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Animal welfare campaign seeks to ban firework sales

A DETERMINED coalition of individual animal lovers, animal welfare organisations and MPs is pushing for Government action to impose an outright ban on the sale of fireworks and the creation of more strict licensing laws for organised firework displays. The Coalition Against Fireworks For Animals - CAFFA - is headed by nurse Julia Clugston from London and has the backing of several MPs from different parties.

Julia, who owns two rescued dogs and helps with wildlife rescue is concerned at the increasing number of powerful fireworks being available all year round, and the resulting stress and injury which they cause animals.

“The campaign came about because many people are concerned about the effect of fireworks on animals,” says Julia. “We were fed up with being fobbed off by the police and local authorities that ‘nothing could be done’ so we decided to ask members of animal welfare groups and MPs to join us to ask the Government to bring about legislation to deal with this problem.”

CAFFA is supported by animal welfare groups including the RSPCA, SSPCA, PDSA, The Blue Cross, National Canine Defence League, and Vegetarian International Voice for Animals (VIVA), Hillside Animal Sanctuary, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, Endangered Dogs’ Defence and Rescue (EDDR) and animal rights organisation Animal Aid. Top animal welfare campaigner and broadcaster/writer Carla Lane has also added her voice to CAFFA’s.

Barry Gardiner MP whose 10 minute rule bill for ‘Controls on Fireworks’
was to have its second reading on March 15.

“All animals are affected by fireworks,” says Julia, “Domestic pets, farm animals, wildlife, animals in sanctuaries. And let’s not forget, people are affected, too. Many elderly people and young children are terrified of the noise. It used to be bad enough with fireworks going off on November 5th and a few days either side this date, but nowadays firework noise can start at the beginning of September and continue in January. The growing use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve is a growing problem, but people can now buy fireworks all year round and want to use them for parties, weddings, or just when they feel like it. It is both anti-social and harmful to animals.

“Ideally we’d like to see the Government ban fireworks, but we know we won’t get that. So what we’re trying to achieve is limiting the times and dates for the use of fireworks, such as November 5th and New Year’s Eve. If anyone wants fireworks for any other reasons, such as weddings, religious festivals and similar celebrations - even the Jubilee - then they must apply for a licence to their local council in advance. If a licence is granted, the event should be well publicised, so people can take measures to protect their pets - which often means sedating them.”


CAFFA is also calling for a total ban on the retail sale of fireworks to the general public and to restrict firework use to organised, licensed displays only.

“At the very least, the Government could enact a law to allow only noiseless fireworks,” adds Julia. They have them in South Africa, parts of America and in certain European countries. A law was passed a few years back banning the use of loud ‘mortar’ fireworks in the UK, but they’re still being sold openly on the Internet and in high street shops. Nobody enforces the ban or takes action against people selling or using them. What is even more worrying, there are so many imported fireworks now which are not only loud but also very dangerous and lacking in general safety standards.”

A Petition bearing 40,000 signatures of people calling for a ban on private firework sales was presented to 10 Downing Street in 2001, but so far there has been no public Government response. Another petition of close on 130,000 is due to be handed in to the Prime Minister soon, yet another indication of the growing impetus of public demand for action against nuisance fireworks.

Foremost amongst the MPs involved in the CAFFA campaign is Barry Gardner (Labour, Brent North), who introduced a ‘10 Minute Rule’ debate into the Commons on 8th Jan regarding the control of fireworks by licensing. Mr Gardner’s debate attracted a great deal of support from MPs of all parties. John Barrett MP also tabled an Early Day Motion on 4th February 2002 calling for action against fireworks due to the distress caused to domestic animals. This attracted no less than 84 signatures of support from MPs. Labour MP Dr Howard Stoat also tabled an EDM on 17th Jan, focussing on the distress caused to domestic animals and livestock by fireworks, garnering 54 signatures of support. Fellow Labour MP Joan Ryan also secured a 10 Minute Rule debate on 27th Feb, which gained its first reading, calling for a total ban on the retail sale of fireworks to the public.

Very few of these motions or Bills are ever expected to make it onto the Statute Books, but, according to Barry Gardner, “They keep up the pressure on the Government to legislate. I’m certain they will legislate one day, our task is to ensure that any such legislation covers all the key points.”

Left to right: Animal demonstrators, Noel Tobyn (behind), Joan Ryan MP, Barry Gardiner MP with members of ‘CAFFA’ to the far right outside parliament on March 15.

CAFFA is working in conjunction with the National Campaign for Firework Safety, which was established in 1969. Director Noel Tobin told OUR DOGS: “Ever since the last Government deregulated fireworks in 1988/89, the problems associated with them have grown steadily worse, year on year. Many fireworks now on general sale are in a higher category, the same as display level fireworks. There used to be about 12 companies in the UK selling fireworks, there are now over 90, many of which were set up in time for the Millennium. Whereas before, there used to be two main sales periods in a year, nowadays sales are consistent all year round, because people want ever more spectacular displays of fireworks for all sorts of events, with little, if any, thought for the sensibilities of their neighbours, elderly people or animals.”

Noel adds that when New Labour came to powering 1997, the Consumer Affairs Minister Nigel Griffiths banned ‘Category 4 fireworks’, which included Ariel Shells and Maroons - the extremely loud fireworks. But more of these were available out there to people last year and are available this year than ever before.

“There are hundreds of fireworks sold on websites and the Firework Industry has no real wish to prevent this. Lots of highly powerful and dangerous foreign fireworks are imported into this country labelled as toys, so that the overstretched customs officials will not bother checking them out.”

There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however, according to Noel Tobin. Under existing legislation, fireworks are covered by the1875 Explosives Act, which has been under Government under review for two years, and this is indicative of the Prime Minister’s own keenness to see stricter controls imposed on fireworks.

“Tony Blair himself called in MPs and asked them about the issue,” adds Noel. “It’s taking some time though. However, the Government cannot ignore the growing public opinion against the retail sale of fireworks. In November 2001, Teletext conducted their regular poll asking if people wanted to see a ban on the retail sale of fireworks. 99% of respondents wanted a ban, as simple as that. Over 7,000 people voted in that poll and that was twice as many voted in Teletext’s poll on whether we should go to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“If we can’t do something in two terms of Government over an issue which is affecting most people in country - fireworks cause grief right across the spectrum - then we’ve failed miserably.” concludes Noel.

Animal welfare, of course, remains a highly emotive and significant issue when consider controls on fireworks. The SSPCA conducted a survey throughout Scotland in 2001. Forms were sent out to every vet surgery in Scotland asking vets to indicate treatment on domestic animals - mainly cats and dogs - for firework related problems and injuries. There was a 45% response form the vets canvassed. The results showed that 80% of injuries and ailments in the survey period were firework related, with over 8,000 animals treated.

CAFFA staged a meeting at the Jubilee Rooms in the House of Commons on Friday, March 15th. Only two MPs attended the meeting - Barry Gardner and Joan Ryan, but other guest delegates spoke, including Deana Selby of the NCDL, George Ilford of the PDSA, Martin Coots of Hillside Animal Sanctuary and Noel Tobin from the National Campaign for Firework Safety.

It was agreed by all attending that there was a clear and pressing need for a Bill to be placed before Parliament and onto the Statute books to impose controls on fireworks. Barry Gardner said that the best way to attract wide cross-party support was for people across the UK to write to their local MP urging them to support any Bill that would restrict the sale of fireworks on the grounds of public nuisance and distress and injury to pets.

Mr Gardner pointed out that if sufficient cross party support could be gained, then the issue could be removed form the control of the Department of Trade and Industry and brought under the Home Office’s jurisdiction Barry Gardner concluded: “Even the MP who is the hardest opponent of legislation against fireworks is susceptible to having to give voice to his constituents’ anger. Campaigning in all constituencies is vital. We must keep up the pressure and ask questions, such as: ‘If other countries have banned fireworks, why can’t we?’ ‘Why can’t the police act on a breach of the peace?’ ‘Why can’t we legislate to ban firework sat any time of night?’”

Linda Clugston commented: “I’m urging all pet owners, everywhere, whether you keep cats, dogs, rabbits whatever, to come forward and make your voices heard, Write to your MPs. This anti-social noise and fear affects so many people and all of our pets, farm livestock and domestic animals. It’s time the fireworks were finally silenced.”

Please contact: CAFFA - Coalition Against Fireworks for Animals on: Tel: 0207 328 7665

* The National Campaign for Firework Safety on: 0207 836 6703