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Firework bill heads for second reading

A BILL proposing a crackdown on the sales of fireworks has won crucial Government support and is due for its crucial Second Reading next week.

Fireworks would only be allowed to be sold for three weeks up to 5 November. Sales would also be restricted to packs costing at least £10, under MP Bill Tynan's proposal. His private members bill aims to reverse the trend towards year-round firework displays and the misuse that cause misery to residents, pets and wild animals.

The Bill has massive support from the general public and has strong cross-party support, as MPs realise that the public are calling for tough restrictions on the use of fireworks.

Stricter licensing governing the retail sale of fireworks will be imposed, with a legal requirement for retailers to keep records of people purchasing fireworks for private events, such as weddings and anniversaries.

Fireworks required for the celebration of cultural festivals such as Diwali and Chinese New Year will be covered by the provisions of the Bill, although the emphasis on large-scale celebrations will be towards organised displays.

Consumer Minister Melanie Johnson said that Mr Tynan’s Control of Fireworks Bill has government support and "will provide a raft of new powers to control the misuse of fireworks".

In January this year, members of the British Fireworks Association – which make up 95% of the UK Firework Industry has agreed, after pressure from the Minister 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.

The Home Office are also piloting fixed penalty notices of £40 in four areas for over 18s caught throwing fireworks in the street, although this scheme has been derided as most ‘throwing’ incidents are carried out by people under 18 years of age.

The Government have been taken aback by the depth of public feeling against the misuse of fireworks and the demands for stricter controls on their sale and use, and has thrown its weight behind Mr Tynan’s Bill, which strengthens its chance of success.

Melanie Johnson added: “It aims to put an end to neighbourhood nuisance and anti-social behaviour that is so often seen around bonfire night and beyond, and I welcome it wholeheartedly," she said. "I know the misery that fireworks can cause. There is too much noise, with fireworks being let off late into the night and lasting for far too long beyond the traditional fireworks season.”

Mr Tynan, Labour MP for Hamilton South, has been working on the bill with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) Fireworks Task Group and the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

“The misery caused to the general public and domestic and wild animals by the misuse of fireworks is a growing problem all over the UK,” he said.

“Lack of licensing of retail outlets, periods of sale and noise levels, together with problems with importation, distribution and storage, all contribute to the nuisance use of fireworks.
“This will promote the responsible use of fireworks by limiting the hours of the day, confining general sale to the public to a relatively short period before 5 November.”

In addition to those areas covered in the draft Bill discussions and consultations are continuing about how best to tackle the issue of noise levels and it is expected that, once these are complete an addition to the Bill will be made to tackle this important area.

On the package of measures being put forward, Mr Tynan commented: “We need to deal with fireworks in an effective and comprehensive way. This means controlling and monitoring them from when they are unloaded at Felixstowe or Bootle, to how they are then stored and sold and then limiting the consequences of their use through maximum decibel levels and restrictions on who they can be sold to.”

A wide range of organisations has already expressed support for the principles of the Bill. Those most closely involved with the preparation of the Bill have been Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) Fireworks Task Group and The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. The knowledge and experience of these two groups, as demonstrated by CoSLA’s recent report on the issue of fireworks, has been joined by a wide range of other groups such Blue Cross, the RSPCA and SSPCA. Local councils from across the country have also been expressing support for the Bill.

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is working with and, supporting Bill Tynan MP (Hamilton South), who has tabled a Private Members Bill that aims to restrict the noise levels, sale and use of fireworks. The Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Friday February 28th – but in order to pass this vital hurdle at least 100 MPs must attend the Commons Chamber and vote in favour of it.

“Guide Dogs has been overwhelmed with support for this campaign - ranging from pet owners and elderly people to parents with young families. We are urging everyone who feels strongly about the issue to write to their local MP and urge them to vote on Friday February 28th,” said Robin Hutchinson, Head of Communications for Guide Dogs.

“It is important to stress that we are not talking about banning fireworks – but striking a balance between not ruining people’s fun, but not ruining some people’s lives either.”

Every year guide dogs and other working dogs are sedated, retrained or, in worst cases, retired after being traumatised by the irresponsible use of fireworks. This causes enormous upset and anxiety for both the guide dog and its owner. And with the lifetime cost of training, feeding, insuring and providing veterinary care running at £35,000 for each guide dog, the cost to the charity of retiring dogs part way through their working lives is enormous.

Guide Dogs has collected nearly 50,000 names on a petition calling for fireworks to be regulated. The petition was handed in to No 10 Downing Street this Thursday, underlining the need for Mr Tynan’s Bill to succeed.

Meanwhile, campaigner Teresa Kulkarni’s own petition calling for restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks has topped the 50,000 mark and runs until the end of March. Ms Kulkarni cautiously welcomed Mr Tynan’s Bill, saying: "The basic aims of the Bill are sound, and if it gets through its Second Reading, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Bit I hope it doesn’t get watered down by amendments that favour the firework industry. People and animals have suffered too much because of the misuse of fireworks by mindless yobs and it would e a tragedy if the chance to actually incorporate controls on fireworks into the law was lost.”

Bill Tynan spoke exclusively to OUR DOGS about his Bill and how it would work if it became law.

“According to the British Fireworks industry itself, 95% of their year’s sales take place in the three week run-up to Bonfire Night on November 5th," said Mr Tynan, "Therefore we’re not inconveniencing the industry or hitting their sales, we’re merely forcing the issue via regulations.

In fact, the Industry are very supportive of my Bill, because they are aware of all the complaints leveled against fireworks and I think they’re keen to avoid calls for a total ban on retail sales, as is the case in Northern Ireland.

“The existing voluntary code of practice is rather confusing anyway and it’s unclear whether it applies to advertising or the actual sale of fireworks. My Bill aims to clarify that by law.”

Mr. Tynan explained that Local Authority’s Trading Standards Office would, under the new legislation end the current retail, licensing system whereby licenses cannot be revoked or re-designated. Under the proposed Bill, most retailers’ premises would be checked as to be safe to store and sell fireworks and then a license issued to allow them to sell fireworks only during the three-week period up to November 5th.

“I am proposing a two-tier system which will stop the rogue retailer who thinks he can stock fireworks all year round," added Mr Tynan. “There would be a higher form of license where for a higher charge – let’s give a nominal figure of £600 a larger retailer, such as a garden center or superstore can continue to sell fireworks outside that three week period, but under very strict conditions, and only with training given to the staff who are selling the fireworks. This will allow the purchase of fireworks for different cultural celebrations, such as Diwali and Chinese New Year.

“Any licence can be revoked at any time if the retailer breaches the regulations governing the sale of fireworks. The key factor is, the responsibility falls back on the retailer. Up until now, it’s been far too easy for anyone to buy fireworks. Therefore, if you have a responsible retailer, who, in order to protect n their revocable license, must require to know the use of any fireworks bought outside the normal three week period. It‘s not a matter of choice, the customer must tell the retailer who will; keep records of all fireworks sold.”

Asked if this system would dissuade hooligans with disposable income from buying fireworks to let off “for a laff”, Mr Tynan said: “Nowadays, retailers ask you your post code and house number for almost any purchase you make. If that information in their computer does not tally with what you tell them, they will be suspicious. Therefore, if any retailer was unhappy with the details and reasons given by someone looking to buy fireworks, they would refuse to sell them. If someone acquired fireworks and made a nuisance with them and it was traced back to a retailer who had not asked the necessary questions and kept adequate records, they would lose their licence.

“Obviously the all-year licence would not be economic for smaller retailers, so the outlets where fireworks were avialable all year round would be diminished.

Mr Tynan is also seeking to curb the use and sale of louder fireworks. “I’ve been in discussions with a number of organisations including the RSPCA, Guide Dogs fort the Blind. the Explosives Industry group and the British Fireworks Association," said Mr Tynan. “There is no maximum noise level for fireworks in the UK. The EU is planning legislation to limit firework noise to 120 decibels, which is still very high. At this stage, I cannot put any noise restrictions on the face of the Bill, although this might be added by amendment at a later point. I am going to be meeting with the Fireworks Industry and the RSPCA – see if anything can be done to regrade loud fireworks. Currently there are four categories, 1 to 4. Category 3 are ‘Very loud’, Category 4 are Display fireworks. I’m seeking to move some fireworks form Category 3 to Category 4, which would remove them from retail sale to the general public."

Mr Tynan added that anyone seeking to use fireworks for displays would obviously need to apply to the Local Authority for a licence to stage such a display and would be required by law to give public notice of the display to allow pet owners to make provision for their pets in good time.

The Bill is due for its Second Reading at 9.30 am on Friday 28th February. Previous Private Members’ Bills have been talked out and objected to by maverick MPs who simply want to spoil any Bill’s chance of success. However, if 100 MPs vote for the Bill, then a ‘closure motion; can be made, after which the Bill will be accepted and can pass to Committee stage for amendments, before returning to the House of Commons for its third reading and then to the House of Lords.

Mr Tynan said: “The Fireworks Bill will come before Parliament for debate on Friday 28th February. I know that many charities, local authorities and large numbers of ordinary people have been contacting their MPs to encourage them to reflect their views and attend on that day. I know that many of my colleagues in Westminster, despite the new sitting hours, are making special arrangements to be there, to ensure these important changes come into the law. But I would urge the readers of OUR DOGS to contact their MPs and beseech them to attend the Second Reading and vote for this Bill, which has such strong public support and hopefully see the introduction of enforceable laws to curb the misuse of fireworks.”

Bill Tynan MP can be contacted about his Bill via his assistant, Richard Williams, tel: 020 7219 0442 or by email at: williamsrj@parliament.uk

Teresa Kulkarni’s petition to ban the retail sale of fireworks is open until March 30th 2003 and may be found online at: http://freespace.virgin.net/nicholas.k

Or write to Ms Kulkarni at:
1 Methuen Avenue, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, PE30 4BN. Tel: 01553 775461