THE HORRIFIC cacophony that Bonfire Night has become in recent years will be a thing of the past if RSPCA proposals for heavily muzzled fireworks are included in legislation likely to come into effect this year writes Nick Mays
The RSPCA is calling for any firework louder than 95 decibels - the clap of a book landing on a table from one metre high - to be banned by a Private Member's Bill.
The society held a "nice, quiet low-noise firework party" for MPs, including Consumer Affairs Minister Melanie Johnson, last week.
Speaking at the party, Bill Tynan, the Labour MP who introduced the Bill, said the aim was to curb hooligan use of fireworks and to protect children and the elderly, as well as pets and other animals which suffer due to extreme firework noise in the weeks up to and beyond Bonfire Night.
His Bill would enable ministers to ban the lighting of fireworks after 11pm and restrict sales to licensed outlets. Critics have complained it has no proposal to ban the sale of fireworks to minors, although this clause is likely to be added by an amendment during Select Committee stage.
Mr Tynan said he was satisfied with European standards that limit pyrotechnics to 120 decibels, equivalent to a loud car horn. But the RSPCA has seized on the Bill to call for a ban on bangers, rockets and the loudest devices.
Many traditional fireworks, such as Roman candles, bangers and rockets that explode with a burst of colour in the sky, were absent. They would not be allowed if the RSPCA has its way.
Instead of noise, the crowd was enveloped in a thick cloud of acrid blue-black smoke. The RSPCA's socially correct fireworks use black powder which makes less of a pop but burns much dirtier than many currently permitted fireworks. This may prompt environmental pollution concerns to be weighed up alongside firework noise nuisance.
Citing a survey of members, 87 per cent of whom said they wanted the public sale and use of fireworks banned outright, an RSPCA spokesman said: "The RSPCA quieter firework display showed that people can enjoy a spectacular display at home and be more animal friendly.
MPs and Consumer Minister Melanie Johnson have asked for more information about the fireworks used and we hope they will take up the RSPCA's idea. "As fireworks are used more and more the RSPCA believes urgent measures must be taken to stop distress and injury to animals. There is a voluntary ban on the fireworks industry selling fireworks louder than 120dB but suffering to animals would be reduced if these fireworks were sold only to professionals for public displays which should be organised according to strict guidelines.
Also we would like to see shops selling fireworks to the public required to have a licence."
An RSPCA survey of 444 vets in England and Wales found that more than half had dealt with firework cases in the last year, involving 4,835 animals. Nearly nine out of 10 cases were dogs, many of which "had to be prescribed sedatives".
John Woodhead, chairman of the British Fireworks Association, said that if the RSPCA proposals went ahead "it would kill off 80 per cent of fireworks" and "shut down the industry in Britain".
The legislation, which does not affect firework displays - attended by 12 million people a year - was unopposed at its second reading in March. Next month the Bill faces its third reading and then goes to the Lords. It is expected to become law by 2004.
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