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13. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): What efforts he is making to help to ensure that Israel implements international law on the obligations of occupying powers and the provisions of UN resolutions 242 and 338. [23007]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Government have repeatedly called on Israel to respect international law, including the fourth Geneva convention. High contracting parties to the convention met in Geneva on 5 December and called on the parties in the region to ensure the protection of the civilian population, and on Israel to refrain from violations of the convention. The Government continue to work towards a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the middle east on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Richard Burden: I thank my hon. Friend for reaffirming UN resolutions 242 and 338, which, as he knows and among other things, call for Israel's withdrawal from the west bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. Does he agree that it is ironic that while Israel stays in an area in which it has no right to be, a Palestinian from another part of the west bank is liable to be arrested if he or she sets foot in east Jerusalem? That happened to Dr. Mustafa Barghouti of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees just last week—he was arrested and his knee caps broken by Israeli troops. Italian MEP Luisa Morgantini was also thrown to the ground.

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Will my hon. Friend join me in looking into what happened to Dr. Barghouti and call on Israel to refrain from such breaches of human rights?

Mr. Bradshaw: I will certainly look into the case that my hon. Friend has raised. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear earlier, the British Government deplore the Israeli policy of closures,

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although it must be said that during the last few days, as we have enjoyed—relatively speaking—the quietest period since the beginning of the latest intifada, the closures have eased somewhat. Israel is entitled to its security, however. It should withdraw its troops from area A, but its total withdrawal from the occupied territories must be part of an overall peace settlement in the region, which I think all Members support.

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Control of Fireworks

3.30 pm

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I beg to move,

I am by no means the first Member to seek to introduce legislation such as this. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) and for Lincoln (Gillian Merron). I pay particular tribute to my hon. and good Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). We share a constituency border, and in our campaign against the abuse of fireworks we have always shared a common cause.

I also pay tribute to the campaigning work done over many years by the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). He is proof that it is possible for Members in all parts of the House to join in support of sensible and much-needed social change, whatever other political differences they may have.

Let me also apologise to the 36 Members whom my office welcomed as sponsors of the Bill when they telephoned, before the Public Bill Office explained that there was a limit of 12. I am sure that they will find ways of expressing their support on another occasion.

A little over two years ago, on 8 December 1999, I had the good fortune to secure an Adjournment debate on the subject of fireworks. That good fortune appears to have rubbed off on the Minister who replied, for she is now Secretary of State for the entire Department—the Department of Trade and Industry, that is. I trust that my right hon. Friend will not consider me unduly pedantic if I seek today to remind her officials of some of the undertakings and opinions that she gave on that occasion.

First, let me set out the reasons why I consider my Bill to be necessary. It may surprise Members to learn that the law allows a private individual to take delivery of 20 tonnes of fireworks—indeed, of any quantity, unlimited—and to store them for up to 14 days, with no obligation to notify a competent authority and with no official record being required. Nor is the firework company under any obligation to ensure that the person taking delivery is competent to handle such an enormous amount of explosives. There is no licence and no registration; there is only a rather loose insistence that the fireworks be kept in a safe and suitable place.

The Explosives Act 1875, which permits this monstrous state of affairs, does not define what a safe and suitable place might be, but if it did the definition would now almost certainly be obsolete. Firework technology has moved on somewhat in the 137 years since the Act received Royal Assent. We are subject to inadequate and archaic legislation that leaves the public at substantial risk.

When I raised the issue with the Secretary of State, as she now is, in 1999, she reassured me by saying:

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The HSE review ended on Friday 18 February 2000. Now, nearly two years later, the HSE's report has yet to be published. How long it would take for any of its recommendations to be implemented is a matter that I leave to the House's conjecture.

I am happy to acknowledge that in 1997 the new Labour Government passed the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations, as set out in SI 2294. All fireworks sold to the general public must comply with those regulations and must accord with British standard 7114. The minimum age for purchasing fireworks was rightly raised from 16 to 18 years and various powerful fireworks such as maroons-in-mortar, aerial shells, aerial maroons and those fireworks of erratic flight such as helicopters, squibs and jumping jacks were all banned from public supply.

In my previous debate, I congratulated the then Minister on the fact that those measures had resulted in an immediate 26 per cent. drop in the number of injuries requiring hospital treatment to 908 in 1997. However, that positive trend was reversed in 1999, pushing the figure up to 1,056. My right hon. Friend's successor, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North in October last year, took comfort in the idea that the blip could be accounted for by the millennium celebrations, which had pushed the volume of sales up. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend's logic was flawed, because although the subsequent year saw a drop of 8 per cent. to 972 injuries, the drop in the volume of sales was 30 per cent, so, proportionately, the number of injuries was much higher. There was also a substantial rise in the number of injuries to those aged between 13 and 15

The Under-Secretary also remarked that the voluntary code of practice whereby the industry restricts sales to the public to a three-week period around 5 November, though not perfect, "has generally worked well." Those of us who have been campaigning for many years for better controls on fireworks know that that is a unique code in the sense that it is distinguished by being more often broken than observed. My constituents have been subjected to a constant unabated barrage of fireworks from early October of last year through to the new year. They do not find the idea that the voluntary code has "worked well" laughable, but they certainly find it ridiculous.

The Under-Secretary stated:

Those words caused nothing but despair to many at trading standards, who comment wryly:

The point is that there is no power under current legislation to revoke a vendor's registration. What is required, and what trading standards has repeatedly asked for, is a proper system of licensing that would enable it to enforce the laws and ensure that such a sanction applied to those traders who flout the regulations. My Bill will provide that.

On 27 October last year, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received a telephone call from a parent whose small son had been traumatised

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by seeing a cat blown up by a firework on the school playing field. When the RSPCA went to inspect, it found the dismembered leg of a dog nearby. One child was traumatised. Two animals were dead. That was just one incident. Three days later the Under-Secretary stated:

My hon. Friend called that

Those are not my words, although I agree with every one of them. They are the words of the current Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she replied to my debate two years ago. She concluded by saying

My Bill does precisely that. It builds on the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton. It revives her Bill and it would bring enormous relief to thousands of people in constituencies around the country where fireworks are no longer enjoyed but loathed and dreaded.

Given the words of the Secretary of State that I have just quoted, I trust that I have her support.

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