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Lord Lucas: My Lords, one should note that I said that these were already crimes. Whether a person uses a firework or a pickaxe to hit a dog, it is the same crime. It is not the crime of the firework existing that someone chooses to use it against the dog; it is the crime of the person wishing to harm the dog. That is the mistake we made as regards handguns. I do not wish us to make it again.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I find it rather strange that this Bill and handguns can be put into the same context. However, I think that many in this House were slightly surprised by the words of the noble Lord concerning many charitable organisations. I think that they, too, will be surprised. But that is a matter for the noble Lord and he is free to make those aspersions.
The second problem is inconsiderate use of fireworks. The ready availability of fireworks means that, unfortunately, they will be used in an inconsiderate manner by many people, although this could be a small proportion of the overall use of fireworks. That is why self-regulation, as has existed until now, is no longer realistic. The Bill is supported by the fireworks industry. It is a good Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, fulfilled the criterion that this House needs to fulfil in that this Bill perhaps should be scrutinised in this place.
I take on board the words of the noble Lord, Lord Carternamely, that this Bill, if amended, would fall. This is a good Bill. It needs no amendment. On these Benches, we shall do everything to ensure that the Bill receives a swift passage.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, for the extremely comprehensive way she introduced the Bill, and for her description of the great support she has received from various organisations around the country. That was very useful for noble Lords to know.
A cynic once said that Guy Fawkes was the only person who had ever entered Parliament with the right idea! Bonfire Night is about as politically an incorrect celebration as one could envisagenamely, the burning, in effigy, of a religious opponent, a misguided revolutionary who had been arrested, tortured and then hanged, drawn and quartered. It may surprise some of your Lordships to learn that the "thanksgiving service for the deliverance of November 5th" was not removed from the prayer book until 1854. Until modern times, the event was often marred by anti-Popery demonstrations.
But 5th November is not the only date when fireworks are now used as part of a celebration. The festival of Diwalithe Hindu festival of lightnow seems to attract a large, but usually well organised, fireworks display in October or November. In addition, private events seem to be used as the excuse for letting off fireworks throughout the year. At around 10 p.m. last Friday near my home, there was a startling 10-minute outburst of explosions, presumably to celebrate a birthday. I cannot imagine that it was to celebrate the centenary of the Central Line or the creation of the Japanese yen, which both happened on that same date in 1871.
To give your Lordships some idea of the noise pollution caused by fireworks, the British Fireworks Association admits that the removal by its members of single-tube air bombs, a kind of Roman candle with a small whistle-bang rocket, which came into effect on 1st January last, will result in a staggering 30 million fewer loud bangs every year. That is apart from the hundreds of casualties that these particular so-called "pocket money" devices cause every year.
According to the association, one third of all fireworks injuries are caused by the fireworks being "misused by hooligans". We look forward to seeing what improvement in the number of casualties there is this year as a result of this act of self-denial on the part of British Fireworks Association members.
I live in a high part of London on the Hampstead border from where I have splendid views to the north and west. On Bonfire Night and, as I have said, during the surrounding weekends, on looking out of my windows I see the sky lit by distant displays of fireworks that look like a battle scene. Fortunately, from inside my house I can watch those displays without having to listen to the noise.
Apart from the human casualties, animal welfare groups are concerned about the distressing effects of the noise of fireworks on household pets, especially on guide dogs, which of course are more than simply household pets. Noble Lords will have received a powerful, but mercifully succinct, briefing from a number of the groups supporting this Bill, with an especially cogent reminder from Guide Dogs for the Blind of the substantial amount it costs that charity
Injuries, both severe and lesser, and even deaths, along with noise pollution and damage to property and the cost of the provision of extra public emergency and medical services are all reasons for the introduction of further measures over and above the voluntary code of practice of the British Fireworks Association, which distributes 95 per cent of all family fireworks in the United Kingdom. Apart from the apparent shortcomings of the voluntary code, that still leaves 5 per cent unregulated.
The provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Noise Act 1996 are ineffective, in my opinion, in dealing properly with the noise nuisance. There are not enough enforcement officials to police every back garden in the country, and by the time a complaint has been made to the local environmental enforcement office and someone has been sent out to investigate, usually the party is already over and the damage done. Anyone who has complained about a noisy party with deafening amplified music will know only too well how long it takes between lodging a complaint and someone able to come along to do something about it.
This Bill is another in a long series of attempts to deal with the perennial fireworks problem. This time it avoids any attempt to deal with the specific damage and ill effects caused by fireworks and approaches the issue solely from the aspect of the supply of fireworks. It was introduced as a Private Member's Bill by the honourable Member for Hamilton South, who I see is standing below the Bar. I congratulate him on having secured the Bill's passage through the other place after no doubt shrewd tactical negotiations with the Government.
The Bill has received cross-party support in the other place, including that of Members of the Opposition Front Bench. That is not to say that its provisions, as distinct from the principles that it seeks to establish, are not subject to certain small reservations on our part. Indeed, some of those reservations were met by constructive amendments proposed by my honourable friends the Members for Blaby and Christchurch. As a consequence, I am glad to see that the regulations to be made under this Bill will be subject to the affirmative procedure and that the Government must subject any proposed regulations to full regulatory impact assessment.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, pointed out, this is an enabling Bill and, as is usual with such measures, its efficacy will depend entirely on the content of the resulting regulations, which we will have the opportunity to scrutinise at a later date.
Lastly, I turn to the timetable for the regulations. We are only four months away from what might be called the fireworks season. I would like to hope that, before then, the regulations will have been drafted, subjected to the regulatory assessment procedure and approved by both Houses, taking into account that the Summer Recess is almost upon us.
I want to say briefly to my noble friend that I certainly heard what he said and that of course it is entirely for him to decide on what he will or will not do. But I should like to point out to him that this Bill was well scrutinised in the other place. It was not simply pushed through. Although I understand the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that we in this House like to believe that the only well-revised Bills are those which are scrutinised in this House, we know that sometimes our colleagues in another place do a splendid job.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for bringing forward this important Bill and I was glad to note the general support expressed for it during its passage through the other place. Quite simply, the Government support the Bill. Moreover, the speeches we have heard in this House suggest that there is, with one exception, a consensus among noble Lords in support of the measure. I was particularly glad to hear the speech made by my noble friend Lord Carter. He talked about this issue from real personal experience, which I thought was very helpful.
The support expressed today in this House reflects the broad support given to the Bill by many interested parties and various organisations, many of which were mentioned during the debate. We heard about the Guide Dogs for the Blind charity, the RSPCA, Blue Cross, the TUC, the British Medical Association and, indeed, the fireworks industry as a whole as represented by the British Fireworks Association.
Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lord Brooke that if this Private Member's Bill should fail, the Home Secretary has expressed a desire to see what parts of it could reasonably be incorporated into the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. However, I hope that we shall not have to take that course, although we shall seriously consider it if that proves to be necessary.
Many people have serious concerns about the issue of fireworks, although it should also be noted that they are products from which many derive a great deal of pleasure. Notwithstanding the latter, a significant number of letters regularly arrive in the post-bag at the Department of Trade and Industry complaining about the misuse of fireworks and the consequent noise and nuisance that they cause. Many in our communities, including families with young children, older people and pet owners, all too often suffer at the hands of the irresponsible few who spoil things for the majority. I believe that this Bill provides us with the opportunity to control the sale and use of fireworks, which will help to control not only the rogue elements who misuse fireworks, but also to create a better regulatory framework for the supply and use of fireworks.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that we want people to associate fireworks with pleasure and wonder and not with vandalism, injury and shell-shocked animals. I greatly enjoy fireworks but I see no reason why Notting Hill should every so often be turned into a place where it sounds as though the Battle of the Somme is being fought between warring factions in London. It is not necessary for pleasure or enjoyment.
Let me explain to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, why the Bill is necessary. It does not cover matters which are covered by other Bills. The existing primary legislation used by my department to control fireworks is the Consumer Protection Act 1987, which provides regulation-making powers to deal with the safety of goods intended for private use or consumption and the provision of information in relation to those goods. However, there are limitations to the ways in which the powers in the Act can be exercised. For example, they do not enable the safe use of goods to be regulated.
The current secondary legislation made under the 1987 Act, the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997, regulates certain kinds of fireworks in the following way. They prohibit the supply to the public of aerial shells, aerial maroons, shells-in-mortar and maroons-in-mortar, mini-rockets and fireworks of erratic flightfor example, squibs, jumping crackers, helicoptersas well as bangers, including batteries containing bangers and Chinese crackers. Furthermore, the 1997 regulations require all fireworks intended for supply to the general public to meet the requirements of British Standard 7114, the current safety standard for fireworks supplied to the consumer. The regulations also increase the minimum age for the supply of fireworks from 16 to 18 years of age.
There are powers under the Explosives Act 1875 to deal with the rather anti-social activity of letting off fireworks in the street or any other public place, to ban the sale of fireworks in the street and to govern safe storage of fireworks through legislation and licensing requirements.
The Health and Safety Act 1974 also has regulatory import with regard to fireworks, where employers are required to ensure the safety of persons at work, which would include fireworks displays where the operators are employees. But this does not cover public fireworks displays which are operated voluntarily, such as the Rotary Club or Scout and Guide displays.
The main purpose of the Bill is therefore to provide the Secretary of State with an enabling framework of powers to address, by way of regulations, a number of fireworks problems which cannot be addressed by the powers available to current Acts of Parliament; to fill the spaces between such pieces of legislation and, in certain instances, supersede them. The Bill would thereby confer on the Government the power to make regulations to control, among other things, the times of day when fireworks may be used, the maximum noise limits on fireworks sold to the public and the importation of fireworks. Regulations would also require suppliers of fireworks to be licensed and ensure that public fireworks display operators meet certain conditions before giving displays.
As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was courageous in standing up to make his points. It is a characteristic we have seen on a number of occasions. However, he put forward a misguided view. We have been here before, in 199798, when a similar Bill was talked out on its last day by a number of Opposition Back Bench MPs making a wider point about the fullness and accountability of debates on Private Members' Bills. I do not believe that we want to go down that route again.
The reason I believe the noble Lord is misguided is because I can see nothing in the Bill which would reduce in any way the enjoyment that most citizens have in fireworks. All it would reduce is the pleasure of those people who enjoy frightening their fellow citizens or animals. We can all agree that that is a good objective and I can see nothing in the Bill which would reduce the enjoyment that the average member of the public has in fireworks.
The noble Lord's interpretation of Clause 2(1)(a) was somewhat wild. The fact that any regulations have to be agreed by an affirmative order of both Houses should give him some comfort that the regulations will not ban totally the use of fireworks in this country.
We shall certainly take on board the three points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Milleron enforcement procedures, training courses and the timetable for regulationsalthough consultation may take a little time and we would be doing extremely well to get them in for 5th November.
If the Bill becomes law the following benefits are envisaged. It will provide an ability to reduce noise nuisance, specifically by prohibiting fireworks use beyond a particular time at night and by the possible restriction of sales over certain periods of the year. To much the same end, it will enable the Government to apply restrictions on or prohibition of the supply of certain kinds of fireworks, particularly with a view to
The Bill very properly complements the general move towards reducing anti-social behaviour in society, ranging from unintentional nuisance caused by excessive noise at unreasonable times to those whose intention is to misuse fireworks in a manner which endangers both the general public and themselves.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that those are admirable objectives. We believe that they are the right objectives. We would like to see the Bill enacted but if it will help to ensure the safe passage of the Bill, we in the DTI will be more than happy to have meetings with the noble Lord and to reassure him on any particular points.
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