New Clause. — (Marking of Fireworks.)

Orders of the Day — Fireworks Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th May 1951.

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(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, no fireworks shall be consigned from the factory in which they were made unless each firework bears conspicuously the name of the occupier of the factory and the address of the factory.

(2) The foregoing subsection shall not apply to—

  1. (a) fireworks weighing less than one-eighth of an ounce each;
  2. (b) fireworks of the kinds set out in the Schedule to this Act;
  3. (c) fireworks of such other kinds as the Secretary of State may by regulations contained in a statutory instrument prescribe,
but no fireworks of the kinds set out in the foregoing paragraphs shall be consigned from the factory in which they were made unless every container in which they are consigned, including both containers in which they are to be sold to the public and containers for consignment in bulk, bears conspicuously the name of the occupier of the factory and the address of the factory.

(3) Nothing in either of the foregoing sub sections shall apply to fireworks consigned from a factory under a contract for the supply of those fireworks to the Crown.

(4) If the foregoing provisions of this section are contravened in respect of any fireworks, the occupier of the factory shall on summary conviction be liable to a penalty not exceeding—

  1. (a) ten pounds; or
  2. (b) an amount equal to twenty shillings for every pound of fireworks in respect of which he is convicted,
whichever is the greater:

Provided that the maximum fine in respect of fireworks consigned on any one day shall be one hundred pounds.

(5) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (9) of section forty of the principal Act (which as extended by an Order in Council under that Act, requires the import of fireworks to be under licence from the Secretary of State) the Secretary of State may, for the purpose of ensuring that imported fireworks in the possession of the public can be traced back to the person who imported them, annex to an importation licence under that paragraph for the importation of fireworks requirements as to the marking, whether before or after importation, of fireworks or their containers similar to the requirements imposed by the foregoing subsection.

The reference in this subsection to the provisions of the principal Act shall include a reference to those provisions as they have effect in Northern Ireland.

(6) A person against whom proceedings are brought under this section shall, upon information duly laid by him and on giving to the prosecution not less than three clear days' notice of his intention, be entitled to have any person, to whose act or default he alleges that the contravention of the provisions in question was due, brought before the court in the proceedings, and, if after the contravention has been proved the original defendant proves that the contravention was due to the act or default of that other person, that other person may be convicted of the offence, and, if the original defendant further proves that he has used all due diligence to secure that the provisions in question were complied with, he shall be acquitted of the offence.

(7) Where a defendant seeks to avail himself of the provisions of the last foregoing subsection—

  1. (a) the prosecution, as well as the person whom the defendant charges with the offence, shall have the right to cross-examine him, if he gives evidence, and any witness called by him in support of his pleas, and to call rebutting evidence;
  2. (b) the court may make such order as it thinks fit for the payment of costs by any party to the proceedings to any other party thereto.

(8) In Scotland the two last foregoing sub sections shall not apply but—

  1. (a) where a contravention of any provision of this section for which any person is liable to a fine under this section was due to an act or default of any other person, then, whether proceedings are or are not taken against the first mentioned person, that other person may be charged with and convicted of the contravention and shall be liable on conviction to the same punishment as might have been inflicted on the first mentioned person if he had been convicted of the contravention; and
  2. (b) where a person who is charged with a contravention of any provision of this section proves to the satisfaction of the court that he has used all due diligence to secure that the provision in question was complied with and that the contravention was due to the act or default of some other person, the first mentioned person shall be acquitted of the contravention.—[Mr. Moyle.]

Brought up and read the First time.

12.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Moyle Mr Arthur Moyle , Oldbury and Halesowen

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I gave certain assurances to the Members of the Standing Committee that I would, in consultation with the Home Office, consider the representations that had been made on this matter. This Clause, and another which is to follow, are the result of the consideration that was given to the proposals, particularly those which came from the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Redmayne).

The Clause introduces a new feature in the Bill, because it makes it obligatory on the manufacturer and the importer that fireworks must be marked before they are consigned for sale. There are certain limits to the practicability of this proposal which are provided for in the Clause. It is proposed that fireworks not exceeding one-eighth of an ounce shall be excluded from the obligation of marking by the manufacturer, for the simple reason that below that limit the whole process is impracticable. If, for example, the limit were increased to half an ounce, it would bring in a batch of fireworks that could not be very easily marked. To meet that difficulty to some extent, it becomes obligatory to mark the container in cases where, for example, it would not be practicable to mark the firework itself.

In connection with imported fireworks, the provision is made that the licence which the importer must obtain carries with it the condition that the fireworks he imports must bear the appropriate marking. The whole purpose of the Clause is to be able to identify if necessary, the source of fireworks released to the market. With regard to the other fireworks which are excluded—I have already referred to the limit of one-eighth of an ounce below which fireworks are excluded from marking—a schedule will be provided. These are fireworks which are supplied to the Crown, and are excluded from the Bill.

There is a provision for certain penalties to be imposed upon manufacturers or others who may be proved to have offended against the provision of the Clause. I think that those of us who have given consideration to this Clause will at once agree that it makes a vast improvement in the Bill, and, in moving it, I should like to express my appreciation to the hon. Member for Rushcliffe for having considered this matter and to other of my colleagues who have been concerned with it.

Photo of Dr Reginald Bennett Dr Reginald Bennett , Gosport and Fareham

I beg to second the Motion.

I feel that I owe an apology to the House and to the hon. Member for Old-bury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) for not having taken a more active part in the early stages of the Bill. I put forward, in extenuation of my failure, the fact that outside this Chamber I have taken a reasonable share in the responsibility for getting this Bill to its present stage. In this new Clause there is a great deal more precision and an obvious clearing up of points raised on the Committee stage, and the results of the discussions since then have helped substantially to make the Bill a great deal better than it was.

As a doctor I have felt that no penalty, even boiling oil itself, is too much for those who have been making fireworks that explode prematurely and maim children, whose innocent fun has been turned suddenly to tragedy. I have been most enthusiastic about this Measure, and I have felt we should make clear and precise what we mean by the penalties we seek to impose. At the same time I believe that we should give to those who fall foul of what we propose should be the law, ample opportunity of clearing themselves if they are in a position to do so. In giving the Clause my warmest support, I feel sure I am speaking for everyone in this House.

Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale

All of us must have been impressed by the arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) have advanced in support of this very substantial new Clause. It is interesting to notice that this new Clause is almost as large as the previous Measures we have been considering this morning. I appreciate the desire to provide for the marking of dangerous fireworks, but I should like an explanation of the subsection which excludes from the provision fireworks of the kind to be set out in the Schedule to the Bill.

On page 873 we find that three kinds of fireworks are specified, aluminium or magnesium torches, which are better known to all of us as "sparklers," and jumping crackers. Could my hon. Friend tell us why he proposes to exclude jumping crackers. Could my hon. Friend tell us why he proposes to exclude jumping crackers from the Clause? All of us, who have had any experience of Guy Fawkes night at either of the two main universities of this country, know jumping crackers very well. Also, would my hon. Friend define more closely the term "Throw-downs." It is not very clear, and for our enlightenment perhaps he would give us a further explanation.

Photo of Sir Harold Sutcliffe Sir Harold Sutcliffe , Heywood and Royton

It is very desirable to safeguard the public against the sale of unmarked fireworks and this Clause will definitely strengthen the Bill. At the beginning of the Clause it says that no fireworks shall come from a factory unless each bears conspicuously the name of the occupier of the factory and the address of the factory, and I should like one or two more details on those points.

As everybody knows, a large firm by the name of Pain are makers of fireworks, and it is customary for them to have printed on all fireworks that go out from their works the words "Pain's Fireworks," and in addition there are usually printed the words "Jas. Pain and Sons, Ltd., London, England." However, there is not always room for the latter on some of the smaller fireworks, and they are sent out only with the words "Pain's Fireworks." I should like to know if "Pain's Fireworks" would be sufficient under the wording of this Clause. Undoubtedly theirs is a well-known name, and the fact that the full name and "London, England" is not on every firework is due only to the lack of space in certain cases.

Under subsection (2) of the Clause we are told The foregoing subsection shall not apply to fireworks weighing less than one-eighth of an ounce each. I understand that some of the most dangerous fireworks, such as thunder flashes, may come within this particular subsection. Therefore, they may not be covered. I think it is important that they should be included and marked if possible.

Another point I have in mind has been referred to by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) namely, the length of the new Clause. He said it was nearly as long as the Bill itself, and I should like to hear something from the Undersecretary of State about subsection (7), which to me seems very long. One wonders if it is based on any other Section in a previous Act of Parliament For instance, it says: Where a defendant seeks to avail himself of the provisions of the last foregoing subsection (a) the prosecution, as well as the person whom the defendant charges with the offence, shall have the right to cross-examine him, if he gives evidence, and any witness called by him in support of his pleas, and to call rebutting evidence;". Is it really necessary to have all those words included? They seem to add to the length of the Clause and to be merely verbiage which is not strictly necessary. May I, in conclusion, again say that we gladly welcome the Bill?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

I am not certain whether I ought to declare my interest in this Bill. I have no interest in fireworks except a certain amount of suspicion. When I see a new Clause of this length, couched in these words, which has been described as almost as long as the Bill itself, I think it is only right that we should ask for assurances from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle). We know, for example, that he is Private Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, and on an occasion of this kind, when most of the Members from Scotland are attending to their constituencies, we find him sponsoring an innocent looking Bill dealing with fireworks. It is couched in very vague words, and I too, should like to have a definition of jumping crackers and "Throw-downs."

12.30 p.m.

In the first page of the Bill occur these words: Where a government inspector for the purposes of the principal Act finds in a magazine… Ought we not to have a definition of "magazine"? If fireworks can be found in a magazine we might even find that our lockers have been searched because one of us might have in his locker a magazine which could be used as a receptacle for fireworks. I am sure that my hon. Friend has come here with honest intentions, but so did Guy Fawkes. Indeed, I have heard it said that he was the only man who has ever come here with honest intentions and that there has not been one since. I should like my hon. Friend to give us these definitions so that we shall know that there are no sinister political implications in this lengthy new Clause, which he has introduced in such very suspicious circumstances.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

I would like the Under-Secretary to give us an elucidation of subsections (6) and (7) of the proposed new Clause, and to tell us whether the procedure contained in them has already been applied. So far as my knowledge goes, this kind of third-party-criminal procedure is something new. It might not be so, but the provision in subsection (7) suggests that there is something unusual about it. There are special provisions for witnesses to be cross-examined, and that indicates that something unusual is being done.

While I would not like for one moment to cause any complication, and least of all any obstruction, of this matter, I feel that a little explanation is required when an unusual procedure of this kind is introduced. These subsections appear to contemplate that a person against whom a charge is made can thereupon give notice that there is someone else against whom he says proceedings ought to be taken. He is then entitled to have that person brought before the court, and, if the case is proved, to have that other person substituted for himself. So far as my experience goes that procedure is quite new, and I would like to be satisfied that it has been considered very carefully and that all the implications are being borne in mind.

Photo of Mr Arthur Moyle Mr Arthur Moyle , Oldbury and Halesowen

In reply to the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), I would say that the Clause provides for those fireworks to be excluded which are impracticable from the standpoint of marking. The containers will be subject to marking, and that is provided for in the Clause. As to the nature of these fireworks I can assure him and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that jumping crackers are only small squibs. I understand that "Throw-downs" are made of very small circular stones—not the Stone of Destiny or the Stone of Scone—rather resembling ordinary marbles. They are coated with a little powder, and when they are thrown down this causes a slight explosion when they reach the pavement. I give these two definitions to assure my hon. Friends of my honest intentions. The reference to "aluminium or magnesium torches" is to what are popularly known as "sparklers." I hope that these assurances will satisfy my hon. Friends.

With regard to the question asked by the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe), it is hardly fair to impose upon the Home Office the task of having to decide which firm is within the law and which firm is not. Nevertheless, I hardly think that "Pain's Fireworks" is good enough, but I think that if they were to mark them "Pain's, London, England," they might get away with the marking.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey De Freitas Mr Geoffrey De Freitas , Lincoln

Perhaps I might reply to the two points which were put to me about subsections (6) and (7). I would assure the hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Mr. Heald), who raised the matter, that there are precedents for this procedure in the legislation on food and drugs, factories and so on. The unusual wording is included because the occupier—the Bill carries very heavy penalties—may be 300 or 400 miles away, and may be a corporation. It may be highly desirable that some one on the spot who is really responsible should be penalised in this matter. The procedure has been found to work well for some time in the case of food and drugs.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

Like my hon. and learned Friend, I have some qualms about this particular proposal which seems to me setting a great trap to catch a mouse. I do not think a great deal of harm comes to the public which these provisions seek to prevent, and to give the power which is proposed in one of these subsections seems to be very dangerous. I hope that it will receive due attention in another place. I shall say nothing further now.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The provisions of the Bill enable us to deal with a very serious danger to young children and even to adults. I regret having to say that there are one or two firms who have been engaged in this trade and who have shown a complete disregard of the public safety. We have been quite powerless to take effective action against them. If the Bill had not been brought forward, I should have had, I think, during the coming Session to ask the House to take notice of this matter in a Government Bill.

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham

That was not my point, which was an objection to the procedure of the provisions of subsections (6) and (7) of the proposed new Clause. I sought an assurance that the matter had been considered because the provisions seemed to be very severe for the type of offence.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I will see that the noble Lord's remarks and reservations are examined, and that if it should appear that anything here is unduly severe and unjustifiable in the public interest, appropriate action is suggested in another place. I do not want the House to be under any misapprehension as to the importance of this Measure. It seems a particularly mean thing, after firms have been warned about it, that fireworks of a dangerous character continue to be placed in the way of children who, quite innocently, buy them and encounter severe physical disabilities as a result.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.