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Dr. Cable: Indeed. Perhaps I did not make myself sufficiently clear: in talking about the dangers of legal ambiguity I was referring to the Bill as drafted, not to the amendments. So I take the hon. Gentleman's point entirely.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I shall be brief, as I do not want to obstruct progress on the Bill. I simply want to point out my one concern, which relates to amendment No. 46. It would redefine the problems that may be caused to animals by removing the concept of distress and referring only to

The concept of distress is one of my primary motivations in supporting this legislation, as it is for many people. I have been lobbied by perhaps the most effective of my constituents in this regard—my mother. Her dog Gipsy suffers immensely every time that fireworks go off, and such suffering brings home the reality of this issue. My mother and many other constituents have said that it is a question of balancing the right of pet owners to have nights during which they can sleep without their dogs jumping into bed with them, against the right of others to enjoy fireworks. That issue is at the heart of this legislation.

I am concerned at the possible removal of the provision relating to distress, and that the amendments might raise the threshold at which regulations could be brought in beyond their most effective point.

Mr. Chope: Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the current provision, unless it is amended, will extend not just to domestic and captive animals, but to wild animals? How easy does he think it will be to enforce the distress provision in relation to wild animals?

Mr. Allan: My understanding is that the provision will simply enable the Secretary of State to introduce regulations, and what we are doing is setting out the Secretary of State's motivations in doing so. I would trust any Secretary of State, from whichever party, to take a reasonable stance in terms of introducing regulations. However, when they do so, I should like them to be motivated by the question of the causing of unnecessary distress to animals. I would not expect any Secretary of State in their right mind to introduce regulations because distress might have been caused to a wild animal that was far away from people's homes. We must use a certain amount of common sense in judging this issue, but I do want the Secretary of State to have the power to take distress caused to pets into account in deciding whether to introduce regulations. That is covered in the original wording, and my worry is that it would not be covered if the amendment were accepted.

Mr. Robathan: I shall be extremely brief. The amendments draw attention to some very real worries to

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which the Bill gives rise. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who made a very sensible contribution, referred to his anxiety about the amendments. I am not a lawyer, I am glad to say, but I notice that, in the context of subsection (3)(a), such anxiety might lead him—or someone like him—to take the Government to court to require that the Secretary of State make regulations to contain that anxiety. The Bill's proposer and the hon. Gentleman might therefore consider that the drafting is not quite all that it should be.

Mr. Leigh: I shall also be brief, particularly in view of the progress that we are making and the very moderate way in which the Bill is being promoted. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) did not really have time to deal with amendments Nos. 45 and 46 in his initial remarks. As drafted, the latter amendment would put the Bill on all fours—if that it the right way to put it—with the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which is an entirely sensible way to proceed. If the amendment were accepted, the Bill would then refer to

The promoter of the Bill undoubtedly did not want to draw it so widely that the Secretary of State would have the power to deal with any possible distress to wild animals. Of course we do not want to cause distress to wild animals, but we must also be in the business of framing sensible legislation that we can enforce. It is difficult to know how such a provision could be enforced in country areas such as the one that I represent. I suppose it is possible that people living in the countryside who let off fireworks in their garden could cause distress to wild animals—I do not know. I suspect that there is insufficient evidence to reach a conclusion one way or the other about the long-term consequences. In any event, it is entirely sensible to use the same language as that contained in the 1911 Act.

11.45 am

There is one sensible point that we need to sum up in a sentence or two, and which was dealt with very well by the hon. Member for Twickenham. Including in the Bill a reference to there being "no risk" that fireworks will cause death, injury, alarm or distress will give rise to great difficulties. It will never be possible to enforce such a provision, and one would never be able to prove that there is no risk that a firework might cause distress; indeed, any kind of firework can do so. Up until last year, my own young son could not stand the thought of being outside when fireworks were being let off—he is now six and is getting a bit better about this matter—and was really frightened by them. We can never say that there is no risk, and in that regard the Bill's drafting is very wide.

I should point out that the Minister unkindly accused me of wanting to kill the Bill. Perhaps she does not know that I used to hold her position as Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs; indeed, I was the Minister with responsibility for fireworks. In the early 1990s, we had to deal with precisely the same issues that are being dealt with now, and there was precisely the

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same pressure for such legislation. Like her, we simply tried to strike a balance, and that is all that we are doing today. A Bill that means that any risk that causes people any anxiety could lead to the Secretary of State's introducing draconian regulations is a step too far.

All that the Government are trying to do, and all that previous Conservative Government tried to do, in this very difficult area is to strike a balance: to allow people to enjoy fireworks in a sensible way, while providing some protection for the public. However, I am afraid that there is a small minority of people who absolutely loathe fireworks, and who will use any mechanism to outlaw them altogether, or to corral them into a very few public displays. That said, I know that that is not the Minister's intention, and that in summing up this debate, she can give us the reassurances that we seek.

Miss Melanie Johnson: I can assure the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that I accept his assurance that he is not in the business of wrecking the Bill; I was merely pointing out the contrast with his activities in 1998. I am therefore grateful for his reassurance on this occasion.

I shall discuss the various amendments and their effect, as it is important that the House be aware of our understanding of them. Amendment No. 45 would not in fact add anything to the Bill. As drafted, the Bill refers to the

That gives us a rounded and comprehensive indication of the problems that people face in respect of fireworks. "Unnecessary suffering", the wording in the amendment, is much vaguer. It would leave the Secretary of State a much freer hand—something that the hon. Gentleman has argued against, and which I feel less, not more comfortable with. Therefore I am puzzled as to why the amendment is before the House, in light of all that the Conservatives have said so far.

Amendment No. 46 is similar to the previous amendment in that it waters down the protection requirements of the Bill. The Bill currently states,

That means all animals, and includes intentional distress or injury to wild animals. Conservative Members do not seem to want that protection afforded to wild animals, and I have some sympathy with where they are coming from, in so far as I think that it is far less likely that injury will occur to wild animals. However, I do not support the amendment, as I think the Bill is better as currently drafted, because there is no doubt in any of our minds that injury or distress to a wild animal or group of wild animals could be as great as it would be to a domestic or captive animal or group of animals.

Mr. Chope: Does that mean that the Minister, and indeed the Government, are in favour of amending the 1911 Act to widen its application to all wild animals?

Miss Johnson: That is a matter for my colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, because that legislation comes within their remit, so I cannot comment on what would happen to that legislation. All I can say is that this provision is appropriate and I stand by the Bill as drafted and presented to the House today.

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In response to amendments Nos. 41 to 44, I agree that clause 2(1) does look a little strange, but in fact it is a well-crafted and sensible provision. The first limb, paragraph (a), is needed for cases when a ban is considered necessary and relevant. I am sure that Conservative Members would support all of us in thinking that there are occasions when a ban is actually necessary. The second limb, paragraph (b), covers regulation short of a ban. Therefore both limbs are needed. "Controlling" the risk, as suggested by the tabled amendment, does not offer the same level of protection as both the existing parts of the Bill.

I point out in that connection that the purpose is to ensure that there is no risk of the consequences specified in subsection (3), which are the death of persons, the death of animals, and the destruction of or damage to property. It is not that there is no risk of something, because I entirely agree with Conservative Members that this is not a risk-free world and we are not living in a world where "no risk" is a sensible objective for any area of life, least of all this one. There will always be risks associated with the use of fireworks and I believe it is the business of the House today to try to ensure that we get the right balance between, on one hand, reducing the dangers and disruption and disorder that are being caused in our communities, which have led so many members of the public, from every constituency, to write to their Member of Parliament, asking us to take more measures to deal with that risk; and on the other, ensuring that people can continue to enjoy fireworks in the way that they always have and in the way that I did as a child in my family when I was growing up and children continue to do today.

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