HL Deb 20 November 2002 vol 641 cc369-72

2.48 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to introduce regulations to control the misuse or inappropriate ignition of fire works.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, throwing fireworks is one of the offences covered in the fixed penalty notice scheme currently being piloted with some success in four police areas.

I am pleased to say that a voluntary ban on the sale of air-bombs has been agreed with the trade and will be implemented early in the new year. In the light of the large number of complaints about the misuse of fireworks, we have set up arrangements to monitor the problem in nine crime and disorder reduction partnerships, in order to establish what, if any, further measures might be required.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that reply; it is a relief to hear his words. I had feared that, because the reverberation of firework nuisance might be less obvious in Whitehall than in many other parts of the country, a less serious view would be taken.

Does my noble and learned friend accept that, in many other areas, the noise this year has been louder and more protracted? On eight of the nights that I have spent at home in the past six weeks, I have heard disturbance from fireworks after midnight. On another occasion, people living within a square mile were disturbed by a firework party at 3.30 a.m. Last week, two ladies living three miles from my home were severely injured by a powerful rocket that should have been the property of the Royal Artillery, rather than being readily available to the criminally irresponsible.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know whether fireworks have got louder this year than previous years, but my noble friend is not alone in the complaint that he has made. We have heard from a number of sources. There have been real problems in relation to fireworks this year, and before. As a result, on the 15th October the DTI announced a range of measures, including proposals to make air-bombs illegal, a voluntary agreement with the industry to ensure that fireworks are sold only during a specified period of the year and agreements in relation to what the noise level should be, in order to try to deal with the kind of issues to which my noble friend has referred. Plainly, it is an issue that is concerning more and more people.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that last week, a quarter of a mile from where I live at Masham in North Yorkshire, a post-box was blown out of the wall? The bomb squad and the police were called and there was found to be a firework. The culprit has been found. He has a problem. Would the Minister agree that if fireworks get into the wrong hands they can be very dangerous?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I was not aware of what happened in relation to the place a quarter of a mile from the noble Baroness's home. I do not know the detail of it. It sounds a remarkable firework that could blow up a post-box in that way. There is also an issue about illegal markets in fireworks: fireworks that do not comply with the regulations. The DTI has also announced a crackdown on illegal markets in relation to fireworks. It seems to me that it is just another example of the problems that there are with fireworks. We need to see the effect of our voluntary proposals and what the research from those nine crime and disorder reduction areas that I referred to in my initial Answer produces to see what more needs to be done.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, while none of us wants to be a spoilsport or promote the nanny state I am, nevertheless, glad that the Government recognise that there is a growing problem of anti-social behaviour in this particular area, requiring further analysis and, indeed, remedies. Will the Government consider bringing hooligan behaviour with fireworks within the scope of their anti-social behaviour legislation which is yet to come?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I indicated in my initial Answer that the fixed penalty notice applies already to fireworks. We need to consider whether we should reduce the age in relation to that. We shall certainly consider whether in the anti-social behaviour Bill that was announced in the Queen's Speech, more could be done.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that trading standards officers have an important part to play in enforcing existing laws relating to the sale of fireworks to children? Is he aware that there is concern among trading standards officers that some of the funds supposed to be earmarked for that purpose are being diverted elsewhere and that they are not able to do the job as effectively as they would like to?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I accept that local authority enforcement officers have a very significant role to play in relation to that. The more the issue goes up the agenda—the more that people express concern about it—I hope the more time and effort will be spent in relation to it. The licensing of people who sell fireworks is presently being considered by the Health and Safety Executive to see whether there should be a fit and proper person test included as well. That is another area that has been looked at to try to deal with the problem.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there were over 1,300 injuries to people in the year 2001? That is an increase of over 40 per cent. Is the Minister satisfied that environmental health officers have sufficient powers, advice and guidance so that they can take appropriate action?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as I have indicated, one of the issues looked at by the Health and Safety Executive is whether the licensing schemes currently work. If they make proposals in relation to changing the licensing scheme then we would look at that and that would obviously involve a change in the power of those officers.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is the Minister aware that dogs, cats, babies and small children do not like fireworks, particularly noisy ones? Although it is very nice to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, this year there has been an open season for over a month with explosions every night.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am aware of the effect of fireworks on animals. There is provision in the Protection of Animals Act to make it an offence to throw fireworks deliberately at animals. That happens from time to time. As regards babies, I think it depends on the baby, and as regards small children, well, some small children quite like fireworks.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, does the Minister know how long the monitoring in the nine crime and disorder reduction areas will run for? When the report of the findings is finalised, will he undertake to put a copy in the Library?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, perhaps I may write to say the precise period of time that the monitoring will go on for. We shall also undertake to put in the Library the results of the monitoring.

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