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Fireworks Bill

12.41 p.m.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Before dealing in detail with this Bill, I should like to pay tribute to my honourable friend Bill Tynan and to staff and colleagues for the time and effort which was devoted to the wide-ranging consultations in the preparation of this Bill and to the indefatigable way he successfully steered the Bill through all its stages in another place.

The unusually large numbers of MPs from all parties who participated in the discussions and supported the Bill in another place bore witness to the enormous amount of public concern which has been presented to them both from their constituents and from involved organisations of all kinds. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed various petitions on this issue and a large number of newspapers throughout the country have campaigned for fireworks control.

A recent report from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) on the issue of fireworks is one of the most comprehensive of its kind and clearly exposed the inadequacy of the current system of controlling fireworks and laid out the main issues disturbing the public.

There is the issue of noise and nuisance. All over the UK there is the clear perception that fireworks have become louder and their use extended, both throughout the year and into the night hours. Fireworks are part of celebrations now for religious festivals as well as personal celebrations such as weddings and birthdays and there are no formal decibel limits. There is also a disturbing increase in what can be called anti-social and even criminal use to destroy property and to harm people and animals.

There is also the question of injuries. Statistics show that after a decrease following the 1997 regulations and fireworks safety campaign, the past five years show the figures rising rapidly towards their previous peak. Of course the figures are recorded only for the four weeks around 5th November and so do not include injuries in the ever-increasing periods of current fireworks use such as New Year.

The BMA has written to me stating that it supports the Bill to improve fireworks safety as a necessary public health measure and expresses the hope that the Bill's provision will help to prevent the needless pain and misery of those suffering injury each year from the misuse of fireworks.

An upsetting aspect of the misuse of fireworks is the increase of injuries to both domestic and farm animals, some from deliberate attacks and others from the

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visual and aural effects of unexpected explosions of fireworks in their vicinity. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which has been at the forefront of the active supporters of the Bill, and to which I am particularly grateful for all its help and support, reports that currently throughout the year it has to retire prematurely, retrain or sedate many guide dogs because of fireworks. Some four to six are retired every year. As many as 50 others need retraining and hundreds more have to be sedated to help them cope with the problem. In addition to the distress to the dogs and their owners, this entails a considerable financial cost to the charity since the lifetime cost of each dog is around 35,000.

The question of control of licensing and storage is highly unsatisfactory. On payment of about 13, an annual licence for the storage of fireworks can be obtained. The local authority or, in metropolitan areas, the fire authority, cannot refuse to grant a licence and has no powers to revoke it. Over 95 per cent of fireworks in the United Kingdom are imported. There are estimates that between 9 to 13 per cent of those imported do not pass to legally-licensed storage but are stored illegally or container loads are quickly and surreptitiously split up to circumvent the laws on storage.

The existing law on fireworks is based on a number of diverse pieces of legislation: the Explosives Act 1875; the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974; the Noise Act 1996; the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912. In other words, the current law is a mix of an archaic 125 year-old law and other pieces of legislation dealing with issues such as consumer protection and noise, which have been tangentially applied to the issue of fireworks misuse.

A voluntary code has existed between the DTI and representatives of the fireworks industry since 1975 but in addition to it being wholly voluntary, there are differing interpretations of what has been agreed in a number of key areas and mixed opinion about the code's influence. In the light of all that, it is little wonder that the concern both of the general public and the directly involved organisations has led to an amazingly comprehensive and wide-ranging list of organisations which are in support of the Bill. Twelve leading animal charities and organisations have agreed a common position in support of the Bill. Most of your Lordships will have received information from some or all of them. They are: Blue Cross; Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; National Canine Defence League; Battersea Dogs Home; RSPCA; SSPCA; PRO Dogs; National Dog Wardens Association; Pet Care Trust; Wood Green Animal Shelter; Cats Protection League, and the Kennel Club.

In addition, the Bill is supported by the British Horse Society; the British Medical Association; the Trades Union Congress; the National Farmers Union; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Significantly, three groups representing the fireworks industry have stated their support for the Bill; namely, the British

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Fireworks Association; the British Pyrotechnics Association and the Explosive Industry Group of the Confederation of British Industry.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities reported from its inquiries that the Association of Chief Police Officers was of the opinion that fireworks misuse has escalated significantly, resulting in its becoming a serious community problem, which causes considerable annoyance to the general public and affects the quality of life in local communities.

The Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers' Association expressed concern about the increasing misuse of fireworks and about the need to strengthen the current system. Indeed, it offered its support for the Bill. The Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards voiced particular concerns about the problems of storage and supply. The SSPCA reported that 90 per cent of vets who responded to its survey had treated animals for injuries resulting from the misuse of fireworks.

I turn now to give a brief outline of the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 establishes the definition of a firework. Scope for amendment of this definition is included to allow an adequate response to possible new products being developed.

Clause 2 grants the powers to enable fireworks regulations to be made and outlines the grounds on which they can be made. These include protection of humans, animals and property. A requirement to consult with interested and other relevant groups before making regulations is included, although there is scope for making emergency provisions.

Clause 3 allows for sales to minors to be banned. The intention is that the existing minimum age of 18 should be retained. Clause 4 allows for the times at which fireworks can be sold or used to be limited. Scope is included to allow exceptions such as post-11 p.m. use at New Year and so on, but the intention is that this clause will bring about a year-round 11 p.m. curfew on general firework use.

Clause 5 allows for the sale of certain categories of fireworks to be restricted to those trained, experienced and/or insured, as appropriate. Clause 6 allows for conditions such as training, insurance, consultation with those nearby and/or appropriate local authority permission to be applied to those intending to hold public firework displays. The intention is that those holding displays would be expected to take reasonable steps in their organisation to ensure that certain standards in respect of training and insurance are adhered to and that the impact of these displays on people or animals nearby is curtailed or minimised.

Clause 7 allows for the existing system of licensing suppliers to be strengthened. This of course will require careful consultation, but it has been argued, not least by my honourable friend Bill Tynan in another place, that a two-tier system should be introduced, with a lower tier allowing a retailer to sell fireworks for a limited period around 5th November, and a higher tier, with a higher cost and a stricter standard of training, record-keeping and so on, should be applied to those selling all the year round. These

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licences could be refused or revoked, and the higher tier would apply to those selling via the Internet or by mail order.

Clause 8 allows regulations to be made in respect of the information that must be provided about fireworks. The intention is that this would relate to packaging and information provided with both packs and individual fireworks. Clause 9 allows regulations to be made in respect of the importation and manufacture of fireworks. The intention is that information should be provided to confirm that fireworks entering the UK are being transported to legal storage and that, if not, action could more swiftly be taken.

Clause 10 allows for and defines the nature of training courses referenced under fireworks regulations. The intention is that, in consultation with the industry and other interested parties, appropriate training courses and standards would be established to cover those areas where training would be appropriate. Clause 11 makes it an offence to contravene a fireworks regulation with maximum penalties laid down.

Clause 12 outlines the powers of enforcement of those acting under fireworks regulations. The intention is that local trading standards officers, liaising with the police, health and safety executives and Customs and Excise, as appropriate, would be the prime enforcement mechanism. Clauses 13 to 19 are technical clauses relating to financial provisions, the means of firework regulations coming into law and a number of other minor aspects.

It should be noted that the Bill is an enabling measure. It grants a package of powers to make firework regulations which can be changed in response to changing circumstances. There is, however, a clear expectation of what, in the first instance, the powers granted under the Fireworks Bill would be used to achieve. Concerns have been raised in respect of these Henry VIII provisions, but it is expected that the reassurances given by the Government in 1998 to the House of Lords in respect of a similar Bill on fireworks will be repeated.

I should just say that in relation to Scotland, the Bill is a mixture of reserved and devolved matters. A Sewel Motion was passed in the Scottish Parliament on 26th June 2003 after a two-hour discussion in which not one MSP spoke against the Bill. We were all in favour of action which of course reflected the concerns expressed by their own constituents on this matter.

A Section 63 order is being prepared to give Scottish Ministers concurrent powers with UK Ministers in relation to Clause 4, which deals with the prohibition of supply, possession or use of fireworks in certain circumstances, and Clause 6 dealing with public fireworks displays.

I greatly appreciate the effort of all noble Lords who have put their names down to speak on the Bill, especially on a Friday in July. It is perhaps a significant omen that we are having the Second Reading on the anniversary of American Independence, a day on which there may well be fireworks parties, which we all

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hope will be safe and happy ones. This Bill should ensure that in future all such events surely will be. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

12.56 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for introducing the Bill, which I am sure will receive widespread support. There have been a number of failed attempts in the past to get similar Bills on to the statute book. We must do our best in this House to ensure that that does not happen again. However, there is an important procedural point regarding the passage of the Bill on to the statute book, to which I shall return at the end of my speech.

We have all received a large amount of briefing from a number of organisations supporting the Bill. My noble friend pointed out that no fewer than 12 animal charities and a wide range of other organisations, including the BMA, have expressed support.

I wish to express my support for the Bill for very particular and personal reasons. Both our children were born with substantial handicaps of hearing and vision. As a result, they both went to a school for the blind. My daughter has been a guide dog owner for 17 years.

When I saw the Bill had been tabled, I remembered that some children at the school our children attended had been blinded by fireworks. I got in touch with the teacher who taught our children and asked him how many children he had known in that category. He said that in his time there—some 10 years—that he could remember five children who had been blinded by fireworks. That is just one school for the blind over a period of 10 years. How many more children and adults are there who have suffered serious eye damage as a result of fireworks? If the Bill becomes law, we must hope that such unnecessary handicap is brought to an end.

When I told my daughter that I intended to speak in this debate she expressed a trenchant view—as is her wont—that she would ban all fireworks except those used in properly controlled displays, and even then there would be the effect on animals to consider. Her last guide dog, Vita, was absolutely terrified of fireworks. It was painful to see her reaction every November and on other occasions when fireworks were exploding. In fact, at those times her condition was so bad that she had to be sedated with the canine equivalent of Valium, which meant that she was incapable of working as a guide dog for at least two days.

Your Lordships will have seen the excellent briefing prepared by the coalition of animal welfare groups and the figures quoted—448 dogs treated last year for firework injuries, 20,308 dogs with behavioural problems and 24,875 dogs which had to be given medication. Those are the global figures, but I remember a lovely, friendly golden Labrador turned into a cowering and trembling animal, who, however

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much we tried, could not be comforted and had to be sedated. As I say, sedation takes some time to wear off. Your Lordships will know that that is not an isolated incident; they have heard the figures from my noble friend; and a wide range of other animals have similar problems where fireworks are concerned.

Those are the two brief, but I hope powerful, points I wish to make regarding the effects of fireworks on blindness and on guide dogs in particular.

I shall conclude with an important procedural point. As I am sure your Lordships know, if the Bill is amended and must therefore return to the Commons, it will not become law. As I understand it, Commons procedure is such that next Friday, 11th July, is the last day in the Session allotted to Private Member's Bills there. Clearly, the Bill will not be able to pass all its stages in this House by next Friday, so if it must return to the Commons, it will fall.

In passing, that is a general point that applies to all Private Member's Bills in this House as we approach the Summer Recess. That point should be considered by the business managers and House authorities in both Houses. I tried and failed when I was Chief Whip; perhaps under the new found freedom of the back benches I shall try again to get the system changed whereby the Commons does not and will not consider any Private Member's Bills after the Summer Recess.

The Bill has been thoroughly considered in the other place. I understand that all the necessary amendments were made there, so I urge your Lordships not to require the Bill to have a Committee stage, so the remaining stages can be dealt with formally during the overspill. We can then be sure that the Bill will become law this Session. If it does, it will be of great benefit to both people and animals. I am delighted to give the Bill my support.

1.1 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I do not intend to detain the House for long, but I should like to take this opportunity to say a few words in support of the Bill. I very much hope that this will be the only time that we shall debate the matter, as delaying the Bill's progress will, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, explained, cause it to fall in this Session.

I am sure that most noble Lords will agree that, when organised well, fireworks are a magnificent spectacle and often the highlight of a celebration. A professional show can be a truly magical experience, with high quality fireworks set off with expert timing to music. Fireworks evoke wonder in adults and children alike with their splendid colour, light and sound that never fails to inspire awe.

It is for this reason that the Bill is before us today: to preserve the good bits; the pleasure fireworks bring and the fun and festivities with which they are associated. The fireworks industry recognised the importance of that when it took the initiative to introduce voluntary measures in the 1976 firework package deal that was endorsed by the Government. For alongside the good bits, fireworks are capable of causing considerable harm to those who mishandle

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them and to those people and animals in the vicinity who are disturbed by loud noises that continue late into the night. Existing legislation does not go far enough to protect them.

I am particularly concerned about the impact that fireworks can have on working dogs. It saddens me to see the effect that fireworks can have on any animal. I have a small dog that is petrified by fireworks and trembles all over when she hears the cracks and bangs, hiding her head in the cupboard to try to get away from the sound. But that must be so much worse in the case of working dogs which have been trained at great expense and are relied upon by a disabled person. Those dogs do such a marvellous job, bringing companionship and enabling the blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound to live as normal life as possible. It must be devastating for a dog owner to experience a loyal guide dog being badly affected by fireworks. I understand that the numbers involved are not huge, but even one is too many.

I see the Bill as a way to ensure that fireworks maintain their well-deserved good reputation—a Bill to facilitate regulation so that we can enjoy fireworks for many years to come. But let us also ensure that when people think of fireworks they think of spine-tingling excitement rather than sleepless nights, street vandalism and cowering animals. This is what the Bill seeks to achieve; I welcome it wholeheartedly.

1.4 p.m.

Lord Joffe: My Lords, in supporting the Bill so ably and eloquently introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, I must declare a rather personal interest. My wife's birthday falls on 5th November. Instead of celebrating, she, her nervous cats and petrified dog tend to cower away together in the most sound-proof room of our house as fireworks explode in our village and a number of rockets end up on our lawn.

Although I would not wish unnecessarily to deprive our neighbours or anyone else of the pleasure they derive from fireworks displays which can be foreseen and against which precautions can be taken—such as on Guy Fawkes night—it is the weeks before and after which have the potential to cause the greatest shock and distress, as fireworks are launched haphazardly and unexpectedly. Indeed, that occurs not only during those weeks but also from time to time throughout the year for no accountable reason.

Having regard to the dangers to people—particularly children—to animals and to property, few would oppose the principle that careful regulation is necessary. But it would be wrong to take that to the extreme that fireworks should be completely banned. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, pointed out, they provide much pleasure to many on festive occasions and are sometimes a spectacular and even beautiful sight.

A balance clearly needs to be struck and that is exactly what the Bill achieves. Although the powers given to the Secretary of State are wide, they are restricted by the provisions of Clause 2(4) requiring that the Secretary of State, before making regulations,

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must issue a full regulatory impact assessment setting out details of their costs and benefits and their wider economic, social and environmental impact. Added to that are the requirements under Clause 16(2) for a draft of the statutory instrument containing them to be laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, pointed out, in addition certain commitments have already been given.

This is an excellent and balanced Bill that will be welcomed by the public, the medical profession, the animal welfare organisations and, I understand, the fireworks industry itself.

1.7 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, in supporting and welcoming the Bill, perhaps I may first, like others, thank my noble friend Lady Ramsay of Cartvale for introducing it. It is an important measure. As has been said, at one time most of the emphasis was on injuries sustained by private firework displays, especially to young people. Attention has already been drawn to the injuries that they have suffered.

Fireworks used to be centred around 5th November, and one used to be able to safeguard one's animals around that time, because it was only for a day or two before and after that one had to try to calm them or keep them in. Nowadays, that period has got longer and longer and fireworks take place at so many events—wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other celebrations of one kind or another—that that is increasingly difficult.

From my experience at home, it is more difficult to keep the cat in. Cats panic easily and have been known to desert their home and get lost. We also have two rather large dogs: a Rottweiler named Harold and a boxer named Herbie. They are normally fairly quiet and bark only when anyone comes near the property, but when neighbours have fireworks they bark continuously. No one would welcome two such large dogs making so much noise over such a long period—apart from the effect on the dogs.

Guide dogs and injury in relation to them have also been mentioned. There is also the cost to society. Fireworks also have an effect on farm animals. Some people throw them at horses and other animals causing them extreme distress. I am sorry to say that it sometimes occurs in the countryside where I live.

I welcome the introduction of this regulatory measure. It does not stop the use of fireworks altogether, but it looks at when they can be used, making them safer than ever and reducing animals' suffering. The measure has public support. One need only consider the hundreds of thousands who have signed petitions, many of which have been sent to MPs, who have had a very heavy postbag. My son, the MP for Chorley, is not alone in having to deal with the issues. The Commons have certainly welcomed the Bill, and it has wide support in this House. I hope that no amendments are tabled that could thwart the passage of the Bill into law. We all agree that the

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measure is necessary. I wish the Bill well. I also wish my noble friend well in her pursuit of seeing the Bill enacted.

1.11 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux: My Lords, as a vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, it is my great pleasure to give RoSPA's wholehearted support to this enabling Bill. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, and Mr Bill Tynan for bringing the Bill to Parliament. I thank the noble Baroness for her elucidation of the Bill and for giving me a background briefing.

Over the past four years, the total number of injuries in the four-week period of Guy Fawkes Night, 831 people were injured in 1998, 1056 in 1999, 972 in 2000, a staggering 1,362 in 2001 and 1017 last year. Action is long overdue. Those are the only statistics kept, so we cannot tell what happens at New Year's Eve or at other times.

The society has long advocated many of the measures contained in the Bill, particularly those relating to licensing and training. It provides a good framework for future regulation of fireworks to enable a sensible balance to be achieved between the pleasure that fireworks can give and necessary safety.

RoSPA does not seek to ban all use of fireworks by the public, as they give great pleasure to many. We also have concerns about promoting an increase in the manufacture of fireworks by amateurs, which has led to serious injury in the past. RoSPA does not wish to spoil the public's enjoyment of spectacular public displays. However, we wish to ensure that the public and organisers of displays are as safe as possible.

The Bill contains many useful provisions to allow for better controls. The clampdown on illegal sales, for example, is long overdue. I hope that the legislation and the consultation that follows it will promote a fundamental reappraisal of the use of fireworks, which will put an end to their irresponsible use while retaining most of their enjoyment value.

It must be remembered that most injuries inflicted by fireworks could be avoided with more care and thought. I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I also support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that the Bill should not be amended and should go in the statue book as quickly as possible.

1.14 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I, too, support the Bill. Like others, I express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, for speaking to it in such a comprehensive and admirable way. I also pay tribute to Bill Tynan of the other place for his persistence and determination to address the problems that we are discussing.

However, it is with considerable regret that I see the need for such a Bill. I am no kill-joy; I like fireworks and wish to continue to watch them and to witness their technical development. Fireworks become ever more spectacular as each year goes by. Like most

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people, I want to continue to get pleasure and entertainment from them. However, like an increasing number of people these days—I am glad to hear from the Minister's statement that the Government have come to share the view—I believe that the misuse of fireworks, particularly their noise, has started to blight the lives of many people, especially the elderly, the blind, babies, very young children, pets and other animals. An increasing number are hurt by that growing anti-social behaviour.

I was surprised that the problem was not covered in the Government's Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that. In addition, I would welcome a view from him on what would be the Government's intentions, if this Private Member's Bill failed, to ensure that they addressed the issue.

As recently as 10 to 15 years ago, we would see and hear fireworks only on or around 5th November, possibly at New Year's celebrations and on rare occasions at other times of the year. Now, because fireworks seem to be on sale all year around, they are set off every week of the year, often at unearthly hours. I live in Brighton, where, as recently as last weekend, my wife and I were disturbed by thunder crackers, first at 4 a.m. and later on Sunday afternoon. It is difficult to cope with, especially if you have young children or pets.

Thunder crackers are air bombs, which, I understand, have now been voluntarily banned by the industry. But will self-regulation be tough enough to ensure that the ban remains, when, as recently as last week, air bombs were set off? In any event, ordinary bangers are now much louder than previously. I share the view with many in the animal welfare industry that we are moving towards a point where the industry must introduce a limitation on the decibels of noise created by fireworks. Had we had the opportunity of so doing, I would have liked to suggest today that this House move an amendment to introduce a limitation on the decibels of noise—perhaps around 100 decibels. But, given that that would prejudice the Bill, it would be inappropriate to so do. We must make progress wherever we can.

However, during our deliberations we should send a strong signal to the industry that, if our steps to rectify the problem are inadequate, some of us will seek the introduction of a limitation. In any event, European legislation will require a limitation in due course, so it is important that the industry starts to address the matter now.

With those reservations, and looking to the industry to remedy the problem that I have identified, I repeat my support for the Bill. I also express my gratitude to those who have spoken today and everyone who, I hope, will support the Bill when it returns to the other House.

1.19 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I should be quite happy to see the Bill, or one very like it, pass into law. But I am not prepared to let a Bill of such importance pass through this House unscrutinised, just because of the deficiencies in Commons procedures. This is a

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Commons Bill; if they had wanted to bring it through earlier they could have done. It received its Second Reading a long time ago, and the fact that it has reached this House only now is entirely down to them. I have very serious problems with the Bill as currently drafted.

First, to start off on a general point, those who support the interests of pets—and I own a dog and cat—should be more conscious of the inconvenience to which these animals put our fellow citizens. Anyone walking the streets of London constantly has to watch where they are treading because of what dogs have left behind. All of us, especially in the more built-up parts of London, are conscious of the absence of small birds due to the prevalence of cats. As owners of these animals, we have a very large impact on the enjoyment of life by our fellow citizens. We should be very conscious of demanding that we reduce their enjoyment merely because it has an impact on the pleasure that we and our pets get out of life.

I was also very disturbed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale, said today about the statistics from Guide Dogs for the Blind. The damage to animals has increased by a factor of 100 since the statistics given in the House of Commons at Second Reading. I wonder what has happened to produce that enormous increase in the figures provided by Guide Dogs for the Blind, and whether we can really rely on what that organisation says. Truth is a very important commodity and the RSPCA and Guide Dogs for the Blind should have more consideration for the statistics and stories that they are putting forward. They might command support of people who trip over the facility with which they change their stories, and try to conceal, in the case of the RSPCA, their real motives.

What the RSPCA wants to do is effectively ban all private use of fireworks. It wants to reduce the decibel limit to 95 decibels, which is roughly that of a horse farting. That would not exactly be most people's idea of an enjoyable firework display. The RSPCA wants to remove the private use of fireworks and have them only at organised displays. This is an area in which we have to balance the interests of people who want to enjoy fireworks—

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