Schedule — Repeals and Revocation

Fireworks Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 13th June 2003.

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Amendment made: No. 2, in page 10, line 15, at end insert—

'Road Traffic Act 1974 (c. 50) Section 18.'.

[Miss Melanie Johnson.]

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 1:42 pm, 13th June 2003

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I wish to thank everyone for the consensual nature of the debate on Report. When I saw that the debate was to take place on Friday 13 June, I was deeply concerned that yet another Fireworks Bill would not get through Third Reading. I wish to thank everyone who attended and participated in the debate. It seemed like a long time between Second and Third Readings, but circumstances dictated the delay.

The safe passage of a meaningful Bill on the misuse of fireworks is long overdue. It is essential to have a proper debate on issues that are important not only to Members of Parliament but to the electorate in general. The choice is between passing the Bill and achieving a proper fireworks regime, or allowing continual misuse and abuse of fireworks. I am delighted that we have reached Third Reading, and I hope that the Bill will overcome this hurdle, too.

This is an enabling Bill. Concerns have been expressed about the draconian provisions that could be introduced, but I believe that the guarantee of consultation with all interested parties is a sufficient safeguard. The Bill cedes only suitable powers to the Government and serves to approach the issues comprehensively.

A number of recent events have shown that the fireworks issue remains topical. A professional footballer was recently sentenced to 100 hours of community service and ordered to pay compensation for disfiguring a teenager with an illegal firework. More disturbing events have occurred in Liverpool. Firefighters were called to a fire in a toy warehouse in Walton. The fire then spread to a neighbouring warehouse that was being used to store fireworks illegally. The roof was removed by the resulting blast, forcing firefighters to retire to a safe distance before they could eventually tackle the blaze. Even more disturbingly, those responsible for the illegal storage have not yet been traced.

I have promised to be brief, because I understand that other Bills are awaiting safe passage through the House. I shall conclude my Third Reading speech on that note. This is not a killjoy Bill. It is a serious attempt to deal with the serious concerns of our constituents and of Members of the House. I trust that all hon. Members will support the Bill and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Minister (International Development) 1:45 pm, 13th June 2003

I am glad to have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I congratulate him again on introducing the Bill. I am delighted that it is going from this House with a fair wind. We have always said that we supported the spirit of the Bill, although, if I am honest, we remain concerned about the Henry VIII provisions. No one likes giving the Government—and, perhaps more to the point, future Governments way down the line—powers that will not come back to the House, and they are indeed draconian powers.

The discussion that we have had today, to which my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) have contributed, has been helpful. Some of the amendments that have been accepted were also helpful. The problem with private Members' Bills is that they sometimes do not have all the support that they might, although the present Bill has of course been supported by the Government. I wish the Bill well, and look forward to its successful passage through the House of Lords.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 1:46 pm, 13th June 2003

I would simply like to add a few words of support for the Bill and to congratulate Mr. Tynan. He has not had to intervene very often today, but he has helped the Bill along in a way that I think most of us respected.

At the core of the Bill is a dilemma: in many cases, fireworks give innocent pleasure, yet they can equally be associated with antisocial behaviour, noise and disruption. It is a question of getting the balance right. I was reminded of this on Monday evening, at the party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our party leader's arrival at the House of Commons. The party was held in a big garden in Harrow, and it was rounded off by a firework display—the full works. Everyone thought it a thoroughly splendid occasion, but as we walked down the drive afterwards, burglar alarms were going off all over the place and dogs were howling. No doubt there were plenty of crying babies as well. So we saw at first hand both the positive and negative sides of the situation. That rather reinforced my view that the Bill is a useful corrective.

I am very supportive of the Bill. I think that we all recognise the two principal reasons for it. One involves major legislative tidying up; the schedule shows that the hon. Gentleman is bringing together seven existing pieces of legislation and removing one past Act. The other is the importance of sending a clear signal to animal lovers and elderly people who are concerned about noise. Those are positive reasons.

Some concerns—both of commission and omission—have been registered in relation to the Bill this morning. The worry on the commission side is that, in certain circumstances, the provisions could lead to rather bureaucratic and heavy-handed regulation. That needs some attention in the other place. On the omission side, the key controversy over the decibel limit was not addressed in the Bill, although it was addressed from the Floor by the hon. Member for Hamilton, South. That is the key issue for hon. Members on both sides of the debate, but the limit has not been specified.

The other issue is enforcement. The success of this legislation will ultimately depend on whether sufficient numbers of trading standards officers and environmental health officers who have been sufficiently well briefed will be able to enforce the regulations at local level. That is what will determine whether the legislation will work. With those qualifications, I am very happy to support the Bill and to congratulate the hon. Member for Hamilton, South on having taken it so far.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee 1:49 pm, 13th June 2003

I congratulate Mr. Tynan. Private Members' Bills are delicate flowers, and they can be trampled underfoot in the parliamentary rush, but we are delivering this Bill to the hon. Gentleman with time to spare. We are grateful to him for the concessions that he has made today to make that possible. In particular, we are grateful to him for allowing us to incorporate the provision that the Bill will not apply to class 1 and class 2 fireworks, which are the ones that people use in their private homes and gardens. Above all, we have met the requirements of the fireworks industry, a reputable industry providing employment and much enjoyment. Its one fear was that when the Bill was enacted there would be no likelihood of the decibel limit being reduced from 120 to 95. That would have made it impossible to produce fireworks as we have known them throughout our lives.

We have achieved our aims. An amendment will be moved in the other place. The Minister made clear that she did not object to the principle, but feared that dealing with the amendment would delay the Bill's progress. That will not happen. The Bill will, I am sure, become law, and it will be a better Act as a result of the work we have done this morning.

1.50 pm

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

I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend Mr. Leigh. I, too, thank the hon. Member for Hamilton, South for the co-operative and common-sense way in which he has approached the Bill. It is a pity that it was not considered in more detail in Committee: I think that there is a lesson to be learnt from that, and applied to other private Members' Bills. The Minister said on Second Reading that she expected this Bill to be considered in detail in Committee, but it was not, which is probably why today's debate took so much longer than it need have.

We have established today that the Government, the promoter, the sponsors and the House do not want the decibel limit to be below 120. I am grateful to the Minister for her undertakings in that respect, and to the promoter, because the decibel limit has been the major concern. Until today an ambiguity has been built into our discussions, but we have now resolved the difference between those who wanted a 95 dB limit and those who wanted a limit of 120 dB. We have, I believe, decided in favour of common sense and a much more liberal regime than we would otherwise have had.

We have achieved quite a lot today, although at greater length than some of us would have wished. I hope that in future there will be no need for such prolonged Report stages, because Bills will have been considered properly in Committee.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health 1:52 pm, 13th June 2003

I am pleased with the enthusiastic reception and positive co-operation that the Bill has been given and the progress that it has made so far. That includes what has been done today. I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan on his excellent stewardship of the Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Linda Gilroy on her earlier work on the subject.

As for what Dr. Cable said about his leader's birthday party, I trust that a focus leaflet will be published shortly saying that this issue will be addressed as a result of Liberal Democrat activity. This is the standard to which we have become used.

Photo of Mr Keith Bradley Mr Keith Bradley Labour, Manchester, Withington

May I add some congratulations of my own? The Manchester Evening News has run an excellent campaign in support of the Bill, which I am sure helped to secure the Government's support.

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

I, too, congratulate that newspaper, and the many other regional papers that have run similar campaigns which have increased support for the Bill.

The Bill enables us to plug a serious gap. If fireworks are supplied in an irresponsible manner and are used thoughtlessly and irresponsibly, for many people "fun and joy" does not serve as an accurate description of the nuisance, fear and distress that can be caused. Some sections of the public want over-the-counter firework sales to be banned, while some go further and want fireworks themselves to be banned. As I have said, those are not realistic options and that is not the purpose of the Bill.

The Bill gives us a solid base on which to build new firework regulations. They will not prevent individuals from buying and using fireworks in a responsible way; what the Bill seeks to minimise is the irresponsible supply and antisocial use of fireworks. It will allow us, for the first time, to produce firework regulations that will make sensible controls possible.

The Bill has been supported by organisations of all kinds, including the fireworks industry. The British Fireworks Association, which represents the main firework-importing companies, and the British Pyrotechnists' Association, which mostly represents display operators, have supported it so far, and are keen for the industry to have a well-balanced body of legislation with which to comply. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concerns. I trust that the hard work that has gone into the Bill this morning and on previous occasions means that the right balance will be struck. I wish the Bill a good passage when it reaches the other place.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 1:55 pm, 13th June 2003

With the leave of the House, I would like to place on record my thanks to everyone here, to the voluntary organisations, to the various individuals and to the press throughout the country who have supported the Bill. It is important that we recognise their contribution.

There has been a genuine attempt this morning to deal with the issues of concern. I believe that we can allay the fears of hon. Members on both sides of the House and that the Bill will make a meaningful contribution to the control of the misuse of fireworks. I thank hon. Members again for their assistance.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.