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House of Commons

Friday 13 June 2003

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Sylvia Heal in the Chair]

The House being met, and the Speaker having leave of absence pursuant to paragraph (3) of Standing Order No. 3 (Deputy Speaker), Mrs. Sylvia Heal, The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, proceeded to the Table.

Points of Order

9.33 am

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have had any indication from the new Leader of the House that he would like to come to the House to make a statement today. Yesterday, an announcement of enormous constitutional significance was slipped out on the television news. I do not know whether Her Majesty was informed, but certainly their lordships' House was not informed, nor were we, that the Government intended to abolish one of the great offices of state. [Hon. Members: "Oh, no!"] Labour Members may groan, but some us care about the historical traditions of our country. If the Government have a proposal to abolish an office that goes back over 1,000 years, surely we should expect assurances in this House today—first, that there will be no attempt at hurried legislation this Session, secondly, that any legislation will be in draft form so that it can be the more properly and seriously considered and, thirdly, that all stages of any such legislation will be taken on the Floor of this House.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would you indeed get the new Leader of the House to come to the House—first, to receive congratulations on his new appointment and, secondly, to receive congratulations from Members on this side of the House on fulfilling a commitment from the 1993 Labour party programme to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor?

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Is it in relation to the points that have already been made?

Mr. Connarty: Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I, too, would like the Leader of the House to come to the House

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to explain how Members from Scotland can transact their business in this House properly, given that Scotland will apparently be represented by a Lord in the new constitutional Department that is being set up. That is wholly inappropriate. To whom should I now address the request for a meeting that had been granted by the outgoing Secretary of State for Scotland about redundancies in my constituency?

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you guide Members on how departmental questions will operate now? Will there be separate Scottish and Welsh questions, or will they all be bundled together in a set of questions on constitutional affairs? Will the Secretary of State for Transport answer on Scottish issues and the Leader of the House answer on Welsh issues, even though neither of them have executive responsibility for those Departments?

Madam Deputy Speaker: I can understand hon. Members' concerns, but I must inform you that I am not aware of any Minister wishing to come to make a statement to the House at this stage. Should anything change, I will of course advise Members appropriately.

As to the other point that Members raised, that is a matter for the Departments concerned. The occupant of the Chair has many responsibilities, but they do not extend to that.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): On a different point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that a Government reshuffle is under way today, as it was yesterday. Can you help the House by telling us what will happen in the event that the Minister is reshuffled or called to No. 10 during the debate—not least because amendments have been tabled in her name—or that any other Member, on either side of the House, with an amendment in their name is called by the Prime Minister to serve in his Administration? Would you in that circumstance be prepared to consider suspending the sitting for an appropriate amount of time so that the person involved could answer the phone or go to No. 10, and we could then welcome a new Minister to resume the debate appropriately? May we have your guidance on that, Madam Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Connarty: Absolute trivia.

Mr. Forth: No, it is not trivia.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I presume that the right hon. Gentleman would like to hear my reply.

As much as I like to be well prepared, I think that some of the points that Members raised concern matters that we will consider as the morning goes on, should it be necessary.

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Orders of the Day

Fireworks Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Clause 1


9.38 am

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): I beg to move amendment No. 40, in page 1, line 9, leave out subsection (2).

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 66, in page 3, line 28 [Clause 5], at end insert—

'( ) Subsections (1) and (2) shall not apply to class I and class II fireworks.'.

Mr. Chope: The amendment is relevant to the short discussion that we have just had, because it is about ministerial power and how it should be controlled by this House. The amendment would remove from clause 1 the power of the Minister to change the definition of fireworks by regulation rather than by primary legislation. That power goes to the root of the concerns that many people have about the wide scope of the Bill.

It was clear on Second Reading and in Committee that there is a tension between manufacturers of fireworks, who say that it is impossible to have what we recognise as a firework unless it is manufactured to a specification of 120 dB maximum, and those who buy into the idea that the only way to proceed in this country is to have a limit of 95 dB—a perfectly legitimate view, which I understand is supported by many hon. Members. However, far from clarifying their views, the Government have been fudging the issue. Now we are on Report it is time to hear the Minister make a clear and unequivocal statement of the Government's intentions on definitions of fireworks and the noise limits relating to them.

The supply of fireworks is governed currently by a British standard on fireworks, BS7114. Regulation 3(1) of the Firework (Safety) Regulations 1997 states:

BS7114 classifies fireworks into three specific categories considered suitable for use by the general public and a fourth category suitable only for professional users.

Category 1 fireworks are suitable for use inside domestic buildings—for most of us, pretty innocuous fireworks. Category 2 fireworks are for outdoor use in relatively confined areas. Many people, especially young people, might regard them as rather boring fireworks. I do not include myself in the category of people that regards them as boring, but they are essentially safe fireworks. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), whom I am delighted to see in his place this morning, has another amendment in the

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group that would restrict all the regulations in the Bill and prevent them from being applied to fireworks in categories 1 and 2. I support that effort, which is in compliance with common sense and good regulation.Category 3 fireworks are for use in large outdoor spaces, and category 4 are not intended for sale to the general public. Fireworks and assemblies classified as category 1, 2 or 3 must comply with the requirements of BS7114, which is in addition to the legal duty placed on suppliers under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

The Bill defines fireworks as being fireworks for the purposes of British standard specifications relating to fireworks published on 30 November 1988, BS7114, to which I have been referring, or any British standard specification replacing it—or what would be fireworks for those purposes if they were intended as a form of entertainment. I should have thought that that definition of fireworks is perfectly adequate for our purposes. Will the Minister explain why the promoter of the Bill and the Government are supporting clause 1(2), which confers a power to change the definition of fireworks?

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am following my hon. Friend's argument so far, but I hope that at some stage of his analysis he will tell the House why he is not satisfied with the safeguards in clause 2. On this occasion, and rather unusually, the Government have gone a considerable way to reassure us. Although the Secretary of State is given the power to make regulations in clause 1(2), my reading of clause 2 is that it provides detailed safeguards in respect of those regulations. Why is my hon. Friend not satisfied with clause 2, which strikes me as providing a powerful case for giving the Secretary of State the powers that my hon. Friend wishes to delete?

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