Monday 8th November 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
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[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Petitions Committee, Session 2019, Fireworks, HC 103 , and First Special Report of the Petitions Committee, Session 2019-21, Fireworks: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2019, HC 242]
16:30
Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (in the Chair)
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Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings when not speaking in the debate. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. This can be done either at the testing centre in the House, or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated, and when entering and leaving the room.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 319891, relating to the sale and use of fireworks.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. The petition before us, entitled “Limit the Sale and Use of Fireworks to Organisers of Licensed Displays Only”, states:

“Current legislation allows for public use of fireworks 16 hours a day, every day, making it impossible for vulnerable groups to take precautions against the distress they can cause. Better enforcement of existing law is insufficient; limiting their sale & use to licensed displays only is necessary.

Restrictions on the sale & use of fireworks has huge public support and is backed by several human and animal charities. Limiting the sale & use of fireworks to displays only, by introducing licensing via local authorities, would help to protect vulnerable people and animals from the distress and anxiety caused by unexpected firework noise & pollution. Legislation that balances people’s desires for firework displays, and individual rights to not be distressed throughout the year, is needed now.”

The petition closed with 301,610 signatures, including 306 from my own constituency of Carshalton and Wallington, and I am grateful to the petition’s creator, Julie, for taking the time to speak to me before today’s debate to set out why she created the petition. It is great to see so many colleagues present to take part, and I know that many wanted to get into the debate but could not, including my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie), who has done a lot of work in the area. I wanted to make sure that the contributions of those Members were also put on record.

The debate has become something of an annual event. I remember being in Westminster Hall to debate the topic last year, and I believe that the Petitions Committee has held a debate on the issue every year for the past five or six. The Minister, as a former member of that Committee, will remember those debates full well. The fact that every year more 100,000 people sign a petition asking for very similar things, and we come to this place to debate those things, demonstrates—as the petition says—the significant public interest in the topic. I am sure that many colleagues will share their experiences of the emails and social media messages they have received over the past few days, ranging from those that are totally opposed to any change in the law whatsoever to those that would like to see fireworks banned altogether —not just for private use, but for any use at all.

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP)
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I was at a constituency event yesterday evening and was approached by constituents about the debate, including one, Sharon, who has a family member who has autism. The unexpected, random and unpredictable nature of fireworks going off when they are not anticipated causes that person real distress, and other constituents who are military veterans have contacted me to express the same concern. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those kinds of issues need to be considered when we are taking steps to minimise the use of fireworks outwith proper displays?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I expect that many colleagues will mention the impact that fireworks can have on animals, but we often forget that people are equally affected. That needs to become a central part of this debate; it should be considered, so I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention.

Because of the great public interest in this topic, I decided to set up a survey—as I know many colleagues on all sides of the House have done, either this year or in years prior—to gauge my constituents’ views more widely. The response was something of a surprise, and has been quite phenomenal, so I hope the House will give me leave to go through some of those responses. I checked just an hour before today’s debate began, and the Facebook post that I created has received over 1.2 million hits, has been shared 12,000 times, and has attracted 75,000 responses. I asked those 75,000 respondents for their thoughts on four different topics, and I will very quickly go through their responses.

I began by asking the respondents if, like the petitioners, they agreed that fireworks should be banned other than on set days of the year; 10% said no and 88% said yes. Secondly, I asked if they normally looked forward to bonfire night; 19% said yes and 78% said no. Thirdly, I asked if they supported a complete ban on fireworks, other than for organised events; 9% said no and 89% said yes. Finally, I asked pet owners specifically about the impact of fireworks on their pets, and whether they were afraid of fireworks; 15% said no and 83% said yes. Of course, I must add the caveat that the survey was no official consultation—it was a Facebook post that went a bit viral. However, I hope that that snapshot of public opinion and the views expressed will help colleagues understand the issue.

Mike Amesbury Portrait Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing such a vital debate. One person who responded to the survey and has campaigned vigorously on the issue is Richard Smith, from my constituency. He is a veteran and has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. He is not a killjoy, but the effect of post-traumatic stress disorder on him and many of his comrades is a significant factor. He welcomes the debate but, more importantly, he would welcome action from Ministers.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to our attention. Would he pass on the Petitions Committee’s thanks to his constituent for his engagement with the debate? I will touch on that issue later.

I recognise and accept that there are strong views on both sides of the debate. The hon. Gentleman just used the word “killjoy”, and I was called that by a journalist just this morning. I confess that I sometimes find myself very torn, as I am sure many hon. Members are and will discuss later. I admit that I enjoy a good fireworks display. The Minister, who is my constituency neighbour, will know very well the amazing fireworks displays that have been put on in Carshalton Park by Carshalton Round Table over the years. Many people see fireworks as good fun and are not keen to see further bureaucracy come into their lives, preventing them from enjoying themselves. My natural instinct has always been against banning things, and I share concerns, which I know the Government have raised in response to the petition before, that restrictions could lead to a rise in black market sales and illegal usage and create problems with enforcement. I appreciate that a number of measures have also been undertaken, but I will let the Minister touch on those in his reply and not steal all of his material.

On the flip side, the petitioners’ arguments are incredibly persuasive. As I am sure we will hear throughout the debate, my dog Willow, like so many dogs, is absolutely terrified of fireworks. She spent most of Saturday night cowering and hiding in a corner. As we have heard from hon. Members, fireworks can also be incredibly distressing for people living with autism and for veterans suffering from PTSD. That is why many animal and veteran charities and organisations have echoed the petitioners’ calls for restrictions on sale and use.

I have also received a number of emails, as I am sure many colleagues have, with the most dreadful photos showing how letting off fireworks can go badly wrong, where people or animals have suffered horrific injuries or property has been damaged. After all, we must remember that fireworks contain combustible and explosive materials.

Richard Holden Portrait Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham) (Con)
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Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a particularly regional nature to the issue? In the north-east, in County Durham, we are one of the top two places in the country for arson and arson of vehicles. The knock-on effects of fireworks are not limited to those on animals, which are very serious, and to road safety and antisocial behaviour, but relate to some of the criminal issues he is highlighting, which can lead to real damage to people and property. Does he understand that that is probably one reason why my constituency was in the top 9% in the country in terms of respondents to this e-petition?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to my attention; if I did not understand before, I certainly do now. One reason petitioners keep bringing the topic back is the problem with the current enforcement measures, which are either not enforced properly or are insufficient to deal with the issue. After all, fireworks contain combustible and explosive materials. There are alternatives available; there are quiet or silent fireworks and even non-explosive things such as light-up drones.

I know the Minister will want to cover the existing legislation, enforcement and public awareness campaigns, so I will not steal his material. I will draw attention to the work that the Petitions Committee has done in the past in recognition of the strong public interest. This is why, following the three petitions that have been formerly debated in Westminster Hall, the Committee produced a report in 2019. I will admit that the investigation concurred with the Government of the time; introducing a ban or taking “drastic action” on the sale and use of fireworks was not supported by the Committee. However, it did make a number of recommendations to Government. In their response last March, the Government made a number of commitments. These included: instructing the Office for Product Safety and Standards to develop a fact-based evidence base; inviting stakeholders to share information that may not have previously been publicly available; better education and public awareness; engagement with animal welfare groups about proactive steps that pet owners can take; and a number of other points. On the first point, I understand that the OPSS has since published its evidence base. However, it would be useful to get an update from the Government on the commitments they made in response to the report, and the progress that has been made since.

Given the significant interest in this area of policy, as evidenced by the regularity with which we come here to debate this topic in Petitions Committee debates, I wondered whether the Government have considered a larger exercise in gathering public opinion and consultation. I am sure we will hear more from our colleagues in the Scottish National party about the Scottish Government’s two consultations in the area since 2019. That work north of the border has led to the establishment of a firework review group, whose recommendations are being considered by the Scottish Government following a second public consultation. Will the Minister speak to his opposite number in Scotland and consider undertaking a similar public engagement exercise better to understand public opinion and inform policy in this area?

It is clear that the issue is not going to go away any time soon. There is significant public interest and strong views are held on all sides; I would be very surprised if we were not back here next year debating the issue once again. I look forward to hearing colleagues’ contributions and the reply from the Minister about the action that has been taken. However, for the reasons I have given, the status quo does not appear to be tenable. I do not think that is fair that we continue to come here year after year, have the same debate and repeat the same arguments. I would argue that that could erode public trust in the Petitions Committee system, which is designed to give people a voice in this House. It is not fair to the petitioners, or to the constituents who contact us year after year, that we just go round in circles without exploring the matter in greater detail. I believe that further work should be undertaken, and that it is to the public that we must look to find the way forward.

Through public consultation, the Government could better understand and engage with the concerns about the impact that fireworks have, particularly on animals, people with autism and those living with PTSD. There are also concerns about losing a source of enjoyment; there is a balance to be struck. I am sure that the significant number of people who took part in my survey—in just a few days and in uncontrolled conditions —demonstrates that if a proper public consultation was to take place there would be a significant amount of public involvement. That would allow the Government to do a full and detailed analysis of responses, which could inform policy going forward. Can the Minister take this suggestion back to his Department and report back to the Petitions Committee about whether such an undertaking would be possible? I appreciate many other colleagues want to speak, so I will bring my remarks to a close. I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (in the Chair)
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As so many Members wish to speak, I have to impose a three-minute limit on speeches; that will give us the best chance of getting every Member in to speak. I will cut Members’ speeches off at three minutes.

16:44
Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Twigg.

I rise to speak on behalf of the 584 people living in my constituency of Pontypridd who have signed this petition on an issue that I am passionate about. It is clear that many Members from across the political divide share my concerns about the sale and use of fireworks, given the popularity of this debate and that of debates on the same topic in the past. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) has already said, we have had this debate year on year. I was in the debate last year and I have no doubt that I will be in such a debate next year unless the Government take clear action and do something about the issue.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), who is making excellent progress with her Misuse of Fireworks Bill, which is making its way through the House. Indeed, the issues surrounding the sale and misuse of fireworks have been debated in this place for many years, but despite compelling contributions from colleagues in a range of debates there has been little progress in terms of practical change.

If anything, the situation is getting much worse. Although I recognise that a well-organised fireworks display is something that a lot of people look forward to, myself included, we must also acknowledge the impacts of fireworks, including the distress and danger that they can cause some people. One resident in Pontypridd, who recently gave birth, contacted me to share her real concerns about the impact that firework season will have on her new baby’s wellbeing. I share and empathise with her concerns. Those who have children in their house will know that painstaking silence is often required for a newborn to drop to sleep and those few hours are also undeniably precious for any new parent. I remember from my own experience of giving birth that I was utterly exhausted after having Sullivan and the thought of an excruciatingly loud firework display waking him up was a genuine worry at this time of year. It is important to recognise that bonfire night, despite its name, is rarely celebrated on one night alone. Often, fireworks are let off on for days on end and it is time that we reflect properly on whether that is truly necessary.

Of course, if we restrict public firework displays even further, as had to be the case last year due to the pandemic, we are likely to see an increase in home displays, which will often be even more dangerous. Some responsible outlets and supermarkets are making the decision not to sell fireworks, but despite their best efforts there were still reports of firework-related antisocial behaviour in my area.

I recently met South Wales Fire and Rescue Service, which is based in Llantrisant in my constituency. Its team told me about their extensive preparations for what is undoubtedly their busiest weekend of the year. Similarly, last weekend, as part of COP26, there were a number of rallies in my area to encourage more rapid environmental action to tackle the devastating effects of climate change.

We know the devastating impact that fireworks have on our local environment and on all animals, not just our pets. I have spoken passionately in Westminster Hall before about my own dogs, Dotty and Dora. They are absolutely petrified of fireworks. As the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington has already said, this is not just about animals or newborn babies; it is also about veterans, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, those suffering with autism and those who are vulnerable and on their own.

I urge the Minister to take action and recognise the broad range of health and safety concerns that have been raised today. We have to take action before it is too late—before we all end up back here next year. Remember, remember, the fifth of November, and not this debate.

16:47
Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)
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I apologise, Mr Twigg, that I will not be able to stay for the very end of the debate, because I have to chair a Committee upstairs.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on introducing the debate so well. Things have moved on from the time of my grandfather, who was an orphan in south London in the late 1890s. Just ahead of bonfire night, the superintendent of the orphanage went round with a bucket of fireworks, and each young lad was told to take a firework and to go out and light it. Can anyone imagine that happening today?

Distressingly, however, a very large number of people are injured each year because of the use of fireworks in domestic settings. Over 100 people go to hospital each year as a result of fireworks-related accidents; over 1,000 people are hurt, half of whom are children; there are over 40,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour related to fireworks; and 4,500 animals are injured and require veterinary support as a result of activities related to bonfire night.

I support the wording of the petition. I think there should be a ban—an outright ban—on the retail sale of fireworks, and that we should encourage licensed, organised displays. The point about such displays is that they are the best way to appreciate fireworks, while also raising a lot of money for charity. The thing about fireworks is that they are great if they can be seen and are well organised, but they are universally awful if they can only be heard. That is what happens with domestic firework displays. If the fireworks cannot be seen, they cannot be appreciated. It is animals in particular that suffer. Hundreds of thousands of dogs, cats, horses and other animals every year are quaking in fear because of the loud bangs going off in the vicinity.

Scott Benton Portrait Scott Benton (Blackpool South) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is rightly highlighting the awful impact that fireworks can have on pets and other animals. Will he join me in praising the work of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Dogs Trust—to name but two organisations—which have published their advice to pet owners on what they can do to safeguard their pets against fireworks?

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Hollobone
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I am grateful for that intervention, because the RSPCA calculates that fireworks cause distress in 62% of dogs, 54% of cats and 55% of horses. The RSPCA estimates that 85% of people whom it has surveyed think that firework displays should be licensed and that the retail sale of fireworks should be abolished. The point is this. As human beings, we can all be frightened by noise, but we can rationalise it, understand it, and most of us can overcome it, but very, very few animals can do that, so if we want to stop hundreds of thousands of animals quaking in fear year in, year out, as a result of fireworks, let us ban the wretched things from retail sale and have organised, licensed public displays only.

16:51
Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Twigg. I want to start by reflecting on the emails that I have had from constituents. They are very clear that fireworks are not just on one night; they are an ongoing problem that lasts for weeks and weeks. Charlie Fairley emailed me on 14 October to say that he had

“already been woken up three nights in a row, with people letting off fireworks in the early hours of the morning.”

Ruth Ewan emailed on 17 October to say that she had already

“reported two incidents to police, kids lighting and throwing fireworks in the middle of the day”.

There was also an incident in which a firework landed very close to a young child in a pram, which was really terrifying. Fortunately, the police were able to find and charge the young people responsible, but that is indicative of the many incidents that happen and the risks that are caused. Ruth says:

“Our kids 4 and 8 are terrified as are our cats and dog.”

She said that they were

“considering going to stay with family outside of Glasgow for the first week of November as it’s…scary and distressing for everyone.”

Marg Vickers emailed to ask why, given all the climate change concerns that we have, we are

“senselessly adding fuel to the fire?”

She feels that it is

“all about money and commercialism with no thought about those that suffer every bonfire night; our veterans, our elderly and our animals.”

Elaine Wallace said that she had recently moved into Pollokshields and lives just off Albert Drive. She said that

“the last two weeks have been a shock”.

and she describes the fireworks in the street as “terrifying”. She has phoned the police on multiple occasions.

All of this is not for the want of trying to tackle the problem. I pay tribute to Police Scotland for all that it has done in Pollokshields after a very serious incident a few years ago when the police and fire service came under attack. Inspector Cenny Smith, Sergeant Lynn Donnelly, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Crimestoppers, trading standards, neighbourhood relations staff from the council, the Youth Community Support Agency and the Bowling Green in Pollokshields have all worked collaboratively to try to reduce the impact on communities. But I was out on the streets in Pollokshields on Friday night and the fireworks were going off everywhere, from all directions—near, far, up, through back courts, and in the middle of the road as well. That is incredibly unsafe. What is left behind is the impact on the community—the litter, the waste and the disruption to people’s lives.

It is unfortunate that the UK Government are not really doing anything to tackle the problem. The Scottish Government have had a comprehensive consultation. The responses were clear that legislation remains in the hands of the UK Government. If they will not do something about it, they must devolve the powers in order to let the Scottish Government get on with the job.

My constituent Lauren Aitchison said that she looked forward to

“the annual tradition of Alison Thewliss getting wearily to her feet in the House of Commons to explain, once again, why selling explosives in supermarkets isn’t a genius idea”.

The Minister should listen, and stop this right now.

16:54
Marco Longhi Portrait Marco Longhi (Dudley North) (Con)
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Thank you for allowing me to speak in the debate, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing it.

There is no denying that access to fireworks in the UK is easy and that enforcement of existing legislation is poor. Although many of us have enjoyed firework displays over the last week to celebrate Diwali or to remember the foiled plot to blow up this House, many, if not more, are traumatised by fireworks. Last year, following scores of pieces of correspondence from constituents, I decided to open a public survey so that all my constituents could share their thoughts on fireworks and the impact they have. I received both positive and negative feedback, but I was truly shocked by the sheer volume of responses I received, many of which were overwhelmingly negative. Given the nature of the internet, the survey spread widely—some might say it went viral—and I found myself with well over 1 million hits on Facebook and well over a 100,000 survey returns.

We have heard about the trauma to pets and livestock. As we approach Remembrance Day, let us also spare a thought for our veterans and those suffering from PTSD, for whom loud and unexpected bangs and flashing lights can have a devastating effect on quality of life.

We have had many Australian influences on legislation over the years, and perhaps it is time for some more. At present in the UK, there is no legal requirement to have any form of licence or training in order to let off consumer fireworks. Fireworks can be sold at any time of the year and can be bought online. In Australia, it is illegal for someone to buy, possess or discharge fireworks unless they hold a pyrotechnician’s licence or single-use licence. Authorities must be notified of all firework displays, and authorised events can be found using the authorities’ fireworks display search.

One question that I would ask all Members in this room and those unable to join us today is this: should local authorities take the location of public displays into consideration when granting them a licence and should they require displays to be well publicised in the surrounding area? Furthermore, is it right to place greater restrictions on the sale, purchase and use of fireworks? If we agree, surely we can then find an agreeable compromise that protects those who are traumatised by fireworks.

I have already had discussions with my hon. Friend the Minister about this issue and I greatly appreciate his time, but it is time we had a wider debate and an honest discussion. This debate is had every year, but there are no real legislative changes. Surely the time is right for that to happen now.

16:56
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Twigg. I should say at the outset that I do not object to fireworks per se. They are a great tradition in our country, and I have many memories from my childhood of attending bonfire displays.

Even allowing for my memory, however, the fireworks then were less powerful and less noisy. Some of the rockets available now are not far off what the likes of Richard Branson and Elon Musk have been spending their money on to send people into space. That is part of the problem; there has been greater awareness of mental health issues and the impact of fireworks on people suffering from PTSD in recent years, but the power and volume of fireworks has also increased. A firework can sound like it has landed in our living room, even though it might actually be hundreds of yards away, so the impact on people’s wellbeing can be the same. My simple question is this: what is stopping the manufacturers limiting the noise of fireworks, and what is stopping the Government legislating for that? That would be a straightforward way to deal with some of the worst effects of fireworks and to strike the right balance between allowing people to enjoy themselves and reducing the impact on others.

A number of constituents have contacted me with their comments. A common theme is that the days and times that fireworks are set off seem to have increased. Others have talked about the personal impact that fireworks have on them, with some unable to leave their homes during these events. I also have one very distressing story from a constituent called Katherine, who contacted me yesterday about what happened to her dog, Lara-Beau, who was killed on Friday. Katherine’s dog jumped out of a first-floor window in response to a firework, then ran several miles down the road on to a motorway, where she was killed. Katherine has our utmost sympathy. As a dog lover myself, I know how tough it must be for her to lose her dog in such horrific circumstances. Even though Katherine put many precautions in place, the fact that the dog reacted as she did shows just how distressed she must have been. That starkly illustrates how fireworks cause unnecessary distress to animals and supports the argument for legislating for the use of fireworks for public displays only, which would help pet owners put in place the right precautions at the right time. Anyone hearing about Katherine’s experience must surely consider that that is the right thing to do.

In conclusion, I do not believe that the status quo is acceptable. Each year, there are thousands of hospital admissions for physical injuries due to fireworks and an as yet unquantified number of individuals whose mental health is impacted as well. We should look at ways to reduce the massive demands on the NHS that we hear about and at the impact on individual animals. We can make life better for everyone by seriously looking at some of the measures we have discussed. A proper licensing regime and reducing the noise that fireworks make would be relatively easy steps that would make a difference. Even if the Government do not enact them, we can all make a difference ourselves by ensuring that if we do set off fireworks, we do so responsibly and with due consideration for others.

17:00
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson (Darlington) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for leading the debate. I place on record my thanks to my 524 constituents who took the time to sign this petition on the sale of fireworks.

We all know how special 5 November is for people across the country, as we celebrate the foiling of the gunpowder plot in 1605, merely yards from where we are today. Many people look forward to bonfires and dazzling firework shows, especially after the cancellation of scheduled events last year. I know the excitement and anticipation in Darlington about the return of the organised display in South Park in 2022, thanks to the leadership of the Conservative council.

However, many people are also afraid of the impacts of unscheduled, home-based displays on pets and loved ones with health conditions. From reports of events here in Westminster over the weekend, we also know that fireworks can be used as weapons and pose a threat to the safety of our hard-working police officers.

As a dog owner, I well understand the concerns of Darlington pet owners for their beloved pets. Similarly, the impact on family members suffering from conditions such as PTSD is a worry. I have been moved by the responses to my snap call for views over the past few days, as constituents have told me distressing stories of how their loved ones and animals suffer from overly loud, overly disruptive firework displays put on by residents in Darlington.

However, the overriding opinion is that a complete ban on fireworks is counterproductive. It is right that the Government focus on ensuring that an enforceable, comprehensive framework is in place to control availability and use. Under existing guidance, using fireworks outside curfew hours is a criminal offence, which can be enforced by the police and can lead to imprisonment and a substantial fine, but we rarely hear of it being enforced. We know that the antisocial use of fireworks continues around the country, and I look forward to the Minister outlining the progress his Department has made to clamp down on illegal fireworks, which continue to be bought online or on the black market.

17:02
Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen (Luton North) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Twigg.

On Saturday night, I received an email from a Luton resident, who told me:

“We can hear fireworks every single night. Without exaggeration, I counted, they can go off every 10 minutes between 6 pm and midnight. Sometimes at 1 am. The stress caused by them is enormous and growing. My child is terrified. To a point where she screams and begs me to stop them. We have to put on a white noise sound on a tablet in her room in order to reduce the sound of the bangs. If she wakes up, she cries, shivers and goes back to sleep with earmuffs on. Before bedtime she begs me for no fireworks. Mental health in our family is in pieces. I am genuinely worried about the wellbeing of my daughter. We can’t live like this.”

I start with this message because I am not sure I could have made the case better myself. They finish by telling me:

“Please, help us, somehow. This is too much to deal with. We feel trapped and powerless.”

Their voice adds to those of over 300,000 people who have signed this petition telling MPs to act.

I love bonfire night, new year’s eve, Eid, Diwali and the lunar new year. This is not about being anti-fun or anti-celebrating when it comes to our diverse British traditions. But it just cannot be right that it is so easy to get hold of fireworks and to cause nuisance to others. For some, fireworks are not about celebrating but about causing a nuisance. My fellow Luton MP, my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), recently found boxes of used fireworks. Their names showed that they were not about celebrating or about the beauty of fireworks, but about disruption. They were called “Rain of Terror” and “All Out War”.

Over the past few months, I have been inundated by people getting in touch to ask that MPs make it harder for fireworks to cause chaos to their lives. That is why I introduced a private Member’s Bill to tackle the misuse of fireworks. It is clear that the law needs to change. Ahead of Second Reading of my Bill early next year, I hope to include a minimum £1,000 fine for use of any fireworks past the existing 11 pm curfew and to reduce the production and availability of louder fireworks, as well as access to them. Importantly, the Government must consult on the impact of fireworks with veterans’ charities such as Combat Stress and animal welfare charities such as the RSPCA and Dogs Trust.

However, I am not naive—I know where most private Members’ Bills end up—so I ask the Minister to meet me as soon as possible to discuss the measures I want to outline in my Bill. The last time we debated this, the Minister responding confirmed that the Government do not consider a ban on fireworks to be an appropriate course of action, so I ask the Minister today, what action do they consider appropriate? Why are we all here if we are so rigidly unresponsive to the voices of the people who send us here? I want to help my constituents. I hope the Minister will work with me and Members here today to end the misery that people are facing.

17:05
Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for securing this important debate. Although it was bonfire night last week, I am afraid to say that firework misuse across my constituency, in Keighley and Ilkley, happens throughout the year, every night and well into the evening and the early morning. This is not acceptable for many of my constituents, who just want to be able to have a peaceful night’s sleep.

Fireworks are causing antisocial behaviour. They are a huge nuisance to pets, animals and livestock. They also produce litter. When the rockets are sent into the air, the cartridge or whatever it may be lands in green fields and is consumed by livestock. We have seen that with Chinese lanterns as well, so may I use this opportunity to call for a ban on them too?

As I say, fireworks cause huge antisocial behaviour. I hope the Minister will join me in condemning the yobs and hooligans who targeted Keighley fire brigade only last week with fireworks when it was out on duty. It was a four-man brigade. Luckily nobody was properly injured, but these fireworks were targeted at members of the Keighley fire brigade who were just going to carry out their duty.

Fireworks cause huge amounts of antisocial behaviour, and we absolutely must put a stop to members of the general public being able to purchase fireworks. I fully support the call for proper fireworks to be utilised at licensed events by licence holders, because we are dealing with explosives here. To buy a shotgun and the cartridges to use with it, someone must have a proper licence, which is vetted by the police and the council. I do not understand why we should not be looking at tougher measures along these lines for fireworks. After all, they are explosives and are causing huge discomfort for many in my constituency right throughout the year. They should not be let off in car parks, roads and back gardens, where they cause huge disturbance. They should be utilised only at proper, licensed events by licence holders. I urge the Government to do all in their power to review the current situation so that we have a proper, meaningful position going forward.

17:08
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for introducing this online petition, which was very well subscribed to.

My wife was a volunteer with Assisi Animal Sanctuary for around 10 years, and on many occasions she highlighted the problems with animals and fireworks displays, so the statistics from Blue Cross come as no surprise to me personally. Some 70% of the nation’s pets are affected by fireworks, with dogs topping the list at 64%, followed by cats at 42%, and horses at 17%. Owners reported their pets trembling with fear and being physically sick, with 45% saying the unexpected bangs and noises left their pet hiding away for hours and 21% saying their pets had been left scared to go outdoors for days. In drastic cases, some owners were even forced to move house, and 7% said they had to rehome their animals. The Dogs Trust has highlighted some of the behaviours it sees:

“We can also see very overt behaviours including barking, spinning, self-trauma such as tail-chewing/tail-licking and destruction… These behaviours can be extremely challenging for owners to address because fireworks remain out of their control and, therefore, they are unable to remove the triggers for their dog’s fearful behaviour.”

I am not saying that we should not have fireworks—as the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) said, we are not killjoys; we are just about protection and having the right measures in place. We must, however, regulate fireworks more effectively to minimise the problems for pet owners. We should shorten the timeframe for the availability of fireworks and tighten up the legislation on who may purchase or use them and on when they are used. If pet owners know for certain the days when fireworks may be used legally, they may take mitigating measures to protect their animals. It is a matter of us all working together—let us do it the right way.

Blue Cross and other charities have said that they want to see further restrictions on the sale of fireworks, limiting them to licensed public occasions and organised events. I agree with that methodology, ever mindful that people have a right to enjoy fireworks. We want to ensure that they may do so, but that they do it in a way that does not disadvantage or impact on those with animals.

Blue Cross also recommends that the period within which fireworks may be purchased and used should be as limited as possible. Local authorities should take the location of public displays into consideration when granting a licence and ensure that they are well publicised in the surrounding area. We should all work together. The hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) referred to attacks on the fire brigade, and each and every one of us in Northern Ireland—particularly in Strangford, which I represent—knows about issues with that.

We all enjoy the displays, but what happens if people get their pet out, only for fireworks to start again the next night? It can go on for weeks. That is unacceptable and cannot happen. It really is not fair. We must do better to allow the freedom to enjoy fireworks safely without traumatising animals, but we do not yet have that balance. We can get it, and I look to the Minister for a satisfactory response.

17:11
Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah (Bradford West) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg.

For a number of years, I have been campaigning with Bradford 4 Better, which has been leading on the issue of antisocial behaviour around fireworks. The local council conducted a review only this year. The findings were simply that MPs needed to lobby Government for more legislation and to make it tighter. I will not call for a complete ban, but that is not the mood of the people. I am calling for more legislation to be put in place, and would welcome the Government doing so. Such legislation could include—even immediately—having fireworks that are less powerful and less noisy, to save on the distress caused to animals.

Bradford Council conducted its review in August this year, with the findings shared in October. One of the really saddening incidents shared was that of a Shetland pony, which was so distraught and fearful that she strangled herself. From personal experience with my children, the family dog Bella, the family cat Whiskers, and my sister’s dog Lexi and her cat Max, I know what it is like. My niece told me only this week, when she knew I would be speaking in the debate, “Auntie, I had to put the music on all night to drown out the noise of the fireworks.”

On my street there are two people who are affected—I do not need to go wider into the constituency, although the number of emails that I get on this subject is substantial, because fireworks have become an everyday, or at least every week, thing. I appreciate that people want to celebrate weddings or have a good time marking such occasions, but we have to change. Societally, we have to make that not acceptable—it is antisocial behaviour. It is not okay for those two learning-disabled adults on my street to be cowering and frightened, waking up in the middle of the night, because the fireworks might be at 1 am—they do not necessarily stop at 12 o’clock, but can go on until after 1 o’clock. That is irresponsible.

My message to the Government is that, yes, I am happy to work with them. I welcome and support the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), and I will support the Government. However, there has to be reform. Enough is enough. I do not want to have to come back to have this conversation next year, after another load of animals have been made distraught and lots more of my constituents have written more and more emails. We have been having the debate for so long. I am calling for reform and stronger legislation, because councils have limited legislated powers to stop and manage the nuisance that is fireworks. I am happy to work with the Government, but on behalf of my constituents I urge the Government to get some legislation and to get it through fast.

17:14
Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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It was in 1605 that my former constituent, Mr Guy Fawkes, came to this place to misuse fireworks. That is why I am making a speech today to call for an end to that practice. Not only have many of my constituents written to me, including veterans, families who have experienced autism and other mental health conditions, and animal lovers, but 714 of my constituents signed the petition, calling for fireworks to be used only in properly licensed public displays.

We have to remember that at this time of year our precious NHS, which is overstretched, sees about 2,000 injuries arriving through its doors, 600 of those affecting children, and deals with about 35 inquiries about burns in relation to both Diwali and bonfire night. Our public servants are often a target for people who misuse fireworks. Indeed, only three years ago, I was cycling home from Parliament when young people who were playing with fireworks threw one at me. It was only because I reacted in nanoseconds, slamming on my brakes, that it missed me. If it had hit—it exploded as it hit the ground —who knows what the history would have been?

Every year, cycling on that section of my route, I fear what could happen. That brought home how serious the issue is, so we absolutely have to protect the public. When I called the police, they told me that an incident had previously occurred on the very same spot that night, but they did not have time to attend, which highlights the reasons why legislation needs to be introduced from the top—from the Minister—to change the fortunes of others.

Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah
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Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disturbing that people who sell alcohol and cigarettes have to be fit and proper, but there is no licensing in this field? In Bradford, there is certainly a problem with the sale of fireworks to underage children.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
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My hon. Friend comes on to the point of the debate: fireworks are easily accessible in supermarkets and other shops, which is why we need a comprehensive ban. If people want to enjoy a firework display, such as one put on by the local authority or fire services, that is a better use of public money, as there are fewer call-outs, which require the involvement of the NHS and other emergency services. Those displays can bring communities together, as opposed to what fireworks are now doing—pushing communities apart.

We have heard about fear factors, which are real and live for many families, so I urge the Minister to tackle the problem. We should not come here year after year, voicing the pleas in the letters that we receive time and again from our constituents. This should be the year the Minister goes back to the Government and acts on our call, and on the call of more than 300,000 petitioners, who are saying that things must change. We must not forget the silent animals, who do not have an opportunity to make representations, but who no doubt experience that fear. This nightmare time of year should be one of pleasure for families, instead of one of dread. I trust that the Minister will act swiftly and engage with banning the sale of fireworks by ordinary members of the public.

Derek Twigg Portrait Derek Twigg (in the Chair)
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Before I call the SNP spokesman, may I tell Members that I expect to call the Minister at about 5.40 pm? I call Patricia Gibson.

05:18
Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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Thank you, Mr Twigg. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for his comprehensive exposition of the debate.

Every year we have the same debate, and every year a Minister stands up and says not very much at all that takes into account the reality of the disruption and distress that fireworks cause in our communities. To be clear, no one in the Chamber today or in any of the six previous debates—we did not have one in 2019 because of the election—has ever called for fireworks to be banned, although that is often how the kind of concerns that have been expressed today are dismissed. For example, I recently raised this very issue in business questions. When I asked about the regulation of fireworks, the Leader of the House responded by calling me “a killjoy”, then began to recite the words of a traditional bonfire-night rhyme.

We all know that the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) believes that he has his finger on the pulse, but that response will sound contemptuous to my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran—but that is only because it is contemptuous of the disruption and distress to which they are subjected because of the misuse of fireworks. From the right hon. Gentleman’s response, I can only assume that the good people of North Somerset are not plagued by fireworks, as my constituents are—they seem to have quite a different experience. I wish to repeat and make it absolutely clear that no one is calling for fireworks to be banned. The current situation—anyone over the age of 18 can purchase fireworks, with all the potential for community disruption that entails—is simply not tenable, and it is not acceptable. The distress, as we have heard, caused to the elderly, beloved family pets, veterans with PTSD, and to children and babies, shaken from their sleep, makes the compelling case that the sale of fireworks should be restricted to organised community displays, and that only those with a licence to deliver such displays should be able to access them.

Fireworks, whether for bonfire night, a wedding, or some other important celebration, are a hugely enjoyable spectacle. Indeed, some 10 million of us in the UK enjoy them throughout the year. Nobody has any quarrel with that; the point at issue is the fact that the irresponsible misuse of fireworks must be tackled properly, and that is most sensibly and most effectively done at the point of sale.

As Members have said in this debate, and have said in every previous annual debate on this subject, we know all about the accidents and injuries caused by fireworks, which are sobering indeed. We also know about the increased pressures this places on public services. The fact is that selling fireworks to the general public entirely on the basis that they are aged 18 or over is very hard to justify and yet, year after year, a Government Minister is trotted out, trying to do just that, very unconvincingly.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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In a moment. This is my sixth debate on this issue, and I remember when the illusion of action was played out in previous debates, with talk of consultations and evidence gathering. Today, it seems to be a proposal for a review group. All of this is excuse after excuse for inaction—and, of course, all of those previous initiatives came to nothing. It seems that all they were designed to do—if Members will pardon the pun—was take the heat out of the issue.

For reasons that very few of us can understand, the Government are simply not willing to regulate the sale of fireworks, and nobody can honestly understand why. We do not need review groups; we do not need consultations; what we need is the Minister to get on his feet and announce concrete action. I have no optimism that he will do so, based on the previous six debates. To advise constituents to call the police when fireworks plague their community is disingenuous. By the time the police are able to attend, the damage has been done and those who are responsible are long gone. In their wake, fireworks have caused huge disruption to communities, scared family pets out of their wits, and sometimes literally scared them to death.

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has the authority to regulate when fireworks can be set off, but no power at all over the regulation of the sale of fireworks, which in effect means it has no power at all. If we cannot influence who has access to fireworks, we cannot deal with the disruption that they cause.

Fireworks cannot currently be sold to anyone under 18, but as I have said in the past six debates, so what? We know that children can get hold of them, and that people using fireworks irresponsibly are often perfectly entitled, under the law, to buy them. The irresponsible use of fireworks is not confined to those who got hold of them illegally, which is why more needs to be done to protect the elderly, people with pets, and a whole range of people in our communities.

As we have heard, every single Member of Parliament present for this debate, and many who are not, have had constituents telling them about the onslaught of fireworks and the profound effects they have had on their quality of life and on their pets, who undergo trembling fits and become withdrawn and very frightened. Of course, this cannot be prepared for, because the outbursts of fireworks come from nowhere when someone has fireworks and thinks they will have a wee bit of fun. Some people think it is a great idea to set fireworks off in tenement closes, or in shared entryways to flats in the middle of the night.

What is interesting about this debate is that the sale of fireworks is tightly restricted in the Republic of Ireland, while in Northern Ireland, fireworks have long been subjected to some of the strictest laws in the world. Perhaps the Minister—I keep asking this; I have asked it six times in the six previous debates—can tell us why the rest of the United Kingdom is denied similar or greater protection than Northern Ireland. Even the United States, which has liberal gun laws, believes that restrictions on fireworks need to be strict.

The current situation in Scotland is nothing short of bizarre. The use of fireworks is a devolved matter, but the sale of fireworks is reserved. It does not take a genius to work out that unless the sale of fireworks—who can get their hands on them—can be tackled there will be no meaningful influence over who uses them, which makes it extremely difficult to police. Our local environmental, health and anti-social behaviour teams work hard to tackle the misuse of fireworks in our communities, but that is dealing with the consequences of their wide availability rather than tackling the fear, alarm, distress, and safety hazard that they cause, which we have heard so much about. As the Minister knows, the only way to deal with this issue is to tackle the sale to individuals—to tackle the problem at source, and be mindful of the fact that fireworks are far more powerful and prevalent today than in the past.

Organised and licensed displays allow the many people who wish to enjoy fireworks to do so safely. Importantly, they allow local residents to plan ahead and make arrangements to protect their pets and get on with their lives. The Dogs Trust says that when public displays are organised 93% of pet owners alter their plans during the display time to minimise their pet’s trauma, which protects its welfare. We cannot help pet owners to prepare for the use of fireworks in their neighbourhood when fireworks are going off randomly without warning. The solution, as we have heard across the Chamber, is patently obvious to anyone who chooses to look. We need greater restrictions on the sale of fireworks, instead of selling them to all and sundry over 18 years old.

Organised public firework displays are a safer option for all our communities, and would become the accepted and welcome norm. We need to get the balance right. No one is asking for fireworks to be banned altogether, but the status quo must not continue. Is the Minister finally going to announce action on this issue, or are we to rehearse these arguments every year to a Government who appear unwilling to listen and, like the Leader of the House, dismiss us and our constituents as killjoys? If the Government do not want to act on this issue, give us the power in Scotland and we will get on with it ourselves.

17:27
Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
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The debate has been characterised by passion and unanimity. Across the House, hon. Members have joined together to say two things. No. 1 is that none of us is in the business of saying that fireworks should be banned completely. The way in which the debate has been characterised in some areas is a severe misrepresentation of what people are saying across the piece. The second issue on which there is pretty much unanimity in the Chamber is that the status quo cannot prevail in the end. It really is not acceptable to carry on in this way regarding firework displays.

I think today’s debate is the sixth on this subject. I cannot claim that I have been present for all of them, but the cast assembled for last year’s debate was pretty identical to today’s. Certainly I, as the Opposition spokesperson, and the Minister were in identical places. I hope we were not saying identical things, but I fear that we are looking at yet another identical response this evening to what hon. Members are saying. What I said last year pretty much coincides with what hon. Members have been saying across the Chamber. As the petition says, there is a strong case for looking at restricting firework sales to organised displays where we can be confident about the quality and safety of the display, and the extent to which proper arrangements, such as notice in advance, will be made that will allow fireworks to be enjoyed, as they should be, in both safety and reasonable peace.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) referred to legislation in Northern Ireland. I just want to say that there is a reason for that: the terrorist campaign. The legislation in Northern Ireland works. It does not stop people getting fireworks, but they have to buy them under licence and it is controlled. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that that should be the example for the whole of the UK, England in particular?

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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There is a strong case for looking seriously at what other legislatures have considered on fireworks and taking from them the sense that is embodied in their legislation. We should make evidence-based inquiries into what other legislatures, such as Northern Ireland, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and Australia have done and the effect of their legislation on the enjoyment of fireworks in those countries. As far as I know, that has not been done in the UK. It continues to be an area of silence, shall we say.

I am afraid that there are other areas of silence in terms of getting an evidence base together, as I have mentioned previously, particularly last year. The first is that we have heard, and continue to hear, about the effect of fireworks on domestic animals. We heard powerful testimony not just on domestic animals, but on the effect on children and people with mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. We have not heard about––there is little research on it––what the random use of fireworks does to wildlife. We know virtually nothing about that, yet we continue to allow random instances of letting off very noisy fireworks in both urban and rural areas, which I imagine has a substantial and continuing effect on wildlife.

We also have little information about the climate effects of fireworks, in terms of their constituents and their residues. We know that they put a great deal of CO2 into the atmosphere on fireworks night and that the atmosphere changes quite considerably the morning after. We must think of the effect of the chemicals in fireworks on the environment, on which several environmental organisations have commented.

Above all, we know from our direct experience––I can comment from my own constituency experience––just how inappropriate it is that we are subjected to the unconscionable noise of fireworks every year. As hon. Members have said, it is not just on 5 November, the lunar new year or Diwali but throughout the year. It is acts of extreme noise spaced regularly across the year.

On Friday—I cannot blame my constituents for this, because I was just over the border in the neighbouring constituency, so the 550 people from Southampton, Test who signed the petition were not responsible—there was a private display 100 yards away from my constituency. I do not know whether it was a legal or illegal firework, but an airborne firework made repeated noises six or seven times that echoed across the entire neighbourhood. It was the equivalent of a pretty loud military explosion taking place just down the road from where I live. I cannot believe that we find it acceptable these days for those kinds of fireworks to be readily sold and readily set off in private displays, and something has to happen about it fairly urgently.

In his response to a Westminster Hall debate on fireworks last year, the Minister claimed that some progress had been made in this area. He said:

“Fireworks clearly require some explosive content to be set off. However, as part of the evidence-based work, we have commissioned a test of fireworks to determine the range of decibel levels, and that will help to identify a lower acceptable decibel level. It will also look at the potential impact of such a classification. We will publish the report based on that work in due course.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2020; Vol. 683, c. 19WH.]

I am not aware that the report based on that work has been published. If it has been published, I am not aware that anybody has drawn any conclusions yet about what an acceptable decibel level might be and what the potential impact of such a classification might be. Will the Minister tell us where the report is? If it has been published, what conclusions is he drawing from it? If it has not been published, will he hurry up and ensure that it is published? When it is published, will he also publish what the Government think are acceptable decibel levels for fireworks? That is the nub of the issue.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point about decibel levels. I am aware of somebody who bought some fireworks on the basis that they were being marketed as reduced-noise fireworks. When they were set off, the person was mortified to find out that they were actually louder than the ones that would have been bought originally. Perhaps there needs to be more regulation, even on that matter.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
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We clearly need legislation from the top that, first, enforces who lets off fireworks and where and that, secondly, enforces how noisy and disruptive those fireworks might be. We certainly have what I would call firework washing going on at the moment, whereby some fireworks are claimed to be less noisy but are not. There is no objective measure or enforcement that we can take to ensure that the claimed levels of noise are accurate, and we still have the problem that enforcement is down to local authorities, the enforcement bodies of which have been starved of money for many years and are really hard pressed to take meaningful action on firework displays, particularly in private areas. We clearly need something from the top in order for us to get going on the road to safer, more acceptable and enjoyable firework displays across the country. That has to come from the Government, and it has to come shortly.

I do not want to be here yet again next year saying the same things, and I am sure that hon. Members do not want that either. We want to be here when the tests on decibel levels have been completed, when there is a conclusion about decibel levels, and when there is perhaps legislation on the statute books, or on the way to the statute books, that starts getting the guidance that can shape our firework displays properly for the future. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) for her private Member’s Bill, which I hope will go a long way, if successful, towards getting some of these things under way. But as she said, however valiant the intentions with which private Member’s Bills are put forward, rather like fireworks they land with a thump on the ground after initially going off quite brightly.

We need Government assistance in this area now, and I hope that the Minister will be able to say today just what is in train and what will be coming forward, both in terms of evidence and action, over the next year.

17:40
Paul Scully Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Paul Scully)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Twigg.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing today’s really important debate and at such a pertinent time, as ever. I algo congratulate him on his considered speech, which framed the debate on the e-petition that has been signed by so many people. I also thank the other hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, and I am grateful to the members of the public who took the time to sign the e-petition that has brought us here to Westminster Hall to discuss this important matter, because it has received more than 300,000 signatures and calls on the Government to limit the sale of fireworks.

Therefore, I will take the time to outline and explain the Government’s position on this matter, and to say, first of all, why we believe—although I understand that it is not the subject of this debate, as has been outlined—an outright ban on fireworks or an outright ban on their sale to the public is not the appropriate course of action.

We have concerns that banning fireworks in that way could have significant adverse and unintended consequences for public safety, particularly in leading to the emergence of a black market in illicit fireworks. There was a reason why there was not a 2019 debate on this issue. Yes, it was the year of a general election, but more importantly in 2019 the Petitions Committee conducted an inquiry on this issue, which I was a part of as a Member of the Committee, and the evidence given by interested parties aligned with the Government’s current view. Those interested parties included both the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the National Fire Chiefs Council.

The petition being debated today also highlights the concerns that some people have—understandably—about the impact of fireworks on vulnerable groups and animals. These are issues that I was only too pleased to discuss with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) when we met back in July to discuss the fireworks survey that he had carried out in his constituency; as he said, it went somewhat viral. I really sympathise with those views, and I am always sorry to hear the stories of how some individuals and animals have been affected by fireworks. That is why the Government are committed to promoting the safe and considerate use of fireworks, and why we have been carrying out a programme of action on fireworks to ensure that those who use them do so safely and appropriately.

It is important to say that this is a highly regulated area, with a comprehensive regulatory framework already in place to control the sale, availability and use of fireworks. We believe that this framework strikes the right balance for people to enjoy fireworks while aiming to reduce risks and disturbances to people and animals. For example, current legislation sets an 11 pm curfew on the use of fireworks, with later exceptions only for the traditional firework periods of 5 November, Diwali, new year’s eve and Chinese new year.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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I interrupt briefly to ask the Minister if he believes that this “highly regulated area” is fit for purpose. Can he still say, given the concerns that have been raised today and in previous debates, that he thinks enough is being done? If not, what more can he do?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention and hopefully I will flesh out some more of our thinking, including on enforcement and what other action is being taken.

There is a 120 dB noise limit on fireworks available to consumers. Retailers are restricted to only selling consumer fireworks during a limited period around each of the seasonal celebrations that I just referred to, and retailers may only supply fireworks to the public outside those periods if they obtain a licence from their local licensing authority. However, I fully appreciate that it is just as important to ensure that legislation is enforced effectively. We have heard of some issues where that has fallen short, but I will describe what powers and mechanisms are in place against the illegal sale and use of fireworks.

Local authority trading standards work with retailers to ensure that the fireworks that are sold are safe, and have powers to enforce against those who place non-compliant fireworks on the market. Trading standards and local fire and rescue authorities in metropolitan counties can also enforce against those selling fireworks without an appropriate licence—for example, outside of the normal selling period.

Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah
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Does the Minister share my concern that the licence he refers to does not require the people who sell fireworks to be fit and proper? Unlike for alcohol and cigarette sales, that is not stated in the legislation.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, which I will take away and look at. I think that a licence can be easily revoked if the person holding it is not fit and proper, but she is right: the licence does not specifically say that, as far as I understand it. Those licences are given for a reason—to try to avoid those inappropriate sales—but that is something we can certainly reflect on.

The police, local authorities, and other local agencies have a range of tools and powers that they can use to respond quickly and effectively to antisocial behaviour, including the antisocial use of fireworks, through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Local areas can decide how best to deploy the powers in the 2014 Act depending on the specific circumstances.

Rachael Maskell Portrait Rachael Maskell
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The example from my personal circumstances showed the Minister that the Act is completely ineffective, and therefore people are being put at risk every single day from fireworks being lobbed by young people who should not possess them. Will he not recognise that the structures that are in place do not work, and therefore put proper enforcement in place?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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We are never going to get a perfect situation. It was terrible to hear what the hon. Lady faced. One Member talked about the Republic of Ireland having tougher restrictions than we do, and it was terrible that only last month a lady in Galway had a firework fired into her face. Even with those tougher restrictions, there is no perfect situation, but we need to take an evidence-based, careful, proportionate approach. As I say, there is always more we can reflect on, but local police are best placed to understand what is driving the behaviour in question and the impact it is having, and to determine the most appropriate response.

Alan Whitehead Portrait Dr Whitehead
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope that the Minister will not conclude his remarks on the question of evidence-based activities without saying where the report he mentioned last year actually is, and what he intends to do about it.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I was not going to. Let me tackle that issue now: I talked about the fact that legislation already exists to limit the noise levels of fireworks available to consumers to 120 dB, and we said that we were going to work on a report on that topic. I freely admit that that report has not been published: the testing work on the noise was delayed due to covid and adverse weather conditions impacting the laboratory’s ability to carry out the necessary testing. However, the result of that testing will be available in due course, and we will reflect on what is in that report as we proceed.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Hollobone
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I look forward to the publication of that report. If neighbours ramped up the stereo and pumped out music at 120 dB every 5 November, there are laws in place to deal with that. However, as far as the Government are concerned, it seems to be socially acceptable to let off fireworks of up to 120 dB without any legal recourse at all.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I would differentiate between a constant noise of 120 dB in a confined area and the more individual use of fireworks in an outdoor area, but none the less I take his point.

The Government are also committed to giving the police what they need to support local communities, including through the recruitment of an additional 20,000 police officers by March 2023 and investment in measures to make communities safer through the safer streets fund. That being said, I understand the challenges faced by enforcement authorities, and I assure Members that the Government are not complacent in this area.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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Has the Minister had the opportunity to discuss the Northern Ireland legislation with the devolved Administration and the responsible Minister at the Assembly? I understand that there are exceptional circumstances, but that legislation seems at least to have led to some control over this issue.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I have not had a discussion at ministerial level, but officials look at what is happening in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland—and in other countries. Clearly, there is a difference in the law in Northern Ireland, predominantly because of troubles and the historical context there; however, officials from the Office for Product Safety and Standards do look at that.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The Minister is generous with his time. He has clearly set out how he thinks this should be dealt with, but it is not satisfactory for many of us. Will he support devolving power to regulate fireworks to the Scottish Parliament, so that we can choose our own path and solutions that fit our communities, given that his Government are not interested in going down that road for the rest of the United Kingdom?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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Scotland has put forward some proposals and there has been a consultation; I am interested in seeing what happens there. I am also aware that the Scottish Government are drafting a Bill on fireworks to be introduced next year; that primary legislation is still at the proposal stage. My officials engage regularly on the matter with officials in the Scottish Government; it will be interesting to reflect on what happens in Scotland as a result of that work.

We are continuing to engage with local authorities to understand the issues they face, and I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Home Office to ensure that the Government provide appropriate support.

Sarah Owen Portrait Sarah Owen
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I am glad to hear that the Minister is willing to work with Members, so I reiterate my question: will he meet me to discuss the subject and the measures outlined in my private Member’s Bill? What we have heard so far is that the current restrictions are failing people. What we are not seeing from Government is new action that will tackle the misuse of fireworks.

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will happily engage with the hon. Lady on her private Member’s Bill.

Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore
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Do not the examples given in today’s debate, including the yobs and hooligans in Keighley who fired fireworks at Keighley fire brigade only last week, demonstrate that fireworks are being purchased and getting into the wrong hands and that we need to look seriously at tightening the licensing provisions for the sale of fireworks?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I was going to turn back to exactly that. In our polling, the Government found that 11% of the population want a total ban on fireworks, 36% want a ban on the private sale of fireworks, and, from memory, 64% enjoy the use of fireworks and want to be able to enjoy them both privately and publicly. We came to similar conclusions from our evidence as were reached by the Petitions Committee in its 2019 inquiry. In the extensive report setting out its findings, the Committee concluded that introducing further restrictions on fireworks was not the appropriate course of action, due to the potential unintended consequences. That was just two years ago. We agree with that position.

We acknowledge the experience of people who believe that banning fireworks would push the market underground and make it more difficult to regulate and monitor. We also agree with the Committee’s conclusion that such a ban would have a substantial economic effect on those who have built their livelihood in the fireworks industry. Restricting fireworks would probably also have dire consequences for community displays, which raise funds for good causes.

Due to those significant concerns, the Government believe that the most balanced course of action is to continue to pursue non-legislative measures on fireworks to complement existing legislation. That is the position we set out and committed to in our response to the Petition Committee’s inquiry. As such, we have been carrying out—

Naz Shah Portrait Naz Shah
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I want to leave my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington time to conclude, so I will not give way to my hon. Friend for a second time.

We have an ongoing programme of action for fireworks, responding to the key issues raised. This included commissioning the research by Ipsos MORI that provided evidence on consumer attitudes and behaviours around using fireworks in the UK. The key findings have informed our public awareness campaigns and support the need to educate consumers on use of fireworks, to commission noise research—admittedly yet to be published—to test the decibel level of commonly used fireworks, to engage with animal welfare organisations to better understand what specific issues they face, and to engage with the fireworks industry to consider what action it can take to promote consumer safety.

I draw hon. Members’ attention to one of the key commitments the Government made in response to the Petitions Committee regarding public awareness of the safe and considerate use of fireworks. We know that information and education are vital to address the key issues around fireworks. The Office for Product Safety and Standards works in partnership with animal welfare organisations, safety charities and the industry to develop an annual campaign on fireworks; the 2020 campaign was far reaching and had a potential reach of 2.6 million people on Twitter. We built and expanded on that success for the 2021 fireworks campaign, focusing on educating people on how to buy, use, store and dispose of fireworks safely; ensuring that retailers know and understand their responsibilities when selling fireworks; and promoting considerate use so that people and animals are better protected from any negative effects that may be caused by fireworks.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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Will the Minister give way?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I will give way very quickly, but this will be the last time.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, especially as he is short on time. When I met people from my local fire service this week, they mentioned the idea of a firework amnesty for people who purchase fireworks but end up not using them—perhaps because of poor weather—and have no way to safely dispose of them. They encouraged some sort of formal guidance around such an amnesty so that people could safely dispose of or hand in unused fireworks. Would the Minister support that?

Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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That is a really interesting idea. Any way of taking potentially dangerous things that will not be used correctly off the streets is well worth another look. More widely, we have partnered with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and other organisations, which will undoubtedly look at that as well.

In addition, this year the Government collaborated with the Association for Science Education to produce teaching materials for children in schools, to introduce messaging about safe and considerate use at an early age. I look forward to seeing the statistics from this year’s campaign, and would be more than happy to share those with hon. Members if they are interested. As I said, the Government are aware of Scotland’s new regulations and proposed new Bill, and we work closely with all the devolved Administrations. I would be really interested to see how that pans out.

I want to leave some time for my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington to wind up and reflect on the debate. I thank him especially, but also all the colleagues across the House who have come to show their interest in an incredibly important debate. Hon. Members should bear in mind that the Petitions Committee might want to update its report next year and take evidence before bringing a debate to Parliament. There is also the opportunity for an all-party parliamentary group, where Members can take evidence on those international comparisons, if they want to bring that kind of information to the Government and Parliament in future debates. I pay tribute to the work of the Committee.

17:57
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Sadly, time prevents me from going through the contributions made by all right hon. and hon. Members. However, I thank the 11, I believe, Back-Bench Members who joined us in the debate. I think we have represented the petitioners well. Again, I thank Julie, the petition creator, for taking the time before the debate to brief me on why the subject is so important. I thank right hon. and hon. Members for sharing their reflections and stories from their constituencies. We have heard about the wide-ranging and worrying impact of fireworks on our constituents, which reflects why we have had this debate six years in a row, and why we will no doubt have it again. On that basis, it is important to find a way forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 319891, relating to the sale and use of fireworks.