A Conservative MP has pushed for their own party to back down and support new measures to protect shop workers during a debate in Parliament.

An official petition calling for tougher penalties for those who assault shop staff passed 100,000 signatures, triggering a Parliamentary debate on 7 June.

Former Woolworths and Home Bargains employee, now Conservative MP Matt Vickers, started the debate by voicing his support for the new measures, despite it being opposed by senior members of his own party including policing minister Kit Malthouse. Vickers said: “Violence and abuse directed towards retail workers has gone through the roof.

“Retail staff must be able to do their jobs without the fear that they will be on the receiving end of abuse or worse at any time throughout their shift. We need a punishment for these crimes that shows that we stand by our retail staff and that acts as a proper deterrent.”

His view was supported by Liberal Democrat, Labour and Scottish National Party politicians, including Alex Norris, the Labour MP who is bringing a bill before the house to introduce a new offence for crimes against shop workers.

Tory MP William Wragg was more nuanced. He called for police forces across the UK to first adopt Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne’s zero tolerance approach to retail crime. This includes quicker reporting methods, dedicated retail expert police teams and higher prioritisation of all incidents in shops. He later added: “However, if that is not enough, then a change in the law is necessary and I would support assaults on retail workers becoming an aggravated offence.”

However, the government stood firm in its position. MP and under-secretary of state for the Home Office Chris Philip said: “Listening to some speeches it may seem there are no provisions to protect retail workers from these kinds of assaults, but that’s not the case. There are already existing offences which cover the type of terrible attacks we’ve heard about today.”

He referenced that new sentencing guidelines published last week for assault offences now list attacks against those “providing a service to the public’ as an ‘aggravating factor’ which encourages tougher sentencing.

The NFRN remained unconvinced by Philip and vowed to continue to pushing for a law change. National President Stuart Reddish said: “We will continue to lobby the government to tighten the law so that any form of attack on shop workers is taken more seriously and ensure there are more stringent penalties for those who commit such crimes.”

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