Fireworks and Pyrotechnics (Misuse)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 8th November 2022.

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Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports of misuse of fireworks and pyrotechnics on bonfire night. (S6T-00942)

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

The disorder and thuggery that occurred on and around bonfire night, which involved not just fireworks and pyrotechnics but bricks and even petrol bombs, was sickening. I express my heartfelt thanks to our emergency services for their dedication and bravery in working in appalling situations to keep our communities as safe as possible.

I welcome the fact that Police Scotland has made it clear that investigations are on-going and that it aims to bring the culprits to justice. I urge any member of the public who has relevant information to get in touch with the police, either directly or anonymously through Crimestoppers.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

Thank you. I warmly welcome the minister to her new role and associate myself with her comments about the emergency services.

Between 2016 and 2020, there were only four solemn and 16 summary firework convictions, and there were no firework convictions whatever in 2020-21. The way in which the Scottish Government has constructed its proposed licensing scheme makes it even more important that there are convictions. How will the minister ensure that there are convictions arising from this year’s events?

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

I thank Katy Clark for her question and her welcome.

There is no equivocation on the part of the Scottish Government. Where there is offending of the type that has been seen over recent days, we will fully support Police Scotland in pursuing investigations, and, where sufficient evidence is obtained, using its powers appropriately to make arrests and bring charges.

It is difficult to get an entirely comprehensive picture of convictions because of the range of common-law and statutory offences that may be relevant.

This is also a matter for the courts, and it would be wrong of ministers to criticise or second-guess the sentences that the courts impose, as only the courts have all the weighted evidence in front of them. I am clear, however, that the courts have extensive sentencing powers in this area, under a range of common-law as well as statutory provisions, and I will be keeping a close eye on how things develop.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

When the Criminal Justice Committee considered the recent fireworks legislation, there was considerable discussion about how people might bypass the licensing system by buying online or on the black market. Will the minister take steps to find out where the fireworks that were misused came from and whether they were bought in a shop or online or obtained elsewhere?

Once there has been a full investigation into the circumstances of this year’s events, will the minister ensure that there is a full report to Parliament?

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

Although, at this point, we are not aware of any clear evidence to suggest that there are a lot of black market sales and that it is widespread issue, we know that there have been isolated incidents involving the supply of illicit firework products. Enforcement agencies have well-established processes in place to tackle black market sales. Every year, there is a big multi-agency planning operation to identify and tackle emerging issues, involving Police Scotland, Trading Standards Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

I plan to work closely with enforcement bodies to monitor illicit firework sales in Scotland. As part of that, the Scottish Government has funded

Trading Standards Scotland to undertake a fireworks enforcement engagement project with retailers, building on the success of similar projects last year. I will keep a close eye on that and come back to Parliament on it.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

It is important that we acknowledge the appalling behaviour by some over the bonfire weekend, including during the incident in the Sighthill park area of my constituency. However, we should also note that the number of calls that the police received relating to such behaviour was down from 581 last year to 483 this year—a 17 per cent reduction. With that in mind, I ask the minister what work was carried out by the Scottish Government and partners in preparation for the bonfire night period.

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

Although I welcome the year-on-year reduction in the numbers—the 17 per cent reduction is very welcome—it is absolutely imperative that we ensure that bonfire night does not happen again as it did, because it was intolerable. We support the vast amount of multi-agency partnership work that is undertaken by our emergency services, local authorities and wider community safety partners in preparation for the bonfire night period.

On bonfire night itself, I attended the operation moonbeam gold command room in Bilston Glen to witness the effectiveness of the partnership working and see the scale of the challenge faced as events unfolded in real time, and I cannot praise the police and partners enough. Planning and preparation for bonfire night includes prevention and diversionary work in local communities by a range of partners, particularly in the areas most affected by fireworks, where there is serious and multiple deprivation.

With partners, the Scottish Government has also launched our three long-standing national public awareness-raising campaigns to enhance the messaging on the new proxy supply offence. Again, we have funded

Trading Standards Scotland colleagues so that they are better able to promote and enforce the new legislation around sales.

Photo of Sue Webber Sue Webber Conservative

A constituent of mine wrote to me yesterday to express their concern about the disgraceful scenes across Edinburgh at the weekend, after violence erupted and police were injured in petrol bomb attacks. A substantial number of youths terrorised residents by throwing fireworks at innocent car drivers and incendiary devices at emergency response vehicles. Police vehicles were attacked and officers suffered facial and eye injuries. That utterly disgraceful behaviour cannot be repeated.

The Scottish National Party rushed through the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill in June but has done nothing to address community safety concerns. Will the minister commit to reversing the SNP budget cuts to the police to ensure that our officers have the resources to tackle that type of disorder and keep our communities safe?

Photo of Elena Whitham Elena Whitham Scottish National Party

Although I associate myself with Sue Webber’s comments on the intolerable behaviour that we saw, at this point in time we have only a resource spending review in front of us; we do not have a budget set. I will keep a close eye on the situation, because our communities cannot endure what we saw last weekend. We need to have in place enough resources to do the early intervention and preventative work that we need to do in communities where there is multiple deprivation and we see a rise in such cases.

I will get back to the member on the issue.