DOGS AND other pets face another Bonfire Night of misery again this year thanks to the Government’s apparent refusal to reduce the noise levels of fireworks that can be bought by the public by acting upon the safeguards and regulations built into the much-vaunted Firework Bill, writes Nick Mays.
The RSPCA is particularly disappointed that, despite overwhelming public opposition, a written statement given last week has revealed the UK Government is considering allowing members of the public to continue using fireworks that reach noise levels equivalent to a jet aircraft taking off (120 decibels).
Last year thousands of animals were killed, injured or distressed because they were frightened of fireworks. The RSPCA believes that continuing to allow noise levels of 120 decibels will not sufficiently protect pets and wildlife.
Steve Cheetham, the RSPCA's chief veterinary officer, said: "The RSPCA is extremely disappointed that, despite the huge public support for our campaign to get a maximum noise level of 95 decibels, we have been ignored.
"The Society welcomes the news that private displays will not be allowed to take place between the hours of 11pm and 7am. However, if noise levels are not significantly lowered, pet owners will still have to protect their pets during the permitted times and many will have to continue to sedate their pets. We believe it would make a significant difference if the public were only allowed to use fireworks of 95 decibels - equivalent to a book being dropped on a table at one metre - or less at their own displays.
"We know the public is in support of our calls for a noise reduction because in a recent Mori poll, 81 per cent of the public agreed that the louder fireworks should only be allowed at public displays*."
Independent anti-firework campaigner Theresa Kulkarni was openly sceptical that the Government would reduce the noise levels by utilising the Bill to its full potential. 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 last 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?"
During the Lords debate last year just before the Bill was finally approved, 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.
* The RSPCA is currently in the middle of a national advertising campaign gathering text votes and personalised messages in support of firework noise reduction to the Prime Minister from members of the public. In its first week the campaign has received an overwhelming response with more than 1,000 personalised messages to Tony Blair. To take part, simply text the word FIRE6 to 60022 and the RSPCA will pass on your vote to Tony Blair. The inbox will be open until Saturday 8 May 2004.