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Disposable Barbecues

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2022

Before I call Holly Lynch to move the motion, I inform Members that we are due to have a vote at 5.10 pm. If you do not want an interruption partway through the debate, you might want to take that into consideration, but we will be very happy to come back if there is still more to be said.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of banning disposable barbecues.

I very much hear what you have said, Ms Bardell, and it is my sincere pleasure to see you in the Chair.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service has already attended 75 wildfires this year, and those are just the fires that fulfil the criteria set out in the national operational guidance. To meet the criteria, the fires will all have involved a geographical area of at least 1 hectare, had a sustained flame length of more than 1.5 metres, required a committed resource of at least four fire and rescue appliances, and presented a serious threat to life, the environment, property and infrastructure. In addition, hundreds of incidents of smaller fires on our moorland that have fortunately been stopped either by early firefighting actions or by weather conditions. From the very outset, we can see the scale of the challenge that we face in West Yorkshire alone, and I am really pleased that colleagues from other parts of West Yorkshire have joined us for this debate.

There were two moor fires at Marsden moor only last week. Six fire crews had to battle against two enormous raging fires, both of which were a mile long. Several others have also made the headlines in recent weeks, and although the stats are for wildfires more generally, we know that a significant number are caused by careless and reckless use of disposable barbecues on our moorland.

During the space of a single weekend on 26 and 27 February, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had to respond to a fire caused by a barbecue that had been lit by a group in a campervan next to moorland on Marsden moor, near Huddersfield. The service also attended a fire caused by a barbecue on New Hey Road in Scammonden, and a third barbecue incident at Brun Clough car park. On 3 March, firefighters had to tackle a 538-square-foot blaze at Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate. The National Trust said that “precious moorland heather habitat” had been destroyed and issued a reminder that barbecues should not be used in the area.

We know that this a problem, and there are a number of reasons why our moorland is so precious and cannot continue to sustain this amount of damage. In Calderdale, I am afraid to say that managing flood risk is an ongoing and constant challenge. It was hit by devastating floods on Boxing day 2015 and during the 2020 February floods, with several incidents and near misses in between. Moorland fires substantially undermine the natural flood management that we need as a key part of our defences.

Nearly a quarter of England’s blanket bog habitat is located in Yorkshire, with about 50% of the country’s peatlands in the Pennines, so we feel the responsibility as custodians of the precious moorland and peatbogs, which also provide crucial carbon storage. That is an essential tool in the fight against climate change, but if the peatland is damaged by fire, it not only loses the ability to store carbon but starts to emit it, which why it is so crucial that we look after our moorland and work to restore it when it is damaged. Moorland also provides natural habitats and enhances biodiversity, with the suffering inflicted on wildlife as a consequence of such fires being one of the greatest tragedies of this problem.

The fires also put a tremendous strain on our emergency services. Although working out the cost for responding to such fires is not easy, the burden that falls on councils, the police, the Environment Agency, organisations such as the National Trust and, most of all, the fire service is enormous. After years of austerity, the frontline is already stretched to breaking point, and I was staggered to learn that fire and rescue services, which have to pull in national firefighting resources or support from neighbouring services in order to fight some of these massive moorland fires, can be expected to pick up the bill for having no choice but to call in those additional resources. I hope the Minister will work on that with her colleagues in other Departments; perhaps she could refer to it in her summing up.

I have set out the scale of the problem and it is clear that we could and should do more to prevent moorland fires. I appreciate that banning the sale of disposable barbecues sounds like a big step, and I fully accept that many users of disposable barbecues use them responsibly. However, I have been clear in outlining the scale of the problem and the devastation it causes, which warrants consideration of all the ways in which we can manage the risk, up to and including a ban on the sale of disposable barbecues. Indeed, ultimately those responsible users also have to pick up the cost of the response.

To further make the point, between 2019 and 2020 alone, 240 accidental fires in England were caused by barbecues, and those are just the fires where the source was identified. Therefore, we know that introducing a ban on disposable barbecues would start to bring down the number of moorland fires by hundreds every year.

Currently, the toolkit used by local authorities and the emergency services to prevent moorland fires is not robust enough. Sections 59 to 75 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 allow for council officers and the police to implement a public spaces protection order. A PSPO is designed to deal with a particular nuisance or problem in a specific area by imposing conditions on the use of that area.

In Calderdale, people are prohibited from lighting fires, barbecues or Chinese lanterns, and from using any article or object that causes a naked flame and which poses a risk of fire in certain restricted areas. Best practice is encouraged and people are still allowed to enjoy picnics on moorlands, as long as they do not use cooking equipment that requires a naked flame or that presents a risk of fire. Calderdale Council also runs a Be Moor Aware campaign with emergency service partners, which calls on the public to be vigilant and responsible when enjoying our great countryside. The existing available powers are being deployed and agencies are being proactive, but the fires persist. So, what else can be done?

I commend the many large businesses and retailers that are taking steps to end the sale of disposable barbecues. People might think that the lobby against a ban would come from retailers, who stand to lose out on sales, but when those retailers are themselves leading the way, we know that the situation requires the Government to play catch-up.

Last June, the Co-op stopped the sale of instant barbecues from UK stores within a mile radius of a national park. This month, Aldi became the first supermarket to remove disposable barbecues from sale in all stores. In addition to the benefits that I have outlined, Aldi estimates that that will eliminate 35 tonnes of single-use plastic every year. Waitrose has also just committed to ending the sale of all disposable barbecues and to removing them from all of its 331 supermarkets. It estimates that that will prevent the sale of about 70,000 disposable barbecues every year.

It is incredibly welcome that these major national retailers are taking steps to end the sale of disposable barbecues, and I certainly applaud them for doing so. It is unequivocally clear that they are the real trailblazers, with Government proving too slow to respond to the scale of the problem, the damage caused and the cost to communities.

We are only in early spring and, as I have said, this debate follows two significant fires this week alone, in addition to the 75 official wildfires, and hundreds of others, in West Yorkshire this year. I ask the Government to introduce robust measures that will protect our countryside. A ban would have an instant and transformative effect in protecting our moorland and would help to safeguard them and our communities in the years ahead.

Before closing, I pay tribute to all the emergency service workers and partner agencies involved in the response to the recent wildfires in West Yorkshire. In particular, I place on the record my thanks to Calderdale District Commander Laura Boocock and deputy Chief Fire Officer Dave Walton for giving their time and insight on the challenges they face on the frontline of this very serious problem.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for securing this important debate. We seem to talk in this Chamber about many things on which we have common consensus; if it is not our attempts to tackle the unscrupulous housing developments of Harron Homes in our constituencies, it is matters such as this.

I want to touch on many issues relating to disposable barbecues, not least how they are made. They contain many materials that are not recyclable or easily disposed of. As the hon. Member said, they contain single-use plastics but also different bits of metal that, when left in situ, inevitably cause havoc to livestock, even before any attempt to dispose of them. Many cannot be recycled or composted, meaning they will inevitably end up in a landfill site.

The issue that I want to focus on is their effect on the environment, particularly in causing wildfires. We have experienced that in my constituency, particularly on Ilkley moor, time and again. Ilkley moor, Marsden moor and other moors across West Yorkshire are among the most beautiful places to be found across the UK. Unfortunately, like many other West Yorkshire moors, Ilkley moor has fallen foul of wildfires as a result of disposable barbecues being lit and left in situ by individuals who disappear home.

Only five days ago, West Yorkshire fire brigade had to attend an incident on Ilkley moor as a result of a disposable barbecue being left behind. In May 2021, the fire brigade attended an incident where individuals had left a barbecue alight before disappearing. On the Easter weekend of 2019, there was a much bigger fire on Ilkley moor. The challenge with Ilkley moor is that it butts right up to residential property. Ilkley itself goes right on to the moor, which causes a huge amount of concern and worry to many of my constituents.

The inevitable challenge of moorland fires is having to deal with a lot of dry vegetation. When that vegetation has not been managed, the fire spreads very quickly, especially through dry summer months, causing huge devastation not only to the moor but to flora, fauna and the wild habitat. Fire spreads dramatically, as we have seen on Ilkley moor, Marsden moor and Saddleworth moor; and, of course, people live in close proximity to many of these moors. A fire can take hold and pose a threat to human life as well as to wildlife. It takes a huge effort by local fire brigades to deal with wildfires that catch hold. I pay tribute to West Yorkshire fire brigade, which has done a fantastic job many times in dealing with these blazes.

This is a small product that can be purchased in many supermarkets and outlets, but it causes huge problems for many areas. I pay tribute to the supermarkets that have taken a lead, particularly Waitrose and Aldi, which have introduced a blanket ban on sales of disposable barbecues. I also recognise the work that has been done by West Yorkshire fire brigade, particularly Benjy Bush, the Bradford district commander. Along with local authorities, he has advocated the Be Moor Aware campaign, which the hon. Member for Halifax referred to. It is a great campaign creating great awareness at a local level of the damage that can be caused by small disposable barbecues.

A ban on the use of disposable barbecues on moors was introduced in the Bradford district in 2019. That is set to expire this summer, but the local authority is seeking to extend it. Members of the council’s regulatory and appeals committee have begun a public consultation, which I shall follow closely. I urge them to keep that ban in place.

I still think that we could go further at a national level on the challenges associated with disposable barbecues, because they create far more havoc than benefits. It is not just disposable barbecues; other products cause equal amounts of havoc. For example, I am absolutely behind the proposal to ban sky lanterns. When a sky lantern is set off, who knows where it will eventually land or drop. Sometimes they are still alight when they fall on moorlands and fields, causing huge challenges with regard to farm animals and livestock—they can even kill them. I have heard that if an animal eats lantern debris, it can puncture its internal organs, leading to a potentially life-threatening situation. Animals can also get splinters in their skin and get trapped in the metal, plastic and paper that make up a sky lantern.

At a national level, there is more work that the Government could do to explore the possibility of banning disposable barbecues and, most definitely, sky lanterns. That is something that I am definitely behind. As we have heard from the hon. Member for Halifax, they cause havoc to our moorland areas, to livestock, to ecology and potentially to people’s homes that abut the areas where these fires take place. I am pleased that we are having this debate and thank the hon. Member for Halifax for securing it. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on securing this vital debate—one that affects many of our communities, up and down the country. I know that Members here will share my delight at the fact that, after a long winter, spring has sprung and summer will soon be with us. Like many people around the country, I will be making the most of the good weather by getting outside, joining my family on walks in the local countryside and possibly having the odd pint in a beer garden. More people are enjoying the countryside than ever before, thanks to the support that nature provided to the public’s health and wellbeing during the lockdowns. It was a garden on the edge of our communities. However, that makes it more important that we work together to ensure our natural world is given the respect and protection it deserves.

With temperatures now rising, and as summer comes upon us, moorland fires will increase. We have heard Members raise terrible examples of the real impact that fires, sometimes accidentally caused by barbecues—particularly disposable barbecues—can have on our natural environment. We have heard about the danger they present to people, wildlife, property and the environment. The hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) spoke about the impact on Ilkley moor. It is a place I am very familiar with; I lived for five years partly up Ilkley moor, when I studied at Ilkley College. I share his concern.

I praise Liam Thorp of the Liverpool Echo, who highlighted Sefton park—not in the countryside but an urban park—and the terrible impact that the irresponsible use of disposable barbecues is having in that environment. The hon. Member for High Peak (Robert Largan) is not here today, but he has done significant work on this in his 10-minute rule Bill. He has highlighted the impact of the 2019 Marsden moor fire on the environment; carbon capture from the peatland was destroyed, and that had an effect on the livelihoods of farmers in his constituency. As a Member for a partially rural constituency, which I have in common with Members present, I have seen the impact of that on my community.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax stated, between 2019 and 2020, there were 240 accidental fires caused by disposable barbecues. Although local authorities and the police can put in place public safety protection orders directed at naked flames, barbecues or lanterns, which the hon. Member for Keighley referred to, it is clear that figure of 240 requires more work to be done by hard-pressed local authorities and, indeed, fire services, which have been noted. I am pleased that supermarkets and local retailers have taken steps themselves to prevent such fires, with the Co-op, which has been mentioned, Aldi and Waitrose all moving to remove instant barbecues from being sold either around national parks or nationwide. Some park authorities, such as New Forest national park authority and the Peak District national park authority, have worked with local stores and so forth to ensure instant barbecues are not sold near those parks.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax and, indeed, the hon. Member for Keighley, mentioned, not selling or using disposable barbecues also has the added benefit of saving huge amounts of plastic, foil and metal that are used to make each barbecue and which are not always disposed of correctly or respectfully. However, it should not be up to individual retailers to decide what protection to give our natural environment. Given the scale of the current problem and the fact that the climate emergency means that, sadly, we may have more devastating wildfires, we need greater intervention from the Government. Can the Minister tell us what consideration she has given to banning disposable barbecues? I am uncomfortable with banning things—I think we all are—but it would be useful to have an update from the Government.

We have retailers leading the way in the market’s response. I know the Minister will point to the countryside code and I am pleased that the updated version, released last month, contains stronger language around barbecues and other types of fires than in previous versions. However, it could probably go further. As my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax suggests, is there anything in the future to strengthen that code even further? As we come up to that pinch point of the summer, will there be any campaigns driven by the Government and the relevant Department to warn people of the consequences and dangers, in partnership with local authorities and fire services?

I concur with the idea of banning sky lanterns. I have seen their devastating impact up and down the country, so I would love to hear what the Minister has to say about that. I look forward to the Minister’s response and I thank hon. Members for today’s qualitative debate on this vital subject.

It is lovely to serve under you in the Chair, Ms Bardell. I too wish to thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for securing the debate. I also want to echo her and others’ thanks for the important work of our fire and rescue services.

In September last year, I visited Ollerbrook farm in the Peak District’s Hope valley with my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan). He was able to show me some of the areas affected by wildfire and told me about the effects that had had on local wildlife and farmers. It is interesting that so many of us here today have a close personal link with Ilkley. In my case, I married it—Owler Park Road, to be precise. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) was right to raise the devastation caused by those dreadful fires on Ilkley moor. It is important to remember the nature of the moorland we are talking about. I know we will come on to discuss moorland management in many forums in future, and it is also important in respect of treating wildfires.

As we know, our natural environment is made up of a mosaic of habitat types, which deserve protection from a variety of threats, both natural and, in this case, often sadly man-made. Protecting our natural environment is a team effort, and that is true of the work of the Government in this respect. I know, from previous conversations with the hon. Member for Halifax, that she appreciates that, while the Home Office is the lead Government body in relation to wildfires—particularly around prevention and data collection—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also has a key role to play in managing our natural landscapes in a way that helps to prevent wildfires. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is also responsible for encouraging partnership working at a local level, especially where there is a heightened risk of wildfire incidents.

Disposable barbecues, if used correctly, do not, in themselves, pose a wildfire risk; it is when they are left unattended, or used recklessly, that the risk occurs. It is clear to me that we do not have enough data on the role that disposable barbecues play in wildfire incidents. However, anecdotal evidence—not least in this debate—suggests that they have been responsible for a number of serious incidents.

The latest data from the Home Office suggests that about 4% of accidental primary fires can be robustly linked to barbecue use. That data does not differentiate between the use of a barbecue in somebody’s home or garden and its use elsewhere. It also does not describe the type of barbecue responsible. Obviously, evidence can be hard to find. By a wildfire’s very nature, there are often no initial witnesses—they would have put the fire out—and the primary source of the fire is often destroyed by it. What is clear is that many hundreds of families and groups of friends use disposable barbecues responsibly, and the National Fire Chiefs Council is not yet asking for an outright ban. However, clearly, an issue remains in the way that barbecues are used in the countryside, which proactive campaigning has not yet managed to resolve.

I would therefore like to announce that we are commissioning research to examine the role that barbecues—and specifically disposable barbecues—play in wildfire incidents. We will also use that research to examine the role of other flammable items, such as sky lanterns and portable stoves, that also have the potential to cause significant damage.

Where there is evidence that disposable barbecues pose a significant local risk that warrants immediate action, I would urge Members to talk to their local authorities, because existing legislation can be used to restrict the use of disposable barbecues under bylaws. I would also draw attention to the fact that Dorset, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole councils have already taken such action on a local level.

I would also highlight the excellent work done by the New Forest and Peak District national park authorities, which have banned the use of disposable barbecues within their boundaries and have successfully collaborated with several retailers to remove disposable barbecues from sale by nearby stores. Members should discuss with their local authorities the use of a public spaces protection order if there is significant local concern and they feel that it is warranted.

We are also working with landowners to make our landscapes more resilient to wildfire risk, so that if a fire starts, it does not spread quite as quickly as it has done in some of the more devastating incidents. Last April, we were pleased to support the development of a new training programme—which we will support for at least the next three years—which was designed to consolidate knowledge, skills and understanding of vegetation fires. Within the first year of its operation, 125 people in land management have benefited from that training, and the Department is talking to the National Trust about how we can roll out that learning among National Trust managers, who, of course, manage some of those precious landscapes.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Halifax on raising this vital issue, and all hon. Members on this very useful debate.

I thank all hon. Members for taking part in today’s debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) is quite right; it is about quality, not quantity, in Westminster Hall this afternoon.

I am grateful to the Minister for engaging with this issue. I very much look forward to understanding more about that research piece. I may follow up in writing, if I may, to get a better understanding of the timelines involved in that. Once we have that evidence base in that data, I will no doubt be coming back, again, to say, “Well, what do we do now with that data?” regarding further measures, and considering a ban if the data confirms what we suspect from anecdotal evidence—that we could be, and should be, doing more.

I also recognise that this is not the Minister’s direct responsibility, but there is the point about the cost that fire services have to cover if they have to pull in resources—national or neighbouring resources—in managing a significant fire. I may pick up on one or two of those points in writing, but I am grateful for the spirit in which the Minister has engaged with this problem, and I hope that all hon. Members will join me in campaigning to see what we can do beyond today’s debate.

Question put and agreed to. 


That this House has considered the potential merits of banning disposable barbecues.

Sitting adjourned.