Fireworks Bill

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Miss Johnson: I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South about those imports that do not make their way to authorised storage, and about the problems of tracking them. Indeed, I discussed the matter extensively with my officials, the HSE and the industry last year, because of my concerns about the issues. I do not want to go into too much detail on the matter, but I can say that my officials have been in contact with the HSE and the British Fireworks Association since then. The HSE is

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well aware of the issue, and is monitoring it on the basis of the systems that were put in place as a result of my discussions last year, including those held with the local enforcement agencies.

We accept that the broad intention of the powers in clause 9 is to provide advanced warning to enforcement authorities about consignments, and so to facilitate the tracing. We are doing what we can under the existing arrangements to follow that through and, with the Bill, we will be in a better position to make sure that fireworks are appropriately tracked and are only imported and sent to appropriate destinations.

Mr. Tynan: I do not want to prolong the argument, and I hear what the Minister is saying, but the HSE did not know that the warehouse in Liverpool that I mentioned was being used for the storage of fireworks. Obviously, there is a failure in how we are addressing the matter. I recognise that an attempt is being made to resolve this major problem, but it is obviously failing at the moment, as my example of the warehouse demonstrates. It is important that, when we move into the firework season, which has been extended and extended, we deal with the matter in a proper and comprehensive way. I urge the Minister to re-examine the current conditions with a view to strengthening them.

Miss Johnson: I trust that that is what we are doing under clause 9, which recognises that we need more powers.

It would be deeply surprising if some things had happened of which enforcement authorities were not aware. Even the best enforcement authorities are bound to find something from time to time that comes as an unpleasant surprise, but I believe that we have done all that we can and argued all that we can under the existing legislation.

My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Anniesland and for Cleethorpes talked about mail order and internet selling. Those are very difficult issues, and it is difficult to know exactly what conditions we could apply where the source is outside the UK. I respect their concerns, as I believe that we will have to consider these matters to try to find a way of dealing with them.

There are, however, facets of mail order, and of internet selling in particular, that go way beyond the issue of fireworks and into questions of what is being bought and sold via the internet and how it is supplied. All sorts of issues relating to health and safety, and other issues, also arise from those sales. We will, however, see whether we can address these issues under the Bill. I should say, however, that only a tiny percentage of current sales are made through those routes. Fireworks are usually supplied legitimately via UK ports and through authorised retailers of one sort or another.

John Robertson: Does my hon. Friend the Minister accept that the amount may be small at the moment, but that it is a good way for people to circumvent the law? I understand that the internet may cause a problem in many instances, but mail order is different: it must come through some form of customs if it is coming from outside the country, and it can be seen.

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My problem with the internet is that sales can be made outside the country but posted inside it. I accept what my hon. Friend says, but I believe that we can do something about mail order.

Miss Johnson: My hon. Friend may be right about entry into the UK at the ports. Fireworks are often a legitimate product and can be imported—there is no issue about that—but there are wider issues about fireworks in the post. I understand my hon. Friend's point, but fireworks can enter the country and be distributed throughout it in all sorts of ways. We will have to see whether a significant market develops in this area, but my intuition is that consumers will tend to want to buy fireworks locally. That has been the tradition. The increase in internet and mail order sales in other areas has not been mirrored to the same degree in the purchase of fireworks. I do not belittle the problem in any way. I want to find a way of dealing with it, but believe that it is probably one of the most difficult issues that we could face.

Mr. Weir: It appears that if we accept clauses 3 to 5, anyone supplying fireworks will have to satisfy themselves that they are satisfying the relevant conditions, whether fireworks are supplied through the internet or by mail, otherwise they leave themselves open to prosecution in the UK. It is perhaps not quite the serious problem that is suggested. There is always the serious problem of tracing them in the first place; that is the real difficulty.

Miss Johnson: If they are supplied within the UK, the issue is easier to address. Problems arise where they are supplied outside the UK. With internet sales in particular, the source can obviously be outside the UK, and the problem is much more difficult to act on.

Mr. Weir: If the difficulty is that the fireworks have been ordered over the internet but supplied from within the UK, the other clauses would cover those suppliers, irrespective of the fact that the order had been placed over the internet.

Miss Johnson: Indeed, providing that one could ascertain that a sale had been made. An internet website that is linked to a white van parked somewhere in the UK could be difficult to track down. We can imagine all sorts of scenarios in which it would be difficult for the enforcement authorities to act, but I will bear in mind the concerns expressed by hon. Members, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South will. We will consider the topic further if, as we hope, the Bill is eventually enacted.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Offences

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

4 pm

Andrew Selous: I shall briefly raise a couple of points that were raised on Second Reading. Perhaps the Minister can give me some comfort as to what

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could be done about them. The Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997 are not particularly effective. There is a problem with the inability to hand out on-the-spot fines to those aged under 18. My district council in south Bedfordshire has told me that it cannot take action against offenders unless the offence is persistent, which quite often it is not. I wonder whether that issue could be worked into the Bill or other legislation coming before the House. I should be grateful for any comments from the Minister about how those aspects of current law are not serving us well.

Miss Johnson: I believe that on-the-spot fines can be imposed on over-18s under one of the fairly recent Home Office Acts; I do not think that it is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. There is an additional defence for suppliers relating to the prohibition on supplying fireworks to young persons that may be introduced by regulations under clause 3. We propose to make on-the-spot fines for the under-18s possible. That would enable us to tackle many age ranges with which current legislation does not help us.

The 1997 regulations deal only with issues relating to the supply of fireworks, not their use. That may be what the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire has in mind. The Explosives Act 1875 is the current legislation in respect of letting fireworks off in a public place. As I said, I think that we introduced on-the-spot fines for the over-18s following recent Home Office legislation. We will want fixed penalty provision for under-18s, not only for abusing fireworks but for many other forms of antisocial behaviour such as breaking windows.

Shona McIsaac: The hon. Member for Blaby said that it was already an offence to let a firework off in the street but he doubted whether anyone had ever been ''done'' for that activity. I wonder whether other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Minister, received a letter from Coventry city council detailing how Coventry police officers were the first in the west midlands to impose on-the-spot fines for throwing fireworks in the street. That scheme is successful and we should extend it, rather than just having pilot schemes. The council also says that it has a mystery shopper campaign—I presume that that is through trading standards legislation—that has netted several retailers selling fireworks to children, and it has prosecuted for that. Regulations can be effective and I hope that those successes are echoed throughout Britain when the Bill is enacted.

Miss Johnson: My hon. Friend is right. Some of the pilots have encouraged us to think that on-the-spot fines and fixed penalties will work and will provide a rapid route to penalising those who break the law in that way. The police and other enforcement authorities will find it a useful tool. In relation to the other point made by my hon. Friend, it is important that we recognise that we can take the proposal forward and ensure that it is a success.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 16

Parliamentary procedure for regulations

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

Mr. Robathan: This is almost certainly the last time that I—and perhaps anyone else—will say anything in this Committee, so I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hamilton, South on introducing the Bill and on steering it through Committee, which is not always easy. I am delighted that it has got through its Committee stage. We support any measure that improves the lives of our constituents without unreasonable penalty or spoiling other people's enjoyment. We wish the Bill a fair wind.

However, we are concerned because this is an enabling Bill. I do not impugn the Minister's motivation; I am optimistic that she will be sensible in introducing regulations. In 1997, the hon. Lady's predecessor, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, introduced regulations by statutory instrument. There is no specific content as yet, but I should like to know what extra powers the clause gives the Government that they do not already have to introduce a statutory instrument.

 
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