Serious concerns about whether the controls on the use of fireworks proposed in a Scottish Government bill have been expressed by the Holyrood committee examining the legislation.
In their stage 1 report, MSPs on the Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee backed the general principles of the Fireworks and Pyrotechnics (Scotland) Bill "on balance", but with a warning that ministers must make changes to ensure that the measures will be effective, robust, workable and have the confidence of the public.
Under the bill, the dates fireworks can be sold in shops would be limited to certain periods around major events; dates the public could legally use fireworks would be similarly restricted; anyone using many types of fireworks would need special training, and a fireworks licence; and councils could create "control zones" where most types of fireworks would not be allowed (even on private land).
The bill has been given a fast track timetable, but the committee states that the Parliament should be provided with the opportunity to allow the bill to be improved, "to meet our shared goal of tackling the misuse of fireworks and pyrotechnic articles".
While supporting the general premise that steps need to be taken to address the misuse of fireworks, they highlight a number of potential pitfalls and loopholes in the bill. These include:
- firework control zones not addressing the issue many people believe they will: the MSPs recommend that consideration be given to creating genuine "no-firework zones" by councils, where nobody, including professional companies, can let off fireworks;
- key details of the proposed licensing scheme not being known until the bill is passed, leaving the committee not convinced that it will achieve the outcomes intended;
- the potential risk that the restrictions on the sale of fireworks will lead to a black market, or illicit sales – how this can be addressed and mitigated should be set out by the Government before any bill is passed.
The committee also commented that while it supported introducing a ban on "proxy purchases", where over 18s buy fireworks legally and give them to those under 18, it is unsatisfactory that the Parliament and committee have been asked to follow an accelerated timetable for scrutiny of the whole bill to allow this particular provision to be in place by November 2022.
It has been unable to clarify whether the Scottish Government explored asking the UK Government to transfer to Holyrood the power to make regulations banning proxy purchases.
In its conclusion the committee states that for some members, agreeing the general principles at this stage "is being done in good faith to allow the bill to progress and for amendments to be considered, and they reserve the right to consider their position at stage 3".
Committee convener Audrey Nicoll MSP commented: "We understand that the Scottish Government is trying to find a balance between allowing responsible enjoyment of fireworks and stopping what is all too often a dangerous public nuisance, particularly for people with additional needs and pet owners.
"We have backed this bill’s general principles at this stage, and hope to work with the Government and key stakeholders in the coming weeks and months to ensure that the issues we have identified can be addressed. Substantial changes are still needed to this legislation."