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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28th May 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.


Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have received substantial representations concerning the use of fireworks and what response has been offered.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, we have received a significant number of representations concerning the use of fireworks. We recognise the depth of public feeling on these issues, particularly in respect of the noise and nuisance caused by the misuse of fireworks. We are actively considering across government what action can be taken within existing legislation to address the growing problems. We are also having further talks with the fireworks industry.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, perhaps I may ask that more urgent attention is given to the problem, not least for the Government to take note of injuries to children and the effect on wildlife, domestic pets and farm livestock. Does my noble friend consider that the larger and louder items more akin to military ordnance than modern entertainment are best left to public and well-organised displays rather than for ignition in people's gardens? They can hardly be described as private celebrations as they cause noise and nuisance within a couple of miles' radius.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I hope I made clear, we are concerned about injuries and the noise, nuisance and distress this causes to animals. We have been holding discussions across Whitehall with the enforcement authorities and the industry and we have made some progress. We have agreed with the industry that airbombs should be removed from general retail sale and we should see the impact of that towards the end of the year as existing orders and stocks are used up.

That is an important issue because it is one of the main causes of the problems. However, we need to do more to address the wide variety of issues raised.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, as many of the accidents involve imported fireworks, can the

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Minister say what efforts the Government are making to try to stop that, in particular the import of fireworks which do not follow regulations issued by the EC?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not certain whether there is information to suggest that imported fireworks break the regulations. However, I shall certainly follow the matter up and if there is a problem notify the noble Baroness.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, given that the misuse of firearms in the wrong hands can amount to—

Noble Lords: Fireworks!

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, I apologise, I meant fireworks in the wrong hands. Old habits die hard. Given that their misuse can amount to the use of an offensive weapon, will the Minister agree that this is an ideal task to be dealt with by the new community support officers, who are provided for in the Police Reform Bill?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I agree that fireworks can be used dangerously but I believe that it is overstating the case to think of them in terms of offensive weapons. The main point is to ensure that we examine constantly the issue of safety and their noise and nuisance aspect and that their use is properly enforced through the appropriate authorities.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is the Minister familiar with the saying that what goes up must come down? Is he aware that large rockets when spent can be dangerous missiles when they return to earth?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that is a consideration but while it is alarming that injury figures have risen it is impossible to detect a particular aspect which has worsened. Across the picture, we are seeing an increase in injuries and therefore we need to examine safety in general rather than a particular case.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a great deal of pleasure is being gained by a great number of people out of well-conducted bonfires and firework displays and that they should continue?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we do not believe that the case has been made for an outright ban. As the noble Lord says, millions of fireworks are sold and used safely each year and they represent a popular form of entertainment. Action we take must be taken against that background.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I declare an unremunerated interest as president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. In view of the fact that the number of casualties—that is, people requiring hospital treatment—following bonfire night last year rose by a staggering 40 per cent, does my noble friend agree that the problem of selling fireworks to

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children needs urgent attention? Furthermore, will he examine the new regulations introduced in Northern Ireland which severely circumscribe the conditions in which fireworks can be sold and displays can take place?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, clearly, under-age selling is an issue and we shall continue to do all that we can to prevent it taking place. So far as concerns Northern Ireland, it has recently been announced by the Security Minister at the Northern Ireland Office that permission to sell fireworks under the Explosives Act (Northern Ireland) 1970 will be withdrawn, which means effectively banning retail sales. In this case, as in others, the situation in Northern Ireland is slightly different. The issues there have focused on public order and threats to the security forces rather than on the issue of noise and nuisance, which are the problems in this country.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, following on the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, does the Minister accept that there is significant concern regarding large fireworks imported from overseas, particularly from China, which I understand is the source of many of the very dangerous fireworks that come into this country? Will he indicate what the Government propose to do about the matter?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I said in answer to the noble Baroness, I shall check whether there is any evidence that there is a safety problem in particular areas. If that is the case, we shall look carefully to see what action we can take to stop up that hole.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, first, I declare an interest as vice-president of the National Campaign for Firework Reform. Does the Minister believe that if fireworks were new, they would be allowed, given that they are somewhat dangerous? That being the case, I ask the Minister not to rule out the possibility of an outright ban on everything except public organised displays.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is always rather difficult to answer such hypothetical questions. There are many things that we happily enjoy which might well be banned in the current climate. As I said, at present we are not thinking in terms of an outright ban. We want to examine the issues of noise and nuisance, which cause a great deal of distress to many people as well as to their animals.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, in the noble Lord's desire, quite correctly, to look after safety, can he ensure that the Government will not end up being spoilsports?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I hope that I made it clear in my previous answer that we are not thinking in terms of an outright ban. This is a form of family entertainment which gives much pleasure. Equally, we need to look carefully at the issues of noise and nuisance which affect other families and their animals.

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Hospital In-Patients: Benefit Reduction

2.46 p.m.

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what basis the amount of hospital downrating is calculated and by whom it is calculated.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, the reduction of benefit of a hospital in-patient is made by reference to a percentage of the basic state retirement pension, which is set out in legislation. The calculation is carried out by a decision-making officer on behalf of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, will she tell the House when the quantitative estimate was last made? Is she aware that there is a widespread feeling among many people—some of whom are surprised to find that the downrating rule exists at all—that the actual amount deducted is not at all appropriate for the present situation? This has changed radically over the years in terms of house ownership, overhead costs and so on. Is there not a case for an impartial evaluation of what the actual amount deducted ought to be?

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