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Fireworks can be fun if they are used in a responsible and sensible manner, but the actions of the minority spoil it for everyone else. It is the minority who continue to let fireworks off in the street, who buy fireworks and give them to under-18s, and who think it funny to let off fireworks in the early hours of the
morning, well after the curfew has come into operation, frightening people and animals alike.
Over the past six years or so, the use and popularity of fireworks has grown. Part of that rise can be attributed to a change in the type of fireworks available to consumers. Large single-ignition multi-shot cakes were virtually unheard of before the millennium. The popularity of those fireworks can be attributed to their safety: they need to be lit only once to provide a display in a box letting off anything from 12 to 200-plus effects. Obviously, this may mean that some garden displays now have more bangs in them, as overall they contain more effects.
Fireworks do not have to focus on noise, however. Increasing numbers of displays now have a childrens display, and the popularity of lower-noise fireworks is increasing. I am told that, on Saturday night, Beckenham Round Table held a hugely popular childrens display, which was not made up of large bangs and explosions, before the main display. Such moves are to be encouraged, as they offer a sensible alternative to traditional fireworks. However, they are not everyones cup of tea because, for many people, much of the enjoyment of fireworks is the noise that they make.
It is important to state that much of the concern about noise and nuisance caused by fireworks could be avoided if we were all a little more neighbourly and responsible. Simply telling ones immediate neighbours, particularly older neighbours, that one is having a back garden display so that they can take appropriate action is very easy to do. Similarly, if one is aware of neighbours who have pets or if one lives near stables or a farm, simply alerting the owner allows them to take appropriate action. Those simple steps can drastically reduce the concern and potential harm, especially to animals, caused by fireworks.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk referred to the private Members Bill on fireworks proposed by the former Member for Hamilton, South, which received cross-party and Government support and became the Fireworks Act 2003. That very important statute has helped us control and reduce the problems associated with the noise and nuisance caused by fireworks. The 2003 Act was implemented via the Fireworks Regulations 2004. Although we monitor the effectiveness of those regulations, I think that it is still rather early to consider updating or replacing them, particularly since in 2005, firework manufacturers and importers as well as retailers were required to comply with a number of new more onerous requirements on the licensing and storage arrangements of premises from which explosives, including fireworks, were stored or supplied.
The Fireworks Regulations 2004 introduced a number of new controls that have been widely welcomed by enforcement practitioners. For example, the regulations make it an offence for under-18s to possess adult fireworks in a public place and for anyone other than a fireworks, professional to possess category 4 fireworks, and require all-year-round suppliers to be licensed. The regulations also create a curfew on firework use between 11 pm and 7 am on most nights of the year, the exceptions being midnight on November 5 and 1 am on new years eve, the Chinese new year and Diwali night. They create a maximum
noise limit of 120 dB for category 3 fireworks, which is likely to be extended to other fireworks as part of the pyrotechnics directive currently being discussed in Brussels.
The regulations also require suppliers to display a sign indicating that it is illegal to supply adult fireworks to anyone under the age of 18, and they give local licensing authorities the power to request details of all transactions of fireworks over 50 kg of explosive content, including to whom they were supplied, where the selleres obtained the fireworks and the exact weight of the transaction. Finally, in this long but important list, the regulations require importers of fireworks to notify Her Majestys Revenue and Customs of the intended destination of the fireworks to be imported, to help ensure that fireworks are destined for legal storage and distribution.
Mr. Bellingham: The Minister is as courteous as ever in giving way. He has gone through the existing legislation, which I have conceded represents a very big improvement on what went before. Those measures have considerable positive aspects, but does the Minister agree that it is worth looking further into my idea of having a specific firework season? At present, we have provisions relating to non-licensed premises, so why cannot we go just a bit further and have a specific season, which would allow everyone to know exactly where they stood?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I listened very carefully to the hon. Gentlemans speech and I will respond later to his suggestion for a licensed period for fireworks displays. I should have expressed my appreciation of the kind words expressed by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) and also tell the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) that the Government supported the private Members Bill proposed by the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), to deal with offences against public sector workers. I am not sure whether that was the legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I would like the record to be set straight in that regard.
As I was saying, this is not where my Departments legislative package of consumer protection ends. We
also have the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997, which were amended in 2004. They deal with issues such as the banning of certain fireworks like bangers, air-bombs and fireworks of erratic flight. They create the minimum age for supply at 18 and require all fireworks sold to the general public to be manufactured in compliance with the British standardBS7114.
Alongside all that, the Health and Safety Executive is responsible for the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations 2005, which I mentioned earlier. They require all premises at which fireworks are stored to be licensed or registered with the HSE or the local authority, depending on their size.
Obviously, it is easy for me to stand here this evening and mention the list of regulations, but none of that would be any good without clarity in legislation and adequate enforcement. For many years, enforcement of much of the legislation was the responsibility of local authority trading standards departments. Now several agencies are responsible. Offences relating to the possession of fireworks and the curfew are enforced by the police, who can issue fixed penalty notices of up to £80. Trading standards officers still check up on retailers to ensure that supply is to over-18s only and that only fireworks correctly marked BS7114 are sold. In many cases, local authorities also check suppliers to ensure that fireworks are being legally and properly stored. I noted the comments of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk about the positive experience in his local Tesco.
Again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely debate. I hope that he will be somewhat reassured that we take fireworks, their safety and use most seriously. The Government believe that the new regulations need time to show that they can work. The House has agreed that new regulations are required because there is public disquiet. I assure hon. Members who have contributed that I take those matters seriously and I am sure that that applies to the rest of the Government. Those regulations will be kept under close review. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have appreciated that there is cause for concern; that is the reason for the new regulations. We need time to ascertain whether they will help. If they do not, I am sure that we shall revert to them in due course.