The government has swerved calls for tighter fireworks restrictions despite a 290,000-strong petition leading to the third parliamentary debate on the subject since 2016.
All the MPs who took part in the debate on Monday (26 November) were united in their arguments that change is needed, but the minister’s response was not what some had hoped for.
The debate was sparked by a petition, titled “Ban the sale of fireworks to the public. Displays for licenced venues only”, which has received more than 294,000 signatures since it was launched at the end of October.
While opinions differed on exactly what change each MP wanted to see, the messages were clear: that fireworks are now louder and more powerful than ever before, that they cause distress to animals and people as well as strain on already stretched emergency services, and that enforcement of the laws is not always effective.
MPs were broadly supportive of licenced displays and clear that sale and use by the general public is the issue.
Labour MP Helen Jones (Warrington North) opened the debate and told the government it is “time to act”.
“If the government are not prepared simply to move to organised displays, there are other things that they could do,” she said.
“They could raise the age for buying fireworks or restrict use, as well as sale, to certain times of the year.
“They could ensure that the police and local authorities are given the wherewithal to enforce the regulations. If they will the ends, they have got to will the means.”
She added there were 4,436 visits to A&E in England last year by people with firework injuries, which is more than double the number of 2009-10.
“I must confess that I am a reluctant convert to organised displays, but I do not believe that continuing things as they are is worth the NHS admissions, the attacks on emergency service personnel or even one child being seriously burned and blinded,” added Ms Jones.
“We will have petition after petition and debate after debate until the government start to take notice.
“This is becoming a serious issue about public order and antisocial behaviour. It is time that the Government took it seriously and acted on it.”
Dame Caroline Spellman, chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the horse, agreed government needs to look at tightening the regulations to protect animals.
“I will say for the record that already this year there have been 42 firework-related incidents that have affected horses, resulting in two being killed and 20 injured,” she said.
“I particularly wanted to speak in this debate because what is missing in that statistic is, for example, what happened in my constituency over the period of bonfire night, where two mares aborted their foals. Sadly, they will not appear in the statistics because they are unborn.”
‘Empathise with concerns’
Parliamentary under-secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Kelly Tolhurst responded to say she “empathised with concerns raised”, but would not commit to consultation when pressed.
Ms Tolhurst summed-up the current legislations and said government “continues to take the enforcement of firework safety seriously”.
“I reassure the chamber that I am clear that the safety of our constituents remains a priority, and I will consider the work of my officials and look at the evidence base,” she said, adding the Office for Product Safety and Standards, which will collect data on fireworks, is in the process of being set up.
“I encourage everyone present who is interested and has contributed to the debate to meet me for a proper discussion, which will enable the government to look at the problem and decide on the correct way forward.
“Although only a minority of users of fireworks misuse them, I understand that one individual can have a massive impact on a community.
“That is why the government continue to believe that the best way to continue to reduce any distress caused by fireworks is to work with industry, retailers and others to promote their safe and responsible use through guidance and public education and to ensure that appropriate action is taken against those who break the rules.”
Ms Jones responded by thanking all the MPs who contributed to the debate — and had strong words for the minister.
“I would like to be able to thank the minister, but in 21 years I have seldom heard a response that took so little cognisance of the debate that had just happened,” said Ms Jones.
“We have now had three e-petition debates on the issue, yet the government have taken no account of the public views that have been expressed time and time again.
“I remind them that the petitions system was set up as a joint system between parliament and government in the expectation that government would take it seriously, and they clearly are not.
“The minister has talked about enforcement, but she will not commit more resources to it.
“She has said she believes that she needs to collect more data and that there has been no unanimity in this debate. This debate was unanimous about wanting more controls on fireworks.”
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Ms Jones added her constituents, and those of other MPs, “are clear they want action”.
“I know the minister is a junior minister and is unable to promise much herself, but the Home Office has to start taking this matter seriously or we will be here debating it time and time again until it does,” she said.
“My committee will certainly want to look at it again. These are serious issues about people being injured, emergency workers being attacked and people’s lives being made a misery.
“It is time that the government started to take it seriously.”
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