Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill

– in the Scottish Parliament on 29th June 2022.

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Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-05154, in the name of Ash Regan, on the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill. Before I invite Ash Regan to open the debate, I call Keith Brown to signify crown consent to the bill.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

For the purpose of rule 9.11 of the standing orders of the Parliament, I advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We are now able to begin the debate. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button. I call Ash Regan to speak to and move the motion.

The Minister for Community Safety (Ash Regan):

I am pleased to open the final debate on the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill. I thank the Criminal Justice Committee for its detailed scrutiny of the bill and the stakeholders who have engaged in and helped shape it.

Without the protection that the bill provides, many people and animals will continue to be deeply affected by the use—and deliberate misuse—of fireworks and pyrotechnics.

Earlier this month, I met national health service staff from the Scottish national burns centre at Glasgow royal infirmary. The harrowing accounts of injuries that were caused by fireworks and pyrotechnics tragically reinforce why the bill is needed. It is of extreme concern that, without the additional restrictions that are proposed by this bill, people will continue to suffer life-changing injuries and many of them will require months of physical and psychological aftercare.

The first account that I heard was of a young man who, following a pyrotechnic explosion, had severely and permanently disfigured his hand. As he was a tradesman, the long-term impact of that was severe, and he had to undergo years of intensive therapy to return to employment.

The second account was of an innocent bystander—a young person at school—who sustained a serious burn injury on their arm due to a pyrotechnic being set off in a crowd where it was difficult to get away from the device. They were about to sit school exams, and it was a crucial point in their life. After their injury, they had to overcome physical and psychological issues to allow them to continue with their schooling.

The third account was of a man who returned to a firework that had been lit and sustained a serious hand injury. He continues to undergo psychological care as a result—long after the physical wounds healed.

What was striking about all those accounts was the significant treatment that was required. Each person required years of surgery, physiotherapy and psychological care to deal with the physical and mental impact. That is surely a terrible and unacceptable toll to pay for something that, in the right hands and in the right circumstances, should and can be enjoyed safely.

The Criminal Justice Committee also heard some heart-breaking accounts. It heard from the National Autistic Society of Scotland about the debilitating impact that fireworks—particularly when used sporadically—can have on people with autism, and it heard how, in some cases, that can lead to shutdowns during which the autistic person reacts involuntarily. That reaction could include a physical or verbal distress response that would make it difficult to provide calming protection, which can, of course, be incredibly distressing. The ability to plan and prepare for the use of fireworks and pyrotechnics gives autistic people, and those caring for them, the opportunity to put safeguards in place.

The committee also received evidence on the sickening attacks on our emergency service workers when they are putting themselves on the line to keep our communities safe. I do not want to believe that anyone in the chamber wants to see people in Scotland physically or mentally harmed, nor that they want to see autistic people acutely distressed or to hear about our emergency service workers being exposed to such sickening attacks.

In taking the legislation through Parliament, I have listened to arguments that we should just stick with the status quo—that convictions and prosecution numbers are low, and that injuries from fireworks and pyrotechnics are rare—but those arguments failed at the time and they still fail to be convincing. They have failed to persuade me and, perhaps more crucially, they have failed to persuade the dedicated staff whom I met earlier this month at the burns clinic in Glasgow.

The core policies of the bill are the result of extensive consultation, engagement and evidence gathering. First, the firework licensing system will put robust checks and balances in place by requiring applicants to undertake mandatory training. Secondly, the proxy purchasing offence makes it clear that any adult who supplies fireworks or pyrotechnics to a child, without a legitimate reason, is committing a crime.

Thirdly, the bill puts restrictions on permitted days of supply and use of fireworks by the public. Those dates are based on existing firework periods and, following engagement with faith groups, strike a balance between allowing people to continue to buy and use fireworks for traditional events while limiting the problematic, sporadic use of fireworks.

Fourthly, local authorities will have the power to designate firework control zones, where it will be an offence for fireworks to be used either by the public or by professionals other than in a public firework display or for other essential purposes, such as safety checks.

Lastly, the offences that relate to possession of pyrotechnic articles in public places and at certain events, without a reasonable excuse, mean that Police Scotland will have the necessary powers to take a preventative approach to tackle the misuse of fireworks and pyrotechnics through intelligence-led policing.

What I am presenting today is the result of my having listened to the committee, communities, the police and other stakeholders and having modified my proposals in light of that. I believe that the bill balances the legitimate right to use fireworks and pyrotechnics with the need to protect public safety.

I accept that fireworks misuse currently presents a number of unusually difficult challenges for the police in particular. The reality is that much of the evidence is literally burned or blown up at the time of the offence.

I have heard calls to focus on the enforcement of existing legislation. However, the bill that I am presenting to Parliament today adds to the existing legislation. It provides clarity for those people whose job it is to keep our communities safe and it puts robust checks and balances in place to ensure that those who can access fireworks will use them safely and lawfully.

I am grateful for the consideration that Parliament has given the bill. Indeed, the Scottish Government lodged a number of amendments that improved the bill as a result of that consideration. The bill is an important milestone in our journey to change the relationship that Scotland has with fireworks and pyrotechnics. It is a key part of reducing the harm, distress and injury that those items cause, and it will put early and robust intervention in place to stop them falling into the wrong hands. I therefore hope that the whole Parliament will feel able to support it.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill be passed.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

For the sake of clarity, I advise that this is follow-on business and, therefore, that attention needs to be paid to the progress of the day’s proceedings.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank the minister for her opening comments. I also thank all members of the Criminal Justice Committee, our clerks, and all the third sector organisations, community groups, businesses and others who have engaged in the process from the beginning up to this end point.

It has been a difficult journey, not least because of the truncated scrutiny process that we were required to go through. That cannot and should not become the norm. That is no way to make good law, and, in my view, it was unnecessary to have such a process on this occasion.

The Government has a problem on its hands that it is trying to fix. Specifically, it is trying to fix the issue of the proxy purchasing of fireworks and people giving them to minors. That could have been addressed in a different way, with more time given to scrutinise the rest of the bill’s provisions.

That brings me to the bill itself. The more I learned about fireworks and their misuse, the more confused the landscape became and, indeed, the more confusing the Government’s approach to the bill became.

As a dog owner, I know from first-hand experience the distress that fireworks cause. My little rescue dog, Astro, would testify to that were he here today. I also know that many communities have been absolutely blighted by antisocial behaviour year after year. We heard powerful testimony about that. Farmers, dog homes, accident and emergency departments, plastic surgeons, community bodies and community councils all want something to be done. The question that is posed to us, as lawmakers, is not whether we should do something, but what we should do and how we should do it.

Conservative members worked constructively and tirelessly—often late at night—in considering the bill. At stage 2, we lodged 77 amendments. I know that because I moved and spoke to practically all of them. Throughout the process, we tried to strengthen the bill by making it meaningful. We tried to force the Government to review the legislation that already exists. It is already open to the police and to prosecutors to use that legislation to combat the misuse of fireworks. We tried to increase the fines and the sentencing for the misuse of fireworks. We also tried to increase the penalties and sentencing for those who use fireworks as a weapon specifically against our emergency service workers, and I am pleased that the Government conceded on that point.

We tried to give our local councillors more autonomy in decision making on the so-called firework control zones. We tried to create genuine no-firework zones—as did other members—that would actually deliver on the promise that there would be no fireworks in communities. People told us that they wanted that, but that is not what they are getting. We tried to force the Government to come back to the Parliament with concrete proposals on what the licensing scheme might look like. The problem is that we just do not know.

What about the compensation scheme for the businesses that we will be shutting down overnight if we pass the bill? What about the firework safety plan that the Government should produce? Unusually, such a plan has buy-in from the industry; it wants further regulation in this space. All those sensible Opposition amendments were shot down by ministers at stages 2 and 3.

At stage 1, the committee’s cross-party report was one of the most critical that I have ever written or read. There was no dissent or disagreement; it was a cross-party effort. At stage 2, the votes on nearly every amendment were split 50:50, but the amendments were all voted down through the use of the convener’s casting vote. That is quite telling and important. At stage 3, the Government lodged few amendments, despite widespread concerns about the bill.

Of course, the bill contains some sensible proposals, but the question is whether it will meet its primary objectives of improving firework safety and reducing the harm that fireworks cause to society. I am not convinced that it will.

On the face of it, I can see why some people think that restricting the sale of fireworks to 37 days per year and their use to 57 days per year is a great idea. However, here is the problem: there are genuine and vocal concerns about stockpiling, the black market and the white van man scenario, and the situation could get worse, not better. The bill randomly selects certain religious festivals, but it excludes others. I have concerns that that will be challenged in the courts. Let us not forget the bizarre situation in which the law will say that, outwith a defined period, people cannot let fireworks off in their backyard to celebrate something, but if people can afford to pay a company to do that, that is fine for 365 days a year. National exemptions mean that, even in the so-called firework control zones, people might still hear fireworks going off, and there is nothing that they can do about it. It is bonkers and nonsensical.

What about the licensing scheme? Someone can be refused a licence if they have committed arson but not if they have committed an act of terror. The bill does not regulate online sales, and nor does it prevent people from crossing over the border to England for their stash. What about the fact that courier companies, not retailers, will apparently now be responsible for the checking of licences?

What about enforcement? That is what it really comes down to. Last year, there were nearly 1,000 reports of the misuse of fireworks in Scotland, but there was not one criminal conviction. I have stated that fact previously, but it is an important one. Over five years, there have been only 16 criminal convictions for fireworks-related offences.

As they stand, the laws are simply not being enforced, and we should remember that before we start passing new laws further restricting the use of fireworks. Are the police seriously going to respond to every call from a member of the public and turn up with blue lights flashing to see who has let off fireworks? I think that we all know the real answer to that question.

I do not have time to outline all the reasons for my grave concerns, because I have many—more than I had at stage 1. It is with sincere regret that I say to those people who are watching this and who think that the bill will be the great panacea needed to tackle problematic firework use, that it will not. It is for those reasons that Conservative members will abstain on the bill in the knowledge that it is likely to pass.

I hope that I never have to come back to the chamber and say to the minister or anyone else who voted for the bill, “I told you so,” but if I do, it will be too late. One injury or one lost life is too much for our consciences to bear as we wave through the bill. I urge members to vote on the basis of what the bill actually does, not what people think it does or wish it might have done. There is a marked difference between the two.

Ash Regan:

Will the member take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is just about to conclude, I hope.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I apologise, minister.

There is a marked difference between those two and it is an important difference that we as legislators should remember when we pass legislation.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour. I begin by sincerely thanking my colleagues for an excellent and thorough stage 1 report.

Every year, during the bonfire period, we see the stress and strain that is put on our communities by the antisocial misuse of fireworks, as well as the burden that it puts on the police and emergency workers. The bonfire period appears to have expanded from one night to the best part of two weeks in recent times. Unfortunately, the bill solidifies that.

We do not believe that the bill goes far enough in many places and, as such, we are concerned that it might not change things on the ground. Scottish Labour proposed amendments to strengthen the legislation, but they were almost all rejected by the Government. For example, my amendment to further reduce the number of days on which fireworks could be purchased and used during both the bonfire and the new year periods—it was supported by the Dogs Trust—was rejected.

As has been referred to already, the disparate dates when fireworks can be bought and used is an issue. There is a bunch of 57 days around the calendar when fireworks can be used, with a different set of 37 days when they can be sold. The possibility for public confusion about that is clear and, of course, offences are attached to the provisions. I agree with Jamie Greene and wonder how enforceable they really are.

Sadly, the bill might not make a difference unless the Government is prepared to create more capacity for enforcement. Given the very low levels of enforcement for breaches of existing legislation on fireworks misuse, it is clear that we need to provide the police with adequate resources if we are serious about what we have just heard. Unfortunately, the legislation is being introduced at a time when police resources are definitely a subject for debate.

We have expressed concern about the lack of detail in the licensing scheme. My colleague Katy Clark examined that in great detail at stage 2 and stage 3, and we still say that it is possible to have the legislation without a licensing scheme, because there are permitted days for fireworks and days on which it would be an offence to set them off. However, our primary objection to the licensing scheme is that it runs the risk of fuelling a black market. The Government was too quick to dismiss that.

Furthermore, I lodged two amendments to keep any licensing fee small, and affordable for families, and those were rejected.

At committee, we heard from Norman Donald from NJE Fireworks Displays, who warned that

“not everyone can afford a fee. Some families come to our shop to spend £30 on a small selection box because that is a once-a-year treat for their children. If you introduce a fee of £30, £50 or whatever, you could put that purchase out of their reach.”—[

Official Report

,

Criminal Justice Committee

, 23 March 2022; c 7.]

The important point is that the knock-on effect of a potentially complex and expensive scheme is the risk that people will turn to the black market. We have seen that in Northern Ireland. I have said already that the extent to which the bill was rushed through the Parliament means that we did not get a chance to examine this properly, but in Northern Ireland, which operates a similar licensing scheme, the

Belfast Telegraph reports that

“black market fireworks are available everywhere.”

We also heard from the industry that it has concerns that the black market can consist of a wider range of different things, some of which are not currently legal. Bangers are a good example of that, and no one would want to see the rise of that extremely dangerous firework on our streets.

I felt that it was important to give communities the chance to request a firework control zone if they were enduring a lot of antisocial behaviour in relation to fireworks. I have many constituents in Glasgow who are keen to be able to request a firework control zone in their community because they feel terrorised by fireworks at certain times of the year, but unfortunately ministers were unwilling to support that proposal and it was rejected.

In its stage 1 report, the Criminal Justice Committee decided only on balance that it agreed with the general principles of the bill. As Jamie Greene said, it is quite extraordinary in this Parliament that a committee would be so critical, and I am disappointed that more was not done to address those concerns.

There are things in the bill that we pushed for, such as Police Scotland’s proposal for the simple possession offence. We were keen to see that.

However, the bill has many flaws. It was a difficult one for Scottish Labour to make a decision on. We are keen to send a strong message that the antisocial use of fireworks will not be tolerated. We must be certain to act on that.

I commend Jamie Greene for what I thought was a very considered speech. On balance, we will take a different position. We will support the Government on the bill, but I have to say that that decision was made on the balance.

I urge the Government, if it is serious about the control of fireworks in our communities, to demonstrate that by using the full force of existing law, and to allow the committee to drill down into any regulations that come before it, so that we have the opportunity to correct the things that we thought were wrong from the very beginning.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I thank the Criminal Justice Committee, the clerks and all those who gave evidence for their work on the bill.

In 2019, my colleague Liam McArthur called for powers to allow councils to make decisions around the use of fireworks and how they affect the local community. I am glad to say that we find elements of that in the bill.

It has been clear for a long time that something needs to be done to regulate the use of fireworks and limit their misuse. Sadly, every year, the police are called to address disturbances, with groups of people hurling fireworks and projectiles at emergency workers and private individuals. One year in Edinburgh, a police officer was badly burned and hospitalised after a firework was thrown in her face. Emergency workers do not deserve to be treated like that; they should be able to go about their duties without fear of physical violence. It comes as no surprise that the bill has been welcomed by the fire and police services.

As a liberal, I am instinctively wary of the state reaching further into our daily lives to impose any kind of control or stricture around a tradition that has been going on for centuries, which many people consider to be part of our heritage, especially when the vast majority of people who use fireworks do so in a responsible way. However, when we are witnessing the same sort of antisocial behaviour involving fireworks year in, year out, when a local police sergeant ends up in the burns unit, when people feel threatened in their own homes, as well as out in the streets, and when animals are scared witless because of a warped distortion of those traditions, we have to say that enough is enough. It is right that we take proportionate action to reduce the likelihood that those sorts of instances will occur. The passing of the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill will help to resolve the situation in some way.

It is important to note the growing problem of the use of pyrotechnics at sporting events, often in the middle of large crowds of people. Someone attending a football match with their children should be able to do so safe in the knowledge that a flare will not suddenly be lit right beside them.

I listened to the contributions of Jamie Greene and other members who are concerned about whether the bill goes far enough; it may not do so. Pauline McNeill was absolutely right to take a balanced approach, as did Jamie Greene. There is no doubt that we could have gone further with the bill. Pauline McNeill said that we need to send a message to people who misuse fireworks, and she is right that we need to send them a message, but laws cannot be used to send messages; we need to make a real difference.

That is why I urge the minister to consider post-legislative scrutiny of the bill as enacted. We need to make sure that we have made the right decisions and that we can review the measures and introduce new ones if more measures are required. I hope that the minister will respond to that request in her closing remarks.

I am conscious that, to some people, we in this Parliament might sound like a bunch of curmudgeons who are part of the fun police. However, the bill is not about limiting fun; it is about making sure that, instead of some people misusing our traditions and misusing fireworks as weapons, everyone can have fun.

I encourage all members to vote for the bill, but to come back to the chamber at a later date to carry out proper post-legislative scrutiny to ensure that we can improve the bill as enacted, if necessary, and have the correct laws for our country.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate.

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party

I am very pleased to speak in the stage 3 debate on the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill. In the short time available, I want to make a few points about public expectation, scrutiny and the harm that is caused by fireworks.

I again thank the Criminal Justice Committee clerking team, Scottish Parliament information centre colleagues and our community participation and communications team colleagues, who supported members throughout what was a challenging journey, given the tight timescales and the breadth of the provisions that were being considered.

I also acknowledge the collegiate and good-humoured way in which members of the Criminal Justice Committee worked together, discussing and probing issues, challenging and disagreeing with one another, but always respectfully and always in the spirit of making the best law that we could with the provisions that were set out.

The bill does not ban fireworks—such a provision would be counterproductive and an unwelcome overreach in legislation. Rather, it seeks to bring about a culture shift that will enable us all to enjoy fireworks, while recognising that the public mood has shifted and that greater controls are sought to address the antisocial use of fireworks, the causing of distress to people, pets and livestock, and, of course, the targeting of emergency services workers who are simply trying to do their job.

There was strong support for increased control over supply and use in the majority of the 16,500 responses that the Scottish Government received to its consultation back in 2019. Subsequently, the firework review group made 11 recommendations, all of which sought to tighten legislative provision around fireworks.

Similarly, a desire for tighter controls was reflected in more than 1,600 comments in the Criminal Justice Committee’s digital engagement process. The emergency services, animal welfare organisations, the National Autistic Society, local authorities and the Blackburn bonfire night action group were all consistent in their desire for change.

That all helped to inform the committee’s strong desire to shape the bill. As was evidenced by the volume of amendments that were lodged at stages 2 and 3, members across the chamber were invested in the issue and truly represented their constituents and communities.

The fireworks industry was less supportive. Understandably, it voiced concern for the future of its businesses, in the event that the bill is passed. The bill makes provision for compensation to be paid to affected businesses. If the bill is passed, I am pleased that the Scottish Government intends to work with the industry to “lay the groundwork” for how support can be delivered to help businesses to adapt.

I turn to the issue of burn and blast injuries, which the minister highlighted in opening the debate. I feel that the issue received limited scrutiny during stages 1 and 2 but is a crucial driver for change.

The British Society for Surgery of the Hand highlighted the devastating life-changing burn and blast injuries to the face, hands and limbs that fireworks can cause—preventable injuries that are commonly sustained by children and young men and in communities where there is increased deprivation, adding to the long-term burden of disease and disability in our communities.

Care of Burns in Scotland stated that

“Despite many public information and injury prevention campaigns, these injuries caused by fireworks continue to occur at a fairly steady rate”, and that what could be considered as minor injuries cause suffering and devastate families.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow considered that

“multiple elements in the Bill would make a substantial difference in reducing harm, including fireworks licensing that changes purchase from impulse to one of planned decision.”

The bill’s journey has not been straightforward, and there were many diverging views on the provisions. Should the bill be passed today, it is now for the Scottish Government to ensure that the legislation delivers on its intention of facilitating a culture change that supports tighter control of fireworks, but still allows the safe and enjoyable use of fireworks in all our communities.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

On behalf of the Scottish Green Party, I welcome the bill and thank all who have worked so hard within and outwith the Parliament to make it a reality.

Although we recognise the positive ways in which many people experience fireworks, the harms that they and pyrotechnics can cause have been a source of long-standing concern to us.

There are harms to communities from noise, disruption and conflict; serious dangers at sporting events; and strains, and even attacks, on emergency services. There are physical and psychological harms to individuals, especially children, neurodivergent people, people with sensory processing conditions and veterans of armed conflict with post-traumatic stress disorder, for whom the lights and sounds of fireworks can horribly mimic those of combat explosions.

There are harms to animals, including our closest companions. In the stage 1 debate on the bill, I spoke of our childhood pet dog Roly, who was terrified by a nearby fireworks display and fled in panic. It took us four days to find him; we experienced four days of the fear and anxiety that all dog owners here will know. We got Roly back, but many are not so fortunate. A Blue Cross survey found that 70 per cent of pets were reported as being negatively affected by fireworks: trembling; physically sick; if indoors, afraid to go outside for days; and if outdoors, following their instincts to escape, disorientated, lost and running into busy traffic. Those are only the animals we understand best; we know little about the effects on others, such as wildlife and livestock.

Firework debris, with its toxic heavy metals, represents a further danger, as does the noise of explosions, which can damage hearing. There are further environmental harms from the toxic components of fireworks: sulphur compounds, dioxins and particulates intensify air pollution, especially when combined with bonfires. Some older forms of fireworks also threaten water pollution, and in a heating climate the dangers of wildfire are ever increasing.

Those are real and serious forms of damage, but just as real are the pleasures, celebrations and community cohesion that can come from a shared experience of watching fireworks. The challenge for the bill has been how to retain those positives while minimising the negatives. The provisions on safety training, licensing and regulating the times when and places where fireworks are acceptable all represent opportunities to hold that balance sensitively and creatively.

The passing of the bill will of course be only a beginning. There is much work to be done on the detailed regulations to bring its provisions into effect, and it is vital that that work includes the active participation of communities and real consultation that listens to the quietest voices.

When the provisions come into force, awareness and education will be essential. The legislation will need to adapt to new circumstances, changing cultures and technologies, working to encourage the development and use of low-noise, low-impact fireworks.

In addressing the specific problems of irresponsible firework use, it is important that we do not lose sight of the broader and deeper questions that have been raised, particularly by the Scottish Community Safety Network. What lies beneath attacks on emergency services and other forms of what we describe as antisocial behaviour? How can we build communities with space for exuberance and dissent that do not involve gunpowder and explosion?

The jigsaw of devolved and reserved powers added to the difficulties in drafting and discussing the bill. The bill is inevitably a compromise, whatever our perspective, but it is also a paradigm of the process that we are all involved in. It is part of an evolving awareness of human diversity and non-human need. We strive to use the powers that we are privileged to hold to recognise different voices and experiences in a Scotland that works for and welcomes everyone. I think that the bill does that.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I am pleased to speak in the debate

. I want to highlight a couple of aspects of the work of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which I convene. I make it clear to members that I am not speaking on behalf of the committee today.

The committee welcomed three Scottish Government amendments to the bill at stage 2. Amendments to sections 18, 24 and 35 changed the parliamentary procedure for powers under those sections from negative procedure to affirmative procedure. Although the committee was, in principle, content with the powers during its stage 1 scrutiny, it is always conscious of the need to strike a balance between use of parliamentary time and the appropriate level of scrutiny. For the powers under those sections, the committee considered that the enhanced scrutiny for which the affirmative procedure provides was most appropriate.

The committee sometimes challenges the Scottish Government’s approach to delegated powers in bills, so it is right that we also highlight times when the Government responds positively to the committee’s recommendations.

That relates to Maggie Chapman’s point about the bill: today is not the end of scrutiny of the legislation. As she said, secondary legislation will come forward in the future. Parliamentary scrutiny does not end today; there will be more, as time goes on.

On the policy behind the bill, I am pleased that at the heart of the bill is the aim of reducing the negative impact of fireworks and pyrotechnics on communities. Many people enjoy fireworks, whether we are talking about Guy Fawkes night or displays that are part of festivals or family celebrations. We must legislate in a way that does not prevent people from enjoying fireworks, but which takes account of the impact that loud noise has on pets, wildlife and people with sensory issues, including veterans.

The bill is also an important step towards reducing the burden on the emergency services of preparing for and responding to fireworks-related incidents. Data from Police Scotland indicates that around 900 such incidents were reported during the 2019-20 fireworks period. There is no evidence that the number of such incidents that are reported to the police is changing. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service identified fireworks as a contributing factor in 342 incidents annually, on average, between 2009-10 and 2019-20, with around half of those incidents occurring on or around bonfire night.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

No. I am sorry, Mr Greene.

The incidents were concentrated in more deprived areas. I have seen that in my constituency. A few years ago, the riot police were called to a part of Greenock; there were horrendous scenes there that night. It is clear that there are considerable financial and resource cost implications for Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service when it comes to planning and preparing for 5 November and the days leading up to it each year.

There is also an impact on the NHS and the Scottish Ambulance Service, and common fireworks-related injuries are ones that affect hands and heads, as we heard. Mortars and rockets are responsible for the majority of serious eye and hand injuries, which often require specialist treatment and surgical intervention and are sometimes fatal, as we know.

Fireworks pollute the air with gases, particles and other elements that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment. That is another reason why the bill is so important.

Tougher action on sale and use of fireworks and tackling misuse of pyrotechnics have clear public support. I know that from people who have contacted me about the bill; I know that the bill will be supported in my constituency. I believe that the bill will be welcomed by many constituents across the country—especially by veterans, by people who have sensory issues or who live with someone who has sensory issues, and by pet owners, as others have highlighted. I will be pleased to vote for the bill tonight.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to closing speeches.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

I am pleased to close the debate on behalf of Scottish Labour. Pauline McNeill and I have sought to amend the bill, both at committee and here in the chamber, with a view to making it more effective and workable. We recognise the significant problem that Scotland has with antisocial use of fireworks, which we believe to be a growing problem. Indeed, we have heard from a number of members today about the extent of the problem. We know that most people simply want to enjoy fireworks, and we believe that the best place to do that is at public events.

We believe that the bill will reduce use of fireworks, and we welcome the creation of a new offence to criminalise supply of fireworks to under-18s, to ensure that adults do not supply fireworks to children.

During the passage of the bill, we have outlined our concerns that the licensing scheme might have the unintended consequence of creating a black market in unregulated fireworks, with all the greater safety risks that they carry.

As Pauline McNeill has said, a similar scheme was introduced in Northern Ireland. There, it has been reported that fireworks are widely available on the black market, and there is no evidence that there has been a decline in fireworks-related antisocial behaviour. At stage 2, I spoke about Italy, where a similar licensing scheme was introduced that seems to have done nothing to address the problems there of very dangerous unregulated use of illegal fireworks.

I lodged stage 2 amendments to strengthen the bill to enable local authorities to create no-fireworks zones, in which all fireworks use would be banned. I believe that that is what people who have been campaigning for fireworks reform were actually looking for. That would have been far simpler legislation. The amendments that I lodged were not successful. I know that other members lodged amendments that would have had a similar effect.

Ash Regan:

I want to pick up on Katy Clark’s point about banning fireworks, or having the ability to do so. I believe that we have been over the matter several times. Does she accept that I have repeatedly explained, both at committee and in the chamber, that Scotland does not have the power to ban fireworks?

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

We have, indeed, had this discussion previously. The fact that we are able to lodge amendments that would have the effect of banning fireworks shows that we do have that power. We can ban—indeed, the bill does so—sale of fireworks for most of the year, and the bill bans use of fireworks for most of the year. In reality, we can ban fireworks. I appreciate the point that the minister makes, however; it is a point that I think she made at stage 2.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

Does the member recall the minister telling the committee that she had no desire to introduce a ban on fireworks?

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour

I do recall that. As the minister has said, we have had extensive debate about these issues at various stages.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has listened to some of the arguments that have been made and that it has added private operators to the proposed firework control zones.

Public displays will not be banned by the legislation, however. There is no way to do that unless the Scottish Parliament legislates further. I hope that the Scottish Government will revisit the issue later, so that it is possible to ban fireworks where councils believe that doing so is necessary—in particular, near facilities such as hospitals, care facilities and animal shelters.

From the outset, Scottish Labour has been clear that it wants the bill to succeed and to be effective.

Fireworks misuse is already illegal but, despite the many hundreds of complaints to the police every year, there are very few prosecutions and even fewer convictions, as we have already heard. Between 2016 and 2020, there were only four solemn and 16 summary fireworks offence convictions and, as Jamie Greene said, there were no fireworks offence convictions in 2020-21.

We have real concerns that some of the provisions of the bill will be confusing, unworkable and expensive, and that therefore the public will not comply or might inadvertently fall foul of the law. I very much hope that the Scottish Government is correct that the bill will result in the culture shift that it is seeking, but that will happen only if the Crown Office and the police put resources into implementing existing legislation.

As we have said, we are disappointed that the Government did not respond further to the stage 1 report, but because of the new offences that will be created and because we believe that the bill will reduce the use of fireworks, we will support the bill when it comes to the vote.

Photo of Russell Findlay Russell Findlay Conservative

I usually take interventions but, with so much to cover in five minutes, I will not have the time to do so. I begin by thanking the Criminal Justice Committee clerks, the bill team and those who gave evidence to the committee.

Although fireworks are the source of great enjoyment to many people, including me and the fun-filled Willie Rennie, others regard them as a nuisance or indeed worse.

The Scottish Government’s firework review group first met in December 2019 and produced its report almost a year later. Now, just 18 months after that, following a fast-track timetable, we have this bill in front of us. Let us strip it back. It does three main things. It requires anyone buying or using fireworks to have a licence; it creates firework control zones; and it limits firework use by the public to 57 days per year. Many key details remain unknown, with the Government in effect saying, “Trust us, pass the bill and we’ll work it all out later”. That is just not good enough.

I will now turn to those three main issues. Perhaps the most contentious is licensing. We still do not know how much a licence will cost. If we compare it to the Northern Irish model, it is anticipated that around 1,500 Scots may apply for a licence, yet up to 250,000 people in Scotland buy fireworks annually. What will those people do instead? Our concern is that the SNP’s licensing scheme is so badly flawed that it will drive people to a black market. No work has been done on addressing that concern. This risks achieving the opposite of what is intended—a rise in firework misuse and the type of injuries that the minister described in her opening statement.

At stage 2, I secured an agreement from the minister that applicants for a licence must disclose convictions for fire-raising, yet she refused to budge on the disclosure of other convictions, including antisocial behaviour, football violence and even terrorism. My attempts to increase sentencing were also rejected.

Let us look at firework control zones. People might think, from their name, that firework use would be prohibited in those areas. It is not. At stage 2, I secured an agreement from the minister to ban professional displays in private gardens within these zones, but public displays will still be allowed. As Katy Clark said, that will not help pet owners, farmers or people with sensory issues who wanted clearly defined areas in which fireworks were completely banned.

Then there is the issue of fireworks being used on only 57 days. The Government has failed to properly explain how it arrived at those dates. It seems inevitable that other cultural or religious occasions will need to be added in the future. The bill limits firework sales to 37 days, which surely risks dangerous stockpiling in people’s homes. Also—and this is a big one—professional companies will still be free to operate on 365 days of the year. As with the flawed firework control zones, that will do nothing for those seeking respite from noise.

This bill has been rushed. My colleague Jamie Greene has already explained why—so that proxy purchasing for under-18s could be dealt with quickly—but there was no need to rush. In doing so, we are left with a bill that contains huge gaps and may make existing problems even worse.

I have been immersed in the bill for months and it is still not easily understood. To be frank, it is confusing.

The Scottish Conservatives tried to fix it as best we can. I commend Jamie Greene for securing an aggravator for people who use fireworks to attack emergency service workers. I lodged 46 amendments at stage 2 and 12 at stage 3, some of which were accepted.

Many of my party’s concerns can be seen in the stage 2 debate and the Criminal Justice Committee’s highly critical stage 1 report. Members should remember that the report was agreed to with the backing of SNP members on the understanding that the Government would address our points of concern, but it has failed to do so.

Many critical questions remain unanswered. We already have nine separate laws that deal with firework misuse, but it is painfully apparent that they are not being used to their full extent. I share the industry’s real fears that the bill could become the catalyst for a dangerous and unregulated black market in Scotland. The Government admits that it will be powerless to police online firework sales.

The minister described the bill as groundbreaking. I fear that she might be right. If the bill were a firework, it would be the dodgy one that fizzles out and falls over on the lawn and that it is best not to approach. Although we are aligned entirely with the bill’s intention, we cannot support such clunky and convoluted legislation, which might end up doing more harm than good. It is important that we are honest about that with the public and the stakeholders who engaged in the process.

We will abstain today and, judging by the comments from Katy Clark and Pauline McNeill, I am hopeful that Labour might consider doing so also. However, we understand that the bill is still likely to pass.

Ash Regan:

I thank members for participating in the debate. In my opening speech, I shared the stories of a few people in Scotland whose lives have been changed for ever because of horrific firework and pyrotechnic-related injuries. Sadly, that is merely the tip of the iceberg of the wide-ranging distress and harm that the people of Scotland experience due to fireworks and pyrotechnics.

I draw members’ attention to the fact that Eleanor Robertson, who is the senior clinical research fellow in burns and plastic surgery at Glasgow royal infirmary, joins us in the public gallery. She is joined by Amy McCabe, whose son was badly injured by a firework incident and is a campaigner on the issue. I thank them for joining us.

Throughout extensive consultation and engagement, we have heard from thousands of people about how their lives have been, and continue to be, impacted by fireworks being used in their communities. I have no doubt that many members in the chamber have heard similar views from their constituents. As their elected representatives, we all know that we need to be able to look our constituents in the eye and say that we are doing everything that we can to protect them from such harm.

It is important to highlight that, although issues around fireworks misuse featured strongly during consultation, it was clear that the sporadic and unpredictable use of fireworks was also problematic. One heart-breaking example that I was recently made aware of concerned the untimely passing of a much loved family dog due to fireworks. The story was shared with me last month, which is by no means firework season. Loud fireworks were suddenly set off one weekend. The dog was so frightened that he managed to escape and was last seen on train tracks. The community rallied together to find him and reunite him with his owners but, sadly, his body was found the following day.

As I have previously stated, the bill is not a panacea, but it is a crucial step in the culture change that I am committed to progressing alongside wider actions—such as education and awareness raising—to keep people, animals and communities safe from the harm that can be caused by fireworks and the misuse of pyrotechnics.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Excuse me for a second, minister. There is far too much noise in the chamber. We need to listen to the minister responding to the debate.

Ash Regan:

I will turn now to some of the contributions that we heard this afternoon.

I am afraid to say that the Conservatives’ speeches were quite dismal. I thought that their tone was entirely wrong, and that they are quite out of step with the support that has been shown for the bill by the public and the many stakeholders that support the provisions in the bill.

Predictably, the point about the black market was raised again during the debate. As I have said on many occasions, displacement was fully considered during the development of the proposals. I did not think that it was a compelling argument then and I do not think that it is one now. It is like saying that people will circumvent laws on alcohol or air weapons, so we should not have any restrictions. It is a nonsensical argument. If we were going to take that approach, there would be no public safety legislation at all, and I am not sure that that is quite what the Conservatives are suggesting should be the case.

Willie Rennie raised some pertinent examples of why the bill is needed, and he asked me about keeping the law under review if the bill is passed this evening. I can give that assurance to the chamber. The provisions will be kept under review, they will be monitored and they will be updated if that is found to be required.

Audrey Nicoll highlighted the support of clinical associations for the bill, and she mentioned the serious nature of many of the firework injuries that those organisations have to deal with.

Maggie Chapman highlighted the negative impacts of fireworks on pets, wildlife and the environment. I also agree with her assessment of the limitations and, often, compromises that are involved in drafting legislation in our devolved settlement, which is something that seems to have escaped the Conservatives entirely.

I agree with Stuart McMillan, who spoke movingly of things that he had seen and witnessed in Greenock, and of the support that this legislation would be shown by the public in his constituency.

As members will be aware, a range of stakeholders have expressed support for the bill. That includes the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Police Scotland, the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Autistic Society, among many others. Just last week, a coalition of seven medical institutions, including the British Medical Association and the British Burn Association, wrote to me to express their support for the bill. Their letter highlights that they welcome the legislation and believe that it will ensure that, although fireworks will still be able to be enjoyed, that can be done more safely and more responsibly. I was particularly struck by the sobering observation that was made by the president of one of the associations, who said that, if the new legislation prevents just one severe burn or one mutilating eye or hand injury, it will all have been worth while. I agree.

If Parliament passes this bill today, we will be taking a significant step towards reducing the harm, the stress and the injuries that can be caused by fireworks and pyrotechnics.

I know that the safety and wellbeing of the people of Scotland is something that all members, regardless of our party affiliations, will agree is of prime importance and is a worthy aim to be united in working towards. For that reason, I invite members to agree to the passing of the bill.