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If we had a specific fireworks season, everyone would know where they stood. Under existing law, one would be able to buy fireworks from shops that were not licensed. The police would be able to enforce the law in a focused way and on a much more clearly enlightened basis, because they would know what was happening and could put more resources in. The problem at the moment, with the long season, is that police resources are stretched. Every time my local police are rung up with a complaint about a fireworks nuisance incident or an incident involving an animal being frightened or injured, or a human being injured, of course they try to investigate, but there are so many incidents. The police want a much shorter season because they would then be able to enforce the law more effectively. Furthermore, the rest of the community would exert peer pressure by saying, We have a limited season during which you can let off fireworks at a private display, but we will have zero
tolerance of people who let off fireworks outside that fixed period. Such an approach would be a satisfactory compromise.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a poll carried out by the BBC in the north-west of England showed that 92 per cent. of people believed that there should be a total ban on the sale of fireworks, except those for organised licensed events?
Mr. Bellingham: The hon. Gentleman is right. Several surveys have been carried out recently. For example, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, the Kettering Evening Telegraph organised a similar poll, which showed that the overwhelming majority of people wanted an outright ban. Many surveys and polls have indicated growing public support for such a ban. I think that it has gone up from an average of roughly 55 per cent. 10 years ago to about the 85-plus mark. That indicates that people are fed up with this nuisance and the polices inability to do anything about it. If the Government do not act to introduce tougher legislation, the momentum behind an outright ban will become unstoppable. However, I would not like that to happen because I am not an arch-regulator. I have always believed in a laissez-faire approach towards many things in life.
Let me give an example of why it would be hypocritical of me to demand an outright ban. On Friday, my seven-year old boy said that he would like to go to a firework display. Unfortunately, we could not rearrange our plans for Saturday so that we could take him to a large display in a village near where we live, and he was very upset. My wife and I decided that we would have our own private display in my mothers garden. The garden is large and no houses around it would be likely to be in range of falling rockets.
I went along to Tesco in Gaywood, which is in my constituency, and I was impressed by its arrangements. It had a separate firework kiosk manned by a competent member of staff. After looking at me and deciding that I was over 18, she told me that the shop had a rule in place whereby anyone who looked under 21 would be questioned. The shop was thus being extra cautious about the 18-year-old rule. When I explained that I wanted to buy some fireworks, the member of staff gave me the menu. I was able to buy a box of fireworks for £25, although because there was a buy-one-get-one-free offer, I got about £50-worth of fireworks. My wife also bought some rockets from Sainsburys. My 17-year-old nephew, Joshua Rowley, who was on his half term, was master of ceremonies at the display. We invited one or two local friends with children the same age as my seven-year-old, and our small family firework display brought huge pleasure to those young children.
I would not have been able to hold such a display if there had been an outright ban on the retail sale of fireworks because I would have had to apply for a licence. There are many people in my position. We do not want to be killjoys, but we are nevertheless worried about what is going on. I do not want an outright ban, but I recognise, appreciate and respect the momentum that is building behind such a ban. That is why I congratulate Teresa Kulkarni on her indefatigable
campaign, which many people support. If the Government do not bring in tougher legislation along the lines that I have suggested, the momentum will become unstoppable and we will have an outright ban.
What I am suggesting is a fireworks season. I leave it to the Minister, who is an expert in these matters, to make proposals. My idea of a season stretching 10 days either side of 5 November may be too long or too short, but if we had a specific fireworks season, surely people would know where they stood, the police would be able to enforce it properly, and everyone would realise that it was a satisfactory compromise.
Outside the season, a licence would be needed. If, for example, the local parish or village wanted to have a fireworks display outside the season, it would apply for a licence. If Kings Lynn and West Norfolk borough council wanted to put on a fireworks display during the annual Kings Lynn festival, it would applyto itself, as it happensto get a licence. If different communities wanted to celebrate community festivals, such as the Chinese new year or Diwali, with a fireworks display, they would apply for a licence. If the Ministers family decided that they wanted to celebrate a family wedding with a few fireworks on the village green or in a safe area, they would have to get a licence to do so outside the season. The application would be straightforwardnot bureaucratic, but simple and easily understood by everyone.
I shall conclude my remarks, because we want the Minister to have plenty of time to reply, although I imagine that he will not need the whole time to half-past 10, and because I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham, for Kettering, for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) and for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) also want to say a few words. What I have done tonight is to illustrate to the House that we have a serious problem. Teresa Kulkarni has raised one of the largest ever petitions in this country on fireworks nuisance. She has gathered a staggering number of signatures129,387. She is saying that we have to have an outright ban, and I respect and understand her view. I also respect and understand what the Government have done so far: they picked up Bill Tynans Bill and they are trying to achieve an all-party consensus on the issue. But the nuisance goes on. People are suffering, animals are suffering, and whole communities are having their lives turned upside down. Action is needed. I have suggested a sensible compromise solution to the Minister and I submit that if the Government do not accept my solution, the momentum behind an outright ban will become unstoppable and the pleasure that my young boy experienced on Saturday night at my mothers home will be gone for ever. I look to the Minister to take action very soon.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) not only on securing tonights debate but on making such an excellent speech. I also congratulate his constituent, Teresa Kulkarni, who has done tremendous work in collecting such a large number of signatures on, I believe, her
second petition on fireworks. The latest petition attracted 129,000 signatures and the previous one more than 90,000. She has put in a great deal of hard work in a good cause.
I rise to speak in favour of an outright ban on the retail sale of fireworks. I do so not only because I believe in a ban, but because my local newspaper, the Kettering Evening Telegraph, has called for such a ban. The Evening Telegraph should be applauded for its work in Northamptonshire on the issue. It conducted a survey of more than 800 local people, 88 per cent. of whom supported a ban on the retail sale of fireworks. Many of the national opinion polls testing political opinion conducted country-wide by MORI and other polling organisations involve about 1,000 respondents, so to get 800 respondents in the area covered by a local newspaper is truly impressive. The fact that such a large proportion are in favour of a ban sends a clear message to the Government that the mood has already turned.
I draw to the Ministers attention a recent case from 24 October highlighted in the Evening Telegraph. Mr. Aidan Cardew, aged 25, of Mill road, Kettering, was walking home at 2.30 am following a night out with his younger brother when he was hit in the face by a firework that had been fired horizontally from a local park
Not only was this a careless and stupid act, it underlines the danger that fireworks in the wrong hands can injure or even kill someone.
Even fireworks that end up in responsible hands do much damage, not only disturbing the nights sleep of young children, particularly when fireworks are let off in areas covered by housing estates, but causing alarm, distress and harassment to animals, both domestic pets and wild animals. Animals are killed by fright caused by fireworks. Very young children are often scared witless by the loud bangs in neighbouring properties. Here we are, in 2006, effectively allowing explosives into the hands of people who are not acting responsibly towards their neighbours and causing much alarm, harassment and distress to their neighbours and to animals living nearby.
My plea to the Minister on behalf of my constituents and the readers of the Evening Telegraph is please to take on board the message and the growing level of concern. Let us have licensed displays by all
means. Let us enjoy fireworks in a responsible way for a limited period of the year, but now is the time to ban the retail sale of fireworks so that we can get a grip on the problem.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) on securing the Adjournment debate. It was a great pleasure to accompany him to No. 10 Downing street to present the petition last week.
In Shrewsbury we have a famous flower show every year, at the end of which we have a huge firework display, which is licensed and very enjoyable, and many people come to it. My main concern, as my hon. Friends have stated previously, is the constant firework display that we have throughout the year.
My hon. Friend mentioned my interest in horses. Before my wife and I moved to my constituency, Shrewsbury, we ran an equestrian centre in Herefordshire, near Leominster. We had some 30 horses on livery. I will never forget the evening when some neighbours in the village decided to celebrate their daughters wedding with a huge firework display in the village. Hon. Members would have laughed at the image of me in my dressing gown running around after 30 horses at 1 oclock in the morning. It was an extremely frightening moment. The horses were not only my own, but other peoples that I was looking after, and I was responsible for them and for safety outside my property if they got loose and went on to the road and into the village.
I agree with my hon. Friends and urge the Minister to consider some form of licensing so that people, especially in rural areas, are held to account for firework displays, because of the impact that they can have on farms, equestrian farms and various other types of agricultural holding, such as the one that I had.
I met the Minister during the summer on a different issue, and I find him one of the most professional and reasonable Ministers in this Labour Government. I genuinely think that he is a very good Minister. I sincerely urge him to examine this issue, about which I and many people in my constituency feel very strongly.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) on securing this important debate. I do not like playing the killjoy, and I hate the word banning. Nevertheless, as we have heard, the fireworks season now continues for six weeksthree weeks before 5 November and three weeks after it. I am sure that, like me, colleagues will have had people coming to their surgeries during the previous week complaining about being kept awake at all hours of the night by firework nuisances, with fireworks sometimes going off until 3 oclock or 4 oclock in the morning.
Fireworks used to be a symbol of fun. Yesterday evening, I gathered in Cheshunt park and golf club
with tens of thousands of my constituents, and we celebrated a fantastic fireworks display. In the right place, fireworks are absolutely fabulous. On the Rosedale estate, however, they are almost weapons of intimidation. These things are launched at all hours of the day and night, they are thrown into peoples gardens and they create a huge amount of nuisance, concern and fear. We also have the spectre of Halloween and trick or treating, which coincides with 5 November at a similar time in the calendar. Several people think that it is amusing to toss fireworks at houses and to intimidate people of all ages, particularly the elderly. I would very much like the fireworks season to be shortened.
This is a huge problem for the police, who should be provided with more powers to ensure that youngsters who view fireworks as toys and weapons of intimidation feel the full force of the law. I hope that the Minister will talk to colleagues at the Home Office about that. These things are high explosives that kill and maim dozens of people every year; they need to be treated with respect, and those who do not do so should be punished by the law.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) for introducing this debate. To be honest, the issue of fireworks is not one that fills my postbag; indeed, 5 November is not always remembered with the same fondness in my constituency as in other parts of the country, because it has a large Catholic area.
There is a gap between those who use fireworks responsibly and those who use them in the very worst environments to put fear into people and to cause damage. We need to look to the Government to provide something other than the current laissez-faire position. My hon. Friends proposition of a season for fireworks is probably the best way forward. I do not believe in banning most things, and I get very affronted by that word. As someone who likes to let fireworks off from time to time and make a good bang, I believe that it is important that individuals should be allowed to enjoy them when necessaryfor example, at home with small children. I remember indoor fireworks, which have been banned by the European Union. We should not blanket-ban fireworksthey are an important part of celebrations and are used by different religions and communities at different times of the year. While the idea of a season is correct, we need to ensure that local communities or local authorities have control of it.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): I apologise for being late for the debate. I support what has been said so far. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the initiative taken by the Co-op and the largest British manufacturer to market less noisy fireworks could be a basis for legislation, given that most of the complaints that I get concern the volume of noise?
The best thing would be to allow local communities to have more control over these issues, and we might
have an opportunity in the new Session to tag such a provision on to the local government Bill. The Government have talked about using that measure to devolve power, and this might be an appropriate example. People who live in predominantly Hindu or Catholic communities, for example, might take a different view, or have different times of year for celebrations or for placing controls on them. However, it is important to have those controls over the totally irresponsible youths who have been mentioned.
Earlier in this Session, we had an opportunity to bring in legislation that would have made offences against members of the emergency services more severe. In my neighbouring constituency of Blackpool, the fire services have just had an horrendous week in which they have been targeted on purpose by irresponsible and reckless individuals. I hoped that the Government would support that legislationI am afraid that they did notbecause it would have placed more responsibility on individuals who throw fireworks at police officers or firefighters responding to calls. It would have meant that those offences would have carried serious penalties, not just a slap on the wrist. That might have brought the responsible use of fireworks into peoples consciousness.
A total ban would not be right, however, and I would oppose any such proposal. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk that we need to introduce the concept of a season, and to ensure that people understand that there is a time and a place for this type of celebration. As long as that is the case, we can all live in harmony, rather than throw the baby out with the bath water.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Jim Fitzpatrick): I congratulate the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) on securing this timely and topical debate, and I commend his hon. Friends for their support and for taking an interest and taking part in the proceedings tonight. I also offer my commendation to the hon. Gentlemans constituent, Teresa Kulkarni, for her campaign and her collection of 129,000 signatures, which is a considerable number. It is not quite as many as the 4 million signatures presented recently in support of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, but, none the less, that considerable number shows the level of support that she has.
Over the past week, millions of fireworks have been sold and used in back garden displays, with hundreds of thousands more people attending professionally organised public displays. Contacts that my officials have had with various police forces, fire services and trading standards departments indicate that, so far this year, the bonfire night season has been quiet in relative terms. However, the enjoyment of those millions is threatened, as so often is the case, by the thoughtless, selfish and, on occasion, criminal actions of a minority.
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