Fireworks Bill

– in the House of Lords at 12:41 pm on 4th July 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour 12:41 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Before dealing in detail with this Bill, I should like to pay tribute to my honourable friend Bill Tynan and to staff and colleagues for the time and effort which was devoted to the wide-ranging consultations in the preparation of this Bill and to the indefatigable way he successfully steered the Bill through all its stages in another place.

The unusually large numbers of MPs from all parties who participated in the discussions and supported the Bill in another place bore witness to the enormous amount of public concern which has been presented to them both from their constituents and from involved organisations of all kinds. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed various petitions on this issue and a large number of newspapers throughout the country have campaigned for fireworks control.

A recent report from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) on the issue of fireworks is one of the most comprehensive of its kind and clearly exposed the inadequacy of the current system of controlling fireworks and laid out the main issues disturbing the public.

There is the issue of noise and nuisance. All over the UK there is the clear perception that fireworks have become louder and their use extended, both throughout the year and into the night hours. Fireworks are part of celebrations now for religious festivals as well as personal celebrations such as weddings and birthdays and there are no formal decibel limits. There is also a disturbing increase in what can be called anti-social and even criminal use to destroy property and to harm people and animals.

There is also the question of injuries. Statistics show that after a decrease following the 1997 regulations and fireworks safety campaign, the past five years show the figures rising rapidly towards their previous peak. Of course the figures are recorded only for the four weeks around 5th November and so do not include injuries in the ever-increasing periods of current fireworks use such as New Year.

The BMA has written to me stating that it supports the Bill to improve fireworks safety as a necessary public health measure and expresses the hope that the Bill's provision will help to prevent the needless pain and misery of those suffering injury each year from the misuse of fireworks.

An upsetting aspect of the misuse of fireworks is the increase of injuries to both domestic and farm animals, some from deliberate attacks and others from the visual and aural effects of unexpected explosions of fireworks in their vicinity. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which has been at the forefront of the active supporters of the Bill, and to which I am particularly grateful for all its help and support, reports that currently throughout the year it has to retire prematurely, retrain or sedate many guide dogs because of fireworks. Some four to six are retired every year. As many as 50 others need retraining and hundreds more have to be sedated to help them cope with the problem. In addition to the distress to the dogs and their owners, this entails a considerable financial cost to the charity since the lifetime cost of each dog is around £35,000.

The question of control of licensing and storage is highly unsatisfactory. On payment of about £13, an annual licence for the storage of fireworks can be obtained. The local authority or, in metropolitan areas, the fire authority, cannot refuse to grant a licence and has no powers to revoke it. Over 95 per cent of fireworks in the United Kingdom are imported. There are estimates that between 9 to 13 per cent of those imported do not pass to legally-licensed storage but are stored illegally or container loads are quickly and surreptitiously split up to circumvent the laws on storage.

The existing law on fireworks is based on a number of diverse pieces of legislation: the Explosives Act 1875; the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; the Noise Act 1996; the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912. In other words, the current law is a mix of an archaic 125 year-old law and other pieces of legislation dealing with issues such as consumer protection and noise, which have been tangentially applied to the issue of fireworks misuse.

A voluntary code has existed between the DTI and representatives of the fireworks industry since 1975 but in addition to it being wholly voluntary, there are differing interpretations of what has been agreed in a number of key areas and mixed opinion about the code's influence. In the light of all that, it is little wonder that the concern both of the general public and the directly involved organisations has led to an amazingly comprehensive and wide-ranging list of organisations which are in support of the Bill. Twelve leading animal charities and organisations have agreed a common position in support of the Bill. Most of your Lordships will have received information from some or all of them. They are: Blue Cross; Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; National Canine Defence League; Battersea Dogs Home; RSPCA; SSPCA; PRO Dogs; National Dog Wardens Association; Pet Care Trust; Wood Green Animal Shelter; Cats Protection League, and the Kennel Club.

In addition, the Bill is supported by the British Horse Society; the British Medical Association; the Trades Union Congress; the National Farmers Union; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Significantly, three groups representing the fireworks industry have stated their support for the Bill; namely, the British Fireworks Association; the British Pyrotechnics Association and the Explosive Industry Group of the Confederation of British Industry.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities reported from its inquiries that the Association of Chief Police Officers was of the opinion that fireworks misuse has escalated significantly, resulting in its becoming a serious community problem, which causes considerable annoyance to the general public and affects the quality of life in local communities.

The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association expressed concern about the increasing misuse of fireworks and about the need to strengthen the current system. Indeed, it offered its support for the Bill. The Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards voiced particular concerns about the problems of storage and supply. The SSPCA reported that 90 per cent of vets who responded to its survey had treated animals for injuries resulting from the misuse of fireworks.

I turn now to give a brief outline of the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 establishes the definition of a firework. Scope for amendment of this definition is included to allow an adequate response to possible new products being developed.

Clause 2 grants the powers to enable fireworks regulations to be made and outlines the grounds on which they can be made. These include protection of humans, animals and property. A requirement to consult with interested and other relevant groups before making regulations is included, although there is scope for making emergency provisions.

Clause 3 allows for sales to minors to be banned. The intention is that the existing minimum age of 18 should be retained. Clause 4 allows for the times at which fireworks can be sold or used to be limited. Scope is included to allow exceptions such as post-11 p.m. use at New Year and so on, but the intention is that this clause will bring about a year-round 11 p.m. curfew on general firework use.

Clause 5 allows for the sale of certain categories of fireworks to be restricted to those trained, experienced and/or insured, as appropriate. Clause 6 allows for conditions such as training, insurance, consultation with those nearby and/or appropriate local authority permission to be applied to those intending to hold public firework displays. The intention is that those holding displays would be expected to take reasonable steps in their organisation to ensure that certain standards in respect of training and insurance are adhered to and that the impact of these displays on people or animals nearby is curtailed or minimised.

Clause 7 allows for the existing system of licensing suppliers to be strengthened. This of course will require careful consultation, but it has been argued, not least by my honourable friend Bill Tynan in another place, that a two-tier system should be introduced, with a lower tier allowing a retailer to sell fireworks for a limited period around 5th November, and a higher tier, with a higher cost and a stricter standard of training, record-keeping and so on, should be applied to those selling all the year round. These licences could be refused or revoked, and the higher tier would apply to those selling via the Internet or by mail order.

Clause 8 allows regulations to be made in respect of the information that must be provided about fireworks. The intention is that this would relate to packaging and information provided with both packs and individual fireworks. Clause 9 allows regulations to be made in respect of the importation and manufacture of fireworks. The intention is that information should be provided to confirm that fireworks entering the UK are being transported to legal storage and that, if not, action could more swiftly be taken.

Clause 10 allows for and defines the nature of training courses referenced under fireworks regulations. The intention is that, in consultation with the industry and other interested parties, appropriate training courses and standards would be established to cover those areas where training would be appropriate. Clause 11 makes it an offence to contravene a fireworks regulation with maximum penalties laid down.

Clause 12 outlines the powers of enforcement of those acting under fireworks regulations. The intention is that local trading standards officers, liaising with the police, health and safety executives and Customs and Excise, as appropriate, would be the prime enforcement mechanism. Clauses 13 to 19 are technical clauses relating to financial provisions, the means of firework regulations coming into law and a number of other minor aspects.

It should be noted that the Bill is an enabling measure. It grants a package of powers to make firework regulations which can be changed in response to changing circumstances. There is, however, a clear expectation of what, in the first instance, the powers granted under the Fireworks Bill would be used to achieve. Concerns have been raised in respect of these Henry VIII provisions, but it is expected that the reassurances given by the Government in 1998 to the House of Lords in respect of a similar Bill on fireworks will be repeated.

I should just say that in relation to Scotland, the Bill is a mixture of reserved and devolved matters. A Sewel Motion was passed in the Scottish Parliament on 26th June 2003 after a two-hour discussion in which not one MSP spoke against the Bill. We were all in favour of action which of course reflected the concerns expressed by their own constituents on this matter.

A Section 63 order is being prepared to give Scottish Ministers concurrent powers with UK Ministers in relation to Clause 4, which deals with the prohibition of supply, possession or use of fireworks in certain circumstances, and Clause 6 dealing with public fireworks displays.

I greatly appreciate the effort of all noble Lords who have put their names down to speak on the Bill, especially on a Friday in July. It is perhaps a significant omen that we are having the Second Reading on the anniversary of American Independence, a day on which there may well be fireworks parties, which we all hope will be safe and happy ones. This Bill should ensure that in future all such events surely will be. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Labour 12:56 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for introducing the Bill, which I am sure will receive widespread support. There have been a number of failed attempts in the past to get similar Bills on to the statute book. We must do our best in this House to ensure that that does not happen again. However, there is an important procedural point regarding the passage of the Bill on to the statute book, to which I shall return at the end of my speech.

We have all received a large amount of briefing from a number of organisations supporting the Bill. My noble friend pointed out that no fewer than 12 animal charities and a wide range of other organisations, including the BMA, have expressed support.

I wish to express my support for the Bill for very particular and personal reasons. Both our children were born with substantial handicaps of hearing and vision. As a result, they both went to a school for the blind. My daughter has been a guide dog owner for 17 years.

When I saw the Bill had been tabled, I remembered that some children at the school our children attended had been blinded by fireworks. I got in touch with the teacher who taught our children and asked him how many children he had known in that category. He said that in his time there—some 10 years—that he could remember five children who had been blinded by fireworks. That is just one school for the blind over a period of 10 years. How many more children and adults are there who have suffered serious eye damage as a result of fireworks? If the Bill becomes law, we must hope that such unnecessary handicap is brought to an end.

When I told my daughter that I intended to speak in this debate she expressed a trenchant view—as is her wont—that she would ban all fireworks except those used in properly controlled displays, and even then there would be the effect on animals to consider. Her last guide dog, Vita, was absolutely terrified of fireworks. It was painful to see her reaction every November and on other occasions when fireworks were exploding. In fact, at those times her condition was so bad that she had to be sedated with the canine equivalent of Valium, which meant that she was incapable of working as a guide dog for at least two days.

Your Lordships will have seen the excellent briefing prepared by the coalition of animal welfare groups and the figures quoted—448 dogs treated last year for firework injuries, 20,308 dogs with behavioural problems and 24,875 dogs which had to be given medication. Those are the global figures, but I remember a lovely, friendly golden Labrador turned into a cowering and trembling animal, who, however much we tried, could not be comforted and had to be sedated. As I say, sedation takes some time to wear off. Your Lordships will know that that is not an isolated incident; they have heard the figures from my noble friend; and a wide range of other animals have similar problems where fireworks are concerned.

Those are the two brief, but I hope powerful, points I wish to make regarding the effects of fireworks on blindness and on guide dogs in particular.

I shall conclude with an important procedural point. As I am sure your Lordships know, if the Bill is amended and must therefore return to the Commons, it will not become law. As I understand it, Commons procedure is such that next Friday, 11th July, is the last day in the Session allotted to Private Member's Bills there. Clearly, the Bill will not be able to pass all its stages in this House by next Friday, so if it must return to the Commons, it will fall.

In passing, that is a general point that applies to all Private Member's Bills in this House as we approach the Summer Recess. That point should be considered by the business managers and House authorities in both Houses. I tried and failed when I was Chief Whip; perhaps under the new found freedom of the back benches I shall try again to get the system changed whereby the Commons does not and will not consider any Private Member's Bills after the Summer Recess.

The Bill has been thoroughly considered in the other place. I understand that all the necessary amendments were made there, so I urge your Lordships not to require the Bill to have a Committee stage, so the remaining stages can be dealt with formally during the overspill. We can then be sure that the Bill will become law this Session. If it does, it will be of great benefit to both people and animals. I am delighted to give the Bill my support.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative 1:01 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for long, but I should like to take this opportunity to say a few words in support of the Bill. I very much hope that this will be the only time that we shall debate the matter, as delaying the Bill's progress will, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, explained, cause it to fall in this Session.

I am sure that most noble Lords will agree that, when organised well, fireworks are a magnificent spectacle and often the highlight of a celebration. A professional show can be a truly magical experience, with high quality fireworks set off with expert timing to music. Fireworks evoke wonder in adults and children alike with their splendid colour, light and sound that never fails to inspire awe.

It is for this reason that the Bill is before us today: to preserve the good bits; the pleasure fireworks bring and the fun and festivities with which they are associated. The fireworks industry recognised the importance of that when it took the initiative to introduce voluntary measures in the 1976 firework package deal that was endorsed by the Government. For alongside the good bits, fireworks are capable of causing considerable harm to those who mishandle them and to those people and animals in the vicinity who are disturbed by loud noises that continue late into the night. Existing legislation does not go far enough to protect them.

I am particularly concerned about the impact that fireworks can have on working dogs. It saddens me to see the effect that fireworks can have on any animal. I have a small dog that is petrified by fireworks and trembles all over when she hears the cracks and bangs, hiding her head in the cupboard to try to get away from the sound. But that must be so much worse in the case of working dogs which have been trained at great expense and are relied upon by a disabled person. Those dogs do such a marvellous job, bringing companionship and enabling the blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound to live as normal life as possible. It must be devastating for a dog owner to experience a loyal guide dog being badly affected by fireworks. I understand that the numbers involved are not huge, but even one is too many.

I see the Bill as a way to ensure that fireworks maintain their well-deserved good reputation—a Bill to facilitate regulation so that we can enjoy fireworks for many years to come. But let us also ensure that when people think of fireworks they think of spine-tingling excitement rather than sleepless nights, street vandalism and cowering animals. This is what the Bill seeks to achieve; I welcome it wholeheartedly.

Photo of Lord Joffe Lord Joffe Crossbench 1:04 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, in supporting the Bill so ably and eloquently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, I must declare a rather personal interest. My wife's birthday falls on 5th November. Instead of celebrating, she, her nervous cats and petrified dog tend to cower away together in the most sound-proof room of our house as fireworks explode in our village and a number of rockets end up on our lawn.

Although I would not wish unnecessarily to deprive our neighbours or anyone else of the pleasure they derive from fireworks displays which can be foreseen and against which precautions can be taken—such as on Guy Fawkes night—it is the weeks before and after which have the potential to cause the greatest shock and distress, as fireworks are launched haphazardly and unexpectedly. Indeed, that occurs not only during those weeks but also from time to time throughout the year for no accountable reason.

Having regard to the dangers to people—particularly children—to animals and to property, few would oppose the principle that careful regulation is necessary. But it would be wrong to take that to the extreme that fireworks should be completely banned. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, pointed out, they provide much pleasure to many on festive occasions and are sometimes a spectacular and even beautiful sight.

A balance clearly needs to be struck and that is exactly what the Bill achieves. Although the powers given to the Secretary of State are wide, they are restricted by the provisions of Clause 2(4) requiring that the Secretary of State, before making regulations, must issue a full regulatory impact assessment setting out details of their costs and benefits and their wider economic, social and environmental impact. Added to that are the requirements under Clause 16(2) for a draft of the statutory instrument containing them to be laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, pointed out, in addition certain commitments have already been given.

This is an excellent and balanced Bill that will be welcomed by the public, the medical profession, the animal welfare organisations and, I understand, the fireworks industry itself.

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour 1:07 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, in supporting and welcoming the Bill, perhaps I may first, like others, thank my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for introducing it. It is an important measure. As has been said, at one time most of the emphasis was on injuries sustained by private firework displays, especially to young people. Attention has already been drawn to the injuries that they have suffered.

Fireworks used to be centred around 5th November, and one used to be able to safeguard one's animals around that time, because it was only for a day or two before and after that one had to try to calm them or keep them in. Nowadays, that period has got longer and longer and fireworks take place at so many events—wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations of one kind or another—that that is increasingly difficult.

From my experience at home, it is more difficult to keep the cat in. Cats panic easily and have been known to desert their home and get lost. We also have two rather large dogs: a Rottweiler named Harold and a boxer named Herbie. They are normally fairly quiet and bark only when anyone comes near the property, but when neighbours have fireworks they bark continuously. No one would welcome two such large dogs making so much noise over such a long period—apart from the effect on the dogs.

Guide dogs and injury in relation to them have also been mentioned. There is also the cost to society. Fireworks also have an effect on farm animals. Some people throw them at horses and other animals causing them extreme distress. I am sorry to say that it sometimes occurs in the countryside where I live.

I welcome the introduction of this regulatory measure. It does not stop the use of fireworks altogether, but it looks at when they can be used, making them safer than ever and reducing animals' suffering. The measure has public support. One need only consider the hundreds of thousands who have signed petitions, many of which have been sent to MPs, who have had a very heavy postbag. My son, the MP for Chorley, is not alone in having to deal with the issues. The Commons have certainly welcomed the Bill, and it has wide support in this House. I hope that no amendments are tabled that could thwart the passage of the Bill into law. We all agree that the measure is necessary. I wish the Bill well. I also wish my noble friend well in her pursuit of seeing the Bill enacted.

Photo of Lord Brougham and Vaux Lord Brougham and Vaux Conservative 1:11 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, as a vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, it is my great pleasure to give RoSPA's wholehearted support to this enabling Bill. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and Mr Bill Tynan for bringing the Bill to Parliament. I thank the noble Baroness for her elucidation of the Bill and for giving me a background briefing.

Over the past four years, the total number of injuries in the four-week period of Guy Fawkes Night, 831 people were injured in 1998, 1056 in 1999, 972 in 2000, a staggering 1,362 in 2001 and 1017 last year. Action is long overdue. Those are the only statistics kept, so we cannot tell what happens at New Year's Eve or at other times.

The society has long advocated many of the measures contained in the Bill, particularly those relating to licensing and training. It provides a good framework for future regulation of fireworks to enable a sensible balance to be achieved between the pleasure that fireworks can give and necessary safety.

RoSPA does not seek to ban all use of fireworks by the public, as they give great pleasure to many. We also have concerns about promoting an increase in the manufacture of fireworks by amateurs, which has led to serious injury in the past. RoSPA does not wish to spoil the public's enjoyment of spectacular public displays. However, we wish to ensure that the public and organisers of displays are as safe as possible.

The Bill contains many useful provisions to allow for better controls. The clampdown on illegal sales, for example, is long overdue. I hope that the legislation and the consultation that follows it will promote a fundamental reappraisal of the use of fireworks, which will put an end to their irresponsible use while retaining most of their enjoyment value.

It must be remembered that most injuries inflicted by fireworks could be avoided with more care and thought. I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I also support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that the Bill should not be amended and should go in the statue book as quickly as possible.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 1:14 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I, too, support the Bill. Like others, I express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, for speaking to it in such a comprehensive and admirable way. I also pay tribute to Bill Tynan of the other place for his persistence and determination to address the problems that we are discussing.

However, it is with considerable regret that I see the need for such a Bill. I am no kill-joy; I like fireworks and wish to continue to watch them and to witness their technical development. Fireworks become ever more spectacular as each year goes by. Like most people, I want to continue to get pleasure and entertainment from them. However, like an increasing number of people these days—I am glad to hear from the Minister's statement that the Government have come to share the view—I believe that the misuse of fireworks, particularly their noise, has started to blight the lives of many people, especially the elderly, the blind, babies, very young children, pets and other animals. An increasing number are hurt by that growing anti-social behaviour.

I was surprised that the problem was not covered in the Government's Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that. In addition, I would welcome a view from him on what would be the Government's intentions, if this Private Member's Bill failed, to ensure that they addressed the issue.

As recently as 10 to 15 years ago, we would see and hear fireworks only on or around 5th November, possibly at New Year's celebrations and on rare occasions at other times of the year. Now, because fireworks seem to be on sale all year around, they are set off every week of the year, often at unearthly hours. I live in Brighton, where, as recently as last weekend, my wife and I were disturbed by thunder crackers, first at 4 a.m. and later on Sunday afternoon. It is difficult to cope with, especially if you have young children or pets.

Thunder crackers are air bombs, which, I understand, have now been voluntarily banned by the industry. But will self-regulation be tough enough to ensure that the ban remains, when, as recently as last week, air bombs were set off? In any event, ordinary bangers are now much louder than previously. I share the view with many in the animal welfare industry that we are moving towards a point where the industry must introduce a limitation on the decibels of noise created by fireworks. Had we had the opportunity of so doing, I would have liked to suggest today that this House move an amendment to introduce a limitation on the decibels of noise—perhaps around 100 decibels. But, given that that would prejudice the Bill, it would be inappropriate to so do. We must make progress wherever we can.

However, during our deliberations we should send a strong signal to the industry that, if our steps to rectify the problem are inadequate, some of us will seek the introduction of a limitation. In any event, European legislation will require a limitation in due course, so it is important that the industry starts to address the matter now.

With those reservations, and looking to the industry to remedy the problem that I have identified, I repeat my support for the Bill. I also express my gratitude to those who have spoken today and everyone who, I hope, will support the Bill when it returns to the other House.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 1:19 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I should be quite happy to see the Bill, or one very like it, pass into law. But I am not prepared to let a Bill of such importance pass through this House unscrutinised, just because of the deficiencies in Commons procedures. This is a Commons Bill; if they had wanted to bring it through earlier they could have done. It received its Second Reading a long time ago, and the fact that it has reached this House only now is entirely down to them. I have very serious problems with the Bill as currently drafted.

First, to start off on a general point, those who support the interests of pets—and I own a dog and cat—should be more conscious of the inconvenience to which these animals put our fellow citizens. Anyone walking the streets of London constantly has to watch where they are treading because of what dogs have left behind. All of us, especially in the more built-up parts of London, are conscious of the absence of small birds due to the prevalence of cats. As owners of these animals, we have a very large impact on the enjoyment of life by our fellow citizens. We should be very conscious of demanding that we reduce their enjoyment merely because it has an impact on the pleasure that we and our pets get out of life.

I was also very disturbed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, said today about the statistics from Guide Dogs for the Blind. The damage to animals has increased by a factor of 100 since the statistics given in the House of Commons at Second Reading. I wonder what has happened to produce that enormous increase in the figures provided by Guide Dogs for the Blind, and whether we can really rely on what that organisation says. Truth is a very important commodity and the RSPCA and Guide Dogs for the Blind should have more consideration for the statistics and stories that they are putting forward. They might command support of people who trip over the facility with which they change their stories, and try to conceal, in the case of the RSPCA, their real motives.

What the RSPCA wants to do is effectively ban all private use of fireworks. It wants to reduce the decibel limit to 95 decibels, which is roughly that of a horse farting. That would not exactly be most people's idea of an enjoyable firework display. The RSPCA wants to remove the private use of fireworks and have them only at organised displays. This is an area in which we have to balance the interests of people who want to enjoy fireworks—

Photo of Lord Hoyle Lord Hoyle Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, may be posing conjectures about bad dog owners and other things, but this Bill is not about that. It is not about banning everything, so could we address the Bill as it is rather than pose conjecture about what might happen in the future?

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I will come onto that matter later because, of course, the Bill is not very much as it is. The Bill is largely conjecture about what the Government intend to bring forward by way of regulations. The principal point is to ensure that this Bill, in the form of the regulations which will come forward under it, provides a reasonable balance between the interests of citizens who wish to enjoy fireworks and the interests of those who are inconvenienced by their use. That will largely be a matter for the regulations under the Bill.

I asked in the Printed Paper Office whether any draft regulations were available and I was told that there were not. If any are available, I would be delighted to see them, because some of the powers in clauses under this Bill are extremely wide. I would not be happy to see the Bill go through this House without having a very clear understanding of what the Government intend should be in the first set of regulations. The Government could either publish them or we could have a Committee stage, at which the Government could respond to amendments and set out on the Floor of the House what they intend to have in the regulations.

Secondly, I am very conscious that, with this Bill, we are regulating to try to deal with problems that stem from the misuse of fireworks, which is already illegal. I want to be very sure that the restrictions that we would place on ordinary citizens would actually have the effect of mitigating a nuisance rather than just depriving ordinary citizens of the enjoyment that they are currently getting out of using fireworks. My mind goes back to the handguns Bill, from which we have received no benefit whatever. Handgun use has gone up enormously since we passed the Bill. We have merely deprived a few thousand citizens of an innocent enjoyment, pastime and pleasure. We have received no benefit from the ban ourselves, although we did it with the best of intent.

I do not wish to see this Bill go down a similar route, because many of the ills—such as the use of fireworks directly on animals, in streets or at anti-social hours of the night—are matters that are already controlled under other legislation. I want to be certain that the powers that we are taking under this legislation will have an effect that is disproportionate to the deprivation of enjoyment that they will cause.

Most particularly, I have reservations about the meaning of Clause 2(1). As I read the clause, it amounts to a total ban on the individual use of fireworks—perhaps of any use of fireworks. There is no way in which a firework can ever not be dangerous; the thing is an explosive. Explosives are, by definition, dangerous and can cause injury, alarm, distress or anxiety, whenever and however they are used. There is no way in which a dog who is sensitive to fireworks will be calmed by the thought that the display has been licensed by the local authority or that the fireworks being used fall within certain acceptable limits. A dog who is frightened of such things and, presumably, also of thunder, is frightened, and distress will be caused to such a dog wherever and whenever fireworks are used.

I agree that there should be limits on the noise of fireworks. They have become too noisy. Anything that is to be considered an ordinary firework will distress some animals. A firework of any description will be dangerous. Clause 2(1)(a) refers to provisions,

"for securing that there is no risk that the use of fireworks will have the consequences specified in subsection (2)".

The only way of doing that is to ban all fireworks. There is no other way of achieving that objective. The clause also refers to provisions,

"for securing that the risk that the use of fireworks will have those consequences is the minimum that is compatible with their being used".

The minimum compatible with their being used is having desktop crackers, such as one gets in crackers at Christmas. That is the limit to which fireworks will be reduced.

The RSPCA will use the clause to force the Government to abolish the ordinary use of fireworks. It has a great deal of money, and, as we have seen with fox hunting, it has the determination to pursue campaigns over a long time and with a great deal of support. We should not allow the Bill to go forward with the clause in it as it stands.

My basic position is that I wish to see a Committee stage, and I expect to vote. I understand the way that other noble Lords feel about the matter and that there was much support for the Bill. I will happily make available as much time as may be appropriate to the sponsor of the Bill and to the Minister, if he so wishes, to see whether my objections can be dealt with in meetings, rather than on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 1:28 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I am pleased to take part in this Second Reading debate. The measure is long overdue, and many of the proposals will be greatly welcomed.

The Bill contains many measures that I and others have been concerned about for a long time. The Bill will enhance the safety of those who use fireworks and of those who enjoy firework displays. It will reassure those who have no option other than to put up with the nuisance and noise that they must now endure.

Cutting down on the noise of fireworks and restricting sales will, I have no doubt, make life more tolerable for us all. As noble Lords have said, fireworks are used throughout the year. I hear complaints every week about the misuse of fireworks, which seem to be used for every occasion now, rather than, as was once the case, just on 5th November. I remember that, when my children were small, I always had the dilemma of whether to buy them fireworks so that they could be the same as other children, or not. I was always apprehensive and nervous about the dangers of fireworks. I resorted to giving them sparklers, which, I now understand, can be dangerous. I appreciate that fireworks are safer now than they were.

I wish to make a few points in support of the Bill. We are all aware of children and vulnerable people who are frightened by loud and sometimes deafening noises late at night when there is a celebration going on in the neighbourhood. Animals, too, are badly affected by the noise and bright lights of fireworks. Many animal charities support the Bill.

The RSPCA, in its excellence document, Quiet Please, gives a number of examples of how animals suffer. It states that it is seriously concerned about the number of animals that become distressed by the noise and are lost or injured as a result. The RSPCA is calling for the Government to set a maximum noise level of 95 decibels, which would allow the public to enjoy their own fireworks displays. That level of noise is likely to cause the minimum of distress to animals. I understand that 95 decibels is not very loud, although I do not think that I would resort to the description of a particular noise level described by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Loud noise levels can also upset many children. Both children and animals would benefit from a lower noise level for fireworks. The RSPCA campaign to lower the maximum level of noise has much merit to it. Noble Lords have mentioned guide dogs and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, from which we have all received briefing. My noble friend Lord Carter gave a vivid description of how guide dogs and people using them can be affected by firework noise. As my noble friend Lady Ramsay said, as well as animal charities supporting this Bill it has received support from many other bodies too, demonstrating that the Bill is welcomed by a whole range of organisations.

During Second Reading in another place, many MPs repeatedly said that they welcomed the Bill because they receive a great deal of correspondence from their constituents expressing concern regarding fireworks—especially as regards noise, nuisance and the hooligan element who misuse fireworks. All who spoke in that debate were supportive of the Bill, which is a good illustration of its popularity. I repeat that I am very grateful to my noble friend for taking the Bill through the House. I think that the majority of noble Lords speaking today will welcome it on the statute book.

A noble Lord:

My Lords, all except one.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 1:33 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, for introducing this Bill, which had cross-party support in another place and is supported very widely. I did not plan to speak in this debate until last Wednesday, when at about 12.30 a.m. I was awoken by a private fireworks display. It went on from approximately 12.30 to 1 a.m.

I loathe fireworks. I am not one of these people who would stand up and say that I like them at all. I have always loathed fireworks. Perhaps that is not the best of criteria on which to speak about the Bill. On the other hand, my wife loves fireworks. However, I support the daughter of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in her desire for a total prohibition on the use of fireworks. It may be all right to have a large display a long way away, but apart from that I am against them.

My view is not reflected in the provisions of the Bill. It is a proportionate Bill that deals with the reality of fireworks use; they are now more common and cheaper. Unfortunately, there are a large number of illegal fireworks which are dangerous and designed to cause a maximum amount of noise. That is a problem.

There are two problems. The first is the irresponsible use of fireworks. The noble Lord, Lord Brougham and Vaux, speaking in his RoSPA capacity, spoke about the horrific number of accidents that have to be dealt with. Of course, those are just figures for November. Anyone living in an urban area, especially near a park, will testify that fireworks are used at any time, day or night, all year round. Much has been made of the risk to animals, which should not be underestimated. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, were unfortunate, especially his aspersions as regards the RSPCA, which has to deal with the consequences of malicious fireworks use.

The second problem is—

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

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.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

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 Carter—namely, 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.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Hendon Baroness Miller of Hendon Conservative 1:37 pm, 4th July 2003

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 envisage—namely, 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.

These days, possibly as a by-product of the diminished teaching of history in our schools, a large part of the public have no idea of the origins of the event and its name has somehow changed from Guy Fawkes Night to Bonfire Night. Perhaps this is a reason for one of the nuisances caused by fireworks; that is, that the celebrations seem to extend for a week either side of 5th November, especially to the weekends either side of that date.

But 5th November is not the only date when fireworks are now used as part of a celebration. The festival of Diwali—the Hindu festival of light—now 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.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, consistently the highest number of casualties occur at family or private parties, followed by what is euphemistically called,

"casual incidents in the street or other public places", which I take to mean injuries possibly caused to entirely innocent bystanders. The age groups most usually injured are the over 20 year-olds, followed closely by children aged under 13. I am not sure what happens to those aged between 13 and 20 years, but that is what is shown by the statistics.

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 each year to retrain, sedate or retire animals traumatised by fireworks explosions. I believe that the noble Baroness or another noble Lord mentioned the figure of £30 million, but I am not sure whether I can recall the exact amount.

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.

I have only three points to make about those forthcoming regulations. First and foremost, in common with my honourable friend the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I urge the Government to ensure that the enforcement provisions are adequate and workable. Secondly, the Bill is to establish training courses. I hope that those courses will be short, apposite and as "untechnical" as possible. It is important that they should be, above all else, practical and not off-putting to those obliged to take them.

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 am pleased to note that the Consumer Minister shares my view that,

"There is too much noise, with fireworks being let off too far into the night and lasting far too long beyond the traditional season".

I also accept the assurance she gave in the other place during the Committee stage that the Government would enforce the 120-decibel limit when implementing the Bill. She promised that the Bill would provide,

"a raft of new powers to control the misuse of fireworks".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee C, 30/4/03; col. 28.]

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.

We wish the Bill well and we shall do what we can to facilitate its progress through your Lordships' House.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation) 1:47 pm, 4th July 2003

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 flight—for example, squibs, jumping crackers, helicopters—as 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 1997–98, 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.

There are no draft regulations. We shall produce them after consultation.

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 Miller—on enforcement procedures, training courses and the timetable for regulations—although 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 prohibit the use of fireworks on the grounds of their noise nuisance potential as opposed to the sole ground of product safety. It would enable the licensing of retailers; subject fireworks displays to certain conditions; and promote the training of fireworks operators, which would ensure that events are managed safely while establishing an industry-wide standard and the promotion of professionalism.

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.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I have frequently made an idiot of myself in the House—doubtless I will do so again—and perhaps I am doing so on this occasion. I shall certainly take up the Minister's kind invitation. With luck, that will result in me making no further nuisance of myself on the Bill. I shall certainly take him up on his offer.

Photo of Lord Sainsbury of Turville Lord Sainsbury of Turville Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Science and Innovation), Department of Trade and Industry, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Trade and Industry) (Science and Innovation)

My Lords, if it has that end we will all be extremely pleased.

Some people believe that we should go further than the Bill does and ban sales of fireworks to the public. But fireworks bring much pleasure to millions of people and it should be noted that by far the majority of those people enjoy fireworks through their sensible and responsible use. Injuries come through misuse, through failure to follow instructions, through carelessness and through deliberate mischief. Banning the retail sale of fireworks to the vast majority of people who derive safe and innocent amusement from them because of the irresponsibility of a few would be unfair. It should also be noted that an outright ban could lead to the development of a black market in fireworks and, because of such an unreasonable prohibition, encourage people to produce home-made devices.

It is on these bases, and including the desire of the Government to balance safety with individual liberties, that we believe that the case has not been made for the banning of the sale of fireworks to the general public and limiting the use of fireworks to organised public displays alone. I am very happy that the Bill reflects this position.

The Bill offers a very real scope to improve the control of fireworks, both further to enhance safety beyond the limitations of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and to tackle the distress, annoyance and anxiety that people can experience from fireworks. As a number of people have made clear, we must always bear in mind the considerable injuries that can come from fireworks, although the main purpose of the Bill is not focused particularly in that area.

I hope your Lordships will agree that the Bill can considerably reinforce and strengthen existing controls on the sale and use of fireworks. I believe it will deliver a significant lessening of concerns which so many have expressed about fireworks. We do not want to over-react and do away with a popular form of celebration and family entertainment. Rather, our concern is to ensure that in enjoying fireworks people are safe and do not cause annoyance and distress to their neighbours and communities. We believe that the Bill strikes a good balance between protection and the freedom of the community to enjoy fireworks, and we support it.

Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour 1:59 pm, 4th July 2003

My Lords, I am profoundly grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and for the overwhelming support for the Bill that has come from all sides of the House. I am also grateful to my noble friend the Minister for expressing the support of the Government.

My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe raised the question of noise levels, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. There will undoubtedly have to be very wide consultation. It was discussed in another place—at some great length, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, made clear. Different views were expressed as to where a decibel level should be fixed. I am well aware of the views of the RSPCA and what was said in another place by the Minister and Bill Tynan. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, made it very clear what those views are. No doubt the matter will be thrashed out in the consultation process before the regulations appear. I was pleased to hear my noble friend the Minister explaining to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that the regulations will only be available after consultation has taken place. Obviously, that is why regulations are not available now.

This is not the time or place for me to deal in any detail with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He raised several points about the responsibilities of responsible pet owners, which were quite outside the scope of the Bill. It is important, however, that I go on record on one or two points. I do not agree with his interpretation of Clause 2 as meaning that there would be a complete ban, and I was pleased that my noble friend the Minister was also of that opinion. Everyone except the noble Lord has recognised that the enjoyment and magic of fireworks will be safeguarded and continued by the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and many others, made clear in their interventions.

I did not understand the noble Lord's point about statistics. I shall study Hansard, and perhaps he should do the same and read my comments. Then we could both read the Commons Hansard and see what the points are. I am frankly very suspicious of all statistics, but that is merely a personal hang-up. I have no grounds at all to doubt that the statistics provided to me by charity organisations were given in good faith and are as accurate as they could be.

We have had a selection of excellent contributions including some very moving personal experiences, and I am very grateful to everyone who participated and who allowed us to have an insight into some of their personal and family life scenes, which were very intriguing. They also reflect the many different dimensions and concerns on the issue, and the importance and—I would maintain—the need for the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.