Fireworks Act 2003 (Amendment)

Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 5th March 2008.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris PPS (Rt Hon Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State), Northern Ireland Office 12:31 pm, 5th March 2008

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the noise emitted by fireworks supplied in the United Kingdom.

Fireworks used in the United Kingdom are too often too noisy. We need a lower limit on their noise, and improved labelling of fireworks to go along with it. I thank the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of which I am a long-time member, for its assistance with background information to the Bill. I pay tribute to my former colleague Bill Tynan for the work that he did to bring in the Fireworks Act 2003, which has benefited millions of people and millions of pets in the United Kingdom.

Under the 2003 Act, there is a ban on those aged under 18 buying fireworks. It introduced a curfew on the use of fireworks between 11 pm and 7 am, except on four major festivals: Diwali, Guy Fawkes night on 5 November, new year's eve and Chinese new year. Regulations made under the Act in 2004 introduced a limit of 120 dB for fireworks.

Fireworks fall into four categories. Category 1 fireworks are suitable for use inside domestic buildings; category 2 fireworks are suitable for outdoor use in relatively confined areas; category 3 fireworks are suitable for outdoor use in large open spaces, and category 4 fireworks are incomplete or not intended for sale to the general public. Most fireworks with which the Bill is concerned, and which concern our constituents, fit into category 3.

The 2003 Act also introduced criminal sanctions for contravention of fireworks regulations—an offence punishable on summary conviction by up to six months' imprisonment or a fine up to level 5, which is currently £5,000. Unfortunately, a recent poll suggested that 60 per cent. of people in this country think that the Act and the regulations made under it are not effective.

Like many Members, I love fireworks—I love the visuals of fireworks. I am not against fireworks or against their use in domestic situations, but I am against the antisocial use of fireworks, which is generally connected to their noise.

Over the years, I have received lots of letters about fireworks, but I have never received a letter about the visual pollution of fireworks, although I appreciate the fact that certain nights of the year may be difficult for astronomers. However, what my constituents write to me about is the noise of fireworks, and I suspect other Members receive similar letters from their constituents.

As I said, the current limit is 120 dB. To give the House some idea of what that sounds like, it would be like being 120 m from a passenger jet. A road drill is 100 dB, and 95 dB is roughly equivalent to a book being dropped 1 m on to a table. At a lower level, 70 dB is the normal sound one would hear on a television and, depending on traffic volume, between 70 and 80 dB is the background traffic noise that many of us experience.

We continue to receive letters from constituents understandably complaining about the noise of fireworks, even though most fireworks sold and used in the United Kingdom are below the current 120 dB limit. However, they still disturb humans and pets, so the Bill would lower the threshold from 120 to 95 dB in the interests of improving the lives of all of us—human beings and pets. There would also be safety implications.

Secondly, the Bill would improve the labelling of fireworks. Three and a half years ago, I tabled early-day motion 1549:

"That this House believes that, in the interests of helping to promote good neighbourliness and animal welfare, regulations should soon be made under the Fireworks Act 2003 requiring all those selling fireworks to label them clearly specifying the decibel level produced by each firework when used."

I want informed choice for consumers. I am sure that many people who buy fireworks have no intention of disturbing their neighbours. However, unless we have clear labelling on the noise level to be emitted by fireworks it is difficult for people to know until they use them whether they will in fact disturb their neighbours or animals in the neighbourhood. We should lower the level allowed for fireworks used in the United Kingdom from 120 dB—the current limit—to 95 dB, and we should make sure that fireworks supplied for use in the UK have a clear label specifying the decibel level to be emitted by the firework.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Rob Marris.

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