I wholeheartedly agree. This is not just about the noise of the fireworks, but also the unplanned and unexpected nature of them, which really impacts communities.
The testimony I read out has stuck with me. As a mum of a toddler, I know that disturbing a child’s sleep—or, for that matter, a parent’s—is no joke. The fireworks around us in Luton are sometimes so loud that my daughter’s baby monitor lights up red. That is with double glazing and all windows and doors shut. Many of us will know that the next day with a young child who has not had a full night’s sleep is absolutely no fun at all—it is not a fate I would wish on even my strongest opponents here.
Many colleagues will also be pet owners. Luckily, my dog Herman is a fairly chilled out chap when it comes to fireworks, but I have had reports from pet owners in Luton where the impact of the fireworks on their pets has turned their household upside down. Their beloved animals are scared, fearful and shaken, even after the noises have stopped.
A 2021 report by Cats Protection found that 63% of cats in the UK are negatively affected by fireworks. Cats can presume themselves to be in danger from sudden bursts of light and loud noise. In response to a threat to their safety, cats often bolt out of the house and put themselves in danger of traffic or get lost beyond their owner’s reach. That is of course devastating for the owner, but if a cat thinks its life is in danger, nothing can get in its way.
For dogs too, continuous fireworks can cause long-term stress, as we have heard, which can lead to behavioural problems and heartbreaking health consequences. As I said earlier, constituents have reported their pets shaking, crying and even having seizures long after the bangs have stopped.
Lowering the legal decibel level for fireworks does not solve that problem alone. What I am proposing today is a positive start for legislative change. Our domestic and wild animals need tighter laws around when fireworks can be licensed to be displayed and sold. If restricted to only be sold around permitted celebrations, such as fireworks night, new year’s eve, Diwali, Eid and the lunar new year, people with mental health issues, parents and pet owners can at least make preparations to minimise the impact of fireworks.
There must also be a review into who is permitted a licence to sell fireworks. Currently, retailers do not need a licence to sell around the celebration days I have mentioned. A review must also look into who is permitted to set off fireworks. Some stakeholders such as the Dogs Trust urge the Government to limit fireworks licensing to organised public displays only, with local authority approval. Currently, there is no legal requirement to have a licence for setting off consumer fireworks in the UK. Literally anyone can set off some rockets and a Catherine wheel in their garden with no training and no safety requirements. Surely that cannot be right.
Unfortunately, there are also people who deliberately misuse fireworks to cause harm and distress to others, which is completely unacceptable. That is why I have called for tougher minimum fines in my Bill. We know that the toughest sentences for misusing fireworks are very rarely used. A fixed penalty charge notice just does not cut it as a deterrent or a punishment when fireworks can often cost many hundreds of pounds, and it does not reflect the negative impact on our communities.
There is another group who have spoken to us who are severely impacted by noisy and reckless fireworks: veterans. I have no idea what traumas they have lived through, although some Members of this House will know. Their service to our country in volatile war zones can leave them with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression or a combination of mental health problems. Servicemen and women can experience heightened stress at times of the year when fireworks intensify, such as on bonfire night. The sudden flashes and bangs of fireworks can bring back memories of the horrors of war. After all they have enduring in their courageous work, that is simply not another terror they should or need to experience.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins) found discarded boxes of fireworks during a campaign session. They had names such as “Rain of Terror”, “Big Bomb” and “All Out War”, which shows that many fireworks are not marketed as something beautiful, but as something loud, and something to be scared of.
At key times of celebration, veterans can make plans to avoid fireworks displays to protect their mental or physical health. However, in places where fireworks are a regular occurrence all year round, they can find themselves in a constant state of anxiety. Combat Stress told me:
“We see a higher rate of distress in veterans accessing our services in November.
Not only is it challenging because of the grief surrounding Armistice, but the sound and sudden unexpected bangs of fireworks can be reminders of frontline combat where they were exposed to the horrors of war in service to this country.
Firework displays bring people together and create a lot of joy for spectators. We don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun but we urge the public to understand how distressing noisy fireworks can be for military veterans.”