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The SSPCA would certainly call for a reduction in the allowable level of firework noise. That currently stands at 120 dB, yet humans are advised to wear ear protection when exposed to noise above 80 dB. The noise of a typical pneumatic drill measures about 100 dB. We must also consider that a dog's hearing is twice as sensitive as a human's, and a cat's is three times as
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sensitive, so it is no surprise that animals are stressed. The SSPCA has cited the examples of a mare aborting her foal and another who delivered a stillborn foal following a fireworks display held 100 yards from the field.

Two main issues should be addressed. First, I support early-day motion 1981, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), and calls for the decibel level of fireworks to be reduced from 120 to 97; his party's spokesperson has already referred to that. Secondly, I agree with those who have argued that the availability of fireworks and the length of time for which they are permitted to be on sale should be controlled. As has been said, some improvements have been made, but the permitted time for sales, which runs from 15 October to 10 November, is still very long. One suggested limitation is for the period to begin about a week before 5 November-on about 29 October-and to stop on 5 November; I fail to see why there need to be sales after that date. Having more specific times governing the use of fireworks would help animal owners, including farmers and pet owners, as it would be easier for them to keep their animals inside for that given period. I am not calling for a complete ban, or a complete ban on sales to the public, but I think we could tighten the rules a bit.

Finally, may I just pay tribute to Glasgow city council, which puts on excellent displays every year, and to council officials, and also to Clyde police and fire and rescue, who put great effort into enforcing the existing regulations?

1.32 pm

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): It is a pleasure to be able to take part in a debate that, for once, I know a fair bit about. I became enormously popular when I became a fireman in Essex; I was invited to so many displays and garden parties on and around fireworks night, because people appreciate how dangerous fireworks can be. Interestingly, I was usually the person who was offered the taper and invited to light the larger, more dangerous fireworks.

The debate has been eminently sensible. If we were to take a poll of my former colleagues in the fire service, I do not think there is any doubt that the vast majority would opt for a ban on sales to the public, but I do not agree. I think we need laws that are enforceable-I shall refer later to the fact that many existing laws are not currently enforced and, indeed, are very difficult to enforce. I also want to talk about multi-launchers, which truly frighten a lot of people.

The Minister said it was safer to have multi-launchers. As he suggested, they can carry from about 10 up to 200-plus fireworks. Multi-launchers are basically incendiary devices that throw explosives-usually Roman candles-into the air, and up to 150 feet for the smaller ones. The problem is that if they are not on a level stand and something knocks them, they cannot be stopped. Even a bucket of water will not stop them; they are designed to work in the wet so we do not lose fireworks night because of rain. I have seen what I call "Herberts" actually holding them against their chest and firing fireworks across a field. The danger in doing such
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things is obvious to everybody, but there are people who do things like that, sometimes due to alcohol or bravado in front of others. I have seen people firing fireworks down a high street, too.

Does this mean, however, that we have to ban everybody's pleasure because a group of idiots want to play around with fireworks? I do not think so. Instead, I think that we need to look seriously at the legislation. We need to have the data available so that what we do is evidence based, instead of impulse based, as happens a lot of the time, with people referring to cases from "Our correspondence". Our correspondence, however, tends to be motivated by individuals who have a particular feeling about something; but that is often not the general feeling of the entire constituency. We have all seen campaigns where a strong group of people have got together and loads of correspondence comes in, but when we look into it, we see that it represents a tiny minority within our constituencies.

I agree that some of the fireworks that are still available in the shops should not be on sale to the public. We should look at how powerful these multi-launchers are and how many launchers they have, and most of them should be part of displays, not used in our back gardens. We also need to consider the role of retailers. They will say to us that they are doing their level best to check whether the purchasers are old enough-that same argument was used about alcohol sales and now is cited about cigarettes. Last week, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron), said at the Dispatch Box that she could not impose legislation on proxy sale of cigarettes as it was unenforceable, even though we have that provision for alcohol. [Interruption.] I agree with the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) that that is ludicrous, and so is this argument on fireworks. A huge amount of proxy sales are going on, when people who can prove they are over 18 buy fireworks in shops and then come out and either give them or sell them to minors. The police need to deal with that. If they say the law is unenforceable, we need to find a way of making sure it is enforceable. I believe it is enforceable, but the punishment must fit the crime. At present, it does not-an on-the-spot fine will not scare these people off. They are earning an awful lot of money by selling fireworks on at a premium to younger people.

Perhaps I am naive, but I was also shocked to learn that fireworks can be sold by post. They can be purchased on the internet, and then they pass through our sorting offices to be delivered. I acknowledge that there is currently an issue with the sorting offices, but the people who work in them need to be protected. We could not send such quantities of explosives through the Royal Mail legally if they were not in the form of a firework. I hope the Minister will stand up and say he will work with his colleagues to make sure such sales are banned immediately.

Ian Lucas: As I understand it, it is illegal to send fireworks through the ordinary post. They have to be sent via specified special delivery.

Mike Penning: For clarification, what is special delivery? There is still somebody walking around delivering something that is likely to explode if compressed. Ignition from a spark is not necessary to make fireworks go off. They can be ignited in other ways, not least by compression.

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The point I am making is this: let us not spoil a wonderful tradition that we have had in this country for many years because a minority of people are abusing it. Let us encourage more displays. In my own constituency, I shall be at the Leverstock Green village association fireworks display as I am every year, where we raise money for the local community in a safe environment. Let us understand the pet problem, too. I fully agree on that. I have a dog that goes absolutely ballistic at home during fireworks night-very often we will make sure that we have the means to pacify him available at home-but, by the way, he goes mad when there is thunder and lightning, or when the postman comes, or when a million and one other things happen.

Shona McIsaac rose-

Mike Penning: I will not give way, as I am short of time. We cannot eliminate the fact that there will be noise out there.

I was at a public meeting in my constituency on Friday evening, where we were discussing the noise problem caused by traffic passing through one of my most beautiful hamlets on the edge of the Chilterns. The decibel levels there were 105. Therefore, some of the noise levels we are talking about in respect of fireworks are already present in everyday life in our constituencies. I do not think we can control thunder and lightning decibel levels. I would love to be able to control the traffic to get decibel levels down to about 85, which is what I think the legal limit is, but most urban traffic in London might well be above that, and it is certainly above that in parts of my constituency.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) on convincing the Government to have this debate. Very unusually, I disagree with him on this subject, however. Sadly, I think we might end up in the legislative position that he proposes, but I think we should not destroy the great traditions of this great country of ours because of a minority. If we do that, we have lost the battle for the rights of the majority in the country.

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1.39 pm

Ian Lucas: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall respond in general terms in the short time left available. Time will not permit me to respond to a number of specific queries that have been raised, but I shall contact the hon. Members who have taken part in this debate in writing on those issues.

This debate has been extremely valuable, and I have learnt a great deal from the Members who have taken part, some of whom have a particular interest in this area. We all recognise that this is a very important issue for our constituents. I have heard, in particular, the issue raised about the collection of statistics-that is causing concern across the House. I am advised that the reason why they were not collected after 2005 was that for a long period the statistics had remained very stable and the same statistics were being recorded year after year. I have heard what the House has had to say on the matter, so I shall speak to officials in the Department about this issue.

The approach that the Government took to the private Member's Bill in 2003 has led to progress. I believe that the position has improved, but that is not to say that it cannot be made better. This issue needs to be considered by the Government on a continuing basis. I have heard the representations made on the time frames and the dates specified in the regulations. The regulations, as they stand, have made a great deal of progress on the use of fireworks, and for the moment the Government consider them to be doing a good job. We continue to seek to improve the position, which we believe to be much improved, and we will continue to monitor and listen to representations that are made. I close by simply thanking hon. Members for taking part in a good-natured, informative and well-informed debate, and for their time.

Question put and agreed to.


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Social Care Green Paper

1.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Andy Burnham): I beg to move,

Today's debate is another welcome sign of the growing debate about the future of social care; it is a debate initiated by our Green Paper "Shaping the Future of Care Together". I am pleased to say that already this has turned into one of the largest consultation exercises the Government have ever carried out: there have been more than 91,000 hits on the more than 17,500 consultation responses received, and 35 stakeholder events have been held across nine English regions, with two more scheduled. So there has already been an enormous level of engagement. That is appropriate, because there could not be more important issues for this House to consider than how we fund social care into the future and how we give all people in this country quality of life and dignity in retirement. After too long on the periphery, this issue is now centre stage. There is a building consensus that fundamental reform is needed soon if we are to secure a fairer deal for older and disabled people.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend say that the consultation has been genuinely open about all possibilities of funding care, including funding out of general taxation for everybody?

Andy Burnham: I would certainly say that it has been an open consultation and that we have not approached the matter with a fixed view about the future. The consultation put forward three broad options for the future funding of social care: the partnership option; the insurance option; and the comprehensive option. It ruled out the two other options at either end: wholly funding the system from taxation, and, in effect, leaving a free-for-all. Those options were ruled out because we do not believe it would be fair across the generations to ask the working age population to pay for the costs of care today. We believe-this is at the heart of this proposal-that, as was identified in all the King's Fund work, a partnership option involving the individual and the state is the right way to fund social care into the future. However, obviously that partnership can be constructed in different ways so as to achieve maximum fairness.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): The fact that the Secretary of State is kicking off this debate is an indication of the importance that the Government attach to this subject, and we are grateful that he is here to do that. I attended a couple of the consultation events in my constituency, which were attended by providers of care, people receiving care and various other representatives of those with a stake in all this. Interestingly, at both those sessions the issue of taxation came through as something that people wanted to reinsert into the consultation. Will the results of the consultation accurately report those consultation events that actually vote for taxation to be considered?

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Andy Burnham: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. Obviously we want the results of the consultation to be laid open, and I am grateful that he said he appreciated my presence in this debate. Since I took on this job, this issue has been at the top of my priority list. We urgently need to try to build a consensus in this country for the reform of social care. Of course we want all views to be heard as part of that, but there will come a point at which we have to try to find the compromise and consensus option that carries the greatest possibility of securing support in the country. That is the phase that will come after the Green Paper debate.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Although I realise that the impact of this Green Paper mainly applies to England, parts of it also apply to Wales, particularly in respect of the benefits system. My constituency contains one of the highest percentages of disabled people in the country, and I have received an enormous number of letters from people who are particularly concerned about the withdrawal of disability living allowance and attendance allowance-they claim that that would have a great impact on their lives. Will my right hon. Friend give me some information on that, so that I may pass it on to my constituents?

Andy Burnham: I can tell my right hon. Friend that this Green Paper contains implications for the care system in Wales and for the benefits system there. I assure her that we are working closely with Edwina Hart and her colleagues to ensure that close co-operation takes place. On the question of benefits, I announced last week that we were ruling out DLA for people who are under 65 from the consideration and the modelling in the Green Paper, in order to provide the kind of reassurance that I think my right hon. Friend seeks. People may say, "That was premature because the consultation hadn't ended." We just thought it was a sensible step to take to put people's minds at rest. We have done that, and I shall return to the theme of attendance allowance later in my remarks.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): The Secretary of State just alluded to attendance allowance, which is the other concern of people in Wales. Can he confirm that no consultation specifically on attendance allowance was undertaken, either in Wales or in Scotland, even though the changes suggested in the Green Paper might have a substantial impact in both those countries?

Andy Burnham: It is important to remind the hon. Gentleman that it is a Green Paper on which we are consulting; we are hearing a range of views not only from England but from all around the country-we would, of course, hear representations made from Wales. It is important that people do not say we are not listening and not consulting; we are doing so. Obviously, we are talking to colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Executive, and we will continue to do so. I recognise that the proposals have implications for policy elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is important that we are sensitive to that and that we balance all views when we introduce our White Paper in the new year.

Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): I just want to pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the
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Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins). Can we be clear that the Secretary of State is not ruling out discussions on the type of model that has been proposed by my hon. Friend-a model that should be fully funded by tax or national insurance? Although that is not one of the options in the Green Paper, will the Secretary of State, as he said, be listening and not ruling it out? If he wants to rule it out, I will go home now and get the 2 o'clock train.

Andy Burnham: Far be it from me to prevent my hon. Friend from getting home this evening. In the Green Paper, we have put forward three options that we believe are the fairest way of funding care in the future. I was going to give some statistics on how the nature of our society will change in terms of the number of working age people in comparison with the number of people in retirement. Those statistics need to be borne in mind by my hon. Friend-I know that he will do so-in considering the fairest way to proceed. Obviously we have a system today whereby people are paying out large amounts to fund their care. They are already making a substantial personal contribution to the cost of their care. In my view, it would not be honest or straightforward to give the impression that we can fully fund a care system entirely from general taxation. We have ruled out that option, and my hon. Friend has good time to get up to King's Cross.

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): I understand, of course, that a large part of this debate will be about how we pay for care. However, does the Secretary of State agree that it is equally important to talk about what we are paying for? I welcome entirely what the Green Paper says about standardised assessments. Multiple assessments are not only wasteful financially but extremely distressing. Will he also address commissioning in his speech, and whether or not we are commissioning the right things at the moment? It seems to me-he might agree-that there is far too much commissioning for tasks and far too little for good quality care overall. Does that not need to be a large part of this consultation?

Andy Burnham: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. He tempts me back to the substance of my remarks. I do not want this debate to be conducted with a sense that it is simply about funding what we are doing already. We have to consider care and support in the context of reshaping services around the individual so that health and council staff work in a much more integrated fashion, supporting people at home and keeping them out of hospital. That is at the heart of the vision, and I shall come on to discuss it, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that commissioning is at the heart of it. Once we have explored the funding, we come to delivery and how best to achieve the kind of services that we want. This is about a vision for the future of social care, and I agree with him entirely.

Kelvin Hopkins: I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again, and I want to address this funding matter again. I have spoken on many platforms, suggesting that care should be fully funded from taxation. I have not had a single person disagree with me; they all think that would be the sensible and fair way to do it, just as with the national health service.

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