This summary presents the key themes to emerge from the Scottish Government's consultation on the sale and use of fireworks in Scotland and tackling the misuse of pyrotechnics. The consultation opened on 20 June 2021 and closed on 15 August. The consultation paper is available at https://consult.gov.scot/justice/use-and-sale-of-fireworks-in-scotland/.
In total, 1,739 responses were available for analysis. Most of these responses were submitted by individual members of the public, with 64 responses submitted by groups or organisations.
In addition to the main online consultation, 12 online workshop events were held. Eight of these events were open to anyone who wished to attend and four were for specific groups, namely: the community in Pollokshields; specialist firework retailers; sight loss organisations; and Trading Standards.
Section One: Fireworks
Part One: Mandatory conditions at point of sale
- A large majority of those who answered the question – 84% – agreed that a fireworks licensing system should be introduced in Scotland.
- A large majority – 85% – agreed that any licensing system should cover possession and use of fireworks in addition to their purchase.
- A majority – 76% – agreed that there should be a fee to obtain a fireworks licence.
- A majority – 74% – agreed that successful completion of an online safety course should be a condition of obtaining a fireworks licence.
- In terms of who would be best placed to run and administer the proposed licensing system, the most popular choice overall, with support of 38%, was the Scottish Government.
Reasons there should be a licensing system in Scotland: While agreeing that there should be a licensing system some respondents also went on to express a view that there should be a ban on sale of fireworks to the general public. Others stated that, while they would prefer a ban, they saw the proposed licensing system as preferable to the status quo.
Frequently given reasons for thinking there should be a licensing system were that:
- Fireworks are potentially dangerous and can cause injury.
- They can also cause nuisance and anxiety. Respondents commented on the potential negative impacts on people and communities.
- Fireworks can be misused. Experiences of fireworks being misused by children and by young people were reported, as was use of fireworks to attack the emergency services.
- Fireworks can cause harm or distress to animals, particularly in relation to their noise.
Reasons there should not be a licensing system: The most frequently given reason why there should not be a licensing system for individuals was that it is unnecessary or would be a disproportionate response to an issue that was often not seen as a significant problem. Other frequently-raised points were that:
- The proposed approach is a 'nanny state' response, that compromises personal freedom and civil liberties.
- Many people enjoy fireworks, and the proposals would penalise law abiding users – for example family use in a garden setting.
- Existing legislation is sufficient but should be better enforced.
Covering the possession and use of fireworks as well as purchase: The most frequently given reasons in support were that purchase, possession and use of fireworks are interlinked and that not including both possession and use would leave significant loopholes. The most frequently given reasons against were that licences are unnecessary or disproportionate and that existing legislation is sufficient.
A fee for a licence: The most frequently given reasons for supporting a fee were that it could promote a responsible approach, encouraging those with good intentions to apply and can discourage casual applicants and those who would misuse fireworks. Reasons given for there not being a fee included that licences are not necessary.
Requiring successful completion of an online safety course: The most frequently given reasons in favour of an online safety course were that the proposed training can improve understanding of the risks posed by fireworks, promote responsible behaviour and, as a result, lead to improved firework safety. However, there were also concerns that the course should be suitably rigorous.
Part Two: Restrict the days fireworks can be sold and set off
- A majority – 67% – agreed with the proposed restrictions on the days fireworks can be used by the general public.
- A majority – 64% –agreed with the proposed restrictions on the days fireworks can be sold to the general public.
Reasons for supporting restrictions on the days fireworks can be used by or sold to the general public: It was suggested that it is logical to assume that restricting the days fireworks can be used by the general public will reduce the number of days on which they are used. It was also suggested that restrictions on the days fireworks can be bought should reduce the amount of spontaneous or unplanned purchasing and use of fireworks.
A frequently-made point was that if people know that fireworks can only be used on certain days, they would be able to plan and take mitigating actions. There were references to making provision for pets, guide dogs or livestock and to people who find fireworks distressing and/or frightening being able to prepare themselves.
Reasons for not supporting restrictions on the days fireworks can be used by or sold to the general public: The most frequently-raised concern about the proposals was that the proposed dates are too long and, in particular, that the number of days on which fireworks can be used or sold in October/November is too long.
Other respondents noted that they did not agree with there being restrictions. A frequently made comment was that there are a range of other celebratory events, such as weddings or birthdays, when people may wish to use fireworks, and that the proposals would prevent them from doing so.
Part Three: No-Firework Areas
- A large majority of respondents – 83% – agreed with the introduction of no-firework areas.
- A majority of respondents – 69% – agreed that consideration, introduction and management of no-firework areas should be led by local authorities.
Arguments in favour of the introduction of no-firework areas: The most frequently made point was that no-firework areas should be used to protect animals, including pets. Another common view was that no-firework areas have the potential to reduce the impact of anti-social behaviour and firework misuse, and improve the lives of many; in particular they would improve the lives of those living in communities that are currently blighted by firework misuse.
Many comments focused on the type of locations which should be no-firework areas, with some appearing to suggest blanket bans in certain types of area (in contrast to the locally-driven approach proposed).
Arguments against the introduction of no-firework areas: General comments tended to focus on disagreeing with no-firework areas along with any other proposal that would add restrictions to where, how or by whom fireworks can be used. There were also general observations that no-firework areas are: simply a bad idea; would not work; or would be unfair on and discriminate against those living in a no-firework area but who use fireworks responsibly.
Local authorities leading: The most frequently made comment in support of local authorities leading on no-firework areas was that they are best placed to take this role, including because they will know their own area better than any other organisation. The most-frequently made argument against was that they would be unlikely to perform well or take any proactive or constructive action. The other frequently-made point was that a national, standardised approach would be preferable to a locally-led one.
Part Four: Proxy Purchasing Offence
- A very substantial majority of respondents – 92% – agreed with the introduction of a 'proxy purchasing' offence in relation to fireworks to criminalise the supply of fireworks to young people under the age of 18.
The most frequently-made comment was a general statement of support for the introduction of a proxy purchasing offence. It was also suggested that the proposal would bring the approach to fireworks in line with that for other restricted products. There were references to alcohol, tobacco and nicotine vaping products and it was noted that proxy purchasing prohibitions are already in place for other age-restricted products.
Section Two: Tackling misuse of pyrotechnic devices
- A majority of respondents – 76% – had concerns about pyrotechnic devices being misused.
- A majority of respondents – 77%– agreed with the introduction of a new offence for being in possession of a pyrotechnic in a public place without reasonable excuse or lawful authority.
- A majority of respondents – 70% – agreed that police stop and search powers should be extended to allow the police to stop and search where there is reasonable suspicion that an individual is in possession of a pyrotechnic device in a public place without a reasonable excuse.
- A majority of respondents – 65% – thought that police stop and search powers should be wide enough to allow the police to stop and search a vehicle where there is reasonable suspicion that there are pyrotechnic devices contained without a reasonable excuse.
Concerns about pyrotechnic being misused: The danger of irresponsible use was the most frequently-raised concern. It was suggested that any use of pyrotechnic devices in public spaces has the potential for serious injury – to members of the public, police and members of other emergency services. Respondents referred primarily to the misuse of pyrotechnics at sporting events and specific concerns were raised regarding misuse in football stadia.
For those who indicated that they are not concerned about misuse of pyrotechnics, the most common reason cited was that misuse remains rare and any issues have been blown out of proportion. It was also suggested that the use of stop and search powers for pyrotechnics would lead to unfair targeting of football supporters.
A new offence: The most frequently-given reason for supporting the proposed new offence was that it has the potential to mitigate the negative impacts of pyrotechnics. It was suggested that possession of pyrotechnics without reasonable excuse or lawful authority presents an unnecessary risk to public safety, and that a new offence would be a proportionate response to this risk.
Opposition to the proposed new offence most frequently related to concerns around extending the use of stop and search powers and there were specific concerns that extended powers could be used unfairly by the police to target specific groups, including football supporters.
Extending stop and search powers: The most frequently-given reason in favour of extending stop and search powers was the danger associated with the misuse of pyrotechnics, with reference to the risk of serious injury or fatalities. Respondents often suggested that the potential to avoid serious injury or fatalities is sufficient to justify the use of stop and search.
The most frequently-raised argument against extending stop and search powers was that they could be used to target particular groups of people. Objections to the principle of stop and search included reference to infringing civil liberties and not being compatible with a free society.
Stop and search powers applying to vehicles: Comments included that vehicles could pose a significant safety risk given their potential to carry a volume of pyrotechnics, and that including vehicles in stop and search powers would be essential to maintaining public safety. There was also a view that extending stop and search powers to vehicles would be required for effective enforcement.
The most frequently-raised concern was that stop and search powers could be abused to unfairly target specific groups. There was a view that existing stop and search powers have been misused to target people from black and minority ethnic communities. There was also a concern that the provision would result in busloads of football supporters being routinely stopped and searched without due cause.