26 June 2003

S2M-136 Fireworks Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-136, in the name of Andy Kerr, on the Fireworks Bill, which is United Kingdom legislation.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Iain Smith for his good wishes for Shona Robison. I am not quite sure what stage her pregnancy has reached. I think that she has had an early warning and we should not necessarily expect an outcome today. I also hope that when Sylvia Jackson said that John Young was no longer with us she was referring merely to his absence from the chamber. I can see members nodding to indicate that our dear friend is, in the more common and general usage of the term, still with us. I welcome that assurance.
It has been a cracker of a debate, full of explosive interventions, which have all clearly gone down a bomb. Having said that, this is not a matter for undue levity. Few of us do not look with awe at the fireworks concert each year, just down the hill from here. However, equally few of us do not share horror at the disfigurement, injury and even death that occur all too frequently during what seems an increasingly long fireworks season, or the alarm and fright of animals that do not understand what is going on.
The real question is what to do. My colleague Shona Robison secured a members' business debate on a proposal for a bill to regulate the sale and use of fireworks in Scotland. It is clear that members, on the SNP benches and throughout the Parliament, think that there is a need for change.
Elaine Smith: The SNP members have talked about the possibility of a total ban. Will that apply not to organised firework displays, but to sales of fireworks to the general public? Will the member comment on illegal imports and the problem that people are able to buy fireworks on the internet?
Stewart Stevenson: Elaine Smith makes good points. I reiterate what Fergus Ewing said; we are not seeking a total ban on either the private or public purchase and use of fireworks. However, the bill might be the appropriate instrument to ensure that powers are available to ministers to introduce a total ban on private or even public use of fireworks if circumstances change. I will return to the detail of the bill in a minute or two.
Linda Fabiani referred to the lack of a financial memorandum. We do not know the potential cost to councils, businesses or to police. We know the cost of the present circumstances—Strathclyde police had 2,000 calls about fireworks last year.
Under clause 17(2) of the bill, any revenues that are derived will be paid into the consolidated fund at Westminster, so we will not get the benefit.
There has not been any explanation so far of what particular powers the Scottish ministers might exercise as a result of the bill and I would welcome clarification of that.
We have a good record of speedy action in this Parliament but we cannot deny that, although we have been talking about fireworks for a long time, we have not delivered anything. The question is whether Westminster or Holyrood should act. SNP members are not going to oppose the motion, although we are minded to abstain. Is the Scottish Parliament, as a matter of general principle, prepared to go along with ceding responsibility, or is it going to take control?
Elaine Smith: Will the member give way?
Stewart Stevenson: I am going to develop some points about the bill; I will try to come back to Elaine Smith later.
I have specific questions about the bill. Consultation is mentioned in clause 2(3). Would that include the Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament or its committees? What particular regulations would it enable us to make?
Under clause 4(1) and clause 4(2) there are provisions against possession under some circumstances, but unless I am missing the point, there does not seem to be a general provision banning possession. Perhaps the minister will clarify his previous remarks.
Fergus Ewing has been teasing some members a little bit about whether the bill provides an absolute power. My reading of it suggests that it does. Under clause 2(1)(a), ministers may act to reduce use to a point at which there is no risk. The succeeding subclause refers to their being able to act to reduce risk. The only way in which we can ensure that there is no risk is to ban the use of fireworks altogether, unless I am misreading the bill.
It appears to me that in line with the campaign that the Daily Record has mounted and in line with Paul Martin's campaign it would be possible, under the eventual act, to enforce a complete ban. I would welcome the minister's views on that in his summing up.
Phil Gallie: Stewart Stevenson referred to clause 2(1)(a), but it seems from clause 3 that the total ban would apply only to supplying young persons. Does he therefore agree that there would not be an all-encompassing ban?
Stewart Stevenson: The member will find that clause 2(1)(a) refers to clause 2(2), which mentions the death of animals or persons and disruption or damage of property. My question whether there could be a ban is genuine; I am not making a party-political point. That illustrates the point about the sort of things that the Parliament could examine in detail if we had the opportunity to do so. After all, the last clause of the bill—clause 19(2)—states:
"This Act does not extend to Northern Ireland."
There is no Assembly currently operating in Northern Ireland and yet, although there is a Parliament—not an Assembly—operating here, we will not have the opportunity to examine the measures in detail.
Cathie Craigie: Will the member give way?
Stewart Stevenson: How long do I have, Presiding Officer?
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Strictly speaking you have 30 seconds, but you have taken several interventions, for which I will compensate.
Cathie Craigie: There is a complete ban in Northern Ireland. That has nothing to do with whether Northern Ireland has an Assembly or a Parliament; it is because of the political situation there.
Stewart Stevenson: I am obliged to Cathie Craigie for that information, of which I was not aware.
Contravening prohibitions imposed by regulations is an offence under clause 11(1) of the bill, but clause 11(5) stipulates that
"Fireworks regulations may not provide for any contravention of the regulations to be an offence."
It is not at all clear what will and will not be an offence.
We are often assured that Sewel motions speed solutions, but it is not clear that, in this specific instance, that will be the case.
Elaine Smith: Stewart Stevenson mentioned Sewel motions before. I am no great fan of Sewel motions and I express concern about the 46 that were passed in the previous session. However, it seems to me that Sewel motions are allowable for a good reason, and the Fireworks Bill is one that fits in with the ethos of Sewel motions. It is an enabling bill and the minister has said that there will be consultation on it, so it would be rather churlish of the SNP to abstain on the motion today. Does not Stewart Stevenson agree that the bill will help us to make a difference in Scotland and that the Sewel motion is sensible?
Stewart Stevenson: I thank Elaine Smith for her intervention. The SNP is not opposing the Sewel motion—she will recognise that that is slightly unusual—because we want to make progress and we are not going to put up barriers. However, ministers must be aware that they are very much on trial with this Sewel motion, as with others, to deliver the benefits that they claim will result from ceding responsibility to Westminster. With the Fireworks Bill, as with other bills, we will be tracking progress carefully to see that those benefits are actually delivered. As Nelson did not say, "Scotland expects."

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