Riot police on standby for Guy Fawkes Night as Minister supports move for fireworks to make less noise

By Bill Heaney

To the dismay of most people – especially pet owners – the Scottish Government have decided not to ban fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night.

Pauline McNeill, a Labour MSP, told the Holyrood parliament: “I am advised that the Scottish riot police are already on standby for Thursday.

“Given the huge support—it is something like 87 per cent—for a complete ban on fireworks, does the minister consider that the new proposals might simply delay the inevitable: that further restrictions, unless they are enforced vigorously, might fail, and that further public support for a ban on private use may be inevitable?”

The SNP Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham,  replied: ” First, I would like to reflect on the impact that the on-going pandemic will have on bonfire night.

“Like many other celebrations, it will look very different in the context of Covid-19. Many of the activities that we traditionally associate with bonfire night will simply not be able to take place as they normally would.

“At this point, it is important to highlight what we are asking the public to do and what we are asking people to avoid in celebrating bonfire night this year, as we continue to do everything that we can to suppress the spread of coronavirus.”

She pointed out that public firework displays, which normally take place in communities across Scotland, will not happen this year.

Ms Denham added: “I know that that will be a disappointment to the many people and families who normally attend those events, which are a safe and fun way to enjoy fireworks. However, very large gatherings are simply not viable right now.

“When people choose to purchase fireworks to have their own private display, they must adhere to the guidance on meeting other households that applies in their local area.

“That means that anyone who uses fireworks in their back garden needs to follow the restrictions on household gatherings and to carefully follow the FACTS advice and the physical distancing guidance.

“I want to make it clear that there should be no private displays in gardens at which the number of spectators exceeds the numbers that are set out locally.

“As local areas have been placed in levels of restriction, that will mean that no more than six people from two different households will be able to attend such displays.

“In addition, people who use fireworks should stringently follow the safety instructions on the packaging of the products that they purchase to reduce the risk of harm and injury.

“It is also important to stress that it is illegal to use fireworks in a public place in Scotland. That includes areas such as parks and fields. People cannot and should not use fireworks anywhere other than on their own property.”

Pictures by Tom Gardiner

The Minister said the measures and restrictions that she had just described “are the only step that it is appropriate to take at this time by way of guidance, and I strongly encourage everyone to abide by them this bonfire night.

“Although the on-going pandemic will clearly have an impact on bonfire night, substantial planning and preparation continue to be done by community safety partners at a national and a local level this year.

“Unfortunately, there have been persistent issues with the misuse of fireworks in Scotland over recent years.

“Such incidents, which are often dangerous and can be life threatening, include reports of antisocial behaviour on and around bonfire night; attacks against our emergency services; and highly distressing accounts from individuals about the inappropriate use of fireworks that they have experienced.

“I am aware that, this year—over the weekend—there have already been completely unacceptable incidents of fireworks being thrown at our emergency services.

“The Scottish Government does not tolerate any attack on our emergency services, and the line from our police, our prosecutors and our courts is clear: people who commit such offences will be dealt with robustly.

“Last month, I met senior commanders in Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who updated me on the extensive multi-agency planning that is under way as part of operation moonbeam to ensure a safe and enjoyable bonfire season and to tackle any incidents of unacceptable behaviour that may occur.

That includes the use of multi-agency control centres, where police and fire colleagues work together to co-ordinate swift and appropriate responses to incidents as they emerge.

“I am also aware that a significant amount of local partnership activity has been undertaken by the emergency services and other public and third sector partners to plan for bonfire season and prevent the disruption and disorder that are often associated with fireworks.

This morning, I spoke to control room staff, who briefed me on incidents involving fireworks that took place over the weekend and on the plans for the coming days.

“I am sure that members will join me in thanking our emergency services in communities across Scotland and applauding them for their hard work, dedication and commitment to partnership working, planning for bonfire night and responding to firework-related incidents.”

Ash Denham said the the House of Commons Petitions Committee at Westminster has recommended that the United Kingdom Government lead a review of the effects of firework noise on animal welfare, working with animal welfare experts and the fireworks industry with a view to setting a maximum decibel limit, which would diminish the risks to animal health.

She added: “The UK Government has responded to that and has commissioned a programme of firework testing to determine the average decibel level for common types of retail fireworks. I am going to follow that work very carefully and see whether there is any learning that can be applied in Scotland.”

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