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10.30 am

I am talking about class 1 and 2 fireworks, and it is true that, in 2001, there were 1,362 injuries. Therefore, it might be said that we have to deal with class 1 and 2 fireworks, because those are the fireworks that people buy and light in the garden. They are not used in the controlled environment of an organised firework display, and they are not the vast rockets that fly up into the sky. However, they are precisely the fireworks that cause injuries. That is why, like everyone else, I am in two minds about the Bill. I do not want to be accused of blocking a Bill if to do so means that there could be injuries in the future. That is not my intention; I want to

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improve the Bill. A figure of 1,362 injuries sounds a lot. No doubt a fair proportion of them were caused by class 2 fireworks, typically by children playing around with them.

Mr. Chope: Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that, ironically, the number of injuries has gone up under this Government despite the fact that they made much play of introducing new regulations in 1997 to address the problem?

Mr. Leigh: The Bill's supporters place much credence in the fact that the number of injuries is going up and that we face a crisis. I have had the advantage of carrying out some research on this subject and, if the 1996 figures are taken into account, we see more of a fluctuating picture rather than a build-up from 1997 that has reached crisis point now.

I suggested that many of the 1, 362 injuries in 2001 were caused by class 2 fireworks. That year, there were no fatalities, but the previous year there were 972 injuries and two fatalities—and one fatality is too many. However, let us consider the figures from the Department of Trade and Industry for accidents in the home and put the matter into perspective. The DTI's website shows that 2.7 million accidents requiring visits to hospital and nearly 4,000 fatalities resulted from accidents in the home.

Nobody wants anyone to be injured by class 1 and 2 fireworks. Nobody, we are told, wants to ban fireworks altogether. There have been injuries and fatalities, but 4,000 fatalities result from accidents in the home. I do not think that giving the Minister the draconian powers over class 1 and 2 fireworks—the fireworks that we buy and use in the garden—will save lives. All that would happen is that we would kill off the traditional private firework display and not save a single life. After all, 313,000 injuries resulted from road traffic accidents. About 40,000 of them were serious, and there were 3,450 fatalities. Our responses must be appropriate and proportionate.

Let us consider all the controls that are in place for class 1 and 2 fireworks. If one listens to the anti-firework lobby, one might think that the problem is completely out of control, that people can buy what they want, that fireworks cause a massive number of injuries, that animals are being scared and all the rest. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association tells us that only four or five dogs have to retire each year because of the distress caused by fireworks. I agree that it is unfortunate that four or five dogs have to retire each year, but I doubt whether that means that it is necessary to introduce such draconian powers to deal with the traditional fireworks that one can buy over the counter.

Many powers are available to deal with the sale and control of fireworks. I am prepared to accept that the Minister should perhaps have the powers in the Bill to deal with class 3 and 4 fireworks. However, we are dealing with class 1 and 2 fireworks and there is a requirement that all fireworks intended for use by the public must comply with BS 7114, the British standard referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. That already controls what we can buy.

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There is a permanent ban on the supply of category 3 bangers, including flash bangers, jumping crackers, Chinese crackers and fireworks with erratic flight. That ban came into force on 15 October 1997. As the Minister's predecessor showed on that date, there are powers to deal with the worst fireworks—those that actually irritate people.

An increase was made in the minimum age—from 16 to 18—of persons who can be supplied with fireworks. The supply of caps, cracker snaps, novelty matches, party poppers, serpents and throw-downs was made exempt from that prohibition, but, under the Explosives Acts, remain subject to the prohibition on sale to persons apparently under the age of 16. It is said that we need the Bill because people are buying the class 1 and 2 fireworks that cause injury, but all those regulations have already been made.

There is already a prohibition on retailers splitting large boxes and selling fireworks individually. That previously formed part of a voluntary agreement. Therefore, one has to be of a certain age to buy fireworks and one has to buy a box. In our families, there is no question of our children, with their little bit of pocket money, being able to buy one firework in the way that we did as children. Mothers and fathers have to buy a whole box, and that is quite expensive. There has also been an increase in the permitted length of hand-held sparkers from 450 mm to 470 mm.

I have gone through that list of regulations to show what has already been achieved. The need for the draconian powers in clause 5 is a mystery. There is already a prohibition on the supply to the public of class 2 bangers and on the supply of mini-rockets except for the purpose of special effects in the theatre, film and television. There is a requirement for sparklers to carry the additional warning that they are not suitable for children under five years of age and that all fireworks not suitable for use by the general public have clear warning labels to that effect. Size limits have been imposed on the supply to the general public of certain fireworks such as Roman candles, mines, batteries—for example, a cake of Roman candles—wheels and combinations. It is already one of the most regulated industries in this country. It is seriously concerned that it will cease to exist if the Bill is implemented in its current form.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is now straying into remarks that are more suitable for Second Reading. They are not directed at his amendment.

Mr. Leigh: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that you think that I have managed to explain why the Bill should not apply to class 1 and 2 fireworks. All that the promoter has to do is stand up and accept my amendment. For the life of me, I do not understand why he does not. He cannot seriously argue that the main evil in terms of death, injury, noise and disturbance is class 1 and 2 fireworks. I shall wait to hear what he says in reply.

If the promoter says, "I'm sorry but many of the problems are caused by class 1 and 2 fireworks", I should like to see proof of that. The point about safety is dealt with by amendment No. 40. We will never make

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fireworks entirely safe unless we ban them altogether. However, there are so many controls on class 1 and 2 fireworks that we must ask why they need to be dealt with by the Bill. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 deals with noise nuisance and empowers local authorities to deal with noise from fixed premises. A local authority can deal with class 1 and 2 fireworks if it wants.

The British Fireworks Association is constantly making progress on the introduction of voluntary codes and procedures on the class 1 and 2 fireworks that can and cannot be sold over the counter. For instance, it announced on 14 October 2002 that it is to remove single-tube air bombs—a sort of cheap, noisy Roman candle—and small whistle-bang rockets from the market after they were linked to injuries. That came into effect on 1 January 2003. The association distributes 95 per cent. of all family fireworks in the UK. It is estimated that the withdrawal of those fireworks will result in the removal of 30 million loud bangs from the market every year. That measure is already in place.

The industry is one of the most regulated in the country and it is making great progress in dealing with class 1 and 2 fireworks. Why on earth do we need the extra powers? If the industry were not responding and had not made progress, or if the Minister did not have powers to deal with class 1 and 2 fireworks, it might be a different matter, but all those regulations were issued in October 1997 and the industry has dealt with some of the problems itself.

The Minister announced on 17 October 2002 tough new measures to cut the number of firework injuries. In the context of class 1 and 2 fireworks that are taken home, she said that there would be a new drive to encourage local councils to use their powers to curb the problem of noise and nuisance. Councils have the powers to do their job properly. The regulatory impact assessment notes that only 35 per cent. of local authorities offer a full night-time noise response service and that 18 per cent. of local authorities do not have any out-of-hours response cover.

Surely the reason why noise complaints have increased is the poor service provided by local authorities. We do not need the draconian new powers contained in clause 5. All we need is for local authorities to do what they are already fully empowered to do. If antisocial people are buying boxes of fireworks and taking them home where they cause all sorts of noise and are a nuisance to their neighbours in the middle of the night, at 1 or 2 am, the local authorities have all the powers they need to deal with that.

Dr. Murrison: I am listening with great interest to what my hon. Friend says about existing powers. However, the British Fireworks Association, the British Pyrotechnics Association and the explosives group of the CBI want the Bill to succeed. They clearly do not necessarily share his feelings about existing powers and the ability of councils to sort out such nuisance.


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