Clause 16 - Parliamentary procedure for regulations

Fireworks Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 30 April 2003.

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

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

This is almost certainly the last time that I—and perhaps anyone else—will say anything in this Committee, so I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hamilton, South on introducing the Bill and on steering it through Committee, which is not always easy. I am delighted that it has got through its Committee stage. We support any measure that improves the lives of our constituents without unreasonable penalty or spoiling other people's enjoyment. We wish the Bill a fair wind.

However, we are concerned because this is an enabling Bill. I do not impugn the Minister's motivation; I am optimistic that she will be sensible in introducing regulations. In 1997, the hon. Lady's predecessor, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, introduced regulations by statutory instrument. There is no specific content as yet, but I should like to know what extra powers the clause gives the Government that they do not already have to introduce a statutory instrument.

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

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South on introducing the Bill and shepherding it through the Committee.

I want to put the Minister on the spot in respect of the regulation-making power: when can we expect regulations?

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Labour, Cleethorpes

I echo hon. Members' comments.

When the Bill received its Second Reading, many of our constituents were excited that the noise nuisance from fireworks would end. I reassured them but explained that the Bill had many stages to get through and there could be problems along the way. However, my constituents still think that because it got its Second Reading, the Bill has become law. In the past couple of weeks, people have been letting off very loud fireworks in my constituency and it is vital that we give some indication of when the regulations will be made. I do not want to go through another autumn having to answer hundreds, if not thousands, of letters from angry, upset and distressed constituents suffering from the misuse of fireworks.

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

I welcome the tone of our proceedings this afternoon. It has been one of the most mollifying experiences I have had in a Committee. It must be something to do with the chairmanship, Mr. Benton. That is enough obsequiousness for today.

I refer back to clause 2(1)(b), which says:

''the risk that the use of fireworks will have those consequences is the minimum that is compatible with their being used.''{**w10**}

That strikes the balance appropriately. Our debate has shown that we are not trying to ruin the enjoyment that many families gain from fireworks, either in public displays or in their back gardens, safely and responsibly. We are seeking to protect everybody who is involved in the industry and in the enjoyment of fireworks. I pay tribute to the way in which the Bill has been drafted, and to my hon. Friend the Member for

Hamilton, South for having brought it into being. In closing, can I ask the Minister when the regulations will be ready for consideration?

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 4:15, 30 April 2003

I echo the kinds words that have been expressed about your chairmanship, Mr. Benton, and the comments about the way in which the hon. Member for Hamilton, South has brought the Bill to this stage.

Can the Minister tell me whether the power to make regulation would be of any help to Coventry city council? We have heard about its application for a byelaw banning the use of fireworks between 11 o'clock at night and 7 o'clock in the morning, which was turned down on the basis that local laws should not be used to address a national problem. That seems to be an eminently sensible byelaw for a local authority to have. The hon. Members for Hamilton, South and for Glasgow, Anniesland made the point that local authorities know their areas and should be able to make sensible byelaws. Can the Minister give me some comfort that the clause will enable authorities such as Coventry city to make such byelaws?

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

I make the same presumption as the hon. Member for Blaby in assuming that the Bill will successfully conclude its consideration in Committee, and add my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South on his stewardship and guidance of it in Committee. He has undertaken a wide range of discussions with all interested parties and has spent much time on the detail that underlies the Bill. I also thank you, Mr. Benton, for your chairmanship of the Committee.

In response to the question of powers raised by the hon. Member for Blaby, clause 16 allows us to make regulations as negative instruments. Those clauses that require affirmative resolutions will be made that way; they are not necessarily on a par. There is a separate issue, which is relevant to the question of whether we want to have affirmative resolution for every power under the Bill, which is not the case at the moment. That is that some of the safety regulations would have to be made under section 11 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987. Some would be fireworks regulations covering non-safety aspects, deriving from the Bill. The arrangements would be affirmative in one case and negative in the other, so we could end up doubling the amount of consideration of issues in cases in which both pieces of legislation had to be brought to bear on the matter.

There is a role for affirmative powers, and we have undertaken to ensure that it can be used on key topics in this instance. It would be helpful if Committee members would indicate in discussions outside the Committee any areas in which they feel strongly that there should be affirmative resolution. I undertake to consider such comments and to declare on Report whether further affirmative powers are needed. I reiterate that the Bill secures regulations under the powers in clauses 1(2) and 14(3) that will now be subject to the affirmative procedure, which they would not have been under the 1997 private Member's Bill

introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton.

The regulations on consultation and timing will be subject to Government guidelines, under which we have to consult for a minimum of 12 weeks. We shall also consult more generally on the content before that. I cannot promise regulations for this November's fireworks season. By way of consolation to those hon. Members who are disappointed, I should point out that given the lead time for the production of fireworks, most of the fireworks will be imported fairly soon, if they are not already here. We therefore have a reasonable lead-time. We shall endeavour to come forward with the statutory instruments as soon as practicable. Those, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, who urge consultation on me and who press me on the time scale, know and appreciate the tension between those two factors.

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

The power exists for emergency legislation to be invoked, which would last for 12 months. In present circumstances, the importation and storage of fireworks is an issue that could be subject to that type of legislation. Would not the Minister consider using such legislation to ensure that companies importing fireworks into the UK should keep them in proper storage areas? Could that part of the emergency legislation be used in that way? It would solve many of the problems, and it would prevent rogue retailers selling fireworks from lorries and ice-cream vans.

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

There is a procedure under clause 2 for emergency regulations to be made if there is an urgent need to protect the public. I assume that that is the power to which my hon. Friend refers. Those regulations would remain in force for no longer than 12 months. We can consider whether certain areas could be addressed under such emergency provisions, but we must bear in mind that we need also to allow people time to adjust and to make the right arrangements. We must therefore think carefully about what is sensibly covered under emergency legislation. I would like more time to reflect on the detail and, indeed, to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend subsequent to this afternoon's sitting.

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire mentioned the need for byelaws. It is a national problem and it will need a national solution. However, some consideration is being given by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to using the provisions of the Noise Act 1996, to ascertain what scope local authorities have to use the powers of that Act.

Byelaws could lead to consumers crossing the county, city or borough border to buy fireworks in an area that has no or different requirements. That is what I was saying to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North on the question of cultural diversity and licensing arrangements. Obviously in a small, fairly compact country such as this, and with modern travel, people can easily move from one area

to the next. We have to recognise the practical realities of all that in what we are doing. The Bill does not have provision for byelaws and it is important to recognise that.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

Is it the position that local authorities do not fully understand the legislation that is in place and open to them under the Noise Act 1996 or the powers of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? Will the Minister take steps to ensure that the powers within existing legislation are more clearly explained to local authorities, as I was not clear how we were going to take the matter forward?

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

It is not a matter for me because the legislation relates to another Department. I understand that it is looking at ways in which more provisions can be appropriately used by councils. Indeed, as with some of the other legislation that is designed to protect local communities through local councils, the take-up and implementation can sometimes lag behind what is available to the councils concerned. Those are not principally matters for my Department or my hon. Friend's Bill. I conclude by saying that I believe that the Bill needs to be used moderately and with a sense of balance and proportion. There are serious issues in our communities relating to the use and abuse of fireworks that need to be addressed. I particularly bear in mind the points that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have made about the important issue of noise.

Photo of Shona McIsaac Shona McIsaac Labour, Cleethorpes

Could my hon. Friend have a word with her colleagues in the Northern Ireland Department, who have brought in a system that is working very successfully to control fireworks? Perhaps some of the good practice from that side of the water can be considered and used here. I understand from Northern Ireland Members that they received many complaints in 2001 about firework misuse, yet after the law was toughened up they did not receive one complaint in 2002.

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

My hon. Friend sets very high standards for success. I do not think that I would be as ambitious as to aspire to no complaints. We are in regular contact with colleagues in Northern Ireland. I will certainly bear in mind her encouragement to examine their experience of making changes, albeit under difference circumstances. The Bill will make a huge difference to what has become a major problem for our communities. I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South for bringing it forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 17 to 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at twenty-eight minutes past Four o'clock.