Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Leigh: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Johnson: I have finished.

Mr. Chope: I am sorry that the Minister is being so short with some hon. Members today, because this is an important proposal. It has won support from a number of other contributors to the debate but the Minister has more or less said, "Because we have produced this particular text, it is correct and it is not worth talking about trying to amend it." That is the spirit of intransigence and inflexibility that leads to trouble with legislation.

Miss Johnson: I am very happy to hear what hon. Members have to say on this point. I am simply seeking to reassure the hon. Gentleman as to the interpretation of the Bill before us today, and of the intentions of the subsections that we are discussing. It is important that people understand why the Government have drafted them as they have, and why we still think that is right, even in light of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Chope: The Minister has not really addressed the issue of how she thinks it is reasonable that a Minister should have the legal responsibility to secure that there is no risk that the use of fireworks will cause distress to wild animals. How can the Government take upon themselves responsibility for securing, to use the exact words, that there is "no risk" whatever that the use of fireworks will cause distress to wild animals? Are we a

13 Jun 2003 : Column 960

madhouse? Do we really think the Government should take that role for themselves? Are we really legislating to give them such a role? I think not. Therefore I, with other hon. Members—many of my party, but others too— cautioned the Minister that what was contained in clause 2—

Mr. Leigh: I wish that the Minister would reply to that point about animals. It is a very good point.

The Minister made some progress in the summing up. I wanted to intervene on her but she sat down rather quickly. She seemed to accept that we do not live in a risk-free society and that there will always be some sort of risk, even a minimal risk, that fireworks might cause death or distress to people. The words that a Minister utters at the Dispatch Box are important, and the hon. Lady seemed to accept that entirely sensible point of view; but for some consequential reason or some drafting reason, she maintains that the words "no risk" must appear in the Bill. That is why I am slightly confused. I hope that my hon. Friend will try to help me on this point.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend asks me to help! I cannot understand why the Government are not prepared to accept the points that we are making about what may be described as a contradiction at the very beginning of clause 2(1), but the notion of trying to eliminate all risk from fireworks is of course the agenda of those who wish to ban fireworks outright. It was encapsulated quite well in the words of the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) on Second Reading, when he asked:

Any firework could maim or kill a young child, and the hon. Gentleman was asking for an absolute assurance.

Miss Johnson: I will try to explain again to the hon. Gentleman. Paragraphs (a) and (b) are alternatives. It is not the case that (a) will always apply, because (b) says,

Therefore there is an option (a) which is related to the need to ban and an option (b) which is related to the need to make regulation; that is the reason. We are not talking about a statement about how much risk there is in the world. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about what the risks are and I agree that we must strike a balance.

Mr. Chope: I think we are reaching a clear position on this now. The Minister has openly said that paragraph (a) enables the Government and the Secretary of State to ban. My hon. Friends and I are concerned about that, so we wish to introduce wording that is less absolutist. We are disappointed.

Mr. George Osborne : My hon. Friend is on to a very important point. Perhaps the Minister would intervene again to explain in what circumstances the Government could seek to ban all fireworks. Why does the Minister feel that the Government need that option?

Mr. Chope: I give way to the Minister.

Miss Johnson: The point is that the purpose of the measure is not to ban all fireworks at all. I am not aware

13 Jun 2003 : Column 961

of any Labour or Opposition Member who has any desire to ban all fireworks—quite the contrary. The Bill is crucial if fireworks are to remain available to the general public under the right conditions. Without it, there is a danger that those who support a ban will get the upper hand. I entirely agree that there are people who want a full ban, but they are not represented in the Chamber today or among hon. Members. We want to be able to implement bans under certain circumstances, and I am sure that Conservative Members would agree with that. We have already taken steps by using existing powers to ban fireworks that were considered dangerous. Bangers have been banned, and we need to be able to continue to do such things.

12 noon

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the Minister for that long intervention. I hope that it provided clarification, although I am not convinced.

Dr. Murrison: I wonder whether the Minister's dilemma would be sorted neatly by the deletion of subsection (1)(a). She could then rely on subsection (1)(b), and any talk of banning things would be eliminated.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is on to a good point. I have been kicking myself quietly for not tabling such an amendment because it would have encapsulated our case more clearly, given the Minister's understanding of the more convoluted amendments. No one wants to prevent the Bill from making progress but we want to protect ourselves against the possibility of a future Secretary of State being keen to ban fireworks outright and using the Bill to justify that. As the Minister will appreciate, no Government can bind their successors. The powers in the Bill—we shall address clause 2(2), which the Minister wishes to remove, in a minute—go to the root of what a future Government might be able to do, which is why I am keen to circumscribe them.

Miss Johnson: Let me make it absolutely plain that the provisions relate to a category of firework or situation for which a ban might be necessary. They would not ban fireworks. We used powers to ban bangers—they are no longer on the market—because they were identified as dangerous fireworks that caused many injuries and much distress. The Bill contains an equivalent provision to allow us to make a ban when that is considered necessary under the objectives in subsection (3). I hope that I am explaining myself sufficiently clearly to the hon. Gentleman because I think he misunderstands the intention behind the provisions. I assure Conservative Members that the drafting was primarily a job for the parliamentary counsel. They bring their wisdom and experience to bear to ensure that legislation is right when it comes before the House.

Mr. Chope: The Minister has explained herself and I hope that her clarification proves to be correct. I doubt whether it is worth pressing the amendment to a Division because it is narrow—it would only substitute the words "there is no" with the word "the". We have

13 Jun 2003 : Column 962

had a useful debate because the Minister told us the intentions behind the measure, and I am sure that if worries remain, they may be raised in another place.

I am disappointed that the Minister does not accept our point about wild animals. How could we possibly legislate to eliminate distress caused to wild animals by fireworks? How could that be policed and how would one know where the wild animals were? The suggestion is ludicrous. However, the Minister seems to be intransigent and I am conscious that amendment No. 44 is part of a group and does not lend itself easily to a vote, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Miss Melanie Johnson: I beg to move Government amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 5 [Clause 2], leave out subsection (2).

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 47, in page 2, line 16, at end insert—

'Before making fireworks regulations the Secretary of State must issue a full regulatory impact assessment setting out details of the costs and benefits and the wider economic social and environmental impact of the proposed regulations'.

No. 48, in page 2, line 18, leave out 'twelve' and insert 'six'.

No. 49, in page 2, line 25, leave out paragraph (b).

Miss Johnson: In Committee on 30 April, an amendment was accepted as a result of a concern about the nature of the powers in the Bill. It was tabled to ensure that any regulations arising from the Bill would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. However, we have had more time to consider the relevance of that amendment. Government amendment No. 1 will reverse the amendment accepted in Committee and restore the Bill to its original form. I hope that the reason for that will become clear.

Clause 2(2) is technically inefficient. No orders as such will be made under the Bill but fireworks regulations will be made under clause 2 that will be subject to the negative procedure under clause 16(3). Fireworks regulations are intended to fill gaps in safety regulations that are made under section 11 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987. Fireworks regulations address both the use and supply of fireworks. Safety regulations are already subject to the negative procedure and an additional advantage of fireworks regulations being subject to the same procedure is that an excessive bureaucratic regulatory process would be avoided by permitting a single set of regulations to be made using powers in both the Bill and the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

It is worth noting that given parliamentary concerns about powers such as those in clauses 1(2) and 14(3)— so-called Henry VIII powers—during the passage of the Fireworks Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) in 1998, regulations made under those clauses, which would not be fireworks regulations made under clause 2, would be subject to the more restrictive affirmative procedure under clause 16(2), which I mentioned when we

13 Jun 2003 : Column 963

considered amendment No. 40. My Department's view is that fireworks regulations do not involve considerations of special importance that might render the affirmative procedure appropriate.

I make it clear to hon. Members that we accepted the amendment in Committee in good faith but that I was subsequently advised that it would cause much difficulty owing to a conflict with regulations made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, which are subject to the negative procedure. That is why we wish to withdraw our acceptance of the amendment. It is important that there is full consultation on all matters and we intend that draft regulations would be produced before consideration of regulations under either the negative or affirmative procedure. However, I am advised that clause 2(2) would cause much difficulty and bureaucracy in order to achieve the same effect, which makes it highly undesirable. The Government hope that hon. Members will accept the amendment.

Next Section

IndexHome Page