In a moment. This is my sixth debate on this issue, and I remember when the illusion of action was played out in previous debates, with talk of consultations and evidence gathering. Today, it seems to be a proposal for a review group. All of this is excuse after excuse for inaction—and, of course, all of those previous initiatives came to nothing. It seems that all they were designed to do—if Members will pardon the pun—was take the heat out of the issue.
For reasons that very few of us can understand, the Government are simply not willing to regulate the sale of fireworks, and nobody can honestly understand why. We do not need review groups; we do not need consultations; what we need is the Minister to get on his feet and announce concrete action. I have no optimism that he will do so, based on the previous six debates. To advise constituents to call the police when fireworks plague their community is disingenuous. By the time the police are able to attend, the damage has been done and those who are responsible are long gone. In their wake, fireworks have caused huge disruption to communities, scared family pets out of their wits, and sometimes literally scared them to death.
In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has the authority to regulate when fireworks can be set off, but no power at all over the regulation of the sale of fireworks, which in effect means it has no power at all. If we cannot influence who has access to fireworks, we cannot deal with the disruption that they cause.
Fireworks cannot currently be sold to anyone under 18, but as I have said in the past six debates, so what? We know that children can get hold of them, and that people using fireworks irresponsibly are often perfectly entitled, under the law, to buy them. The irresponsible use of fireworks is not confined to those who got hold of them illegally, which is why more needs to be done to protect the elderly, people with pets, and a whole range of people in our communities.
As we have heard, every single Member of Parliament present for this debate, and many who are not, have had constituents telling them about the onslaught of fireworks and the profound effects they have had on their quality of life and on their pets, who undergo trembling fits and become withdrawn and very frightened. Of course, this cannot be prepared for, because the outbursts of fireworks come from nowhere when someone has fireworks and thinks they will have a wee bit of fun. Some people think it is a great idea to set fireworks off in tenement closes, or in shared entryways to flats in the middle of the night.
What is interesting about this debate is that the sale of fireworks is tightly restricted in the Republic of Ireland, while in Northern Ireland, fireworks have long been subjected to some of the strictest laws in the world. Perhaps the Minister—I keep asking this; I have asked it six times in the six previous debates—can tell us why the rest of the United Kingdom is denied similar or greater protection than Northern Ireland. Even the United States, which has liberal gun laws, believes that restrictions on fireworks need to be strict.
The current situation in Scotland is nothing short of bizarre. The use of fireworks is a devolved matter, but the sale of fireworks is reserved. It does not take a genius to work out that unless the sale of fireworks—who can get their hands on them—can be tackled there will be no meaningful influence over who uses them, which makes it extremely difficult to police. Our local environmental, health and anti-social behaviour teams work hard to tackle the misuse of fireworks in our communities, but that is dealing with the consequences of their wide availability rather than tackling the fear, alarm, distress, and safety hazard that they cause, which we have heard so much about. As the Minister knows, the only way to deal with this issue is to tackle the sale to individuals—to tackle the problem at source, and be mindful of the fact that fireworks are far more powerful and prevalent today than in the past.
Organised and licensed displays allow the many people who wish to enjoy fireworks to do so safely. Importantly, they allow local residents to plan ahead and make arrangements to protect their pets and get on with their lives. The Dogs Trust says that when public displays are organised 93% of pet owners alter their plans during the display time to minimise their pet’s trauma, which protects its welfare. We cannot help pet owners to prepare for the use of fireworks in their neighbourhood when fireworks are going off randomly without warning. The solution, as we have heard across the Chamber, is patently obvious to anyone who chooses to look. We need greater restrictions on the sale of fireworks, instead of selling them to all and sundry over 18 years old.
Organised public firework displays are a safer option for all our communities, and would become the accepted and welcome norm. We need to get the balance right. No one is asking for fireworks to be banned altogether, but the status quo must not continue. Is the Minister finally going to announce action on this issue, or are we to rehearse these arguments every year to a Government who appear unwilling to listen and, like the Leader of the House, dismiss us and our constituents as killjoys? If the Government do not want to act on this issue, give us the power in Scotland and we will get on with it ourselves.