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Fireworks: Time to have your say

BONFIRE NIGHT may have passed for this year, but the nuisance caused by fireworks has not. Even now, nearly three weeks after November 5th, irresponsible hooligans are still letting off loud ‘ariel bomb’ fireworks at unsocial hours, or throwing fireworks in the street – causing untold distress to animals and human beings alike. Calls for the Government to ban the private sale of fireworks have increased and demands for action have reached an all-time high.

Many campaigners, including MPs, pet owners and animal welfare organisations are urging the Government to confine the use of fireworks to organised displays, with strict licensing conditions imposed, restricting the use of fireworks to specified dates each year.

As the sale of fireworks is largely unrestricted throughout the year, due to de-regulation laws passed some years ago, the menace caused by the indiscriminate use of fireworks at all times of the day and night, as well as their misuse by hooligans lasts for several weeks in the run up to Bonfire Night and often for some week afterwards.

Animals particularly suffer due to fireworks; either simply by the noise they make or by deliberate attacks on them involving thrown fireworks.

A MORI poll, commissioned by the RSPCA, shows 71 per cent of pet owners questioned thought loud fireworks should only be allowed at public displays – a sentiment backed by 78 per cent of adult RSPCA members and a staggering 87 per cent of young RSPCA members who took part in Society surveys.

Last year 4,825 animals were treated for firework-related injuries and/or were prescribed sedatives because they were so frightened. Sixteen animals were put to sleep because of their injuries, and three animals were believed to be the victims of deliberate attacks.

To find out whether quieter fireworks could be the solution to the ‘fear’ problem, the RSPCA is now collating evidence on low noise fireworks. The Society aims to find a maximum noise level that is unlikely to cause distress to animals if welfare guidelines are followed. It will also look into whether a standard design of low noise firework can be manufactured to guarantee a maximum noise level.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is joining forces with local people to tackle nationwide abuse of fireworks. The charity is calling on readers to sign its own ‘Regulate Fireworks Now’ petition, which calls for an end to disruption and distress caused to guide dogs and their owners by fireworks.

Like the RSPCA, Guide Dogs is calling for the licensing of firework retailers and organisers of public fireworks displays; limitation of noise levels; and the specifying of a limited number of dates in the public calendar around which fireworks can be sold. Outside of these times, sales to the public would not be permitted.

Guide Dogs is also urging MPs to consider introducing private members’ legislation to bring these common-sense safety measures into force.

Action

Although members of the British Fireworks Association – which makes up 95% of the UK Firework Industry has agreed, after pressure from Consumer Minister Melanie Johnson to place a voluntary ban on the sale of single tube air bombs – which are responsible for nearly half of all firework injuries in the street – and on small whistle/bang rockets from January 2003, many MPs – and pet owners – feel that this move does not go far enough.

Also, an "agreement" has been secured from the BFA to limit the sale of fireworks to only the three weeks in the run-up to November 5th. However, this will not prevent unscrupulous dealers – or firework manufacturers who are not members of the BFA from selling fireworks outside of this time frame.

An official comment on the matter posted on the Labour Party website indicates that although the Government felt that some kind of action was taken, they have decided not to impose a ban on the retail sale of fireworks, believing such a ban to be ‘unworkable’. However, this view is clearly not shared by several MPs, including a number of Labour MPs.

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 his own Private Members 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 displays only."

Mr Crausby is joined in his campaign Sir Teddy Taylor, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East. He was unequivocal in his views on the matter, telling OUR DOGS: "Reforms on the sale of fireworks and voluntary restrictions on this or that firework are a complete waste of time. There are three main factors to consider about fireworks: The danger and injuries they can cause, the distress to elderly people due to the misuse of fireworks and the fear and harm caused to animals in the same way.

"The fact is, proposals never stop problems. Strict control of fireworks is the only measure which will work and I will continue to call upon the Government to introduce a ban on the private sale and use of fireworks, and to introduce licensing conditions."

Readers of OUR DOGS are invited to give their views on this matter
by e-mail direct to Nick Mays at: ChiefReporter@aol.com