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House of Commons Hansard
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Events and Festivals (Control of Flares, Fireworks and Smoke Bombs Etc)
12 April 2016
Volume 608

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it an offence to be found in possession of, or to use, certain articles or substances capable of causing injury or behaviour likely to lead to injury at, or in transit towards, certain events, concerts or festivals or other public gatherings; and for connected purposes.

In plain English, this Bill proposes to prevent audience members at concerts and festivals from using dangerous pyrotechnics such as flares, fireworks and smoke bombs. There are places where items like these can safely be used, but not in the close confines of a live music audience.

Flares can burn at up to 1,600 °C; fireworks can be even hotter, at up to 2,000 °C. There is also the added danger of an unexpected projectile. Smoke bombs are also hot and pose particular risks at indoor venues and also for fellow audience members with asthma or other such breathing difficulties. The surprise throwing of pyrotechnics from within a crowd can also create dangerous and distressing crowd disturbance.

In 2014 there were 255 incidents involving flares at live music events, both indoor and outdoor, ranging from festivals such as Electric Daisy Carnival and T in the Park to popular city venues such as Brixton Academy. Like many right hon. and hon. Members and our constituents I enjoy live music, but no one should be seriously burned as part of a fun afternoon or evening. No one wants to see panic at the disco or any other music event. We want to get the number of these incidents down to an all-time low.

Gigs and festivals are particularly popular with young people. They and their parents have a right to feel safe both in attending and in sending their children. Unfortunately that was not the experience of an 18-year-old girl who attended an Arctic Monkeys concert and required three dressings to burns on her arms from a flare that had been thrown, or of the 17-year-old girl at the Reading festival who suffered a panic attack after being burned across her abdomen and thighs by a smoke bomb.

When I mentioned the subject of the Bill to other people, many outside the music industry were surprised that audience use of pyrotechnics was not already banned. Their surprise is understandable given that such protection has long been afforded to football fans by the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985, which made it an offence to enter or attempt to enter a football ground while in possession of a flare, smoke bomb or firework. Courts have taken such public endangerment very seriously, and even those without previous criminal records have been given custodial sentences of one or two months and banned from football grounds for up to six years.

The numbers bear out the fact that that is an effective approach, both legislatively and judicially. By contrast with the 255 incidents at music events in 2014, there were just three incidents at football grounds.

In my capacity as chairman of the all-party group on music, I have found broad support for the Bill throughout the music industry. Live Nation, one of the largest concert organisers and ticket providers in the UK, has been campaigning on this subject for a considerable time, as yet without success. I would like to see that change sooner rather than later, because, with the right support, these injuries and incidents are absolutely avoidable. The Association of Independent Festivals, which represents many popular events including the Secret Garden Party and the Isle of Wight festival, has asked for the law’s support:

“It is the responsibility of organisers to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for fans and the Government should support this objective by creating a level playing field between music and sports fans.”

Concert organisers have every reason to want to protect concert goers. Unfortunately, with their powers basically limited to expelling someone from a venue, they feel rather toothless when it comes to deterring this kind of dangerous behaviour, despite their desire to do exactly that.

Unlike at football grounds, the current legal situation at festivals and music venues is as follows. Under-18s are banned from carrying fireworks, a classification that also includes smoke bombs, in public places. However, an overwhelming majority of concerts and festivals occur on private property. There is no such regulation for flares, which are not controlled under the Fireworks (Safety) Regulations 1997 because they are not intended for entertainment use. There is no offence for adults carrying fireworks or smoke bombs, unless it can be proven that it is done with intent to cause injury. Concert injuries from these articles are usually a case of—I will be frank—bone-headed disregard for others and stupidity, rather than malice. Essentially, it all amounts to no rules or protection when it comes to audience possession of pyrotechnics at music events. When an industry wholeheartedly welcomes a proposed law not as a burdensome regulation but as an essential tool to protect safety surely this is one of the most clear-cut cases where Parliament should act. We would not be doing our duty if we ignored it.

The Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims confirmed in a letter to Live Nation in March 2015 that in his view the matter required

“proper examination of how best to deter the misuse of these devices”.

That is a view I share and welcome, but little progress has been made. I believe that proper examination of the effective results achieved by the ban on the misuse of these devices at football grounds leads to the conclusion that a ban covering music events would be the best next step. Thus, in proposing the Bill, I believe the time has come to take that forward.

Right hon. and hon. Members will know that I am not, by instinct, someone who likes to ban things. By and large, I believe people should have the right to choose to take risks and make informed decisions for themselves, even if they are not decisions we would make ourselves. However, audience members have not chosen to be exposed to the danger of flares and fireworks deployed in improper conditions, possibly by those who do not know how, or are in no fit state of mind, to use them. They have come to enjoy live music, and these incidents both endanger them and ruin their events.

To be entirely clear, my Bill would apply only to audience members and spectators at these events. There has been a little misreporting today online on the “billboard” website. Venues and artists would still be able to use pyrotechnics in their act and in their stage set-ups as they currently do. I certainly do not want to curtail the ability of trained professionals to put on a vibrant and exciting show. Having enjoyed many a gig myself, I know that “the fire has always been burning since the world’s been turning”, and that when tested properly and used safely it can be part of a great spectacle. I am not sure whether you are a fan of the Kings of Leon, Mr Speaker, but I am sure you would agree that we should ensure that nothing untoward is ever on fire.

There is support from the industry, venues, artists, fans and colleagues from across the House—I am grateful to my co-sponsors for showing there is cross-party agreement. This is a problem on which there is a consensus of concern among music fans and the music industry, and I am grateful for the opportunity to bring it before the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Mr Nigel Adams, David Warburton, Steve Rotheram, James Heappey, Mark Pritchard, Pete Wishart, Valerie Vaz, Byron Davies, Craig Williams, Kevin Foster and Nigel Huddleston present the Bill.

Nigel Adams accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April, and to be printed (Bill 157).