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3.39 pm

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I rise to oppose the Bill, for reasons that I shall explain. First, let me say how delighted I am that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) has raised this issue.

I oppose the Bill for two reasons. First, I do not like banning things without extremely good reason. As a Conservative, I believe in more, rather than less, freedom, and I certainly do not like banning things unless I am certain that the legislation will work, which this Bill will not. Secondly, I represent in my constituency the excellent organisation Pipedown, the campaign for freedom from piped music, which has asked me to raise this issue in the House. The honorary secretary wrote to me saying:

I agree.

My constituent Caroline Currie of Salisbury wrote to me in these terms:

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The existing regulations are quite draconian. All fireworks have to meet British standard 7114. Fireworks are protected under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Firework (Safety) Regulations 1997 and the General Product Safety Regulations 1994. In addition, the importation of fireworks can only be authorised by the Health and Safety Executive pursuant to the Placing on the Market and Supervision of Transfers of Explosives Regulations 1993.

The use of fireworks by the public is regulated by the Explosives Act 1875 as modified by the Control of Explosives Regulations 1991 and as amended by the Explosives (Age of Purchase) Act 1976 and the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

All the examples that the hon. Gentleman gave could be covered by amendments to existing legislation. His proposals will change nothing, not even cruelty to animals, which is an important issue.

The hon. Gentleman's main proposals should be seen in perspective. First, public displays are not the problem. Storage of fireworks is already controlled under existing legislation. The hon. Gentleman's proposals on public displays will not prevent the abuse of people's privacy and quiet.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman wants the Government to restrict the times of year at which fireworks can be bought. Great! On 4 November people will stock up with fireworks for the year. Nor do I wish to be a spoilsport. I love seeing fireworks all the year round—at birthday parties and celebrations for all sorts of very good reasons. It is only the British who celebrate 5 November; the rest of the world has fireworks all the year round. People just have a different approach.

Can hon. Members imagine statutory instruments deciding the times of year when people can set off fireworks, as the hon. Gentleman proposes? They would have to vary from summer to winter and between Land's End and John O'Groats according to the daylight hours.

The licensing of vendors would not control the main problem, which is noise. People object to the volume of explosions. Old people loathe it, especially if they are hard of hearing. Children loathe it, as do shift workers and night workers. Of course, so do cats and dogs. The hon. Gentleman has given us examples of that. Vets will confirm the distress caused to animals.

Last Saturday I was with a group of farmers on Salisbury Plain. We were not just taking the air; I admit that there was a certain amount of noise involved in our activities. The farmers said that they, too, think that the noise of modern fireworks is distressing to their cattle and sheep, and above all to their hens. Those farmers farm around the Salisbury Plain military training area. The Royal Artillery can fire tanks and guns; the Royal Air Force can fly over the Hercules; Boscombe Down can fly out its Tornadoes from the Empire test pilots school and the Army Air Corps can fly its helicopters—but set off a firework in Amesbury and Richard Crook's hens stop laying.

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On 26 November 2001, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), said that the Government

Quite right. She also said:

The key to the problem is to amend existing regulations. We all agree that fireworks have become too noisy and that the bangs are too big. Constituents who write to us and talk to us in the streets say that they are concerned about the noise.

If the Government were concerned about safety they would have a different attitude. No one disagrees that too many people are injured by fireworks, but the regulation proposed in the Bill is preposterous. There is a mass of legislation that could be suitably amended. With a simple statutory instrument, the Government could resolve the noise problem.

Noise is the main problem. It is not dealt with by the Bill, and that is why I oppose it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Barry Gardiner, Linda Gilroy, Linda Perham, Mr. Harry Barnes, Sir Teddy Taylor, Shona McIsaac, Siobhain McDonagh, Dr. Nick Palmer, Joan Ryan, Ross Cranston, Mr. Martin Salter and John Barrett.

Control of Fireworks

Mr. Barry Gardiner accordingly presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the sale and use of fireworks; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March, and to be printed [Bill 78].

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Orders of the Day

Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.47 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Michael Wills): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In introducing this Bill, the Government have one aim—to address the problems faced by far too many residential long leaseholders. I know that hon. Members from all parties are sympathetic to this intention and that many have received representations from disgruntled constituents who have wrestled with the difficulties of the leasehold system.

At this point, I declare a potential interest, in that my wife and I own a long leasehold on commercial property in London.

The Bill is divided into two parts. Part 1 introduces commonhold, a robust and effective alternative to long leasehold. Because of a long-standing division of labour between Departments, this part of the Bill, which is about land law, is the responsibility of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, and I shall deal with it during its passage through this House.

Part 2 of the Bill will help relieve the plight of those who hold long residential leases by reforming the existing leasehold system. The law relating to leaseholds is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), will deal with that and will wind up the Second Reading debate this evening.

The problems of long leasehold provide the impetus for the Bill. They are the wrong that the provisions of this Bill are intended to put right.

The underlying necessity for the Bill stems from a historical quirk of freehold land. Over time, the common law developed a rule that the burden of a positive covenant—that is, a promise to do something or to take on some obligation—does not run with land. That is not the case with a restrictive covenant, which is a promise to refrain from doing something. With a positive covenant, the burden does not pass from the seller to the buyer of freehold land, and successive owners of freehold land cannot enforce positive covenants when that land is sold. It is possible to enforce positive covenants only while the original covenantors retain the land.

It is therefore highly inadvisable to build freehold flats, as each flat depends on those around it for support and shelter. Similarly, the stability of the building depends on the maintenance of the flats and the common parts. A duty to support a flat above one's own would be a positive obligation, as would a duty to contribute money to repair and maintain the common parts. The recognition and enforcement of this duty would need to be realised through positive covenants, with all the consequent and serious drawbacks that I have described.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Does the Minister agree that the duty to insure is particularly

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important and that it would not be possible to enforce that on a freehold owner of a flat, whereas it would be with a leasehold owner?

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