Sky Lanterns (Prohibition)

– in the House of Commons at 12:47 pm on 27th March 2019.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Ruth George Ruth George Labour, High Peak 1:09 pm, 27th March 2019

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it an offence to use a sky lantern;
and for connected purposes.

Last summer, when, after an unprecedented heatwave, a spate of wildfires was raging around the moorland of High Peak, I was shocked to discover that an American company called the Lights Fest was promoting a sky lantern festival at a venue on the moors above Buxton. A sky lantern comprises a paper lantern and a candle, and this company was selling tickets, at £20 or £30 each, for thousands of people to release naked flames across the tinder-dry moors. At the same time, our fire service in Derbyshire and hundreds of firefighters from Greater Manchester and further afield, as well as park rangers, farmers, gamekeepers and our military, were battling dozens of moorland fires, putting their own safety at risk. I pay tribute to them.

Although our fire service, local councils and the Peak District national park and I all objected to the sky lantern festival, we had no authority to prevent it from taking place as it was organised on private land. I wrote to Lights Fest to set out the local fire situation and to ask it to cancel the event, and Derbyshire fire service did the same, but neither the chief fire officer nor I received a response. In the meantime, local people set up an online petition, which quickly gathered almost 10,000 signatures. Fortunately, at that point the venue refused to host the event, so it was finally cancelled with just days to go. It cannot be right, however, that a company can organise such a dangerous event without us having any jurisdiction to prevent it from doing so.

It is not just on dry moorland that sky lanterns are a problem. They have caused significant fires in recent years, most notably at Smethwick in 2013 where more than 200 firefighters tackled a fire in a tyre depot that lasted for three days, caused £6 million-worth of damage and injured 16 firefighters, three of whom needed hospital treatment. Had it not been for CCTV capturing the sight of that sky lantern descending on those tyres, we would not have known that that was almost certainly the cause of the inferno.

Following that incident, in 2013 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Welsh Government produced a report that concluded that the

“fire risk associated with the use of sky lanterns is significant.”

In theory, sky lanterns should remain airborne for as long as they are filled with hot air and should fall back down only when the flame goes out. In practice, however, that is not always the case, and therefore sky lanterns can be a significant fire hazard.

A survey of fire and rescue services found that between 2008 and 2011 there had been eight wildfires in Dorset caused by lanterns and one in Northumberland that took 20 firefighters four hours to extinguish.

The DEFRA and Welsh Government report also found:

“When airborne, sky lanterns pose a safety risk to aviation due to possible ingestion into engines.”

The Civil Aviation Authority has said that 48 reported incidents between 2011 and 2012 were due to sky lanterns and helium balloons. The report also states that

“sky lanterns pose a significant risk to the proper and effective operation of coastal rescue services…particularly…red sky lanterns…being mistaken for distress flares.”

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union are particularly concerned about the injuries caused to animals by sky lanterns, which can result in a long and painful death. The RSPCA has reported numerous incidents, including a foal that had to be put to sleep after his legs were so badly injured from bolting through a fence having been terrified by a lantern coming down, and a barn owl that died having become entangled in a lantern frame.

The RSPCA has said:

“Given our remit, the RSPCA’s focus regarding sky lanterns is the damage they can do to an animal’s welfare. Yet, a ban on their use would also have wider social benefits, chiefly enhancing community safety and reducing fire risk, whilst reducing potential problems faced by coastal rescue services and the aviation sector.”

The NFU has long called for a total ban on sky lanterns, which pose dangers and nuisance to farm animals and our countryside. Sky lanterns are a danger to livestock. Animals panic when confronted with an unusual sight such as a sky lantern. Poultry may smother together, leading to suffocation, and other animals may bolt, causing themselves injury. Sky lanterns often leave behind sharp objects such as the metal or bamboo fragment, which can injure livestock either by direct contact or through ingesting the debris. Sky lanterns also pose a significant fire risk to property, crops and livestock. They are a littering nuisance, particularly when there has been a mass release, resulting in a lot of debris for farmers to clear. For those reasons, the NFU wholeheartedly supports a total ban on their use.

More than 200,000 sky lanterns are sold each year in the UK. Following the Smethwick fire and the DEFRA report, an industry code of conduct said that sky lanterns should

“be of a design and construction to ensure that they only fall back to the ground when the fuel cell flame is extinguished and that, once the lantern has landed, any impact on animals or the environment is minimised.”

However, with a paper construction and a naked flame, no design can guarantee it will work as designed in any weather condition.

Each sky lantern should be accompanied by warnings and instructions for use, including:

“Launching a lantern in an inappropriate location or unsuitable weather conditions, or in any manner that results in damage to persons or property may make you liable for criminal charges or civil claims for damages”.

In spite of that guidance, however, problems are still being caused by sky lanterns, and the companies promoting them are seemingly heedless of the guidance.

Last summer's event showed the need to prevent the use of sky lanterns. The chief fire officer for Derbyshire has said that last summer’s wildfires resulted in devastation to the natural landscape. Resources from across the UK fire and rescue service were deployed for several weeks, tackling those fires at great cost to the UK taxpayer. As a chief fire officer leading a service whose main aims are to protect our communities by preventing and responding to fires and other emergencies, he was surprised that appropriate legislation was not in place to prevent the proposed reckless release of sky lanterns in the heart of the Peak District at the height of summer. Our chief fire officer therefore supports the proposed prohibition of the use of sky lanterns in England, to protect our countryside, wildlife, the farming industry and beyond.

All Welsh councils have banned the release of sky lanterns on council-owned land, and 70 councils in England—from Plymouth to Carlisle—have done the same. However, they cannot protect our countryside, animals and people from lanterns released on private land. There have been calls from across this House to prohibit sky lanterns. I hope that the advent of the environment Bill will give the Government an opportunity to put in place this sorely needed legislation. In the meantime, I ask the House please to accept my proposed Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Ruth George, Kerry McCarthy, Sir David Amess, Sir Peter Bottomley, Jim Fitzpatrick, Sir Mike Penning, John Spellar, Richard Benyon, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Julian Sturdy, Antoinette Sandbach and Angela Smith present the Bill.

Ruth George accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April, and to be printed (Bill 368).