Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it has been a long-standing convention of the House that, in the interests of good cross-examination of Ministers, statements are released to Opposition spokesmen well in advance? Are you aware that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions yesterday released his statement only a matter of minutes before coming to the Dispatch Box? Would you—[Interruption.] I am not surprised that the Government Chief Whip does not want to hear this. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me hear the right hon. Member's point of order.

Mr. MacKay: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. Would you deprecate such short notice, and, if it happens again, ensure that the sitting is suspended so that Opposition spokesmen can properly consider what is in the statement? It was quite clear yesterday that the admission that the Secretary of State had misled the British public on the Dimbleby programme was not given to other spokesmen in advance so that they could properly cross-examine him.

Mr. Speaker: It is not a rule of the House but a courtesy that Ministers give as much warning as possible of any statement that they are going to make. I encourage Ministers to do that. [Interruption.] Order. If there is any difficulty or short notice in future, I can use my discretion, but I would rather encourage Ministers to give out their statements well in advance.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: There is nothing further to that point of order. I have explained the situation exactly.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during questions on the Transport Secretary's statement, I asked:

The Secretary of State said "No." On "Newsnight" last night, contemporaneous notes were revealed of a conversation between Sir Richard Mottram and Martin Sixsmith on the afternoon of 18 February. I quote directly:

27 Feb 2002 : Column 710

That confirms stories in The Sunday Times of 24 February—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying to use points of order to put a case. He is aware of the rules of the House. There are ways in which he can pursue matters, including parliamentary questions or Adjournment debates. He is trying to draw the Chair into the argument that he is advancing. I do not have anything further to say on that matter.

Mr. Blunt rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not have anything further to say on that matter.

Mr. Blunt rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should pursue this matter. I think that he has finished.

Mr. Blunt rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The matter is finished.

Mr. Andrew Turner: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, the House of Lords Annunciators announced the proposed statement by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions at about 12 o'clock, but the Annunciators in this place did not give such notice until at least half an hour later. Is there anything that you can do to assist us in knowing when such statements will be made?

Mr. Speaker: I do not control affairs in the other place.


Housing Benefit (Withholding of Payment)

Mr. Frank Field presented a Bill to permit the Secretary of State to withhold payment of housing benefit on grounds of anti-social behaviour in certain circumstances: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 19 April, and to be printed [Bill 102].

27 Feb 2002 : Column 709

27 Feb 2002 : Column 711


3.35 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): I beg to move,

I am sure many Members will be aware, if only from their postbags, that the problems caused by fireworks are extensive, and are no longer restricted to an annual seasonal event. The industry's voluntary code, which aims to promote the safer use of fireworks, stipulates that they are to be displayed to the public for only three weeks prior to 5 November, and for a few days afterwards. Unfortunately, however, the code is notably redundant, and fireworks are readily available to the public from retail outlets throughout the year.

Several significant problems are caused by the retail sale of fireworks. The most immediate is the number of injuries resulting from their use. In extreme cases their use can lead to fatalities. That, tragically, happened in the case of 13-year-old Martin Lamparter, a young man who lived in my constituency with his family and who was killed last December in an accident involving a firework. The event has devastated his family and the local community.

Even more tragic is the fact that Martin's death was not an isolated incident. Five deaths in the last five years have been directly attributable to fireworks. All were unnecessary, and would have been avoided had the retail sale of fireworks to the general public been prohibited.

Yet despite the focus of past debate on the subject—tending to centre on the devastating effects of injury and the potential for fatalities that fireworks possess—the hazard to human welfare of fireworks has not proved a sufficient propellant to effect the change in legislation for which my Bill calls. Following the implementation of the 1997 firework safety regulations, there was an 8 per cent. reduction in the number of firework casualties in 1998. However, the 30 per cent. drop in the volume of sales in that year makes the apparent decrease in injuries superficial, as proportionally the number of injuries was significantly higher. The number of casualties increased in both 1999 and 2000.

In recent weeks I have received many letters expressing support for the Bill, for a variety of reasons—not just because of the physical injuries that fireworks are capable of inflicting. The National Campaign for Firework Safety strongly supports the Bill, and has long recognised that under current legislation fireworks are a multi-faceted menace, at best a nuisance and at worst fatal.

The support that I have received of late has come not least from those concerned about the noise generated by fireworks. The noise pollution is not the occasional and tolerable inconvenience that it was once, but an ever-increasing source of fear and anxiety, especially to vulnerable groups in society. Such distress is not confined to people, but extends to domestic pets—some of which have had to be put down as a result—as well as farm animals and wildlife.

All those latter problems do not even necessarily entail the abuse of fireworks. When fireworks are deliberately misused, their effects are even more profound, exacerbating the possibility of injury, death and fear as

27 Feb 2002 : Column 712

well as fostering additional problems. The abuse of fireworks results in antisocial behaviour, criminal damage and—as police in Oldham, Bradford and Northern Ireland have found—their conversion into weapons.

Current legislation is failing to be effective primarily because it is reactive. Police powers are restricted to responding to specific offences arising from the misuse of fireworks, and the law, while making it an offence for under-18s to purchase fireworks, does not make their possession of fireworks illegal.

This is a serious problem. Statistics demonstrate that the greatest percentage of firework injuries are to those aged 15 or younger, accounting for some 40 to 50 per cent. of all firework injuries over the past five years. Such evidence clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of current regulations. If the current law were more vigorously enforced and the under-age use of fireworks all but eliminated, firework safety could still not be guaranteed. Age alone does not qualify someone to use explosive devices responsibly and competently. Being old enough to drive does not automatically qualify a person to do so. The safety provisions relating to driving require that a licence be obtained in addition to an age criterion being met. I believe that there is a strong enough case to draw a parallel between driving and the use of fireworks.

Only those who are trained and licensed should be able to access and use fireworks, because even when they are used within the law and with the best of intentions, they are still proving hazardous. Addressing the many problems caused by fireworks requires far more than the further enforcement of current statutes or the entrenching of the voluntary code into law. A statutory code that emulates the current voluntary code would not prevent the problems that I have identified from manifesting themselves around 5 November.

In addition, it is discriminatory to allow the sale of fireworks to the public to commemorate one historical and cultural event—bonfire night—but to deny other celebrations such as Diwali and the Chinese new year the opportunity to include fireworks in their festivities. The only safe and fair option is a complete ban on the retail sale of fireworks to the general public. All festivities would thus be entitled to include fireworks as part of their celebrations, provided that they were used in organised and licensed displays.

There will be those who will object to such a prohibition, perhaps because their profit or employment depends on the sale or manufacture of fireworks, yet the legal requirement for pyrotechnic professionals will create a new niche in the market. An economic calculation must be balanced against the paramount principles of public welfare and safety, and the cost borne by the taxpayer in picking up the tab for the damage caused by fireworks.

There will be those who will contest this Bill under the banner of liberty, on the basis of defending the public's freedom to continue to purchase what essentially constitute explosives. Ironically, in attempting to defend liberty they fail to extend it to those who wish to be free from excessive noise pollution, fear, criminal damage and injury.

A further form of opposition will come from those who claim that banning the retail sale of fireworks to the public will result in the creation of a black market. There is little evidence to support that. However, those who cite other examples of prohibition—such as alcohol—must concede

27 Feb 2002 : Column 713

that lighting noisy, colourful explosives is going to be much harder to conceal than consuming alcohol in one's own home.

A ban on retail sales and possession by the public of fireworks will invest the law with greater clarity and make it a lot easier to prosecute those who violate it. Numerous statistics demonstrate the need for reform to current firework legislation, for which neither the Firework (Safety) Regulations 1997 nor the Consumer Protection Act 1987 make adequate provision.

A ban on the retail sale of fireworks to the general public is the only way satisfactorily to address the many problems created by fireworks and to restore them to their role as a celebratory and pleasurable phenomenon. There is tremendous need—and equally tremendous public support—for this Bill, and it is with both of these things in mind that I urge Members to support it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page