Fireworks Bill

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Miss Johnson: I understand my hon. Friend's points. I am also minded to recognise the more general concerns expressed by hon. Members and to consider further how these issues may be dealt with. I am grateful to all those who have raised those points with me.

On the question of responsible retailing and what happens on retail premises, in many cases it is not the responsible retailers who are at fault, but unauthorised and possibly unlicensed outlets. Fireworks can make their way to the likes of car boot sales and other unofficial places of sale, and we must find a way of ensuring that fireworks are tracked through the system and go to places that are licensed to sell them and are appropriate for storage.

Shona McIsaac: My hon. Friend may recall that I drew her attention on another occasion to the case of a licensed retailer whose shop is open all year round. The flyer that advertises it states that it offers free alcohol to adults and free sweets to the kids. Can anything be done to stop such incentives on flyers?

Miss Johnson: We want to work with the industry and those in retailing on campaigns that focus on responsible retailing and that strongly emphasise the desirability of people signing up to a code of practice, which is currently only voluntary but which the legislation would enable us to give more force to. That will be another advantage of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Prohibition of supply etc. of certain fireworks

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3.30 pm

Mr. Robathan: The clause is particularly relevant to the supply of large fireworks for displays and to people who might have been trained. I should like to return to the issue of noise, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes. I am sure that she did not mean to say that antisocial behaviour and noise had increased since 1997, although her remarks highlighted the law of unintended consequences. The supply of bangers was banned in 1997 by the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths). That appears to have led to a large increase in the use of airbombs. The Minister has referred to the fact that a voluntary ban on airbombs will take something like 10 million bangs out of the market in the coming year. What does she intend to prohibit under this clause, given that airbombs are probably the biggest problem and they will be disappearing from the streets in the coming months?

Miss Johnson: It is difficult to say at this point, because the regulations have not been discussed in detail. When one thing is banned, there is a danger

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that something else will take its place. I therefore commend the fact that the Bill empowers the Government to issue regulations to deal with things as they develop; that is the advantage of not including specifics in primary legislation. I support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes about noise: because the cost of fireworks has come down and the number of bangs has gone up, fireworks are reaching young people who can get a large number of loud bangs for their pocket money, and use them as a way of disrupting communities. The airbomb ban will make a huge difference, because airbombs have become a substitute for bangers.

In consequence of our discussions about the importance of noise, we shall look again at the measures in order to ensure that we do not end up with a further substitute. The industry is equally concerned to ensure that the public can enjoy fireworks at sensible noise levels without suffering the sort of disruption that takes place at the moment. It is keen to work with us and with the other relevant organisations. Those who are concerned with the measures, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South, are working to ensure that fireworks are produced at a reasonable cost—in packs rather than singly, for example—and that future firework production will conform with any measure we introduce to deal with noise.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Subsection (4) relates to

    ''the satisfactory completion of a course, or courses, of training''.

I was caught up in something of a firefight over the issue of noise when we debated who should be consulted under clause 2. I know that the Minister will consult the Health and Safety Executive and other advisers. Can I ask her to take soundings from independent retailers associations?

This is a welcome subsection. It is necessary for retailers to have appropriate training so that responsible retailers are rewarded. However, I would not want onerous duties or the time or money spent on training to put a local retailer on the corner in Pontycymer out of business. That retailer services the needs of the community by providing good, responsible fun with fireworks.

Miss Johnson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. The clause could, for example, be used to prevent anyone who had not satisfactorily passed a training course from being supplied with some types are fireworks. I do not think that the application of the clause in relation to training is related to supply so much as to use. However, there might be some training issues to do with whether people have a sufficient understanding to ensure that the fireworks are satisfactorily stored and sold.

I take my hon. Friend's point about consulting widely, which we want to do. Consultations normally consist of several months of discussion with interested parties. Bearing in mind the points that my hon. Friend made, I shall try to alert all groups that might be interested in responding. Given the number of groups interested in the matter, as well as the number of hon. Members, I am sure that there will be wide engagement in any future discussions.

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Mr. Weir: I have one small point about subsection (4), which also mentions insurance cover against liability. If, in dealing with that matter, the Minister can specify training courses, will she also give help on insurance to those undertaking such courses? It is becoming increasingly difficult for even well-organised displayers to get appropriate public liability insurance. As she knows, that problem affects many businesses, but it also affects fireworks displayers. In a recent case, a well-organised fireworks displayer in my constituency who had operated for many years without incident had great difficulty in obtaining suitable public liability insurance to allow the display to continue.

Miss Johnson: The insurance that people obtain is a matter for them and their organisations, but I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point. When my children were much younger, they and my family were frequently the beneficiaries of the fireworks display at a local school. The parent teacher association or the school needed cover of the kind that the hon. Gentleman talked about to run the display. There will be more reassurance for those providing insurance cover as a result of the measures that the Bill is likely to make possible. Those measures can only result in more rather than less reasonable insurance premiums, because the more concern and risk there is, the more people will want to increase the premium. At the end of the day, however, it is a matter of what insurance cover individuals can obtain.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Licensing of suppliers

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Tynan: I wish to investigate licensing. I am concerned that local authorities and trading standards officers now grant permits at £13. I would hope that the intention behind the Bill is for someone who wishes to sell fireworks to apply to a local authority, which would supply a licence. At present a licence or permit that has been granted cannot be revoked or refused the following year even if there is a breach of the regulations in, say, the manner of storage. I want the Minister's assurance that local authorities will be given the powers to refuse, revoke or rescind a licence if any conditions are breached during the licensing period.

Because of the different cultures that we have in this country, I also want there to be the possibility of higher-tier licences. That would mean that any retailer who wanted to sell fireworks all year round would have to meet stringent conditions and pay a higher licence fee. If we do not do that, we will allow the current situation to continue: people will be able to get hold of fireworks without any just reason, thus continuing the growth in antisocial behaviour, so it is important to get the licensing system right through the local authorities.

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I know that new regulations on the manufacture and storage of explosives, which are due to be introduced in 2004, may be a suitable vehicle for that, but local authorities will want the scope to grant a cheaper licence to people who want to sell for only a limited period of time during the year. That should be addressed.

Ross Cranston: This is an important clause because vacant shops in Dudley suddenly open to sell fireworks without any attempt to comply with a voluntary code. I am sure that other Members have experienced similar cases in their constituencies. There is also the problem of car-boot sales. The clause is properly drafted and will cover, in subsection (3), the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes about incentives. They could be limited in the conditions imposed on licensees.

I want to draw the Committee's attention to clause 7(2)(c), which refers to conditions and the time of year. This point was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South. Other hon. Members may, like me, have received a letter from Councillor John McNicholas, of Coventry city council, in which he makes a point that is also appropriate to Dudley. He notes that the west midlands is a multicultural region and that different ethnic minority groups have festivals at different times of the year. Licences will have to be granted in different regions at different times of the year to take into account that cultural diversity. Clause 7(2)(c) seems wide enough to cover that, and I simply want the Minister's confirmation that regulations could be drafted to cover the problem I mentioned earlier.

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