The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have with them the bill as amended at stage 2—Scottish Parliament bill 10A; the marshalled list; and the groupings of amendments.
The division bell will sound, and proceedings will be suspended for around five minutes for the first division of stage 3. The period of voting for each division will be up to one minute.
Members who wish to speak in the debate on any group of amendments should press their request-to-speak button as soon as possible after I call the group. Members should now refer to the marshalled list of amendments.
Amendment 2 and all the other amendments in the group would have the effect of removing the licensing scheme that the bill will create. The scheme will be a Scottish Government, Scotland-wide, centrally run scheme, and we understand that it will have a fee of between £20 and £50 attached to cover the administration costs.
I have lodged amendment 2 because of the risk that an unintended consequence of those provisions would be to create a black market in fireworks in Scotland. The bill provides little detail on what the licensing scheme will look like. We do not have a principled objection to the creation of a licensing scheme. However, given the concerns that have been raised by and with the Criminal Justice Committee, we do not believe that it is appropriate that the matter should be dealt with through delegated legislation. Rather, it should require the Government to come forward with primary legislation on a licensing scheme to enable a proper scrutiny process.
I agree with Katy Clark that the licensing scheme should have been better and further thought out. However, I am also gratified to note that others are amending the bill to include reviews at various stages. Does she agree that the licensing scheme will go some way to ensuring that the bill does what it is intended to do? Does she agree that there is a pressing need for the legislation to deal with repeated instances of antisocial behaviour, particularly in the Muirhouse area of my constituency?
I agree with the member that we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed, and we will be looking at the amendments during the afternoon’s proceedings. It is quite clear that we need to tackle that problem. The issue that I am bringing to the chamber’s attention is that the licensing scheme is not the method for doing that, nor is it the way to tackle the problem of antisocial behaviour.
The bill does not ban the use of fireworks. It allows for professional organisations to have firework displays anywhere in Scotland, all year round. Those professional organisations do not have to apply for a licence. Local authorities will not oversee the ability of professional organisations to have public displays. I will be speaking to an amendment later that seeks to give councils the power to ban all fireworks in certain areas, including those that will be lit by professional organisations. However, the bill restricts the ability of individuals to buy or use fireworks in Scotland for much of the year, so that is will be a criminal offence to buy and use fireworks during specific periods of time—I am not suggesting that that should change.
Under the bill, it will be possible to buy fireworks on only 37 days of the year, which will include the firework season, bonfire night, new year, Chinese new year and Diwali. It will be possible for individuals to use fireworks legally on 57 days around the same period. It is likely that law-abiding citizens will fall foul of those provisions, and that they will use fireworks on the wrong day. The bill states that the individual needs to buy a licence to use or to buy fireworks. There is no doubt that, if the bill as drafted becomes legislation, law-abiding citizens will take steps to acquire a licence and will use fireworks only if they have that licence.
However, there is a significant problem with the antisocial use of fireworks in Scotland, and it is unlikely that people who fall into the category of misusing fireworks will apply for a licence. Those people are more likely to obtain fireworks on the black market, which could develop a trade for fireworks to be available from unregulated sources. That is what has happened in a number of other countries where similar schemes have been introduced. In the Criminal Justice Committee, there was much discussion about people buying fireworks out of the backs of white vans.
If we look across Europe, we see that restrictions were brought in in Italy in 2015, but there is no sign that the significant antisocial and dangerous use of fireworks in that country has been impacted. There is evidence of illegal fireworks factories, with large quantities of illegal fireworks and explosives being seized by authorities. Indeed, in spite of those regulations, it was reported in January 2021 that, following the new year, which is the biggest fireworks event in Italy, 79 people were injured and a huge number of birds were left dead.
Sky News Italia reported on 1 January 2022 that, on new year one year later, in spite of bans that had been brought in in some cities, 124 people were injured; 31 people were hospitalised, of whom 14 were seriously injured; and there were 20 minors among the victims.
In the Republic of Ireland, fireworks have been banned, but that has not addressed the antisocial use of fireworks, where stockpiling and the illegal use of fireworks are significant problems. In Northern Ireland, a licensing scheme has been introduced, but there is significant evidence of the unlawful use of fireworks that have been illegally imported.
As I said, the bill makes it a criminal offence to buy or use fireworks outside specified days, which will stay in place whether is a licensing scheme or not. The issue is what the benefits are of having a licensing scheme, as set against the risks of a black market, with people buying from unregulated sources that are less likely to comply with safety and industry standards.
I agree that there was significant discussion on this issue in the committee, but I think that the member may also be aware of correspondence that has come in from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow that sets out that firework licensing will change
“the purchase from impulse to one of planned decision, with the burden of responsibility on the purchaser to provide proof of age/suitability to purchase fireworks.”
Would the member agree that that makes a strong case for having a licensing scheme in place?
Indeed, I agree with the convener of the Criminal Justice Committee. As I have already said, some individuals will apply for a licence and will not use fireworks for the rest of the year. The issue is whether the licensing scheme will effect the culture change that the cabinet secretary has spoken about; I plan to move on to that after I have taken this intervention.
Indeed, and another feature, as the member knows, is that very few fireworks convictions are being taken through the courts, despite the fact that there are thousands of complaints each year.
The two main reasons, as I understand it, that the Scottish Government gives for a licensing scheme—and the minister will come back to comment on this, obviously—are that it is an attempt to shift the culture around fireworks in Scotland and that anyone who applies for a licence will be required to undertake an online training course.
I agree that there is definitely a need to shift the culture around fireworks. We have a significant problem with the antisocial use of fireworks, including fireworks being used as weapons against emergency services workers and others; pets and other animals often being distressed; and particular problems being caused for specific groups such as those with autism.
We need to change the culture; the issue is whether a licensing scheme of this nature will do so. There is no doubt that it will prevent some people who would set off fireworks in their gardens from doing so, which I think is the point that Audrey Nicoll was making, but the risks of a growth of a black market are probably more significant.
I agree that there is a strong argument for training and I would support robust face-to-face training for those buying fireworks on how to handle them, but there is no suggestion that that is being proposed here—
This is an enabling piece of legislation; it will allow the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing scheme by delegated legislation. Any licensing scheme needs proper scrutiny by this Parliament and, for that reason, I ask for support for all the amendments in the group.
We know that the creation of these restrictions is likely to lead to the demise of specialist fireworks shops, which currently provide advice and guidance, and we believe that the creation of this licensing scheme has the potential to create more problems than it solves.
I move amendment 2.
I will be brief, because we have a lot to get through today and this is just the first group of amendments. I thank Katy Clark for her amendments, but we cannot support the approach that she has taken, which is to simply remove the licensing scheme altogether. I think that there is some merit to the scheme. However, she rightly raises issues about the devil being in the detail. The fact that that detail is not in the bill is something that the committee raised in its stage 1 report.
In the opening minute of Ms Clark speaking, I heard the minister shout across the room the word “rubbish”. I would like to say that I hope that that is not the direction of travel for today’s debate, and I will tell you why. [
.] I will continue, if I may.
The issues that we are going to debate are serious. We have a lot of very considered and thoughtful amendments that have been lodged by members right across the board.
It is notable that all members of the Criminal Justice Committee have worked extremely constructively with the Government, with civil servants and—believe it or not—with each other. I hope that we can maintain that level of respect throughout this afternoon’s debate, as Conservative members put forward our ideas about how we think that we can improve the bill. The Government is welcome to disagree with those ideas and to vote against our amendments, but I would like us at least to go into the debate with that considered approach.
The only point that I will make in addition to that is that I appreciate that Mr Cole-Hamilton has talked about the need for doing something to address the issue of fireworks. At no point has anyone in this chamber, whatever their views on the approach of the bill, accepted that we can just sit back and that the status quo will remain. However, we have in front of us a wide range of amendments that seek to improve the bill and strengthen it in many ways.
When we tried to do that at stage 2, almost every amendment split the vote of Criminal Justice Committee members, and most of the amendments fell purely as a result of the convener’s casting vote. That is testament to the fact that there was cross-party support for some of those amendments. I hope that members who did not sit through the stage 1 evidence sessions or did not participate in the drafting of the stage 1 report will read—or have already read—the report. It was very considered and thoughtful and contained a lot of criticisms. Many of those criticisms have not been addressed, so we will seek to do that over the course of this afternoon.
Before the stage 3 proceedings are fully under way, I will echo Jamie Greene. We have supported the Government’s attempts to control fireworks. There is a consensus on that—[
However, we must be allowed to scrutinise the bill at stage 3 without heckling from the minister. Perhaps you want to intervene on me.
We are doing our job. If we ask the public whether they want more control over fireworks, of course they will agree but, in their minds, they want to halt the misuse of fireworks. They might not be thinking of themselves sitting in their back gardens in November and setting off fireworks.
However, the bill is quite clear, and that is an important point. The provision for the 57 days on which people are permitted to use a firework can stand alone without a licensing scheme. The offences can stand alone. We do not need a licensing scheme in order to create a criminal offence or a breach of the regulations.
The question that Katy Clark rightly put is whether a licensing scheme actually adds anything to the type of restrictions that the public want. It is legitimate to ask what happens if people do not apply for a licence under the bill but go somewhere else to get the fireworks. The industry—
I will do so in a minute.
The fireworks industry is quite clear that it has challenged the minister on her assertion that delivery drivers would have a legal obligation to check for a licence, as they do with other age-restricted purchases. The British Fireworks Association says that, although that is true with regard to age-restricted purchases, that duty does not extend to drivers’ checking a licence for fireworks. If that is what the industry is saying, I think that there is a duty on us to examine whether the licensing scheme might have unintended consequences.
I am happy to give way on that point.
To both members who have spoken already today, I say that the licensing scheme is a core part of the bill and was developed as a result of the review group’s recommendations.
Members are muddling different schemes in international jurisdictions. I suggest that comparing a scheme where fireworks are completely banned with the one that we would have here introduces a bit of disingenuousness to the debate. If the bill is passed, there will still be a route for people in Scotland to buy fireworks legitimately. If we were to close down all legitimate routes to buy fireworks, it might be reasonable to say that people might seek to buy them elsewhere. Would the member accept that?
Would I accept that? You made quite a number of points there. We are saying that we can still control fireworks without a licensing scheme, because it would be an offence to let off a firework outside of the 57 days that the minister has chosen as the days on which the use of fireworks would be permitted.
I presume that you will acknowledge that the committee had to fast-track the scrutiny of the bill. That turned out to be one of the issues, because we have not had time to examine the international evidence. You are quite correct to say that Ireland has a different scheme, but we did not get a chance to look at the situation in Italy, which is one of the points that Katy Clark made. We just did not have enough time to look at it.
I want to be clear that Scottish Labour supports the Government’s attempts to control fireworks, and we accept that the public wants action. We are questioning whether the licensing scheme might have unintended consequences, and we do not feel that the issue of the black market, which the industry repeatedly asked the Government about, has been properly and adequately addressed. I do not feel that there has been a satisfactory answer to that question, and I think that we are entitled to one.
I will not speak for long, because I know that we have quite a long day as it is.
I will not be supporting the amendments in this group in the name of Katy Clark. As the minister said in her intervention, the licensing scheme is a primary aspect of the bill, and I wonder how close some of these amendments come to being wrecking amendments. As members who sit on the committee with me will know, the licensing scheme is important. However, I respect the fact that Katy Clark has continued to propose her amendments since stage 2.
One thing that members who have not been involved in the full scrutiny should know is that there is widespread support for the introduction of a licensing scheme from stakeholders. At stage 1, we took a lot of evidence—we had lot of panels in front of us—and, in the main, there was a lot of support from stakeholders.
We heard from the industry that there could be the threat of a black market, but we wrote to the Irish Government, which gave us a very quick response—at that stage, we were running out of time—and it did not back up those claims with any clear evidence. That is also worth noting.
The essence of the licensing scheme and the bill in general is an attempt to change the culture and the relationship that we have with fireworks in Scotland. That is what our constituents want and that is what the Government is attempting to do.
As I said during the stage 1 debate, and as I think that other members have said, nobody is under any illusion that culture change will happen overnight, but we have to start somewhere, and a licensing scheme will be a big part of that. Therefore, I do not support the amendments in Katy Clark’s name.
Although the group includes a substantial number of amendments, they seek to achieve one significant effect: to remove the licensing system from the bill. Ms Clark lodged an amendment at stage 2 to start a debate on whether the licensing system should be removed, and I understand that the amendments in this group have been lodged to seek to progress that point.
As I stated during stage 2 proceedings, I consider amendments to remove the licensing system to be a wholly disproportionate step to take. The licensing system is based on extensive consultation and engagement, which Mr MacGregor has just pointed out. That includes the 2021 public consultation, which demonstrated significant support among respondents for a firework licensing system, with 84 per cent agreeing that it should be introduced.
During stage 1, the committee heard from a range of stakeholders who were supportive of the range of measures in the bill, including the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, which stated that
“The licensing element encourages people to engage in some training in how to use fireworks, as well as making it slightly more challenging to buy fireworks and putting some control around that process.”—[
Criminal Justice Committee
, 16 March 2022; c 6.]
I understand that members have expressed concerns about the level of detail that is in the bill and what will be set out in future regulations. Following stage 1, I shared a licence user journey with the committee, which set out the practical steps that a person must follow in order to apply for a licence. All that detail is already included in the bill, and I hope that that provided members with the reassurance that the fundamental principles and the core functions of the system are included in the bill. The licence user journey also pointed to the four areas in which regulations are required for implementation of the system.
Therefore, as I have previously stated, I believe that the most appropriate approach to take to operational details is to set them out in regulations. Those regulations will be subject to a consultation requirement, and the public and stakeholders will have the opportunity to share their views on proposals.
I lodged amendments at stage 2 to accept the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee recommendations and require certain regulations to be subject to the affirmative procedure, which would give the Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise those regulations further. That relates to the broad regulation-making power at section 18, which means that, where regulations might go beyond any type of administrative detail, they will be subject to the affirmative procedure.
I consider that this group of amendments and the attempt to remove the licensing system are excessive. That approach actively works against the results of the consultation and the engagement that has contributed towards the development of the system. I therefore ask Ms Clark not to press the amendments, and if she is minded to do so, I ask members not to support them.
I missed whatever was going on there, but it is going to be a long afternoon, and I encourage everybody in the chamber to settle in to the spirit of stage 3—[
.]—so that we can all get through this in a reasonable fashion, I hope.
Never mind the spirit of stage 3, we will all need a spirit of some sort by the end of this afternoon by the looks of it. [
.] I know, it is a bad joke. They get worse, so do hang around.
Group 2 is about proof of having a licence. I am pleased that the Labour member has withdrawn amendment 2, and I hope that we will continue that theme with the others in the group, or it will be an even longer evening.
Amendments 68 and 69 are quite self-explanatory. They relate to the licensing scheme and, more importantly, to the interaction between the purchaser and the retailer, specifically in the circumstances in which proof of a licence will be required.
Amendment 68 ensures that the onus is on the purchaser of the fireworks to provide proof of holding a licence at the point of purchase. The detail of whether a licence will be electronic or paper, we have yet to see.
People traditionally buy fireworks in two ways. First, they make in-person purchases from retailers, which are broken down into two sub-groups. There are specialist retailers that sell only fireworks, 365 days of the year. More likely, however, people buy fireworks through department stores or larger retailers.
The second place where many people buy fireworks is online. Some of those sources will be Scottish-based retailers that sell online as a sideline, others will be UK-based online retailers, and many others will be outside the UK.
The bill states that individuals, unless they are exempt from holding a licence, must have a licence at the point of purchase, but nowhere does it say that they must present it at the point of purchase, which strikes me as quite odd.
Amendment 69, which is closely related to amendment 68, would require the seller of the fireworks to take “reasonable steps” to view and, where possible, retain a copy of the buyer’s licence at the point of purchase. It would not be mandatory, but they must take “reasonable steps”.
Those would not be onerous tasks for either the purchaser or the seller. The reason why I have lodged the amendments is the issue of online sales. There are things that the bill cannot do, which is why I believe that there are loopholes in the licensing scheme. First, the bill cannot force retailers to check for a licence, which is why the amendment says that they should take “reasonable steps” to do so. I understand that forcing that check is not within the competence of the bill or the Parliament. Secondly, online sales cannot be regulated in the way that face-to-face sales can. Amendment 69, therefore, strives to strengthen the need for retailers to check that a purchaser does indeed hold a licence.
In my view, even now at stage 3, the whole murky world of online fireworks sales remains unclear. There are some unanswered questions that I hope can be dealt with in the debate on my amendments. Will online sellers of fireworks still sell to consumers in Scotland? We do not know the answer to that question. Will they check for licences? Are they legally obliged to check for licences? Can the Parliament legislate to force them to check for licences, particularly if those businesses are outside our jurisdiction? What happens if they do not check? Will they be prosecuted by Police Scotland under section 5 of the bill as it is drafted?
Further, what happens if someone drives across the border to northern England, for example, to purchase fireworks? Will those retailers have to check for a licence? If they do not, does that mean that an unlicensed person could purchase fireworks from a retailer across the border? If that retailer is not checking a Scottish central database, how will they know that the purchaser holds a licence, unless it is produced at the point of purchase? That is the point of my amendment 68. How will the retailer know whether someone has had their application for a licence rejected, which is possible under the bill, or, worse still, has had a licence that has been revoked by ministers or otherwise?
The unfortunate truth is that we do not know the answers to those questions. I suspect that the answer would be that none of the above is covered in the bill. They are unfortunate loopholes that my relatively simple amendments try to fix in the only way that they can within the competency of the bill.
I move amendment 68.
Amendment 68 seeks to require a fireworks licence to be presented specifically
“at the point of purchase” either online or in person. That is unworkable, as the bill does not and cannot regulate behaviour outside of Scotland.
Section 5 of the bill ensures that suppliers will take “reasonable steps” to establish that they are not supplying fireworks to an unlicensed person. That is not confined just to the point of sale, but applies to every part of the process of supply. Therefore, for transactions with retailers outwith Scotland—which was the example that the member gave—it is the delivery company that will be subject to the requirements of section 5.
For example, if fireworks are purchased online from a European website and the delivery address is in Scotland, the physical handing over or delivery of the goods is part of the supply of fireworks. It is that part of the process where enforcement action in Scotland for online sales can be focused. It is anticipated that that will work in a similar way to the delivery of age-restricted products, where the person who is delivering the products must satisfy themselves that the recipient is of a permitted age to receive the delivery.
I believe that amendment 68 is not feasible and I will not support it.
Amendment 69 seeks to provide examples of what constitute “reasonable steps” to determine whether a person has a firework licence by setting out that that
“includes viewing and retaining a copy of the person’s firework licence.”
Although I sympathise with the intention behind the amendments, I do not think that it is right to provide such examples. We do not want to cause unintended consequences or narrowing of the scope of the defence. I believe that we had a detailed exchange on that at stage 2. We should leave it to the police, the prosecutors and the courts to determine in each individual case, whether the evidence supports that defence applying to a particular supplier.
For that reason, I ask Mr Greene not to press his amendment.
I thank the minister for her response. When drafting the amendments, there was a bit of back and forth with the legislation team on how to go about it, given the technical nature of what we can and cannot do within the scope of the bill. If the minister’s lawyers are content that amendment 68 would create problems if it were passed at stage 3, I accept that.
However, I think that the minister’s response to my comments demonstrates the point that I am trying to make. If we cannot force someone to present their licence at the point of purchase and cannot force the retailers to check for a licence, none of the questions has been answered. How do you know whether someone has a licence, if they are not required to show it? Secondly, what happens if someone does not have a licence, or has had a licence which has been revoked?
If we cannot legislate for our own jurisdiction—that is, for a Scottish retailer who sells fireworks in a face-to-face environment—how on earth will the bill have any teeth if the majority of firework sales move to an online environment? It is quite possible that people could still go on the internet, google for fireworks, buy them and at no point be asked by the retailer to present their licence at the point of purchase. It shifts all the responsibility on to courier companies—from which, by the way, we took no evidence at any point in the proceedings. The Government simply says that the supplier must check—that it is not the retailer, not the seller, but the person who turns up and knocks your door and asks, “Do you have a licence, and can I see it?”. That is not in the bill and we took no evidence on that.
I am afraid that that diversion, from “This is the only place we think we can regulate that”, creates an issue. It is unbelievable to get to stage 3 of the bill and for there to clearly still be massive holes in what it seeks to achieve versus what it can do through competency or reality. Nothing in the answer that I have heard fills me with confidence that those issues will be addressed.
Nonetheless, no member wants to press an amendment at this stage of the proceedings that will create legal problems in the legislation.
Amendment 68, by agreement, withdrawn.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Amendment 70 is on the costs of the licensing fee. I had an exchange with the minister about the issue at stage 2. I fully acknowledge that the minister is in the same position as I am, which is that we do not want to set a fee that is so prohibitive that people will not apply for a licence.
I will say this up front before the minister does, because it is usually the case: amendment 70’s wording is not perfect. I reflected on what the minister said at stage 2 and I read the proposal again. My concern is that the cost of running the scheme will also include monitoring of existing licence holders and legal enforcement of the scheme. That is what the note says, so perhaps the minister could clarify that point.
If the scheme is to cover all those things, it could be expensive. The minister knows where I am coming from—we have the same concerns about the licensing scheme. If it is too costly, it will prohibit people from applying for a licence and they will not be able to enjoy fireworks, as would be their intention, on the 57 days of the year when their use is encouraged.
I really want to highlight that point, because we did not debate it at stage 2. If legal enforcement were to be included in the licence cost, that would be a matter for the legal enforcement authorities and should not be covered through raising the cost of the scheme. I would be grateful if the minister could respond to that point.
I move amendment 70.
I am here today with an exciting selection box of amendments. I hope that there are no damp squibs and, certainly, no rubbish.
I heard what Pauline McNeill had to say about the costs of licences with her amendment 70. My amendment 71 is similar, but does not go quite so far. Pauline McNeill’s amendment seeks to scrap fees altogether.
We recognise the need for a fee, if there is to be a licence. The scheme will not pay for itself, of course, but the public should not be unfairly penalised. Amendment 71 is about protecting consumers and responsible users of fireworks.
The omission of an actual cost from the bill was explained by the minister at stage 2. The Government says that licences are likely to cost between £20 and £50, and ministers are asking us to pass the bill and trust them on that detail. I suggest that £20 to £50 is a broad spectrum. How many people who are willing and able to spend £20 on a licence would pay £50? If someone wants to spend £30 on a typical box of family fireworks, a £50 licence fee seems to be too much for them to pay. Every incremental increase in the suggested price scale would surely result in fewer people applying for licences, although the Scottish Government appears to have done no modelling of that.
Some people might suspect that the real intention is to make licences unaffordable and unappealing, which would result in fewer fireworks being used. However, the bill’s omission of a licence price and of any explicit commitment to maintaining licence affordability has risks. Like so much else in this rushed bill, there is a danger that a prohibitive fee would deter legitimate users and drive them towards the black market. Again, where is the modelling on that? That is why, through my amendment 71, the bill would include a commitment to keeping the price sensible, affordable and accessible.
The Government’s stated intention is that licences will encourage safe use of fireworks, with online training being central to that, so I hope that the minister will give consideration to amendment 71, if she is not minded to support Pauline McNeill’s proposal in amendment 70 to scrap licence fees altogether. That would go some way towards ensuring that cost does not become a barrier to people who seek responsible enjoyment of fireworks.
“the Scottish Ministers ... must have regard to the reasonable” running costs of the licensing system. When “setting the fees”; only a “nominal fee” could be charged or the fee would be remitted entirely.
I know that Pauline McNeill raised concerns at stage 2 about system running costs and how they could impact on the licence fee that is set. Although cost recovery will be a key determinant of the fee level—that is in line with the standard approach for all such fees—a proportionate fee should generally be chargeable in order to ensure that applications are made with due consideration of the responsibilities that are involved in holding a fireworks licence.
I will address the question that Pauline McNeill asked me during her speech. She asked me about legal enforcement or legal administration—I think that that was the term that she used. I confirm that it is not the intention that the fees will cover elements of enforcement, but are for costs of administration only.
If, in future years after the licence is put in place, it becomes apparent that the cost of a licence is putting people off applying for one, would the Government see that as a success of the licensing scheme, because fewer people were seeking to buy fireworks, or as a failure? Thereafter, would it remove the fee or reduce it to a nominal amount, which would encourage more people to apply for a licence? Which is the more likely scenario?
Jamie Greene has made a legitimate point. We will keep the fee under review. The modelling that we have done, which he will no doubt have seen, shows a likely reduction in fireworks sales. We will keep that under review; if there is evidence to suggest that the situation is as he suggests, we will reconsider the level at which the fee has been set.
I reiterate the point that I made earlier: I remain committed to ensuring that the licence fee is proportionate and fair. It will be set, following a wide-ranging consultation, at a rate that will ensure that, although robust checks and balances are in place, it is not a restrictive barrier to safe and lawful use of fireworks.
I will move on to Russell Findlay’s amendment. I do not consider amendment 71 to be necessary. The bill already requires the fee to be set with regard to the “reasonable costs” of the licensing system, so any impact of inflation on those costs will, of course, form part of the fee level that is determined. Consultation on the fee, which will be required before any regulations are made, will ensure that the fee amount is reasonable, and will allow other cost pressures on individuals to be reflected.
I understand that the requirement to obtain a licence and pay a fee will mean that people who wish to buy and use fireworks will incur additional costs. Again, I reiterate that I remain committed to ensuring that the licence fee is proportionate and fair.
Ensuring safe and responsible use of fireworks is imperative in terms of achieving the policy aims of the licensing system. I believe that, through the illustrative modelling in the financial memorandum, a balance has been struck between, on one hand, introducing a licence fee and, on the other, avoiding overly restrictive barriers to lawful purchase and use of fireworks.
I welcome the fact that we have had another opportunity to have an exchange on the subject. I assure members that I was not trying to rehearse the debate that we have already had; rather, I wanted to make the point about legal enforcement. I am content that the minister has said that the costs of running the scheme will not include legal enforcement.
I also acknowledge that the minister has said from the beginning that fees need to be proportionate, although we can take a view on what “proportionate” is. However, I think that we will know if the fee is set too high. In the consultation, it was set at between £20 and £50, at the higher end. During a cost of living crisis, I think that we can agree that we would not want to see the fee being set at that end. I certainly would not.
I have also supported what Russell Findlay has been trying to do from the beginning, which is to ensure that, whatever the fee, increases are kept close to the rate of inflation—although I suppose that that is not a good guide at the moment, given that inflation is at 9.1 per cent. I think, however, that we are all on the same page in that, whatever our view of a licensing scheme, we think that there is no point in creating a scheme that would prevent people from applying because it is too expensive.
On that basis, Presiding Officer, I am content to ask for approval to withdraw amendment 70.
Amendment 70, by agreement, withdrawn.
Amendment 71 not moved.
The two sets of amendments in group 4 would enhance the parliamentary scrutiny that would be required for any secondary legislation, particularly the licensing scheme.
Amendment 5 would change the process so that the regulation-making powers in part 2 of the bill that are subject to negative procedure would instead be subject to affirmative procedure. Amendment 34 goes further and sets out that the Government would have to lay draft regulations that would be brought before the Scottish Parliament via a pre-laying procedure. That would require the Government to lay a draft of the regulations before Parliament and that the Scottish Government be required to seek the views of the Criminal Justice Committee on the terms before finalising the regulations. It would also require the committee to have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in undertaking effective scrutiny of those regulations, should it wish to do so.
As has been said, the committee raised significant concerns about the bill and the licensing scheme. The reason for the amendments in this group is simply to enhance the parliamentary scrutiny that would be required, given the complexities of the licensing scheme, which I have outlined, and the potential risks, given the way in which such schemes have operated in other countries, particularly Northern Ireland and Italy, where there are similar schemes.
It is imperative that there are ample opportunities not just to consult stakeholders but to ensure that there is sufficient debate and scrutiny by members of the Parliament. At stage 2, the minister suggested that affirmative procedure would not be a good use of parliamentary time. I disagree with that. These are issues that require proper scrutiny so that the legislation, particularly the licensing scheme, functions well, particularly given the risks of a black market that were raised with the committee. Those risks need to be addressed and have been a feature in other countries.
As I said, amendment 34 goes further than the other amendments in the group by requiring the superaffirmative procedure, which requires the committee’s involvement.
The bill is complex. There is a lack of detail in relation to the licensing scheme, and it could have been much more simple. For that reason, I believe that it is appropriate that there should be effective scrutiny should further regulations be proposed.
I move amendment 5.
In order to be helpful to Ms Clark—especially in considering which of her amendments to move—I can tell her that we support all the amendments in the group other than amendment 33, which seeks to remove section 19. I think that that presents an issue in relation to the licensing scheme. I suspect that amendment 33 might be consequential to other endeavours to remove the licensing scheme altogether.
However, the other amendments in the group are important. Some seek to change the procedure that would be used for the regulations in question from negative to affirmative, thereby increasing scrutiny of them. The devil will be in the detail and, given that so much of the detail will be contained in regulations, I will always support amendments that seek to improve scrutiny by a committee or the Parliament as a whole.
As Katy Clark rightly pointed out, amendment 34 would ensure that Parliament would have to be consulted on such regulations. That is only right, given the lack of detail of the regulations that will inform how the bill is delivered. There needs to be increased accountability, transparency and good process, which has been sorely lacking as we have gone through the truncated scrutiny of the bill at this stage, and I hope that we are not put in that position again when we look at the detail in the future.
For that reason, we will support all the amendments in the group other than amendment 33.
I understand that the amendments in this group seek to enhance scrutiny and consultation around the licensing system, but I believe that my openness to increased scrutiny has already been demonstrated by my accepting the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee’s recommendations on the use of affirmative regulations and by including from the outset—in section 19—a consultation requirement. That requirement ensures that there will be an opportunity to gather views on proposals for what may be included in regulations—for example, in relation to the licence fee, which we discussed earlier.
Amendments 5, 7, 11, 18 and 20 seek to make the regulation-making powers in part 2, which are currently subject to negative procedure, subject to affirmative procedure. I do not consider that the use of affirmative procedure is suitable or proportionate for the type of regulations in question, which will be used to set out operational and administrative details of the licensing system.
It is not intended that those powers will be used frequently, but it is necessary that, when they are used, they can be used in a timely manner, so that the licensing system can continue to operate efficiently and at an optimum level. In my view, it would not be appropriate to require the use of affirmative procedure for regulations that made operational and administrative changes.
Amendment 32 seeks to extend the consultation requirement to regulations that are made under section 3 of the bill, which sets out the categories of fireworks that are covered by part 2 of the bill, which relates to the licensing system. The regulation-making power in section 3(2) has been included to future proof the licensing system, and it will enable any changes that are made to the categorisation of fireworks, or the addition of new classifications of fireworks in the future, to be taken into account.
It is important that that power can be used in a timely manner so that the licensing system can continue to operate effectively. It is a technical regulation-making power, which it is intended will be used only if that is required in order for account to be taken of legislative change elsewhere or industry developments. If it used, relevant stakeholders, such as firework industry experts or trading standards, will be consulted, in line with good practice for all regulations, and it is not considered necessary to include it under the duty to consult in section 19.
If that power was used, is it not the case that the relevant regulations would come to a committee of the Parliament only under negative procedure, in which case the only option that would be available to members would be to consider a motion to annul? That is not real scrutiny, is it?
As I have set out, I have moved on a number areas in which I thought that it was proportionate for regulations to be subject to affirmative rather than negative procedure, where those regulations involve substantive details. As I have said, the regulations that we are discussing here would be technical and administrative. Therefore, I think that, in this case, the use of negative procedure—which has been specified in many different types of legislation that the Parliament has considered while I have been here—is appropriate.
The member is correct in saying that the committee has the power to knock back those regulations if it wishes to do so. Although they are not subject to the consultation requirements, the regulations are subject to affirmative procedure, which means that there will be enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of regulations that are laid using that power.
Amendment 33 seeks to completely remove section 19 from the bill and is related to the group of amendments, which have already been debated, that aim to remove the licensing system from the bill. The licensing scheme is a core policy of the bill, and the provision for consultation on regulations is, in my view, essential to ensuring that the licensing system will operate well in practice. Members will understand why I therefore cannot support amendment 33.
Amendment 34 seeks to include a new section setting out a requirement on Scottish ministers before they lay regulations relating to part 2 of the bill and to the licensing system. The matters that are covered in the regulations that are provided for in that part of the bill are not of the type to require the superaffirmative procedure that amendment 34 would apply. The regulations would, for the most part, set out matters of operational detail or administrative procedure. Although it is always possible for Parliament to seek additional scrutiny in that manner, I believe that the superaffirmative procedure is best suited to matters of significant importance, complexity or difficulty.
I hope that members will understand why, for the reasons that I have outlined, I cannot accept the amendments in this group.
I am grateful to the minister for her comments. It is my intention to press amendment 5 and to move amendment 34 but not to move amendment 33. I outlined the differences between the amendments and the nature of amendment 5, which would change the process to an affirmative procedure, and of amendment 34, which lays out a more detailed procedure that would give the committee time to look at the matter in detail. I wish to press amendment 5.
The Presiding Officer:
There will be a division. Because this is the first division at stage 3 of the bill, I will suspend the meeting for around five minutes to allow members to access the digital voting system.
15:52 Meeting suspended.
15:58 On resuming—
We will proceed with the division on amendment 5. Members should cast their votes now.
The vote is now closed.
Group 5 comprises eight amendments in my name. I thank the minister for responding positively to a suggestion that I made at stage 2, which led to a constructive meeting with her and her officials, resulting in my lodging amendments 8, 9 and 48.
At stage 2, it struck me as being common sense that anyone with convictions for fire raising should be required to disclose those when seeking a fireworks licence. I am glad that the Scottish Government has agreed with me, and I welcome its support for amendments 8 and 9.
Amendment 48, which is consequential to amendments 8 and 9, updates the definition of “relevant offences” for the purpose of a report on the operation of the act, as is required by section 44A.
However, I believe that those amendments, which have been welcomed, do not quite go far enough, as the bill still contains significant gaps relating to the types of conviction that an applicant for a licence would need to disclose.
I will provide a brief explanation of each of the other amendments. Amendment 72 relates to convictions for terrorism. Surely all members would agree that a convicted terrorist should have to declare such convictions when seeking a licence for the legal purchase of explosive material. It is no stretch to suggest that the contents of fireworks could be misused by people with ill intent. I therefore encourage members to support amendment 72.
I turn to amendment 73, which would require anyone convicted of crimes of fraud to disclose such convictions when applying for a fireworks licence. During the Criminal Justice Committee’s visit to Blackburn, we heard about the so-called white van man who sells fireworks to people, often children. He is the type of person who is fundamentally dishonest and would have no regard for this legislation, whatever it says. I would argue that that is the type of person who is likely to acquire and then exploit a licence for gain. It therefore seems proper that someone with convictions for dishonesty should have to declare them.
Amendment 74 includes the need to disclose convictions for antisocial behaviour. Again, I do not see how that could be reasonably disagreed with. Right now, apart from today’s inclusion of fire raising, both reckless and wilful, the only disclosable convictions relate to misuse of fireworks. However, that is too narrow. What about people who cause torment by indulging in antisocial behaviour in our streets?
Amendment 75 would require people with convictions for football-related offences, including violence and disorder, to disclose them. In recent years, there has been an increasing prevalence of the use of flares and pyrotechnics at Scottish football grounds and other events such as music festivals. Police Scotland says that those pyrotechnics can be highly dangerous and reach temperatures of up to 1,200°C. Two years ago, the minister said that there is no question about the potential serious harm that they can cause and that their misuse is completely unacceptable. I agree with her on that point and I hope that she will agree that those with a record of causing trouble at football would need to declare that.
It is worth stating that amendments 72 to 75 are simply about the need to disclose; they do not block people with those convictions from seeking a licence and they do not mean that they will be refused one. It is important to emphasise that point. They sensibly allow people issuing licences to make an informed decision that is clearly in the interests of public safety.
Amendment 76 seeks to ensure that licence applicants undergo a disclosure check. Again, that seems to be common sense. The other amendments in the group put the onus on the applicant, but they are premised on all applicants being truthful, which strikes me as overly optimistic. It might be that some applicants are genuinely unsure about what they need to disclose, and it might be that others will simply not come clean. Requiring ministers to ensure that a standard disclosure check is completed would verify what was disclosed and enable those who are making the decision to be confident that they are doing so with sight of the best available information, which is in everyone’s best interests.
I move amendment 8.
I want to reiterate two simple points. My first point is that my colleague is trying to ensure that the offences that he has mentioned—they are self-explanatory and include terrorism, antisocial behaviour and fire raising—are disclosed but that disclosure of those offences would not automatically result in the refusal of a licence.
My second point is about what happens after that disclosure. At stage 2, we lodged an amendment relating to the technical capabilities of the licence scheme that is introduced, whatever that looks like. We know that it will be a nationally administered scheme and that it will not be run by local authorities—it is worth clarifying that aspect, because there has been some confusion about that and it has not been clear throughout the process. However, regardless of who administers the scheme, whether it is someone in central Government or someone in an agency or body—the Government will come forward with proposals about that later—the onus will be on them to check that the information that is provided to them is true. Again, I lodged similar but differently worded amendments on that issue at stage 2. Amendment 76 puts the onus on those who issue the licences to check that the information that has been disclosed is truthful. There are a number of mechanisms that could be used to do that, and my colleague is suggesting some through his amendments.
I acknowledge that ministers agreed to work with us on the amendments around additional offences, but I ask them to also work with us with regard to the overall approach to how those offences are dealt with when licences are issued. If ministers do not think that the suggestions that we have made are the way to do that, I would like to hear how the licence administrators will check the information that is provided, because, as my colleague said, it is an unfortunate fact that not everyone will be truthful or knowledgeable about which offences should be disclosed, which means that, in the interests of public safety, the onus is on those who give out licences to ensure that the information that is provided is accurate.
I welcome amendments 8, 9 and 48 from Mr Findlay, which have been developed following our very constructive discussions since the stage 2 proceedings. I was not minded to include a requirement to disclose a broad range of offences during a licence application, but I recognise that there is value in considering offences where the misuse of fire has been a factor during a licence application.
I understand that members have previously indicated a preference for the disclosure requirement to be much broader and to include all serious offences. However, I believe that there is a fine balance to be achieved. I do not want to dissuade people from applying for a licence by requiring them to disclose a broad range of irrelevant offences. I want people to apply for a licence, undertake the necessary training course, and then be able to use fireworks safely and lawfully.
The bill currently requires offences involving the misuse of fireworks and pyrotechnics to be disclosed. Should members vote in favour of Mr Findlay’s amendments 8 and 9 today, that requirement will be extended to cover offences involving the misuse of fire. I believe that that is proportionate, and I will ensure that all relevant offences can be taken into consideration when a decision is taken on whether to grant or refuse a licence application.
To pick up on Mr Greene’s points, the Scottish Government will be administering the scheme, and an enhanced verification process will be developed.
I am new to this. [
To wind up, the minister rightly says that we do not want to deter applicants by setting a high bar of disclosure. I do not think that my proposal is a high bar; I think that it is a perfectly reasonable one. The minister used the phrase “irrelevant offences” in her response. I struggle to see how terrorism offences in particular could be described as being irrelevant for the purposes of acquiring a fireworks licence.
I did not really hear anything in respect of amendment 76 about the requirement for a disclosure check.
I press amendment 8.
Amendment 8 agreed to.
Amendment 72 moved—[Russell Findlay].
Group 6—we are halfway there.
First, I find it bizarre that we have just voted down an amendment that states that, if someone has a terrorism-related offence, they do not have to disclose that when applying for a fireworks licence. What on earth?
That brings me to the next group, which is on what happens if someone is refused a licence—who knows whether a terrorist will apply for a pyrotechnic device and misuse it? I really hope that that never happens. However, if someone is refused a licence, there may be valid reasons for it. If the system is overwhelmed by the scale of applications, there may be other reasons why a licence has been refused. In any case, there should remain the option of an appeals process—that is only fair.
I had an amendment at stage 2 on what should happen in such a scenario, in which someone would be presented with helpful information on what an appeal might look like and how to go about it. I cannot recall whether I moved the amendment or pushed it to a vote, but in any case—thankfully—the minister responded quite positively to the concept and I agreed to discuss it further with the minister. I would like to thank her for the constructive manner in which we went about that. We have come up with amendments 13, 16, 22 and 25 instead.
I understand that it had always been the Government’s plan that information about the ability to appeal a decision on a licence would be available through the various processes, whether it was through the application, the licence itself or the revocation process. However, I appreciate that the minister acknowledged that there is merit in including in the bill a duty on ministers to provide that information about the appeals process, as my amendments seek to do.
In the interests of clarity and transparency about what the appeals process might look like, I ask members to support those amendments and I thank the Government for that discussion.
I am also supportive of other amendments in this group, namely amendment 17, in the name of Fulton MacGregor, as well as other tidying-up amendments. My colleague Russell Findlay has lodged amendment 77 in this group. I will let him speak to that amendment and I will reserve any further comments to my summing up. I ask members to support all the amendments in this group.
I move amendment 13.
I am pleased to speak to the amendments in my name. They are technical in nature, but I believe that they are important in providing clarity about the types of condition that can be attached to a fireworks licence.
I thank the minister for engaging with me on my amendments in advance of stage 3—I greatly appreciate it. Section 10 already makes reference to additional licence conditions and optional licence conditions that can be specified in regulations that the Scottish ministers may attach to a
fireworks licence. My amendments expand on the description of the types of licence condition and make it very clear that, if additional licence conditions are set out in regulations, they will be mandatory for all licences.
In contrast, if optional licence conditions are set out in regulations, they may or may not be attached to individual licences.
It is the decision to attach an optional condition to a licence that a person will be able to appeal under section 14. Additional mandatory conditions, as I have said, must apply to all licences and will therefore not be appealable.
These are technical amendments that do not change either the powers of the Scottish ministers to prescribe and apply licence conditions or the appeal rights of individuals from the position that has always been intended in the bill. Therefore, I hope that members will support the amendments that I have lodged today.
In relation to other amendments in the group, I support those that Jamie Greene has lodged and already spoken to. I think that they also make sense, and I hope that the Parliament will agree to them.
I will not speak too much to amendment 77, because I know that Russell Findlay will be speaking after me. At this point, I do not support the amendment—I think that it is perhaps excessive—but I will wait to hear what he says.
My colleague Jamie Greene’s amendments deal mostly with licensing and appeals against the refusal of licensing. As the bill stands, a licence will last for a period of five years. At stage 2, I argued that that was excessive for several reasons and suggested that three years might be a more practical and sensible time limit. However, I did not move the related amendment at that point.
Amendment 77 seeks to ensure that the Scottish Government applies some proper scrutiny and analysis of the licence period. It is all very well for the minister to tell us that five years is fine and to trust the Government, but the five-year duration seems to have been based pretty much on informed guesswork. I hope that members will agree that including the need to review the length of the licence would be beneficial and should be welcomed by the Government, which wants its legislation to work and to win public confidence.
I will return to a comment that Mr Greene made earlier regarding terrorism. Causing an explosion that is “likely to endanger life”, which is an offence under the Explosive Substances Act 1883, can be aggravated as having a terrorist-related connection by the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021. I reassure the member that section 7 of the bill requires such offences to be disclosed.
We have to make sure that the measures are proportionate, because we do not want to put people off from applying for a licence. If applicants have committed an offence that involves fireworks under the six terrorism acts that we are talking about, they will be required to disclose that. That strikes the appropriate balance.
I will start by addressing Mr Greene’s amendments 13, 16, 22 and 25. I thank him for his engagement on those amendments in advance of today’s proceedings and I believe that those discussions have led to revised amendments that capture the intent of his original amendments at stage 2, so I am pleased to support his amendments today.
As I have previously outlined, it had always been intended that, as part of implementation, processes would be put in place to ensure that people have access to information regarding appeals when they need it. However, as I set out at stage 2, I see merit in placing a duty on the Scottish ministers to share that information with licence applicants and holders at key points when a decision is made. I am happy to support amendments 13, 16, 22 and 25 and I encourage other members to do so as well.
I turn to Mr MacGregor’s amendments regarding the difference between additional mandatory conditions that must apply to all licences and optional conditions that the Scottish ministers will have the discretion to attach to individual licences. I believe that those amendments provide clarity and put beyond doubt what has always been intended to be in the bill. As Mr MacGregor outlined, the amendments change neither the powers of the Scottish ministers to prescribe and apply licence conditions nor the appeal rights of individuals from the position that has always been intended in the bill. I thank Mr MacGregor for his engagement on those amendments before lodging them. I am pleased to support amendments 15, 17 and 26.
Lastly, I turn to Mr Findlay’s amendment 77, which seeks to require a review of the licence term one year after the regulations that set out the term are made and each year thereafter. I consider that requirement to be excessive. In particular, if a licence term longer than one year is set following consultation, I am not clear that such a review would provide meaningful results, as the licence term will be consulted on and set out in regulations. As I have outlined before, our working assumption is currently that the licence term will be five years.
Ms Stevenson’s stage 2 amendment 56, which Mr Findlay will remember, requires a report on the effectiveness of the act within five years of royal assent. When the package of measures in the bill has had the opportunity to bed in following implementation, I consider that a constructive review of the licensing system as a whole can take place at that point. However, should any issues or concerns about the licence term arise before that, the Scottish ministers will be able to progress a change through consultation and further regulations, if that is necessary. Therefore, I cannot support amendment 77 and I ask other members not to support it.
To summarise, I support all the amendments in the group, with the exception of amendment 77.
I thank all members, including the minister, for their contributions and for supporting my amendments in this group.
However, with regard to amendment 77, on the review of the licence period, what the amendment specifically does not do is state the duration of the licence. There was quite a bit of discussion of that at stage 2—anything between one year and five years was discussed—and I appreciate that there will be a range of views.
I also appreciate that the Government will make a proposal through regulations, but we are asking that it be reviewed. If an annual process sounds overly onerous, the Government could easily have made a different suggestion. Indeed, there is a process by which the Government can amend amendments that are lodged at stage 3. The problem is that the deadline for submitting and publishing amendments is so tight that it probably did not have time to do so, which is symptomatic of the rushed nature of the bill at stage 3.
Does the member agree that the fact that we have absolutely no idea how many licences are likely to be applied for makes the need to conduct proper analysis even more pressing?
Indeed, and I know that we are all looking forward to group 7, which is my set of amendments on reviewing the licensing scheme. At least if members do not support amendment 77, which I urge my colleague to move, they will at least consider the next group when we come to it.
The result of the division is: For 45, Against 63, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 34 disagreed to.
Group 7 is on review and report on operation of provisions. Amendment 78, in the name of Jamie Greene, is grouped with amendments 87 to 89. I draw members’ attention to the fact that, if amendment 88 is agreed to, I cannot call amendment 89 due to a pre-emption.
This whole group—[
.]. I will try to give enough time for those who are leaving the chamber to have a good cup of tea, but I will not spend too long on this, so they should keep an eye out for the divisions.
This group is about the review of the operation of the licensing scheme. We have had quite a robust chat about what the scheme might look like, but I would like to put in the bill a duty on ministers to
“as soon as practicable ... lay before ... Parliament a report on the operation of the fireworks licensing scheme”.
In effect, amendment 78 asks for three things to happen in the review, which will, in my view, be much needed, given the discussion that we have had today. The amendment would provide that
“The report must ... include information about ... the effectiveness of the fireworks licensing scheme”.
The reason for that is, I think, self-explanatory. It could ask: is the licensing scheme working as intended; is the fee that is being charged too high, too low or prohibitive; is the process bureaucratic and burdensome—and so on? There are many things that the Government could look at. I have not been specific in the amendment.
The second thing the amendment would ask the Government to do is to report on the number of people who have applied for a fireworks licence. That is important, because we know the scale of the market at the moment. A couple of years ago, fireworks sales in Scotland were worth about £13 million. That number has probably risen, given the popularity of fireworks in recent years. What we must know, from any review, is how many people are applying for a licence annually. That information will be extremely helpful in determining whether the licensing scheme and, indeed, the legislation is a success. That will be one of the key metrics in analysing whether the bill has worked as intended.
The third and most important duty that amendment 78 would put on ministers is the one set out at proposed new subsection (2)(c) to report on
“whether there is any evidence that the ... licensing scheme is contributing to improving firework safety.”
We are told by ministers that the very essence of the bill is to improve firework safety, and the licensing scheme is central and key to that. I would like to know whether safety is improved, so there should be a duty on ministers to undertake a piece of work around that.
Amendments 87 to 89 are somewhat consequential to amendment 78. They outline that consultation should take place on any changes that ministers propose as a result of the report and that ministers should report on that to Parliament. Amendment 88 specifies the timing of what I call the “reporting period” that I think is reasonable—it is three years from the date of royal assent. In effect, if the bill is passed next Wednesday, three years thereafter the Government would have undertaken that review and come back to this Parliament—or a future Parliament.
I tried to introduce such a provision for post-legislative scrutiny at stage 2, but the committee was rather split on it. I hope that this redraft will be easier for ministers to accept. I do not think that they would find it unreasonable. I ask members to support amendment 78.
I move amendment 78.
When the bill was introduced, the Scottish Government set out our intention that a full review of the measures introduced would be undertaken once they took effect. Following scrutiny by the Criminal Justice Committee at stage 1, I recognised that having that enshrined in the legislation strengthens the commitment and provides reassurance regarding the content of any review and the timeframe for it to take place. I was, therefore, pleased to support amendments that were lodged at stage 2.
Those measures are now included in section 44A of the bill, which requires Scottish ministers to report on the operation of the act within five years of it receiving royal assent and requires the report to include information on “proceedings and convictions”, data for “relevant offences”, incident data and the “views and experiences” of people and their communities.
The five-year timeframe provides enough time for meaningful data to be recorded and reported, provides for people’s lived experience to be reflected as part of the review and ensures that the Scottish Government will be held to account. It will ensure that there is a comprehensive and constructive review of the operation of the act encompassing all relevant parts.
Mr Greene’s amendment 78 requires an additional review, solely of the licensing scheme, including, in particular, evidence of the scheme’s impact on improving firework safety. Amendment 87 would require that the report to Parliament on the operation of the act must also set out what changes, if any, will be made to it following a review.
I understand that the amendments were lodged to ensure that the licensing scheme meets its objectives and that it works in practice and as intended, and to add to the review requirements for the act as a whole, building on section 44A. However, for the reasons that I have outlined, I believe that the review requirements that are already in the bill are robust and appropriate, so I do not consider Mr Greene’s amendments necessary. A review of the licensing scheme—which is, of course, a core provision in the bill—will be required to take place as part of the review of the act as a whole, so I do not believe that it is necessary to be included as a separate component in the bill.
Any learning or areas of improvement that the review of the act identifies will be fully considered and will form part of the report to Parliament as standard. Where appropriate, adjustments and amendments will be made to how the provisions operate in practice and, if required, to relevant regulations that are made under the act, to which the affirmative procedure will apply, which will enable further parliamentary scrutiny before any changes are made.
In addition, focusing specifically on legislative, as opposed to operational, changes to the act, I do not believe that amendment 87 would achieve the intended outcome. For the reasons that I have outlined, I cannot support that amendment.
Amendments 88 and 89 seek to change the timescale for the review of the operation of the act, requiring it to be carried out within three years of the act receiving royal assent, as opposed to the five years that are currently provided for. It is expected that, if the bill is passed, the licensing provisions will come into force over the first two years following royal assent; therefore, the five-year reporting period following royal assent provides three years in which to gather the required information and monitor, and report on, any change. Reducing that reporting period to three years would provide only one year of the operation of the system in which to gather the required information. That would not be enough time to gather, record and report meaningful data. Therefore, for a comprehensive and constructive review of the act to take place, encompassing all parts—
If I understand it correctly, what has been proposed is two years for the licensing scheme to be put in place and for some kind of review to take place three years thereafter. That is assuming that all goes as well as intended. Surely, there is a necessity to move the review date forward, given the strong or possible likelihood that things could go wrong and that the scheme might need to be looked at a lot quicker.
I do not share the member’s very pessimistic attitude towards how the scheme will be rolled out. I reiterate that we need the appropriate time to gather the data in order to make the review meaningful. The five-year period strikes the right balance.
I sympathise with the intention behind amendment 88 and I can understand the desire for a rolling review period every five years, but I cannot support the proposal to reduce the reporting period. I assure the member that the on-going effectiveness of all policies will be continually monitored.
I ask Mr Greene not to press his amendments. If he does, I ask members not to support them.
I thank members for their contributions. I want to make two points. I welcome clarification that a review of the licensing scheme specifically will form part of a review of the bill, which is detailed in section 44A as a wider
“report on the operation of this act”.
I appreciate that that is some way beyond where we were with the bill as introduced.
My problem is that that is a one-off report on the operation of the act. Although the Government has given a commitment to do so, not future-proofing the act in the way that I seek to do in my amendments means that there is no requirement on future Governments to perform any review of the operation of the act or any parts of it, including the licensing scheme. That is a bit of a miss; we could have addressed the issue had we spotted it earlier. Had we had time, I probably would have sought to amend section 44A separately.
I do not see the problem with amendment 88, in my name, which would ensure that the process was iterative and continuous and that future Governments, whatever their make-up and colour, would be required to review the effectiveness of the bill. I wonder what will happen after the one-off report if no future Government decides to perform that piece of work. That is where I saw a gap.
However, I accept that amendment 78 might not be necessary if what is proposed falls under the remit of section 44A.
Based on that, I will not press amendment 78, but there are other amendments in the group that I might move, when asked.
Amendment 78, by agreement, withdrawn.
There was a lot of debate at stage 2 about the 57 days when, under the provisions of the bill, use of fireworks would be permitted with a licence. The 57 days cover festivals including Diwali, Vaisakhi and Chinese new year, as well as bonfire night. Following the discussion that I had with the minister at stage 2, I reflected that one of the things that I do not fully understand about the selection of the 57 days was that we would expect there to be public displays for some of those festivals rather than the days being specific days when people can let off fireworks. For members who are hearing this for the first time, it is important to note that, on Vaisakhi, for example, which is one of the 57 days, anyone will be able to set off fireworks—not just people who celebrate that festival.
The provision seems to be a little bit odd to me, and I fear that it might unravel a bit, so I wanted to have this exchange again at stage 3. Ministers can obviously add more days to the 57 days by statutory instrument, should they feel that additions are needed, for whatever reason.
Although I support the reduction in the number of days on which fireworks can be used, I do not feel that the bill goes far enough; I also feel that the provision is not at all logical. It is unclear to me why the bonfire period is set at two full weeks, given that bonfire night is only one night. We could have covered a shorter period of seven days by using the 4 November date. Fireworks use for the whole two weeks will put increased pressure on the fire service and the police.
Similarly, I do not believe that fireworks celebrations for new year begin as early as boxing day, so I adjusted my stage 2 amendment by excluding new year. However, I still wanted to have an exchange about those two periods, which have been included in the 57 days.
I note that the briefing from the Dogs Trust that members have received asks for a reduction in the number of days when fireworks can be used and sold, and it points out that shortening the windows would significantly reduce the negative impact of fireworks on animal welfare and vulnerable people. We have heard that there are members of society who find fireworks distressing, including people with post-traumatic stress disorder or autism.
To that end, amendment 79 would shorten the supply-of-fireworks period during the bonfire season from 27 October to 10 November to 27 October to 4 November. I say to the minister—before she says it—that I am not really sure why it is 4 November and not 5 November. I concede that point; we should probably allow sale of fireworks on 5 November.
Amendment 80 would shorten the period that is allowed for use of fireworks from 27 October to 12 November to 30 October to 6 November, which is one week around the bonfire season. It makes sense to me to shorten the overall period.
Similarly, amendment 81 would change the period when the use of fireworks was allowed from 26 December to 2 January, which is how the bill is drafted at the moment, to 31 December to 2 January. In my experience, that is when fireworks tend to be used. I believe that that reduction is supported by animal welfare organisations.
It would be helpful if the minister would address—in particular, for members who have not been party to the debate—the questions why those 57 days have been selected, and why such extended periods over the bonfire season and new year have been chosen.
I move amendment 79.
I thank Pauline McNeill for lodging the amendments in the group. They are further to substantial sections that I tried to add at stage 2 on changes to the dates of restrictions on supply and use of fireworks. The matter opened a can of worms when we debated it, and it was clear from the beginning that the dates that have been selected are somewhat arbitrary.
The Government clearly does not want to ban fireworks altogether or to restrict their use just to public displays, as has been suggested by some stakeholders. It is trying to come up with a mechanism that allows private use in one’s own back garden and, in doing so, it has created a series of dates, that will be defined in law, for when shops can sell and when people can use fireworks. I am afraid that that raises a range of issues that the bill does not address and which have not been fixed as we have gone through the process.
Apart from the arbitrary dates, we are effectively creating 57 days of the year in which we will be allowed legally to set off fireworks that we have purchased privately. In many people’s minds, fireworks go off only at certain times of the year, and there are problematic times of the year around bonfire night and new year’s eve. We are now, in effect, saying that there are 57 dates, including religious feasts whose dates move. That in itself makes no sense, and in doing it we have identified specific religious festivals but excluded others. I raised that point at stage 2, but no satisfactory response was given. By excluding some religious and, indeed, some secular festivals from the specified dates, the Government is opening itself up to future challenges. I hope that that will not be the case, but I warn now that it could happen.
I will give way in a second, but I want to talk about Ms McNeill’s amendments.
I do not support amendments 79 and 80. As Ms McNeill herself accepts, it seems to be a bit odd to restrict sale of fireworks on fireworks day itself. I appreciate that that might be a technical boo-boo, if I can use that word.
Amendment 80 is interesting in that, I think, Ms McNeill is trying to tighten the window of use, but there might be reasons why fireworks cannot be let off on 5 November—because of the weather or something else. The flexibility that the minister is offering is quite helpful.
I support amendment 81 because we understand about the period around bonfire night, but I am not convinced that allowing people to let off fireworks as early as 26 December to celebrate new year’s eve, which is five days later, makes any sense. I would have been in favour of tightening that window, which Ms McNeill’s amendment 81 strives to do. If she moves amendment 81, I ask members to support it, because it would tighten up that window of opportunity.
Section 23 is one of the odd bits of the bill. In it, retailers and consumers are given two different periods of time when they can sell and use fireworks. That will result in confusion among the wider public. It might result in people taking action because they feel that they have been excluded and discriminated against. I do not know what equalities impact assessment was done when the dates were selected, and I hope that there are no religious organisations out there wondering why on earth they have been excluded from the dates when others have been included. If they come forward now, it will be too late, because the bill will have been passed by next Wednesday. I hope that any such organisations will get in touch with us before then, if that is the case.
Confusion will arise, so I hope that the Government has robust plans in respect of public awareness around the dates. The main issue is what happens when someone calls the police and says, “My neighbour is letting off fireworks in the garden.” Will they know whether that is part of the in date or the out date, or whether it is a legal date or an illegal date. Thereafter, what will the police do? Realistically, are trading standards officers going to come and knock on the neighbour’s door? Are the police fully resourced to come out and knock on the door, or are they just going to say, “Thanks for telling us” and nothing will happen. We already know that prosecution rates are extremely low for other fireworks-related offences, so I am very concerned that nothing will change as a result of the restrictions on dates.
I can see why the stakeholders who have written to us—it is right that they have—support the idea of narrowing the periods, but the way in which the Government has gone about that in the bill will create some serious problems. I would hate to say, “I told you so”, but I fear that I might have to.
I begin by emphasising that the permitted periods in the bill are broadly in line with existing traditional fireworks periods, which is when most retailers in Scotland are permitted to sell fireworks, and when use of fireworks by the general public is most prevalent.
They will not be criminalised if they employ a private company to do such a display for them.
Ms McNeill’s amendment 79 seeks to shorten the permitted number of days on which fireworks can be supplied over the bonfire period from 15 days, which the bill currently provides for, to nine days. For the first time, the bill sets out periods in which it is permitted that people in Scotland can be supplied with fireworks. We think that the period that we have set out, which is based on consultation, creates a fair balance between the desire to celebrate special days in our communities and curtailing of general supply and use of fireworks.
I believe that limiting the supply period further could risk a situation in which people would have a very limited number of days on which to purchase fireworks, and would inadvertently be encouraged to store them in domestic settings. It also risks squeezing the supply chain over the busiest period for firework purchases, which could cause retailers to overstock and thereby lead to safety issues around storage.
If there is evidence that the permitted periods of supply should be reduced further in the future, the bill provides for that being done via secondary legislation. Therefore, I do not support amendment 79, and I encourage Ms McNeill not to press it.
I turn to amendments 80 and 81. Our intention in introducing restricted days of use is that we address the negative impacts of unpredictable fireworks use, while retaining periods during which fireworks may be used appropriately by the general public. It was recognised that setting permitted periods for use provides flexibility to allow displays to go ahead on or around the dates of celebrations, and allows for postponement or delays that are due to inclement weather, which Mr Greene mentioned earlier, or any type of unsafe conditions.
Ms McNeill’s amendments 80 and 81 seek to reduce the number of permitted days of use over the bonfire period and the new year period to eight days and three days, respectively. The amendments would reduce the number of days on which it is permitted to use fireworks by almost a quarter.
There is a fine line between introducing permitted periods in order to reduce the negative effects on our vulnerable populations and allowing for the enjoyment that members of the public can and do get from fireworks. At the same time, we want to reduce the impact on businesses and ensure that adequate safety measures remain in place. I believe that further limiting the permitted periods of use could risk a situation in which people would have a very limited number of days on which to use fireworks, and would inadvertently be encouraged to use them in unsafe conditions.
Are we now in a position in which it will be legal for a private citizen to use fireworks for nearly two months of the year? On top of that, the minister has reserved the right to add to the permitted periods—for example, if the Government has been challenged legally. In other words, the scope exists for the permitted periods to be added to, rather than reduced.
Aside from that, we find ourselves in the bizarre situation in which someone who can afford to employ a private company to let off fireworks in their garden will be able to do that at any time of the year. We can see why some of the organisations that have written to us with concerns about the proposals think that those arrangements completely undermine the whole proposition. Why are we creating a two-tier system, under which people who cannot afford to pay a private company will not be allowed to let off fireworks, while people who can afford to pay a company to do a big fancy display—they are quite expensive—will be able to do that at any time of the year? What was the rationale behind that? Surely the minister will admit that it makes absolutely no sense.
Jamie Greene will understand that that is an attempt to balance all the different relevant interests. The careful consideration that the matter was given by the review group is represented, for the most part, in its recommendations and the provisions that we now have in the bill.
Amendments 80 and 81 would also mean that fireworks would be available for purchase for a number of days before their use would be permitted. I am concerned that that could lead to issues around stockpiling. In the bill, the days on which it is permitted for fireworks to be used is deliberately extended slightly beyond when fireworks can be supplied. That is in order to avoid a situation in which people buy fireworks towards the end of the supply period but are not able to use them when they intend to—for example, because of poor weather.
That element of the bill will minimise the possibility of individuals having to store fireworks from the last day of one permitted use period to the beginning of the next, which could lead to safety concerns about storage of fireworks in domestic premises.
I have always acknowledged that there is a balance to be struck. Does the minister accept that the time period in the bill means that we are saying that people can let off fireworks for two weeks during the bonfire season? Does the minister see that encouraging that could give rise to some of the problems that we have been talking about, such as pressures on the police and fire service lasting for two weeks, rather than being just on bonfire night? I am concerned by the Government encouraging that wider period of use.
I do not accept that point. I know that Pauline McNeill represents an area where there is a lot of misuse of fireworks. A few decades ago, we would all have understood bonfire night to be a night, but it has turned into an extended bonfire season.
Ms McNeill’s amendments would amount to a 16 per cent decrease in the period in which fireworks can be supplied and a 25 per cent reduction in the number of days on which they can be used. Work was done with key stakeholders in order to strike a balance. I feel that reducing the time periods by so much at this point would render meaningless all the work that has been done to get us to this point.
This is the starting point in a journey of cultural change.
I will seek permission to withdraw amendment 79, for the reasons that I have given already.
To summarise, I say that this element of the bill will be very confusing. One of the oddities is that anyone having an event that falls within the 57 days, whether it is a birthday or a gender-reveal party, can lawfully set off fireworks, but anyone who has such an event outwith the 57 days cannot.
I also think that some of the festivals that are included in the 57 days tend to be marked by public displays and not by people setting off fireworks in their back gardens. I have been to such events for Vaisakhi and Diwali; those were publicly organised. I would be happy to be corrected on that.
I lodged the amendments for debate at stage 3 because members must be aware when they vote that there is a lot in the bill to confuse the public. I appreciate the minister’s having said that a lot of work has gone into the bill. I do not deny that—there are many stakeholders and a lot of work has gone into the bill—but it is our job to ensure that the general public see the legislation as workable, and that, when we pass the bill, they understand exactly what it does. I have real concerns about that.
I hear what the member is saying and understand why she wants to raise those concerns. Would she accept that the licensing scheme, and asking members of the public to undertake a training course when they apply for a licence, so that they will be taught where and when they can use fireworks and how to store and use them safely and lawfully, will go some way towards addressing those concerns?
I will acknowledge that—if, after the training course, people are able remember the 57 days of Diwali, Vaisakhi, Chinese new year and so on. It will be an offence to set off fireworks outside those 57 days. I was drawing attention to the oddness in that, which is that anyone could take advantage of the provision and lawfully set off fireworks in their back garden on any of those 57 days. They would not have to be celebrating one of those events. That seems to be odd, because it would be an offence to do so outwith the 57 days. That part of the bill could unravel.
I seek to withdraw amendment 79.
Amendment 79, by agreement, withdrawn.
The result of the division is: For 45, Against 63, Abstentions 0.
Amendment 81 disagreed to.
I suspend proceedings for five minutes for a comfort break.
17:13 Meeting suspended.
17:19 On resuming—
Amendments 35 and 36 would enable local authorities to designate an area as a firework control zone in which fireworks could not be used by any person, as no person or organisation would be exempt. That means that fireworks would be banned and nobody, whether they were part of a professional organisation or an individual, would be able to use them. I believe that that is what many people who have been campaigning for fireworks reform are looking for.
I appreciate that the Scottish Government has taken heed of the arguments that were made at stages 1 and 2 and has added the provision that private operators will not be exempt within the proposed firework control zone. That is stronger than what was in the bill previously, but it still means that public displays will be permitted within those areas. I ask the minister to elaborate on that and to clarify what the definition of a public display will be.
My amendments stipulate that fireworks would effectively be banned in any area that the local authority designated as a control zone. That could be a small area, it could be a number of streets or it could be in the vicinity of a particular facility where the use of fireworks is likely to cause concern. Organisations such as the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Blue Cross, the National Autistic Society and the Scottish Community Safety Network support the amendments. I think that that speaks to the harmful impact of fireworks, whether they are used at a public display or set off by a private operator or, indeed, an individual.
I ask the cabinet secretary to explain why the bill does not contain provision for local authorities to take such action, given the extensive concerns that have been raised by communities. Of course, I completely understand the reasons why people might want public displays. The minister said at stage 2 that public displays foster community spirit and bring people together, and I agree with that, which is why the amendment does not propose an outright ban. Displays would still be possible outwith the areas where local authorities had designated that they should not be used.
I move amendment 35.
My amendment 82 has a similar objective to Katy Clark’s amendment, but it works in a slightly different way. Amendment 82 states that, when designating a firework control zone or amending a zone, a local authority must specify whether or not exemptions apply. It gives the local authority a little bit more flexibility than it would have under Katy Clark’s proposal.
In effect, what the Labour and Conservative amendments are doing now, and what we tried to do with elements of stage 2, is ensure that a firework control zone is a genuine no-firework zone, for the reasons that have been outlined.
As we heard earlier from Alex Cole-Hamilton, the expectation is that something will be done—that is what people want. However, the bill does not do it in the way that people think it should be done, and that is a risk that we must flag up. As I said, we have received letters from people asking us to support the legislation, and I can see why they would want us to do that. However, what people do not understand, as they have not read the bill from cover to cover and have not absorbed its technical detail, is that, at the moment, there is a risk that there might not be genuine firework-free zones in Scotland.
We have tried to give local authorities the power to make local decisions on the size of the zone, the length of the zone’s operation and the reasons for the establishment of the zone, and we have tried to give people the ability to make applications for a zone. Throughout stages 2 and 3, we have tried to amend the bill in many ways.
For that reason, I ask members to support either of the options that are before them in group 9, in order to create genuine firework control zones. That would appeal directly to those who are watching the proceedings, whether it is those in the farming community; animal welfare charities, especially those that have premises and venues; or Scottish Autism, which wrote to us to say, while thanking us for our efforts, that it was disappointed that the bill offered no technical ability to create what I would call a firework-free zone or a no-firework zone as it should have done.
There is a real missed opportunity here. We have no idea what the firework control zones are going to look like, what the criteria will be, who will be able to apply for them or what the appeals process will look like. We do not know how many zones there will be or whether there will be a network or a patchwork. We also do not know what the effect would be if one local authority decided to have a lot of zones and a neighbouring authority decided not to. What would happen? Would there be a displacement issue with people letting off fireworks?
There are too many unanswered questions for my liking at this stage of the bill. For that reason, the Scottish Conservatives have lodged a small but important amendment, as has Katy Clark. I ask members to look favourably on those amendments if they are moved or pressed.
I believe that this is a really important part of the bill. It provides a mechanism to create a control zone where there should be no fireworks set off as far as the licensing regime is concerned. The question is whether the Government wants to go further.
I thank the minister and her team for working with me on amendment 1, which is about publicising firework control zones. It is important that people know where firework control zones are, the dates on which they apply, what the boundaries of the zones are, and what is permissible and what is not. The work in that regard has been a constructive part of the process, and I am pleased to bring the amendment to the chamber today. The Government wants—rightly—to make it clear, as I do in this amendment, that the general public needs to know exactly what a firework control zone is and where it is. Amendment 1 sets that out in the text of the bill in a very useful way. I feel pretty strongly about the issue, so I am pleased to speak to amendment 1.
Amendment 83 reflects an exchange that we had at stage 2 about who can apply for designation of a firework control zone. I still have concerns about what happens if a local authority decides not to proceed with a firework control zone. A series of assertions have been made in the debate, but, to some extent, none of us really knows how the bill will be applied. I would like individuals and community groups—in communities such as Pollokshields, which has been discussed by the minister today and during the stage 2 process, along with those in other communities—to be able to put before a local authority, should it not act, anything that they feel has been overlooked.
I feel quite strongly about amendment 83. I appreciate that members of the public can make written representations to councillors to bring a proposal before the local authority. Fulton MacGregor made that point at stage 2, and I accept that that is one route. However, if we believe in community empowerment, there should be another route. After all, it is only a request for the local authority to look at the matter; after that, it is for the local authority to decide whether a proposed zone would be appropriate.
Firework control zones are an important aspect of the bill, and, if we want the legislation to work, we must make them an essential element of it. The provisions must be workable—others must be able to ask for zones, and communities must know that a zone is a major tool for controlling fireworks in their areas. For that reason, I hope that the Government will consider supporting amendment 83.
I recognise the strength of feeling that the firework control zone provisions have raised. I welcome the constructive discussions that have taken place on the subject, and I realise that, for some members, the provision for such zones does not go far enough. However, I have considered the options in great detail—at great length prior to the introduction of the bill, and again when I reflected on the recommendations in the Criminal Justice Committee’s stage 1 report—and, as with many aspects of the bill, there is a delicate balance to be achieved.
On the one hand, there is a need to further reduce unpredictable, but possibly legitimate, firework use; on the other hand, there is a need to ensure that there are limited, but necessary, exemptions when those are appropriate. As a result of those considerations, I lodged an amendment at stage 2 to remove the exemption for professional operators to deliver private displays in designated control zones, which would mean that fireworks could be used by a professional operator in a designated control zone only when that was for the purpose of a public fireworks display. That amendment was unanimously agreed to by the Criminal Justice Committee, which recognises the value of local organised public displays—as, I think, we all do—and what those can bring to communities.
Together, amendments 35, 36 and 82 seek to remove the exemptions for firework control zones that would apply consistently across Scotland. Amendment 35, if agreed to, would mean that there could be no use of fireworks at all in any designated control zones.
The current exemptions ensure that enforcement bodies would be able to continue to carry out their necessary duties in a designated zone, and they allow for businesses that are engaged in the manufacture or supply of fireworks to continue to carry out vital safety checks as part of due diligence. It is vital that those exemptions be retained.
The intention of amendments 36 and 82, although they approach the issue in slightly different ways, is that each local authority, on a case-by-case basis, could determine different exemptions for different control zones. Amendment 36 would allow local authorities to designate areas where no exemptions would apply, meaning that fireworks could not be set off at all, or that only certain groups of individuals would be permitted to set off fireworks. It would be a criminal offence to use fireworks in a control zone unless the individual or organisation involved were exempt. Given that, it is vital that the exemptions are applied consistently in all areas, so that people and organisations who are involved in fireworks displays, and others, can understand the law—we have been talking a little about those points in the debate—and how it applies to their activities.
Enabling those small variations, as well as very large differences, between the positions in different areas would, I think, add unnecessary complexity to those zones, which is something that I am really keen to avoid.
I am not sure whether Ms Clark will mention the same point, but we are concerned that the stakeholders who are looking at the bill as a great panacea to solve localised problems—there are hotspots of unsocial behaviour, and we all know where those are—think that the firework control zones will solve their problems. I do not have a problem with local authorities making different decisions that are based on the needs of their local areas in that scenario.
For the life of me, I cannot see why we would say, “Yes, you can create a firework control zone, but the Government has a set of national exemptions that apply to all the people who we think should still be able to let off fireworks.”
What is wrong with giving local authorities the decision-making power to say, “No, that is a genuine no-fireworks zone. That addresses a specific local need in my community, and we will not allow fireworks at all in that zone”?
I do not think that that is a fine balance; I think that that is quite clear. For the life of me, I cannot work out why the Government will not support that.
I think that that is part of the balance in trying to achieve the objectives of the bill and balance the interests of those who are involved. I thought very carefully, and for a long period, about public events—if that is what we are talking about specifically—still being allowed in firework control zones.
When I came to the chamber at stage 1, I said to members that there were a couple of areas about which I genuinely wanted to hear what they thought. One of those areas was exemptions for private companies and public displays. I listened carefully to what members said to me about that, and I have also listened to what stakeholders have said. I have thought about the matter carefully, and I think that it is a fine balance.
Obviously, it is up to members to decide whether I got that to the right point in the end, but I genuinely felt that public displays are not where the issue lies. I think that, by preventing public displays, we would not be achieving the right balance. That is why I came to that decision.
The intention of my amendment 36 is to enable local authorities to use their discretion. Situations in which such a ban might be appropriate would perhaps be near a facility that is run by Combat Stress, where there are veterans who might be distressed by fireworks; near a post-traumatic stress disorder care facility; and near an animal rescue centre or stables. Surely, there is a case for a complete ban when a council feels that that is appropriate in the particular circumstances.
That is where I do not agree, and I think that I have just covered that.
Local authorities already have discretion whether to allow certain public displays. We had an exchange about that at stage 2. It is not in bill, but they do have that discretion. That may give the member some comfort on that point.
Amendment 82 would give discretion as to whether a public fireworks display would be allowed in a particular area. I am reluctant to deprive communities of organised public displays and the benefits that they can bring to communities. In many cases, local authorities are already able to determine the suitability of displays in a particular place, through their public entertainment licence processes, so I cannot support that amendment.
Amendment 1 sets out that a local authority must take reasonable steps to inform those consulted about what it means in practice when a zone is created, amended or removed. That is in line with the policy intent for the firework control zones and our expectations of how the publication of a decision on and information about firework control zones will work in practice. I am grateful to Ms McNeill for her engagement on the issue, and I am pleased to be able to support the amendment.
Amendment 83 seeks to provide a formal process for community groups to instigate consideration of a firework control zone and a duty on the local authority to respond to it. I sympathise with the amendment, as I share Ms McNeill’s views on the importance of community empowerment, and we had quite a long exchange on the point at stage 2.
Sections 30 and 31 of the bill enable Scottish ministers to make further regulations about firework control zones and require that local authorities must have regard to any guidance that is issued about those zones. I believe that such guidance, co-designed with local authorities and communities, is a more appropriate route than amendment 83 for setting out that further detail of the local procedures for control zones, including procedures for involving local communities. Should that prove to be insufficient, it will be possible to make regulations to strengthen those requirements in the future. However, I think that including it in the bill at this stage would remove flexibility before there has been an opportunity for local approaches to be developed and tested by those who know their communities best.
I thank the minister for that comprehensive reply. I reflected on what the minister said at stage 2—I read the
Official Report and adjusted my amendment to see whether the minister might accept a different formulation—but, surely, it is quite a simple matter.
If a request is put before a local authority, the local authority can still say no. It is just a request; it does not deny the local authority any powers that it already has. I really do not understand why ministers have such difficulties with it.
I think that the guidance is a more appropriate place to determine a process to give life to the member’s intention, because I fear that it would not be as simple for local authorities to do that as the member is describing, and we have to take that into account.
Earlier, Katy Clark asked me about the definition of public displays and community groups. We have taken quite a general approach to the definition and have chosen a widely understood definition that is used by local authorities at the moment. The definition has a two-part test within it. In order for an event to be considered a public event, the organisation involved would have to be established—it would have to have an identity—and the event would have to be open to the public. I hope that that sets the member’s mind at rest.
I am grateful to the minister for her further clarification. However, it is clear that the current legislative framework has not been effective, which is why the various campaigners have been campaigning for the ability to have a complete ban.
I think that having such a wide definition of public events as the minister described, whereby the organisations need to be established and the events must be open to the public, reinforces the argument that local councils need to be able to intervene, using their discretion and their knowledge of local communities, and must have the ability to say that there should be no fireworks use by any organisation in specific areas. Therefore, I will press amendment 35.
Amendment 38 makes provision for a statutory aggravation in cases in which fireworks and pyrotechnics are used against emergency workers. If an offence were found to be aggravated, certain requirements would fall on the court. The amendment would not require the court to impose a higher sentence—a discretion would continue to sit with the court in line with the general policy approach on sentencing. However, following the general approach to statutory aggravations that we have seen in other legislation, the court would be required to consider whether an enhanced sentence was needed. If the court decided that it was not, it should explain the reasons why.
In addition, the amendment would require courts to record when offences that included the use of fireworks and pyrotechnics against emergency workers had been found to be aggravated. That will help us build the data and evidence, over time, of the extent of the use of fireworks and pyrotechnics in offences against those who are risking life and limb to keep our communities safe.
I have welcomed the opportunity at each stage of the bill to hear from members on a number of very important issues of shared concern. One of those issues has been how best to ensure that the law has the necessary powers to allow the courts to deal with offending that uses fireworks and pyrotechnics against those workers who deal with personal risk to tackle emergency situations in the service of others. I was therefore grateful to Jamie Greene for lodging an amendment on that issue at stage 2 and for his willingness to engage with me in advance of stage 3 to ensure that we, as a Parliament, got the detail of this amendment right.
As I have said on previous occasions when this issue has been debated, the courts already have the ability to determine the most appropriate sentence for those who are convicted of such offences by considering all the facts and circumstances of each case. On balance, however, I believe that lodging this amendment is the right thing to do. A statutory aggravation reflects the serious nature of this particular offending and ensures that the nature of this offending will be taken into account when the appropriate sentence is being determined. It will also ensure that appropriate recording of aggravated offences will take place. I would be very happy if the Parliament would support the amendment.
I move amendment 38.
I would also be very happy if members supported the amendment. This is, arguably, one of the more important amendments that we will talk about in the remaining, short, time that we have. No one in the chamber can condone the use of fireworks or pyrotechnics as a weapon against our emergency service workers.
At stage 1, we straight away heard directly from people who have been affected by the issue. Last year on bonfire night—which is just one night; never mind the other 56 nights when fireworks are allowed—eight fire crews and several police officers were attacked by members of the public. Three firefighters were injured. It was not just fireworks—people were chucking all sorts of things, including golf clubs and bottles. This happens every year and we are told about it every year.
I lodged an amendment on the issue at stage 2, as it was not addressed in the bill as introduced and I felt strongly about it. I am really pleased that the minister has given way on the matter. I would not say that this is a personal win, or even a win for the Conservative benches. This is a win for the emergency service workers who are defined in the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005, those referred to in the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, and also our friends in the British Transport Police.
Supporting this Government amendment, on which I put my name, will send a really strong message that the Parliament will not accept any form of abuse or attack of our hard-working emergency service workers with not just fireworks, but anything else, although we have not outlawed golf balls as part of the bill. Such actions are completely unacceptable and we will send a strong message to offenders that the courts must take those factors into account when sentencing them and that the full weight of the law will come down on them.
I hope that it also sends a really strong and powerful message to the police officers, fire service workers and ambulance crews who we heard from, who are being attacked while doing their job of trying to help people in difficult situations—people who have been injured, who need help and who have had accidents on nights when fireworks are being used. The amendment sends a really strong message that such attacks are unacceptable and those who carry them out should be warned that they will face the full weight of the law. I hope that the amendment does that.
I hope even more that we will see some proper prosecutions. There is no point in passing legislation in words alone. I want to see the people who commit such offences successfully prosecuted. I hope that all stakeholders in the justice system will take cognisance of that as we pass the bill.
I will try to keep this brief. I think that amendment 84 is quite self-explanatory. It is similar in nature to one that I lodged at stage 2, but I have changed the wording. It requires the Government to do one fundamental thing, which is to
“conduct a review of” existing
“legislation ... in so far as it relates to the supply and use”
—or, as the case is, misuse—
“of fireworks and pyrotechnic articles”.
The amendment would ask ministers to
“determine, as a result of the review ... whether the legislation is being adequately implemented and enforced, and ... if not, what action” will
“be taken to ensure that legislation is adequately implemented and enforced.”
That goes back to the previous amendment, which I am pleased that the Parliament passed.
There are nine other pieces of legislation, from as far back as 1875 right through to the Fireworks (Scotland) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 2021. There is a whole bunch of pieces of legislation out there that already govern the misuse of fireworks. When we hear from frustrated people who hope that this bill will solve the problems of antisocial and problematic firework use, I say to them that there is already a lot of legislation out there that is not being used.
The numbers speak for themselves. Over the past five years, more than 6,000 incidents involving fireworks have been recorded by Police Scotland. Of those, 518 were recorded under the Explosive Substances Act 1883 and a number of others were recorded under legislation on the keeping and supplying of explosives. From 6,000 incidents, only 16 resulted in a criminal conviction. Last year alone, 974—nearly 1,000—fireworks-related complaints were made to the police, 29 charges were laid and there were zero criminal convictions.
The conversion rate from incidents being reported to charges being laid to successful prosecutions and people being punished is abominable as it is. My amendment asks ministers to review all the legislation—not this bill, but all the legislation that already exists—in so far as it relates to fireworks and pyrotechnics and their misuse, and to tell us whether they are comfortable and confident that that legislation is being used to its full extent. That is the very least that we can do.
My previous version of the amendment said that this new bill that we are adding to those nine pieces of legislation could not properly come into effect until that piece of work had taken place. I accept that that held back the bill and was deemed to be incompetent, so I have taken that out. All that I am asking is for ministers simply to do that piece of work after the bill is passed.
I cannot understand why ministers would not want to do a full and proper review of all legislation that relates to fireworks and pyrotechnics, because it is clear that all the laws that exist to protect people are not being used to their full extent. That must be the source of the frustration that so many people in our communities are feeling and why they think that this bill will solve those problems. Let us tell them that there are many other pieces of legislation that the police and the Crown Office could use; there are so many other tools available to them that should be used to their full extent.
I hope that the piece of work that amendment 84 would require will raise awareness of that and lead to more prosecutions. We have tried to amend the bill in many ways at the last stage, including on the nature of the punishments, but I hope that this amendment in this standalone group will be positive and well received, and is a useful exercise that puts that issue back on the table.
I look forward to hearing what others and the minister have to say.
I move amendment 84.
As I stated during the stage 2 proceedings when the member lodged a very similar amendment, my ministerial colleagues and I are always prepared to keep the law under review. Indeed, it is that willingness to review the law that has led us to introduce the bill. The bill already reflects a period of significant consultation and engagement with the public and stakeholders, alongside careful consideration of all available evidence, of which a key component was examining the existing legislation.
I point the member to the publicly available report from the fireworks review group, which includes a detailed section on existing legislation, regulation and enforcement, alongside a comprehensive annex, which sets out each piece of legislation, what it does, and practical considerations. The conclusion of that independent review group, as well as that of the misuse of pyrotechnics stakeholder discussions, is that there are clear gaps and therefore a need for further legislation. The measures in the bill will give effect to that work.
As I have said, we are always prepared to keep the law under review, but it is unnecessary and inappropriate to place a statutory duty on ministers to conduct a further review and to lay it before the Parliament within 12 months, when the previous work is the reason why we introduced the bill that is before the Parliament.
I ask Mr Greene not to press his amendment. If he does, I hope that members will not support it.
In one sentence, the minister stated that it was a review of existing legislation that led to the bill, and in another she said that the bill fills in gaps in the existing legislation. Clearly, that review of existing legislation has not led to any improvements in it being used to its full extent. It is okay to plug gaps and to add to legislation, but that review in no way solved the problem of existing legislation not being used to its full capabilities. It is that that I seek for ministers to do. That should be in the bill and I ask members to support amendment 84, which I will press.
I thank members for their forbearance this afternoon. We have covered quite a lot of ground and raised really important issues.
My last amendment is about improvement of firework safety.
We are told that that is what lies at the heart of the bill, so this is a perfect opportunity to use a new piece of legislation on improving firework safety to put in a provision that seeks to do just that. The difference is that I am putting the onus back on ministers to improve firework safety through their policies and proposals.
I have a number of specific asks of the Government in this amendment. I would like it to develop an “annual national safety campaign” on fireworks, which is a sensible ask that comes from not just me but the fireworks industry. Members might think that the industry would be completely against any such proposal, yet it wants a firework annual safety plan.
I want ministers to publish their
“policy around the detection and apprehension of illegal fireworks”.
The reason for that is that, if, and it is a big “if”, a black market arises as a result of the bill—we do not know whether that will happen; we have heard evidence to say that it might, although I hope that it does not—we need to know what the Government will do around the detection and apprehension of illegal fireworks.
My third point is about the centralised approach to reporting incidents of misuse of fireworks. The issue at the moment, which the committee found at stage 1, is that it is almost impossible to identify the scale of the problem. Misuse of fireworks is either underreported or reported to different stakeholders in different ways, whether that is to the police, including by calling 101, or local authorities. People do not understand whether what they are hearing or seeing around them is illegal or antisocial, and that problem will be exacerbated if the bill is passed, given the confusion around when fireworks can or cannot be let off and who can or cannot let them off. The bill will only add to the confusion, but a centralised reporting mechanism would help.
Another issue that we have rightly raised throughout the debate is that of illegal fireworks entering Scotland and of people buying them from elsewhere, whether other parts of the UK, Europe or beyond. What will be done to prevent that, if it were to occur?
The final issue that I raise in amendment 85 is
“co-operation with retailers about their continued supply of fireworks”, because we know that, if the bill is passed, it will immediately—overnight—close down a number of businesses. We have to be honest with ourselves about that. The number of businesses in Scotland that are dedicated to the sale of fireworks might be up to a dozen only, but we will still be putting people out of business. We must give consideration to that. As for other retailers that will continue to exist and survive, I want to know whether they will continue to sell fireworks, what times of year they will sell them, what will happen about stockpiling and so on.
The amendment, in the round, would improve firework safety. All the measures have the buy-in of the industry, retailers and, I am sure, people who are blighted by the misuse of fireworks. I simply ask the Government to consult on a draft of the plan, have regard to any responses, publish it and lay it before Parliament. Agreeing to the amendment would not hold back the rest of the bill or wreck it; indeed, it would be an important addition to the bill. If the bill is really about firework safety, let us put my proposed provision in the bill and put the onus on the ministers of this and future Governments to ensure that they are on top of it.
I move amendment 85.
I share Jamie Greene’s views on the importance of firework safety. We debated this subject during stage 2 when he lodged a similar amendment. Much of what is included in amendment 85 reflects what was proposed in the British Fireworks Association’s 10-point plan. I have said on a number of occasions that I welcome much of the plan and the good progress that is being made in a number of the areas that it highlights.
Jamie Greene stated during stage 2 that he did not want this work to be left to policy and future Governments and that he preferred to have it committed into law in the bill. However, through my actions, I have already made very clear my strong commitment to firework safety, and I believe that it is not necessary or appropriate to use the bill to write into legislation already-stated policy commitments that have followed on from the already-published fireworks action plan of 2019.
I accept that at face value, as it is in the
Official Report that the minister has lots of positive things to say about the industry’s 10-point plan, and she has personally committed to maintaining a watchful eye.
However, as with the review of the entire act—sadly, that will be a one-off piece of work, despite our unsuccessful endeavours to make it a continuous piece of work—that is all well and good now, but, when we create law, we create it for decades or hundreds of years. We do not know what future Governments will look like, what their priorities will be as regards the fireworks industry or whether they will be interested in fireworks at all. For that reason, it is better that the plan is in the bill. It future proofs the bill, it is sensible and it is what people want—after all, it is a bill that is meant to improve firework safety.
The only reason that I can think of for the minister not to want it is that it simply adds to the ministerial workload, and that is not a reason—
I have to disagree in the strongest possible terms with what the member said. I do not support amendment 85 because it would mean repeating work that I have already done. I published the fireworks action plan in 2019, and it details all the non-legislative actions that the Government and all our partners are taking forward year after year after year. I encourage the member to read that document.
I cannot wait.
It might repeat work that the minister has done, but it does not repeat work that has not been done yet. That is my point. If the bill requires the Government of the day to perform a piece of work in five years, in 10 years, in 15 years, or in 20 years, it will ensure that future ministers are as enthusiastic about firework safety as the current one. That is why it has to be in the bill.
The minister makes great play of work that has been done in the past, but some of the specific provisions in the amendment relate to issues that might arise, such as fireworks coming into Scotland illegally as a result of the legislation. It is therefore something that should be considered. Does the member agree?
It is about the unintended consequences that we have flagged up all through the process, and have been given a good airing today. We are talking about unintended consequences and don’t knows. We don’t know about the black market, we don’t know about the potential for people to buy online, although we know that the bill cannot regulate that market. We don’t know about mislabelled and illegal or dangerous fireworks coming in from other markets. It is because of those don’t knows that it is so important to have an annual firework safety plan and all the other measures in amendment 85 on an on-going basis. Even if they have been done already, and all that work is up to date, I want to make sure that future Governments continue to do that work. There are so many unknowns so this would be a good way of future proofing the bill and of ensuring that, whatever happens as a result of the legislation—[
.] I am sorry to interrupt. It is a good way of ensuring that, whatever happens after the bill is passed—
I am sorry to persist. In listening to what the member is saying, I have realised that some evidence that was given to the committee is relevant. Warnings were given by the industry, when it talked about fireworks being stored in an unexpected location and how the impact of a loss of trade, whatever the member thinks of that, could certainly lead to a black market. That is more than one thing— it would be one of the unintended consequences. That leads me to take the view that it is much more important for the Government to give out big safety messages. Does the member subscribe to that view?
I do not disagree with that. It is because of the unknown of the black market, which was raised so many times throughout the bill process, that we should take cognisance of it. That is why proposed subsections (2)(b) and (2)(d) in amendment 85 relate to the Government’s duty to develop and maintain a watching brief over the detection and apprehension of illegal fireworks coming into Scotland.
For those reasons, I will strongly press amendment 85, and hope that members will support it.
Now for the grand finale—I warn all members to stand well back.
At stage 2, I made numerous attempts to increase the criminal penalties that are contained in the bill. Put simply, we sought to increase the maximum prison sentences from six months to 12 months and fines from £5,000 to £10,000. We lost the argument and I will not reheat it here.
However, amendments 86 and 90 seek to modify sentences that are contained in two pieces of existing legislation—the two most commonly used of the nine pieces of legislation that are referred to in Jamie Greene’s amendment 84.
Amendment 86 relates to
“an offence under the Fireworks Act 2003 which relates to the supply or use of fireworks”.
It seeks to raise the maximum available sentence from six months’ to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Amendment 90 relates to the Explosives Act 1875—specifically, to the throwing of fireworks in public places. Despite how old it is, the 1875 act is the most commonly used piece of fireworks legislation today, according to what we heard from the Crown Office.
It is worth putting on the record that one of the recurring themes of stage 1 and stage 2 consideration of the bill was the difficulty that committee members had in establishing the number and nature of cases that were reported to the police, prosecutions, convictions and how those were disposed of. It was clear that much of the existing legislation was not being used to its full extent. Jamie Greene has already told us that, and I will not rehearse that argument again.
However, I think that amendments 86 and 90 are helpful, as they would amend the existing laws to achieve the same thing—that is, they would give independent sheriffs a wide and reasonable array of sentencing options. The amendments seek to make the maximum prison sentence 12 months partly because of the decision that the Scottish Government took in 2009 to have a presumption against short sentences of less than 12 months. If the 2003 act and the 1875 act are left unamended, sheriffs will be unlikely to pass a prison sentence, even when that might be the preferred disposal. With amendments 86 and 90, we have a good opportunity to put that right.
I move amendment 86.
Amendments 86 and 90 aim to increase the maximum penalties that are available for two firework-related offences—namely, an offence that has been committed under the Fireworks Act 2003 and one that has been committed under the Explosives Act 1875.
Amendment 86 would increase from six to 12 months the maximum sentence available for people who are found guilty of an offence under the 2003 act, when that offence is related to the supply or use of fireworks in Scotland.
Amendment 90 relates to the offence of throwing fireworks in public under the 1875 act. However, that is a UK-wide offence. The amendment would make the penalty of up to 12 months’ imprisonment available for people who were found guilty of the offence in Scotland. That would be available as an alternative to the existing penalty of a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or as an additional penalty. I think that that would create an inconsistency in the penalties that are available to the courts throughout the UK for what is the same offence.
It is important that there is consistency, transparency and proportionality across the bill and the law on fireworks as a whole. The maximum penalties that are set out in the bill were included following careful consideration of the types of offences in the bill and the levels of penalty that are applicable for other fireworks legislation.
I do not agree with the member. His amendment relates to existing legislation, while many of the provisions in the bill are new, so I cannot agree with him on that point.
I not only believe that the maximum penalties that are set out in the bill are proportionate and appropriate. I also believe that the applicable levels of penalty in other fireworks legislation are proportionate and appropriate. We are not aware of any specific compelling evidence that higher maximum penalties are necessary to deal with the offending behaviour in question.
During the evidence sessions at stage 1, representatives from the firework industry highlighted the fact that, in their view, maximum sentences are not routinely handed down. I may be pre-empting an intervention from Mr Findlay by saying that he might point to the lack of option in the 1875 act for a custodial sentence. However, the offences under that act are applicable throughout all UK jurisdictions. If a penalty of imprisonment were to be made available in Scotland only, that would make penalties across the UK inconsistent.
I will give way if Mr Findlay wishes to come back in.
Sufficient custodial sentences are already available in common law for the more serious incidents, as was discussed at length at stage 2. Offences that are likely to attract a sentence of imprisonment such as culpable and reckless conduct, breach of the peace or common law assault carry custodial sentences of up to and more than 12 months’ imprisonment.
I do not believe that the current penalties in the 1875 act should be changed only for Scotland. Therefore, I cannot support amendment 86.
As I said in my intervention, the Government’s concern about creating possible inconsistencies seems to be at odds with the entirety of the bill, which will do just that, with all sorts of potential unforeseen consequences.
Amendments 86 and 90 are important. They give the independent judiciary scope to sentence as they see fit. We are not imposing sentencing; we are giving that option to judges and the courts.
Regarding the minister’s response, the firework industry and others, frankly, had to scrabble about to get data about how sentencing has been applied and about disposals. That data was hard to come by, short of raking through Google or through local newspapers. The committee has experienced the scarcity of data as a hallmark of the whole process.
I press amendment 86.