Clause 7 - Licensing of suppliers

Fireworks Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 30th April 2003.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I wish to investigate licensing. I am concerned that local authorities and trading standards officers now grant permits at £13. I would hope that the intention behind the Bill is for someone who wishes to sell fireworks to apply to a local authority, which would supply a licence. At present a licence or permit that has been granted cannot be revoked or refused the following year even if there is a breach of the regulations in, say, the manner of storage. I want the Minister's assurance that local authorities will be given the powers to refuse, revoke or rescind a licence if any conditions are breached during the licensing period.

Because of the different cultures that we have in this country, I also want there to be the possibility of higher-tier licences. That would mean that any retailer who wanted to sell fireworks all year round would have to meet stringent conditions and pay a higher licence fee. If we do not do that, we will allow the current situation to continue: people will be able to get hold of fireworks without any just reason, thus continuing the growth in antisocial behaviour, so it is important to get the licensing system right through the local authorities.

I know that new regulations on the manufacture and storage of explosives, which are due to be introduced in 2004, may be a suitable vehicle for that, but local authorities will want the scope to grant a cheaper licence to people who want to sell for only a limited period of time during the year. That should be addressed.

Photo of Professor Ross Cranston Professor Ross Cranston Labour, Dudley North

This is an important clause because vacant shops in Dudley suddenly open to sell fireworks without any attempt to comply with a voluntary code. I am sure that other Members have experienced similar cases in their constituencies. There is also the problem of car-boot sales. The clause is properly drafted and will cover, in subsection (3), the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes about incentives. They could be limited in the conditions imposed on licensees.

I want to draw the Committee's attention to clause 7(2)(c), which refers to conditions and the time of year. This point was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South. Other hon. Members may, like me, have received a letter from Councillor John McNicholas, of Coventry city council, in which he makes a point that is also appropriate to Dudley. He notes that the west midlands is a multicultural region and that different ethnic minority groups have festivals at different times of the year. Licences will have to be granted in different regions at different times of the year to take into account that cultural diversity. Clause 7(2)(c) seems wide enough to cover that, and I simply want the Minister's confirmation that regulations could be drafted to cover the problem I mentioned earlier.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

I have received representations from Glasgow city council, which is the biggest in Scotland and one of the biggest in the UK. It said that the only way to ensure proper licensing is through local councils. It supports the Bill fully but feels that local councils must have a say on all licensing. That will mean that records can be kept locally and the licences dealt with properly.

Will the Minister also consider mail order and internet selling? I appreciate that the internet is a grey area that is difficult to govern, but mail order in Britain will be covered by some licensing. They are both grey areas where people who try to avoid the law often operate. Will she comment on that?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour, Ogmore

I have two brief points for the Minister's consideration. The first is to welcome the fact that these licences, as is the case with liquor licences, will be for named individuals rather than premises, so that representations can be made on the unworthiness of a certain individual.

Secondly, will the Minister give further consideration to the revocation of licences, which is an important part of the clause, and the possible scope for temporary revocation? If there were evidence of selling to underage or undesirable people, I would fully agree with revoking the licence permanently. However, if the problem is a minor, technical one in respect of health and safety—perhaps involving storage or security—there may be some scope for a temporary

revocation, in the way that restaurants and cafeterias with environmental health problems are dealt with.

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

The Explosives Act 1875 deals with the storage requirements for explosives, including fireworks. However, it does not allow for a differentiation among fireworks. That distinction is lacking, so it is open to any retailer to stock and sell both the largest and smallest available fireworks. That has been a cause of concern to enforcement authorities and safety organisations for some time. I know from the comments that hon. Members have made that it is also of concern to the Committee. Clause 7 allows for the introduction of a licensing system, relating to both retailers and their premises, for the sale of fireworks, or particular types of fireworks.

That will be a helpful distinction. We believe that licensing will be a solution to many of the problems relating to the sale of the fireworks. Therefore, I agree that we need to examine the issue, but we must also be careful that regulations are not too prescriptive, and that they do not place undue burdens on the retailers or local authorities that will have to operate them. I bear in mind the enthusiasm of the Glasgow authorities when considering local authority involvement in those schemes.

We have been thinking about the best way of enacting the provisions, and my officials have had several discussions with representatives of the local authority co-ordinators of regulatory services. Discussions have also taken place with some of the representative bodies of retailers. We need to ensure that we do not create new requirements that will place additional burdens on retailers or enforcement bodies. We have been working with the Health and Safety Executive

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South 3:45 pm, 30th April 2003

I wish to address the issue of additional expense. If the local authority were able to recover funds through the cost of the licence, we would avoid a position in which there would be additional expense for the authority. Would that not represent the best way forward?

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

My hon. Friend is suggesting some practical answers that may well be implemented. However, we need to bear in mind that we do not want to put additional burdens on retailers or enforcement bodies. We are working with the Health and Safety Executive, which is currently reviewing the manufacture and storage of explosives regulations, to ascertain whether those regulations could meet the Bill's requirements. I understand that the current revision of those regulations will offer a cost-recoverable licence or storage fee, which would be dependent on the number of fireworks that the retailer wishes to store. Local authority licensing authorities will be able to refuse and revoke licenses if a retailer is deemed to be unfit. I bear in mind the points that were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Anniesland and for Ogmore.

Photo of Mr Bill Tynan Mr Bill Tynan Labour, Hamilton South

I wish to explore the position of the manufacture and storage of explosives regulations. Am I right in saying that they apply to a certain

quantity, and if that quantity were less than a tonne of fireworks, the regulations would not be applicable?

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

My hon. Friend, who has been studying these matters carefully, may well be right. I do not have the figure in front of me, but I will converse with him later about that matter. The revocation of a licence could also happen if there were a breach of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Therefore, there is more than one avenue to go down. Breaches might include storing too many fireworks on the premises, or storing them in the wrong type of container.

The regulations do not currently allow us to refuse or revoke a licence if a retailer has sold fireworks to someone under 18, or has broken other consumer retail legislation. Both the ability to refuse or revoke licences for something, other than for registration or storage purposes, and the periods for which licences are to be issued are still matters to be resolved. However, we are continuing to have discussions with all interested parties, including the HSE, to see how clause 7 might be implemented in the regulations.

I have a great deal sympathy both with the sorts of solutions suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South and the comments that a number of other hon. Members have made, including those of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North. We need to recognise cultural diversity, but we must be careful not to operate a system that assumes that boundaries around each authority area are like the Berlin wall. Different licensing arrangement could be operating from one authority to another. It is not difficult now for someone to trek down the road and buy an out-of-season product that is thought to be appropriate for a particular community.

Many issues must be examined, but there are practical ways forward, and we need to find a sensitive system that recognises that people might get into difficulties, but that those difficulties need to be dealt with without severe punishment. We need a system in which a licence can be revoked or refused, so that we can use the licence as an important part of the correct implementation of other aspects of the Bill to ensure that it bites on those who are issued with licences and that they must abide by them. That will be safer and less hazardous for communities.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.