Fireworks Bill

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John Robertson: I have received representations from Glasgow city council, which is the biggest in Scotland and one of the biggest in the UK. It said that the only way to ensure proper licensing is through local councils. It supports the Bill fully but feels that local councils must have a say on all licensing. That will mean that records can be kept locally and the licences dealt with properly.

Will the Minister also consider mail order and internet selling? I appreciate that the internet is a grey area that is difficult to govern, but mail order in Britain will be covered by some licensing. They are both grey areas where people who try to avoid the law often operate. Will she comment on that?

Huw Irranca-Davies: I have two brief points for the Minister's consideration. The first is to welcome the fact that these licences, as is the case with liquor licences, will be for named individuals rather than premises, so that representations can be made on the unworthiness of a certain individual.

Secondly, will the Minister give further consideration to the revocation of licences, which is an important part of the clause, and the possible scope for temporary revocation? If there were evidence of selling to underage or undesirable people, I would fully agree with revoking the licence permanently. However, if the problem is a minor, technical one in respect of health and safety—perhaps involving storage or security—there may be some scope for a temporary

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revocation, in the way that restaurants and cafeterias with environmental health problems are dealt with.

Miss Johnson: The Explosives Act 1875 deals with the storage requirements for explosives, including fireworks. However, it does not allow for a differentiation among fireworks. That distinction is lacking, so it is open to any retailer to stock and sell both the largest and smallest available fireworks. That has been a cause of concern to enforcement authorities and safety organisations for some time. I know from the comments that hon. Members have made that it is also of concern to the Committee. Clause 7 allows for the introduction of a licensing system, relating to both retailers and their premises, for the sale of fireworks, or particular types of fireworks.

That will be a helpful distinction. We believe that licensing will be a solution to many of the problems relating to the sale of the fireworks. Therefore, I agree that we need to examine the issue, but we must also be careful that regulations are not too prescriptive, and that they do not place undue burdens on the retailers or local authorities that will have to operate them. I bear in mind the enthusiasm of the Glasgow authorities when considering local authority involvement in those schemes.

3.45 pm.

We have been thinking about the best way of enacting the provisions, and my officials have had several discussions with representatives of the local authority co-ordinators of regulatory services. Discussions have also taken place with some of the representative bodies of retailers. We need to ensure that we do not create new requirements that will place additional burdens on retailers or enforcement bodies. We have been working with the Health and Safety Executive—

Mr. Tynan: I wish to address the issue of additional expense. If the local authority were able to recover funds through the cost of the licence, we would avoid a position in which there would be additional expense for the authority. Would that not represent the best way forward?

Miss Johnson: My hon. Friend is suggesting some practical answers that may well be implemented. However, we need to bear in mind that we do not want to put additional burdens on retailers or enforcement bodies. We are working with the Health and Safety Executive, which is currently reviewing the manufacture and storage of explosives regulations, to ascertain whether those regulations could meet the Bill's requirements. I understand that the current revision of those regulations will offer a cost-recoverable licence or storage fee, which would be dependent on the number of fireworks that the retailer wishes to store. Local authority licensing authorities will be able to refuse and revoke licenses if a retailer is deemed to be unfit. I bear in mind the points that were made by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Anniesland and for Ogmore.

Mr. Tynan: I wish to explore the position of the manufacture and storage of explosives regulations. Am I right in saying that they apply to a certain

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quantity, and if that quantity were less than a tonne of fireworks, the regulations would not be applicable?

Miss Johnson: My hon. Friend, who has been studying these matters carefully, may well be right. I do not have the figure in front of me, but I will converse with him later about that matter. The revocation of a licence could also happen if there were a breach of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. Therefore, there is more than one avenue to go down. Breaches might include storing too many fireworks on the premises, or storing them in the wrong type of container.

The regulations do not currently allow us to refuse or revoke a licence if a retailer has sold fireworks to someone under 18, or has broken other consumer retail legislation. Both the ability to refuse or revoke licences for something, other than for registration or storage purposes, and the periods for which licences are to be issued are still matters to be resolved. However, we are continuing to have discussions with all interested parties, including the HSE, to see how clause 7 might be implemented in the regulations.

I have a great deal sympathy both with the sorts of solutions suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South and the comments that a number of other hon. Members have made, including those of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dudley, North. We need to recognise cultural diversity, but we must be careful not to operate a system that assumes that boundaries around each authority area are like the Berlin wall. Different licensing arrangement could be operating from one authority to another. It is not difficult now for someone to trek down the road and buy an out-of-season product that is thought to be appropriate for a particular community.

Many issues must be examined, but there are practical ways forward, and we need to find a sensitive system that recognises that people might get into difficulties, but that those difficulties need to be dealt with without severe punishment. We need a system in which a licence can be revoked or refused, so that we can use the licence as an important part of the correct implementation of other aspects of the Bill to ensure that it bites on those who are issued with licences and that they must abide by them. That will be safer and less hazardous for communities.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Prohibition of importation etc. of fireworks

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

Mr. Tynan: I shall draw attention to some of the relevant issues relating to importation, distribution and storage.

Everyone will be aware of the blaze at the fireworks warehouse in Liverpool last week. A toy factory caught fire, and when firefighters went to put out the blaze, they found that an adjoining warehouse was

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storing fireworks. The roof was blown off the warehouse, and the firefighters were not equipped in the first instance to deal with that. I spoke to the gentleman who is the commander of the station, and he expressed concern that the Health and Safety Executive was unaware that the warehouse had been used for storing fireworks.

I shall comment on one of the major difficulties of importation. We talk about antisocial behaviour, and the enormous problem of white van sales and car boot sales, but those are all wrapped up in a situation in which containers of fireworks are being brought into the country. It is rumoured that about 10 tonnes of fireworks are coming into the country for a company that does not have adequate storage areas for that quantity of fireworks. At present, a container comes into the country at Felixstowe, Customs and Excise checks to make sure that the contents are as they should be, then it is released to go on its merry way. There is no guarantee that it is going to a proper licensed storage area.

When I went to Kimbolton Fireworks, I was impressed by the fact that it uses a disused aircraft hanger. That is a secure and proper place to store fireworks. I understand that, because it is licensed, the HSE pays regular visits to nit-pick. The HSE nit-picks about how the material is stored and what sort of fireworks are there, while containers of fireworks coming into the country are not going to licensed storage areas. The HSE is powerless because the fireworks are not licensed. It does not know where the fireworks are going, and there is no tracking mechanism. Along with noise, that is one of the most important issues that the Bill has to address.

We must have a system to prevent unscrupulous retailers bringing fireworks into the country and distributing them to those who are under age through car boot sales or ice-cream vans. The clause is the mechanism to address that. How does the Minister envisage that system operating, because it is essential? I do not believe that there is joined-up thinking between Customs and Excise, the HSE and local authorities on the matter, or that we are ensuring that fireworks brought into the country are being taken to proper storage areas.

Shona McIsaac: My point relates to some of those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland. If we are talking about the importation of fireworks, we should consider also the impact of internet and mail order sales from abroad, as well as within this country. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give some thought to that under the Bill.

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