Although today is a beautiful, sunny, summer day in Scotland, I ask members to cast their minds back to the slightly darker and colder nights of the bonfire season when they sought to reflect the views of their communities and constituents on the increasing problems with fireworks. I am glad to have the opportunity to debate the Executive's motion before the recess.
We are not all killjoys—fireworks can and do provide family entertainment and they enhance special occasions for many communities. Where I live in Strathaven, a fantastic fireworks event is organised by the local round table organisation for the community. The event is well managed and well staged in a safe and secure environment and is a good event for the community. We are not trying to deny communities anything, but we want to ensure that fireworks are enjoyed safely.
I am sure that many members share my view that in the past few years there has been a change in the use of fireworks and that that change in use is occasionally completely unacceptable. In some communities, fireworks are set off weeks—sometimes months—before the traditional bonfire season. That causes alarm and distress to elderly residents, families and the community in general, and to those with pets, including those people who rely on animals such as guide dogs.
In my community, I was extremely disappointed to find some retailers—not just the small retailers who often get the blame, but large chains—selling fireworks irresponsibly and at a discount. The adverts went up long before bonfire night. In a previous debate, I said that such retailers, if they did not get their act together, were
"drinking in the last-chance saloon"—[Official Report, 31 October 2002; c 14857.]
We have sought to ensure that some of the measures that members want to see enacted are introduced in Scotland.
The Executive has made it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable and we want to deal with it. We want to stamp out the injuries and the upset that are caused by the irresponsible use of fireworks.
Earlier this year, I met the Association of Chief
In March, I wrote to all local authorities to draw their attention to that report and to the fact that the Executive wants to help to implement the good practice that is outlined in the report. I welcome the fact that I received a positive response from local authorities and that they are actively setting up initiatives to deal with the problem.
The Parliament has had several debates on the issue, most recently on 14 November 2002, when many MSPs took the opportunity to raise their constituents' concerns, and a variety of opinions were offered on what requires to be done. To their credit, many members have been involved in local campaigns. The importance of the issue is confirmed by the petitions and letters that MSPs have received and by what they hear in their surgeries, as well as by the shocking figures on firework and bonfire-related incidents. There were 822 incidents reported throughout Scotland on bonfire night in 2002.
I have received many letters expressing concern and asking what can be done. Many of those letters also congratulate the Executive and local authorities on the work that they have done to date, and their absolute commitment to dealing with the misuse of fireworks. I am therefore delighted to be able to explain what is happening and to ask for members' support for the Executive's approach.
Members who have kept in touch will be aware that the Fireworks Bill is a private member's bill that was introduced by Bill Tynan, the member of Parliament for Hamilton South. The Department of Trade and Industry supported it. On Friday 13 June—lucky for Bill Tynan—the bill received its third reading and has gone to the House of Lords.
The Executive has made clear its commitment to working closely with the UK Government and has had discussions with Bill Tynan and Melanie Johnson, who was until recently Minister for Competition, Consumers and Markets at the DTI. The Executive welcomed the bill and it received widespread support from interested organisations such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and COSLA. The bill corresponds with the findings of the COSLA task group, and Tom Maginnis said that he is heartened by the progress that has been made so far. COSLA continues to work closely with Bill Tynan to aid his efforts to steer the bill through its concluding stages at Westminster.
The bill seeks to provide a practical response to
As the member is aware, there are several reserved and devolved areas within the regulations and controls that we want to achieve. Where appropriate, the Scottish ministers will make regulations for Scotland and the UK Government will make regulations where that is appropriate. I hope that that satisfies the member.
Of course, there will be extensive consultation with interested parties during preparation for the introduction of the regulations and the regulations will only be introduced after that. That will ensure that we have an effective set of enforceable and workable regulations.
The Executive does not believe in an outright ban. I will seek further information on the bill for the member, but I do not believe that it will enable an outright ban on fireworks. I have not had that discussion with Mr Tynan because he did not set out to introduce an outright ban on fireworks.
With an outright ban, there would be substantial issues about the illegal sale of fireworks and the underground market that would occur. There would be lack of regulation and no ability to ensure that fireworks were made to proper standards. That would drive the fireworks trade into an illegal framework, under which people would still get fireworks but no safety, security or quality standards would be applied.
Absolutely. Bill Tynan's bill tries to address that. Indeed, as an indication of how easy it is to import fireworks, Bill Tynan set himself up as a trader in fireworks and managed to order almost a boatload of fireworks to be imported into the UK. Obviously, he cancelled the order at the
The member may say that, but I am not sure of the situation. However, it is absolutely appropriate that we work as effectively as we can to ensure that there is no illegal importation of fireworks.
Members will have seen the contents of the bill, which I do not intend to go through in detail. There are age-related powers that build on existing prohibitions on the sale of fireworks to young people. The bill acknowledges that it is inappropriate for underage people to buy fireworks. There are powers to prohibit selling, possessing and using fireworks during certain hours of the day in certain places in certain circumstances, as specified in regulations, which, as I said, will be discussed and consulted on fully before their introduction. The powers are wide ranging, and could be deployed effectively to reduce the impact of fireworks in our communities.
The supply of certain fireworks could be prohibited, as currently happens on some occasions, and that would allow limitations to be placed on the sale of certain types of fireworks. We could put limits on the noise made by fireworks, which in effect would enable the banning of nuisance fireworks. We may use that power to get round the difficulties that we face in doing that. Public fireworks displays will be regulated effectively to allow them to continue to provide popular entertainment safely for all families and communities.
I want to mention the licensing of suppliers of fireworks, which has been raised frequently by members. Responsible retailers have nothing to fear from the legislation in terms of licensing. Rogue traders have the greatest to fear, and they should be worried that the legislation will soon impact on our communities. As I said, such traders are
"drinking in the last-chance saloon".—[Official Report, 31 October 2002; c 14857.]
Licensing will ensure that responsible retailers are able to sell fireworks. Training will be provided to staff. Controls will exist, but those who seek to trade illegally or irresponsibly will be dealt with under the powers in the regulations and the bill.
Yes it will, through controls on importation, training of staff and the type of fireworks that they sell. If shops set up legally within the legal structures, their staff are adequately trained, their storage is appropriate and they operate safely, taking cognisance of the community, they will be able to sell fireworks. Most of the shops to which Elaine Smith referred are not like that and the bill will deal with that situation.
The bill deals with a mixture of reserved and devolved matters. We will ensure that we consult widely on the issues. It is difficult to separate many of the reserved and devolved matters. We will deal with that under section 63(1)(b) of the Scotland Act 1998, which will allow the Scottish ministers to exercise powers concurrently with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry with regard to certain sections of the bill that have a devolved element. That will enable the Scottish ministers to introduce regulations in Scotland for devolved elements, while the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will introduce regulations for England and Wales. The areas of the bill that will be covered are those that prohibit the use of fireworks during certain hours of the day in certain places and in certain circumstances, and those that cover the operation of public fireworks displays. That will allow us to regulate in those areas that have a significant impact on the general public.
We all know that inappropriate and irresponsible use of fireworks can seriously affect quality of life. That is happening in our communities as we speak. In a modern Scotland, it is completely unacceptable that a small minority can cause such stress and misery to people and animals in our communities, and on occasions blight their lives for a period of two months around fireworks night. We want to reduce the shocking statistic of 114 firework-related injuries that we saw last season. We want to ensure that we have an integrated set of comprehensive regulations throughout the UK, and that they are applied in Scotland by the Scottish ministers.
That the Parliament endorses the principle of making enabling regulations for the supply and use of fireworks as set out in the Fireworks Bill and agrees that those provisions in the Bill that relate to devolved matters should be considered by the UK Parliament.
I begin by saying something that may not be immediately obvious to members—I am here this morning as the stand-in
Looking around the chamber, it is pretty evident that last night we had the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association annual dinner. I am pleased to see new arrivals skulking into the chamber even as we have this debate.
Many members from all parties have taken a close interest in and campaigned on the risks of fireworks. Sadly, some of those members are no longer here. John McAllion and John Young, to name two, played a prominent part in the previous debate on fireworks. However, it is fair to say that Shona Robison led on the issue in the first session of Parliament. I pay tribute to her tenacious pursuit of this matter, which, as the minister said, is important. Not only did she secure a members' business debate on 12 June last year, but she produced a proposal for a member's bill, which received support from all parties but one, although John Young, as he was wont to do, broke ranks in an entertaining and engaging fashion.
I have some serious points to make. In Scotland last year, there were 114 fireworks injuries. That was an increase of 25 injuries, or 28 per cent, on the year before, when there were 89 injuries. Previously, there had been 82. The trend in Scotland is for more fireworks injuries year on year. Most of those involve children and most of those children—this is perhaps no surprise—are boys. It is obvious that the problem is extremely serious. Sadly, the facts show that in England the case is the reverse. I understand—and I may be corrected here—that the number of injuries from fireworks is reducing down south; it is not rising, as is the case in Scotland.
Many incidents occur at impromptu private fireworks displays, rather than at organised events. I am sure that the majority of us here would not wish to be killjoys and would not wish there to be a total ban, for various reasons. For example, the Chinese community celebrates its new year traditionally by the use of fireworks. For reasons that I find rather difficult to understand, we celebrate the activities of the gentleman called Guy Fawkes every 5 November. I am slightly puzzled by that, because I do not see why we should celebrate the record of a failure.
Now I face the alarming prospect of seeing the world from Brian Monteith's
Let us get back to the tale. Increasingly, fireworks are being used as offensive weapons. That happens all over Scotland, including in the Black Isle where I understand that a firework was put into a metal postbox, which exploded, spraying the surrounding area with potentially lethal debris. It was fortunate that no one was killed.
I think that it was John Young who referred to Corkerhill community council in Glasgow, which had cited problems of
"fireworks in letter boxes, stuffed in milk bottles, thrown under police cars".—[Official Report, 12 June 2002; c 12602.]
We hear about many other incidents in which youths attack fire officers with fireworks, throwing rockets at fire brigade members. Those practices are utterly unacceptable and I ask the minister whether we have not gone beyond the last-chance saloon.
Existing law, including the Explosives Act 1875, allows the use of fireworks in such instances to be regarded as the use of an offensive weapon. Indeed, the Offensive Weapons Act 1996 allows any implement that is not intended in its manufacture to cause damage to be treated as an offensive weapon if it is converted and used for that purpose.
The minister said that the Fireworks Bill does not allow an outright ban and I wonder whether that is adequate. I outlined the SNP's reasons for not arguing at present for an outright ban, but, if matters were to get significantly worse—which is a significant possibility—the Scottish Parliament should have the powers to enable ministers to introduce an outright ban similar to the ban on the indiscriminate sale of guns.
We might reach that situation, but I hope that we do not. However, if we were to do so, the lack of such a power in the bill indicates that we will take the wrong decision today if we agree to this Sewel motion. I say that based on the practical grounds that I set out earlier and not on constitutional grounds per se. The lack of such a power is the failure in an otherwise commendable piece of legislation, which the SNP supports.
Mr Gallie makes a fair point. I hope that, with the help of the civil servants who are sitting at the back of the chamber, the minister will address that point in his concluding speech. I have not made an expert study of the issue, but I
I was intrigued by a suggestion that Donald Gorrie made in the previous debate on the subject. As Donald Gorrie is in the chamber, no doubt we will hear from him again today. He suggested that the Parliament should explore the possibility of a reverse Sewel motion. Why is the traffic in Sewel motions always one way? Why not pass powers to the Scottish Parliament to allow us to deal with reserved matters? I do not know what such a motion would be called. If Mr Gorrie continues to support that suggestion, perhaps it could be named after him, but if he does not, I would be happy for such a motion to be moved in my name.
I will commence by saying to Mr Kerr that, unlike the issue of business rates on which we will never agree, he might be surprised to learn that I find much in his speech to support, including the motion.
One of the quirks of Sewel motions is that it is difficult to predict with any accuracy what one is supporting. It is rather like saying that, if the car looks roadworthy and the driver says that he can drive, we should all climb aboard.
Although the motion commends itself in principle to the Conservatives, I urge the minister to liaise with the Secretary of State for Scotland, not only to remind him that there is a Scottish Parliament, but—as the bill proceeds at Westminster—to urge him to ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland has competence under the bill to address the specific issues about the supply and use of fireworks that have emerged in Scotland.
As the minister indicated, most members who were also members in the first session of the Parliament have received impassioned pleas from constituents to do something about the current indiscriminate use of fireworks. In so far as Executive ministers are to be empowered by order under the Scotland Act 1998 to deal with devolved elements of the bill, it is important that we use the opportunity that the debate gives us to highlight the sort of activities that cause distress to people in Scotland.
Mention has been made of my colleague John Young and I, too, want to pay tribute to him. John Young expended a huge amount of energy in trying to introduce a fireworks bill in the first session of the Parliament. However, the technical
As has been noted in the debate, fireworks have been a traditional feature of life in Britain since Guy Fawkes endeavoured to blow up the Houses of Parliament. A colourful, if noisy, celebration has become the tradition on 5 November with bonfires and firework displays. The Conservative group view is that there is no desire to interfere with the genuine enjoyment of children and families at responsibly organised displays. The outright ban that Mr Ewing advocates seems to me to miss the mark. The bill is about control and regulation and we do not need to focus our attention on such a ban.
I do not advocate that there should be an outright ban. However, I believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the power, if it becomes necessary to use it, to establish such a ban. My point is that Westminster is not providing us with that power.
I have always been opposed to putative bans that ban in anticipation of the instances arising. There has to be demonstrable evidence at the point of implementing a ban that it is appropriate. If that is proved to be the case, the democratically elected fora can take the appropriate decision to apply one. Mr Ewing concedes that there is no desire at present to ban the responsible and lawful use of fireworks by children and families. The intention of the bill is to regulate areas in which it is clear that undesirable patterns of behaviour have emerged.
I would like to make progress with my arguments, Mr Stevenson. I am afraid that I do not have a lot of time.
One of the patterns that is emerging is that the sale of fireworks is taking place not only in the week proceeding 5 November but from September and October onwards. Fireworks are being discharged indiscriminately at all hours of the day and night. Members of the public, the elderly, young parents, pet owners and vets will testify to the misery that is caused by their peace and quiet being shattered by youngsters setting off a few bangers for a laugh.
Not much amusement is caused for the elderly person who is frightened out of his or her wits, for the young children who are rudely awakened after they have been put to bed or for the pets that have to be comforted by their owners or sedated by vets. We also have the horrific spectacle of deaths and appalling injuries that are brought about by the irresponsible or untrained use of fireworks. The minister referred to the statistics for last November.
Increasingly, families who wish to celebrate Guy Fawkes once a year support organised displays in which responsible arrangements are put in place. That pattern should be welcomed. I am slightly uneasy about the concept of licensing such displays, because it may result in such bureaucratic regulation that responsible voluntary activists with a good safety record are deterred from continuing with them. The practical consequence of that would be for the multiple use of fireworks to return to streets and gardens.
I hope that common sense could be applied in order to permit organisations that have held regular displays to continue with them, subject to confirmation of the details of the display and an assurance that safety arrangements are in place. Most responsible users make such provisions. The displays could be covered by a permit along the lines of the licence that is granted to a voluntary organisation that seeks a temporary liquor licence for a social event.
It might seem oppressive to interfere with the right of parents to have a bonfire in their own garden and to allow the use of non-explosive fireworks, such as sparklers. What is more problematic in this day and age and with modern housing densities, is whether the use of noise-bearing explosive fireworks can be tolerated any more in residential areas.
I come to the issue that people in Scotland are utterly fed up with: fireworks being detonated in streets or other public places indiscriminately by individuals or small groups of people. I have no hesitation in saying that such practice should be made illegal and that that illegality should be enforced.
There may be issues with stricter controls over what types of firework are permissible for retail, who should retail them, to whom they should be sold and the possibility of training for organised displays. Those matters are important and merit detailed consideration. However, we should ensure that we do not set up a network of regulation that, at best, discourages responsible people from any longer being involved and at worst—and I say to the minister that it is the worst—creates an unenforceable legal framework. The Litter Act 1983 is testament to how legislation can be well intended, completely ignored and virtually unenforceable. Fireworks are far too important and potentially dangerous to end up in such statutory and regulatory disarray. Whatever changes are made must be enforceable. Enforcement is the key.
I pass on the Liberal Democrats' best wishes to Shona Robison.
I hope that all goes well for her today. I also apologise to members that I will probably not be able to stay for the end of the debate, as the Local Government and Transport Committee is meeting the General Council of County Councils from the Republic of Ireland at lunch time and I will have to leave early.
I really enjoy a good fireworks display. I am a bit of a pyromaniac, I suppose. I like to see fireworks going off, to light them and to have a good time with them. However, it is important to ensure that fireworks are used in a responsible manner and that we are all aware of the increasing problem of those who do not use fireworks responsibly in our communities.
In the first year or two in which I was a member of the Scottish Parliament, my mailbag contained no complaints about fireworks. Last year, I had a large number of complaints about the irresponsible use of fireworks. The problem is increasing, and it is clear that the existing statutory framework for dealing with fireworks is not working, nor is the existing voluntary code on fireworks. Therefore, I welcome the bill, which will start to address the problem.
The Liberal Democrats are aware that the Scottish Parliament alone cannot deal with the matter. The issue includes reserved matters, and the Executive's approach of lodging a Sewel motion seems to me to be the right way to deal with this important issue.
I would like a licensing system for the sale of fireworks to be introduced, but I would like to go slightly further than that. Not only those who sell fireworks but those who buy them should be licensed. There should be a way of ensuring that those who purchase fireworks are responsible and use them properly. At present, there is no such requirement. Anyone can go into a shop for fireworks, although sale is restricted—theoretically—to those over a certain age. I say theoretically because, once the fireworks are purchased, they are not necessarily left in the hands of people over that age to use in a responsible manner. Many fireworks are used irresponsibly and, as Annabel Goldie said, cause considerable distress to old people and people with animals. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has sent a briefing that indicates some of the many distresses that have been caused to animals through the irresponsible use of fireworks.
We need to address those issues. We cannot address them in this Parliament alone, and so the Sewel motion is the right approach. The proposals in the bill, which Bill Tynan introduced, are sensible. The prohibition of the supply of fireworks to young persons is obviously the key part of the proposals. We must ensure that only responsible
We must also ensure that proper regulations exist to ensure that the types of fireworks that are on sale to the general public are safe and designed in such a way as to minimise their capacity to be misused or to cause a problem. That includes dealing with those that essentially produce only a noise, rather than being a firework. In my view, a firework is something that shows a nice display of coloured sparks, not something that only makes a big bang. We should stop the sale of fireworks that are sold simply to make a large noise. There is no reason on earth why we should not have such a ban now.
We must consider restricting the time for which fireworks are on sale. The voluntary code, which permits their sale from three weeks before 5 November, is clearly not working. We all hear the bangs in September, which is long before 5 November. Mind you, as hotels have started to put Christmas trees up before midsummer, perhaps 5 November is coming a bit sooner than we think. We must ensure that retailers who are not willing to abide by the voluntary code can be dealt with and are not allowed to sell fireworks. A licensing system would help with that.
Ideally, we should try to encourage people not to put on their own, private, back-garden firework displays for 5 November. We should encourage people to go to organised public displays, which are obviously safer, can be policed and are better value for money, because money that has been clubbed together can produce better firework displays than the horrible little boxes with which people normally end up in their back gardens.
I am not saying that we should prevent parents from having fireworks in their back gardens, rather that we should encourage them only to go to public displays where possible and to assist organisations to put on safe public displays. That is better for all concerned.
The bill is sensible. We should not go down Fergus Ewing's route of trying to get powers for a complete ban of fireworks. Fireworks are an important part of our communities. They are used for a number of things, not only 5 November—for example, they are increasingly used at new year and for private purposes. However, to ensure that fireworks are used responsibly, we must ensure that we have better control over their sale and over those who buy them.
It gives me particular pleasure to support the Sewel motion, which will ensure that our response north and south of the border to the menace of the indiscriminate use of fireworks is the same.
I welcome the fact that the Fireworks Bill is being taken through Westminster by a Scottish MP—Bill Tynan, the member for Hamilton South—as a result of the ballot for private members' bills. I congratulate Bill Tynan, whom I have known for many years through our experience in the trade union movement.
Colleagues who were members in the previous session will be aware of my direct involvement in the campaign for better control of fireworks. Indeed, it would be safe to say that I engaged in direct action, after I was approached by many constituents who were horrified that some national chains—in particular, R S McColl—had decided to ignore the national voluntary agreement on the sale of fireworks. Not only did they sell fireworks to anyone, but they sold them at half price. I cannot think of a less considerate action for the well-being of my community.
I gathered petition signatures for a number of weeks outside R S McColl shops in my constituency. On at least one occasion, R S McColl engaged security staff to move me out of the Burns mall in Kilmarnock into a rainstorm. That did not stop more than 1,000 of my constituents signing the petition but, true to R S McColl's previous contempt for the people of Kilmarnock and Loudoun, neither I nor my constituents have ever received a response from the company—which is part of the Martin's group—to our concerns, each of which I sent to the company's head office.
Actions such as that have ensured that the groundswell of opinion in favour of legislative action has grown and that the Government has been convinced to back the campaign. Promises that the Scottish Executive made in the previous session to address the issue are now fulfilled by the Sewel motion, which will improve control over the availability of fireworks and go a long way towards ensuring that fireworks do not get into the wrong hands—the hands of those who wish only to create mischief.
I will make the point clear: the hundreds of constituents who attended the public meetings in Kilmarnock and Loudoun that my Westminster colleague Des Browne and I ran, were not complaining about fireworks as such. The local vets, such as colleagues from McKenzie, Bryson and Marshall MsRCVS who spoke at the meetings, do not want a complete ban. The elderly
Such incidents have occurred in Kilmarnock and Loudoun and in every other constituency in the United Kingdom. I welcome well-organised, controlled and planned firework displays that add colour and pleasure to events such as Guy Fawkes night and many of our ethnic festivals, but I am totally opposed to the indiscriminate availability of fireworks that leads to terror in my community and, often, to injury to people and damage to public facilities such as phone booths. That is antisocial behaviour at its most obvious and, in many ways, at its worst, and we must stamp it out.
I say to companies such as R S McColl that say that the bill is an attack on commercial freedom that they have brought the legislation on themselves. They were given the opportunity to show that they could behave with concern for our communities through a voluntary code and they failed spectacularly.
It is our duty to protect our constituents from menaces such as the indiscriminate use of fireworks. I believe that, with the Fireworks Bill, we have carried out that duty. Early in our second session, we will have made a major difference to the lives of all our people. On behalf of my constituents who have campaigned for the regulations, I fully support the Sewel motion.
The SNP fully supports the regulation of the sale of fireworks. That was shown ably by my colleague Shona Robison in the previous session in her proposed member's bill. That bill would have provided for an amendment to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 to extend local government licensing. That could have happened in Scotland last year and I still do not quite understand why the Executive was not willing to support the bill.
The debate that Shona Robison secured at the time showed the huge support that exists across the parties. There were examples from every constituency in the country of why action must be taken. The Fireworks Bill that is progressing through the London Parliament is welcome and will go some way towards addressing our concerns. I congratulate Bill Tynan MP, because I know that he has worked hard on the bill. I have seen the results of his work locally because I live
However, I also have concerns about the bill and about the Sewel motion. We are always concerned when Scottish legislation is made at Westminster, but we have other concerns, too. We are being asked to approve a bill that will place new duties on various public bodies, including local authorities in Scotland. Those burdens will have financial implications and we should ensure that such implications are taken into account whenever we pass legislation. No financial memorandum is attached to the Sewel motion. I find it hard to be confident that local authorities will not have to carry additional financial burdens without a legal right to reclaim those moneys.
I am sure that, in the fullness of time, local government will call on the Executive to provide additional funding to deal with the administrative cost of the regulations. Does the member agree that there will be huge savings in the public resources—from local government budgets—that are spent on dealing with fireworks incidents and complaints?
That is something that just cannot be published or examined. Local authorities will have to finance the regulations on a daily basis. They might get money back from licensing, but there are many hidden implications, such as the extra work that local authority officers will have to undertake in licensing and supervision. Then there is the continuing training. Local authorities welcome the new regulations, but they should know that they will have the backing to implement the procedures that are being introduced properly.
The member talks about the impact on local authorities. Does she accept that local authorities were part and parcel of the task force and that today's motion builds on the recommendations of that task force, which had a handle on the financial impact at a local level?
Absolutely. No one in this country would say that we should not have regulation of fireworks. Local authorities would not say that and, of course, they welcome the regulations as do all members in the chamber. However, that does not give them a guarantee that they will not have to move money from other services to implement the regulations. Comfort should be given to local authorities that other services will not suffer as a result of the introduction of the regulations.
Today we are being asked to allow Westminster to legislate on matters that are within the remit of the Scottish Parliament. We could have dealt with those matters last year, but the motion gives the
Can we have some ambition? We must consider what Mr Gorrie suggested last year and what we have been suggesting ever since we entered Parliament. Why cannot we consider reverse Sewel motions? Why cannot we consider bringing back legislation that directly affects people in Scotland? Far too often we pass Sewel motions that allow London to legislate on matters that are within our remit. Let us have reverse Sewel motions. Let us have a bit of ambition and let us have the power to make more legislation here.
I welcome the principle and intent of Mr Tynan's bill, as everyone does, but I want it to be implemented as soon as possible and I have concerns about the parliamentary and local authority procedures that will get us to that point.
Last year we had a debate on fireworks that Shona Robison secured. I am pleased that today's motion endorses the Fireworks Bill, which embodies many of the topics that were covered in that earlier debate. I am also pleased that COSLA and the SSPCA were two of the organisations that played a major part in informing the deliberations that led to the drawing up of the bill.
One of the views expressed in the debate last year was about the importance of taking a UK line on fireworks. Consequently, it is appropriate that Andy Kerr's motion contains the suggestion
"that those provisions in the Bill that relate to devolved matters should be considered by the UK Parliament."
Conversely, I note a tone of frustration in many members' comments, including those of Linda Fabiani, that we have had to wait for Westminster legislation rather than being able to take swift local action.
Members here and counterparts south of the border have stressed that they are not party poopers or killjoys who advocate the complete banning of sales of fireworks to the public. However, in relation to Iain Smith's remarks, I note that the law in the Republic of Ireland—which is hardly a nation with a reputation for being killjoys—prohibits the sale of fireworks to anyone
I feel pressed to repeat a comment I made in the earlier debate. There is a licensing system down south, but the fees have recently been raised to about £2,000 for a small village or a community association to put on a fireworks display. I suggest that those fees are punitive. If we introduce a licensing system here, I suggest that it should be properly scaled so that small communities can buy an affordable licence. It is fair to give a huge bill to those who run the Edinburgh fireworks, because they can afford it, but perhaps the Executive will review the matter and introduce a scale of charges that is appropriate and not cripplingly expensive for smaller communities.
Margaret Jamieson stressed the absolute misery that the inappropriate use of fireworks can cause. I have little to add to what has been said about the damage done through accidents and the deliberate misuse of fireworks. However, I draw attention to the work that bodies such as the National Campaign for Firework Safety undertake on the high level of child labour and slavery in the fireworks industry. To the catalogue of misery of the effects of fireworks on people, animals and property, we can add the horrific tally of burns, explosions, lung disease, economic and social exploitation and abuse in the countries of manufacture. That seems a high price to pay for fireworks. I support the measures in the bill to allow for controls on fireworks imports and I hope that they will be extended to include ethical as well as quality control conditions.
I support every word of Annabel Goldie's speech, particularly her remarks on enforcement. Whatever legislation and regulations are introduced, they must be totally transparent and enforceable. I commend Andy Kerr on lodging the motion, which I am pleased to support.
When I asked my son the other day what bedtime story he would like, he said, "Daddy, tell me the one about the fox." I asked, "Do you mean the one about Brer Rabbit and the briar patch?" but he did not want that one. I said, "Do you mean 'The Animals of Farthing Wood'?" but he did not want that. As my son is only four, I assumed, with all respect to parliamentary colleagues, that he did not want to hear about our socialist colleague Colin Fox and his musical rendition of the oath of allegiance, or even Mike Watson's successful bill to ban fox hunting. When I asked my son to elaborate, he said, "I want the one with the explosions." The penny then dropped that he meant the story of Guy Fawkes. My son loves any story with explosions; he also believes that the Parliament to be blown up was this one and that I
I was delighted that my son shares my enjoyment of Guy Fawkes day. When I got to the punch line of the story and the little ditty, "Remember, remember the fifth of November," I realised how much things have changed. My son might not understand that Guy Fawkes day is supposed to happen only once a year. The celebrations now happen not only in November, but go on in October, September and December.
The situation with fireworks is analogous to the growth in road traffic. To use another domestic example, I recently drove down the street where I used to live, which has two lanes on either side and which now resembles a motorway. I do not understand how the family who live in my old house cross the road from the bus stop when they come back from the school or the shops. I do not want to sound nostalgic or to hark back to the days when jumpers were goalposts, but times change and behaviour that was once appropriate is perhaps no longer safe. We must move with the times.
I do not know exactly what has happened to fireworks, but they have turned from a source of pure enjoyment into a cause of fear, anxiety, frustration and anger. Perhaps they are cheaper, louder or more widely available now—or maybe all three. I do not have to describe to members the impact that fireworks can have and I cannot believe that any member is unaware of the problem. Cars and buses are targeted by the more irresponsible people; older people are made to feel anxious and vulnerable; and, most telling of all, there is scarcely an animal lover or pet owner who does not dread the approaching fireworks season. I use the word "season" with a sense of alarm.
Last year, my colleague Jim Murphy MP and I decided to try to capture the strength of feeling that exists on the matter so that we could demonstrate to ministers the importance of taking action. I was astounded by the result: our petition attracted not hundreds but thousands of signatures. The large bundle of papers that I am holding up contains just some of them—I did not want to weigh down my bag too much this morning. I was delighted to hand the petition to the First Minister earlier this year.
We need action. We need powers to restrict the sale of fireworks so that only those who will use them responsibly can buy them; we need to restrict the times of day at which fireworks are let off; and we need to limit the times of year at which they can be bought. In the interests of safety, we must have clearer warnings and information on the use of fireworks, recognised training courses and stricter safety criteria. Those measures might not be foolproof, but they will make a difference.
We cannot just leave the matter to a voluntary code for retailers. Last year, and earlier in the debate, my colleague Margaret Jamieson highlighted the national chain of shops that flouted the code and sold half-price fireworks well outside the three-week period around 5 November. In my constituency, East Renfrewshire Council's trading standards officers ran a sting operation in conjunction with the police to find out how widespread the problem of under-age sales was. Every shop except one that they tried was willing to sell fireworks to young people.
The bill might not be the end of the story, but it will make a sizeable difference. I pay tribute to the work of another colleague, Bill Tynan MP, in taking his private member's bill through Westminster. I am delighted to support the motion.
The minister was correct to preface his remarks by stating that we do not wish to be considered killjoys. Fireworks can provide a lot of pleasure and spectacular entertainment and there can be few members who have not thoroughly enjoyed fireworks displays, both in childhood and adulthood. However, there is a caveat—namely, that the use of fireworks must be responsible and careful.
The minister was also correct to highlight the number of incidents involving fireworks last November and Fergus Ewing rightly underlined some of the consequences that arise from the misuse of fireworks. The injuries are sometimes horrifying and not infrequently there are fatalities. By definition, fireworks are explosives, which are dangerous, and, as such, great care must be exercised in their use. However, the vast majority of problems are not the tragic ones that Fergus Ewing outlined, but the nuisance incidents that have been referred to, such as bangers being put through old people's letterboxes. As Iain Smith said, fireworks are used not only around the Guy Fawkes period, but for months on end and sometimes at the most antisocial hours.
The matter must be addressed. I am the last person to justify the nanny state, but regulation is long overdue and, with a few caveats, the bill is eminently sensible. Given that many of those who are involved in major and minor incidents are younger people, we should attempt to restrict the sale of fireworks to very young people, who sometimes do not appreciate the inevitable dangers. The bill would enable the appropriate restrictions to be put in place, along with restrictions on the times at which fireworks can be made available to members of the public. Those measures would ease the nuisance to which I referred.
All legislation risks being unduly proscriptive. Annabel Goldie was correct to say that the responsible use of fireworks should be encouraged. I draw members' attention to Glasgow City Council's Guy Fawkes day fireworks displays on Glasgow green, which is a wide open space where there is plenty of room to keep the punters away from the fireworks. At those events, the fireworks are set off under controlled conditions. Of course, not only public authorities organise such events; sporting clubs and community councils also do so. We should not be overly restrictive and prevent such bodies from carrying out that worthwhile work, which provides a lot of enjoyment for those who live in the communities that the bodies serve.
We must recognise that the type of fireworks that are now freely on sale are somewhat different from the tuppenny bangers with which members such as Fergus Ewing and I were familiar in our younger days. Much more sophisticated devices are now available, which sometimes have concussive effects and which can cause serious damage, at least to the hearing of anyone who is within a confined radius of the detonation.
We must recognise that the bill is not perfect, but it goes some way towards allaying the concerns and fears that many members have expressed during the past four years.
As has been said, this debate comes at the end of a long series of debates and should be treated accordingly. Linda Fabiani seemed to forget some of the issues that had been raised previously. At the previous debate in November, at which Andy Kerr was present, we all agreed that, because certain responsibilities lay with Westminster and certain responsibilities lay with the Scottish Parliament, it was important that we took a joint approach. We asked Andy Kerr to work closely with the ministers at Westminster to move the agenda forward.
At that time, we were aware that a bill was going to be published at Westminster. I am glad that that bill has been placed before us today and that we can agree the Sewel motion. There may be minor differences between the issues that we raise here and those that were raised at Westminster, and I shall say more about that in a minute. However, the main thrust of the bill, together with the fact that we will deal with the statutory instruments here in the Scottish Parliament, provides a good basis for hoping that future 5 Novembers, if not the coming 5 November—I do not know the time scale for the implementation of the legislation—will be a lot better than they have been in the past.
I have constituency issues, as have other members who are present, which Ken Macintosh has outlined, and I have issues also as the chair of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on animal welfare. That group has been at the forefront of the debate. Shona Robison is a member of the group, as was John Young who is, sadly, no longer with us. I remember the three of us standing outside the chamber with three huge rockets in our hands as part of the dump squibs campaign that the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was running. That campaign was hugely successful in raising awareness of the dangers of fireworks, and many people told me that they had seen it mentioned in the newspapers.
The cross-party group also worked with COSLA, and the COSLA task group was very helpful in producing a report on fireworks, which made recommendations on licensing that will be taken up. We should also take on board the comments that have been made about licensing today. Robin Harper made the extremely good suggestion that we should think about basing the cost of licences on the size of organisations. Annabel Goldie also made some good points about enforcement of the legislation, which we should consider.
Both within and outwith the cross-party group on animal welfare, many MSPs have been involved in moving this agenda forward. The campaign in Dundee was supported by Kate Maclean and John McAllion who, unfortunately, is no longer an MSP. Margaret Jamieson has also raised a lot of issues, showing how intimately she has been involved with the subject. As chair of the cross-party group, I think that those efforts show us the way forward.
The way in which the bill will deal with underage sales of fireworks is very important, as is the way in which it will be able to restrict the time of year—even the time of day—when fireworks will be sold. It will deal with the specific fireworks that will be available, the conditions for the licensing of public firework displays and the important issue of the importing of certain types of fireworks from Asia, which John Young mentioned in a previous debate. Specifically, he mentioned the Black Cat, which was described as being "detonated" because it is so dangerous.
Andy Kerr mentioned that Bill Tynan had tried to get hold of a boat-load of fireworks. I will conclude by quoting from Bill Tynan's speech at Westminster. He said:
"The industry is concerned about fireworks that, having been imported, do not go to a licensed storage place. The drivers therefore have no need to register that they are driving to a storage place and sometimes drive to a lay-by and split their load between perhaps 12 rogue retailers, who then sell the fireworks indiscriminately over three months."—[Official Report, House of Commons, 13 June 2003; Vol 406, c 978.]
That is the type of practice that we must stop.
I welcome the bill and look forward to seeing the necessary Scottish statutory instruments at the Subordinate Legislation Committee.
After 22 years as an elected member in public service, I can tell members that this is not a new issue. It has been a perennial problem that comes up year after year, as people who have served in Parliaments, councils and so on will know. I am glad that some progress is finally being made on the issue. We are all horrified by the statistics. Last year, around 114 people were injured in the Guy Fawkes season, as Ken Macintosh called it. Many of the casualties are youngsters who need long-term hospitalisation, plastic surgery and treatment. Therefore, we must look very seriously at where we are going on this issue.
Members have said that we do not want to be regarded as killjoys. I love firework displays and have happy memories of watching organised displays such as those at Edinburgh Castle at the end of the Edinburgh International Festival or at the new year celebrations. However, we must put the matter into perspective. We are not talking about sparklers or the tuppenny bangers that were referred to earlier, nor the Catherine wheels that I remember from my childhood. We are talking about what Shona Robison opened her speech with in June last year. She quoted the sales pitches of firework manufacturers:
"The Atomic Warlord is
'Like a nuclear holocaust as this 112 shot barrage vents
its might and ferocity.'
The Midnight Thunder is a
'25 shot, very very loud air bomb. Not for the weak hearted. Available for under £8.'"
She went on to tell us that the Black Cat firework,
"which weighs 21lb, has a greater velocity than many mortar bombs. The advice is that it should not be detonated within 80ft of a structure."—[Official Report, 12 June 2002, c 12602.]
In my view, those items should not be for sale anywhere in this country.
I cannot understand why Shona Robison's proposal for a bill was not accepted. It would have involved a simple amendment to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, which would have been of great importance for trading standards. The Scottish Parliament was founded on the principle that there would be consensus and agreement on good ideas, regardless of which party they came from. I cannot understand why there was no consensus last year on Shona Robison's proposed bill. If the Executive had given
Andy Kerr has said, on several occasions, that he will discuss these issues with the Secretary of State for Scotland. I earlier raised the concerns of HM Customs and Excise officials who have expressed to me their concern at not having the facilities to monitor the importation of fireworks from Asia. When Andy Kerr is in discussion with the secretary of state—two-jobs Alistair Darling—he could perhaps discuss the way in which Customs and Excise officials are monitoring the arrival and transportation of the kinds of fireworks that we have been talking about.
I could recite a litany of the issues that have been raised with me. People with learning difficulties, people with mental illnesses and our elderly people are terrified by the indiscriminate use of fireworks. The SSPCA has pointed out that, last year, 8,000 animals required veterinary treatment because of firework-related injuries. Those animals included hearing dogs for the deaf and guide dogs for the blind. In rural communities, where large fireworks are sometimes taken out into remote areas, cattle and sheep can stampede, causing great damage to themselves, to the local environment, to property and, potentially, to people.
I wish Bill Tynan well and hope that the unelected members of the House of Lords will give the bill a fair wind as it goes through the hearing process. However, the Parliament has a duty to consider carefully how to go further than the Sewel motion. The Subordinate Legislation Committee should consider the issue seriously and statutory instruments should be drafted to strengthen the Parliament's powers and implement the type of legislation that we want.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the motion. As other members said, the nuisance that the irresponsible use of fireworks causes and the size and explosive power of the fireworks that are on sale in local shops and supermarkets are not acceptable. Communities and individuals who suffer from the nuisance say that enough is enough. They expect the Government and the Parliament to act to protect them.
The problem affects not only the people of Scotland but people throughout the UK. Therefore, it is right that we support the UK legislation. Labour members acknowledge that there are three different Parliaments in the UK and that three different sets of politicians make legislation. We
The use of fireworks outwith the traditional time of late October and early November has been widening, as members have acknowledged. Members have also acknowledged that the voluntary code does not seem to work and that, in many cases, it is being ignored. People feel that there is a free-for-all, in which irresponsible traders sell fireworks to children. Such traders do not have an eye on safety or civic responsibility. Their minds are focused on profit and the ring of their tills, and they have no regard for the voluntary code or for the local community—their customers.
Like other members, I receive regular complaints from individual constituents and from community organisations about personal trauma and extensive damage caused by fireworks being in the wrong hands. Responding to fireworks incidents takes up a lot of time for our police and fire services. Police from a station in my constituency said that, during a four-week period in October and November, 104 firework-related incidents were reported, the majority of which involved people under the age of 18, although the sale of fireworks to under-18s is banned.
The seriousness of the incidents varied, ranging from those that caused public annoyance to a incident in which a rocket firework was put through the letterbox of a family home in which six young children lived. Fortunately, an adult occupant extinguished the firework. But for his quick action, the incident could have been far more serious. The Royal Mail reports disruption and major problems when fireworks are let off in postboxes. Last year, three postboxes in my constituency were damaged and were out of commission for almost a week. That is the kind of disruption that the irresponsible use of fireworks can cause to local services.
The use of fireworks in the wrong hands places considerable demands on our public and emergency services and causes an ever-increasing number of injuries that maim people for life. Fireworks affect all areas and all ages, and can threaten humans and terrify animals. Given the possible effects of fireworks, legislation that will allow ministers greater powers of prohibition and regulation is welcome.
If I were asked for my personal view of fireworks, I would say that all sales of fireworks to the general public should be banned and I would require individuals who are qualified in pyrotechnics to hold licences.
If Mr Ewing listens and lets me develop my point, he will find out exactly what my view is.
As I said, if I were asked for my personal opinion—I emphasise the word "personal"—I would say that all sales of fireworks to the general public should be banned, that people should have to hold licences to use fireworks and that only suitably qualified people should be eligible to set off fireworks. However, I know that my view is not shared by my constituents in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth. I imagine that my view is not shared by the majority of people who use fireworks responsibly and consider their neighbours, and who enjoy the spectacle of fireworks and the thrills and entertainment that they can provide.
Like me, supporters of Bill Tynan's bill across all parties do not want to be regarded as killjoys or damp squibs. We do not want to encroach on people's enjoyment or threaten the livelihoods of those who work in the pyrotechnics industry. We do not want to put off people such as Iain Smith—unfortunately, he had to leave the chamber—who spoke about his great enjoyment not only of watching firework displays, but of setting off fireworks.
I would like there to be more organised firework displays. Ken Macintosh said that fireworks have become increasingly available over the years, that they are louder and noisier and that more people buy them. I do not know why that is the case, but that has happened while increasing numbers of local authorities have been encouraging and organising displays that families can attend.
I do not particularly like fireworks and I would go only to an organised display. However, I remember that when I was a child the most important thing about Guy Fawkes night was not the fireworks but the sausages and—
Exactly. And we got toffee apples, which were on sticks of the same thickness and length as a rocket stick. However, rocket sticks are now so long that they could be used to train sweetpeas. People who are involved professionally with fireworks agree that large rockets—which have a high velocity—should not be on sale to the general public. Such rockets are powerful explosives and in the wrong hands they can cause a great deal of personal injury and wider damage.
People believe that enough is enough. The voluntary codes are not working and irresponsible local traders are flouting the law. National shop chains—to which Margaret Ewing referred—sell fireworks outwith the agreed period. I was amazed
By supporting the Fireworks Bill we will set in motion mechanisms that will lead to regulations that will herald the day when fireworks can again be enjoyed by the majority of the population as fun and entertainment, without fear of endless barrages of noise and their associated danger. I hope that we make early progress in consulting our communities, the fireworks industry and other involved parties to ensure that by next year's firework season, if not by this year's, we have regulations that protect our communities.
We go now to the closing round of speeches. We are a bit ahead of the clock, so I am happy for closing speakers to take a couple of minutes longer, which would give them six minutes.
I pay great credit to Bill Tynan, whose bill is an admirable example of a private member's bill that meets a serious local concern that Governments have neglected. The bill has widespread support from all political parties in the House of Commons and I hope that it will have similar support in the House of Lords.
The history of fireworks goes back a long way. My understanding is that the Chinese invented gunpowder and used it in fireworks. They passed their knowledge on to Europeans, who then used gunpowder to kill people. Perhaps there is a lesson there. However, there is now another wave from the east of excessively devastating fireworks with which we must deal differently.
Such fireworks certainly have much louder bangs than any that I met during my two years of national service working with anti-aircraft guns and they cause worry and devastation to individuals and their animals, and fear and alarm to citizens in general. The bang element of fireworks used to serve to spread the sparks about, but today many fireworks are just a big bang.
Like other members, I have been involved with this subject for some time. When I became an MP, I met and tried to help a very active group in
I have laboured—without great success—to produce an analogy between bad, ranting political speeches and fireworks. Fireworks have too long a season, and many speeches go on for too long. Fireworks have more noise than substance, as do some speeches. Some speeches have a short-lived sparkle, like fireworks. Some speeches also frighten the people who hear them. We can learn that we should control both ourselves and fireworks.
I do not know whether it was a bang, but I intend next to address the issue that the member raises. The idea of a reverse Sewel motion is worth pursuing. I would be happy to co-operate with Fergus Ewing and anyone else who is interested in working up the proposal properly and submitting it to the Procedures Committee. In some cases, it may be possible for us to trespass on Westminster's powers, instead of conceding powers.
Bill Tynan's bill does not go as far as some people would like, but it deals with the question of fireworks sensibly. Most of the points to which it relates are issues for Westminster rather than for the Scottish Parliament, so we should support the bill. However, I would be happy to examine the way in which we treat such matters. Perhaps we could create a Ewing-Gorrie convention—double-barrelled names such as the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms are better than single-barrelled ones.
I stress the point that other members have made about enforcement. We are very good at passing bills to which no one pays attention. People are worried about drink, but the severe laws that exist for dealing with that problem are not enforced. The same may happen in the case of fireworks. Enforcement is critical.
Absolutely. There is an analogy between dog fouling and fireworks. In the past,
I am happy to support this Sewel motion.
I will horrify Donald Gorrie by identifying in part with his agreement with Fergus Ewing on reverse Sewel motions. I do not advocate reverse Sewels, but if we sign up to the proposals of the European convention I suspect that I would be happy to join members in supporting some kind of reverse Giscard. However, that may be some way into the future.
Just as fireworks can become a nightmare for some, this debate is to some extent a nightmare for me. I hate participating in debates in which everyone is saying virtually the same thing and in which there is total agreement across the chamber. That is the situation that we face in respect of the Fireworks Bill.
The Fireworks Bill is not a detailed bill, but an enabling bill. A great deal of work must be done on its provisions. Virtually every section specifies that action "may" be taken in particular areas. In due course, ministers will be required to address the issues through regulation. It is right and proper not only that ministers at Westminster should do that, but that Scottish Executive ministers should take specific actions and produce regulations that suit the scene in Scotland.
Much has been said about the irresponsible use of fireworks on the urban scene. The rural scene is also very important. Sylvia Jackson and the cross-party group on animal welfare have continually highlighted the problems that fireworks cause for animals. The impact of fireworks is not limited to domestic pets. In the countryside, too, animals are very much affected. Fireworks can have a particularly damaging effect on horses, even when the two are not in close proximity. This is not just an urban issue—it affects the whole country.
I agree with Phil Gallie about the misery that is caused to animals of various types by the explosion of fireworks. As far as the animals are concerned, surely it makes no difference whether the firework display is legal or illegal—authorised or unauthorised. The lack of the power to impose an outright ban on the use of
I have questioned whether it would be possible to impose an outright ban on fireworks in the UK, given European regulation. Earlier, the minister undertook to respond to that point. I support licensing and regulation of the use of fireworks where that is a continuous process. However, when consent has been given for specific shows, animal owners can take note of that and make arrangements to cover the situation. I do not support an outright ban on fireworks; that would not be right. However, as Annabel Goldie said, we must guard against indiscriminate use of fireworks.
It has been suggested that this problem has come to the attention of the public because the situation is getting worse. I am not sure that that is entirely true. I remember that in my youth—which was much further back than that of many in the chamber—penny and tuppenny bangers were freely available in all local shops and were used indiscriminately by youths. However, at that time activity was more concentrated and appeared to centre round 5 November, rather than extending over the September-to-December span to which Ken Macintosh referred. Horror of horrors, I wonder whether that was related to the fact that at the time virtually every street and most schemes had a bonfire, round which activities centred. I recognise that there are dangers in setting up bonfires and do not advocate that—I am simply making a point about the difference between the use of fireworks in the past and their use today.
A major change is the size of the fireworks, to which Linda Fabiani and Cathie Craigie referred. Some of the fireworks on sale today have a huge explosive content. My colleague John Young felt very strongly about that in the first session of the Parliament. I am sure that he would have loved to have been here today to congratulate Bill Tynan—a Scottish MP—on taking the issue to the Westminster Parliament and giving us the opportunity to sign up to something for which he long campaigned. I am certain that he would have approved totally of our accepting the Sewel motion. It passes on huge responsibility to the Minister for Finance and Public Services and I look forward to hearing about the kind of regulations that he thinks are appropriate.
My final point goes back to what Robin Harper said about the licensing fees. Some of the responsible groups that organise firework demonstrations at key points in the year do so on relatively low budgets or on the basis of raising funds. Another factor that worries me relates to the fact that many of those groups attempt to organise insurance to cover their events. A major problem
I thank Iain Smith for his good wishes for Shona Robison. I am not quite sure what stage her pregnancy has reached. I think that she has had an early warning and we should not necessarily expect an outcome today. I also hope that when Sylvia Jackson said that John Young was no longer with us she was referring merely to his absence from the chamber. I can see members nodding to indicate that our dear friend is, in the more common and general usage of the term, still with us. I welcome that assurance.
It has been a cracker of a debate, full of explosive interventions, which have all clearly gone down a bomb. Having said that, this is not a matter for undue levity. Few of us do not look with awe at the fireworks concert each year, just down the hill from here. However, equally few of us do not share horror at the disfigurement, injury and even death that occur all too frequently during what seems an increasingly long fireworks season, or the alarm and fright of animals that do not understand what is going on.
The real question is what to do. My colleague Shona Robison secured a members' business debate on a proposal for a bill to regulate the sale and use of fireworks in Scotland. It is clear that members, on the SNP benches and throughout the Parliament, think that there is a need for change.
The SNP members have talked about the possibility of a total ban. Will that apply not to organised firework displays, but to sales of fireworks to the general public? Will the member comment on illegal imports and the problem that people are able to buy fireworks on the internet?
Elaine Smith makes good points. I reiterate what Fergus Ewing said; we are not seeking a total ban on either the private or public purchase and use of fireworks. However, the bill might be the appropriate instrument to ensure that powers are available to ministers to introduce a total ban on private or even public use of fireworks if circumstances change. I will return to the detail of the bill in a minute or two.
Linda Fabiani referred to the lack of a financial memorandum. We do not know the potential cost to councils, businesses or to police. We know the cost of the present circumstances—Strathclyde police had 2,000 calls about fireworks last year.
Under clause 17(2) of the bill, any revenues that are derived will be paid into the consolidated fund at Westminster, so we will not get the benefit.
There has not been any explanation so far of what particular powers the Scottish ministers might exercise as a result of the bill and I would welcome clarification of that.
We have a good record of speedy action in this Parliament but we cannot deny that, although we have been talking about fireworks for a long time, we have not delivered anything. The question is whether Westminster or Holyrood should act. SNP members are not going to oppose the motion, although we are minded to abstain. Is the Scottish Parliament, as a matter of general principle, prepared to go along with ceding responsibility, or is it going to take control?
I am going to develop some points about the bill; I will try to come back to Elaine Smith later.
I have specific questions about the bill. Consultation is mentioned in clause 2(3). Would that include the Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament or its committees? What particular regulations would it enable us to make?
Under clause 4(1) and clause 4(2) there are provisions against possession under some circumstances, but unless I am missing the point, there does not seem to be a general provision banning possession. Perhaps the minister will clarify his previous remarks.
Fergus Ewing has been teasing some members a little bit about whether the bill provides an absolute power. My reading of it suggests that it does. Under clause 2(1)(a), ministers may act to reduce use to a point at which there is no risk. The succeeding subclause refers to their being able to act to reduce risk. The only way in which we can ensure that there is no risk is to ban the use of fireworks altogether, unless I am misreading the bill.
It appears to me that in line with the campaign that the Daily Record has mounted and in line with Paul Martin's campaign it would be possible, under the eventual act, to enforce a complete ban. I would welcome the minister's views on that in his summing up.
The member will find that clause 2(1)(a) refers to clause 2(2), which mentions the death of animals or persons and
"This Act does not extend to Northern Ireland."
There is no Assembly currently operating in Northern Ireland and yet, although there is a Parliament—not an Assembly—operating here, we will not have the opportunity to examine the measures in detail.
I am obliged to Cathie Craigie for that information, of which I was not aware.
Contravening prohibitions imposed by regulations is an offence under clause 11(1) of the bill, but clause 11(5) stipulates that
"Fireworks regulations may not provide for any contravention of the regulations to be an offence."
It is not at all clear what will and will not be an offence.
We are often assured that Sewel motions speed solutions, but it is not clear that, in this specific instance, that will be the case.
Stewart Stevenson mentioned Sewel motions before. I am no great fan of Sewel motions and I express concern about the 46 that were passed in the previous session. However, it seems to me that Sewel motions are allowable for a good reason, and the Fireworks Bill is one that fits in with the ethos of Sewel motions. It is an enabling bill and the minister has said that there will be consultation on it, so it would be rather churlish of the SNP to abstain on the motion today. Does not Stewart Stevenson agree that the bill will help us to make a difference in Scotland and that the Sewel motion is sensible?
I thank Elaine Smith for her intervention. The SNP is not opposing the Sewel motion—she will recognise that that is slightly unusual—because we want to make
It is difficult to know where to begin. There have been many valuable contributions to the debate.
Before I go any further, I would like to say that, although I am not sure how to describe Shona Robison's situation at the moment, I echo the sentiments of other members around the chamber, and we all wish her and her husband all the best.
Great credit is due to Bill Tynan, whose bill has enabled us to address the needs of our communities. Constitutional niceties may not be at stake for the SNP in this instance, but what is important is that we deal with the issue. I shall go on to talk about Sewel motions in a wee bit more detail, but it is a bit rich of SNP members to say that they want action and then, when we have an opportunity to do something, to turn their noses up at it.
The Parliament has passed a number of Sewel motions since devolution and there has not been a single occasion on which the effect of such a motion was to remove powers or functions from the Scottish ministers. A Sewel motion enables the Scottish ministers to ensure that we benefit from UK legislation and that those aspects of such legislation that are devolved to this Parliament are dealt with by this Parliament and by the Scottish Executive. That is the important point. The SNP seems to be arguing that it is somehow inappropriate to do that, but we are ensuring that the functions that are our responsibility will be dealt with. Indeed, when a Sewel motion was invited on the Extradition Bill, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive actually got powers, so it is a bit rich of the SNP to go on about constitutional issues.
In our communities, where people want us to take action, we do not want to have to say that the bill was delayed because we had to spend hours with lawyers agreeing what was reserved and what devolved, what was to do with trading and what with local government, and which powers lay
I will allow Linda Fabiani to intervene in a moment, as I also want to address some of the points that she made in the debate.
I would like to go through some of the comments that members have made. I point out to Fergus Ewing that the intention of the bill is not to introduce a complete ban on the sale of fireworks. The bill provides powers to control locations and timings. It could be argued that the location is Scotland and the timing is from 12 midnight to 12 midnight on a certain date each year, so it is possible that there could be a total ban. However, the point that I am making is that it is not the intention of Bill Tynan, of the DTI, of COSLA or of the Executive to use the bill in such a way. To answer Fergus Ewing's question, there is a theoretical possibility of a total ban, and I hope that that answer puts him at ease.
Of course, if anyone wants to ban the use of fireworks at Up-Helly-Aa, the Edinburgh festival, hogmanay and other such events, they can propose that during the deep and meaningful consultation that will take place as a result of the introduction of the guidance and regulations surrounding the bill. Let us get this into context: it is about introducing the most appropriate measures to solve a problem in our communities. That is what the motion seeks to do, that is what Bill Tynan seeks to do, and that is what the Scottish Executive seeks to do.
The minister accused the SNP of trying to hold things up because of constitutional niceties. Will he accept that if the Executive had supported Shona Robison last year with an amendment to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, the regulations could have been implemented more quickly? The Executive used that method when it introduced an amendment to the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 as an emergency measure in relation to houses in multiple occupation. It was the fastest way to make a difference.
I fundamentally disagree with that and that is what we said at the time. This was about ensuring that we do not spend all our time trying carefully to draw lines round the constitutional map of the UK to find out what the Parliament has powers to do and what it does not have powers to do. What we have here—Donald Gorrie mentioned the use of double-barrelled names—is Westminster-Holyrood and Holyrood-Westminster working in concert to solve an issue within our communities.
The route that Linda Fabiani suggests was ill-advised because many of the powers that we wanted were reserved. We should not forget that the Scottish people said at the election that they did not want separation and divorce, or Scotland to be a separate state, but that they wanted to work in partnership with the UK Government. That is what the Executive is doing through this legislation.
SNP members have been fairly grudging, although there has been welcome for part of the motion. COSLA, however, demands action and supports the Tynan bill. COSLA understands that when we discuss regulations, matters such as resources and financing will be clarified. If appropriate, there will be adequate resources from the Executive. Local authority enforcement officers and environmental health officers want the power to act forcefully within communities to ensure that fireworks do not continue to be the hazard that they are today.
I would argue therefore that, while there was some grudging welcome from the SNP on the matter, its position does not reflect the position within our communities. As Margaret Ewing said, we have a good idea from Bill Tynan, which COSLA, the Department of Trade and Industry and most members of the Scottish Parliament support, yet the SNP cannot bring itself to admit that it is a good idea and to support it. I am surprised by the SNP's position of abstention on the bill.
I will try to address the issues raised by Mr Stevenson, but if I do not get through them we can correspond on the issue. Elaine Smith made an interesting comment about internet purchasing. How we deal with that is the subject of continuing discussion. It is an extremely difficult area. I know that that was not one of Mr Stevenson's points, but it arose during his speech.
On the consolidated fund and where the money is going, let us not forget that in recent years, in partnership with the UK Government, the Executive and the Parliament have received unprecedented resources from the UK. Those resources will have risen from £16 billion in 1997 to £27 billion by 2006. I would not argue about money when we consider the size of the
Many members asked how regulation would work. I give them an absolute assurance about the consultation that will take place. We will work through the Parliament's committees and with our partners to ensure that regulation is properly carried out.
We must consider insurance, because what we do not want to do, as a result of this process, is prevent responsible firework demonstrations and evenings.
I will not give that assurance as it might be decided that charitable and voluntary organisations should pay a lower rate than other bodies. I have discussed the matter with Bill Tynan and am aware of the numbers that are being bandied about. However, it would be unfair to discuss that just now, as it will be the subject of the discussions on regulation and licensing that we will have in due course.
As the Minister for Finance and Public Services, Mr Kerr will be concerned about the ultimate cost—which could be quite substantial—of any regulations that are brought forward. However, what proportion would that ultimate figure be in relation to the figure of £338 million, the previous estimated cost of the Holyrood project, which the minister described as a "drop in the ocean"?
I will give Mr Ewing the transcript of the Radio 5 Live interview during which that comment was made so that he will realise that his use of that quote is—as ever, from the SNP—a mischaracterisation of my words as a result of a deliberate misunderstanding of what was said during the show.
As Bill Aitken said, young people are affected by their so-called friends and other young people terrorising them with fireworks. He talked about
Donald Gorrie expressed support for Bill Tynan and talked about community groups. His speech was welcome, as it talked about the consultations that have been going on for many years on the subject. I was not sure about his concluding remarks about the best way in which to deal with the situation, however.
Margaret Jamieson demonstrated exactly what MSPs should have been doing in relation to this issue. When large retail chains, such as R S McColl, choose to act irresponsibly, it is our duty to tackle them. I congratulate her on the work that she has done. I strongly share her view that this legislation fulfils a promise of the Executive.
Cathie Craigie was right to say that enough is enough and that this proposal demonstrates partnership working. She was also right to acknowledge that her desire for a ban on all sales of fireworks is not shared by everyone. However, I say to her that these are still early days. I hope that Bill Tynan's bill, when its provisions are delivered through regulations, will deal with the problem that we face. However, if it does not, we will have to return to the issue. That is not to say that we would change the regulations or the legislation, but I want to make the point that the changes that various organisations called for will be implemented through Bill Tynan's bill. That suggests to me that we should try to make the legislation work rather than criticising it from the start.
Someone beat me to my next point. Sylvia Jackson's comment that, sadly, John Young is no longer with us, was a bit unfortunate. What she meant was that he is no longer in the Parliament. I am glad to be able to clarify that point.
I give Robin Harper an absolute guarantee that we will consult community organisations on the point that he raised. He made an interesting point about child and slave labour, which the Westminster Parliament will address and which we can all address as consumers by having regard to fair trade purchasing and so on. Whether that is possible in relation to fireworks is an interesting point and one that we might encourage others to develop.
The idea of Ken Macintosh asking his four-year-old son to elaborate was an interesting example of
It is true that Annabel Goldie and I will never agree on business rates, but we will continue to have discussions with the business community. I assure her that I will continue to liaise with the UK Parliament, including the Secretary of State for Scotland. We want to ensure that we consult on licensing. Annabel Goldie used the term, "common sense", and I hope that she agrees that the way in which we are dealing with this legislation demonstrates that we are taking a commonsense approach. She also hoped that we would get the balance right. I assure her that we intend to get the balance right by consulting heavily on the regulations that will flow from the bill.
Had I realised that there would be time, I would have spoken in this debate, but I will settle for making an intervention.
Can any further steps be taken by, for example, introducing a uniform recording system to improve the monitoring of firework-related complaints and incidents and perhaps assess the impact of the new measures?
I have had discussions with senior police officers in Scotland about that matter. They are seeking to obtain systems that will reflect and ensure that we properly record firework-related incidents, which will allow us to make a real impact in our communities. The cost to the public purse of having to respond to such incidents is also important.
We are talking about a difficult enforcement issue. The matter is not just about powers and how the legislation can be made to work positively, but about catching young people—if indeed it is always young people who are involved; I am not sure that that is the case. Catching those who misuse fireworks is a difficult task. On dark evenings when it is nearly winter, it is difficult for police to respond to calls and catch those who are offending. We want to cut off the supply at source by ensuring that retailers act responsibly, staff are properly trained, codes of practice are applied and regulations are stuck to. That is our approach.
COSLA's view is that the co-operation of the Crown Office and other relevant agencies of the judiciary must be obtained to support and reinforce the view that firework nuisance and abuse cannot be tolerated as acceptable behaviour. Does the minister have any ideas about how such co-operation can be
We should manage to deal with many significant problems by working through the regulations process. We give an absolute assurance that we will make an impact on and influence the progress of the matter through Westminster in respect of engaging with the regulations that will be created in the reserved and devolved areas. Mr Stevenson spoke about such matters. We will ensure that we will deal with things in the usual manner and that we will consult widely in civic society and throughout Scotland. We will use the parliamentary committees to ensure that such matters are addressed.
Stewart Stevenson also mentioned consultation and made some detailed points about the legislation. I have tried to address consultation. The appropriate Parliament will consult, but that does not mean that the views of individuals, MSPs, representatives of our communities and the Executive will not be put across. We will work to ensure that the legislation develops in the most effective manner.
Yes. We should ensure that we provide the police, environmental health officers and those who deal with difficult licensing and regulation issues with the appropriate powers through guidance and regulations. I strongly believe that we should try to reduce the impact of fireworks in our communities by strangling inappropriate supply lines. The issue relates to the window during which fireworks can be sold and the age of people to whom they can be sold. A box of fireworks should contain a variety of fireworks and not just noise-making fireworks that the community recognises as unacceptable. Black Cat and air bomb fireworks should be banned. There is a duality to the process. We need to provide police and other public sector enforcement workers with the powers to deal with issues when they arise, but the best way to try to deal with matters is through responsible retailing by those who supply fireworks. We are trying to achieve a balance in respect of the two different sides in the debate.
Does the minister agree with what Donald Gorrie and Robin Harper said about the legislation helping to create an environment in which people who use fireworks are more respectful of others? The legislation does not try overly to penalise people, but there is an attempt
I absolutely agree that the Executive is trying to create that kind of culture and not just in the use of fireworks. We want to use the schools, the police, the fire service and other public servants to get the message across that, although the responsible use of fireworks is totally acceptable, we must crack down hard on the irresponsible use of fireworks in our communities.
I strongly believe that the Executive motion will result in comprehensive and effective regulations, which we have promised to consult on widely. We are about to make a real difference in our communities by agreeing to the motion. The bill will ensure that the views that we have regularly expressed on behalf of our communities are satisfied. People such as Tom Maginnis, who are much closer to the subject, have issued statements that are very positive about what the effect of the Tynan bill will be. I am supportive of the work of Tom Maginnis and of COSLA and, of course, I support all the public servants who have to deal with the problem, but the legislation will enable them to do that in a much more effective manner.