Government plans to prioritise restorative justice over custodial sentences for shoplifters have been met with criticism.

Responding in Ministers' questions to a query on shop theft, prisons minister Crispin Blunt said that he wanted compensation and restoration to be the default sentences for so-called 'low-level offences'.

"We want to make restorative justice and compensation orders the first point of departure for such offences so that offenders are able to make good to their victims," Blunt said.

The government proposals were set out in a Green Paper, 'Breaking the Cycle', in December last year. It is currently reviewing public consultation submissions before proceeding.

In its submission, Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman called for stronger penalties that would send a clear message that shop theft is not a victimless crime.

"Retailers understand that it's not appropriate for every offence to be dealt with by the courts and custodial sentences," he said. "However, they expect the worst and most prolific offenders to face tough penalties. In some cases this has to mean a prison sentence."