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Mr. Chope: It may be that hon. Members are discussing telephone calls that they have received or are about to receive from No. 10.

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Clause 2 states:

As I said earlier, the only way of eliminating the risk completely is to ban fireworks completely. The only way of eliminating the risk of being struck dead by a falling branch or tree is to cut down every tree in the country. The only way of eliminating the risk of being mown down by a motor car is to ban all cars. At the moment, the clause is far too extreme. The only way in which we could completely eliminate the risk of being struck by lightning would be to stay in our bunkers permanently unless there were a completely clear blue sky outside, although a thunderbolt might even then come from nowhere. It is important that when we as a House introduce legislation, we use language that people can understand. Without too much immodesty, I argue that the wording of my amendments would make the Bill better and clearer, which is why I commend them to the House.

11.30 am

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) is going to speak, but on Second Reading, he said:

As there was no such in-depth examination in Committee and on Second Reading, he may wish to comment on my modest suggestion that we introduce what is clearly an objective test.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): In the interests of clarity, will my hon. Friend confirm that the amendments are designed to make the Bill better and to make it good law, and that it is not his intention to destroy a Bill that will provide the protection that so many of our constituents want, especially in Bury St. Edmunds, where I have received a huge mailbag of letters from concerned people, most of them older people—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention should relate to the amendment under discussion.

Mr. Chope: I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention. I have no intention whatever of preventing good law from getting on to the statute book, but it is important that we as Members of this House should try to use the opportunities that we have to improve and clarify the Bill. One of the purposes of the amendments is to ensure that the Bill is clear and that it does not enable the Minister at some future stage to say that, as there is a residual risk that somebody might be injured, the Government will be justified in introducing draconian regulations. My hon. Friend will probably agree that there is no need to deal with such an issue at great length, but I hope that one or two other hon. Members will contribute to the debate.

Mr. George Osborne: Will my hon. Friend explain how the amendment would materially affect the Bill? I

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agree that the idea of ensuring that there is no risk is ludicrous and would mean that nobody could light a sparkler because of the risk of injury or damage to property. How would the amendment alter the way in which the legislation would work?

Mr. Chope: As the passage that I seek to amend is an introductory passage relating to the powers of the Secretary of State under clause 2, the amendment would not allow the Secretary of State to introduce in regulations changes securing that there was no risk of firework use having the consequences specified in the clause. She would be able to intervene only to ensure that the risk of incurring the specified consequences is controlled.

Mr. George Osborne: Does my hon. Friend accept that that is still a fairly subjective test? The word "risk" is subjective, and it would still be left to the Minister to decide what was an acceptable risk and what was not.

Mr. Chope: I accept that risk is subjective, but its total elimination is absolute, and it is that absolutism that I am trying to remove from the Bill. That is the essence of my proposal. I hope that both the promoter and the Minister will think that that is common sense and worthy of support.

Mr. Mark Field: I wish to make a very brief contribution, as, like many hon. Members who are present, I broadly support the aims of the Bill. I represent an urban seat and have been lobbied by many constituents who are very concerned about the noise nuisance.

Mr. Robathan: Including me.

Mr. Mark Field: I should say that they include my hon. Friend.

The Conservatives have traditionally recognised, however, that such legislation, as an instinctive infringement on the individual's right of free action, is justified only on grounds of public safety or antisocial behaviour that harms or stands to harm others. I therefore share some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in the sensible amendments that he has tabled to suggest that at least the absolute elimination of risk cannot sensibly be achieved.

Like many hon. Members, I have some instinctive worries about the ever more intrusive role of government—and I do not make a narrow point about the current Administration as opposed to previous ones. For example, the proposed restrictions on smoking are based on purely social grounds, rather than necessarily those of harm. I am reminded that the last non-Conservative to represent my parliamentary seat was none other than John Stuart Mill, who had a three-year spell representing the constituency until 1868. I suspect that he might be seen as a Conservative nowadays, and "On Liberty" is a tome that I have read with great interest and would largely support, but the increasing public concern about injuries and public nuisance must not override the sense of what my hon. Friend proposes, which is to ensure that some sort of balance is in place.

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There is inevitably a risk with anything in life. Obviously, we instinctively view using fireworks as a hazardous activity. None the less, we need a workable law, as it would be a disaster to introduce an unworkable Bill and so not achieve all the good that is being proposed. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) said forcefully that there had been a great deal of consultation in the political sphere and with firework manufacturers and a range of different charities, many of which have been in touch with all of us as Members of Parliament. Let us ensure that the Bill is workable. The concern to do so is one of the reasons why we have had a fairly full debate so far.

Mr. George Osborne: My hon. Friend is right to say that the law must be workable. Does he agree that, if the Government failed to introduce regulations eliminating all risk of injury, they themselves would risk being liable to a court action taken by someone who had been injured and claimed that the Minister had failed to introduce such regulations?

Mr. Mark Field: That is a concern, although there is an equal risk that I may not entirely have understood all the implications of my hon. Friend's question. Above all, we need to ensure effective enforcement. I know that we will discuss that issue later in relation to the duties and financial responsibilities of local authorities, but it seems unacceptable for us to fill the statute book with yet more unworkable law. It is better to focus on ensuring that we introduce workable legislation.

I wish the Bill Godspeed, but I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the points that have been made.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): This string of amendments poses a bit of a dilemma to those of us who want the legislation to be introduced. I realise that there is a tight timetable and I do not want to speak at any great length.

I raised my concern on Second Reading. In particular, I want to mention the substance of amendments Nos. 45 and 46, which would affect clause 2(3). I ask the Minister whether the subsections are necessary at all—a point that goes to the heart of what was said in respect of the previous group of amendments about whether there should be an objective measure of noise. If there were clear agreement on a proper decibel count, whether of 95 or 120, it would simply not be necessary to include in the Bill powers enabling the Minister to define the nature of distress in a very subjective way. So in part, my question is: is this provision really necessary? And what would happen if these regulations went to the courts, which probably would happen if a judicial review were launched against them? One can imagine a lawyer having great fun trying to get the Government's representative to explain, for example, why animals suffer distress but people suffer alarm, distress and anxiety. An Aquinas-type philosophical debate could easily ensue.

I do not want to obstruct progress, but I do have anxiety about these clauses. I understand the logic of the amendments, which seem entirely sensible in this context. I hope that the Minister will work hard to explain to us why these subsections are necessary to preserve the spirit of the Bill.

Mr. George Osborne: The hon. Gentleman says that the lawyers would have a field day if some of the

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amendments were accepted, but would they not have a field day if the Bill were passed unamended? For example, as it stands the Secretary of State will be responsible for introducing regulations to ensure that there is "no risk" that the use of fireworks will result in the

or even "anxiety". That is such a broad provision that it would virtually prohibit all fireworks.

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