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Mr. Chope: I understand my right hon. Friend's view, but he may not have seen a Government-inspired amendment to clause 2 that would delete subsection (2)—a provision inserted by the Minister by agreement in Committee. It is now apparently to be deleted by the promoter and the Government in an amendment. We will have an opportunity to debate the implications later, but it is certainly one of the reasons why I believe that the safeguards in clause 2 are inadequate to control the Secretary of State's powers to define fireworks.

9.45 am

Mr. Forth: I am grateful for that, but I hope that my hon. Friend is not going to skip lightly over the other provisions of clause 2, which would remain even if the Minister were to have her way. It talks at length about consultation and other matters. I hope that my hon. Friend will take a balanced view of the problem, rather than simply home in on what the Minister appears to be doing.

Mr. Chope: As my right hon. Friend would expect, I take a balanced view of the problem, but he may not have noticed that clause 2(1) states:


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which would give the Secretary of State carte blanche to use that provision to ban all fireworks, or all fireworks other than indoor fireworks. Indeed, that provision could be sufficient to ban even sparklers. Even a sparkler can be heated up and pushed into someone's eye, causing a serious injury, if not death—and the same could be done to a captive animal.

My right hon. Friend is an expert in saying that the Bill should be examined as a whole rather than in individual parts, but the interaction of clause 2 with the power in clause 1(2) to amend the definition of fireworks should cause hon. Members on both sides of the House to be concerned. The Bill, as I say, gives carte blanche to the Secretary of State to draw up a set of regulations that, when presented to the House, would not be capable of amendment.

Those of us who have studied, or begun to study, the detail of fireworks legislation know that it is a fiendishly complicated subject. The Minister said on Second Reading that she hoped that the detail of the Bill would be considered at much greater length in Committee than on Second Reading. I have to tell the House, however, that Second Reading took about three hours, and the Committee stage less than two hours. That was not detailed scrutiny of the Bill. If hon. Members feel that it is unnecessary to scrutinise the Bill at this stage, all I can say is that the responsibility of those who were not members of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill is all the greater because of the failure of those who did sit on that Committee—I am sorry if that causes embarrassment on the Opposition Front Bench—to ask pertinent questions. A good example of a pertinent question is why the Secretary of State should have the power under clause 1(2) to substitute a new definition of fireworks.

Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend is being a little harsh. Although we delegate responsibility to our colleagues in Committee to consider a Bill in detail, the whole point of Report stage is that those who did not have the privilege of being on the Committee have an opportunity to consider the Bill again in the light of what the Committee has done. That justifies what we are doing today.

Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is right. It may be that the members of the Committee were not able to go into sufficient detail on the Bill because no regulatory impact assessment had been produced at that stage.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would confine his remarks to his amendment.

Mr. Chope: I will indeed confine my remarks to the issues before us today, as set out on the Order Paper and in the first group of amendments. It is worth reminding the House of what the Bill's promoter said on Second Reading:


However, the Bill will give the Minister the power to include, through regulation, those very items that the sponsor of the Bill assured the House he did not intend to include in the ambit of the Bill. If that does not set the alarms bells ringing, I do not know what will.

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In the same debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) asked the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan), whether he had


In essence, my hon. Friend was asking whether the Bill's promoter trusted the Minister. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South replied:


I do not know whether that was acceptable to my hon. Friend, but it would not have been acceptable to me as a response to a reasonable inquiry about whether the Minister had given any assurances to the promoter that what he did not want in the Bill would not subsequently be added through regulation. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South needs to apply his mind to that point, because the power could be used to ban those very items that he said would not be banned. It could also be used to introduce other controls over fireworks, and it could form part of the agenda for those who wish to ban fireworks completely. Much needs to be done to enforce better control over noise from, and abuse of, fireworks, but I believe that we should be allowed to use fireworks. There is scope for regulation, but the enormous powers given in the Bill should be circumscribed.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): My hon. Friend makes a good point. We hear much from people who do not like fireworks, but those who do like fireworks are not necessarily minded to write to their Member of Parliament to say so. Millions of people in this country enjoy fireworks, which is why we want the Bill to be balanced.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. Listening to the voice of Members and the general public, as the hon. Member for Hamilton, South said on Second Reading, is what this Chamber is all about. I know from my constituents that they do not wish to have an outright ban on fireworks, nor do they wish to see the decibel limit on fireworks reduced to such a level that the firework cannot be propelled into the sky and explode in the way that gives pleasure to those watching it.

I have spoken to the British Fireworks Association, and it assures me that if the decibel limit is reduced below 120—the proposed European standard, but not contained in the British standard—it will not be possible to produce fireworks that would be propelled into the sky to explode with a bang. On Second Reading and in Committee, I looked for evidence of the thinking of the promoter and the Minister on that issue. Unfortunately, every time someone made a point, whether for the 120 dB limit or for the 95 dB limit, the Minister and the promoter said something like, "Yes, I am on your side. It'll be all right on the day." They were building ambiguity into the debate. It was called seeking consensus, but one cannot have a consensus between

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those who want a 95 dB limit on fireworks, which excludes most of what we know as fireworks, and those who want a 120 dB limit, which could control the noisiest fireworks but would not stop fireworks containing sufficient propellant and explosive to explode in the sky. It is the exploding in the sky that actually causes the noise.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that decibels work on a logarithmic scale. Hon. Members may be confused by the apparently small difference between 95 dB and 120 dB, but it is vast. The level of 120 dB is like standing next to a jet engine and 95 dB is more like loud street noise. Certainly, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has said that 95 dB is reasonable for their animals, because it covers traffic noise, for example. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is sound guidance?

Mr. Chope: I agree with my hon. Friend that ambient traffic noise can reach 95 dB. Indeed, it was claimed in Committee that if one dropped a book from a reasonable height, the sound would reach 95 dB, although if we dropped all the Chancellor's euro documents from a similar height, they would probably produce 120 dB. The 120 dB limit is not unreasonable. Indeed, that is the limit that the Europeans are adopting as a standard. If my hon. Friend thinks that it is an unreasonable limit, he should consider the consequences of legislating for a lower limit. What will happen is that, under the single market—which I support—people will be able to go and purchase fireworks on the continent that are in accordance with the European standard and bring them back to this country. A new smuggling trade might develop, to rival those for alcohol, tobacco and, indeed, humans.


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