Whilst fireworks can be entertaining, I fully appreciate and understand the distress that the loud bangs and bright lights can cause to people, especially the elderly, those with learning difficulties, ex-service men and women, and animals. I am also aware of the injuries related to fireworks that can be caused through anti-social behaviour. It is vital that the misuse of fireworks is clamped down on and, as the owner of two dogs and a cat, that they are being prevented from being a nuisance and a danger to people and animals.
As you may know, since January 2005 the sale of fireworks to the public has been prohibited, except for licensed traders. However, fireworks can be sold by unlicensed traders for Bonfire Celebrations, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and the proceeding three days and Diwali and the proceeding three days. Under the Fireworks Regulations 2004 it is an offence to use fireworks after 11pm and before 7am without permission, except on permitted fireworks nights when the times have been extended:
- Bonfire Night – fireworks can be set off until midnight
- New Year’s Eve – fireworks can be set off until 1am
- Diwali – fireworks can be set off until 1am
- Chinese New Year – fireworks can be set off until 1am
The regulations also allow fireworks to be used by a person who is employed by a local authority and who uses the fireworks for the purposes of putting on a display which has been permitted by the local authority, or for a national public celebration.
The penalties for using fireworks outside the allowed hours are a maximum prison sentence of up to six months and a substantial fine.
It has been 14 years since the existing legislation was introduced and it is about time that we look at it again and consider whether it is adequate. In October 2017 a petition was launched calling for a change in legislation governing the use of fireworks “to include a ban on public use”. It noted that “fireworks cause alarm, distress and anxiety to many people and animals” and called for the Government “to make appropriate provision to secure that the risk of public use is the minimum that is compatible with fireworks being used”.
The petition received over 27,000 signatures. Responding to the petition, the Government stated that it “takes the issue of fireworks safety very seriously”, but that since there is legislation in place that controls the sale, use and misuse of fireworks, it had “no plans to extend this further”. The Government argue that restrictions on the general public’s use of fireworks, and permitted noise levels, already exist and that the majority of people enjoy fireworks sensibly and in accordance with the current restrictions.
South Yorkshire Police conduct test purchases in shops across Sheffield along with Trading Standards to check that sellers are abiding by the regulations required of them. If anyone has any concerns about fireworks being sold to those who are under 18 then this should be reported to 101 immediately. The Police have also advised that anyone who comes across people using fireworks inappropriately do not challenge them, but report it to 101 or 999 if there is an immediate threat to the safety of people or buildings.
We need to ensure that the existing legislation is monitored and enforced. I am therefore concerned about cuts to trading standards departments across the country and the impact this may have on their ability to monitor the illegal sale of fireworks. Trading standards organisations should have the resources to deal with the illegal trade in fireworks. I also believe that if existing legislation is combined with a stronger public information campaign, it may be possible to ensure fireworks are used responsibly and safely without instilling fear and distress in animals and people.