Presiding Officer, only days away from Bonfire Night, I welcome this opportunity to provide an update to Parliament.
Firstly, I would like to reflect on the impact that the ongoing pandemic will have on Bonfire Night. Like many celebrations, this is going to look very different in the context of Covid-19. Many of the activities 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 to avoid, in celebrating Bonfire Night this year as we continue to do everything we can to supress the spread of coronavirus.
Public firework displays, which usually take place in communities across Scotland, will not happen this year. I know that this will be a disappointment to the many people and families who normally attend these events as a safe and fun way to enjoy fireworks. However very large gatherings are simply not viable right now.
Where people choose to purchase fireworks and have their own private display, they must adhere to the guidance on meeting other households that apply in their local area. This means that anyone using fireworks in their back garden need to follow restrictions on household gatherings, carefully following FACTS advice and physical distancing guidance.
I want to be clear that there should not be private displays in gardens with spectators exceeding the numbers set out locally. As local areas have been placed in levels of restriction this will mean no more than six people from two different households. People using fireworks should also stringently follow safety instructions on the packaging of the products 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. This includes areas such as parks and fields. People cannot and should not be using fireworks anywhere other than their own property.
The measures and restrictions I have just described are the only appropriate step to take at this time in terms of guidance. I strongly encourage everyone to abide by them this Bonfire Night.
Whilst the ongoing pandemic will clearly have an impact on Bonfire Night, substantial planning and preparation by community safety partners, at both a national and local level, continues to operate this year.
Unfortunately, there have been persistent issues with the misuse of fireworks in Scotland over recent years. These incidents are often dangerous and can be life threatening. This includes reports of antisocial behaviour on and around bonfire night; attacks against our emergency services; and sometimes the very distressing accounts from individuals about the inappropriate use of fireworks that they have experienced.
Already this year, I am aware that there have been completely unacceptable incidents of fireworks being thrown at our emergency services over the weekend. The Scottish Government does not tolerate any attack on our emergency services, and the line is clear from our police, prosecutors and courts – people who commit these offences will be dealt with robustly.
Last month I met with senior commanders in Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, who updated me on the extensive multi-agency planning underway as part of Operation Moonbeam to ensure a safe and enjoyable bonfire season – and tackle any incidents of unacceptable behaviour that may arise. This includes a multi-agency control centres being activated with a dedicated partner presence.
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 often associated with fireworks.
I spoke with control room staff this morning, who briefed me on incidents that happened over the weekend involving fireworks, and on the plans for the coming days.
I am sure you will join me in thanking and applauding the hard work, dedication and commitment to partnership working and planning for Bonfire Night, and responding to firework related incidents by our emergency services in communities across Scotland.
I am also aware that more people may choose to purchase and use fireworks themselves this year. To help ensure people understand what is and is not allowed under the current regulations and to ensure fireworks are used safely, three public awareness raising safety campaigns have been launched to make people aware of how to use fireworks in a responsible and considerate way, and minimise the impact on others within their community, particularly those most affected:
- First, the nationwide ‘Impact of Fireworks’ campaign to improve people’s understanding of the impact fireworks can have on people, including those with sensory issues, our armed forces veterans, and on pets and livestock.
- Second, the Fireworks ‘Rules and Regulations’ campaign, in partnership with Crimestoppers to help improve understanding of the existing rules, regulations and how to report fireworks misuse.
- And finally, a fireworks safety information leaflet providing advice and guidance on the safe and appropriate use of fireworks is being disturbed by participating retailers to individuals purchasing fireworks.
This package of activity demonstrates this Government’s ongoing commitment to promoting the safe and appropriate use of fireworks.
Last November following the public consultation, ‘Your experiences, your ideas, your views’, which saw a significant level of public interest and engagement, with a total of 16,240 responses, I committed to establishing a Firework Review Group.
It was clear from the level of response to the consultation that fireworks are an important issue to the people of Scotland and that there is a strong appetite for change.
The purpose of the Review Group has been to look at options for legislative change and to provide recommendations on tightening legislation to drive forward action to reduce the harm fireworks can cause.
The Group, chaired by Alasdair Hay, former Chief Officer of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has representation from a number of key stakeholder organisations – including the fireworks industry, animal welfare representatives, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Veterans Scotland and the NHS. This has ensured a broad range of opinions, experiences and knowledge have contributed to the Group’s recommendations.
Despite the challenges that we have all faced this year in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Group has met eight times. They have carefully considered and reviewed the evidence available and options for change.
To reach these recommendations, the Group heard directly from communities about the impact the misuse of fireworks can have, undertook more detailed research to consider the experiences of other countries, and to better understand the number and nature of firework related injuries in Scotland.
The Group also heard from the fireworks industry on the strides that have been made over the years to remove dangerous products from the market and to better understand the potential impact that greater restrictions could have.
I am now delighted to advise that the Group has submitted their final report to me.
The Group has recommended to that a fundamental shift is required in how fireworks are accessed and used, and that this is done through the introduction of a comprehensive set of measures, including:
- The introduction of mandatory conditions when fireworks are purchased from retailers.
- Restricting the times of day fireworks can be sold and volume of fireworks that can be purchased at any one time.
- Restricting the days and times fireworks can be set off.
- Introducing no firework areas or zones where it is not possible for fireworks to be set off.
- Introducing a proxy purchasing offence so that adults are not able to give fireworks to those under the age of 18.
I very much welcome and endorse these recommendations which I will be giving greater consideration to in due course. I believe they will help us take a positive step towards promoting the safe and responsible use of fireworks going forward.
I particularly welcome the recommendations on introducing mandatory conditions before fireworks are able to be purchased by the general public, and for communities to have a strong voice in influencing whether fireworks can be used in their local area. I intend to explore how these can be implemented in practice with a matter of urgency and, using the full power of this Parliament, bring forward legislation to make these a reality.
I will look to members across the Chamber to be involved in helping us make those changes and to improve safety from the misuse of fireworks in communities around Scotland.
At this point, I would like to take the opportunity to sincerely thank Alasdair and all members of the Group for their continued engagement and for constructively sharing their expertise and views to inform these recommendations.
Whilst the Group’s final report and recommendations mark an important milestone in our journey towards a significant change in our relationship with fireworks, they form part of a bigger, ongoing picture. The kind of cultural shift that we are seeking to achieve will not happen overnight. It will require continued hard work and dedication – which I am committed to striving towards.
I am determined that we do all we can within the power of this Parliament to ensure we have all the safeguards in place that we need to keep our communities safe from the harmful use of fireworks.
I hope that the Review Group’s recommendations outlined today – which I commit to progressing as soon as practicably possible – clearly demonstrate this Government’s commitment to changing Scotland’s relationship with fireworks, guided by the voice of the people that came across so strongly in the public consultation.
I would like to reiterate my gratitude to everyone who has contributed towards the progress made so far. This includes the members of the public and organisations who responded to the public consultation and the expert knowledge and advice of the Firework Review Group.
Once again I would like to sincerely thank our emergency services, public and third sector services, as well as those in our communities who volunteer their spare time to make bonfire night safe and enjoyable, for their ongoing commitment and dedication.
Whilst this year will feel very different, I would like to wish everyone a safe Bonfire Night and reinforce the importance of following public health advice, safety guidance and being considerate of our neighbours.
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