Fireworks Contents

2The practical implications of a ban on public sales and use

16.As set out in chapter 1, hundreds of thousands of people have signed e-petitions calling for a ban on public sales and use of fireworks and for fireworks to be restricted to professionally-run, licensed displays only. We wanted to give this proposal our full consideration.

17.The case for a ban on public sales and use was made from an animal welfare perspective and by, and on behalf of, groups of people who can be particularly adversely affected, such as people with a wide range of health conditions and disabilities and military veterans and others suffering with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.14 We discuss these concerns, and ways of addressing them, in more detail in chapters 3 and 4.

Effects of a ban on community groups and local fund-raising

18.Several concerns were raised about the potential consequences, some unintended, of a ban. For example, we received evidence from several community-based groups, including Sussex bonfire societies, schools and grass-roots sports clubs, who were deeply concerned about our inquiry and the potential consequences of us recommending a ban.15 These groups emphasised that their displays were run by competent, but non-professional, people. Their displays raised considerable funds, either for their own running costs or for local good causes. For example, a Surrey school told us its display raised around £2,500 each year.16 A professional company’s fees for running an event would amount to a substantial proportion of this figure.17 A ban on public use of fireworks would therefore have potentially dire consequences for them.18

19.The community groups we heard from argued their displays were supported by the local community and improved community cohesion. They took steps to ensure local people were aware of when and where displays were happening, so that people who might be adversely affected could take steps to mitigate the effects. The groups we spoke to reported there were very few, if any, complaints about noise or other issues. All the groups told us they worked closely with the local community to address any concerns. Sussex bonfire societies argued that their events were part of the unique cultural identity of their area.19

Potential unintended consequences

20.The fireworks industry raised practical concerns about the implications of a ban on public sales and use. Steve Raper, Vice Chairman of the British Fireworks Association, argued there would be insufficient professional fireworks companies to meet demand, which could have implications for safety:

The simple answer to that question is that it would not work. There are not enough professional firework companies in the UK to fill that market. If there were, they would be doing it already. [ … ] The current pro providers would be stretched. You would see an upsurge in pop-up professional display operators trying to fill the gap. That is not an ideal situation.20

21.Other experts raised concerns about the likely ineffectiveness of a ban. Dr Tom Smith, Managing Director of major professional display company, Carndu Limited, and the Explosive Industry Group’s Chairman, emphasised that evidence from overseas suggested stricter restrictions on public use could be counter-productive. He noted that places where bans were in place throughout almost the entire year tended to have more injuries when fireworks were permitted. Berlin, for example, had a poor safety record on New Year’s Eve, the only night of the year when public use of fireworks was permitted.21 Others raised concerns about the economic effects of a ban, particularly the effects on the general and specialist retail sector.22

Emergence of a black market

22.The National Fire Chiefs Council and the National Police Chiefs Council were concerned about the possibility of a ban pushing sales underground and creating a black market of potentially dangerous products.23 Fraser Stevenson, Director of Absolute Fireworks, noted that the police in the Republic of Ireland, where the general public are banned from using fireworks, had raised concerns about dangerous illegal fireworks entering the country and causing injuries.24 Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Andy Prophet, the anti-social behaviour lead of the National Police Chiefs Council, told us that, “If a black market became available, it would be even more difficult to police than the situation we currently have, which would be a really unhelpful unintended consequence.”25

23.We have listened carefully to concerns about banning public sales and use of fireworks. There are valid concerns about the likely effects on community groups and their local fund-raising efforts. For some groups, for example in Sussex, community-run, non-professional displays form an important part of an area’s unique culture and identity. There are also genuine concerns about the likely ineffectiveness of a ban, including some evidence from overseas that a ban could have unintended and counter-productive consequences for public safety. A ban on public sales would have a substantial economic effect, which would be most keenly felt by people who have built their livelihoods on the fireworks industry.

24.While people who want to ban the public from buying and using fireworks have valid concerns that must be addressed, we cannot support a ban before other, less drastic but potentially more effective, options have been fully explored.

14 See Annex B: Summary of public engagement with military veterans and Annex C: Summary of public engagement with people with health conditions and disabilities

15 See Annex D: Summary of roundtable meeting with community groups and explosives industry; also, Chris Galvin (FWS0001); Mark Priest, Firework Crazy Ltd (FWS0357)

16 See Annex D: Summary of roundtable meeting with community groups and explosives industry

17 Q56 [Fraser Stevenson]

18 See Annex D: Summary of roundtable meeting with community groups and explosives industry

19 See Annex D: Summary of roundtable meeting with community groups and explosives industry

21 See Annex D: Summary of roundtable meeting with community groups and explosives industry

22 See, for example, Q186–8 [Chris Kemp]; Mark Priest, Firework Crazy Ltd (FWS0357)

23 See, for example, Q203 [Chris Kemp]; Q205 [ACC Prophet]

Published: 5 November 2019