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Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Is not one of the WTO's greatest strengths its provision of the rule of law to stop discriminatory behaviour, and to stop the rich from bullying the poor? What steps are being taken to strengthen the dispute settlement procedure, and to halt the slide into bilateral and unilateral action?
Alan Johnson: The matter was discussed briefly in Hong Kong in the context of other focus rules. There is much work still to be done, but member states recognise as a major attribute of the WTO the fact that if something happens, there is a rules-based system to deal with it. When we were in Hong Kong, the Polish representatives told us about a problem that they were having with Russia, which is not a member of the WTO. That problem could have been resolved if both countries had been members.
Such problems are important, and they will be sorted out by means of the rules. We made a little progress in Hong Kongnot very much, but I do not think that the round will stand or fall on that basis. I think that we shall find a solution.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): May I take this opportunity to wish the right hon. Gentleman a happy and relaxing Christmas with his young family? I wonder whether, when he has time to reflect, he will regret sending a departmental Christmas card to his erstwhile right hon. Friend Peter Mandelson. Is it not a fact that Commissioner Mandelson is now the most effective exponent of the interests of French farmers, and is it not a fact that the deal that the EU put on the table would have cut agriculture subsidies by just 1 per cent. in real terms? Does it not now appear that until Commissioner Mandelson is history, the aspirations of the Make Poverty History campaigners are but a distant dream?
Alan Johnson: No, because that was not the focus of the discussions, but north-north trade is very important. There was a significant development in Brussels a couple of months ago, when we opened a dialogue with the United States Government about EU-US trade. The hon. Gentleman is right: there are a number of barriers. Let me add that it would be good if we opened up trade in services within the EU as well as across the world.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): While the conference may not be termed an abject failure, ultimately it represents limited failure. During the general election a number of us met representatives of trade justice organisations, and a number of us have been to Africa and seen at first hand the impact that blockages of progress are having daily on hundreds of millions of people in the poorest parts of the world. The Secretary of State has been honest today in naming names when discussing the guilty countries. What more can be done in the European Unionalthough we shall lose the presidency at the end of the yearto give us a more positive role and the opportunity to take more positive action, and to provide a more united front enabling us to assist the poorest people in the world?
On reflection, after six months of chairing committeesthe DTI has a huge number of committees dealing with telecoms, energy and so forthI think that getting rid of the presidency cap and once more being able to express the UK view on trade, a view that unites the House, will do us a great deal of good. It will allow us to join our increasing number of allies. I believe that there is also a role for the electorate in the various countries. Representatives from New Zealand and Australia told us how difficult it was to face up to the electorate when it came to changing farm subsidies in their countries.
Just before we went to Hong Kong, we saw the depressing results of a poll to find out how individuals felt in various countries around the world. They did not give these issues the prominence that might have been expected by the Trade Justice Movement and Make Poverty History. There is a great deal of work to be done to get public opinion on our side. When we have done so, we can change the views of member states.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Despite Britain's best efforts, were we not badly let down by our EU counterparts? Does the Secretary of State agree with the Make Poverty History campaign that although EU decision makers have been quick to echo the words of trade justice campaigners, they have not changed their policies in practice? Is not Britain being let down by a combination of pressure from overfed French farmers and ineffective leadership from the EU's Trade Commissioner?
I do not agree. I certainly feel that some member states were making life difficult and will need to have a complete rethink about their approach if we are to reach a successful conclusion, but I am absolutely
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sure that all member states want a successful round and none wants to be responsible for its failure. There is political pressure in that respect.
As for Commissioner Mandelson and Commissioner Fischer Boel, they did sterling work on behalf of the EU last week. They were in a negotiation. It was not an "Anne of Green Gables" world in which everyone just says nice things about each other; they had to negotiate a settlement that had the agreement of all their 25 member states, and would then have the agreement of 150 WTO countries. That was a very difficult task. I think that they performed it wonderfully, and I do not think it helps anyone to personalise the issue and apply it to one or two individuals.
At this time of good will, I do not wish to be seen as some sort of party-pooper; nor do I wish the House to think that I bear deep resentment towards Guy Fawkes. I think it right for the voice of animals to be heard at this time, however.
Let me begin by acknowledging the efforts of many Members of Parliament to establish fireworks Bills and regulations in law. I especially congratulate Bill Tynan, who fought tirelessly for a year to ensure that legislation reached the statute book. It was long overdue, and in hindsight I think that it may not have gone quite far enough, but it has given the House a foundation on which to work. To be even-handed, I also praise the British Fireworks Association for working closely with Bill Tynan and the Government. I know that it has been doing its best to comply with the Fireworks Act since 2003.
Regulations produced in 2004 set the maximum noise level from fireworks that can be bought over the counter at 120 dB. As we are made aware only too often, the bangs seem to be getting louder and louder. The RSPCA's figures show that the new regulations have, sadly, made no difference to the increasing number of calls that it receives about the distress suffered by animals as a result of fireworks. In fact, the society has reported a shocking 82 per cent. increase in the number of calls that it received between Friday 4 November and Sunday 6 November.
A child should never be exposed to any noise louder than 120 dB, but the thinking behind the current legislation seems to be that that is an adequate level. Animals' noise threshold is much lower than that of humans. I am the owner of a dog called Michael who holds the title of laziest dog not just in the country but in the world, but as he lay there listening to fireworks this year he practically jumped out of his skin because the noises were so loud. Dogs can pick up frequencies that the human ear cannot.
Research conducted by the excellent RSPCA organisation shows that the distress suffered by thousands of animals up and down the country would be dramatically reduced if the fireworks available to the public for private displays were no louder than 97 dB. The Minister may be pondering how the figure of 97 dB was arrived at. Animals get used to normal household and everyday noises, such as doors slamming, the washing machine and the television being on, and apparently 97 dB covers those activities and more.
The RSPCA told me about a case concerning Claire Patterson and her dog, Mabel, from Newquay. On 5 November this year, Claire was walking her two Jack Russells, Mabel and Travis, along the beach during the day, when fireworks unexpectedly went off. Both dogs bolted from the noise and, while Claire managed to catch Travis, Mabel ran all the way into the town centre. She was hit by cars and subsequently died. That is not
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an isolated or exaggerated case. Another incident reported to the RSPCA was that of a horse terrified by fireworks set off this year near a field where it was tethered: it managed to get free and was running dangerously loose in the local high street.
The results of the RSPCA's annual veterinary survey, to which a total of 190 vets responded, are worrying. There were 34 cases of animals injured by fireworks and 3,639 animals treated for stressin the majority of cases, by sedatives. The symptoms that the animals displayed included vocalisation, hyperventilation, destructive behaviour, loss of appetite, licking or panting, shaking, hiding, whimpering, urination and self-harm. I suppose that Members of Parliament might occasionally display them[Interruption.] Not only is it distressing for the animal, it is equally distressing for the owner, who has no power to remove the cause of the fear.
Dogs are most affected: 88 per cent. of all reported cases involved dogs; 10 per cent. involved cats; and horses and other small mammals made up the final 2 per cent. If 3,639 animals were treated for stress by the 190 vets who responded to the RSPCA survey, just how many cases were there in the UK as a whole? That is very worrying indeed. Only five of the veterinary surgeries surveyed3 per cent.reported a decrease in the cases they had seen, and 97 per cent. of veterinary surgeries reported that the number of cases had either increased or stayed the same. It is clear from those figures that the fireworks regulations are not working exactly as Bill Tynan or, indeed, the Minister, would have wanted.
Sadly, the trauma that fireworks cause is not confined to just one weekend a year. Even though regulations restrict the times of year and time of night at which fireworks may be let off, they are, in reality, extremely difficult to enforce. There is nothing to stop a person stockpiling fireworks in November in order to use them throughout the year. About 51 per cent. of the vets who responded to the RSPCA survey reported their first cases in October. It is unrealistic to think that the police, with the enormous amount of work that they have to do, can check every complaint that the general public makes.
In addition, although the curfew is somewhat helpful to domestic pet owners, who can shut in their animals, it does not recognise the plight of farmed animals or wildlife. It is difficult to explain to a distressed horse, for example, that a firework being let off before midnight is any less terrifying than one being let off after midnight.
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Let me make it clear, in conclusion, that I do not want to spoil hon. Members' enjoyment of fireworksfar from it. Public firework displays organised by local authorities and administered by experienced pyrotechnicians are perfectly adequate events for people to enjoy. They are more impressive, considerably safer and are advertised well so that people know when to make arrangements for their animals. The country will fully expect a spectacular extravaganza for the opening and ending ceremonies at the London Olympics in 2012. If the Southend pier is repaired by that time, I hope that fireworks will be displayed on it. My proposed Bill has no intention of thwarting the celebrations of this fantastic achievement for British sport. It will be in place purely to prevent the public from buying loud fireworks.
The Bill seeks to prevent the sale of fireworks over 97 dB, but popular fireworks such as Roman candles, rockets and fountains will still be on sale. They are often much more visually impressive than the loud rockets and do not necessitate curfews or other limitations. The RSPCA rejects the claim that the 120 dB limit prevents even the noisiest fireworks on the market from being manufactured. An independent study showed that no firework tested even reached 120 dB, indicating that the fireworks that cause distress to animals now are less than 120 dB.
The fireworks industry has claimed that it is practically impossible to produce fireworks that do not exceed specific noise limits. However, some firework manufacturers have proven them wrong. Clearly defined construction specifications will reduce noise levels, and one of the easiest ways to do that would be to make the firework itself smaller. That would not affect the visual display in any way, and would have the benefit of improving the lives of thousands of animals, as well as those of their owners, in this country.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Norman Baker, James Brokenshire, Mr. Roger Gale, Dr. Brian Iddon, Lynne Jones, Shona McIsaac, Rob Marris, Mr. Eric Martlew, Bob Russell, Joan Walley and Miss Ann Widdecombe.
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