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Volume 652: debated on Thursday 1 February 1962

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will now consider the revision of present legislation on fireworks to limit their sale to responsible corporations and other bodies, bearing in mind the increasing danger to young persons.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consideration he has given to the further evidence sent to him by the Booth Hall Children's Hospital, Manchester, on 9th November, following that sent to him in February, 1961, of the severe burns caused to children by fireworks; and if he will now introduce legislation to restrict the general sale of fireworks and to confine their use to organised displays by responsible bodies.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of the 3,719 firework casualties treated in English hospitals between 4th and 7th November, 1961, he will obtain and publish detailed statistics of the damage caused by the misuse of fireworks in early November, 1961, and take steps to minimise injury to persons and damage to property in November, 1962.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what legislation he has decided to introduce to restrict the sale of fireworks.

It would not be practicable to obtain statistics of the damage to property caused by the discharge of fireworks last November, but my right hon. Friend shares the concern of hon. Members at the number of personal injuries which were caused. The suggestion that the general sale of fireworks should be prohibited and that their discharge should be confined to organised displays by responsible bodies involves some practical difficulties, and my right hon. Friend would, in any event, be reluctant to interfere with the enjoyment given by the many properly-conducted family firework parties. My right hon. Friend is studying the information from hospitals obtained by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and will consult the police and others concerned in the hope of finding some practicable ways of reducing the number of accidents.

But the crux of the whole problem is the ability of youngsters to walk into a shop and purchase fireworks. Cannot the penalties on these vendors be increased, so as to prevent fireworks getting into the hands of the wrong persons?

It is already an offence to sell fireworks to children under 13, or for anyone to let off fireworks in the street. I must say, of course, that both of these provisions have proved difficult to enforce. We are concerned about these accidents and are considering how they can be further prevented, but without placing intolerable restrictions on the whole of the community.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that, despite the difficulties, in most States of the United States and in the Republic of Ireland there is a total prohibition of the sale of fireworks to the general public, with the result that there has been a considerable reduction in the number of accidents? Has his attention not been drawn to the very strong feeling of hospitals, particularly the children's hospitals—and especially the children's hospital in my constituency—which deal with burns, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and of many other bodies that education in safety has failed? As 439 people were treated as in-patients, and 3,280 as out-patients in the period 4th-7th November last, is not legislation necessary?

While we do not, of course, ignore the laws of other countries, we have to remember that those laws would not necessarily be suited to the traditions and temperament of our people. As to the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I would wish to study the information he has given.

Would not the Minister of State agree that one of the things to do is to get his scientific advisers to consult the firework manufacturers who, surely, have no more interest in causing damage and casualties than has anyone else? Cannot he proceed on those lines?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because, in fact, we are examining a number of suggestions for preventing accidents at the moment. Some of those suggestions involve improvements in the design and manufacture of fireworks, and if examination shows that they would make a useful contribution to the solution of the problem we shall get in touch with the manufacturers, and would hope for their co-operation.

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that these dangerous, futile and wasteful celebrations of Guy Fawke's Day are an unnecessary menace to life and limb and that, in view of the large number of hospital cases resulting each year from the celebration of this anniversary, the time has now come for this menace to life and limb, and to the nerves of old people and animals, to be brought to an end, despite the bloodthirstiness of his hon. Friends?

I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that those points are covered by the answers I have already given.

In view of the tenor of some questions from both sides of the House, would the Minister of State give an assurance that the Home Office will not interfere with the traditional enjoyment of Guy Fawke's night?