HC Deb 20 November 1969 vol 791 cc1487-9
7. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to reach decisions following the results of his Department's inquiry into accidents caused by fireworks.

31. Mr. Rose

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further action he plans to take to limit the dangers to the public of fireworks.

38. Mr. John Wells

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to raise the age of persons to whom fireworks may be sold.

56. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a further statement of departmental policy in relation to the sale of dangerous fireworks which may cause accidents.

61. Mr. Spriggs

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the present provisions for the sale of fireworks to children since 5th November. 1969 and what reply he has sent.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations that the sale of fireworks to the public should be restricted further, or banned. As the House knows, my right hon. Friend is considering whether the age of persons to whom fireworks may be sold should be raised, and proposes to arrange a meeting of all the organisations concerned with the problem of injuries caused by fireworks when the 1969 figures have been analysed.

Mr. Lane

While the much lower rate of accidents this year is welcome, will the hon. Lady keep in mind the fact that there would be great public support for a proposal to raise the minimum age for buying fireworks to 16, not only from the point of view of the risk to children but, equally important, from that of the possible annoyance to older people?

Mrs. Williams

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, it is encouraging that accidents have been well below the 1962 figures for some years now. Nevertheless, it is disturbing that, of those involved in accidents, a large proportion are young children under 13. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said in the Adjournment debate on 29th October that he would look very seriously at the possibility of raising the age at which children can be sold fireworks.

Mr. Rose

Is my hon. Friend aware that, since the meetings four or five years ago between the Home Office and the manufacturers of fireworks, the manufacturers have been dragging their feet? May I suggest that fireworks manufacturers be invited to visit the burns unit of the Booth Hall Hospital in my constituency in order to see the results of some of these terrible accidents?

Mrs. Williams

The manufacturers will certainly be invited to the meeting to be held by my right hon. Friend, and all these questions will be raised with them. As for my hon. Friend's invitation, I would suggest that he sends that direct to the fireworks manufacturers.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Leaving aside the question of the unsuitability of rejoicing at the death of one who, were he alive today, might be regarded more as a benefactor than as a malefactor, would it not be a new and ludicrous extension of paternalism to ban altogether the sale of fireworks? Is not the solution the more stringent enforcement of existing regulations?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that some motor car drivers share his view about that historical figure in the past of the House of Commons. However, one has always to make a division between trying to forbid things and trying to treat people as responsible. Our view is that the distinction should be drawn between children who cannot be regarded as wholly responsible and parents who should take responsibility for what they do.

Mr. Spriggs

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are two very important points at issue? They are the health and safety of children versus vested interests. Will my hon. Friend look at that issue when examining this problem, and take some action?

Mrs. Williams

I can only repeat that, with regard to children, obviously the situation must be treated very seriously. Every time that Guy Fawkes day approaches my right hon. Friend endeavours to give the best possible advice to parents about the use of fireworks. It must be said clearly that parents have the major responsibility for protecting young children from the effects of dangerous accidents at this time.