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Fireworks bill passes third reading

LABOUR MP Bill Tynan's fireworks Private Members Bill, limiting the sale and use of fireworks and imposing curbs on firework decibel level, moved one step closer to becoming law last Friday, when it came before Parliament for its third reading.

Friday 13 proved to be anything but unlucky for the Bill that enjoys broad support from all parties and from the general public. After five hours’ debate – mainly over minor amendments proposed by other MPs, the Bill was passed unopposed. The Bill now moves to further debate in the House of Lords.

If the Bill becomes law - which is unlikely to happen before November 5 this year, provisions will impose a curfew of 11p.m. on the use of fireworks; a strict limit the sale of fireworks to a period of three weeks before November 5; create a stronger licensing structure separating firework use into special festivities and private use and set a firework maximum noise level.
A coalition of animal welfare organisations have given their full support to the Bill: Blue Cross, Guide Dogs, National Canine Defence League, Battersea Dogs Home, RSPCA, SSPCA, Pro-Dogs, National Dog Wardens’ Association, Pet Care Trust, Wood Green Animal Shelters, Cats’ Protection and The Kennel Club.

The debate was at times tortuous, and Consumer Affairs Minister Melanie Johnson was put on the spot several times by MPs seeking clarification on the powers of the Minister to set an ‘appropriate decibel limit’ on the use of fireworks once the Bill became law.

The matter of noise, indeed, took up close on two hours of debate and led to some quite extraordinary remarks, such as those expounded by the MP for Gainsborough, Edward leigh, who said: ‘Let us consider all the controls that are in place for class 1 and 2 fireworks. If one listens to the anti-firework lobby, one might think that the problem is completely out of control, that people can buy what they want, that fireworks cause a massive number of injuries, that animals are being scared and all the rest. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association tells us that only four or five dogs have to retire each year because of the distress caused by fireworks. I agree that it is unfortunate that four or five dogs have to retire each year, but I doubt whether that means that it is necessary to introduce such draconian powers to deal with the traditional fireworks that one can buy over the counter.’
Obviously Mr Leigh was unaware that the sheer cost alone of each Guide Dog in training, not to mention the quality of life issue for an owner deprived of a Guide Dog.

More sensible were the comments made by the Tory MP for Christchurch, Tory MP for Christchurch, Christopher Chope: ‘Today—like many other Members, no doubt—I received a letter from a number of organisations associated with the Bill's promotion: the Pet Care Trust, the Kennel Club, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross, the National Canine Defence League, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and Battersea Dogs’ Home. They say that there is a consensus in favour of the Bill which includes not just a coalition of animal welfare organisations but the British Fireworks’ Association. That consensus, however, is due to ignorance of the decibel level that will feature in future regulation by the Minister, and ignorance of the true intent.’

Helen Briggs of the RSPCA commented after the debate: ‘There is no doubt that the huge number of letters sent by supporters of the RSPCA's Quiet Please campaign meant that this Bill was something MPs felt strongly about supporting. The RSPCA will now be focusing on the Bill getting through the Lords after which it will return to the House of Commons for consideration of any amendments from the Lords.

‘We need one last push for as many petition signatures as possible in preparation for its return to the Commons and to make sure the Bill does not fall at the last hurdle.’

* Firework Safety Campaign A Success

To coincide with the debate on Friday, Consumer Minister Melanie Johnson issued a press announcement through the Department of Trade and Industry, (DTI) praising the success of its campaign to reduce firework accidents. The campaign reported firework accidents down by a quarter last year, and that injuries to teenagers fell even further.

The new figures show:

- injuries in the street and public places fell by 33 per cent;
- injuries at family parties fell by 39 per cent;
- injuries at large public displays dropped by 37 per cent; and
- injuries in the ‘hotspot’ UK regions of fell by 36 per cent.

Welcoming the decrease, Melanie Johnson said:

‘The high profile £500,000 safety campaign run by the DTI has helped to significantly reduce the number of accident and injuries.

‘Our hard hitting campaign focussed on injuries to teenagers and I am particularly pleased that these messages have been heeded.

‘The fall in injuries is good news, but we cannot afford to be complacent. The figures still remain too high and I want to press for even greater firework safety in the future.

‘In addition to the ban on air bombs and other measures I announced last year to increase safety and reduce noise nuisance, the Private Member's Bill currently going through Parliament will provide new powers to crack down on the menace of fireworks misuse. I hope we will see further reductions in injuries in the coming years.’

There are two petitions calling for stricter controls on the use of fireworks. The RSPCA’s petition may be found at: www.rspca.org.uk/fireworks.

A private petition by animal lover Theresa Kulkarni may be found at:

http://freespace.virgin.net/nicholas.k

With thanks to UKPets (www.ukpets.co.uk)