HL Deb 27 May 1976 vol 371 cc387-407

1.10 p.m.


My Lords. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill came to us from another place having been introduced there by Mr. Gwilym Roberts. the Member for Cannock. as a Private Member's Bill. I wish at the outset to pay tribute to Mr. Roberts. who has persistently and with sustained interest over the years worked hard to improve the safety of, and achieve a reduction in the number of injuries from the use of. fireworks. Indeed. in 1969 he introduced a 10-Minute Rule Bill. Noble Lords who know the other place will realise that for success with a 10-Minute Rule Bill one has to be really lucky. and Mr. Roberts was not: it went the way of all flesh and was lost. Finally, however, his Private Member's Bill went through all its stages in another place with very little difficulty and I hope that this House will be equally generous and that we can add something to legislation on the sale and use of fireworks which may in the long-term prevent injuries.

Although the title of this measure is the Explosives (Age of Purchase) Bill, its real concern is only with fireworks because most other explosives require a special licence issued by the Chief of Police to purchase them, apart from any desire to use them, so the Bill deals only with a few aspects of the sale and use of fireworks with a view to greater safety. It is that and nothing else. The Government and the fireworks trade, if I may so describe it—wholesalers, retailers and manufacturers—have reached agreement on a number of additional safety measures which should still further prevent fireworks injuries at that period of the year, on and about 5th November. which has been regarded as the fireworks period. I hope the House will forgive me if I mention some of the points of agreement between the trade and the Government and other organisations. I might add that it was not complete agreement in every case because there are people who feel that fireworks should he banned altogether. and no improvement in the law or in the regulations controlling them quite meets their view.

The Governmental responsibility for fireworks was transferred in 1974 from the Home Office to the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, and shortly after that transfer the then Minister of State decided to conduct a full review of the manufacture, sale and use of fireworks. In doing so he decided that the best way was to issue a Consultative Document to all interested organisations. to hold meetings with them, to hear their views, to see what would he necessary in the non-legislative field—-that is. by agreement—and what would be necessary on the legislative side, of which this Bill is part. The Consultative Document was issued to 96 organisations including manufacturers, wholesalers. retailers. Government Departments, local authorities, fire departments, police. women's organisations, organisations of aged people and of course the medical profession, and numerous meetings and discussions took place.

I have said that there was fairly general agreement between the trade and the Government. In this respect we should pay tribute to the fireworks industry. whose sales were already falling rapidly, in that they not only made contributions to the discussions but suggested methods by which safety in the use of fireworks could be improved. I will quickly go through some of the main decisions and points of agreement.

The first was the phasing out of what are known as flying fireworks—flying saucers, helicopters and so on—fireworks which move through the air in, it is hoped. a particular direction and away from the viewers of the display. something which does not always happen because, 1 am told, they are controlled by fins, made of either cardboard or tin, which can become bent in packaging or in being handled by boys and girls using them. They can therefore go in the wrong direction and he a danger. They are to be phased out. The industry also decided to cease the production of what are known as jumping crackers. Noble Lords will know what they are; having been ignited and thrown on the floor, they jump in all directions and never in the direction one expects. The decision, volunteered by the industry. was to cease their production.

The next point of agreement was to reduce by 50 per cent. over the next two years the number of bangers produced. Perhaps I should explain that bangers are fireworks which have nothing to do with that edible delicacy which one can obtain in the Bishops' Bar. They make a noise and that is why they are called hangers: they are miniature bombs. The agreement was to reduce the number of bangers produced by November 1977—that is, over a period of two years—by 50 per cent., and the industry voluntarily offered to reduce the explosive content of hangers. It is the flying type of firework plus hangers which cause most injuries. Perhaps I should mention the danger of igniting a hanger and pushing it through someone's, particularly an aged person's, letter box where, in an enclosed space such as the hallway of a small house, it can he very frightening indeed. It makes a terrific noise and many elderly people have been frightened in that way. The next point of agreement was to limit the sale of fireworks to a period of about four weeks, three weeks before 5th November and a few days afterwards.

Another point of agreement was by November 1977—that is. over a two-year period—to restrict the sale of all fireworks, other than bangers and sparklers and large individual pieces, to boxed selections; selection boxes of fireworks not containing bangers but containing those fireworks which are not regarded as quite so dangerous as bangers or the flying type. This again was agreed by the industry. It may be that boxed selections will be beyond the pockets of some of the young boys who are concerned only in buying bangers and things that make a noise. For that reason it was felt that boxes should not contain hangers. As for sparklers, noble Lords will know that in their use one holds a piece of wire—I do not know the content of the explosive; it may he magnesium—and, when lit. stars move in every possible direction. There is not much real harm or danger from their use and they can be held in the hand, preferably a gloved hand. but there is danger if the sparks should fall into a nearby box of fireworks which have not yet been used.

The next point of agreement was an increase in the maximum fee for registering premises in which fireworks are kept. The current maximum fee is 63p—or 12s. 6d., as it used to be—and that has been the fee for well over 100 years. The Government have no intention. in arriving at a new maximum fee, of doing anything punitive, and it will he up to the local authorities who administer this side of the licensing or regularising of fireworks to decide within the new figure what fee should he paid. provided it does not exceed the maximum. 63p. This will require legislation and a Government order.

I turn to the Bill before us. which is the legislative requirement of what might describe as the package deal. Clause 1(1) refers to Section 31 of the Explosive Substances Act 1875, which makes it an offence to sell fireworks to a child apparently under the age of 13. The word " apparently " makes it difficult to enforce this 100-year-old law. It is difficult when a boy of 12 approaches the counter of a newsagent's shop to buy fireworks. The retailer has to try to decide whether or not the boy is over 13. It is not difficult with a child aged only 9 or 10 years, but it is very difficult with a 12-year-old, particularly if he is a big boy. Looking at the record one sees that there has been little evidence of the evasion, willingly, knowingly, or purposely of this section of the 1875 Act. But in the Bill now before us the apparent age goes up from 13 years to 16, which would rule out, without much difficulty, the 13 or 14-year-old boy. The record of injuries arising from the use of fireworks shows that most injuries have occurred to children under 13.

In 1875 the penalty for selling fireworks to a child under 13 was £5. In 1967, under the Criminal Justice Act, the penalty was increased to £20, and under this Bill a penalty of £200 is proposed. I have endeavoured to discover what figure would today be equivalent to a penalty of £5 101 years ago, but that is beyond me. It is certainly an astronomical figure, and £200 may or may not be enough.

Clause 1(2) deals with another section of the 1875 Act, Section 80, which makes it absolutely clear that fireworks must not be thrown in a public place and the penalty for so doing was, 101 years ago, £5. We are told that there was considerable hooliganism even in those days and that fireworks were thrown into passing coaches. Consequently many people were frightened and so action was then taken. It was felt that £5 was an adequate penalty, but in this Bill it is proposed that the penalty should be £200.

Under Clause 2 it is provided that if the Bill becomes an Act it shall come into force one month from the date of its passing, and so it would then cover " fireworks day " this year. The Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland. The reason for this is quite simple. In 1970 the then Northern Ireland Government decided that, with two exceptions, no fireworks should be sold to anyone without his first having obtained a licence. I have seen one of the application forms relating to this and I can understand why, after 1971, very few people in Northern Ireland bought many fireworks for legitimate and genuine fireworks display purposes. The prohibition on the sale of fireworks in Northern Ireland applies, with two exceptions, to all fireworks, unless one has made an application and has a licence. One exception is caps for toy pistols, with which noble Lords (and perhaps noble Baronesses) are familiar. The other is snaps used in Christmas crackers. Neither of these items is particularly dangerous. They are the only items of that type which, in Northern Ireland, can be bought without a licence.

Finally, I should like to say a few words about fireworks injuries because it is important to get this point on the record. Since 1962 hospitals have been required to provide information on all injuries which they have treated in the four weeks period around 5th November—Guy Fawkes day, which we continue to celebrate 370 years after the event. The record of injuries during the fireworks period shows that between 1962 and 1975 there was a considerable drop in the number of injuries each year. But it must also be borne in mind that sales of fireworks have dropped in the same period from 300 million individual items to 150 million.

It is heartening that the number of injuries has continued to drop, but unhappily the injuries are still, in the main, to children under 13 years. In 1975 the total injuries were a little more than a quarter of what they were in 1962. Nevertheless, last year, 1975, 400 children were treated in hospital, but the number of children who had to spend one or more nights in hospital as a result of injuries from fireworks was approximately one-seventh of what it was in 1962, when records were started. So the trend is heartening and encouraging. Unhappily, the number of eye injuries has not dropped proportionately, and injuries to children's eyes arising from fireworks are still much too high.

One has heard occasional criticism of the advertising of fireworks in newspapers and on television. As a former chairman of the IBA, I am particularly interested in the television advertising of fireworks. At the time that I held that post the Minister responsible, the Home Secretary, could always have stopped the IBA from allowing fireworks advertisements by issuing an order, as he did for cigarette advertising. He elected not to do that; he left it to the Independent Broadcasting Authority to deal with the problem. In its code of advertising standards and practices the IBA decided on a special appendix to deal with advertising of fireworks on the screen during the fireworks period. The decision was, first, that no advertisement in which children were shown to be handling fireworks would be accepted for transmission on the screen, and, secondly, the picture must always show an adult present and, presumably, in control of the situation.

Apart from the question of advertising, I should mention that the IBA and the BBC provide free air time for the COI, or any other Government Department, to indicate to viewers the importance of taking every possible precaution when using fireworks, whether it be at a family party in the garden of one's home or in the street; and I think some credit is due to both the BBC and the IBA for the reduction in the number of injuries over the last 13 years.

My Lords, we all rejoice at the reduction in the number of injuries. We are all glad that they are falling, as they are, each year. We should like that reduction to be greater: 400 injuries are still far too many. We applaud the agreed measures reached with the trade, whose public-spirited attitude is greatly appreciated; and we hope that this Bill will make its own contribution to still greater fireworks safety. There is room for improvement and we must move in that direction. Fireworks can be great fun, they can be very enjoyable, but they can also be very deadly. My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 23. —(Lord Aylestone.)

1.31 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to express the gratitude of these Benches to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, for having moved this Bill in a constructive and convincing manner. I should also like to pay tribute to the honourable gentleman the Member for Cannock, who initiated the Bill in the other place. I have an interest to declare, although strictly a non-financial one, as a vice-president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which I am quite sure will give ready support to this Bill. Also, for some years after I first entered your Lordships' House I was chairman of the all-Party Parliamentary Committee on Home Safety. A very good friend of mine, the then Member for Belfast West, the honourable lady Mrs Patricia McLaughlin, was the Secretary of this group, and at that time we had several meetings with the firework manufacturers. I am talking now of possibly ten years ago. The manufacturers at first showed a somewhat frigid approach to our deliberations then, but eventually, when they realised that this was not a snooping exercise but was an exercise in generally trying to promote safety, they became particularly co-operative; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has brought out in the course of his most interesting speech, discussions with the fireworks manufacturers have been very much more satisfactory. As I understand it, there are now very stringent rules regarding labelling and about instructions on the fireworks, as to how they should be used, being clearly legible.

As was pointed out in the other place, much responsibility lies on the parents, of course. I do not think anyone can doubt this. By far the safest way, and indeed the most enjoyable way, of having firework displays—we have done it in our own family and in the families of friends of ours—is to form a kind of syndicate of families so that these displays can be properly supervised by a cadre of adults, with proper sand buckets, water buckets and all the precautions necessary. In that way, at least some of the terrible accidents about which we read can be prevented, even if they cannot all be completely eradicated.

So far as concerns the penalties laid down in the Bill, I think the penalties in relation to retailers are adequate. Of course, with the height to which young people grow these days it is not always easy to tell whether a lad, or even a girl, is 16. They can always claim to be 16 when they are probably 13½. Short of issuing some kind of identity card, or something like that, it is not easy for a retailer to know beyond peradventure how old these people are, and so this provision is not easily enforceable. But the thinking behind this particular provision is rational, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has said, I think it will deter some of these youngsters from going into the shops, and will keep some of the retailers very much on their toes.

Of course, there is another problem here. Many of these fireworks are sold by small shopkeepers who deal, not only in fireworks for a few days of the year but also in sweets, tobacco, aspirins—you mention it, they sell it. With all the additional burdens which they now have of filing returns of various sales and things, it is not always easy, particularly in the case of a one-man or two-man shop, for the shopkeeper, on the spur of the moment, to determine a youngster's age before making a sale. But where the penalties really need to be heavy is in the case of these hooligans who throw fireworks in the street. In the village in which I live, in Surrey, some years ago, some hooligan threw a firework into a pram in which a baby was lying. Mercifully, the firework did not explode. I really think that people like these ought to have the book, metaphorically and in every way, thrown at them. These are the sort of people who should be punished really heavily. Of course, at football matches, too, and at other organised games, where the vast majority of people behave perfectly well, one gets the odd cadre of hooligans who tend to throw fireworks and other missiles, and I hope that this Bill can perhaps be further strengthened to deal with them. I rather wonder whether these penalties are tough enough. For the purposes of getting this vital Bill through, I think they will do for the time being, but perhaps the Government, who may well have to bring in more composite legislation on this, will think of higher penalties.

When, some years ago, I initiated a debate on home safety in your Lordships' House, I paid a visit to Mount Vernon Hospital at Northwood, which deals with many cases of burns and other horrible injuries. As I pointed out in your Lordships' House all those years ago, I saw there some horrible sights, including some coloured slides; but one particularly dreadful sight which has always remained in my mind was of a small baby who had lost two arms and one leg through a firework accident—and that baby was about six months old. Bearing in mind the debate we had before this one. the future of that baby does not make for very happy thought. But it would be wrong to he entirely depressing on this subject. The number of accidents has decreased over the past few years, although, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has rightly said, the number of accidents to the eyes, which are always the most vulnerable part of the body in these firework mishaps, is, unhappily, not decreasing.

The magistrates courts have a duty to perform here. My wife is herself a magistrate and I know that in our court anybody throwing fireworks has a rather stiff penalty thrown at them. Magistrates really do need in these instances to impose the maximum penalties because it is not only the person throwing the firework who is likely to be injured, it is not only the person at whom the firework is thrown, deliberately or otherwise, but there is the possibility of injury to a lot of people around, quite apart from the fright given—as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, mentioned— to elderly people, and to animals and the damage which can be done to property.

As far as the banning of fireworks is concerned a lot has been said about this over the years. Banning things like fireworks can lead to even more ghastly implications. You will get youngsters getting hold of whatever acid it is—I am not a scientist—sulphuric acid or sodium chlorate, and making their own. It does not leave much to the imagination to ascertain what could happen, and what has happened, when these home-made fireworks go off. They can do very much more damage than even what used to be called the " penny bangers " which small boys could carry in their pockets and to whom when they exploded the most unthinkable damage could be done. It is reassuring to know that these particularly abnoxious fireworks are being, as it were, phased out.

It is the packaging and labelling of fireworks and the instructions on the box which make so much difference. The organised firework display held traditionally in places like Lewes in Sussex and in hospitals have given pleasure to many people. In one hospital in which I have had an interest for some years, one of our mental hospitals, in Epsom, we always have a firework display each 5th November for the patients who are ambulant and able to enjoy it. It is very good therapeutic treatment. It is a treat for them because the displays are properly surpervised by adults and there are proper rules organised. If we can get some kind of organisation into firework displays and, as this Bill seeks to do, cut out all the mavericks who are causing these horrible accidents, then, I think, this Bill will be very valuable: and the sooner it is on the Statute Book the better.

1.45 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches would also like to be associated with the kind remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, about the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and the Member for Cannock who is producing this Bill on explosives. But we must, I think, remember that fireworks have been with us from time immemorial and one of their original beginnings was from pagan and religious festivals and, later in this country, in commemoration of the late Mr. G. Fawkes. But there is no doubt that if, as other noble Lords have already said, they are properly controlled, they can give a great deal of pleasure and much joy to multitudes of people—and not only on 5th November.

My Lords, I think this is a good, sound and sensible Bill. I must admit that perhaps the only thing 1 might possibly have against it is the age limit: that is, whether 16 years of age is not still too young. I am not sure. Perhaps the age should be 17, the age at which youngsters consider themselves grown up by their being allowed to drive a motor car on the public highway. However, 1 do not wish, and would not wish, to make an issue of this point. I am happy to see that this piece of legislation has been voluntarily agreed by such consumer groups as the National Campaign for Firework Reform, the firework manufacturers, including Brock. Astra, Standard and, last but not least, by Her Majesty's Government.

As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has said this voluntary package contains a lot or very good clauses and in particular the registration of premises where fireworks may be kept. The noble Lord talked about the phasing out of certain types of firework such as " Flyabouts " and the " Helicopters ". And I think he is probably right. He also pointed out that the hangers are going to be phased out over the next two years; although 1, for one, will be a little sorry to see these go. Another point raised is that there should be a limitation of time when fireworks are on sale for around four weeks about 5th November. This I shall refer to shortly but a little later. I should like to say that the fireworks industry appears to have been very co-operative over these measures, which is remarkable considering that the market for fireworks has been diminishing very largely and substantially since 1960.

The voluntary measures which have been undertaken by the manufacturers rightly include a very significant trend towards the sale of boxed fireworks only—for that will prevent children from going to buy one or two rather nasty squibs and so on, for they will not be able to buy any at all if they cannot afford to buy a box. It may be that this is a slightly kill-joy approach but I feel that it is the right one.

The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said that everybody seems to be agreed that there is no need to phase out fireworks completely. He mentioned the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents—and it is good to know that they agree with this; and, rightly so, for if' fireworks become unobtainable then young people will invent and endeavour to build their own and things may well become much worse. I believe that there are also fears that such a Bill would force some of the manufacturers to close down—for instance, in Dumfries where I believe Brocks have a factory and where there is a fairly high percentage of unemployment. Happily, I have been informed and led to believe from both sides, consumers and producers, that everybody has come to an agreement on this.

One of the things that the industry faces is competition from cheap. foreign imports, mostly Chinese; and it appears that if this agreement and this Bill is to work it must be basically on a voluntary basis, with a voluntary code. In this way the public will be protected and the consumer given safety. I would not mind seeing some form of ban on Chinese or other foreign imported fireworks, particularly if those do not conform to an adequate safety margin which would satisfy the British Standards Institution. I saw some fireworks not very long ago which were made in China. On them was printed: " Light and run away ". I do not believe these can be very good for us.

The problem that always seems to be associated with a Bill like this is that somehow, as the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, said, we have to ensure that we achieve the correct climate within the family and within our society. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, it is most unlikely that children of II and 12 will try and buy fireworks if the age limit is raised to 16. If fireworks are sold during term time, this will help shopkeepers, because with the school-leaving age at 16, obviously children in school uniform would not be allowed to buy fireworks. The noble Lord.. Lord Auckland, said that if a person is prosecuted no doubt it will be the parent who will probably pay the fine. So I think it will be seen that it is the parent who is the one who should educate because he will suffer the financial penalty in the end.

The Bill seems a very sensible one; a means of protecting the Community from itself. It would be a great pity after 370 years if that well-known occasion on 5th November were killed off by such a Bill. I am led to believe that the firework producers do not seem to think that this will happen. The logical conclusion is that large-scale firework displays should be held in different places throughout the year so they may be established as a pleasant and safe form of entertainment in many years to come. Could we not have a special municipal firework display, such as on the occasion of Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee next year? The Bill, preventing the sale of fireworks outside the four weeks, could benefit the manufacturers from the point of view that it might be possible to export fireworks. If we had firework displays throughout the year. that would get over this four-week period.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Oram, if he could tell us if there is a register of firework sellers in each town, and whether that would be beneficial? At the risk of being censored for repetition, I should dearly love to see the Department of the Environment hold a mammoth firework display every year in Hyde Park where literally many hundreds of thousands of people could enjoy the spectacle. Should the Department feel unhappy about this, perhaps they could send some representatives to France to see what they do there on the quartorze juillet.

1.54 p.m.


My Lords, on the whole I dislike restrictive legislation, particularly where it might be in the form of kill-joy nature. I accept in many activities one must have or allow for a certain amount of casualties of one sort or another. Nevertheless, in this case I believe that the injuries sustained and the nuisance caused by the indiscriminate use of fireworks justify control measures. This is particularly so as most of the injuries occur to young people who do not realise the risks they run or how to avoid them. What worries me about this Bill is that it is almost wholly ineffective and will not help the situation at all. Sixteen is not a responsible age, and big brother will almost certainly buy and distribute the fireworks to the younger ones. Moreover, I am not convinced that we can be guided by the accident statistics. I think it at least arguable that most of the troubles and injuries are directly or indirectly caused by the older boys.

I believe that we should go one stage further. I am all in favour of putting fireworks in boxes, but I would have thought that if we could arrange so that they were sold only to householders that would put the responsibility back on the parents and it would not prevent a certain amount of family firework displays. In the longer term, I think we must watch the situation and see whether stronger measures are called for. I do not believe that it would necessarily spoil Guy Fawkes' night or people's fun if there was a prohibition—I am not suggesting it now—if necessary in the future. Then fireworks could be sold only to recognised clubs or societies.

Some of the village or town societies could arrange displays on Guy Fawkes' night. That would give far better value for money. There are certainly bonfires on 5th November in the country, and so the celebrations could be combined. Though I hate to say so, I believe this will not accomplish anything that has not already been accomplished, or is going to be accomplished by the agreement with the manufacturers. For that reason, I rather regret that the Bill was brought forward.

1.57 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will forgive my speaking at this point; it was not that I had not tried to put my name down on the list of speakers but I was inadvertently left off. Consequently, despite being defused, I hope you will at least permit me to go off in a small and controlled way. This Bill may do something, I hope, to reduce the number of accidents. What worries us on these Benches is the fact that there are two aspects of it which cause concern; first, the confusion of age. I will come to this point later. Secondly, the unenforceability of some of these measures.

Looking at the situation as a whole, sales for 1974–75 were down 5 per cent. and accidents were down 18 per cent. That is most encouraging. Due to the efforts of those who have been concerned with this Bill—and we must give credit to the gentleman in the other place who brought forward this Bill and to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who has so ably explained it today—the effect of reducing accidents will come not so much from legislation but more from the co-operative action with the manufacturers and a greater awareness of the dangers of fireworks. Other speakers have mentioned the question of responsibility and, as a parent with a lot of children, I know only too well how easy it is for children to get hold of fireworks and misuse them. It is vital that parents accept this responsibility. When children go wrong, inevitably it is the responsibility of the parents and the parents must be aware of the dangers of fireworks. I am very glad to see the trade has cooperated as fully as it has on boxing fireworks. I shall not go into all the details of this. I am also glad to see that this year a poster is being produced which talks about the Code, using the rather nice term " Freddy Firework ". I hope this will create further awareness regarding the proper handling of fireworks.

Who gets hurt in these accidents? I have been looking at the figures of accidents and they are frightening. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I refer to the figures for the past year. 1 shall not trouble your Lordships with other figures. In the over 21s there were 114 accidents; in the 16 to 20 age group, 50 accidents; in the 13 to 15 bracket, 152 accidents: and in the under 13s—and this is really worrying—the number of accidents was 412. It is the actual figures which matter at the end of the day.

This brings me to the question of age, of who gets hurt and how. The Consultative Document pointed out that the under 13s were most at risk, but it did not say how they got injured; for example, whether it was as a result of their own action or the action of somebody else. They state quite positively that little research has been done into the cause of the accidents. Assuming it is the 13-yearolds who let off the firework and hurt themselves, obviously the age limit should be put up and then one would deal with the 13 to 15 group, which was the next highest group of accidents.

We have so many different ages as to when one is allowed to be at risk. For instance, one is not allowed to drink under 18 in a pub, but one can drive a car at 17, and a moped—which is exceptionally dangerous—at 16. On the other hand, cigarettes are allowed to be sold at 16. On this point we seem to be putting up the age, and I am a little concerned over the actions of certain groups, notably the National Council for Civil Liberties, who were anxious to reduce the age of consent. This seems a bit of a nonsense. I should like to see all ages brought more into line and, as regards fireworks, I think it is adults who should be allowed to purchase them, and not children. I consider this would be much more sensible.

All pyrotechnic displays are boring if they are allowed to go on for too long. Consequently, I will not detain your Lordships for much longer, but I should like to talk finally about enforceability. I know the police are very worried about enforcement, not only of the purchase of fireworks because the word " apparent" gives a total let-out, but also about the use of fireworks in a public place or in a street. The police find enforcement very difficult in such cases. It may be a deterrent to put up the fines, but only in so far as offences are detected and punished.

I said earlier that our concern was to reduce accidents, and although this Bill may not in itself do very much it is part of the package, I agree. But we must make it clear to parents that it is the parents' responsibility to ensure that their children know about fireworks and how to handle them. I welcome this Bill in terms of its scope, and I hope that it will have a quick passage.

2.3 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to my noble friend Lord Aylestone for the very interesting way in which he has moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I found his speech not only interesting but clear and comprehensive, and I feel therefore I need add very little to what he has already said in respect of the Bill itself. However, I should like to make it quite clear that the aims of this Bill have the wholehearted support of the Government.

The problem of firework safety has been with us for a long time, and Governments of all complexions have sought to minimise the suffering which can be caused by the misuse and abuse of the Guy Fawkes tradition. Some of the examples given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, would have made us think very deeply about this, if we had not already done so. Injuries caused by fireworks particularly affect the young, and therefore this is a matter which merits close scrutiny. The Government are anxious that all steps should be taken to reduce the toll of these injuries.

The problem inevitably boils down to a balance of freedoms. On the one hand, we have the perfectly legitimate desire of millions of ordinary families who want to celebrate the 5th November in a safe and sensible manner in the privacy of their own gardens. On the other hand, there is the question of the welfare of many other people, and in particular I am thinking of the elderly, the handicapped, the very young and those concerned with the welfare of their domestic animals, and their wish not to be molested by the abuse of fireworks and, in particular, by hooliganism.

I would wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Aylestone and my honourable friend in another place Mr. Gwilym Roberts on the initiatives they have taken in this matter; also I should like to pay a tribute to my honourable friend the former Minister of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, Mr. Alan Williams, for it was he who decided to carry out a full review of the need for extending the existing controls. The main provisions under which these controls are applied are contained in legislation which is now over 100 years old, and it is clearly right that these questions should be looked at from time to time in the light of new developments. This review, instituted by Mr. Williams, was, in my view, timely and very comprehensive. My noble friend Lord Aylestone referred to it and gave an indication that the range of organisations consulted was a wide one, and he indicated the scope of those organisations.

These consultations inevitably produced a wide range of opinion. On the one hand, there were those who thought that all fireworks should be banned and, at the other extreme, there were some who felt that no changes at all should be made. All these views were given very careful consideration, and a series of meetings with the principal organisations was held by the Minister at the time. My noble friend Lord Aylestone avid other noble Lords have made the point that this Bill, which has two fairly straightforward provisions, should be seen not just in itself but as part of a substantial package of measures which were agreed with the manufacturers', retailers' and wholesalers' associations. This package, taken together with the statutory proposals, will result in a substantial change in the fireworks situation. My noble friend spelt out what the five provisions are under the agreement, and I need not repeat what he said. It is clear that, taken together, they will have a substantial impact in curbing the wilful misuse of fireworks, which can so easily cause distress, as I have said, among the weaker elements of our society, whom I am sure we are all anxious to protect.

Firework injuries in the 1975 Guy Fawkes season were, I am happy to say, the lowest since records were first kept in 1962. The number of persons requiring hospital treatment for firework injuries in England and Wales showed a welcome reduction of 18 per cent. from the 1974 figure, and a fall of 40 per cent. compared with 1973. The number of serious injuries has declined even more sharply and these trends arc very encouraging. With the elimination of the flyabout firework—to which a number of noble Lords have referred and which has a relatively bad injury record in relation to the number sold—and the substantial reduction in the number of bangers available, we can reasonably anticipate that injuries and a good deal of the nuisance caused by deliberate misuse will be further reduced. Many people will, I know, be very glad to see a shorter period during which fireworks are on sale. This is particularly welcomed by the elderly who live in areas where there is a good deal of hooliganism, and by many of those who have domestic pets. But it would be wrong to be complacent about the recent encouraging trends in the injury statistics and the Government must, and will, continue to keep the matter under regular review and to assess the impact of the new measures to which we have referred.

This is a heartening example of what can be achieved by voluntary co-operation between the Government and the industry. The firework manufacturers and retail and wholesale interests are all agreed that every reasonable step should be taken to improve the situation. The welfare of the young is close to all our hearts, and there must be no slackening of the effort made in terms of publicity and persuasion by the Government, by the manufacturers and by safety organisations—such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to which the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, referred—in publicising the need for care in the use of fireworks. I very much hope that the media will continue to give good coverage to this message at the relevant period of the year, and that we shall continue to see warning posters in our shops and schools. Firework safety is an important aspect of home safety, and all whocontribute to its improvement are to he commended.

The noble Earl. Lord Kimberley, addressed one or two questions to me and I think I can help him. He referred to imported fireworks and, despite his example of a particularly horrid-sounding Chinese firework, I can assure him that no fireworks may he imported without a licence under Section 40 of the Explosives Act 1875. Her Majesty's inspectors of explosives apply stringent controls to ensure that these are safe in the hands of users. and the standard is the same as for fireworks made in this country. He asked whether there is a register of firework sellers. and I can assure him that there is. All premises in which fireworks are stored must he registered with the local authority under Section 21 of the Explosives Act 1875. So I think the noble Earl will take comfort from those two assurances which I am glad to give.

We look forward to the reply from my noble friend Lord Aylestone, but perhaps I may make one comment on the question of age, to which the noble Lord. Lord Redesdale. referred. He quite rightly pointed out that there are a number of ages for various hazardous occupations. There is one to which he did not refer: namely, getting married. It is not for me to put these various hazardous occupations in order of merit. However, it shows the difficulty of choosing the right age and, probably, there is no universally accepted age. One point that appeals to me in thinking about this subject is that an age of 16 for buying fireworks coincides with the school-leaving age. and that will to sonic extent help a number of retailers who are near school premises to decide whether or not a person is of the right age.

It was not my intention to delay your Lordships unnecessarily, but I thought it would be helpful to set this Bill, which we very much welcome, in the general context of the problem of fireworks. The Bill is simple and straightforward and its objects are clearly beneficial. The Bill has the wholehearted support of the Government. and I have every confidence in urging your Lordships to give it a Second Reading this afternoon.

2.17 p.m.


My Lords. in thanking noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, there are only two points which I wish to mention. First, home-made fireworks, to which I did not refer earlier. are a real danger, because they can he made very easily. I made them myself as a child. I remember the ingredients—but 1 shall not quote them. in case they become general knowledge and putting the material so made between two stones, throwing another stone at it and, with a hit of luck, getting a terrific explosion. We know from our records that home-made fireworks are used in what may be regarded as perfectly safe, organised displays. to which young boys, and possibly girls as well. take them and join in the fun. hut they can he extremely dangerous.

The other point which I wish to make has been made on so many occasions during this debate: that is. the difficulty of fixing the right age below which fireworks ought not to be sold by retailers. When I first read the Bill, my immediate reaction was that the age should have been 18 and not 16. But, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, things happen below the age of 18 which should be regarded as much more serious than buying fireworks. One can also buy a gun at the age of 17, so it is not an easy matter to resolve. But I am convinced in my own mind—and I hope I am right—that fixing the age at 16 will help retailers, who are always anxious and willing to obey the law, to decide whether a boy who buys fireworks over the counter of a newsagent's shop is only 13. 14 or 15: and as most injuries are caused up to the age of 13 it should be a help. Nothing is perfect in this most imperfect of worlds, but I think that this Bill is a contribution.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.