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Fireworks: Damage

Volume 807: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to prevent damage being caused by fireworks set off other than at organised events.

Well, I am young Trafford, actually, compared to the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, but we often get the two mixed up. One is old and one is young.

The Government remain committed to promoting the safe and considerate use of fireworks through an effective legislative framework and through non-legislative measures. We launched a public awareness campaign this October with the aim of educating people on how to buy, use, store and dispose of fireworks safely and considerately, and ensuring that retailers know and understand their responsibilities when selling fireworks.

My Lords, I put this Question down because there seemed to be a spate of fireworks causing damage to buildings that they had hit, including one just down the valley from us at Brierfield, but is it not the case that the indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of fireworks is one of the major causes of anti-social behaviour now in this country? Is it not time that there was a ban on the purchase and use of fireworks except by appropriate bodies on special commemorative occasions and in a controlled and organised way?

My Lords, it is true to say that fireworks injuries have actually gone down since 2016. I cannot comment on the assertions made by the noble Lord in his questions, because I do not know whether that is the case or not. The Government are most certainly not thinking of a ban. It might help him to know that the Petitions Committee conducted an extensive inquiry into fireworks in 2019, and concluded that it could not support a ban on the sale or use of them. Funnily enough, the National Fire Chiefs Council agrees, as do the Government.

My Lords, I agree with the Minister that we should not ban fireworks, but do the police have powers should they find people letting fireworks off in public places where they could pose danger? For example, there were two fires in the Bournemouth area over the weekend for fireworks night. Has there been an increase in the number of children who were admitted to A&E this year as a result of the lack of public fireworks displays and more private fireworks?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. I cannot yet say what the numbers are for this year because they have not been collated, but, as I said in a previous answer, fire injuries have gone down quite dramatically since 2016. On police powers, Section 80 of the Explosives Act 1875 prohibits setting off fireworks in a public place, or throwing them into a public place or on to a public road, and the police have powers to enforce it. Breaches can be subject to a fine scale. They can also issue on-the-spot fixed penalty notices, including fines of £90, to persons age 18 or over who are found to be committing this offence.

My Lords, I understand the desire not to restrict civil liberties if at all possible, but the fact is that fireworks lead to some terrible injuries. My information, despite what the Minister said, is that 2,000 people were brought into A&E in 2018. I, in fact, was injured when I was a child and still bear the scars from a wayward firework. I really feel that we should try to move firework sales to people who are experts and know how to put on a public display. Will the Minister think in terms of trying to move the law in that direction?

The number of 2,000 that the noble Lord quotes is actually not far off the figure that I have, which is 1,936. On the point about the numbers declining, if I go through them he will see just how much they have declined—notwithstanding the fact that he was injured by a firework, for which I am terribly sorry. There were 1,936 injuries in 2018-19; 4,436 in 2017-18 and 5,340 in 2016-17. That is a very marked decrease in injuries from fireworks.

My Lords, over the past weekend, to see firemen and police being attacked by yobs with fireworks as they attended emergency call-outs saddened me. Then, to hear the police describe fireworks as the hooligans’ weapons of choice persuaded me that only fireworks in organised displays should be permitted. I am disappointed with the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, police being attacked by fireworks might be police being attacked by something else on a different night. There are restrictions on anti-social and nuisance behaviour through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and the police and local authorities of course have powers under that Act to tackle anti-social and nuisance behaviour. Of course, the noble Lord points out something that is extremely dangerous if people decide that they will behave in this way.

My Lords, I live at the end of the Yorkshire Dales, and while the irresponsible use of fireworks is reprehensible, sky lanterns there are causing incredible damage to animals ingesting wires and are starting fires in the countryside. Richmondshire District Council is considering banning the use of these flares, which have as much destructive ability as fireworks. Will the Government consider doing the same for these sky lanterns?

I have to confess to the noble Baroness that my knowledge of sky lanterns is very limited. However, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, it is an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any captive or domestic animal. That does not quite answer her point, but where there is evidence that an animal is suffering because of such things as sky lanterns, then local authorities will have the powers to enforce on this.

My Lords, last year the London fire brigade attended over 2,000 incidents over the Halloween and bonfire night period. Over the last five years, 45% of the fires ignited by fireworks in London during the bonfire night period occurred at residential properties. I support the call from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for fireworks only to be in the hands of professionals, who can deliver an exciting, memorable display safely, for the enjoyment of everyone and minimising the risk to people and property. The Minister’s response to previous questions is disappointing; can she at least say that the Government will keep this under review?

I can, of course, say to the noble Lord that all legislation is kept under review. If there was evidence of increasing injuries or misuse of fireworks, we would look at it. The Petitions Committee had a good look at this last year and concluded that it could not support a ban on the sale or use of fireworks. However, the noble Lord makes an appropriate point about the responsible use of fireworks. It is very sad that firework displays have not been able to take place this year. It is true that we need to be responsible in using things which are potentially very dangerous.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House if there will be any New Year’s Eve firework display during this pandemic year, as there has been in previous years?

The lockdown restrictions will certainly be reviewed on 2 December. I would love to see a New Year’s Eve firework display, but my noble friend the Leader of the House is not sure whether it will go ahead. Because the Government have to review some of the Covid measures on a regular basis, it is probably too early to say.

Sitting suspended.