§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
In opening the debate, I wish to speak about the background to the Bill, its parliamentary progress to date and to explain briefly its provisions. Before I start, I feel it is important to place on record our appreciation of Linda Gilroy, Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton, for piloting this worthy Private Member's Bill through the other place.
Fireworks provide an enjoyable form of entertainment when used as intended and in the right circumstances. So the last thing we want to do is to regulate fireworks so tightly that they are no longer available to the public, with the risk of a black market developing or people being tempted to make their own. However, we must all be aware that last year 908 people were injured by fireworks and in the year before two people died and 1,233 were injured.
830 The background to the Bill is the concern everyone shares about the injuries and deaths that can result from fireworks; the limit of current legislative framework to introduce regulations to deal with different aspects of firework safety; the limitations of government legislative priorities and timetables, and the ability of the mechanism of Private Members' legislation to take through Parliament small but significant pieces of legislation.
Even before the Bill was drafted, its provisions were the subject of wide-ranging consultation, which continued beyond initial drafting. This consultation included those involved with safety, enforcement and the fireworks industry itself, as well as other interested parties. The Bill received serious and detailed scrutiny in the other place and was amended as a result of that scrutiny. Having been amended, it received all-party support—or, rather, should I say it received support from all parts of the House. I am sure we must all agree that safety is one subject on which there should be no party political division but rather an acceptance that the protection of the public should not be used as a political football.
I should mention at this point that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, as President of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, has asked me to convey to the House his support for the Bill and that of RoSPA, and to convey his apologies that because of a prior engagement he could not speak himself in the debate. I can further report that my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell would have spoken in support but also cannot be present tonight.
I turn now to the provisions of the various clauses. Clause 1 defines the expression "fireworks" and what is meant by "supplying" for the purposes of the Bill. The definition of "supply" is modelled on that in the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The definition of "fireworks" is the same as that in the current British standard, with the capacity to amend that definition if it proves necessary in future: for example, to include bird scarers if people start using them as fireworks.
Clause 2 sets out the basis on which the Secretary of State can make fireworks regulations and the procedures which must be followed. These are the same as in the Consumer Protection Act 1987. Permanent regulations can only be made following public consultation, particularly with those directly interested. But there is also a procedure for making emergency regulations in circumstances when there is an urgent need to protect the public. Such emergency regulations can only remain in force for 12 months.
Clause 3 allows regulations to be made to prohibit the supply of fireworks or specific kinds of fireworks to persons below an age specified in the regulations. The purchase and possession of fireworks or specific kinds of fireworks by persons below the specified age would also be prohibited. This clause will enable regulation to prevent fireworks from getting into the hands of young people who may misuse them, causing risk to themselves and distress to others.
Clause 4 allows for the inclusion in fireworks regulation of restrictions on the supply, exposing for supply, purchase, possession or use of fireworks or 831 specified fireworks at particular times or in particular circumstances. Such power could be used to prevent fireworks being on sale to the public too early before Bonfire Night. However, it would be accepted that fireworks should be available from specialist outlets throughout the year to cater for special events. This clause allows for such exceptions.
Clause 5 provides that regulations may include prohibitions on the supply, purchase or possession of specified fireworks. The powers in the Consumer Protection Act 1987 are not wide enough to enable, for example, the satisfactory completion of a training course to be cited as entitling a person to be supplied with powerful and hazardous fireworks.
Clause 6 provides for the introduction of measures to ensure that public fireworks displays are notified in advance to the authorities. Regulations made under this clause may also specify that such public fireworks displays are only operated by persons who have been appropriately trained. In addition, persons below a minimum age could be prohibited from operating or assisting in the firing of a public fireworks display.
Clause 7 would allow for the introduction of a licensing system for retailers of fireworks to sell fireworks or particular types of fireworks. This is to cater for the concern expressed by enforcement authorities and safety organisations about the fact that the more powerful and hazardous fireworks can be sold by non-specialist retailers who have no real knowledge of what they are selling.
Clause 8 provides for the inclusion in regulations of requirements relating to the provision of information with or in relation to fireworks. This mirrors powers in the Consumer Protection Act 1987; but taken with Clause 2, the circumstances in which the powers may be exercised are wider.
Clause 9 allows for the introduction of regulations of measures to require UK manufacturers or importers to notify information about fireworks. The broad intention of powers in this clause is to provide advance warning to enforcement authorities about consignments of fireworks and to facilitate the tracing of fireworks.
Clause 10 allows for the setting up of a national statutory training scheme or schemes. The regulation-making powers are flexible enough to allow for any combination of arrangements. This clause, when taken with other provisions in the Bill, will provide a readily understood means of determining who should be allowed to be supplied with and possess certain types of especially dangerous fireworks.
Clause 11 specifies the penalties for contravention of fireworks regulations. They are in effect the same as those in the Consumer Protection Act 1987; that is, a fine of up to £5,000, or a term of imprisonment of up to six months, or both. The defence of due diligence in the Consumer Protection Act 1987 is also called up and there is a specific additional defence for suppliers relating to the prohibition on supplying fireworks to young persons which can be introduced by regulation under Clause 3.
832 Clause 12 sets out the arrangements for enforcing any regulation made under this Bill. Different authorities may be designated to enforce, under statutory duty, various provisions in regulations and different authorities may be designated to enforce different requirements in regulations. Where no specific designation is made, the responsibility for enforcement will fall on local weights and measures authorities; that is, the trading standards officers in Great Britain and the district councils in Northern Ireland. The clause also lists sections in the Consumer Protection Act which are considered relevant to the enforcement of regulations made under the Bill. The provisions of those sections will therefore be applied to regulations made under this Bill.
It is recognised that resources for enforcement are an important issue. Enforcement authorities will be among the interest groups consulted on proposals for new regulations. Clause 13 ensures that nothing in regulations made under the Bill can undermine the rules on legal privilege or require a person to incriminate himself or herself or their spouses.
Clause 14 is a technical measure which, when taken with Clause 15 and the schedule of repeals, will allow for the repeal and re-enactment of the provisions of the Explosives Act 1875 at some future date. The Health and Safety Executive intends in due course to repeal as much of the Explosives Act 1875 as it can and to re-enact relevant provisions under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. However, there are several sections of the 1875 Act which the Health and Safety Executive cannot repeal under its own powers. Section 31 of the 1875 Act—prohibition of the sale of explosives to young persons—is just such a section. It is intended to use the provisions of the Bill to tackle that problem. "Explosives" in this clause has the same meaning as in the Explosives Act 1875. This clause also includes powers to enable the Secretary of State to amend that definition for the purposes of this Bill.
Clause 15 brings into effect the repeals of legislation set out in the schedule to the Bill, the timing of which will be subject to the commencement orders laid under Clause 18. Clause 16 provides that regulations made under the Bill will be made by the same regulation- making procedure as the Consumer Protection Act 1987; that is, by the negative resolution procedure.
Clause 17 provides the usual mechanism for dealing with any expenses and revenues resulting from the exercise of any of the powers under the Bill. Clause 18 provides for commencement procedures which allow different commencement orders to be made for different provisions in the Bill. Clause 19 determines the Short Title and extent of the Bill.
We have a short but distinguished list of speakers for this Second Reading debate. I shall listen with interest to all the contributions. I am confident that we all share the belief that the prevention of firework injuries is a high priority and that this Bill will contribute to that objective. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Monkswell.)
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, for saying that he will listen with interest to our contributions to this debate. I would have felt some alarm if he had said that he would not listen with interest to our contributions, but I am sure that he did not intend to make such an allegation.
Perhaps I should start by offering my commiserations to the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for having to deal with both this Bill and the previous debate concerning the value of the pound. They are somewhat different subjects and I congratulate the noble Lord on getting his mind round two such distinct issues in such a short space of time.
I offer my congratulations also to the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and his honourable friend Linda Gilroy on introducing and progressing this Bill through another place and agreeing to take it through this House. I have some experience of taking Bills through this House, but only once emulated the noble Lord in taking a Private Member's Bill, as a Back-Bencher, through this House. That was the Cycle Tracks Act 1984. It was not a Bill that made a major difference to the state of the nation, but one hopes that this Bill will have a more marked effect than the Cycle Tracks Act 1984.
I was also grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, began by making clear that he accepted that fireworks were an enjoyable form of entertainment. We have all known and experienced fireworks and been to good fireworks displays, whether private or public. I hope the noble Lord does not suggest that, whatever regulations come forward, they should limit the right of people to have private fireworks entertainment. The noble Lord indicates his acceptance of that statement. We all know and enjoy fireworks and wish to see them continue.
Having said that, we all recognise the dangers of fireworks, particularly when they are misused and used in the wrong way. Generally, from these Benches, we would not be in favour of Bills that we felt to be a further form of "nannying" of one form or another. However, having studied the Department of Trade and Industry's document on fireworks injuries dated 1987, we recognise that they show a worrying level of accidents. The figure quoted by the noble Lord was 908 for last year. Fortunately, that was a much lower figure than the year before, which was lower still than the previous year. The numbers have been dropping for some time and all governments recognise that there is a danger and it is right for them to intervene in one way or another, whether legislatively or by means of advertising.
As I said, last year 908 accidents occurred. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, also said that, fortunately, there were no deaths last year from fireworks, though there were two the year before. But there were still 908 accidents of greater or lesser seriousness and we are glad to have seen a decline.
I should point out also that, though we have seen a worrying level of accidents, that should be seen in the context of the number of fireworks sold. I shall be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, when he 834 responds, can confirm that in November around 100 million individual fireworks were sold. That seems to imply that it is not a serious problem in terms of the percentage of people injured in relation to the number of fireworks sold, though it is a serious problem for the individuals affected.
I should also point out that Department of Trade and Industry statistics show that most injuries are not serious. As I understand the figures, only around 5 per cent. of those injured were then detained overnight. A great many of the injuries were minor matters which could be dealt with either by an accident and emergency department or by some other means. However, the figures show that a disproportionate number of young people were injured. We have an important duty in Parliament to ensure that young people are protected, particularly from dangerous things such as fireworks.
I said at the beginning of my remarks that I am concerned that whatever regulations come forward the Bill should not lead to a demise of the private use of fireworks—the private display. I should be interested if the Minister or the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, could comment on the level of injuries at private functions as opposed to public functions. The figures do not seem to indicate that a far greater proportion of people are injured at private fireworks functions, though the figures are slightly higher, than at public functions, on the basis, I imagine, that more fireworks are sold to private functions than to public ones. Again, I should be grateful for advice from the noble Lord.
That said, and having welcomed the gist of what is behind the Bill, I have to say that we have a number of concerns about the Bill itself, concerns which I hope we can address at the Committee stage. I hope that this is something that we can address relatively quickly because I think that the Bill should go speedily through the House and continue on in the proper manner to the statute book. My concerns arise from the nature of the Bill, which was described by the noble Lord's honourable friend in another place as being merely an enabling measure.
The noble Lord, as he took us through the Bill, described each clause as it was set out. As we go through the Bill we see that Clause 2 starts off with the words:The Secretary of State may by regulations".Clause 3 states, "Fireworks regulations may", Clause 4 states, "Fireworks regulations may include", and so on. The Bill gives a considerable number of regulatory powers to the Secretary of State, powers which should be considered carefully.
The noble Lord said that the powers should all be dealt with by the negative resolution procedure. We would want to look at that in Committee and I think it is certainly something that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee would certainly want to have a look at. I hope that we can have the advice of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee before we come to the Committee stage, and I very much hope that, in line with our actions when we were in government, the noble Lord will accept the advice, as 835 we always did, of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee if it recommends that certain powers are slightly greater than what should be given to a Secretary of State without one or two checks or balances.
There are two other powers which I view with slightly greater alarm in that they are powers which, in the absence of my noble kinsman Lord Russell, I would describe as absolutely pure Henry VIII clauses. I refer to Clause 1(2), which states:The Secretary of State may by regulations amend subsection (1)'".That is a Henry VIII power to end all Henry VIII powers. It is giving the Secretary of State power to amend primary legislation. There might or might not be good reasons for that, but I think it is important that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee looks closely at the clause. It is also important, speedily though we want to get the Bill through the House, that in Committee we look at the clause.
I should also point out that there is a second Henry VIII power in Clause 14(3), where again the Secretary of State is given powers to amend, merely by regulation, primary legislation. There might or might not be good reasons for so doing but I think it requires a degree of examination by the House.
Having said that, and having made it clear to the noble Lord that we do not intend to oppose the Bill and that we wish it as good a passage as it is possible to give, we think it is important that we look at those matters carefully in Committee and that the noble Lord should be prepared to take up any points raised by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. If the noble Lord is not prepared to take up those points, we will certainly be prepared to take them up and we will certainly pursue them in due course.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, on the skill and the spirit with which he introduced the Bill. He made it clear that this was not done in any killjoy sense. That spirit will win support from all parts of the House. I congratulate also Linda Gilroy on bringing forward the Bill as Private Member's legislation.
I fear that my noble friend Lord Russell will be prostrate with grief when he finds that he has missed the opportunity to comment on the Henry VIII clauses and kindred matters. This will probably prove to be the first one that he has not been present for in many a long year. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made a valid point. Enabling powers, delegated powers and secondary legislation are much loved by all administrations but they should be scrutinised, rightly, by an alert Parliament. I recently saw the figures for how much legislation is now delegated and enabled. They are quite frightening. Each time legislation, be it ever so worthy, extends delegated powers to Ministers, Parliament should dig in its heels just a little to make sure that the proper scrutiny is being undertaken. I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said on that. I can say from these Benches that as far as concerns Parliament we are asking for a proper thing in asking for such scrutiny.
836 My own record on firework safety is that one of the first Questions I asked in this House was about the import at that time of the Chinese grenades that seemed to be coming through. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, indicated, successive administrations have tightened up fireworks' regulation. The Bill is one of those small pieces of helpful legislation. as the noble Lord rightly said, that Parliament can undertake.
I welcome the training measures in the Bill. When I attended a fireworks display on 5th November last year I was amazed at just how high-tech and indeed computerised fireworks displays have become. It is no longer just a matter of sticking a firework in the wet earth and retreating. It is orchestrated in quite a skilled way. It is important that the advances in firework technology are matched by proper training provisions.
I also believe that the House and the country welcome the various provisions for controls on the sale and distribution of fireworks. I refer particularly to the powers in Clause 9 for the control of imports. There was concern in both Houses a year or two ago that fireworks of considerable power were being imported and used in a most unsuitable manner. Furthermore, the regulations putting some parameters on public displays are welcome. The overall spirit of a general concern for safety is surely right. But in so doing, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, so rightly said, we put the safety issue in its proper context of a very small percentage of users of fireworks against quite extraordinary use of these entertainments by the general public.
I belong to the generation of Ripraps and penny bangers. Heaven knows what penny bangers now cost, if they are allowed to be sold. It was part of the excitement of childhood which I would be loath not to pass on to my own children. This Bill provides for a proper sense of proportion. It recognises that the nature of firework displays has changed. Many parents now prefer to go to the grand, often municipally-organised (or organised by the Lions or similar organisations) entertainments. They are an alternative to the backgarden extravaganza which often costs the earth and is over in a very short time.
There is also the fact that the modern firework display is almost an art form in its skill, ingenuity and technology.
At the other end of the scale, it is also part of our heritage. In reading the debate in the other place I was fascinated at the way the honourable Member for Lewes, Mr. Baker, described the fantastic bonfires and displays in that part of Sussex, bonfires and displays whose origins I suspect date back to pagan times. It would be a great pity to lose that part of our heritage.
But I believe that the Bill gets the balance right between safety and enjoyment. It has those worrying empowerments which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has flagged up to be looked at in Committee and we shall do so. But that will not detract from the general welcome and good wishes that we give to this legislation.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, I am sure that it was not the intention of the noble Lord. Lord Monkswell, to 837 mislead this House when he referred to the passage of this Bill through another place. But we must be aware that its passage through another place was not very creditable. The Bill did not have a Second Reading. It is quite unacceptable for a major Private Member's Bill, which drew a place in the Ballot, to come to this House without having gone through the full procedure of having a Second Reading.
What is a Second Reading for, my Lords? It is to explain what are the clear intentions of the Bill before the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, explained them to us in an excellent speech today. From the point of view of another place, it was not until it had a debate in Committee on Clause 1 stand part that anyone knew what the Bill was about. That is quite unacceptable and it is time that we fired a warning shot in connection with that procedure. I notice that the honourable Member in the other place who introduced the Bill is the successor to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who sits on our side of the House. I am quite certain that in the role that she played in the other place she would not be a party in any way to foreshortening the correct procedures.
As has already been said, fireworks are fun and they give an enormous amount of pleasure in the right circumstances. But it is of grave concern that in this Bill powers are being taken by the Secretary of State to make regulations on the supply, exposure for sale, purchase and possession of fireworks. Admittedly, it says in the Bill that they cannot be made without consultation with the consumer bodies, the trade associations and the safety enforcement organisations. But in Committee I shall certainly press the noble Lord to accept a much clearer definition in Clause 1. I am grateful to my honourable friend for saying that this Bill has to go to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. The purpose of the Bill is all right, but the way in which the Government were proposing to proceed is quite unacceptable when one looks at the extent of the powers that are being given.
I am extremely unhappy about the powers, particularly in Clause 1(2). What is much worse is the ability of the Secretary of State to make so-called "emergency regulations" without consultation. The noble Lord said that those kinds of regulations would apply only for one year. But a tremendous amount of harm can be done by a hostile Secretary of State in one year, particularly if there is no appeal. I share my noble friend's concern about Clause 14. I am extremely anxious about the extensive control and amendment to the Explosives Act 1875 covering cartridges, percussion caps and ammunition. What impact has the Firearms Consultative Committee had on this Bill? Was it consulted about it; has it been informed and what representations has that important Committee made?
Subject to these reservations, I welcome the progress to date. I realise that we have to get this Bill on to the statute book, not in its present form but substantially amended. It is a wonderful step in the right direction in that the number of serious accidents caused by fireworks is falling. We all want to see them continue to fall, but 838 we do not want to see them fall purely and simply by the exercise of iniquitous and over-stated Henry VIII powers.
§ 8.36 p.m..
§ Baroness Fookes
My Lords, I have a longstanding interest in firework safety. As the president of National Firework Reform, as it used to be called—now Nation Firework Safety Group—my efforts in the other place were not always met with success in trying to bring in greater restrictions in what I thought was a very dangerous field.
Perhaps at this point I may pay a tribute to the director of the campaign for firework safety, Mr. Noel Tobin. For nearly 30 years he has worked tirelessly on MPs, the relevant Ministers and civil servants to try to bring to an end some of the horrifying injuries that we have seen in the past. We have had piecemeal and sometimes somewhat ineffective changes. Therefore, I welcome a more comprehensive approach.
But I believe that it is important not to underplay the injuries that are caused because some of them are very serious. Many of them affect children and sometimes their sight. That is an extremely important point always to bear in mind. Furthermore, I suspect that the figures, although accurate as far as they go, may not indicate all injuries that may occur because, as I understand it, they reflect where hospital treatment has been needed. There may well be others that have been dealt with in another way.
Neither do the figures give any indication of the fright and upset that can be caused, particularly to the elderly, when they are in areas where fireworks are tossed around by very irresponsible and very often young people—at any rate, they are tossed about irresponsibly. Nor do they give any indication of the fright that is received by innumerable domestic and other animals as well when fireworks go off in great numbers on or about 5th November.
Every year the RSPCA gives out warnings to people to keep their cats and dogs and other animals in the house and as quiet as possible. So there is that whole range of situations where we need to take care and concern.
A while ago I came to a conclusion which will not be popular in this House; namely, that it would be far better to ban the retail sale of fireworks except for public displays carried out by trained and skilled operators. From what I have heard, I appreciate that that is not a popular view—nor was it in the other place. On one occasion I was referred to as an agent of the nanny state; on another occasion I was referred to as a killjoy at least. I very strongly believe that we need far tighter legislation than hitherto. I view this Bill in the light of that unpopular attitude.
As far as the Bill goes, fine. However, the concern that I share with other noble Lords relates to the enabling nature of the Bill. When I read it through I tried to count the different types of regulations that would be needed and I gave up; they seemed innumerable. I have always been concerned about handing over to Ministers and their departments unspecified powers that they can 839 use as they wish. This is an extraordinarily long Bill with many clauses. I made my own little summary of it. I believe that what the Bill really says is that the Secretary of State may make any regulations that he sees fit in relation to fireworks, including their definition. Therefore, he may do everything or nothing because all of these provisions are permissive. It may be that a Secretary of State who is not interested in this matter may leave the subject alone entirely, in which case those who want a much tighter arrangement will be no better off, or he may be draconian and practically end the sale of fireworks. But we do not know. I do not know whether the noble Lord will be able to enlighten noble Lords this evening. I should be interested to know how the Government intend to interpret all of these regulations and powers that they are to be given.
I go further and suggest that at a later stage in the Bill perhaps a few drafts can be provided to noble Lords to show what the Government anticipate doing with the various regulatory powers that they are to be given. For example, there is the possibility of changing the age at which people may buy fireworks. Do the Government have any intentions in that regard? If a particular age were specified how would the Government enforce it? So far most regulations that rely on proof of age fall by the wayside because there is no satisfactory way in which anyone who sells these goods can determine the age of the person before him. That can be a very weak spot in any regulations.
I hope that we shall also learn what kind of training needs may be required by operators in public firework displays, of which I thoroughly approve. I believe that that is by far the best way forward. Some of them are glorious and are works of art, as another noble Lord has commented. However, is that power related to those who organise firework displays professionally or does it include, as I hope it will, skilled amateurs? At the moment we know about none of these matters. I should like to have information about that before we go much further.
I have an inherent distrust of handing over to Ministers of any party great powers when it is not known how they will be exercised. That is particularly important when past experience tells us that very often it is the fine detail that trips things up and makes for difficulties. Therefore, although I welcome the Bill I do so with one-and-a-half rather subdued cheers rather than three hearty cheers.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Monkswell on the thoughtful and businesslike way in which he introduced this Bill. As he told us, fireworks have the potential to cause serious injuries. In recent years they have been the cause of several deaths. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked for a breakdown of the number of injuries between the various types of firework displays. In 1997 in family and private displays there were 378 injuries; at clubs there were 56; in large public displays there were 137; and incidents in the street caused 256 injuries. Those were some of the reasons why my honourable friend the 840 Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs gave priority to the introduction of new firework safety measures soon after his appointment.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Monkswell that it is gratifying that recorded firework injuries in 1997 showed a significant drop compared with the previous year, but they are still too high, as the figures that I have just read out indicate, and there is no room for complacency. A large number of concerns expressed in the media and in correspondence received by my honourable friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs and others are about the indiscriminate use of fireworks resulting in distress and nuisance, particularly to the elderly, animals and children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, reminded us. Unfortunately, each year there are also cases in which fireworks are used deliberately to frighten or injure animals. The apparently lengthy period when fireworks are on general sale in some parts of the country and are able to be let off in the weeks before Bonfire Night also feature in representations from the public.
My noble friend Lord Monkswell explained that the Consumer Protection Act 1987 provides powers to make regulations to address the safety of goods, including fireworks. However, many important safety-related issues, including the use of fireworks, are outside the scope of the powers of that Act. Therefore, there is a serious gap in the legislative tools available to assure the safety of those who use fireworks and those at risk from their use. The primary purpose of the Fireworks Bill is to extend the regulation-making powers in Section 11 of the 1987 Act.
Noble Lords were concerned about these regulatory powers. In reply to the noble Lords, Lord Henley, Lord McNally and Lord Kimball, before the regulations are made under the Bill, consultation is required with the industry and other interested parties. The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, was concerned about the powers in Clause 14. Those powers can amend the definition of explosives only for the purposes of the Bill. The powers cannot amend the Explosives Act 1875. However, there must be full consultation with the Explosives Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive. The powers to make regulations, including emergency regulations, match those in the Consumer Protection Act 1987, so there is nothing new.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, wanted to see over-the-counter sales of fireworks banned. Some would go further and ban fireworks completely. I believe that many noble Lords will agree with me that that is just not an option. Most speakers believed that fireworks provided an enjoyable form of entertainment, whether through organised public displays or family events. Fireworks also play an important part in some religious and ethnic events and celebrations.
However, noble Lords spoke of their concerns and they spoke of the dangers and the pleasures of fireworks. So a balance must be struck between their continued availability and ensuring that those who purchase and use fireworks are not exposed to unnecessary danger. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, asked whether there 841 was going to be any requirement regarding the age of those who can purchase fireworks, and I can say that there are no plans for that at present.
It is of course equally important that spectators are also kept out of harm's way, and this is' especially important over the period of the millennium celebrations, when large and small firework displays will feature as part of many thousands of events ushering in the 21st century. There is also a view that the millennium celebrations will establish fireworks even more firmly in the national mood as a means of marking important events in people's lives. This would boost the sales and use of fireworks, with a consequent potential increase in problems of the type I have mentioned and which have been discussed with noble Lords. So my honourable friend the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs stated during the debate on the Bill in Standing Committee in another place that the Government welcomed and supported this Bill. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Monkswell on having introduced it into this House.
My noble friend mentioned the need for training for firework display operators. I agree with other noble Lords that such displays have become complicated and sophisticated. The Government share the view that training has an important role to play in improving safety. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, that plans for training are not yet completed so I cannot give any details at the moment.
There are other reasons for welcoming this Bill. Voluntary arrangements, which included a limitation on the period when fireworks would be generally available for sale to the public, were agreed by fireworks companies in the 1970s. However, those arrangements have been less effective in recent years. This has been due mainly to the great changes which have occurred in the fireworks industry over the past few years. New companies have entered the market on the basis of importing fireworks, mainly from the Far East and from China in particular. Competition has benefited the consumers in lower prices for fireworks, but a casualty has been the crumbling of the voluntary agreements.
The provisions in the Bill would provide the capability to re-introduce on a statutory basis, should this be necessary, some of the measures which were the subject of those voluntary agreements. Changes in the firework industry and in the way companies market their products, and innovations in the devices which are imported and sold, are also powerful reasons for wanting to ensure that the additional powers in this Bill are available to deal with new circumstances.
I know that the noble Lord and his colleagues consulted widely on the drafting of the provisions in the Fireworks Bill and that because of those consultations the aims of the Bill have strong and broad support. They are widely welcomed by all those who are concerned to see that fireworks are used safely—including enforcement authorities, consumer safety groups and the fireworks industry. The Health and Safety Executive has been consulted on the Bill and supports its provisions. 842 The Bill extends to Northern Ireland and has the support of my right honourable friend the Secretary for State for Northern Ireland.
Whether particular powers in the Bill are invoked by the Government would, of course, depend on the circumstances at the time and on whether there was a credible alternative to the introduction of statutory controls. It would also be important to ensure that the objective of improving levels of safety was achieved without adding unnecessarily to costs which will inevitably be passed on to consumers at the end of the day. As is the case with the Consumer Protection Act, exercise of the powers in the Bill would be subject to appropriate consultation with parties who would be substantially affected by the particular proposals. The only exception to this rule would be cases where the need to protect the public required that regulations be made without delay. Regulations made under the latter procedure—so-called emergency regulations—cease to have effect after a short period, never longer than 12 months, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords. The powers in the Bill are subject to commencement orders so that different powers can become available at different times.
Noble Lords are concerned about the delegated powers. I have it on authority that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee is hearing oral evidence from the DTI on this Bill on 22nd April, having considered the Bill for the first time last week. The committee will certainly report before the Committee stage of this Bill, so that your Lordships will have the benefit of its report.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked whether I can confirm that the figure of about 120 million is broadly correct. I can confirm that that is the correct figure.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, was concerned about some of the clauses that were going to be repealed in this Bill. I would say to the noble Lord that the opportunity presented by the Fireworks Bill has been taken to make provision for the repeal of some Victorian legislation which is very much out of date. At Committee stage I am sure we can go into the detail of that and that we will be able to satisfy the noble Lord.
In Northern Ireland fireworks are currently controlled by the Explosives (Fireworks) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997, which were made under the Explosives (Northern Ireland) Act 1970, as amended. As that Act was essentially a piece of emergency legislation introduced with the aim of controlling other more serious categories of explosives, its powers are not entirely appropriate to an effective regime of firework safety controls in the Province.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wishes to use this Bill to amend the law in relation to fireworks in Northern Ireland, and that explains one or two of the other clauses in this Bill. I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Henley, for his comments on my versatility. I was rather concerned when he told me that the first Bill he took through this House was the Cycle Tax Act 1985. I am a cyclist, and have been for many years, and I wonder whether this is 843 something which I should have known about because I certainly have never paid any cycle tax over all those years—
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, if I may briefly interrupt, I think the noble Lord misheard me. It was "Cycle Tracks", not cycle tax. This House tends not to deal with matters concerning taxation.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining that. Obviously I am getting a little hard of hearing, and it is a little late in the evening. The Fireworks Bill has the support of the Government and I commend it to the House.
§ Lord Rowallan
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I be permitted to ask whether a Bill is legally constituted by not having a Second Reading in the other House?
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, I am not acquainted with the regulations of the other place and we shall have to get advice on that.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, if I might start off by responding to that last intervention, it is my understanding, even in this House but certainly in the other place, that it is possible to have a strictly formal Second Reading where there are no speeches and the Motion is put and agreed without debate. I think that answers the question, and we are perfectly in order to consider this as a valid Bill, presented from the other House.
I start by thanking all noble Lords who have contributed. As I thought when I opened the debate, it has proved very interesting. I am not sure, given the lateness of the hour, whether noble Lords would appreciate it if I went through every detail of every contribution made by my noble colleagues tonight. However, I will touch on some of them, if I may, but I think it is rapidly becoming apparent that we are going to have a fascinating and interesting Committee stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, seemed to say that the Bill would have to be amended. It may not have to be amended. When we go though the Committee stage there will no doubt be probing amendments to find out the intentions and meaning of the clauses and subsections. When they have been explained across the Floor of the House, I am confident that many of the amendments will be withdrawn, as is the usual way in this House. From what has been said, I am sure that the Bill will receive the scrutiny that this House normally gives to legislation.
I was a little worried by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about the number of fireworks injuries compared with the number of fireworks let off every year. Other noble Lords said that no matter how 844 few the injuries, we should always be concerned about them. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, pointed out that the statistics we talked about do not account for all the injuries.
I can give the assurance which the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was seeking, that private firework displays would not be regulated as public firework displays are. The sale of the more dangerous fireworks for private display purposes where there would be no trained person to operate them would need to be controlled. I am sure that he will agree that that is a sensible provision. He was also concerned about the number of regulation-making powers and the negative resolution procedure.
My noble friend the Minister pointed out that the negative resolution procedure is merely continuing the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and so is no different. The noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said that there were a large number of regulation-making powers. A number of them are what one might call fall-back provisions. One of the concerns expressed through the consultation is that if we had a strict regulatory regime in the UK, people might be tempted to go abroad to purchase fireworks which would be regulated in this country. and to import them. There is a mechanism to ensure that the possession of dangerous fireworks is regulated.
Such a power would only be introduced if there were evidence of the trafficking in the private importation of dangerous fireworks. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked also about the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. We have had the assurance of my noble friend the Minister, which I can confirm, that that committee will be considering the provisions of the Bill and will report before the Committee stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, mentioned the lack of scrutiny in the other place. Having been a Member of the other place, he has far more experience of it than I have from being a mere observer. This House should be concerned when a Bill has gone through the other place with large sections of it receiving no scrutiny. Amendments may have been tabled but not moved. That is where this House would say that there has been a lack of scrutiny. I sat through the Committee stage in the other place, and I can report that all the Bill's provisions were able to be discussed; and all the amendments that were set down were debated and agreed or not, as the case may be. This House could argue that the other place did give the Bill good scrutiny, compared with some of the legislation which comes before us from the other place.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned the control of imports as something which would be a good thing. He implied that that was a provision of the Bill. There is no mechanism to control imports. It was discussed in the consultation process, and it was pointed out that we would fall foul of EU and WTO provisions. However we have a requirement for information to be provided as to the type, number, and extent of fireworks being imported. That provision of information is the same as that we would require of UK manufacturers. Therefore 845 we should not be discriminating between home-produced and imported products. In itself, that information is non-discriminatory. It may reveal the presence of fireworks which would be banned under other regulations.
I was pleased to hear the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. I am sorry to say that the Bill will not provide her Holy Grail. I hope 846 that by the end of our scrutiny she will give it more than one-and-a-half cheers out of three. I thank my noble friend Lord Haskel for answering a number of questions which were raised and for informing us that the Government support the Bill. I commend it to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at eight minutes past nine o'clock.