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The Firework’s Bill
– can it deliver the promises?


TWO WEEKS ago, the House of Lords gave Mike Tynan’s Firework’s Bill the final nod of approval and it passed its Second Reading relatively unscathed. The Bill now receives Royal Assent and will become law sometime during 2004.

The coalition of animal charities and campaign groups that had backed Tynan’s Bill were unequivocal in their praise for Parliament for approving the Bill and to the Government for giving it the parliamentary time – and ministerial attention – that it deserved. According to various press releases, the sale of fireworks will now be subject to greater restriction, sales being limited to certain weeks of the year, and stronger licensing requirements being put in place for special displays, including those for religious festivals.


Anti-social

But will the measures take effect? Will the Government actually enact the powers that the Bill gives them to control the anti-social hooligan element in society that wishes to let off fireworks at all hours of the day and night, all year round? Or will the vested commercial interests of the firework industry and certain retailers dictate how the Bill is or isn’t used? Will the Bill make any difference at all?

Independent campaigner Theresa Kulkarni is sceptical, to say the least. As reported previously, Kulkarni, 38, from Kings Lynn, Norfolk collected a petition containing over 65,000 signatures calling for a total ban on the retail sale of fireworks. The petition was presented to 10 Downing Street earlier this year by Kulkarni and some of her supporters, including local MPs. She feels that the Bill promises a lot but will ultimately deliver very little.

Kulkarni told OUR DOGS: "It is impossible to comment on a Bill that WON’T say what they are going to do. It says what they MAY do. The powers it gives them need never be used and have been further restricted. The only thing we can say for certain is what they have excluded from their control i.e. things that will NOT be affected by this Bill.

"The Bill in its final form still does not state anywhere that the government will do anything or when. It only states what the government may do, if it chooses to, and only after consulting the firework industry themselves. In short "doing nothing" is a possible outcome even now."

Amongst the bones of contention within the Bill, Kulkarni points out that the noise limit for Fireworks has been allowed to remain too high, and thus will allow distress to continue to be caused to animals (and humans) The Government settled on a 120 decibel limit in accordance with EU regulations on firework noise. Even then, the 120 db limit applies only to certain types of ‘domestic’ fireworks – noise levels for organised displays are exempt from a decibel level. The RSPCA made it clear that it wanted a 95 db limit, whilst medical evidence shows that as little as 85 causes hearing loss to humans.

"Again the Bill does nothing and can do nothing even with this 120db limit mentioned in it because who is going to come out and measure it?" says Kulkarni. "Also Display fireworks (Category 4) are totally exempt from this limit anyway.

"The same is true of the proposed curfew suggested for 11pm. Who is going to enforce this curfew? Not our police force surely? 999 calls get answered in hours not minutes in parts of this country so how quickly will they come for a noisy firework?"


Debate

A careful reading of the Lords Committee session gives the only real indication of the Government’s intentions is from the committee session of the House of Lords that passed the Bill at nearly midnight on the 9th of September. The whole Debate lasted just 22 minutes, with some peers even joking that they wished to "avoid a curfew" and get home as soon as possible. There was also no way for the Lords to amend the Bill further as the Government had run it "out of time" in the House of Commons. Further amendments – which would have to be approved by the Commons – would simply have caused the Bill to be lost, as no further parliamentary time could be allocated to it.

In the House of Lords debate the Government stated that it

1. Will not completely ban fireworks
2. Will not limit the noise of fireworks
3. Will not regulate garden fireworks at all
4. Will not stop anyone letting off display fireworks at anytime of year
5. Will not restrict selling fireworks to specialist shops only
6. Will not restrict fireworks to a particular time of year

"In short not one thing is being done to prevent the abuse of fireworks, the danger they cause or the suffering they inflict. So why is everyone "jumping for joy" because this half hearted nonsense is now a law?" asks Kulkarni with undisguised irritation.

"The strange thing is that since the banning of fireworks in Northern Ireland, RoSPA report a 72 percent decrease in firework injuries. Clearly a BAN works so why can’t we have one?

Victoria Dunn, Project Officer for RoSPA, said that with the change in legislation last year we did see a 72 per cent decrease in the number injured by fireworks. Last year in the 4 weeks around Guy Fawkes Night, fireworks injured 1,017 people. Of those 295 were injured in the street. 363 more were injured at private parties that this Bill will not regulate anyway.

"Another 54 injuries occurred in semi public parties bringing a total of 712 i.e. nearly three quarters of the injured who will not be protected in anyway by this new Bill."

Theresa Kulkarni and her many supporters feel cheated and let down by the |Bill which they feel the Government has ‘neutered’ so as not to make any difference. To this end, they plan further concerted action to bring about a real change in the law relating to fireworks.

"Clearly nothing is being done and I will be starting a new petition to make that point," says Kulkarni. "Hopefully we can influence the Secretary of State to use his new powers in a more useful way than this. We hope that new regulations cover ALL categories of fireworks and actually limit the time of year fireworks can be used to fixed religious and ethnic celebrations not just any old time you want.

"The powers are there, in the Bill, it just takes the actual will of the Government to USE them. If upsets some yobbos, so what? At least our pets won’t be terrorised all year round."

CAN OR CAN’T
– the Lord’s debate

During the Lords debate, the Government’s Minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville made some very telling comments on the Government’s intentions to use the powers within the Bill, and pointed out the Bill’s own shortcomings:

On the decibel limit for fireworks, Lord Sainsbury said:

"….an example being the formalisation of a 120 decibel limit by the replacement of the British standard with the new harmonised European standard"

"I would also like to make it clear that while it is true that the Government agree with the noise level for domestic fireworks that will be set out in the new Standard, it has never been their intention to place a noise level emitted from category 4 fireworks—that is, the professional display fireworks used at public displays. That being so, to my knowledge there has been no discussion of a decibel level restriction of 130 decibels."

In other words, displays have no decibel limit restriction placed upon them.

Lord Sainsbury also confirmed that there would be NO restriction on the use of fireworks ALL YEAR ROUND:

"The noble Lord raised the question of the availability of those fireworks used for private displays. Under the Bill, we have no plans to prohibit the public from buying particular fireworks in any of the defined consumer categories—that is, categories 1 to 3. Additionally, people may let such fireworks off on private land during any time of the year save the specified curfew time in the evenings, subject, of course, to the landowner's approval."

The Government also continued to pander to commercial interests by refusing to restrict the retail sale of fireworks:

"The way that a licence will work is being developed. I cannot therefore be as helpful as I would wish in answering the noble Lord's question. At this stage we are not ruling anything out. But, on the face of it, restricting all year round supply to specialist shops could be damaging to particular retailers and involve issues of fairness with regard to religious and cultural minorities. Thus, in principle, any licence to supply fireworks made under the Bill should be open to all to apply for, and not just those considered to be specialist suppliers."