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Firework’s Bill passes its second reading

THE PRIVATE Member’s Bill put forward by Labour MP Bill Tynan to introduce stricter controls on the sale and use of fireworks passed its second reading unopposed in the House of Commons two weeks ago. In a rare display of unity, MPs from all parties gave the Bill their unequivocal support, heartened, no doubt, by the official backing of the Government for the long-overdue legislation which could see an end to the misery caused to people and animals all year long due to the unrestricted availability of fireworks.

The Bill was warmly welcomed by a consortium of twelve of the UK’s leading animal welfare organisations including: The Blue Cross, The National Canine Defence League, Battersea Dogs’ Home, RSPCA, SSPCA, Pro-Dogs, The National Dog Wardens Association, Pet Care Trust, Wood Green Animal Shelters, Cats’ Protection, The Kennel Club and The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

Mr Tynan had desperately sought the support of at least 100 MPs to ensure that the Bill could not be talked out or deliberately objected to, as had been the case with a similar Bill put forward by Linda Gilroy in 1997 and which was ‘ambushed’ by a group of maverick MPs led by Tory Eric Forth, who defended his actions by saying that he had "saved the British people from a nasty little Bill." Since then, however, the noise nuisance caused by fireworks, as well as the general misuse of fireworks has increased to intolerable levels, thus earning Mr Forth the epithet of "Airbomb Eric" from his disgruntled fellow MPs.

Mr Forth briefly entered the chamber, but may have been daunted by the huge number of MPs there in support – 141 in all, a record for any Private Member’s Bill being read on a Friday – and left after making one brief remark, much to the delight of many present.

Every MP spoke in favour of the Bill during the lengthy debate, many of them only offering mild criticism that the Bill did not go far enough and should be harder on misdemeanours relating to firework misuse, although the view was expressed that the Bill could, of course, be amended at Select Committee stage and ‘beefed up’.

Alluded

Many MPs came to the Chamber armed with petitions from their constituents, while almost all who spoke alluded in some way to the harm caused to animals by fireworks
Mr Tynan started the debate at 9.30, saying: "There is wide interest in the issue in the UK.

Some 300,000 signatures have been delivered to No. 10 [Downing Street] over the past six months, and four petitions on fireworks were presented this week. When I decided to pursue a Bill on fireworks, I had the benefit of the experience of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), which, unfortunately, failed…. I met various organisations, including the fireworks task group of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I corresponded with and consulted other groups that had expressed tremendous support, such as the TUC, the British Medical Association, the National Farmers Union, the Windermere campaign for fireworks control, the main groups representing trading standards officers and the national campaign for fireworks safety. If I have inadvertently left out an organisation or individual, it is because the consultation was so wide ranging. Many groups in a large number of local authorities also offered their support. Yesterday, we were lobbied by people from Salford, who said that they support the Bill. I must also thank the all-party parliamentary group on fireworks for its guidance, help and support over the past few months."

Mr Tynan made it clear that he was not planning to legislate without the input of the Fireworks Industry itself, adding: "Starting from day one, I announced my intention that my Fireworks Bill would be as consensual as possible. I met representatives of the British Fireworks Association, the British Pyrotechnists Association and the explosives industry group of the CBI to discuss issues, exchange information and learn about the industry to reach, if possible, a consensus on the Bill's content. The assistance, support and advice from everyone has been extremely gratifying."

Mr Tynan carefully outlined the clauses of his Bill and how they related to different levels of firework control: "Clause 1 establishes the definition of fireworks. I do not intend that the Bill should extend to items such as pyrotechnic bird-scarers, small explosive charges for car airbags, amateur rocket motors or marine distress flares. I have been asked to give assurances to groups that use such devices. They are not currently classed as fireworks, and that will continue.

"Clause 2 grants powers to enable firework regulations to be made, and outlines the grounds on which they can be made. Included are protections for humans, animals and property, and a requirement to consult interested and relevant groups before making regulations. However, the scope for making emergency provisions—as happened in 1996—continues to be included.
"Clause 3 would ban sales to minors. The intention is that the current minimum age of 18 should be retained. Clause 4 would limit the times at which fireworks can be sold or used. There is scope to allow exceptions, such as a post-11 pm use at new year. The clause would introduce a year-round curfew of 11 pm

Tom Watson, West Bromwich, East congratulated Mr Tynan on his Bill, making a point about cross-party support and the dim view taken of the loss of the previous Bill: "Members on both sides of the House are genuinely appreciative of the fact that the Conservative party supports the Bill. However, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we did not have to do it this way? If his right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)— "Airbomb Eric", friend of the noisy neighbour—had not talked a similar Bill out two years ago, we would not all be here now because legislation would be in place.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) added: "I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) on his good fortune and on taking forward this Bill. I have had the pleasure of serving with him on a couple of Standing Committees and I know that he has a keen eye for the detail of legislation. He ably demonstrated that in his speech.

"In 1997-98, my first year as a Member of Parliament, I was very involved with the work that the my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), the then Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, did in respect of the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997 that he introduced. We worked closely with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who has also done much work on firework safety. Safety was the dominant issue at that time.

Some Members may not have seen the excellent Library briefing that charts the history of the safety issues in which we have all taken an interest. The appendix lays out the fireworks statistics for the years from 1996 to 2001. It shows clearly the impact of the regulations that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South introduced. They succeeded in reducing the number of accidents. However, over the past year or two—and, predominantly, since the turn of the millennium—the number of accidents is, sadly, increasing as fireworks become more available. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South [Mr Tynan] pointed out, the statistics reflect only a small amount of what is happening. The period in which fireworks are sold has been extended. They are on sale from September to February and, in some parts of the country, for even longer than that. Therefore, the statistics do not capture the full dimension of the problem."

Sandra Osborne (Ayr): "Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the number of accidents can be measured, the distress caused particularly to elderly people who may have small pets is enormous? Furthermore, the veterinary bills that they have to pay are something that they can ill afford."

Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) spoke about the detrimental effects of fireworks on Assistance Dogs: "I presented to the House this week a petition signed by more than 2,000 people. A significant majority of the people who have written to me have described the effects on guide dogs. Will those people who express concerns about the Bill accept that fireworks affect not just guide dogs for the blind but hearing dogs for the deaf? As dogs are trained increasingly to help people in a number of different circumstances, the scale of the problem could escalate. If we do not do something about the problem by controlling and restricting fireworks in the way that the Bill suggests—I heartily commend it to the House—we will store up significant problems in other areas."

Linda Gilroy added: "We certainly will. Hearing dogs for the deaf is a fascinating subject. I have a letter from a constituent called Lillian who owns a guide dog called Callum. She is totally blind and wrote to me on 3 February to say: "Even last night fireworks were being let off in my street. I know it was Candlemas"—Lillian has a sense of humour—"but I was unaware that this was a time for letting off Roman Candles."

She adds: "However, a few years back whilst walking in the local park area, with a school adjoining, during the morning, I was stopped by a couple of adults who told me not to go further as boys were tossing fireworks across the footpath. As my dog was running free, I called him back to put him on the lead and take a different route. Goodness knows the outcome if I had not done so. I have heard of several guide dog owners who have had to get tranquillisers for their dogs, which of course causes distress to both dog and owner...I trust my letter will add to all the others".

The petition that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) is in addition to the 250,000 signatures on the petition collected by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner)."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Melanie Johnson gave the Government’s support for Mr Tynan’s Bill, saying: "I can give the House the reassurance that the Government support it [the Bill]. I am also pleased to hear from Members on both sides of the House about how my hon. Friend has gained the support of organisations such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the RSPCA, the Blue Cross and many others, such as Cats’ Protection, which we have just heard about.

Recognition

"The British Fireworks Association, which represents the fireworks industry, also broadly supports the Bill. That is important, and represents a recognition on its part that there is a growing impatience in the community about the difficulties that people are experiencing with fireworks, and that these issues need to be addressed.

" Hon. Members raised the same points in a variety of ways and we all know that we must address them. The protections necessary for humans, animals and property are major concerns. Our powers are limited at the moment and we cannot introduce those protections now. The Bill's main purpose is to provide the capability to use regulations to address the problems associated with fireworks. As hon. Members recognised, it will give us enabling powers to make regulations that control, among other things, the times of the day when fireworks can be used. We will also be able to set a maximum noise limit on all fireworks sold to the public, to require suppliers of fireworks to be licensed, to ensure that public firework display operators meet requirements before giving displays and to control the importation of fireworks. All those measures will play a role in solving the problem. So a package of measures will resolve the difficulties that many people face."

Tony Banks, Newham East, made a strong and charateristically pithy point on the issue: "My hon. Friend has correctly pointed to the central issue. Enforcement will necessarily be dealt with if the supply is cut off. Such people do not wander around the streets throwing sparklers at each other. They use exploding fireworks; we need to attack them and ban their sale. I hope that the Government will introduce regulations to that end."

Miss Johnson replied: "I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and it is for just that reason that we need to implement strong measures to deal with the hooligan element. It is a great sadness that the hooligan element in our society has terrorised our communities, and I trust that this time sense will prevail in the House on the new powers that are needed to address the problem. I believe that the last time such legislation was debated, a few spoiled things for the many. I hope that the existing consensus and the difficulties reported by many today, all of which point in the same direction, will make Members determined to take the opportunity that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South has provided, and—while continuing to make key and constructive criticisms—to support his Bill's passage through the House. Its passage is absolutely crucial if we are to achieve any diminution in the difficulties that all of our constituents are affected by. I am determined that we strike the right balance by regulating only where necessary, and I want to ensure that the Bill introduces no extraneous or unnecessary regulation."

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) also added some pertinent points relating to the effects of fireworks on animals, saying: "There is no doubt about the inappropriate growth in the use of fireworks in recent years. It affects elderly people and, above all, pets and animals…. We have all heard horror stories about the distress caused to animals by inappropriate use of fireworks. Recently, a constituent wrote to me to say that she had had to have her dog put down because it had bitten her child after it was distressed by a firework display. An excellent briefing document from the RSPCA draws attention to the problems for horses, cats, small mammals and nocturnal wildlife such as badgers and foxes.

"If pet owners receive notice that there is to be a firework display, they can take action to lessen the distress that could be caused to their pet. They can sedate animals or move horses. It is distressing to witness the anxiety caused to animals by fireworks. Dogs often shake and shiver from head to foot; they whimper and hide under beds to try to get away from the noise. Owners feel helpless in such situations because we cannot explain what is going on…

"…The types of fireworks used are on the up. In an excellent speech, the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) set out the wide range of fireworks on display. There are shops that appear in the weeks leading up to 5 November where one can buy a huge container with just one fuse. It costs about 70 or 80 quid and is a complete, self-contained display. I admit that my constituency is fairly affluent and many young people buy such things; they give them to their younger brothers and off they go."

Delighted

The debate ended without the need for a vote as the Bill was given its Second Reading "on the nod", with no chance of it being lost thanks to malicious interventions. The Bill now passes to Committee Stage where recommendations and amendments will be made, before the Bill passes to the Commons then to the Lords for further debate.

Bill Tynan said he was "absolutely delighted" with the level of support he received for his Bill and added that he would do his best to ensure that it would reach the statute books, with Government and cross-party support.

The Bill’s initial success was greeted with praise by several animal welfare organisations.
Robin Hutchinson, Head of Communications for The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, commented: "Today’s success is very welcome indeed. The massive increase in the use of fireworks over the last few years continues to cause great distress and disruption to many thousands of people across the country. For many guide dog owners who are forced to sedate, re-train or even retire their dogs because of the irresponsible use of fireworks, today has come as a great relief."

Clarissa Baldwin, Chief Executive of The National Canine Defence League (NCDL), added: "Today is a great result for the millions of dogs in this country who are terrified of fireworks. The NCDL wholeheartedly backs this Bill. It is a leap forward in helping to alleviate the stress and terror felt by most dogs."