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Lord Hoyle: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, may be posing conjectures about bad dog owners and other things, but this Bill is not about that. It is not about banning everything, so could we address the Bill as it is rather than pose conjecture about what might happen in the future?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I will come onto that matter later because, of course, the Bill is not very much as it is. The Bill is largely conjecture about what the Government intend to bring forward by way of regulations. The principal point is to ensure that this Bill, in the form of the regulations which will come forward under it, provides a reasonable balance between the interests of citizens who wish to enjoy fireworks and the interests of those who are inconvenienced by their use. That will largely be a matter for the regulations under the Bill.
I asked in the Printed Paper Office whether any draft regulations were available and I was told that there were not. If any are available, I would be delighted to see them, because some of the powers in clauses under this Bill are extremely wide. I would not be happy to see the Bill go through this House without having a very clear understanding of what the Government intend should be in the first set of regulations. The Government could either publish them or we could have a Committee stage, at which the Government could respond to amendments and set out on the Floor of the House what they intend to have in the regulations.
Secondly, I am very conscious that, with this Bill, we are regulating to try to deal with problems that stem from the misuse of fireworks, which is already illegal. I want to be very sure that the restrictions that we would place on ordinary citizens would actually have the effect of mitigating a nuisance rather than just depriving ordinary citizens of the enjoyment that they are currently getting out of using fireworks. My mind goes back to the handguns Bill, from which we have received no benefit whatever. Handgun use has gone up enormously since we passed the Bill. We have merely deprived a few thousand citizens of an innocent enjoyment, pastime and pleasure. We have received no benefit from the ban ourselves, although we did it with the best of intent.
I do not wish to see this Bill go down a similar route, because many of the illssuch as the use of fireworks directly on animals, in streets or at anti-social hours of the nightare matters that are already controlled under other legislation. I want to be certain that the powers that we are taking under this legislation will have an effect that is disproportionate to the deprivation of enjoyment that they will cause.
Most particularly, I have reservations about the meaning of Clause 2(1). As I read the clause, it amounts to a total ban on the individual use of fireworksperhaps of any use of fireworks. There is no way in which a firework can ever not be dangerous; the thing is an explosive. Explosives are, by definition, dangerous and can cause injury, alarm, distress or anxiety, whenever and however they are used. There is no way in which a dog who is sensitive to fireworks will be calmed by the thought that the display has been licensed by the local authority or that the fireworks being used fall within certain acceptable limits. A dog who is frightened of such things and, presumably, also of thunder, is frightened, and distress will be caused to such a dog wherever and whenever fireworks are used.
I agree that there should be limits on the noise of fireworks. They have become too noisy. Anything that is to be considered an ordinary firework will distress some animals. A firework of any description will be dangerous. Clause 2(1)(a) refers to provisions,
The RSPCA will use the clause to force the Government to abolish the ordinary use of fireworks. It has a great deal of money, and, as we have seen with fox hunting, it has the determination to pursue campaigns over a long time and with a great deal of support. We should not allow the Bill to go forward with the clause in it as it stands.
My basic position is that I wish to see a Committee stage, and I expect to vote. I understand the way that other noble Lords feel about the matter and that there was much support for the Bill. I will happily make available as much time as may be appropriate to the sponsor of the Bill and to the Minister, if he so wishes, to see whether my objections can be dealt with in meetings, rather than on the Floor of the House.
The Bill contains many measures that I and others have been concerned about for a long time. The Bill will enhance the safety of those who use fireworks and of those who enjoy firework displays. It will reassure those who have no option other than to put up with the nuisance and noise that they must now endure.
Cutting down on the noise of fireworks and restricting sales will, I have no doubt, make life more tolerable for us all. As noble Lords have said, fireworks are used throughout the year. I hear complaints every week about the misuse of fireworks, which seem to be used for every occasion now, rather than, as was once the case, just on 5th November. I remember that, when my children were small, I always had the dilemma of whether to buy them fireworks so that they could be the same as other children, or not. I was always apprehensive and nervous about the dangers of fireworks. I resorted to giving them sparklers, which, I now understand, can be dangerous. I appreciate that fireworks are safer now than they were.
I wish to make a few points in support of the Bill. We are all aware of children and vulnerable people who are frightened by loud and sometimes deafening noises late at night when there is a celebration going on in the neighbourhood. Animals, too, are badly affected by the noise and bright lights of fireworks. Many animal charities support the Bill.
The RSPCA, in its excellence document, Quiet Please, gives a number of examples of how animals suffer. It states that it is seriously concerned about the number of animals that become distressed by the noise and are lost or injured as a result. The RSPCA is calling for the Government to set a maximum noise level of 95 decibels, which would allow the public to enjoy their own fireworks displays. That level of noise
Loud noise levels can also upset many children. Both children and animals would benefit from a lower noise level for fireworks. The RSPCA campaign to lower the maximum level of noise has much merit to it. Noble Lords have mentioned guide dogs and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, from which we have all received briefing. My noble friend Lord Carter gave a vivid description of how guide dogs and people using them can be affected by firework noise. As my noble friend Lady Ramsay said, as well as animal charities supporting this Bill it has received support from many other bodies too, demonstrating that the Bill is welcomed by a whole range of organisations.
During Second Reading in another place, many MPs repeatedly said that they welcomed the Bill because they receive a great deal of correspondence from their constituents expressing concern regarding fireworksespecially as regards noise, nuisance and the hooligan element who misuse fireworks. All who spoke in that debate were supportive of the Bill, which is a good illustration of its popularity. I repeat that I am very grateful to my noble friend for taking the Bill through the House. I think that the majority of noble Lords speaking today will welcome it on the statute book.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, for introducing this Bill, which had cross-party support in another place and is supported very widely. I did not plan to speak in this debate until last Wednesday, when at about 12.30 a.m. I was awoken by a private fireworks display. It went on from approximately 12.30 to 1 a.m.
I loathe fireworks. I am not one of these people who would stand up and say that I like them at all. I have always loathed fireworks. Perhaps that is not the best of criteria on which to speak about the Bill. On the other hand, my wife loves fireworks. However, I support the daughter of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in her desire for a total prohibition on the use of fireworks. It may be all right to have a large display a long way away, but apart from that I am against them.
My view is not reflected in the provisions of the Bill. It is a proportionate Bill that deals with the reality of fireworks use; they are now more common and cheaper. Unfortunately, there are a large number of illegal fireworks which are dangerous and designed to cause a maximum amount of noise. That is a problem.
There are two problems. The first is the irresponsible use of fireworks. The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, speaking in his RoSPA capacity, spoke about the horrific number of accidents that have to be dealt with. Of course, those are just figures for November. Anyone living in an urban area, especially near a park, will testify