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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): My hon. Friend raises an interesting issue about the compatibility of much of the Bill with the single European market. As I understand it, we cannot impose restrictions on the trade of goods within the single market. Is that not the case?

Mr. Chope: It must be the case. I spoke to the boss of the British Fireworks Association about that and he said that he thought that it might be possible, under European law as it exists at the moment, for regulations to be made here that would introduce a lower decibel limit on fireworks than prevails on the continent. I must admit to my hon. Friend that I did not rigorously go into that matter, but the proposal is sufficient to cause alarm bells to ring for me—and probably for my hon. Friend. If we try to establish a much lower decibel limit for fireworks in this country than the one that applies on the continent, it would engender and encourage an illegal trade in fireworks.

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10 am

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): That is an extremely valid point. Will my hon. Friend go into more detail about the prospect of an illegal trade? In this country, owing partly to the higher tax, more than 30 per cent. of tobacco—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are debating an amendment about the definition of "fireworks".

Mr. Chope: We are indeed, and it is important that there should be compatibility between the definition of "fireworks" in this country and that used on the continent. If no such compatibility exists, there will be smuggling, in the same way that there is smuggling of fuel and tobacco owing to the lack of compatibility in the price and taxation of those products.

Mr. Osborne: I am sorry to press my hon. Friend on this matter. Perhaps if he does not know the answer to my question, the Minister could intervene on him to provide it. If we had a different legal definition of "fireworks" from the definition that applies on the continent, would it not be contradictory to the principles of the single market? I support the intention of the Bill to deal with nuisance, but the provisions must be legal. If my hon. Friend cannot answer that point, perhaps the Minister can.

Mr. Chope: I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that question, and I will certainly allow her to intervene on me to do so. That would inform the debate further.

Mr. Mark Field: I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. Manufacturers in the UK and Europe are worried that an entirely arbitrary new definition, as proposed in clause 1(2), could lead to certain problems. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to intervene on my hon. Friend on this important matter.

Mr. Chope: So do I. This is all part of the debate about the power contained in clause 1 as it is presently drafted. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Hamilton, South said:

we are certainly giving the Bill those things today—

The trouble is that there will not be much opportunity for the scrutiny of any regulations made under this provision, because they will be debated for a maximum of 90 minutes and will not be capable of amendment. Effectively, all the Members of the House will be excluded from that process and there will be no opportunity to give the measures the scrutiny that the hon. Gentleman says he wants. He went on:

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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are now getting into a Second Reading debate. I refer the hon. Gentleman once more to the amendments to this part of the Bill.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for ensuring that we stick to the issues under discussion. I hope that the hon. Member for Hamilton, South will accept the amendment. Clause 1(2) gives a very wide-ranging power to the Minister effectively to ban all fireworks by changing the definition of "fireworks" in the Bill. It is in the context of how that power might be used that I am quoting what the hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading.

When the issue of noise came up in Committee, there were some interesting exchanges of views. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South said:

that is an example of the triumph of hope over experience that often occurs in Committee—

The hon. Gentleman continued:

If such a consensus has been reached on the appropriate noise level for fireworks, will the Minister tell us what it is, and give the House an undertaking that the Government will not use any of the powers in the Bill—particularly those in clause 1—to change that verdict? All that is happening at the moment is that we are being told that the British Fireworks Association wants a limit of 120 dB while those on the other side of the argument want 95 dB.

The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) intervened in that same debate in Committee. He said:

That is a most extraordinary comment. Surely the Standing Committee is precisely the stage at which we should get bogged down in the nitty-gritty and ask pertinent questions, because we shall certainly not be able to do so when we are presented with a set of regulations that we can simply either accept or reject. The hon. Gentleman went on:

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That is a wholly misconceived approach, which gives the Government the power to keep their secret agenda and declare their hand only after this enabling Bill has gone through. This is why I am seeking an assurance from the Minister on noise limits in particular. If we do not get such an assurance, we might be minded to accuse the Government of giving the impression that they are on the side of those who want the 95 dB limit, while secretly going for the 120 dB limit, or vice versa.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The point that I was making in Committee is that fireworks change over time. That is one of the difficulties of trying to put into the Bill a definition of "fireworks". A particular type of firework could have been banned, but there could be changes later. If we are too prescriptive at this stage, the Bill will be completely ineffective. By its very nature, this provision will have to be introduced by way of regulation.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Does he have a specific example of an item that is not defined as a firework but which might be included as such if the definition were changed? I have referred to some, which the hon. Member for Hamilton, South has assured us will not be included.

Mr. Weir: The hon. Gentleman misconstrues the point. Fireworks evolve over time. When we were young there were small bangers and Catherine-wheels; nowadays there are massive great rockets.

Mr. Chope: Surely that is covered by the British standard specification. The Bill makes it clear that it is covered by both the existing specification and any subsequent amendments to it. As I said at the outset, fireworks that do not comply with the specification are already subject to controls and are outlawed. What is the agenda that causes the Minister to see a need for a power to change the definition of fireworks in secondary legislation?

The noise issue was discussed in Committee. The promoter said

Today—like many other Members, no doubt—I received a letter from a number of organisations associated with the Bill's promotion: the Pet Care Trust, the Kennel Club, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross, the National Canine Defence League, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Battersea Dogs Home. They say that there is a consensus in favour of the Bill which includes not just a coalition of animal welfare organisations but the British Fireworks Association. That consensus, however, is due to ignorance of the decibel level that will feature in future regulation by the Minister, and ignorance of the true intent.

I know that the Minister has had discussions with the fireworks industry. Perhaps she can tell us a bit more about the assurances that she can give. A relatively short time ago, she said that the amendments to the regulations produced by the Government in 1997 were sufficient to

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deal with the mischief of firework noise and nuisance—which I am the first to accept is a real problem for many people, including a number of my constituents.

In a sense this is a narrow amendment, but I think that the response to it will affect the whole tenor of today's debate. Many fears—mine, certainly—will be allayed if the promoter or the Minister says unequivocally that there is no intention of introducing a noise standard that differs from the European standard.

There is a built-in conflict, which was identified in Committee. A Member whose constituency I cannot remember said:

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