Fireworks (Noise Limits)

– in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 17 April 2024.

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

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South 2:19, 17 April 2024

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the maximum noise levels of fireworks which may be sold to the public;
and for connected purposes.

My Bill aims to tackle the antisocial use of fireworks, and would mean that fireworks available to the general public no longer emitted sound levels that were equivalent to a pneumatic drill or a chainsaw; instead, sound levels would be capped at those equivalent to an alarm clock or a hairdryer. Fireworks can be a great source of entertainment, but they cause misery for many people and their pets right across this country. This Bill would stop shops selling loud fireworks to the general public, and so tackle this widespread problem.

In my constituency of Bradford South, the misuse of fireworks is a 24/7, round-the-clock blight, causing unacceptable stress and anxiety to people and their pets. I take this opportunity to highlight my petition on this subject, which is live on my website. It calls for a reduction in the decibel limit for fireworks, and has already been signed by so many of my constituents.

Time and again, people in Bradford South tell me that their family life is disrupted as their children and pets are rudely awakened by the excessive noise of fireworks after 11 pm. In some cases, that happens every single night. Letting off fireworks after 11 pm on a non-designated day is of course illegal, but as Members right across this House will know, the policing and enforcement of fireworks legislation is, to put it mildly, a challenge. However, we can stop this antisocial behaviour involving fireworks by preventing people from buying excessively noisy fireworks from shops.

This Bill holds the power to protect people from noise disturbance without impacting the enjoyment of those who want to use fireworks. I emphasise that professionals could still continue to use fireworks that exceed the 90 dB limit, so organised public displays would not be affected. I am certainly not seeking to prevent people from enjoying fireworks responsibly.

Of course, the antisocial use of fireworks is not just a Bradford problem but a nationwide problem. The Petitions Committee noted in 2019 that thousands of people across the country had raised the issue of antisocial behaviour associated with fireworks. The Committee recognised that many people felt that current laws were unenforceable and that complaints were not acted on. Local authority and police witnesses confirmed that current legislation is challenging to enforce.

Fireworks are regulated in England under the Fireworks Act 2003, which was introduced by my predecessor, and under the Pyrotechnic Articles (Safety) Regulations 2015 and the Explosives Regulations 2014. There are four categories of fireworks. Category 4 fireworks present a high hazard risk, and can be supplied only to those with specialist knowledge, but members of the public can purchase category 1, 2 and 3 fireworks. Category 3 fireworks present a low-to-medium hazard risk, and are intended for outdoor use.

In the current legislation, the noise of fireworks that can be bought in shops must not exceed 120 dB, as measured by an appropriate method at the determined safety distance. However, that legislation is simply out of date and ineffective. With the public, police, and local authorities complaining of the inadequacy of those measures, it is time to change the law, stop the noise, and reduce the maximum decibel limit for publicly available fireworks.

The dangerous and antisocial use of noisy fireworks can have a serious effect on people’s health and cause distress. One constituent described to me how the fireworks cause her window panes to shake,

“4 times a week, week after week”.

We are talking about a persistent noise nuisance that people are unable to plan for, causing severe disturbance to pets and to people’s everyday life.

The antisocial use of fireworks can be distressing for those with health conditions and disabilities. Parents giving evidence to a parliamentary Committee spoke of their experiences in caring for their children. One parent said:

“our son has severe complex needs including epilepsy, which can cause him to stop breathing…the public are able to set fireworks off at any time…we cannot guarantee how loud they are going to be…My son screams, has a seizure and has to be administered oxygen.”

One of my constituents in Bradford has spoken to me about the impact on people with anxiety, including her mother. Another spoke of local ex-servicemen suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who are constantly affected by loud, explosive fireworks. As one constituent told me:

“It’s a disgrace that animals and humans have to suffer this”.

This issue must be dealt with. The very first step must be to introduce new limitations on the noise levels of publicly available fireworks.

The proposal to limit those noise levels to 90 dB or less is supported by leading animal charities; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals endorses my Bill and says:

“We believe that by introducing measures like this, we can better prioritise the safety and well-being of animals and vulnerable people...we urge Parliamentarians across the House to work with Judith on these welcome proposals.”

The current limit of 120 dB was based on studies on the effect of noise on people, rather than animals. Loud and high-pitched noises can adversely affect a large proportion of animals, whose hearing is often much more sensitive than a human’s. According to the RSPCA, around two thirds of animals are distressed by at-home firework displays. One of my constituents described the harmful impact of fireworks on her pet:

“my dog shakes at the sound of the fireworks...when we try to cuddle and calm her down nothing works...I’ve even been to the door shouting ‘please stop’.”

This shows the desperation of animal lovers. Another one told me:

“My brother’s dog died recently of a suspected heart attack...as he lay quivering under his bed, terrified of fireworks.”

It is absolutely vital that animals and pets are considered alongside human needs.

The Bill would alter the legislation to ensure that the upper noise limit of publicly available fireworks is set at 90 dB. This modest but necessary change to the law would be life-changing for so many people and animals right across this country. This is a Bill for those who fear the excessive noise of fireworks, a Bill for people whose pets are left terrified by the noise of fireworks, a Bill that would end the broken sleep of children, and a Bill for those who want to end the misery that noisy fireworks bring.

It is time that this House acted to defend people across this country from the harmful impact of the illegal use of noisy fireworks. The Bill tackles the issue in a practical and workable way. It will take pressure off overstretched and under-resourced police and law enforcement agencies by eliminating the availability of noisy fireworks. Importantly, the Bill also allows people to still enjoy fireworks—just in a way that means that other people and animals will not be disturbed. It aims to end the misery caused to people and their pets through the illegal and antisocial use of fireworks at all hours of the day and night, day in, day out, week after week. It puts an end to this relentless bombardment, because people should not have to put up with this. The Bill provides this place with the opportunity to act.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Judith Cummins, Kirsten Oswald, Marco Longhi, Mr Clive Betts, Peter Dowd, Rachael Maskell, Naz Shah and Imran Hussain present the Bill.

Judith Cummins accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 April, and to be printed (Bill 200).