HC Deb 01 November 1999 vol 337 cc5-6
3. Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

What action he is taking to prevent the deliberate use of fireworks to cause alarm, distress and injury to people and damage to property. [94992]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The law relating to criminal damage and to offences against the person applies to deliberate damage by fireworks, as it would to damage deliberately caused in other ways. In addition, the letting off of fireworks in any public place is an offence under section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875.

Ms Blears

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, but I am not satisfied that the regulations relating to fireworks are being enforced. There have been some horrific incidents in my constituency in the past few weeks. Youngsters aged nine, 10 and 11 have been putting explosives into car exhausts or down grids to blow them up. The latest trick is to put an explosive inside a traffic cone and then put the cone inside a telephone box. When it explodes, the whole telephone box goes up. That is not youngsters having fun but people terrorising the neighbourhood. I ask the Government to consider seriously the enforcement of the regulations and to ensure that magistrates take such offenders seriously.

Mrs. Roche

I am well aware of the problems that my hon. Friend has experienced in her constituency and of the detailed, firm action that she has taken. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has visited her constituency. Among other things, the regulations prohibit the sale of aerial shells, bangers and mini-rockets to the general public and place restrictions on the size of fireworks that can be sold generally. I know that she has been in contact with my colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry. I undertake to liaise with them to see what can be done. We are talking about criminality and it will be dealt with by the police. I hope that it will be investigated and arrests made.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am grateful for the Minister's initial response to the question, and agree fervently with it. However, in view of the parliamentary answer provided by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on 25 March, and of the 23 per cent. and 12 per cent. reductions in accidents caused by firework hooliganism in 1997 and 1998 respectively, will she confirm that the Government have no further plans for additional restrictions on the use of fireworks?

Mrs. Roche

I have made it clear that the regulations are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that, as I told my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears), we are talking about criminal activity. We do not want the enjoyment of the many spoiled by the reckless and criminal activity of the few. The Government must keep the position under constant review. The House would expect no less.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is liaising with the DTI. In those discussions, will she raise the fact that fireworks are on sale for so long before 5 November that that in itself contributes to much of the harm and damage that is done? Will she consider the possibility of restricting sales of fireworks to individuals to a short period before 5 November, to minimise the chances of crimes occurring?

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend's point is well made and I will make it to the DTI. It is important that the DTI has regular detailed discussions with the industry and representative bodies to ensure that such points are taken on board.