation imposing legal obligations must take into consideration the consequences when people do not comply and ensure that there are adequate measures for compliance.

Liam Kerr asked whether the bill expands the scope or purchase of the law. I believe that the aggravation point answers that. He also asked whether the penalties were sufficient. I simply say to him that the penalties as they are set out are exactly the same as they are in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005.

I hope that we will pass the bill at stage 1 and that members will take the opportunity to do so, because tomorrow Alex Norris MP, who is a Labour colleague in the House of Commons, will introduce the second reading of his bill, which does very similar things. We have the opportunity to lead the way, as we have led the way in the past on the smoking ban, which was adopted elsewhere and was controversial at the time, and on minimum unit pricing, which was also controversial.

At decision time, let us lead the way again. Let us give shop workers the protections that they need and that they deserve. I urge all members to support the motion and my bill at stage 1.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes the debate on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

Vote at Stage 1

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Vote at Stage 1 transcript

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is decision time. There is one question to be put as a result of today’s business.

The question is, that motion S5M-22226 in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes decision time. I remind members that social distancing is still in place, because we are getting a bit relaxed about it. Members should take great care when leaving the chamber.

Meeting closed at 17:07.  



MSPs agreed that this Bill could continue

Stage 2 - Changes to detail 

MSPs can propose changes to the Bill. The changes are considered and then voted on by the committee.

Changes to the Bill

MSPs can propose changes to a Bill  these are called 'amendments'. The changes are considered then voted on by the lead committee.


The lists of proposed changes are known as a 'marshalled list'. There's a separate list for each week that the committee is looking at proposed changes.


The 'groupings' document groups amendments together based on their subject matter. It shows the order in which the amendments will be debated by the committee and in the Chamber. This is to avoid repetition in the debates.

How is it decided whether the changes go into the Bill?

When MSPs want to make a change to a Bill, they propose an 'amendment'. This sets out the changes they want to make to a specific part of the Bill.


The group of MSPs that is examining the Bill (lead committee) votes on whether it thinks each amendment should be accepted or not.


Depending on the number of amendments, this can be done during one or more meetings.

Meeting on amendments

Documents with the amendments considered at the meeting that was held on 17 November 2020:

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First meeting on amendments transcript

The Convener

Agenda item 2 is consideration of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Good and Services) (Scotland) Bill at stage 2.

I warmly welcome Daniel Johnson, the member in charge of the bill, who will present and move his amendments. I also welcome Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety.

This is the first time that the committee has conducted stage 2 proceedings in a hybrid meeting. If there are any votes on the amendments, I will ask those who are in the room to raise their hands in the usual fashion and will ask members who are joining us remotely to vote by using the chat box in the BlueJeans platform. If that situation arises, I will then read out the votes to aid the recording and transparency. The clerks will record any result, which I will then read out.

If any member who is here in person wishes to take part in the debate, they should indicate that in the usual way by catching my attention. Any member who is joining us remotely should indicate that they wish to speak by typing an R in the BlueJeans chat box. Although members could use the WhatsApp group, it would be easiest if we could stick to the BlueJeans chat function.

If any of the four members who are joining us remotely has any technical problems, they should contact me or the clerks so that we can suspend the meeting until we regain connectivity. That should be clear to everyone as we have had hybrid meetings before.

Section 1—Offence of assaulting etc retail worker

The Convener

We move to consideration of the amendments. Amendment 1, in the name of Daniel Johnson, is grouped with amendments 2 to 5.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I thank the committee for its focus and work on my bill and its supportive work on the stage 1 report. I also thank the minister for her constructive engagement.

Amendment 1 refers to section 1(1), which makes it

“an offence for a person to assault, threaten, abuse, obstruct or hinder another person ... who is a retail worker”

as defined in section 5, and

“who is engaged, at the time, in retail work”

as defined in section 6(2).

Amendment 1 removes the terms “obstruct or hinder” from the offence. The terms “obstruct” and “hinder” involve behaviour that intentionally prevents or impedes a retail worker from carrying out their duties. Those are the elements of the offence that have drawn the most negative comment. I recognise the issues raised by the committee and the minister at stage 1. Amendment 1, along with others in the group, removes that element from the bill.

The original intention behind the inclusion of those terms was to catch a situation where, for example, a member of the public refuses to move on after being refused the sale of alcohol, so that the retail worker is prevented from doing their job and moving on to the next customer.

Another example in a similar set of circumstances might be where a retail worker is using equipment, such as a shopping trolley, and the customer refuses to get out of the way. I felt that such types of behaviour would not be caught by other elements of the offence and can lead to escalation. There is a precedent for including the terms “obstruct” and “hinder”; they have been used in other pieces of legislation, such as the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 and the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005. However, having listened to the concerns of the committee about the practical impact of including “obstruct” and “hinder” as part of the offence, and its belief that those words could be open to misinterpretation, as well as the Scottish Government’s concern that such behaviour is too low a threshold for criminal sanctions to be available, I have, accordingly, lodged these amendments.

The Scottish Government also indicated that, in order for it to support the bill, I should remove those elements of the offence at stage 2. I gave the commitment to do so and hence have lodged these amendments to that end and effect.

The other amendments in the group are consequential and remove the words “obstruct” and “hinder” in the other places that they occur.

Graham Simpson

Will the member take an intervention?

Daniel Johnson

I was just about to close, but I am happy to take the intervention.

Graham Simpson

Thank you for taking the intervention. I am new to the bill, so I am listening with great interest. You described situations where shop workers could be prevented from doing their job and you used the example of somebody getting in the way of a shopping trolley. Do you think that the term “abuse” would cover those situations?

Daniel Johnson

That would be covered in other aspects of my bill. More importantly, the key issue is the unintended consequences of including “obstruct” and “hinder”; if someone is simply getting in the way, is that behaviour serious enough to warrant criminalisation? There could also be instances where a person who inadvertently gets in the way would be criminalised. That is why I lodged the amendments to remove those elements. I thank Mr Simpson for his intervention.

I move amendment 1.

The Convener

Thank you. Do other members have questions for Mr Johnson or wish to say anything at this stage?

Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I will make a couple of comments. I thank Daniel Johnson for his pragmatic approach; he took on board the committee’s recommendations and lodged these amendments. While we were looking at the bill, we made it clear that, although it is not about people’s reaction to the pandemic, the pandemic brought into clear view the crucial role that retail workers play, and we must ensure that they are safe when carrying out that job. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the Co-operative Party, of which I am a member, told us about the abuse that some retail workers face, not just during the pandemic, but in normal times. Violence, threats and abuse should never be part of somebody’s job, and that is especially important as we approach the Christmas period, which is renowned for retail workers facing threats and abuse. I believe that the minister and the Scottish Government could play Santa Claus to retail workers by allowing the bill to be passed before the end of this year. I might be pushing my luck, but I am happy to do so.

The Convener

We now have a queue of members who wish to speak, presumably not about Santa Claus.

Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

I echo Rhoda Grant’s comments and sentiments and thank Daniel Johnson for introducing the bill and amending it by taking out the terms “obstruct” and “hinder”. As someone who was previously a grocery manager, I know only too well what can happen in a shop and, as a former member of USDAW, I have supported the bill from the start. I also echo Rhoda Grant’s hope that the Government will carry the bill forward and give shop workers an early Christmas.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

I commend the member for the manner in which he has gone about working with the Scottish Government to resolve the issue. He clearly understood the committee’s concerns and has worked hard to resolve the issue for us. I hope that members will see this as a positive indication of how members’ bills can be brought to committee and worked on in a spirit of co-operation. I hope that members will support Daniel Johnson’s amendments 1 to 5 today.

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham)

I am pleased to be here on behalf of the Scottish Government to discuss amendments 1 to 5, lodged by Daniel Johnson. As I indicated at stage 1, the Scottish Government recognises the important role that retail workers play in local communities and the wider Scottish economy. It is right that retail workers should be protected by our criminal laws. As such, Daniel Johnson’s bill is well-intentioned and well-timed, given that Covid-19 has helped to shine a light on the important role that retail workers play.

I have said that the bill has the potential to ensure that the general public think more about their behaviour when interacting with retail workers, especially in such difficult and challenging times. However, I was clear that the Scottish Government would be able to support the bill only if the “obstruct” and “hinder” elements of the proposed new offence were removed. That is because it was our view that the inclusion of such elements set too low a threshold for criminal sanction. Therefore, I am happy to see the amendments lodged by Daniel Johnson to remove those elements of the offence. Amendments 1 to 5 are quite simple and the Scottish Government considers that they achieve the policy intention of removing the hindering and obstructing elements from the proposed offence. If the amendments are agreed to, it will mean that the bill would state that an offence is committed where a person assaults, threatens or abuses a retail worker when that worker is engaged in their work.

In conclusion, the bill as amended will reduce the prevalence of attacks on and abuse towards retail workers. It will also help to emphasise the importance of the role of retail workers and hopefully will help retail workers to feel safer in their jobs. I urge the committee to vote in favour of amendments 1 to 5, lodged by Daniel Johnson.

Daniel Johnson

I should declare that, like Rhoda Grant, I am a member of USDAW and the Co-operative Party.

I thank the minister for her supportive remarks. I am very pleased to have been able to work so constructively with the Government on the bill. Rhoda Grant was quite correct to say that Covid has shone a spotlight on the important public safety role that retail workers play and the fact that we rely on them to uphold the law. That is why my bill is so important. Rhoda Grant is also correct to say that, at Christmastime, the increased volume of alcohol sales makes such issues far more acute.

I thank Richard Lyle for his support and acknowledge his enthusiasm behind the scenes. Likewise, I thank Willie Coffey for his kind words. The most important role that we play in this Parliament is when we legislate and therefore it is important that we engage in the stage 2 process constructively and pragmatically.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendment 2 moved—[Daniel Johnson]—and agreed to.

Section 1, as amended, agreed to.

Section 2—Behaviour constituting an offence under section 1

Amendment 3 moved—[Daniel Johnson]—and agreed to.

Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

Section 3—Defence to charge of obstructing or hindering a retail worker

Amendment 4 moved—[Daniel Johnson]—and agreed to.

Sections 4 to 8 agreed to.

Long Title

Amendment 5 moved—[Daniel Johnson]—and agreed to.

Long title agreed to.

The Convener

That ends stage 2 consideration of the bill. The bill will now be reprinted as amended at stage 2. Parliament has not yet determined when stage 3 will be held so we do not yet know whether it will be done before Christmas as Rhoda Grant and a number of other members of the committee would wish. Members will be informed of the date in due course, along with the deadline for lodging stage 3 amendments. In the meantime, stage 3 amendments can be lodged with the clerks in the legislation team.

I thank the member in charge of the bill and the minister for joining us this morning.

09:46 Meeting suspended.  



09:50 On resuming—  



Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill as Amended at Stage 2

Stage 3 - Final Changes and Vote 

MSPs can propose further amendments to the Bill and then vote on each of these. Finally, they vote on whether the Bill should become an Act.

Stage 3 amendments 

No Stage 3 amendments were lodged.

Daily Lists

Scottish Parliament research on the discussion of the Bill

Final debate on the Bill

Once they've debated the amendments, the MSPs discuss the final version of the Bill.

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Final debate transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

Our next item of business is a stage 3 debate on motion S5M-23606, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill. Before the debate begins, I am required under the standing orders to decide whether any provision in the bill relates to a protected subject matter; that is, whether it modifies the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In this case, my view is that no provision of the bill does any such thing. Therefore, it does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.

17:42  



Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I will start the debate with not my own words, but those aimed at Jackie McKenzie, a petrol station worker who simply asked someone to wear a mask. For doing so, she was threatened with the following words:

“I’d get a test if I were you. I’ve got Covid.”

Sadly, her experience is far from unique. Shop staff have been spat at for asking customers to social distance, and stock has been deliberately smashed in retaliation for item limits being imposed. Nor is Jackie’s experience—and that of hundreds and thousands of retail workers—confined to lockdown and the pandemic. Jackie told me that for her, as for countless other shop workers, abuse is now seen as just part of the job—something that each worker is expected to handle every single day.

According to the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, 15 retail workers are assaulted on an average day in Scotland. In a given year, one in three will be threatened and three in five will be abused. Those figures have all doubled since the onset of Covid.

As a former retailer and someone who is still connected to the industry, as a member of the trade union USDAW, as a member of the Co-operative Party and as a Labour MSP, I mean not just to make a declaration of interests; I mean to make a declaration of intent. Violence, threats and abuse should not be and should never be just part of anyone’s job. Let us make the bill and the vote on it tonight the first step in saying that enough is enough, that these acts of violence must end and that, when shop workers do their job, keeping us safe and upholding the law, they will have the fullest possible protection of the law. That is what my bill seeks to deliver.

As well as creating a new statutory offence of assaulting, threatening or abusing a retail worker, it creates a statutory aggravation to that offence if it occurs while enforcing a statutory age restriction. The aggravation element of the bill stems from a basic principle: that when people are tasked with upholding the law, they should have the protection of the law.

Shop workers are personally liable for upholding the law regarding age-restricted items. Failure to ask for proof of age can result in fines or imprisonment. However, it is a sad fact that the denial of a sale after a proof-of-age check is the single biggest trigger factor for dreadful incidents—or it was until Covid-19 and the enforcement of social distancing overtook it.

The bill recognises the broad range of contexts in which age-restricted goods and services are sold as well as the changing nature of retail, in that people are now as likely to buy online and have goods delivered as they are to make in-store purchases. The bill defines retail work beyond the retail context, covering those working in bars, restaurants and hotels. Similarly, it will cover those delivering online orders, who are required to ask for identification when dropping off age-restricted items.

The bill will have two additional benefits. It will act as a clear signal of the seriousness with which such crimes will be regarded and it will ensure that we are able to measure such crimes, which it is currently difficult to do. We are able to do so through the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, which is used on average 300 times every single year, but it cannot stand alone, so I was pleased to hear confirmation from the Minister for Community Safety at stage 1 of the bill that the Scottish Government is committed to developing an awareness-raising campaign to coincide with the implementation of the bill. That is vital to ensure the success of the legislation and I would be interested to hear about any further details that the minister might have.

I thank everyone who has worked so hard to get the bill to stage 3. I thank the members and clerks of the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee for their diligent stage 1 report. I also thank fellow members from across the chamber for their input and co-operation. I would particularly like to thank the minister, Ash Denham, and acknowledge her constructive and productive engagement on behalf of the Scottish Government. I offer my particular thanks to my trade union, USDAW, as well as to GMB, Unite and the other trade unions that supported the bill, along with the Co-operative Party. I also thank retail groups such as the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Scottish Grocers Federation for being behind the bill from the very start and for demonstrating the consensus between workers and employers on the issue.

Above all else, I say thank you to the thousands of shop workers who have supported the initiative. I say thank you to them for the job that they do, keeping us fed, keeping us safe and upholding the law. Finally, I had better remember to move the motion in my name.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

17:48  



The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Denham)

In the short time that is available to me for the stage 3 debate, I too will begin by thanking retail workers right across Scotland for their outstanding contribution to helping to get communities through these extremely challenging times. I appreciate all the hard work and commitment of those working in the retail sector in Scotland. That is even more the case now, because of the increased number of infections that we have seen across Scotland and the pressure that that puts on us all, including those within the retail sector who are serving communities.

I thank the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee for its excellent scrutiny of the bill, the clerks to the committee and all those who gave evidence. I also want to give credit to Daniel Johnson for managing to navigate the member’s bill process, which I am sure is not easy, with help from the officials in the non-Government bills unit. It is no mean feat to get a member’s bill to this point, so I congratulate Daniel on managing to do it.

The bill has progressed through scrutiny in the midst of Covid-19 and that has undoubtedly helped to shape how that scrutiny has been undertaken. At all times, but especially at the moment, workers in retail roles should feel safe, supported and protected by our criminal laws. Although they are protected by a wide range of existing criminal laws, many have not felt safe or protected when exposed to verbal abuse, threatening and abusive behaviour and physical attacks. There is no excuse for such behaviour and criminal laws have a key role to play.

I fully support law enforcement agencies taking robust enforcement action to deal with any attacks and threats that are made against retail workers, if those agencies consider that to be necessary in any given case. I hope that the bill, when passed, will make the general public think more about their behaviour when they interact with retail workers, especially in the current difficult and challenging times.

The bill will ensure that the seriousness of offending against retail workers is highlighted through a specific offence. The court, when sentencing, will assess whether higher sentences are required in the context of age verification. The bill will also allow for better data to be collected over time. The parliamentary process has resulted in an amended bill that now strikes the appropriate balance.

Legislation has a key role, but it is not the answer to everything. That is why the Scottish Government is developing an awareness-raising campaign that will highlight the importance of reports being made when retail workers are attacked, threatened or abused during their work. I will be able to give members more information on that shortly.

The Scottish Government will support the bill at decision time, and I urge all MSPs to do likewise.

17:51  



Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

The debate is a fitting opportunity to recognise the enormous contribution that retail workers have made to keep Scotland going during the pandemic. Throughout lockdowns, they have kept us fed and supplied with medication and have often provided people with their only human contact. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.

Sadly, it is far too common for retail workers to face abusive and even violent behaviour. One statistic in particular illustrates just how common it is: the Scottish Grocers Federation found that an astonishing 99 per cent of workers had experienced incidents of violence or physical abuse. By anyone’s measure, that is a staggering number. Given that, according to USDAW, the average shop worker is abused, threatened or assaulted more than 20 times a year, there is a clear need to act.

It has been encouraging to see support from across the chamber for greater protection, even though there have been points of disagreement. The inclusion of the provision on obstructing or hindering a worker would have created a new offence, which risked diluting the special protections that are given to emergency workers and would have overlapped with existing offences. I am pleased that, now that that provision has been removed, the Scottish National Party can join us in supporting the bill.

However, there is a dangerous irony here, because the maximum penalty in the bill is 12 months’ imprisonment or a £10,000 fine, but the SNP’s presumption against short sentences means that, in effect, there is a ban on sending anyone to prison who is convicted under the new law.

Ash Denham

Does the member accept that it is patently evident that a presumption is not a ban?

Maurice Golden

It is patently evident that the SNP is soft on crime and soft on criminals.

I commend Daniel Johnson for introducing the bill and for the exemplary way in which he has guided it through Parliament, but we should remember that Labour supported the presumption against short sentences. I raise that point because I support the bill and want it to succeed. That position is shared by the Association of Convenience Stores, which is fully supportive of the bill but which has concerns over sentencing.

Daniel Johnson

I wonder whether I might return us to a point of consensus. I thank Maurice Golden for his complimentary remarks. Will he get in touch with his colleagues in Westminster and urge them to support the similar moves there by my colleague Alex Norris?

Maurice Golden

I am sure that my colleagues who ably represent Scotland will look favourably on any reasonable proposed legislation that is put before the house, as they always do while representing Scotland and standing up for Scotland’s interests.

If the bill is to act as a deterrent, it must not be seen as soft justice. As I noted at stage 1, sentencing alone is not enough, and a serious look needs to be taken at how the number of incidents can be cut through rehabilitation programmes for offenders who are dependent on alcohol and drugs, especially given the rising trend in incidents that involve intoxication.

Finally, perhaps the most important point when it comes to tackling abusive behaviour over the long term is that we must ensure that incidents are properly reported. We have heard much about the low rate of reporting, which has previously been raised by me and others, such as the Federation of Small Businesses. According to its research, 28 per cent of businesses have experienced threatening behaviour but just one in 10 reports it. The hope is that the creation of a new statutory offence will provide greater legal clarity and thus victims will be encouraged to report incidents. That will be crucial for monitoring the effectiveness of the bill and for recognising where any further interventions, such as adjusting sentencing, might be necessary.

I thank Daniel Johnson for introducing the bill. It enjoys cross-party support because it seeks to do what is right—to protect shop workers, who keep this country going, and to allow them to work free from fear and violence—and the Scottish Conservatives very much look forward to supporting it.

17:56  



Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

I want to say a huge thank you to Daniel Johnson and the Scottish Government for coming together and making sure that the Parliament focused on the needs and rights of retail workers, who are key workers.

Fifty-six per cent of retail workers are women. On the whole, they are among the lowest-paid workers in the country, and many of them have no unions to turn to. I believe that the bill sends out the message that retail workers are important in our economy and should be protected.

Matt Hancock said that the Covid-19 death rate among male shop workers was 75 per cent higher than it was among the general population, and 60 per cent higher among women who work in retail. That is what persuaded him to introduce the wearing of masks in shops.

At Christmas, many shop workers do not even get 24 hours off, as they have to come back for the boxing day sales. Work is being done to recognise the conditions that shop workers often work under, but there is a lot more work to be done there.

At the start of the pandemic, when most of the country retreated to the safety of their homes, retail workers rolled up their sleeves and got on with the task of keeping shops open for the rest of us. Those who work in pharmacies, supermarkets, post offices, jewellery shops and clothing stores have been vital in ensuring that the country has been kept running from day to day as smoothly as can be expected in a national crisis, and they deserve our gratitude and respect.

However, although most of the public appreciate the work that shop workers do, unfortunately, as we have heard, some do not. I was appalled to find out that, on average, 15 retail workers are assaulted every day in Scotland. Throughout the pandemic, I have been shocked to read about some of the abuse that shop workers have faced. In the “Freedom from fear” survey by the retail trade union, USDAW, which was my first union, more than 2,000 retail staff indicated that abuse towards shop workers had risen during the pandemic, with 76 per cent of those who were questioned saying that abuse had been worse than normal and more than half saying that they had been threatened by a customer. That is totally unacceptable. There have also been outrageous reports of workers being told by customers that they have the virus. Daniel Johnson told us about the case of Jackie. One national retailer experienced more than 100 incidents a day of threats of coughing and spitting.

It is clear that such abuse cannot continue. It heavily affects the mental and physical wellbeing of front-line shop workers, and it is understandable that some say that they feel anxious about going into work.

In late November last year, a Co-op spokesperson said that violent abuse and antisocial behaviour had become normalised and was at unprecedented levels. On average, the Co-op reports 133 incidents of abuse a day. Across the UK, the supermarket chain has invested £70 million in security measures for staff, including body-worn cameras. It is shocking that the abuse has been so severe that it has felt the need to do that.

Such antisocial behaviour is unacceptable, and some of it has been fuelled by conspiracy theories. One supermarket worker said:

“A couple have behaved really awfully—we had one gentleman come in with no mask, filming the store, shouting abuse, telling us we were all robots for the government.”

Sadly, there are many workers who have come to believe that the abuse that they experience from the public at work is just part of the job, and the abuse often goes unreported to the police. Hopefully, the bill will create a public perception that retail workers will no longer be fair game for abuse. The police will have the long-overdue necessary powers to come down hard on those who assault workers.

I am delighted that the trade unions USDAW and the GMB, which is my union, and the Scottish Co-operative Party, as well as the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Scottish Grocers Federation, are supporting the bill, and have done so much work to promote it.

Anyone who has had to interact regularly with the public during the pandemic is already exposing themselves to a degree of personal risk of contracting the virus. On top of that, they should not have to fear verbal or physical abuse at work.

It was reported yesterday that UK Minister for COVID Vaccine Deployment is hoping to target key workers, such as police officers, shop workers and teachers, in the next phase of the vaccine roll-out. Although it is difficult to decide where people should be placed in the queue to get the vaccine, whatever we decide, shop workers are heroes in the pandemic, and I know that the whole Parliament is already united to protect them.

18:00  



John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I am delighted to contribute to the debate. Although I have not been involved in scrutiny of the bill, I have watched its progress and am pleased to see it reach this point.

Many of us will recall representations that USDAW—the shop workers union—has made to Parliament, often in the run-up to Christmas, about the terms and conditions that their members find themselves working under. It has done so to highlight a particularly important time for workers, but the union has not been neglectful of the need to have a safe working environment throughout the year. The bill will play an important role in that.

Every worker has the right to a safe and healthy workplace, but we have heard a number of shocking statistics. It is interesting that the documents that accompany the bill talk about the aim to give greater protection. I recall a conversation with Daniel Johnson when he was seeking signatures in support of the bill, during which he explained why he thought that that is important. It is about obligations that the state places on individuals to act on its behalf, and it is a compelling argument. One example is Scotland’s unfortunate relationship with alcohol, and the role that retail workers play in the associated harm reduction. If they are carrying out obligations on behalf of the state, it is quite right that the state should afford them the appropriate protections.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of our retail workers, so I join colleagues in thanking them for all their efforts. The bill is about workers in shops, bars and restaurants and the challenges that they face—on top of having to work in what, on many occasions, are not the best working conditions.

I commend Daniel Johnson for his tireless work in getting us to this point, and I appreciate the volume of work that has been involved.

The Parliament is at its best when, following the most detailed scrutiny—I know that many issues were stress tested throughout early consideration of the bill—an agreed form of words is put in place. That makes good law that is needed and will work for our communities.

I will not rehash all the statistics that colleagues have mentioned, but I note that I saw the USDAW briefing today and think that its having congratulated Daniel Johnson is entirely appropriate. Stewart Forrest of USDAW talked about shop workers having been

“on the frontline throughout the coronavirus crisis, helping to ensure our communities remain fed, despite the risks of contracting the virus.”

For that pivotal role in our communities, they deserve not simply our thanks and our admiration, but the appropriate level of protection in their workplaces.

My reflections come from my being a former shop worker and a former police officer. I am aware of how some shoplifting gangs intimidate workers by using threats of violence because they know the workers’ addresses. Some of the graphic examples that are given in the USDAW briefing are of the most unacceptable circumstances for anyone to be working in, particularly given that many people assume that a shop is a relatively safe place of work.

One of the quotes in the USDAW briefing is that the

“Pandemic has brought out the worst behaviour”

in folk. However, I think that it has also brought out the best behaviour in folk and has, I hope, caused some people to evaluate what is important—such as their being able to put a loaf of bread on the table and who gets it there—and what is not.

I conclude by thanking everyone who has got us to this point—in particular, Daniel Johnson, who in a very short time will be rightly lauded for his contribution to supporting a key workforce and making things better. USDAW has described it as

“ground-breaking legislation to protect retail staff”.

I congratulate him on a worthy and well-earned outcome for all his hard work.

18:05  



Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

As others have done, I congratulate Daniel Johnson and his team on their having reached this stage. The amount of work that goes into taking forward a members’ bill is not always recognised. It is a process of which the Parliament can be proud, but it is certainly no easy undertaking. From our work together on the Justice Committee, I know how committed Daniel Johnson is to using the powers of the Parliament to improve the lives of the people whom we represent. That principle is very well reflected in the bill.

That is not to say that I did not initially have reservations about some of what was being proposed. I expressed them at stage 1 and directly to Daniel Johnson, albeit that I was happy to add my name as a signatory to the bill. The draft bill was certainly flawed, but it deserved to be consulted on, scrutinised and improved. I am pleased that that has happened, and I pay tribute to the committee for the part that it played.

Although the arguments for the protections that are contained in the bill were being put long before Covid came to dominate our lives, the pandemic has certainly helped, as others have said, to reinforce and crystallise the case. As in other sectors that are often unrecognised or underappreciated, the true worth and value of retail—and of the people who work in it—have been demonstrated over the past 10 months.

Shops have always been central to the communities that revolve around them. However, that has come into sharper focus of late. In Orkney and, I suspect, in constituencies the length and breadth of the country, local shops have proved to be a genuine lifeline, with retail workers going above and beyond in order to serve their communities—in particular, the people who are most vulnerable and most at risk.

However, as I have said during stage 1, the experience of local retail workers in the early stages of the pandemic was too often not positive. Instead of thanks, they regularly faced abuse, threats and other unacceptable behaviour from some customers. I accept that they are a small minority, but that has been deeply unpleasant, all the same. Panic buying created problems where they should not exist, and staff who were doing their best met abuse for simply doing their jobs.

I am thankful that much of that appears to have died away, and I think that the majority of people have taken steps to redress the balance by expressing their gratitude. Nevertheless, the situation has highlighted weaknesses in the current protections that the bill can, I hope, go some way towards addressing.

The committee heard not only disturbing evidence of the violence, threats and aggression that are faced by retail workers; it also heard concerning reports about reluctance to report such incidents to the police for fear that they would not be taken seriously. That is not acceptable and it needs to change.

When it comes to improvements to the bill, I am pleased that changes have made much clearer the behaviour that is being targeted by the legislation. That clarity will be helpful in improving public understanding and will, in turn, help to ensure greater effectiveness of the protections that are being put in place. Of course, passing legislation will not in itself prevent such problems from arising; however, it can help to raise awareness and to offer greater confidence to retail workers that the concerns that they raise will be taken seriously and acted on appropriately. Those would be no small achievements.

I do not quite understand Maurice Golden’s determination, despite Scotland’s already obscenely high rate of incarceration, to stuff our already overcrowded prisons yet fuller.

I finish by warmly congratulating Daniel Johnson once again, by thanking retail workers in Orkney and across the country very much, and by confirming that Scottish Liberal Democrat members look forward to voting to support the bill at decision time.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you very much. Before I call Daniel Johnson, I call James Kelly.

18:08  



James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

Thank you for making time to allow me a brief contribution, Presiding Officer.

The point of Parliament is to make a difference. Shortly, in passing Daniel Johnson’s bill, Parliament will make a great deal of difference to retail workers throughout the country who have, as other members have said, been subjected to unacceptable levels of abuse and attack. I congratulate Daniel Johnson on his success in bringing the bill through Parliament. A significant amount of work was involved.

I was lucky enough to be with Daniel at the Scotmid Co-op on Leith Walk when he launched his proposal. He has been through an arduous campaign to see the bill progress to its conclusion. He has been ably supported by USDAW and the Co-operative Party, which very much welcome tonight’s progress.

As members have said, the pandemic has shone a light on the important role of retail workers, who have done a fantastic job of looking after people—particularly vulnerable people—in our communities. They have ensured that people get their shopping and are safe in shops.

We rely on retail workers to ensure that public health regulations on tobacco and alcohol are followed. That job has been particularly challenging throughout the pandemic. In some instances, unruly customers have been challenging staff as they seek to keep customers safe by making sure that everyone wears a mask, for example. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable.

It is right that we will pass the bill at decision time. It will make a difference and it will be welcomed by retail workers. It will give them protection. Retail workers have the support not just of the Parliament but of all communities throughout Scotland.

18:11  



Daniel Johnson

I will carry on with a few more thank yous. First, I thank every member who has spoken in the debate. The process has been consensual and the debate has been interesting, if brief.

I thank my office team: Alan Irvine, Allana Hoggard and Michael Adamson. I also thank Stuart Tooley, who is no longer in my employment but was critical at the inception of the bill process. I also want to thank some of the people who worked so hard behind the scenes: the support and advice of Mary Dinsdale, Kenny Htet-Khin and Andrew Mylne, from the non-Government bills unit, were critical in getting the bill to this stage.

I know that we are not meant to mention special advisers, let alone praise them, so I hope that I do not get John McFarlane into trouble when I thank him for the huge job that he did in facilitating constructive dialogue and engagement with the Government—[Interruption.] I will leave it there.

The process has taught me a lesson about how politics can work. We sometimes do ourselves a disservice by presenting disagreement and hostility in the chamber although, in committee rooms and in the garden lobby, we exchange ideas and work together constructively. We have certainly worked constructively on the bill and I thank every member who engaged with me on it. We should all reflect on how we could present the more constructive element of our politics. If we always present to Scotland the politics of division, we can only ever expect to be confronted with division in return.

Not just this debate, but the whole bill process has demonstrated that we care about retail workers and how they are treated and that we value the sector. The Covid crisis brought their work into sharp focus; for too long, retail and retail workers were taken for granted. I hope that the bill will act as a vital step towards correcting that and prompting a wider rethink.

We must end the assumption of ministers and legislators of all stripes and colours that public policy can be implemented free, at the press of a till button. There has been an assumption that it is quick, easy and cost free to legislate in that way, but that approach has all too often led to confrontation for retail workers. When additional restrictions are put in place and requirements are placed on retail workers to uphold the law, there must always be the means of enforcing compliance. My bill will improve the situation for workers by making clearer the law, the seriousness of penalties and the responsibility of the police when crimes are reported.

There are more fundamental social issues at play. There is a sense that someone who stands behind a counter and wears a name badge is fair game. That deeper social issue must be tackled. The bill is an important step towards giving retail workers the attention that they deserve.

Retail needs that attention now more than ever. The industry is in crisis. Even before anyone had heard of Covid, high street shop units were being left empty as retailers struggled to compete with online sellers such as Amazon.

Since the pandemic began, the sector has found itself policing social distancing at the same time as lockdown has accelerated those pre-existing threats to the industry. In the past five years, more than 10,000 jobs have been lost from retail in Scotland, and some fear that, throughout the UK, as many as 250,000 could go as a result of the pandemic. Any other industry facing that level of disruption and job losses would have ministerial task forces, support funds and action plans.

However the industry emerges from the pandemic, it needs to be taken seriously by the Parliament and Government. The bill, if passed this evening, will not by itself solve all the issues of violence, threats and abuse suffered by shop workers, but it will create a starting point for tackling those issues, and perhaps it will send a signal to those working in the sector that, at last, they are being listened to and not being taken for granted. If passed, the bill will show Scotland leading the way in protecting retail workers, and attention will naturally turn to my Labour colleague Alex Norris MP’s efforts to pass similar legislation at Westminster.

Let us lead the way. Let us mark our thanks to shop workers for the work that they do. Let us vote and ensure that violence, threats and abuse are not part of the job—not for shop workers, not for anyone.

Final vote on the Bill

After the final discussion of the Bill, MSPs vote on whether they think it should become an Act.

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Final vote transcript

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

There are four questions to be put this evening. The first question is, that motion S5M-23884, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill legislative consent motion, be agreed. Are we agreed?

Members: No.

The Presiding Officer

There will be a division. There will be a short suspension to allow members, both in the chamber and online, to access the voting app.

18:17 Meeting suspended.  



18:22 On resuming—  



The Presiding Officer

We are back in session, and we will go straight to the vote. The question is, that motion S5M-23884, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill legislative consent motion, be agreed to. Members may cast their votes now. This will be a one-minute division.

The vote is now closed. If any members believe that they were not able to register their vote, please let me know through a point of order.

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I would have voted yes.

The Presiding Officer

You would have voted yes; I will make sure that your vote is added to the voting roll.

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. According to my phone, there was a problem and the digital voting connection could not be started. I would have voted for the motion.

The Presiding Officer

I confirm that your vote was registered, Ms Baillie.

Finlay Carson has a point of order.

I say to Bruce Crawford that his vote was registered, so there is no need for him to make a point of order.

I will try Finlay Carson one more time for his point of order. I apologise to him—we have lost the connection with him. I will have to call the result of the vote, but he can make a point of order later if he wishes to.

For

Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Allan, Dr Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dornan, James (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kidd, Bill (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Marra, Jenny (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
McArthur, Liam (Orkney Islands) (LD)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Paterson, Gil (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Smith, Elaine (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Southside) (SNP)
Swinney, John (Perthshire North) (SNP)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)

Against

Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Reform)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Briggs, Miles (Lothian) (Con)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Golden, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Harris, Alison (Central Scotland) (Con)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
McDonald, Mark (Aberdeen Donside) (Ind)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mundell, Oliver (Dumfriesshire) (Con)
Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Smith, Liz (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Ind)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division on motion S5M-23884, in the name of Humza Yousaf, on the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill legislative consent motion, is: For 92, Against 27, Abstentions 0.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees not to consent to the UK Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill, as it contains insufficient independent oversight and satisfactory safeguards.

The Presiding Officer

The next question is, that motion S5M-23883, in the name of John Swinney, on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.

The Presiding Officer

The next question is, that motion S5M-23606, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill, be agreed to. As the bill is being considered at stage 3, we will have a division.

The vote is now closed. If any members believe that they were unable to access the voting app, they should let me know.

For

Adam, George (Paisley) (SNP)
Adamson, Clare (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)
Allan, Dr Alasdair (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)
Arthur, Tom (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
Baillie, Jackie (Dumbarton) (Lab)
Baker, Claire (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Balfour, Jeremy (Lothian) (Con)
Ballantyne, Michelle (South Scotland) (Reform)
Beamish, Claudia (South Scotland) (Lab)
Beattie, Colin (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP)
Bowman, Bill (North East Scotland) (Con)
Boyack, Sarah (Lothian) (Lab)
Brown, Keith (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)
Burnett, Alexander (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)
Cameron, Donald (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Campbell, Aileen (Clydesdale) (SNP)
Carlaw, Jackson (Eastwood) (Con)
Carson, Finlay (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)
Chapman, Peter (North East Scotland) (Con)
Coffey, Willie (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)
Cole-Hamilton, Alex (Edinburgh Western) (LD)
Constance, Angela (Almond Valley) (SNP)
Corry, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Crawford, Bruce (Stirling) (SNP)
Cunningham, Roseanna (Perthshire South and Kinross-shire) (SNP)
Denham, Ash (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)
Dey, Graeme (Angus South) (SNP)
Doris, Bob (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)
Dornan, James (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)
Ewing, Annabelle (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)
Ewing, Fergus (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)
Fabiani, Linda (East Kilbride) (SNP)
Fee, Mary (West Scotland) (Lab)
Findlay, Neil (Lothian) (Lab)
Finnie, John (Highlands and Islands) (Green)
FitzPatrick, Joe (Dundee City West) (SNP)
Forbes, Kate (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch) (SNP)
Fraser, Murdo (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Freeman, Jeane (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)
Gibson, Kenneth (Cunninghame North) (SNP)
Gilruth, Jenny (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)
Golden, Maurice (West Scotland) (Con)
Gougeon, Mairi (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)
Grahame, Christine (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)
Grant, Rhoda (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)
Gray, Iain (East Lothian) (Lab)
Greene, Jamie (West Scotland) (Con)
Greer, Ross (West Scotland) (Green)
Griffin, Mark (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Halcro Johnston, Jamie (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Hamilton, Rachael (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)
Harper, Emma (South Scotland) (SNP)
Harris, Alison (Central Scotland) (Con)
Harvie, Patrick (Glasgow) (Green)
Haughey, Clare (Rutherglen) (SNP)
Hepburn, Jamie (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP)
Hyslop, Fiona (Linlithgow) (SNP)
Johnson, Daniel (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)
Kelly, James (Glasgow) (Lab)
Kerr, Liam (North East Scotland) (Con)
Lamont, Johann (Glasgow) (Lab)
Lennon, Monica (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Leonard, Richard (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Lindhurst, Gordon (Lothian) (Con)
Lochhead, Richard (Moray) (SNP)
Lockhart, Dean (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Lyle, Richard (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)
MacDonald, Angus (Falkirk East) (SNP)
MacDonald, Gordon (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)
Macdonald, Lewis (North East Scotland) (Lab)
MacGregor, Fulton (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)
Mackay, Rona (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)
Macpherson, Ben (Edinburgh Northern and Leith) (SNP)
Maguire, Ruth (Cunninghame South) (SNP)
Marra, Jenny (North East Scotland) (Lab)
Martin, Gillian (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)
Mason, John (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)
Matheson, Michael (Falkirk West) (SNP)
McAlpine, Joan (South Scotland) (SNP)
McArthur, Liam (Orkney Islands) (LD)
McDonald, Mark (Aberdeen Donside) (Ind)
McKee, Ivan (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)
McKelvie, Christina (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP)
McMillan, Stuart (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)
McNeill, Pauline (Glasgow) (Lab)
Mitchell, Margaret (Central Scotland) (Con)
Mountain, Edward (Highlands and Islands) (Con)
Mundell, Oliver (Dumfriesshire) (Con)
Neil, Alex (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)
Paterson, Gil (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)
Rennie, Willie (North East Fife) (LD)
Robison, Shona (Dundee City East) (SNP)
Ross, Gail (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)
Rowley, Alex (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)
Rumbles, Mike (North East Scotland) (LD)
Ruskell, Mark (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)
Sarwar, Anas (Glasgow) (Lab)
Scott, John (Ayr) (Con)
Simpson, Graham (Central Scotland) (Con)
Smith, Elaine (Central Scotland) (Lab)
Smyth, Colin (South Scotland) (Lab)
Somerville, Shirley-Anne (Dunfermline) (SNP)
Stevenson, Stewart (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)
Stewart, Alexander (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)
Stewart, Kevin (Aberdeen Central) (SNP)
Sturgeon, Nicola (Glasgow Southside) (SNP)
Swinney, John (Perthshire North) (SNP)
Todd, Maree (Highlands and Islands) (SNP)
Tomkins, Adam (Glasgow) (Con)
Torrance, David (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)
Watt, Maureen (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)
Wells, Annie (Glasgow) (Con)
Wheelhouse, Paul (South Scotland) (SNP)
White, Sandra (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)
Whittle, Brian (South Scotland) (Con)
Wightman, Andy (Lothian) (Ind)
Wishart, Beatrice (Shetland Islands) (LD)
Yousaf, Humza (Glasgow Pollok) (SNP)

The Presiding Officer

The result of the division on motion S5M-23606, in the name of Daniel Johnson, on the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill, is: For 118, Against 0, Abstentions 0.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament agrees that the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

The Presiding Officer

The final question this evening is that motion S5M-23863, in the name of Kate Forbes, on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill financial resolution, be agreed to.

Motion agreed to,

That the Parliament, for the purposes of any Act of the Scottish Parliament resulting from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, agrees to any expenditure of a kind referred to in Rule 9.12.3(b) of the Parliament’s Standing Orders arising in consequence of the Act.

Meeting closed at 18:32.  



This Bill was passed on 19 January 2021 and became an Act on 24 February 2021

Find the Act on legislation.gov.uk

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