Fireworks (Amendment)

– in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 21st April 2004.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East 12:31 pm, 21st April 2004

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Fireworks Act 2003.

Last autumn, problems were caused on Merseyside and elsewhere, including in my constituency, by a large number of incidents involving imported fireworks, many of which came from China. In particular, fireworks were used to attack fire crews, buses carrying people, and private property. There were even attacks on pillar boxes, and on more than one occasion the lid was blown off—one can imagine the force required, given that they are made of cast iron. Some attacks terrorised elderly people to the extent that they were afraid to go out of their houses during that period. Perhaps most worryingly of all, there is evidence that the materials from those imported fireworks were being used by people involved in organised crime to further the interests of the so-called businesses that they engage in. Clearly, there is a serious problem.

Before I go any further, I should say that I am indebted to the Merseyside police, the Merseyside fire and rescue service, Mr. John Woodhead, who is chairman of the British Fireworks Association, Knowsley borough council and many others for the advice and assistance that they have given me in preparing the Bill—although I should say that any faults are mine alone. I am also in consultation with the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend Mr. Sutcliffe, and his Department about the detail of the Bill, and I hope that at some point he will feel able to support me in my endeavours.

The purpose of the Bill, which borrows heavily from the thinking of Merseyside police and the Merseyside fire and rescue service, is to introduce proper and workable controls to regulate the importation of fireworks from abroad. The Bill seeks to amend the excellent Bill that my hon. Friend Mr. Tynan introduced last year by requiring importers of fireworks to notify the proper authorities—in most cases, Customs and Excise and the trading standards authorities—of the impending arrival of consignments. It will require them to demonstrate that those consignments will be taken to and opened up only on licensed storage sites and to give prior notice to the appropriate authority about where the fireworks will be sold. The measure also provides that fireworks must be supplied only to those with adequate registered storage facilities. The provisions will enable the authorities to get a proper grip on this growing and worrying problem.

I hoped that Mr. Forth would be present because I intended to direct my next observations at him. I accept that the ten-minute rule procedure does not allow time for proper scrutiny of Bills. I have therefore undertaken to make arrangements for informal pre-legislative scrutiny during three sittings in the second week of May. Any hon. Member, member of the public or representative of any organisation who wishes to give evidence or make representations can do so to the committee that I shall set up. It is an informal procedure and I give a further undertaking that serious note will be taken of any representations. If appropriate, I am more than willing to make proper amendments to the Bill.

I believe that it is important to apply pre-legislative scrutiny not only to Government Bills—that increasingly happens—but to private Members' measures. It gives us an opportunity to ensure that a measure is properly and fully considered.

The Bill is necessary to protect the public from the irresponsible and dangerous misuse of highly explosive materials. The term "fireworks" understates them. The measure is sensible and timely, and I hope that it will acquire the necessary support for it to be enacted.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Howarth, Janet Anderson, Mr. Joe Benton, Sir Sydney Chapman, Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Alan Meale, Dr. Lewis Moonie, Mr. Edward O'Hara, Dr. John Pugh, Mr. Bill Tynan and Sir Nicholas Winterton.