STRICT LAWS to control the use of Fireworks came into effect last weekend, some months after a record number of MPs voted for Labour MP Bill Tynan’s Private Member’s Bill – which received Government backing – to restrict the use and purchase of fireworks.
From now on people who let off fireworks late at night and teenagers who carry them in public places will face fines of up to £5,000 or six months in jail under the laws which form part of a new initiative to combat antisocial behaviour.
There will be a complete ban on letting off fireworks between 11pm and 7am, and under-18s will be committing an offence if they carry them in public. Shops will also be banned from selling fireworks louder than 120 decibels.
Exceptions have been made for special occasions, with revellers celebrating the New Year, Diwali and the Chinese new year given until 1am to let off fireworks. However, traditional November 5 bonfire displays must be over by midnight.
Consumer Affairs Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, said: "Fireworks can be fun but can also cause misery for communities, especially for vulnerable people, such as the elderly, and animals.
"Introducing a curfew and a noise limit balances the law to ensure that people can still enjoy fireworks while cracking down on their antisocial use."
Shops wanting to sell fireworks all year round will need to apply for a licence from their local council and must keep strict records of all fireworks sold and the reason for their purchase; other suppliers, such as newsagents, will be able to sell them only during limit periods.
The number of people in the UK injured by fireworks in 2003 was up slightly on the previous year, with 1,136 people treated in hospital casualty departments compared with 1,017 in 2002.
But the injury statistics from the Department of Trade and Industry also revealed that the majority of accidents were minor, with only 5% of people needing to stay in hospital overnight.
The DTI welcomed the new legislation as a good step forward in cutting down on the "nuisance" use of fireworks but added that the illegal trade in fireworks to underage youngsters was an area that still needed to be monitored.
However, the RSPCA has criticised the Government for missing an opportunity to prevent the suffering of thousands of animals due to loud fireworks.
By failing to reduce the maximum noise level of fireworks available to the public, terrified dogs and other pets will continue to suffer stress, injury and possible death.
The new firework regulations mean that from Saturday, 7 August it will be illegal for retailers to sell fireworks louder than 120 decibels - 120 decibels being equivalent to a jet aircraft taking off - to the general public. This is the same maximum noise level that was specified in a voluntary code already in force and will mean no reduction to the distress loud fireworks cause animals.
In its submission to a Government consultation on fireworks, the RSPCA gave examples of how the lives of thousands of animals are made a misery by loud fireworks and many are killed and injured because they are so frightened. The Society also outlined research carried out for its 'Quiet Please' fireworks campaign that showed a maximum noise level of 95 decibels (the equivalent to a car door slamming) would make a significant difference to the welfare of animals.
Animal suffering will continue
The RSPCA is disappointed because the government has ignored its request for it to be compulsory for organisers of professional firework displays (who can continue to use fireworks louder than 120 decibels) to alert pet owners so they can take steps to protect their pets.
The Society also expressed concern that the draft regulations focused on the impact on people of anti-social behaviour involving fireworks and neglected the plight of animals - and this continues to be the case.
In a MORI poll, 78 per cent of people agreed loud fireworks should only be allowed at public displays. In addition, 90,000 people signed a petition in support of quieter fireworks that was delivered to 10 Downing Street in November 2003.
Steve Cheetham, the RSPCA's chief veterinary officer, said: "This legislation does nothing to alleviate the suffering of animals and the government has missed a great opportunity to do something about it. Its failure to sufficiently reduce the noise level of fireworks means that thousands of animals will continue to suffer. We have received a huge amount of support for our campaign for quieter fireworks and there will be many disappointed pet owners up and down the country."