We received written evidence from several community groups, for example schools, sports clubs and Sussex bonfire societies. These groups were concerned about our inquiry and the potential consequences for them of recommendations for more stringent regulation of fireworks. All were vehemently opposed to a ban on public sales and use of fireworks.
These groups told us they used fireworks displays to raise funds, to help with their own running costs and/or for other local good causes. They argued that local displays, which tended to be organised by competent but non-professional local volunteers, brought their communities closer together. Members of Sussex bonfire societies argued that fireworks were an important and historic part of Sussex’s identity and culture.
The Committee invited representatives of some of these groups, and experts from the CBI’s Explosives Industry Group (EIG), which represents most of the professional display companies in the UK and also produces guides for people organising non-professional fireworks displays, to a roundtable discussion in Westminster.
The discussion was Chaired by Helen Jones MP and attended by Committee Members Martyn Day MP, Mike Hill MP and Paul Scully MP. The meeting included a representative of a Surrey school, a Devon grassroots football club, two senior representatives of Sussex bonfire societies and the Chairman and General Secretary of the EIG.
The EIG argued that there was nothing inherently wrong with fireworks as a product. The problem lay in misuse of fireworks in communities, for example anti-social behaviour (ASB) in the streets or use of fireworks in inappropriately small domestic gardens, without informing neighbours. “Illegal fireworks” i.e. fireworks that did not meet safety standards or had been purchased illegally, were rare.
All of the invited participants argued that volunteer-run community events were not part of any problem with fireworks.
EIG’s view was that problems could be overcome by ensuring people used “the right fireworks, in the right place, at the right time”. EIG emphasised that there was almost always the right type of product for the right situation; for example, its members had been involved in displays at the Special Olympics, with appropriate fireworks selected for an audience including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including learning disabilities and autism.
The group did not believe more stringent regulation was the answer, particularly in relation to Category F3 display fireworks. They argued it would be a shame if the irresponsible actions of a minority curtailed the enjoyment of the many people who enjoyed local community fireworks displays. Broadly, the existing Regulations were thought to be adequate, if only there were effective processes in place for reporting problems and enforcing the rules.
Three key points were made about the likely effects of more stringent regulation of public sales and use of fireworks: that it could be detrimental to community fundraising efforts and community cohesion, as described above; that there were an insufficient number of professional display companies to meet demand; and that evidence from overseas suggested stricter rules may not be effective. The EIG 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.
All the community groups acknowledged that fireworks could be problematic, for example noise affecting animals, people with a range of health conditions and disabilities and veterans suffering with PTSD. All reported that they took steps to inform the local community when their events were happening, so that people who might be adversely affected could take steps to prepare. The bonfire societies noted they were at an advantage in this regard, as their events had been running for so long and were very well known locally.
The community groups reported few, if any, complaints. The Surrey school, for example, reported that its display, which raised around £2,500 towards the school’s running costs, had run for six years without a single complaint. Representatives of bonfire societies reported that they had altered their programme of events in response to feedback from local people, but that complaints were rare.
The EIG believed that information and education were key to addressing problems associated with fireworks. It was noted that there used to be national awareness campaigns about safe and appropriate use of fireworks, but it was not clear the extent to which the Government, local authorities or others still did this education work. The group agreed education of event organisers and neighbours was vital to ensure that those who wished to enjoy fireworks could do so appropriately and safety and those who might be adversely affected could take steps to mitigate adverse effects.
Published: 5 November 2019