Helen Jones: Why MPs launched an inquiry into fireworks
The sheer number of people who have voiced their views on fireworks through the petitions site, means that the laws around them need to be re-examined, writes Helen Jones
Last week the petitions committee, which I chair, launched a new inquiry into fireworks. The strength of public feeling about fireworks has been made very clear to the committee in recent years, with hundreds of thousands of people using the petitions system to express their views on the subject. A current petition by Amy Cullen, signed by nearly 300,000 people, calls for a ban on the sale of fireworks to the public and for fireworks displays to be restricted to licenced venues.
She wrote in her petition: “Every year fireworks are set off unnecessarily. Fireworks are a nuisance to the public. They scare animals, young children and people with a phobia. They injure thousands of people every year. They cause damage to buildings, vehicles, emergency vehicles and lastly kids are still being sold them.”
Debates on fireworks have also been initiated by Members and numerous parliamentary questions have been asked about related issues. The Facebook page that we set up for comments on this petition has received 956 engagements and been viewed by 4,800 accounts, while more than 61,000 viewed the digital debate. That is a real measure of the public concern about the issue, which the Government ignore at their peril.
Amy is not the only person to start a petition about fireworks on the Parliament site. There are 11 open petitions calling for stricter fireworks regulations. Other popular petitions have been about the effects the noise of fireworks can have on people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including people who have served in the armed forces. Others have been worried about the effects loud noises caused by fireworks can have on children or animals.
There have also been petitions about people mis-using fireworks, for example as weapons, the risk of injuries and the effects this has on the police, fire and ambulance services. In 2017 in England alone there were 4,436 visits to A&E by people with firework injuries. That is more than double the figure of 2,141 in 2009-10. There were 168 admissions for firework injuries in 2015-16 and 184 last year.
Another 11 petitions closed in 2018, among the most popular was Change the laws governing the use of fireworks to include a ban on public use, which attracted 113,000 signatures.
The Government has said it recognises the concerns of petitioners, but also recognises the part fireworks have played in the UK’s history and their significance for cultural groups, including Christians, Hindus, and Muslims.
The Government states it recognises the enjoyment fireworks bring and notes that private firework displays allow families and friends to “create their own traditions, celebrating events throughout the year such as weddings and birthdays.”
It believes current legislation and guidance strikes the right balance between allowing enjoyment of fireworks, respecting traditions, ensuring safety and avoiding undue nuisance.
However, we feel that the sheer numbers of people who have decided to voice their views on fireworks through the petitions site, means that the laws around fireworks do need to be re-examined.
The announcement of an inquiry into fireworks demonstrates that regular petitioning on a topic can ensure people’s concerns are heard, not only in debates but also in inquiries, which result in Committee recommendations to the Government. It will consider the adequacy of the existing regulatory regime and the effectiveness of enforcement, but also have a focus on the cultural significance of fireworks and people’s experiences, both positive and negative.
The Committee will investigate this by gathering formal evidence from the relevant public bodies and fireworks experts and is also appealing to people who have signed petitions to share their views via a survey.
The public should be able to have a say on the legislation that affects them and our inquiry will do just that. There is a balance to be struck in any society between the right of people to do as they wish, and the harm caused to others.
Helen Jones is Labour MP for Warrington North