June 13, 2003
I wish to make a very brief contribution, as, like many hon. Members who are present, I broadly support the aims of the Bill. I represent an urban seat and have been lobbied by many constituents who are very concerned about the noise nuisance.
Mr. Robathan: Including me.
Mr. Mark Field: I should say that they include my hon. Friend.
The Conservatives have traditionally recognised, however, that such legislation, as an instinctive infringement on the individual’s right of free action, is justified only on grounds of public safety or antisocial behaviour that harms or stands to harm others. I therefore share some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) in the sensible amendments that he has tabled to suggest that at least the absolute elimination of risk cannot sensibly be achieved.
Like many hon. Members, I have some instinctive worries about the ever more intrusive role of government – and I do not make a narrow point about the current Administration as opposed to previous ones. For example, the proposed restrictions on smoking are based on purely social grounds, rather than necessarily those of harm. I am reminded that the last non-Conservative to represent my parliamentary seat was none other than John Stuart Mill, who had a three-year spell representing the constituency until 1868. I suspect that he might be seen as a Conservative nowadays, and "On Liberty" is a tome that I have read with great interest and would largely support, but the increasing public concern about injuries and public nuisance must not override the sense of what my hon. Friend proposes, which is to ensure that some sort of balance is in place.
There is inevitably a risk with anything in life. Obviously, we instinctively view using fireworks as a hazardous activity. None the less, we need a workable law, as it would be a disaster to introduce an unworkable Bill and so not achieve all the good that is being proposed. The hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) said forcefully that there had been a great deal of consultation in the political sphere and with firework manufacturers and a range of different charities, many of which have been in touch with all of us as Members of Parliament. Let us ensure that the Bill is workable. The concern to do so is one of the reasons why we have had a fairly full debate so far.
Mr. Osborne: My hon. Friend is right to say that the law must be workable. Does he agree that, if the Government failed to introduce regulations eliminating all risk of injury, they themselves would risk being liable to a court action taken by someone who had been injured and claimed that the Minister had failed to introduce such regulations?
Mr. Mark Field: That is a concern, although there is an equal risk that I may not entirely have understood all the implications of my hon. Friend’s question. Above all, we need to ensure effective enforcement. I know that we will discuss that issue later in relation to the duties and financial responsibilities of local authorities, but it seems unacceptable for us to fill the statute book with yet more unworkable law. It is better to focus on ensuring that we introduce workable legislation.
I wish the Bill Godspeed, but I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the points that have been made.