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Voluntary ban on firework sales


AS BONFIRE night looms, pet owners once again face the prospect of their dogs, cats and other pets being terrified of the loud bangs and flashes of fireworks over several nights, particularly as November 5 falls on a Tuesday this year, thus seeing many private and public firework displays taking place over the weekend as well as on the day itself. Indeed, as in previous years, the weeks running up to this can cause equal stress to pets as mindless yobs delight in letting off fireworks at all times of day and night, as well as throwing fireworks in the street.

For many years there have been successive attempts to ban the private sale of fireworks, but all such moves to do so – largely by Private Members’ Bills in parliament have been blocked.

However, there is a small crumb of comfort for pet owners on the horizon. From January 2003, the fireworks industry is placing a private ban on the sale of air bombs – which are responsible for nearly half of all firework injuries in the street – and on small whistle/bang rockets.

They are also piloting a scheme whereby anyone under the age of 18 caught throwing fireworks in the street faces a £40 on the spot fine.

David Crausby, Labour MP for Bolton North West has been campaigning for many years to have the private sale of fireworks banned. Earlier this year, OUR DOGS reported how Mr Crausby’s Private Member’s Bill to instigate such a ban was being considered by Parliament.

Sadly, Mr Crausby’s Bill was lost, but he welcomed the Fireworks Industry’s voluntary action as a “step in the right direction.

“I think this is the ideal opportunity to restart the campaign to ban the private sale of fireworks,” said Mr Crausby.

“I have long been concerned about the misuse of fireworks in the run up to and the period after 5th November. A number of people have spoken or contacted me regarding the banning of fireworks. One reason for this is because I am one of the few Members of Parliament that have been keen to back a ban.

“Fireworks continue to be a problem for many, particularly with domestic pets and wildlife. I have been very vocal, not only in my own constituency of Bolton North West, but also on the Westminster stage, in calling for well publicised, organised displays only. I believe that this will create a safe environment for all to enjoy this event.

“I am not a killjoy but I am very concerned every year at the number of firework injuries and the public nuisance that the illegal use of fireworks can cause. I believe that the only way to deal with the nuisance of fireworks is to limit them to organised displays.”

Mr Crausby’s views are echoed by one of his constituents, Melanie Willcock who runs the Firesides Bull Breeds Advisory Service in Bolton, which deals with rescue and rehoming of Bull breeds. “In the past few years, it’s just become absolute madness with fireworks,” said Melanie. “And so many of them are these loud air mortars which seem just designed to make as loud a noise as possible. Animals – especially dogs – get freaked out by them.”

Melanie also has strong words about the ban on private firework sales in Northern Ireland and how easy it is for such a ban to be circumvented. “A lady in Northern Ireland has made a strongly worded complaint to a big name firework company. One of their brand of fireworks was hurled into her garden and almost grabbed by her retriever," says Melanie. "She says this company’s fireworks are still sent to Ireland by mail order from the UK mainland, despite a public ban on firework sales being in force in the Province."

Melanie continues: "As for my own dog Plug who suffered a heart attack and stroke on the bonfire weekend last year, he was ironically rendered deaf after the stroke though he can hear certain pitches. I have everything crossed that this year he won’t be so stressed. I never want to have to have to watch any dog go through what Plug did last year or for any owner to feel as helpless as I did.

"This why, although I welcome the new firework agreement, I still feel it is not enough. The first tragedy this year has already occurred with an English Bull Terrier cross in Middleton, Manchester picking up a lit firework thrown at it with fatal consequences.

"A voluntary ban from within the Firework Industry is never going to be enough. A total ban on the private sale of fireworks is the only way that any measure of calm can be restored."
Melanie Willcock may be contacted on: 01204 705951 or by e-mail: Mel0@pgen.net

The last attempt to impose restrictions on firework sales and to bolster up the law on their misuse came four years ago when Labour MP Linda Gilroy (Plymouth Sutton) brought forward a Private Member’s Bill to give the Secretary of State powers to make regulations, which would ensure:

l High safety standards for those who put on displays; a national licensing and training scheme for those who handle larger and more dangerous fireworks;

l The causing of distress, injury or death to animals and vulnerable people becomes a criminal offence;

The Bill's intention was to make sure that people could enjoy fireworks, but enjoy them safely.

The Bill had Government backing and was refined in consultation with people from the industry, the RSPCA, Age Concern, The National Campaign for Firework Safety, RoSPA and other consumer safety groups.

The Bill passed through all its stages in the Commons and the Lords (including a session before the Lord's Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee) but was talked out at the very final consideration of Lord's amendments on 3rd July 1998. Attempts, during the summer recess of 1998, to persuade the maverick Tory MPs who wrecked the Bill to back a formal chance to pass the Bill, met with continuing intransigence on their part.

The Bill therefore fell with the session in November 1998.