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Session 2006 - 07
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European Standing Committee Debates

Marketing of Pyrotechnic Articles

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Marshall
Burt, Lorely (Solihull) (LD)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) (Lab)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
Flynn, Paul (Newport, West) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
McCartney, Mr. Ian (Minister for Trade)
Palmer, Dr. Nick (Broxtowe) (Lab)
Purchase, Mr. Ken (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op)
Stuart, Mr. Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Watson, Mr. Tom (West Bromwich, East) (Lab)
Tom Healey, Annette Toft, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

European Standing Committee

Tuesday 27 February 2007

[Mr. David Marshall in the Chair]

Marketing of Pyrotechnic Articles

4.30 pm
The Minister for Trade (Mr. Ian McCartney): I welcome you to the debate, Mr. Marshall. I shall start by describing the main objectives of the Commission’s proposal for a pyrotechnics directive. The first is to establish the conditions for an internal market, and the second is to ensure a high level of consumer and professional user safety. Although the Government share those objectives, our attitude to the proposal has been somewhat guarded until now, but I hope that the reasons why will become clear during today’s debate. Whether or not the proposal would establish a genuine internal market for all the pyrotechnic articles under its scope is open to question. As the proposal splits pyrotechnics into different categories, it is sensible to address that question in relation to those categories.
For consumer fireworks, there is currently very little cross-border trade in the European Union, as the majority of fireworks are manufactured in and imported from China and have been for a number of years. When that is linked with the different age of supply requirements, the different types of fireworks available and the days and dates on which fireworks can be supplied in all 27 member states’ markets, it is unlikely that many UK importers of fireworks will start to trade outside this country. The same is likely to be true of firework importers in other member states. However, and perhaps most importantly, the proposal creates the opportunity for considerably easier cross-border trade and will make the different requirements of each member state more transparent and easier to understand and address.
For category 4 professional fireworks and professional display companies operating in the UK, the proposal will bring the benefits of considerably easier trade with our European partners. Currently, a display operator wanting to fire in or sell a display to another member state must meet that country’s requirements. Some requirements appear to have been created specifically to make it harder for companies from other countries to fire or sell displays. The proposal will bring benefits to professional display operators.
Another benefit is for theatrical, film and television pyrotechnic articles, which include articles such as bullet hits and various other controlled explosions. United Kingdom companies, some of which are among the best in the world, wishing to trade or operate in other member states must meet those states’ various requirements, making it difficult and often expensive to do business outside the UK. The harmonisation of the technical specifications for such products will make it easier to operate elsewhere in the EU. Members of the CBI explosives industry group, which specialises in that area, believes that the proposal could result in increased and easier cross-border trade.
Automotive pyrotechnic manufacturers of products such as seat-belt equipment, car air-bag detonators and so on could benefit most from the directive. Currently, UK companies must meet the requirements for each country that they trade into. For a number of countries, that requires additional test reports and paperwork, which adds considerably to the burden of trading with them.
CLEPA, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, estimates that the total EU market for automotive occupant restraint systems is €5.5 billion a year. UK automotive component manufacturers are active in the sector and have indicated that they support CLEPA’s view that the proposal’s objectives will bring benefits to the industry.
I very much hope that the proposal’s secondary aim of ensuring a high level of consumer and professional user safety will be strengthened, leading to a reduction in firework injuries in the UK. Approximately 1,000 injuries in the UK each year are caused by fireworks of all types, and only a very small percentage of injuries can be attributed to malfunctioning or badly manufactured fireworks—the firework industry’s estimate is fewer than 3 per cent. However, as many injuries are caused by misuse of fireworks, such as throwing them in the street, I do not think that there will be a dramatic reduction in injuries if the proposal is adopted. The harmonised European standards that will support the proposal will lead to harmonised user instructions, warnings and safety distances.
The proposal recognises that professional category 4 fireworks, certain pyrotechnic articles for stage, film and television use and certain automotive components are not suitable for use by everyone, and that access to them should be restricted to competent professionals. Those provisions should lead to a reduction in injuries to consumers and professionals alike.
The UK was initially opposed to the proposal, as it was felt that it would cut across our existing and fairly new legislation on fireworks and was unlikely to offer many benefits to UK industry or, indeed, consumers. Apart from Sweden, which now also supports the proposal, the UK was isolated in its views, so it was decided that the sensible course of action was to work on the text to make it as practical and beneficial as possible. Given the support for the proposal by the majority of other member states, it was highly unlikely that we would persuade them that they should refuse to implement it or that they would agree that it was not such a good idea for us.
In my Department’s correspondence with the Committee, we have been open about our initial concerns with the proposal. Having now worked to make the text of the proposal as agreeable as possible, we support the proposal because its positive benefits outweigh the less positive ones. The Committee will wish to know that the German presidency intends to seek agreement on the text in the Council in March or April. I am happy to now answer questions from colleagues.
The Chairman: We have until half-past 5 to question the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all who wish to do so to ask questions.
Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Given that the directive seemingly presents no economic or environmental benefit and that there is no indication that it will significantly improve consumer confidence, why do the Government support the proposal?
Mr. McCartney: I apologise if the hon. Gentleman was asleep when I made my opening speech—[Interruption.] I apologise, he knows I did not mean that. There are four reasons. First, when we consulted with industry professionals, both in the entertainment and motor manufacturing industries, they made it clear that the proposals, as renegotiated, would provide the possibility of increased trade for them—for example, in relation to theatrical, film and TV pyrotechnical articles. The harmonisation of the technical specifications would assist them in significantly increasing cross-border trade. Given that Britain is probably best in the world in such activities, it would seem sensible, if we have negotiated that change, to take the benefit of it.
The provision will help professional display companies with cross-border trade. Again, the UK is well set up. We have some of the best professional display companies in the world. However, the directive helps to reduce barriers to gaining access to business and provides opportunities for cross-border trade.
We have probably got the largest part of the European automotive products industry, a significant part which employs large numbers of people in the UK. Its products are regularly sought and sourced from the UK. It seems sensible to support the proposal, given that the whole European automotive industry, with British industry support, says that the directive will help not only UK but European industry to cross-trade and improve global trade. It is also reasonable to support the proposal that has gone before the Council, given that we have renegotiated the wording to ensure that all our high levels of consumer and professional safety and our new regulations, which we have implemented in the past few years, are protected and sacrosanct under the proposal.
Mr. Djanogly: The Minister seems to be mainly speaking about motor products, but my understanding is that the majority of products relevant to this provision would be fireworks. To that extent, would he now address my question again in relation to fireworks? Are there any material, economic, environmental or significant consumer protection benefits in relation to fireworks?
Mr. McCartney: That is a reasonable question. I said in my opening remarks that the majority of firework trade into the EU comes from China. That will not change and there will be little cross-border trading in fireworks. That is not an issue, but the second matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is important and I want to reassure him on it.
From the outset, it was critical that two things happened in relation to safety. One measure was developed on a cross-party basis. My former hon. Friend and Member for Hamilton, South—Bill Tynan—made tremendous strides with his campaign and private Member’s Bill that resulted in changes in protecting consumers, children and adults alike, in the past few years. Not all EU countries have the same standards of consumer and product safety in the use of fireworks, so the big gain from the proposal is that it will provide harmonisation, to uplift the poorer consumer safety records of member states. That is a benefit; it does not undermine us or detrimentally affect our high standards.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): On the same theme, will the Minister explain his Department’s comments when it said that the measure does not raise subsidiarity concerns? It is easy to see the benefits of improving EU internal trade in the intermediate products that he mentioned, especially in air-bag pyrotechnics in the automotive industry and theatrical pyrotechnics, but what is the justification for saying that there is no subsidiarity concern about EU regulation of consumer fireworks? I suppose that the simplest way of putting the question is what do consumer fireworks have to do with the EU?
Mr. McCartney: Fireworks are relevant to the EU. We import large numbers of fireworks from across the EU, which imports them almost exclusively from China. We must ensure that fireworks and all other products that enter the single European market are fit for purpose, meet health and safety and other regulatory standards and that, if not, there is a means of redress with which to deal with them. The UK has done that by improving the regulatory regime for consumer safety and by setting out measures for the use of fireworks by consumers and in organised professional displays. That regime was agreed on a cross-party basis and is protected.
The proposals will not distort the genuine single market that we have been aiming at. We have been trying to take down barriers to professional displays and theatrical activities—an industry in which the UK is a product and service-provider leader. We have had difficulties in the past owing to unfair practices and administrative barriers. The directive will take down those barriers. The industrial component industry across Europe has asked us to support the directive, as has the industry in Britain, because it will help cross-border trade and the development of the industry. That seems to be a sensitive way forward.
Would it not be sensible to make a genuine attempt to harmonise across all 27 nations an industry in which consumer concern has arisen over safety and to establish minimum standards? Those might not meet our higher standards, but we can maintain them nevertheless under the directive, which will ensure that standards must be complied with when fireworks are used, whether by individuals or professionally. That is of advantage to consumers.
David Howarth: I thank the Minister for that reply. The problem with the consumer regulation in the proposal is that it governs not just product standards, but the behaviour of people and sets age limits for the use and purchase of fireworks, which seems to be a national, rather than an EU matter. Furthermore, is there not a problem with saying that the objective is to introduce competition and transparency in cross-border trade? Although that is a good argument for ordinary non-dangerous products, opening up the market in dangerous products will drive down prices, which will increase the number of fireworks sold and, therefore, the number of accidents.
Mr. McCartney: I said that the majority of fireworks injuries occur not because of defects in design and manufacture, but because of the way in which they are used. That is true. In the Netherlands, for example, the majority of fireworks are used on street events. Unsurprisingly, the levels of minor and significant injuries there bear a relationship to that.
On the point about subsidiarity, nothing in the document changes the type of activity described as a dangerous use of fireworks. The document does not do that. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is up to a member state to decide the maximum level of consumer safety, whether that is by providing individual advice and support on how to use fireworks safely, ensuring that there are regulations relating to organised firework displays, or regulating the sale of fireworks and those who use them professionally. The UK has a panoply of legislation that is not affected by the document.
I hope that the basic minimum standards that will apply will help to drive up standards in Community countries that do not have such high standards. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Workington says, many of our constituents work or go on holiday in the European Union and could be affected by the misuse of fireworks, so it is in the interests of our citizens to drive up standards. The document will not affect what we do here, but it is important to recognise that where there are cultural factors, it is a matter for the state in question to give appropriate advice and support to help to change that culture to reduce accidents and injuries, as we have done.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): I apologise to my right hon. Friend and to the Labour Whip because I must admit to the Committee that I have read all the document. I hope that my right hon. Friend bears with me while I seek clarification on a few technical points to do with air bags.
The Chairman: Order. One question at a time.
Mr. Watson: Okay.
Article 7 of the document deals with age limits and states that there will be an age limit of 18 years for category 1 pyrotechnics. My understanding is that that will affect air-bag technology and seat-belt pretensioners. Will that prohibit 17-year-olds, who can purchase vehicles in Britain, from purchasing vehicles with pretensioners and air bags? I understand that the Minister may not know the answer directly, but I thought that I should raise that because it is of interest to the car industry.
Mr. McCartney: I invite my hon. Friend to come to the Front Bench and answer that question himself. The proposal sets out the minimum age limit for the sale of consumer fireworks, which are below those in the UK. The document allows member states to increase age limits where justified on grounds of public order, security and safety. As our age restrictions have been set on those bases, they will continue. My understanding is that the age restrictions relate to the sale of consumer fireworks.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): The Liberal Democrats are happy with the idea that this is a necessary directive for the automotive and theatrical industries, but we are worried about subsidiarity where fireworks are concerned. I am struggling to understand the situation. The Minister said that there would be standard instructions. He implied that the UK can set its own instructions on, and set standards for, safety and the age at which people are able to buy and use fireworks. Is that the case? If it is, why do we need to impose European safety standards when we can completely ignore them and set our own, stronger standards?
Mr. McCartney: It is not a matter of ignoring the safety standards; it is about subsidiarity and the ability of a national Government to improve on the minimum standard. For more than a decade, there has been active public debate and concern about fireworks in this country, not only about noise and nuisance, but about inappropriate sales to younger people, and the poor organisation of events that leads to injury and, up until 2000—sadly—some deaths. We have gone through a long process in the UK of refurbishing and improving our regulatory frameworks on a bipartisan basis to improve consumer and professional standards, and quite rightly. That is why it is important that any harmonisation of minimum standards in the directive should not undermine that good work.
I shall give another example, which is not up for the Conservatives to speculate on. We have the highest standards for product safety in furniture manufacturing, not just in Europe but in the world. They were introduced in 1988—10 years ago next year—by the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), chairman of the Conservative party. So effective are they that they have saved hundreds of lives and prevented tens of thousands of injuries. Nothing done in the harmonisation of European manufacture of foam furniture undermines the effect of those measures.
I think that I have answered the point about subsidiarity three times now. We have subsidiarity, and we negotiated the settlement, to ensure that the effectiveness of our Government’s measures is not undermined by the proposals.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I should put it on the record that the issue of fireworks is of huge contention in Bournemouth, as it is in many constituencies where they are becoming a nuisance and causing a noise problem. In the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon, he said that 99 per cent. of the fireworks entering this country come from China. Am I correct to say that the proposal is therefore not relevant to imports from that country?
Mr. McCartney: No, that is not the case at all. All fireworks, whether imported from China or otherwise, will be required to meet stringent safety standards. The issue of fireworks and noise is important. At certain times of the year, all MPs are inundated, and rightly so, by constituents’ complaints about the environmental damage done to them, their pets, their families and their communities by inappropriate use and misuse of extremely noisy fireworks on a regular, daily or nightly basis. Christmas starts in October in my constituency and goes all the way through to January with no break in between. Since the measures were introduced, there has been a decline in the problem in my area, but it might not be the same in others.
The directive deals with noise and fireworks under general safety requirements. The proposal includes general definitions of noise for each of the three categories of consumer fireworks: category 1, negligible noise level; category 2, low noise level; and category 3, noise level that should not be harmful for human health. The definitions are general and form part of the mandate of the European standards committee for harmonised standards for fireworks, which will set more specific decibel levels for each category of firework. That will improve consumer safety and deal with issues that we in this country are already dealing with effectively. Rather than standing here reading a range of decibels into the record, it might be more sensible to write to hon. Members on the technical aspects, if that is helpful, because the point raised is a fair one.
Mr. Ellwood: I am grateful to the Minister for that response, but it still does not clarify how the people of Bournemouth, or indeed anywhere else, will benefit from that bit of the directive. He has raised the issue of noise and acknowledged that the nuisance caused by fireworks is growing. Categorising noise levels is interesting, but it will not prevent individuals from going out and buying fireworks in the various categories and using them. What can he say about the powers allowed, whether on a local or a national basis, to reduce the misuse of fireworks?
Mr. McCartney: Again, I am happy to answer that question, because we have specific legislation in this country to deal with that.
Mr. Ellwood: It is not working.
Mr. McCartney: I do not know how good the hon. Gentleman is as a Member of Parliament, or whether his local authority is Conservative or Liberal Democrat, but the powers exist, and I will tell him what they are. I suggest that after I read them into the record, he goes back to his local authority and other appropriate trading standards officers about the matter, because it is important to all parties. I am not making a partisan comment; the legislation was introduced with the support of all political parties in this place.
The year 2005 was the first fireworks season during which all Government measures to counter antisocial misuse of fireworks were in place. The number of reports from the public was significantly higher than in 2004. Why? Because they knew that something could be done about it. That is attributed to the powers being widely communicated and higher public expectations to deal with various offences, especially with nuisances caused after 11 o’clock at night. Home Office figures for fixed penalty notices issued for firework offences in 2005 were 33 breaches of curfew, 13 possessions of category 4 fireworks, 47 possessions of an adult firework by persons under 18 and 642 setting off of fireworks in a public thoroughfare.
The measures are being utilised effectively across the country. Since 2005, we have had the ability to do something about the nuisances in our constituencies. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes back and talks to his trading standards office about putting in place the proper use of those measures.
Mr. Watson: I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to article 12 on labelling, which says:
“Manufacturers shall ensure that pyrotechnic articles are properly labelled in the official language(s) of the country in which the article is sold to the consumer”.
He knows that Britain leads the way in air-bag technology. There is a concern across some members of the industry that although those pyrotechnic articles will be placed in vehicles and will not be visible, the manufacturers of that technology often do not know what markets their air bags are going to be sold in, because they end up in cars all over the European continent. Will he confirm that the article will not undermine the air-bag industry by making it do things that it cannot do at present?
Mr. McCartney: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the industry supports the proposal as the text now stands in the negotiations, and I have written to that effect.
Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Member for Cambridge and the Minister have had discussions on subsidiarity. In the Minister’s letter of 6 November, it is stated:
“The European Commission considers Community action as justified in subsidiarity terms as the pyrotechnics directive ensures the free movement within the Community, of pyrotechnic articles falling within its scope”.
Given that he also accepts in his letter that the firework industry has indicated that the current situation on cross-border trade is unlikely to change as a result of the implementation of his proposals, will he satisfy the Committee that the proposals meet the subsidiarity test?
Mr. McCartney: I will. As I said in my opening statement and in answers to subsequent questions, there will be little cross-border trade because there is little manufacturing of fireworks within the EU. Fireworks that are manufactured in the EU have a small national marketplace. The proposal gives an opportunity for that small productive capacity to trade more easily across the EU. Frankly, however, because of the high level of import penetration over years and decades, the vast majority of fireworks acquisition, either on a professional or individual consumer basis, comes from outside the European Union.
Lorely Burt: The Minister said that only 3 per cent. of accidents are due to the work of professional operators. Is that Europe-wide or UK-wide? If we are so much safer in the UK, we would expect the proportion of professional accidents to increase. If the way in which we operate fireworks is so much safer, do we need standards that will be—we assume—so much lower than those that we already have in place? I see the benefits for other European countries, but I am struggling to see what is in it for Britain.
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Lady is struggling to make an argument. The truth of the matter is—I think that I set this out clearly—that in subsidiarity terms we have, and have been able to retain, the highest level of safety standards across all aspects of the issue. The minimum standards will help many countries that have lower standards, and we should be in favour of that. Why should we be less interested in a consumer in some other country who is damaged by a firework? Firework damage is firework damage to the individual concerned, so dragging up standards at an international level is important. By the way, high standards are very good for our competitive advantage, as with automotive products: we produce the highest quality products, and the higher the standard, the more capacity there is for making improvements in the marketplace.
On injuries, the 3 per cent. that I mentioned was an estimate from the British firework industry. I apologise if I did not make that clear. The figure relates to fireworks that malfunctioned in the United Kingdom. I said that approximately 1,000 people a year are treated at hospital casualty departments. Of those, 5 per cent. are serious accidents that require one or more night’s stay in hospital. The latest figures show that there have been no deaths since 2000. Overall, injuries are down by 14.5 per cent.; injuries to under-12s are down by 24.6 per cent.; injuries caused by rockets are down by 24.6 per cent.; injuries caused by sparklers are down by 30 per cent.; injuries sustained at a family or other private party are down by 19.5 per cent.; and injuries in streets or other public spaces are down by 26 per cent. To give a full picture to the hon. Lady, rather than picking out only the good points, for some reason, injuries for 13 to 17-year-olds have risen by 8 per cent., from 197 cases to 213. However, the overall trend is of substantial improvement.
David Howarth: May I come back to the point about consumer fireworks and subsidiarity? The Minister’s argument seems to be that because British citizens go to other European countries on holiday or to work, that justifies the EU deciding the standard. If that were true, it would prove too much. Does he agree that if that is the argument, it is also an argument for common, harmonised European standards on matters such as traffic laws? We might end up having common European speed limits or driving on the same side of the road, which nobody thinks are good ideas. I invite him to produce a different argument for his conclusion, because his first argument does not work.
Mr. McCartney: I did not use that argument. To be perfectly frank, that was a ridiculous point. I do not know how many times I have answered the subsidiarity point. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Solihull come back with another reason for asking the same question time and time again. My point was that it seems sensible to support dragging up standards wherever, particularly when British citizens go to other places in Europe for a variety of good reasons, be they business, commercial or travel. That our citizens will see improvements is not an argument for subsidiarity; it is a common-sense argument to help drive up standards.
Mr. Watson: I concur with my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to say that we should be trying to drive up standards across Europe, particularly on fireworks. Frankly, it is terrifying if one chooses to be in Spain on the wrong summer’s night.
On noise levels, the current UK legislation for household fireworks sets a limit of 140 dB, I believe. That level was set by legislation enacted a few years ago and was closely fought over in the Chamber, as the Minister will recall, when we debated what was then a private Member’s Bill. Does the directive allow a future UK Government to unilaterally reduce noise levels?
Mr. McCartney: No, it does not. Because of the way in which the legislation is written, it provides us with the ability to improve safety standards on the grounds of public safety, but who knows? In future years, there may be a Government who are irresponsible enough to reduce standards. We cannot compete with that possibility. Any Government can change legislation, except, of course, European legislation, which has to be changed by agreement. There is no way that the measure can be used to reduce our standards, because they are set by national legislation, which the document protects. In future years, should we wish to make further improvements, the document gives us the ability to do so.
Mr. Ellwood: The more that I read the document and the more I that understand the legislation, the more I believe that we are receiving an unnecessary lump of red tape from the EU. If we are able to impose our own standards, why would we have subservient standards? If we are trying to raise standards across the board, why did we not ask for those high standards from the EU in the first place, so that we do not need supplementary standards? That is the point of subsidiarity at the heart of our question.
I shall ask a question to illustrate that example. Article 3 on page 21 lists the firework categories, as I stated in my previous question: categories 1, 2, 3 and 4. Article 7 on the following page lists age groups, saying that category 1 fireworks may be sold to children over 12, category 2 to those over 16 and category 3 to those over 18. I question those numbers anyway—I should like to see them a lot higher—but could the Minister say whether the EU standards are the same as the British standards?
Mr. McCartney: The UK standards allow 120 dB for category 2 fireworks, not 140 dB. The new harmonised standards will introduce noise levels for further categories of fireworks. They will not impinge on the levels that we have set as a country.
Mr. Ellwood: I was not talking about noise levels.
Mr. McCartney: No, but the hon. Gentleman is trying to imply—it is a reasonable assumption, if he wants to make it—that the proposals are just red tape and will impose standards that we will not have to operate in any event. Two things are important about that. The secondary issue is consumer safety, but the big issue is a single market device and whether it will improve cross-border trade in respect of the categories.
We have an industry in this country that is very good at organised displays. The proposal will help those companies that find it difficult to get cross-border access to sell their services. I assume that using safer companies and better qualified professionals will help to reduce accidents outside the UK and gain potential business for legitimate UK business interests.
Mr. Djanogly: The Minister just said—
Mr. Ellwood: On a point of order, Mr. Marshall. May I not respond to that? I have only had one question.
The Chairman: Is it a supplementary?
Mr. Ellwood: Yes. I was gearing myself up, because I felt that I had been completely robbed of the opportunity for a reply from the Minister. I asked him specifically about the differences between EU legislation imposed by Brussels on age limits for sales of categories of fireworks and what we have here in the UK, which is very different. He did not acknowledge that. That was the question, but he wandered off into talking about decibels and all sorts of other things, such as our wonderful manufacturing industry, which I do not challenge. My simple question was why we have one set of legislation from the EU and another set of top-up legislation—
Mr. McCartney rose—
Mr. Ellwood: I have not finished yet, so the Minister can hold on one second. We are having to top up with a pile of legislation. I pose the question again. Why has the EU set age groups for the categories of fireworks when the UK has a different, higher set of age groups imposed by our own legislation?
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman asked quite a detailed, far-reaching question, and he called into question the whole basis of the directive on the grounds that it was red tape. I was trying to point out the different components and aspects of the directive, to be helpful.
The age limits in the directive are the minimum standard for member states. They were introduced on safety, security and nuisance grounds. The UK will therefore maintain its age limit of 18 for the majority of fireworks and 16 for party poppers and so on. Why? Because we are entitled to do so, and the directive protects our entitlement to do so.
Mr. Ellwood: That is why it is red tape.
Mr. McCartney: We have it on the record that a Conservative thinks that saving young people from accidents, injury and death is red tape.
Hon. Members: Rubbish!
Mr. Ellwood: The EU legislation is red tape.
Mr. McCartney: It is not. A 16-year-old, 18-year-old or younger person living in any country is entitled to minimum standards of protection. The fact that they might not have been born in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland is irrelevant, quite frankly. It is one thing to be anti-Europe, but to be anti-child safety is ridiculous.
Mr. Djanogly: The Minister said in his earlier remarks that the key issue is whether the proposal will improve cross-border trade. I suggest that in the vast majority of cases, it will not. Have we not said that China is the key issue on fireworks, given that the majority of them—more than 90 per cent.—come from China? Therefore, the directive will presumably have little effect on cross-border trade.
Mr. McCartney: I said in my opening remarks that there is little cross-border trade of consumer fireworks in the EU, as the majority of fireworks are manufactured in and imported from China and have been for many years.
Mr. Djanogly: So how will the directive increase such trade?
Mr. McCartney: It will not increase trade in that category. I was quite open and frank about that. I cannot be plainer about the categories in which it will increase trade. The UK has a distinct advantage in relation to automotive products, products made for the theatrical industry, services provided for consumer safety reasons and organised displays. The directive will allow us to increase our trade appropriately. In all three categories, the UK industries are asking that the directive be supported.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The Minister has said that the changes will make little or no material difference to the cross-border trade in fireworks, but that the effect will be greater on automotive products.
Mr. Watson: You have not read the directive, have you?
Mr. Graham Stuart: Perhaps not as fully as the hon. Gentleman would like us to believe that he has.
We are talking about standards. The issue of subsidiarity is about whether there is a need for law at European level. The partial interest of certain manufacturers in this country in standards which may or may not benefit them in competitive terms, against other competitors across the EU, is not a reason, in principle, for the Minister to give up the recognition that we should not bring in rules at the European level that are best made at the national level. Perhaps the Minister would address that?
Mr. McCartney: I have addressed that on more than one occasion. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, as it does not matter if he has not read all the documentation. Ministers sometimes stand at the Dispatch Box and do not read all of it. In those circumstances, we look to the Opposition and, if they are blank as we are, we know that we are going to be okay. [Laughter.] I will give away a secret or two. I know what will happen: every time that I come to this Committee, the first thing they will do is look at my eyes to see whether I know something about the subject.
The thrust of what I have been saying is that we have maintained subsidiarity where it exists. That is important because there is a huge diversity of standards in firework safety measures, or lack of them, in the 27 countries of Europe. It would therefore seem sensible, as a secondary part of this directive, to start the process of upgrading and improving those standards. It is important that that happens.
The Conservatives have a difficulty with subsidiarity in European legislation. It is a legitimate intellectual and political point to make, but having made it on numerous occasions—I respect that point of view—they should show respect back in acknowledging that we have negotiated a position where their concerns and worries with subsidiarity are not only matched, but groundless in terms of the directive.
Mr. Stuart: I thank the Minister for that answer and he makes a strong point. What estimate has he made in discussions with industry groups about the likely effect of the regulation on increasing UK—or indeed inter-country—trade in the products that he referred to?
The Opposition are concerned that there is an increasing amount of red tape. If there is not a material and great improvement in cross-border trade and an economic difference to the working of the single market, as my hon. Friends have said, this will be unnecessary regulation, created by an EU which tends to go into areas beyond that which it needs to.
Mr. McCartney: That is a very fair question. The proposal will allow, for example, professional firework display operators to trade and fire their displays on an even and equal basis in other member states. The reason for that is that there is currently no minimum standard. Therefore, every time our industry, which has the highest professional standards and operates effectively, attempts to compete in different states it comes up against all sorts of barriers and the application of different standards. Those are all designed for one reason: to prevent genuine competition. The introduction of minimum standards will not only improve the safety of consumers, which is important, but give our industries the ability to seek to operate in France or elsewhere and to sell their services on a legitimate, even playing field.
Mr. McCartney: I take it that when my hon. Friend says that the Conservatives were going to talk it out, that was the noise nuisance part of the Bill.
That was a fair point, and I repeat: not only does the directive not undermine our legislation, but it allows us to improve it in future. At the time of the passing of the 2003 Act, commitments were given that, once the legislation had bedded down and been monitored, there would be a chance to go back and improve it. In his Bill, my former hon. Friend and Member for Hamilton, South improved on previous attempts at legislation by both Government and Back Benchers, and I reassure my hon. Friend that there is nothing in these proposals that prevents us from maintaining our current standards and, if necessary, improving them in future.
David Howarth: I want to come back to the point about whether the consumer product part of the directive will increase intra-European trade—either it will, or it will not. If it does, surely that will increase the amount of harm that fireworks do, because it will increase the number of fireworks being traded and used by consumers rather than by professionals, which will be a dangerous matter in itself. If it does not increase the amount of intra-European trade, which I think is the Minister’s position, that throws into doubt the jurisdictional basis of what the EU is doing. How can this be a single market regulation if it does not increase internal trade?
Mr. McCartney: This is another instance of the hon. Gentleman asking again a question that he asked nearly an hour ago—and the answer is still the same. He is very good at that and I admire his tenacity—he gets bombed out the first time round but keeps coming back to his point. I have been very frank about this; he would have a technical point if the directive prevented cross-border trade. In fact, there is very little cross-border trade because the fireworks industry is production based. However, that allows the capacity to have that very little trade, but we are being realistic about it. If I were to come here and say, “This will enhance cross-border trade in consumer fireworks,” I would be misleading the hon. Gentleman and the Committee. There is potential for cross-border trade, but there will be little of it. The directive allows for that.
Another reason why the hon. Gentleman’s argument is not threadbare but lacks a little credibility is that the directive has been set out in categories. Why? Because each category contains different consumer products or services in pyrotechnics. In all the other sectors, there is potential for significant cross-border trade. That has not just been the view of the Government in our negotiations; it is the view of the suppliers of goods and services in each sector.
David Howarth: Is the Minister therefore saying that there are big gains to be made in the industrial sectors from the directive and that, to get those gains, we have had had to negotiate away our position on the consumer side? If that is his position, it is perfectly understandable.
Mr. McCartney: I am going to go for elocution lessons—I am sure it is down to my accent. We have not negotiated away our subsidiarity. In fact, it is enhanced. The directive does not affect subsidiarity in any way, particularly on consumer safety or professional safety standards. Indeed, it still allows us to improve on them if we so desire. There will be minimum standards, so we will be able to compete on a basis on which we cannot compete just now. The myriad different standards, or the lack of standards, makes it difficult to penetrate certain EU markets. That will end under the directive, which is why there will be potential for cross-border trade in the other categories.
The Chairman: I must say that I have no difficulty understanding the Minister.
Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East) (Lab/Co-op): It has been a perfectly amicable discussion between yourself, Mr. Marshall, and my right hon. Friend the Minister.
My constituents, like many of the Minister’s constituents, would throw their hats in the air if they believed that anything coming out of the directive would give them some relief from the appalling behaviour of our fellow human beings with fireworks that mainly come in from China. Anything that can be done to exorcise that a little will, I assure him, be met with absolute joy in my constituency and elsewhere. When Baroness Thatcher signed the trade agreement in 1986—
Mr. McCartney: The single market.
Mr. Purchase: Indeed, and that was a reason for British exporters to throw their hats in the air because, although it did not necessarily mean an overall increase in trade, which was never a condition of the arrangement, it guaranteed fair market conditions. That is what we benefited from. It also brought the opportunity for responsible trade, again something from which our best companies in Britain have benefited enormously. Will my right hon. Friend respond to Conservative Members who want, in a Pecksniffian way, to take this little directive to pieces? They must recognise that if we want improvements we sometimes have to pay a small price—in this case regulation, well thought through, which my right hon. Friend should be congratulated on for bringing to us.
Mr. McCartney: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I thought that his last remark would wake the Opposition up, and it certainly has. I say to the hon. Member for Burma—I apologise, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East; it is just because of his politics—that the regulation has been asked for by industry Europe-wide and in Britain. Why? Because it will ensure transparent and easier access to customers throughout the 27 states.
One can be opposed to regulations, and this Government have the best record of any modern Government in Europe on getting rid of unnecessary regulation, but regulation that exists to take down barriers, create greater transparency and give companies the ability to trade is sensible, as is safety regulation. I hope that at the end of the debate, when the Committee comes to take a view on the matter, the Conservatives will put aside some of their prejudices about Europe and see that the directive has been significantly improved for British industry and consumers because of our positive input. It is now a better directive than it was when we openly said in Committee that it needed improving. Indeed, we were opposed to it. We have done that work and I hope that the Committee will approve it so that we can get on with the business of improving access to goods and services in Europe, and the ability of consumers to use services and products without injury or accident.
Mr. Stuart: The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East suggested that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would support the measure strongly if they thought that it would bring safety improvements and relief to their constituents. I agree with you, Mr. Marshall, about the Minister’s clarity: he made it clear that it will make no difference to fireworks. That has been established. It is important to put it on the record that it will make no difference to the welfare of British residents in relation to fireworks.
Will the overwhelming proportion of businesses affected by the directive be those selling consumer fireworks? In other words, is this a single-market measure affecting fireworks which will result in no improvements, as the Minister has made clear, because there is little or no international trade?
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman would have a good argument if the directive dealt not with pyrotechnics in general, but with fireworks used by individual consumers, and if there were no legislative or regulatory regime in the UK. However, he has completely missed the point. This is a single-market proposal to ensure that pyrotechnic goods and services can be traded across borders. We should facilitate that trade. In respect of consumer fireworks only, I made it clear to the Committee from the outset that because the vast majority are made and produced in China, and imported from there, there is little opportunity for cross-border trade, but where there is an opportunity—little as it is—this directive will help.
Mr. Stuart: Will the Minister confirm the value of the prospective businesses that will be covered by the directive? That goes to the heart of the matter and I would like a clear answer from him on the quotum of business that will be covered.
Mr. McCartney: The European fireworks market is worth €14 billion a year, which is split equally between consumer fireworks and professional display fireworks. The latter constitutes one of those areas in which our industry says that it can provide the professional, quality services necessary to gain access to that bigger market. It is a huge potential market.
Mr. Stuart: What about non-fireworks?
Mr. McCartney: I am coming to that.
The market for automotive pyrotechnics is valued at €5.5 billion. The automotive industry, Europe-wide and in the UK, is asking us to support the proposal because it will benefit the industry. I said that in my opening statement. That is what the industry is saying to us.
Mr. Djanogly: What impact is the introductionof the conformity assessment procedure and modified labelling requirements expected to have on the use of pyrotechnic articles in the UK and on their manufacturers?
Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman has been given the answer to that question because it is similar to the one raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East about automotive products and labelling. The directive does not impugn the ability to trade, which is why the industry made it clear that it supports it. The point made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon is a fair one, but it does not undermine the directive or the ability and willingness of the industry to utilise it. If I have misrepresented his question, which was highly technical, I shall write to him, if my answer was wrong. As far as I am concerned, however, in all negotiations and discussions on the text that we have, the industry asked us to support it.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Marshall. The Minister said that the market for fireworks was €14 billion, but the report on page 2 says that it is €1.4 billion. I thought that that might need clarification.
The Chairman: That is not a point of order. It would have been better as a question, which the Minister could have clarified. We are in our last minutes, but I shall allow him to reply.
Mr. McCartney: It may well be a typographical error that has gone up in smoke. My brief makes it clear that it is €14 billion a year for the two sectors, one sector being split equally between consumer fireworks and professional display fireworks. Automotive pyrotechnic products are valued at €5.5 billion. I assure Committee members that if the error is on my part, although I do not think that it is, I will write to them and correct the record.
Several hon. Members rose—
The Chairman: Order. That brings us to the end of the time allotted for questions. I do not wish to extend the time because everyone has had a fair innings.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13568/05, draft Directive on the marketing of pyrotechnic articles; notes the Government’s current negotiating line; and supports the Government’s actions in this field.—[Mr. McCartney.]
5.30 pm
Mr. Djanogly: In effect, we are in agreement with the conclusions of the European Scrutiny Committee in its first report of the current Session. The directive’s aims are to ensure the free movement of pyrotechnic products within the EU, to improve the protection of consumers and professionals, to contribute to the reduction of injuries and to harmonise the safety requirements applicable in different member states.
However, a number of the concepts in the directive are already in place as far as the UK regulation of fireworks is concerned. Most member states already have effective national regulations restricting the supply and use of fireworks. As a consequence of the UK’s already robust requirements, there is unlikely to be an overall improvement in consumer safety as a result of the directive. The minimum age limits specified for the supply of fireworks and other articles are already met under current UK rules—in fact, ours are higher—and we already have tighter restrictions in place on the supply of some types of article than those proposed.
Statistics show that 95 per cent. of injuries in the UK are caused by the misuse of fireworks rather than poor standards of manufacture. The measures necessary to reduce the number of injuries in the UK are therefore beyond the scope of the directive.
It is proposed that a standardised categorisation of fireworks should be introduced, that manufacturers should ensure that their products comply with essential safety standards, and that there should be new labelling requirements regarding instructions for use, minimum age limits and minimum safety distances. Again, it would seem that many of those matters are already adequately covered by current UK legislation, particularly the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997, which require manufacturers to comply with British standards, including strict labelling requirements.
We have spoken to people in the firework industry who warn that the costs of complying with a new regime of EC marking will have serious consequences for manufacturers, even driving some out of business. The directive has focused on consumer fireworks, and the position regarding the display market has thus been overlooked. Not only will the costs of compliance threaten to put some UK display companies out of business, but they will stifle development within the industry. The costs involved in testing and gaining approval for each item manufactured may make it unviable for manufactures to excel in small-scale production for display. That could have disastrous consequences for the firework displays that will, for instance, inevitably be a part of the celebrations for 2012.
I thought that the general policy approach would be to encourage people to attend big displays, with their obvious safety and quality benefits. The proposals seem to fly in the face of that policy. Complaints have also been raised that the proposed time scales are entirely unrealistic. The Minister spoke of driving up standards as an end in itself, but I disagree. The costs and benefits of regulation must be weighed up. The Minister’s language is the language that small businesses in this country dread. It is more red tape for the sake of it.
Mr. Watson: Will the hon. Gentleman square the point that he made about regulation with the calls of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East for tighter controls on fireworks in the UK?
Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East made a remark based on his own constituency experience. I am giving an overall view.
Mr. Watson: So the British Conservative position is not to increase firework safety in the UK?
Mr. Djanogly: The position of the Conservative party is that UK regulations are more stringent than those in the directive, and that if we are going to examine safety issues, which are not the topic of the debate, that should be done in a UK context, according to what needs to be done on the basis of subsidiarity.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there will be fewer manufacturers and higher prices for fireworks as a result of the decision today, would that not mean that fewer fireworks will be let off, which would be entirely beneficial for many animals and people who are distressed and whose lives are blighted by fireworks for weeks and weeks each year?
Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman adds an interesting spin to the debate, but I wonder whether the Minister’s intention is to have firework production and use reduced as a result of the directive; I think not, but he may care to comment on that.
Countries without adequate standards are much keener than we are to have the directive implemented. Therefore, to insist on applying an entirely new system of regulation will, in fact, prejudice UK manufacturers because of the significant cost implications of moving away from testing based on the currently established British standard.
There is an argument that the harmonisation of regulation across the EU will enable the free movement of trade. That seems to be the case as regards pyrotechnics used in films or cars, but for fireworks, which make up the majority of products affected by the proposals, evidence has been put forward by the UK industry, and conceded by the Government, to indicate that the current situation is unlikely to change very much if the proposals are adopted. There is also an argument that, according to principles of EU law, an article approved in an EU country does not need re-approval, therefore making the case against harmonising regulation even stronger.
What are our Government saying here? From what I can make out from their obvious confusion, it seems that they are saying that this directive has many weaknesses, but that we should adopt it in any event, for the sake of toeing the line on European harmonisation. This is another example of them throwing in the towel to the Commission for little or no benefit to the British public, the British leisure industry or our national firework sector. It smells strongly of a Government who are looking for the quiet life, and that is simply not good enough. The Minister should get back to Brussels and better represent the national interest than he has done to date.
5.38 pm
David Howarth: I do not fully agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I do find the Government’s position slightly puzzling. I want to discuss where the negotiations on the directive have got to, and why it is that the Government have done a fairly good job during those negotiations, but have not got quite as much out of them as they could have done. Furthermore, by accepting this compromise, the Government are threatening to accept a position on subsidiarity that they should not.
The Government have negotiated very well on behalf of some important British industries: the automotive industry, in particular; theatrical suppliers; and a number of others, such as the display industry. There is no doubt that the directive offers substantial benefits for those industries. The air-bag industry is one example. There is evidence that some other European countries were using their regulatory power to prevent imports of British products, and the fact that the EU is taking jurisdiction over that will remove those barriers to trade and improve the economic position of our industry. That is entirely sensible.
The Government have also negotiated a position on fireworks, which is, to put it crudely, that the directive will make no substantive difference to what happens in Britain. We will not have to change our standards by much and very little consequential change will be necessary. We can still improve those standards in the future if we want. That would include changing the noise standards that have been referred to, for example, or changing the age limit. We have something to learn from other European countries. The documentation relating to the directive contains the interesting fact that the accident rate in Britain is 20 times that in Ireland, so perhaps we have something to learn from our neighbours.
The problem is not the practical effect of the directive; it is with the precedent that it sets for future directives, which might have different, more serious effects. The directive accepts a weak case for European-level law making on firearms, which is that it is important to have a common external standard for Chinese imports. I cannot see why that is sufficient reason to have common, harmonised, internal regulation of individual behaviour, such as the regulation of age limits, at European level.
The Minister added the extra argument that it is important for our citizens to have confidence when they go abroad that other European countries meet minimum safety levels. There is no doubt that there will be some benefit to our citizens and to citizens of other countries who come here. The trouble with that argument for European power is that, stated so baldly, it gives away too much. There are many dangerous aspects of life where standards could and perhaps should be improved, but where the law-making power clearly lies at the national level. I gave the example, which I think is crucial, of road safety and traffic accidents. If the Minister is serious that there is a reason for allowing the EU law-making power in this case, that would lead logically to a position on matters such as road safety and traffic which I do not think that anyone in the Committee would accept.
My conclusion is that the Government have done quite well in negotiating the directive. They have got themselves to a position in which the practical effects are all positive. The trouble is with the possible consequences in other areas.
5.43 pm
Mr. Ellwood: The Committee will not be surprised to hear that I shall focus on the aspects of fireworks that are contained in the directive. This has been an interesting, entertaining, but somewhat pointless debate. We are introducing legislation that will have no impact on Great Britain; we already have tough, respectable legislation on pyrotechnics. We would like such legislation to be imposed on EU standards, rather than having to confirm and vote on subservient EU standards, as we have been asked to do today.
I should like to go back to the Minister’s comments and offer him an opportunity to withdraw the remarks that he directed towards me, when he said that I was not considering child safety when it came to fireworks. I hope that he knows that, from a personal perspective, all members of the Committee have child safety at the top of their—
Mr. McCartney: The point that I made was not a personal attack on the hon. Gentleman; I was taking his argument to a logical conclusion. That might well not have been his conclusion, but it would have been the effect of what he was proposing. I am happy put on the record that I was not making a personal attack, but when he thinks about what he said and when he reads it back in the cold light of day, he will realise that the logical conclusion of his remarks meets with what I was saying. Perhaps if I say sorry, he will withdraw or rephrase his remarks.
The British industry has been mentioned. We are very proud of what happens here, but I am disappointed that we were unable to emulate its standards further afield among our friends in the EU.
My final point is about the good people of Bournemouth and the use of fireworks in my constituency. I do not believe that Bournemouth is any different from anywhere else that has an antisocial element who take advantage of loud fireworks and use them as a nuisance, particularly to those who own pets. The Minister made it clear that existing legislation can be used by the local authorities and the police. However, once fireworks have been set off and once the kids have run away, it is very difficult to track them down. The noise has already been made: if it happens after 11 o’clock, say, residents have already been woken up. We face that situation not only in Bournemouth, but up and down the country.
Mr. Watson: Will the hon. Gentleman suggest a remedy for that?
Mr. Ellwood: If one talks to the police in Bournemouth, one will learn that they would be more than delighted to have more police on the streets, so that they are able to do their job. I am afraid that they are overstretched. Partly because of the introduction of the alcohol laws that focus police on the town centre, other areas cannot have the police presence that they would like.
Mr. Purchase: The word the hon. Gentleman is looking for is no.
Mr. Ellwood: I just gave the answer: if we had more police, if we did not have such lax alcohol laws, we would have less antisocial behaviour.
The Chairman: We are straying from the subject.
Mr. Ellwood: I am very glad for your guidance, Mr. Marshall.
5.48 pm
Mr. Stuart: We have had an interesting debate. At times, some Government Members have been guilty, like pyrotechnic articles, of producing gas and smoke. There has certainly been a great deal of heat and sound but, unfortunately, precious little light. The light that has be shone—I do not know whether it was involuntary, a kind of Freudian slip, or an act of sedition—was shone by a bright Clerk of the House. If we look at our papers, we see that the truth—inadvertently or otherwise—is shone on the subject: it is called the “Darft directive on marketing of pyrotechnic articles”. [ Laughter. ] The Committee Clerk got something right.
I have a great deal of respect for the Minister, not least for his combative style—the end of Punch and Judy politics is heralded too much by Members, not least the leader of my party. Unfortunately, the Minister, whose bread and butter is dealing with business issues at the Department of Trade and Industry, has managed, despite his assiduous reading of the papers—I am sure that he would not come to the Committee without a fair briefing—to get the quantity of fireworks in the EU out by a factor of 10. The domestic EU firework market, as is stated repeatedly in the papers, is €700 million, and the professional market is €700 million, so €14 million is entirely incorrect, and it is useful to have that on the record.
Mr. McCartney: Magnanimously, I pointed outthat, if my briefing was wrong, I would correct it. Occasionally, people get things wrong. I was pointing out the professional estimate that was given to me.
Mr. Stuart: For a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry to be out by a factor of 10 and to think that €14 billion is quite a large estimate. However, I accept the point and do not want to be any more churlish than I already have been.
The Minister used a phrase about Opposition Members trying to have their cake and eat it. I think he has been guilty of that. He has tried to say that the main direction of the proposal is a single market measure to ensure that cross-border trade can go along, which everyone across the House would support, and that that is the key issue. If that was all the directive covered, we could accept that, but it is not.
The directive goes into the area of safety, the very area that the Minister has said that, under the principle of subsidiarity, should properly be retained in nation states. It has laid down minimum standards on age. That erodes the principle that the EU should stay out of that area and that it should be up to nation states to lay down those safety measures according to their customs and practice.
There is not a single market provision on the age at which children can have access to fireworks. It is inappropriate for the EU to do that. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon and the hon. Member for Cambridge have made it clear that there is a risk—and I will take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, which I rarely do—that the directive will have an impact on British citizens, by corroding the principles by which we decide how Europe should and should not make law and regulation. The Minister is not being entirely open and honest in not accepting that the directive crosses over into that area.
5.52 pm
Mr. McCartney: Very little has been said that was not said during questions. However, as I always do in these Committees, I will review the Official Report and if there are any remarks that required a response and did not receive one, I will write to Committee members. I repeat that if there is any information that I have given which is incorrect, for whatever reason, I will also respond to Committee members. I am not always perfect, although I try my best to be.
I thank Committee members for contributing to a lively debate. The directive is never going to do what it is not intended to do. It was never intended to be an attack on subsidiarity, which is what hon. Gentlemen have argued. It is a single market directive, and the issue around the single market is to take barriers down to allow it to operate effectively. The pyrotechnic industry is diverse in its goods and services, skills and the type of companies that operate in the marketplace. The directive takes account of that.
From the outset, it is important that we have harmonisation of technical specifications on minimum standards. As a consequence, British companies will not have huge on-costs in trying to trade in another member state where they will be doing exactly the same job that they do in the United Kingdom. They will therefore not have to have the costs, on-costs and bureaucracy just to trade. Minimum standards and technical specification changes are critical.
Some arguments made today have almost been anti-business. We have now got the situation inwhich, if we are not careful, an anti-business case,not a pro-subsidiarity case, will be put forward. Governments are asked to listen to business and consult. From the outset, we have been honest about this directive and what it could not do and what it needed to do.
Despite what I said, the hon. Member for Cambridge has been fair to me in our negotiations and I thank him for that. We have done the best that we can, to this point, on this directive. There have been major improvements that the industries concerned all support. That is why the hon. Member for Huntingdon was wrong when he said that the directive would undermine firework display companies and put people out of business.
Mr. Djanogly: That is what they have told us.
Mr. McCartney: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could name the companies. The Confederation of British Industry’s explosives industry group, which represents the companies, says differently. It has indicated that there are benefits to the proposal. One of the companies that puts on displays is run by a Conservative Member of Parliament. He has, to be fair to him, declared his directorship and remuneration in the House, so I make no point about that. However, I do make the point that some companies that want to trade overseas might have to improve their standards. Perhaps one of the reasons behind the questioning is that they are not happy about that.
Those who operate in the UK have to operate to UK standards. However, if they want to operate outside the UK, they can use this directive in an effective way so long as they are good, professional organisations that take care of their customers, do not get into trouble and are not fined by the Health and Safety Executive or the local council for damaging their customers when something goes wrong. The directive and the measures that we have taken so far are important in that respect.
In order that I might engage constructively in negotiations on progress for the directive, I ask the Committee to support my approach, despite the doubts of hon. Members about it. This measure is not just pro-business, but is pro-consumer and it is certainly pro-safety.
Finally, the hon. Member for Cambridge made the serious point that we have 20 times more injuries than they do in Ireland. In Ireland, there are virtually no consumer sales of fireworks because of national security issues. There has been a bipartisan approach to that for a long time now, and I do not need to go into the reasons for that. I know that he made a fair point, and I have answered him in that spirit—that is why there is a difference in injury rates. I hope that I have taken account of everything that hon. Members have said. I ask the Committee to support the measure.
Question put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 5.
Division No. 1 ]
Cunningham, Tony
Flynn, Paul
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Thornberry, Emily
Watson, Mr. Tom
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Howarth, David
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Walker, Mr. Charles
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13568/05, draft Directive on the marketing of pyrotechnic articles; notes the Government’s current negotiating line; and supports the Government’s actions in this field.
Committee rose at two minutes to Six o’clock.

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