Clause 10 — Training Courses

Fireworks Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 13th June 2003.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:15 pm, 13th June 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 63, in page 6, line 10, leave out clause 10.

The amendment was inspired by the receipt late on Wednesday of the regulatory impact assessment on the Bill. The clause introduces a lot of regulation, requirements about training and so on. We probably know from our constituency postbags that some of these requirements impinge disproportionately on small businesses and shopkeepers—on the small business person, rather than the large multiple. If a butcher, for example, has to go on a training course, he has to find somebody else to run his shop. A little café
in Highcliffe in my constituency recently obtained a licence to sell alcohol with meals, and the proprietor is required to go on a training course. He needs no training in something like that—he is a fit and proper person for the task. The requirement to go on a training course means that he will have to close his café
or get someone in in his stead.

My instinct that there is no evidence of a problem that needs to be addressed, particularly in the case of organised displays, was confirmed when I read paragraph 5.4 of the regulatory impact assessment, which states in respect of training of display operators:

"There is no clear evidence of major incidence of death or serious injury caused by the use of fireworks by display operators. We do know that there have been occasional serious accidents in the past. But in the cases for which the Health and Safety Executive . . . have recent accident reports, there is still little clear evidence that the injuries sustained by members of the public were as a direct result of incompetence or the unprofessional use of fireworks."

The assessment proceeds to point out that although there has been a sharp increase in the number of injuries from fireworks in general terms, the number of injuries sustained at firework displays has remained fairly static, dropping in 2000 to 119, from the 1998 figure of 132. In 2001, the figure rose a little.

The important point is that we do not duplicate legislation. The regulatory impact assessment states that event organisers and display operators already have duties

"under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of members of the public, as well as their and others' employees. These duties would . . . require"— regardless of anything in the Bill—

"operators to carry out a full site assessment; ensure that the equipment they use is suitable for the purpose; and ensure that they and their staff are competent and properly trained."

The assessment also states:

"The Health and Safety Executive . . . believes that the fireworks display industry has a generally very good safety record."

Those are very important arguments for leaving things as they are and not introducing the very convoluted regulation contained in clause 10.

We are almost getting into a mindset whereby we think that we should introduce a requirement for training, tests and so on through back-door regulation. We sometimes lose sight of the big picture, and the big picture in fireworks is that general safety would be improved if more people went to organised firework displays, rather than choosing to run them in their own gardens. Yet I suspect that if unamended, clause 10 would impose unnecessary and counter-productive burdens on those who are contemplating organising firework displays, add to their costs and encourage much smaller, unofficial firework displays. If the Minister has signed up to the regulatory impact assessment, why will she not carry through the logic of it and accept that we would be better off without clause 10?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I very much hope that when the Minister sums up, she will make it absolutely clear to the House that she does not intend to insist on introducing regulations to require training. As my hon. Friend Mr. Chope said, some people make it their business to provide public fireworks displays—incidentally, it is quite commonly retired or practising vicars who enjoy doing it; I do not know why. They are very responsible people. There is no evidence whatever that they are causing death or injury to themselves or anyone else. As my hon. Friend said, the Government's own regulatory impact assessment says in paragraph 5.4:

"There is no clear evidence of major incidence of death or serious injury".

Training takes up people's time, and it is not necessary. When my hon. Friend and I were discussing the Bill in the past two days, we both felt that it was important to drive this point home, and that we really did want an assurance from the Minister that she would not regulate to require training. If the hon. Lady will give us that assurance now, we shall be satisfied.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Training is very important in some of these contexts. We would be neglecting our responsibilities in the House if we did not support the provision of training courses. The elimination of the entire clause, as proposed in the amendment, would leave no provision in the Bill to ensure safe and professional practice in the fireworks display industry. Displays do of course provide a safe way for people to watch and enjoy fireworks, but one reason why that is so is that people are highly trained and qualified to run such displays.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

So what is the purpose of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974?

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

That is a very general question to which I cannot respond in like terms.

We would not wish to leave the supply of professional fireworks to those with little knowledge of their product. With products to whose supply and use a number of risks are attached, it is important that the Government should be able to ensure that the aims that we all agree are important under clause 2(1) and (3) are upheld and strengthened. An officially organised training course would ensure high standards while excluding the novice from such enterprises.

I cannot comment on the relationship of this Bill with the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act because that is a large piece of legislation. I am happy to undertake to write to him, but I think it is very important that we provide for training. That training helps to ensure that people who handle the equivalent of explosives and set up displays and use or supply the product are appropriately qualified.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Of course people who run displays must be properly trained and do their job; no one is denying that. But the Minister is not suggesting, is she, that there is any lack of training at the moment? Is she saying that there are cowboys, not properly trained, who are moving around the country causing death or injury to people? If she is saying that, that entirely contradicts her own regulatory impact assessment. The training is taking place. It works. All that we want to hear from the Minister today is that she will not impose a set of new regulations requiring new training, which is plainly not necessary.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Of course plenty of training is being done and some of that works well, and there are some highly professional people setting up displays; no one would question that. However, it would be a rash person who would assert that every such person had done everything that should be done, and had been properly trained. There are always cowboys out there.

If the hon. Gentleman is seeking my assurance that we are not thinking of some radically bureaucratic system to impose on all those dealing with fireworks training of a very different character from that envisaged at present, I am sure that I can give him that assurance. However, the amendment would delete the clause full stop, and many hon. Members, including myself, find that unacceptable.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am disappointed in the Minister's response. I read from the regulatory impact assessment—if the hon. Lady she had not read it before, I hope that she was listening—and paragraph 5.5 makes it clear:

"Event organisers and display operators have duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974".

It also says that duties under the existing law

"require operators to carry out a full site assessment; ensure that the equipment they use is suitable for the purpose; and ensure that they and their staff are competent and properly trained."

If operators' staff are not competent or properly trained, the operators are in breach of existing legislation—the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. The more the House tries to duplicate general legislation such as that Act, the more we undermine the responsibility we believe people should take for organising effective health and safety at work.

The issue is close to my heart because I served on the Health and Safety Commission for so long. The Health and Safety and Work, etc. Act 1974 has stood the test of time, but it will not continue to stand the test of time if people who operate within its bounds are told that there must be duplication to comply with a fresh lot of regulations.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development)

I raised training courses on Second Reading. I am worried that people might be compelled to go on training courses that are frankly unnecessary, so what my hon. Friend says is broadly right.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful for the endorsement of my hon. Friend and the official Opposition. What he and I have said is in line with what my hon. Friend Bob Spink said on Second Reading:

"We want more professional displays—we do not want to raise barriers to them—and I am not aware that there is a major problem with the safety of professional displays."—[Hansard, 28 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 485.]

That is our position and it is why I shall press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 9, Noes 78.

Division number 231

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Before we proceed, may I remind the Tellers that the correct procedure is that, on reaching the Table, they should bow again to the Chair.