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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths):
May I respond to the debate in the spirit in which it was raised? These are important issues, and it is regrettable that that day will be lost. No discourtesy was intended to the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), to Mr. Speaker or to the House. Indeed, agreement was reached through the usual channels. I shall certainly draw the hon. Members remarks to the attention of the Leader of the House, and I know that Mr. Speaker himself will follow our proceedings. I hope that it will be possible to find an
early occasion on which to consider those important matters in Westminster Hall so that hon. Members can be satisfied that they will be able to express their concerns and hold the Government to account. I hope that that assurance is helpful to the hon. Member, and to other hon. Members.
That Mr Mark Harper be discharged from the Administration Committee and Mr Simon Burns and Mr Christopher Chope be added.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I wish to present a petition signed by more than 2,000 people from my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) about our local health services. I pay tribute to The Bucks Herald, particularly its editor, Mr. David Summers, and its health correspondent, Mr. Tim Green, for their work on the Dear Patricia campaign.
The petition of the citizens of Bucks and others, declares that expansion plans for any community must be supported by improvements to health services.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Health to provide reassurances that the health infrastructure can cope and detail what improvements are planned to support Aylesbury Vales growth plan.
I have a truly remarkable constituent, Teresa Kulkarni, who has been an indefatigable, resolute, determined and passionate campaigner on firework nuisance for many years. She recently collected 129,397 signatures for a petition that calls for an outright ban on the retail sale of fireworks, and for fireworks to be restricted to licensed public displays. On Wednesday afternoon, my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and I accompanied Teresa Kulkarni and representatives of other organisations to No. 10, where we presented the petition in two large suitcasesI do not know what security staff thought we were doing. We had to wait until the Japanese ambassador left No. 10 before politely knocking on the door. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister did not come answer himself, as he was awaiting the arrival of a Head of State, whom he obviously thought was more important. I understand and sympathise, as our petition consisted of many bundles of paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering will testify that it really was a most impressive performance. We handed that huge petition over to the perplexedand good-humouredstaff at No. 10. Tomorrow night, assuming the Journal Office approves it, I shall present a copy of the petition that Teresa Kulkarni presented to No. 10 to the House. However, tonight I am fortunate in having secured this Adjournment debate, because I am very concerned about firework nuisance. I have every sympathy with the outstanding determination and tenacity of my constituent, Teresa Kulkarni. She is concerned about the impact that firework nuisance is having on hundreds of thousands of people throughout the land.
We all know that the firework season is getting ever longer, and we all know that fireworks have a very damaging impact on people, structures and animals. I want to discuss those categories. When I describe to Members some of the examples that have been brought to my attention of the level of nuisance that occurs, they will realise that there are problems not only in a few isolated cases, but across the country.
I received an e-mail this morning from Teresa Kulkarni about last night5 November. She said that she had been to a house in King John avenue in Kings Lynn where there is a large rocket-stick wedged in a hole that it made in the guttering. The gentleman who owns the house was out at the time, and the rocket landed in the guttering near to the room where he keeps his computer. That is a frightening example of what can happen during the firework season. Let me give another example: at 4.30 yesterday, a firework rocket landed on the roof of a house in Springwood in my constituency.
My researcher, Mr. Harry Buxton, joined me recently on an internship. He was travelling on a 211 bus along the Kings road. As the bus stopped at a
junction, a very large firework exploded in front of the windscreen. The bus driver was forced to take evasive action and swerved right across the junction; he cut across the oncoming part of the highway. Mercifully, there was no car or pedestrian in the way of the bus, but if there had been, there undoubtedly would have been a very unpleasant accident.
A man and a young child have been treated in hospital after a firework exploded on a bus.
Members know that we are not allowed to use props in this House, but if I could use a prop, I would hold up a photograph of an ER post box located on Holbeach bank. It is a traditional cast-iron post box that would probably originally have had a GR sign on it, before it had an ER sign. On Sunday 29 October, a hooligan put a powerful banger into that post box, and it was absolutely ripped apart. If anyone had been in the vicinity, they would have been seriously injured, because shrapnel flew across the road. Indeed, all the mail in the post box was seriously damaged, and some of it destroyed.
I have looked at other headlines, and things get worse. In the past week, there have been several incidents of fireworks being posted through peoples letterboxes. I have an example that happened in Redditch. The article states:
Police are investigating an arson attack on a house after a lit firework was pushed through a letterbox, causing damage estimated to cost £600.
A newspaper headline from Rushden in Northamptonshire, which is near the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), said, Letterbox firework scorches door. The article continued:
Police are investigating an arson attack after a lit rocket was posted through the letterbox
An investigation has begun after an arson attack.
A headline from a Nuneaton paper, dated 31 October, said, Yobs throw firework into garage of 93-year-old. A 93-year-old man was taken to hospital after yobs threw a firework into his garage, starting a blaze. A headline from 3 November said, Firework thrown into restaurant. Four people were arrested over allegations of a firework incident in a restaurant in Peterborough, which is very near my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering.
That is bad enoughuntil one considers the individuals who have been badly injured by fireworks. On 3 November, Mr. Robert Mepham, who is 65 and suffers from very bad arthritis, had a firework thrown at him when he was walking near his home in Spinney Hills, Leicester. A firework was also thrown from a car at a postman in Soulton road, Telford, Shropshire; the postman was injured and taken to hospital. Another incident occurred in the west midlands when an individual who was minding his own business walking
down the street had a firework thrown at him. It struck him in the face and he was seriously injured. He suffered burns and blistering and blurred vision, and was taken to hospital.
More than 1,000 people are injured every year as a result of firework nuisance. That is a very serious situation, but there is also a serious impact on animals. I have examined some of the cases involving animalsdefenceless creatures that cannot help themselves and pets that have put great faith in human beings. Pets are very loyal. I own a labrador myself, and I have owned horses and cattle in the past. Indeed, I have owned all sorts of pets, and they have great faith in human beings. They trust us, and we owe it to them to act in a completely responsible way toward them. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, who was with us last Wednesday when we handed in the petition to No. 10, is involved with an equitation centre and understands horses. Horses, of all animals, show touching faith in us humans.
According to a survey of veterinarians, every year 4,500 animals are hurt by fireworks and treated for injury, of which 16 are destroyed by vets. I pay tribute to the campaign of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has highlighted the number of firework incidents involving animals. It has a huge amount of documentation on this issue and sent me an excellent briefing entitled, Keep The Noise Down: reduce that limit from 120 decibels to 97 decibels. It does not want to ban the retail sale of fireworks as my constituent Mrs. Kulkarni does, but it says that there is an urgent need to reduce the noise of fireworks. It takes the view that getting the noise level down by about 23 decibels would have a profound impact, in that it would protect a lot of animals from serious nuisance and disturbance and, in many cases, injury.
Let us consider some of the animals that have suffered as a result of firework nuisance. I have done some research and looked at the papers over the past few days, and I have some examples here. One headline describes how a Prize dog dies in firework scare. The report continued:
A sheepdog which represented England in trials is run over and killed after being scared by fireworks. Skerry jumped an 8ft fence.
A cat was shot dead with an air rifle and then had its abused with a lit firework in West Yorkshire.
In another case, on 21 October, an incident took place just across the central belt from your part of the world, Mr. Speaker. In Drylaw, Edinburgh, a headline said, Cat scarred after firework attack. The report began:
A cat is recovering after an attack in which fireworks were taped to its side and set off.
A loud bang went off and dog bolted. That night the police returned his collar.
The dog has not been seen since. A headline on BBC Online on 25 October said that fireworks were turning dogs to drugs. It said that fireworks are scaring, unsettling and psychologically damaging many dogs and cats so much so that they are now being prescribed drugs to cope with explosions.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham is concerned about horses, and there have been there have been several examples of horses that have bolted after being frightened by fireworks that were let off near an equitation centre, stables or fields where horses were grazing. One report said:
Fire crews were called to Coltsrock Stud Farm in Pimhole, Bury.
Sick yobs tied a baby gerbil to a fireworkthen launched it into the sky.
I have a much loved 8 year old Labrador who has suffered from Epilepsy since he was 3 years old.
Every firework season that dog is in a terribly distressed state. Another e-mail describes how a pet rabbit died from a heart attack on 3 November and another e-mail from someone in the south-west tells how a dog was totally stressed out by the fireworks, bolted and was killed by a car. Another tells how a border collie was frightened by fireworks and was killed, while another describes how a dog went mad as a result of its panic and tried to dig its way under the front door in its attempt to get out of the house. Another example tells of a horse that bolted near Torquay in the west country. It broke the fencing on the stud farm and got on to the road. Only through the grace of God was no accident caused.
I have given a snapshot of some cases involving animals. They suffer enormously in the firework seasonfar more than many of us realise. They are defenceless pets and farm animals and every year they suffer enormously.
The firework season goes on for far too long. We all know that the fireworks season starts on 15 October and goes through to 10 November. That is the period when the sale without licence is permitted. That is a long season. A lot of people buy fireworks one year and store them illegally. Often, the season will start way before the clocks go back and will go on way beyond 10 November, which is the last date on which one can buy fireworks from a shop that does not have a licence. We know that the fireworks season goes on and on. In built-up areas, that can be particularly devastating. Driving in to where we live in south London from Norfolk last night, it was like a civil war. The bangs and explosions went on all night.
We know that there is legislation. To the Governments credit, Bill Tynans private Members Bill became the Fireworks Act 2003. The Fireworks Regulations 2004 flowed from that legislation. I am
sure that the Minister will say that there is sufficient legislation on the statute book. He will probably make the point that a number of changes have been made. To be fair to the Government, they have brought in a number of significant initiatives, such as making it much more difficult for anyone under 18 to buy fireworks, bringing in a curfew on the use of fireworks between 11 pm and 7 am and imposing a decibel limit. We had the Fireworks (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 2004, which flowed from the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997.
The Government have taken action and it has to be said that existing legislation is quite tough. For example, I gather that the Explosives Act 1875it is not a piece of legislation with which I am familiarmakes it an offence to set off fireworks in the street. That is punishable by a fixed penalty notice attracting an upper tier fine of £80. I guess that there has probably been an inflation index. If £80 was the upper tier fine in 1875, that would be equivalent to about £20,000 now.
We also have the use of general criminal law, health and safety legislation, and environmental health legislation. Of course, it is illegal to let fireworks off in the street, to let fireworks off in an enclosed space if they are going to create a nuisance, and to fire a rocket or fireworks that are going to end up on a neighbours property. One could argue that the existing law is reasonably tight.
My point is simple. I strongly believe that the fireworks season goes on far too long. I put a modest suggestion to the Minister: we should have a shorter fireworks season that lasts a limited number of days either side of 5 November. During that period, it would be legal for shops without a licence to sell fireworks, for people over 18 to buy fireworks and to have a firework display in a safe place. We would have a specific fixed season. When I was helping Teresa Kulkarni with her petition, I said to the media that the season could be 10 days either side of 5 November. Teresa is against that idea because she wants an outright ban on the retail sale of fireworks. Perhaps we should have a shorter period. It could be, shall we say, eight days either side of 5 November.
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