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Sales of Acidic Substances

Volume 574: debated on Monday 27 January 2014

7. What recent assessment her Department has made of the availability of over-the-counter acidic substances and the use of such substances in violent crime. (902171)

Acid attacks are an extreme form of violence that the coalition Government is committed to tackling and preventing. The Home Office recently consulted on proposals to improve control of explosive precursors and harmful poisons and chemicals, including some highly corrosive acids, as part of the UK’s Contest strategy. We will ensure that proportionate measures are put in place to prevent the misuse of the most dangerous substances.

I thank the Minister for that response and the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), for his written reply to me on the matter. Mr Hugh Reilly, a plumber in my constituency, has told me that he has to use a substance that is over 90% sulphuric acid to unblock drains. He has told me that unfortunately it is increasingly being used for attacks, particularly on women. In a tragic accident, an innocent householder put the substance down his drain. It burnt through the pipes overnight, went through the floor and burned the face of a five-year-old boy sleeping in the apartment below. Surely we need some system of registration and regulation so that only authorised and qualified people can purchase those substances.

I am sorry to hear about the horrific incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We saw a report of another such attack on the front page of The Sun this morning, although fortunately someone was found guilty in that case. An EU regulation is being brought forward on the marketing and use of explosive precursors, and it separates chemicals into those that have a history of effective misuse across Europe and those that are less harmful. The great problem, as he recognises, is that many of those chemicals have legitimate uses in household activities, such as clearing drains and cleaning jewellery, so regulating them for legitimate use would be quite difficult, but we are determined to do what we can to identify the problems.