Clause 4 - Prohibition of supply etc.

Fireworks Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 30th April 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

I raise another issue about the regulations that may be contemplated under subsection (2). The possibility of regulations limiting the type of fireworks sold to young people comes under clause 3, which is important to deal with antisocial behaviour. The hon. Member for Blaby was right to say that that is already prohibited under the Explosives Act 1875. For instance, under that Act, one cannot throw fireworks in public places such as in the road. One would have thought that that, coupled with the penalty notice provisions recently introduced by the Government, gave us effective control over that sort of antisocial behaviour.

Hon. Members will appreciate that we have a problem with enforcement—one has to catch the people. It is important that we deal with the problem of possession. Clause 3 deals with young people in possession of fireworks. They can be caught even though the police have not seen them throwing the fireworks and engaging in antisocial behaviour; they

can be caught with the fireworks in their pockets. By way of digression, there are all sorts of legal problems about the issue of possession, but if the fireworks are found in someone's pocket, there is no problem. However, the question is how to take regulations beyond the prohibition contemplated in clause 3—possession by people under a certain age—and address other situations where there may be possession.

We know, for example, that old people buy alcohol and give it to young people, so young people are not necessarily prevented from having it. They cannot buy it if shopkeepers are enforcing the law but they can get it anyway. We can deal with that issue of possession but what regulations is the Minister contemplating to deal with other sorts of possession? Subsection (1) talks about possession

''during hours of the day''.

One could imagine a regulation that would make it an offence for people to have fireworks between the hours of 2 and 6 am. What has been considered?

It may be unfair to ask the Minister that question because antisocial behaviour is a question more for the Home Office. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who recently resigned as Minister with responsibility for policing, answered some questions that I tabled earlier this year. He was conducting a monitoring exercise through several pilot projects in different parts of the country. However, I ask the question because possession is crucial to stopping antisocial behaviour. It is all very well prohibiting sales to certain people but possession must be dealt with. Therefore, it would be useful to know what regulations may be contemplated under subsection (2).

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I appreciate the point made by my hon. and learned Friend, and we need to consider the issues further. Indeed, I would like to think further and write to him, because we must decide whether the matters should be dealt with by regulations under this Bill or by an antisocial behaviour Bill and provisions for fixed penalties. My understanding is that alcohol can be confiscated from minors, and a parallel provision is clearly possible.

Although I understand why my hon. and learned Friend is concerned about possession, the main problem is use and abuse. We must ensure, first, that the system has sufficient deterrents to mean that fireworks are not supplied and, secondly, that we have the enforcement powers to deal with the misuse of fireworks by anyone who is defined as under age in legislation.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Scottish National Party, Angus

I raise just a small point of difficulty in relation to dealing with the matter in an antisocial behaviour Bill. My understanding is that such provisions would not apply in Scotland, so the Scottish Parliament would have to pass separate legislation to deal with the particular difficulties of possession. Although I am not opposed to that, it may lead to different interpretations north and south of the border on the possession of fireworks. That should be

considered when deciding the best way to deal with the problem.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks, and I shall take that into consideration as well.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

I perhaps did not explain myself properly. Subsection (2) says that regulations under the Bill may prohibit persons from supplying and exposing for supply, which covers the shop and its displays. They may also cover purchasing, which means that certain persons will not be able to buy fireworks, as with young people under clause 3. My point is that they may still have them, so possession is crucial for enforcement. The police or trading standards representatives may not see young people buy the fireworks—their older brothers and sisters may have bought them—but they may still have them. That is why possession is so important.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I believe that I understood the point that was made by my hon. and learned Friend. As I said, I will take it away and consider it. However, I reiterate that the aim is to stop supply, so far as it is possible to do so. My intuition is that the vast majority of those who are supplied through whatever illegal route is used will mostly cause immediate disruption in their communities rather than simply walking along the street with large quantities of fireworks in their possession. Young people in particular get hold of fireworks and use them soon after to cause neighbourhood disruption.

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour, Ogmore

Does my hon. Friend agree that when we consider the detailed regulations, we must reward good retailers and suppliers of fireworks, as we reward good retailers of off licence products and solvents? Up to now, fireworks have been regarded as something that can be put in the shop front and sold, hopefully to those who are not under age. Currently, if they are sold in the knowledge that they will be passed to people who will use them recklessly, the belief is, ''So what?'' We need to reward the good retailers and to stamp out those who sell fireworks in the knowledge that they will be passed to those who will use them recklessly and cause the problems that we are discussing. Fireworks are explosives and must be dealt with in the same way as other substances that can harm people in our communities are dealt with.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

My understanding is that the police must see the individual misuse the fireworks. I do not know whether we should be examining firework law or some other law but, surely under ordinary criminal law, if a member of the public sees a youth misusing a firework, that should be capable of being used as evidence against that youth. I have a problem with people being stopped in the street for the simple reason that they are carrying something that they may have bought legitimately and without their having caused a

problem elsewhere. We go down a difficult road when we can start to stop and search anyone who is walking along the street for any reason.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

I understand my hon. Friend's points. I am also minded to recognise the more general concerns expressed by hon. Members and to consider further how these issues may be dealt with. I am grateful to all those who have raised those points with me.

On the question of responsible retailing and what happens on retail premises, in many cases it is not the responsible retailers who are at fault, but unauthorised and possibly unlicensed outlets. Fireworks can make their way to the likes of car boot sales and other unofficial places of sale, and we must find a way of ensuring that fireworks are tracked through the system and go to places that are licensed to sell them and are appropriate for storage.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Labour, Cleethorpes

My hon. Friend may recall that I drew her attention on another occasion to the case of a licensed retailer whose shop is open all year round. The flyer that advertises it states that it offers free alcohol to adults and free sweets to the kids. Can anything be done to stop such incentives on flyers?

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We want to work with the industry and those in retailing on campaigns that focus on responsible retailing and that strongly emphasise the desirability of people signing up to a code of practice, which is currently only voluntary but which the legislation would enable us to give more force to. That will be another advantage of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.