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A damp squib

I do believe that Tom Watson was the first serving Member of Parliament to set up a blog. If that is the case then he deserves to be congratulated for his initiative and originality.

However, his latest project, of which he appears most proud, is rather less praiseworthy for it appears that Mr.Watson has been instrumental in passing new laws on the sale and use of fireworks:

West Bromwich East MP Tom Watson, who helped push the new law through the House of Commons, said today: “While these new powers will not be in force for this year’s fireworks season, I’m delighted and also relieved that the Government is so determined to come down hard on the misuse of fireworks.

My worry when the Fireworks Act became law was that it could take years for the Government to put the powers into practice. The fact that the zero tolerance approach will come into force as early as next month is a great victory for the thousands of people in Sandwell who have sent in letters and signed petitions calling for a crackdown.

They are sick and tired of the misery and disturbance caused by fireworks going off late at night in the early hours. They are sick and tired of fireworks being used as toys and even weapons by teenagers. And they are sick and tired of fireworks so loud that their neighbourhood often resembles a warzone.

The time has come for this to stop. We will now have the powers to deal with the problem and I hope that the police and local authorities will make full use of them.”

As best as I can tell, the thrust of the new regulations is to prohibit sales of fireworks to people under the age of 18 and to make it a criminal offence to set off fireworks late at night. On the face of it, they are not wildly unreasonable measures. There are already all manner of restrictions on the retail capacity of minors and setting off fireworks in the wee small hours is a genuine nuisance for people who are trying to get a decent night’s sleep.

But the question here is not so much ‘what’ as ‘why’? It would be churlish to try to pretend that fireworks are always harmless. They are, after all, incendiaries or low-grade explosives the misuse of which can and does spell danger. However, there are already long-established laws which can and should be invoked to deal with these eventualities, such as the laws against breach of the peace, assault, arson and criminal damage.

If, as Mr.Watson avers, unruly teenagers are using fireworks as weapons, then the problem is not a lack of law but a notable and palpable lack of enforcement. If the police are either unable or unwilling to enforce the laws that already exist then why does Mr.Watson or anybody else assume that they will suddenly spring into action to enforce new ones? The problem is not that the state has ‘come down hard on misuse’ but, rather, that the state’s agents clearly cannot be bothered to ‘come down’ to any measurable degree at all.

I therefore predict that the new regime of which Mr.Watson is so proud will make not a jot of difference. The thugs who terrorise their elderly neighbours with firecrackers will simply carry on regardless and that will cause a whole new round of hand-wringing and cries of ‘something must be done’. Sadly, it will add impetus to the already vocal lobby demanding the nationalisation of fireworks or their outright prohibition. As with firearms, rather than bring the full force of the law to bear on those who misuse, it is easier to simply abolish all use. This is another ‘thin end of the wedge’. Not because it achieves the desired objective but because it won’t.

To be fair to Mr.Watson he is far from alone in believing that he has struck a blow for the little guy. It is axiomatic in Britain today that lawlessness can only be cured by passing more laws. It is not so much a policy as an article of faith. Indeed, there is an air of ‘moral crusade’ in the zeal of Mr.Watson and his supporters.

There can be little argument that anti-social behaviour and malevolence can and does cause fear and anguish but the way to curb it is to punish it and punish it hard. The pusillanimous alternative of trying to cram the whole polity into a legislative straightjacket enables politicians like Mr.Watson to bask in the warm glow of self-righteousness but leaves law-abiding people still at the mercy of the obnoxious hoodlums who do not give a damn.

10 comments to A damp squib

  • Yes, it’s just another example of the ban cycle. Another is the current suggestions of a ban on:

    the manufacture, sale, transfer and importation of all imitation weapons which can cause a dilemma for police who do not know whether a firearm is real or not.

    The new anti-social behaviour bill already includes law which makes it an offence to have an imitation gun in a public place without good reason. There are many others. Yet these laws are seen as failing so they think the answer hides somewhere in new ones.

    Iain Murray once said something along the lines of
    The weight of evidence would suggest it is the likelyhood of capture and punishment that has most affect on the level of crime rather than the number of laws that exist and I agree with him.

  • Alan

    This is no different from the laws brought in a few years back to ban the ownership of “dangerous dogs”. The idea was to reduce the number of people attacked and injured by dogs. I’ve been too lazy to Google but I bet that the number of dog attacks has not decreased one jot. If numbers have dropped I bet it isn’t significant.

    New restrictions / laws on fireworks aren’t going to work. The authorities can’t (or won’t) enforce the current legislation.

    Useless laws for bugger all results.

  • Rob

    Governments love to *appear* to be Doing Something About It, don’t they? It’s an easy and cynical way of getting good press. It’s extremely tiresome, but I can’t help wondering how much worse it would be if they *actually* Did Something About It.

  • EU Delenda Est

    Tom Watson’s website has a place to click for Contact. I sent him an email saying we don’t need more laws; we just need the police to understand the meaning of the words “law enforcement”.

  • Yeah, prohibition has worked so well in combating armed violence in the U.K., hasn’t it?

    Like with guns, I happen to agree with some kind of reasonable restrictions on fireworks — as David says, they’re explosive devices after all.

    But as long as the police do nothing, it’s all for nought, and just another useless law.

    One thought which hasn’t been mentioned is this: if kids are the problems, where are their parents?

    If I’d been caught letting off Big Bangs outside a neighbor’s house, the proper remedy would have been to march me over to my house, where my Dad’s wrath would have been spectacular, and painful.

    Of course, this was back in the days right after the discovery of fire, before children could sue their own parents for assault…

  • tom

    Fireworks are currently regulated by the Expolsives Act of 1875. I won’t bore everyone with the detail but you will not be surprised to know that it is somewhat out of date. Once a retailer is given an explosives license to sell fireworks it can not be revoked for example. The new Act will allow a licensing system that can respond to the demands of local communities (ie allow the fire service to prohibit the sale of fireworks by unscrupulous retailers). It also allows tighter regulation of category four fireworks (the big ones). Your readers might be surprised to know that there has never been a legal limit for the noise level a firework explosion makes. They may also have realised that some fireworks are much louder than the kind that were available ten years ago. Most of the 300,000 subjects of the Queen who live in Sandwell have been shaken out of their beds in the early hours of the morning for over a month. Obviously making it an offence to set off fireworks late at night will not stop this happening completely. Your suggestion that enforcement will be inadequate might be correct. But it is my observation that most people obey the law. If there is an 11pm time limit, most people will finish their pyrotechnics at 10.55pm. The Act will also allow the fire service to require a basic level of safety training for those people who organise public firework displays. All good practical solutions.

  • Tom,

    Thank you for your further comments but they do not appear to have addressed my main complaint which has to do with the manufacturing of more laws when existing laws are not enforced?

    In common with most other modern lawmakers, the focus of your obsession is on what is available to who and what times and under what circumstances. But that is all irrelevant. What matters is how fireworks are used not who uses them.

    If fireworks are being used by anyone in such a way as to cause a nuisance or a threat to property or person than we have long-established common laws and statutory provisions under which the police can and should act.

    May I suggest that your parliamentary time would be more gainfully employed if you were to inquire as to why this is not happening.

  • Teresa Kulkarni

    Restrict fireworks to licensed displays only, I am not the only one who believes that this is the only way to put an end to this dreaded extended firework season and all the misuse and abuse of fireworks, so do the 92,835 people who signed my petition calling for this, I presented this petition at 10 Downing Street on 8th July 2003.

    We have suffered with Fireworks and their misuse since last September 2002. A disabled gentleman in Norwich had a firework put down the back of his wheelchair he suffered burns and it damaged the wheelchair March 2003. Disable lady had firework thrown at her while walking her dog, the dog suffered brain damage and had to be put down March 2003.
    Fireworks caused fire heathlands in Eccles Aug 2003. Gerbil tired to rocket and exploded Oct 2003. To name but a few.

    These are just the incidents that reach the papers, we have also had fireworks let of in public places aimed at cars and people, this is happening all over the country, in Merseyside 29 telephone kiosks 33 cars 17 buildings and 8 post boxes have been damaged or blown up by fireworks, they are using anything from garden fireworks, modified garden fireworks to illegal black market fireworks, some of these fireworks contain 70g of flash powder compared to an army thunder flash which only has 4 to 12g of flash powder, so why are we selling these lethal weapons to the public?

    Only a few days ago rockets went through the roofs of two homes in the Huddersfield area one of the rockets landed in a babies cot, 5 minutes later and he would have been in the cot.
    All of this misuse beside being frightening, very dangerous and life threatening, it is stopping our police and firebirgade from dealing with all real emergencies, this is also costing us the tax payers a lot of money, the replacement of public property, call out of the emergencies services, I have been told that it cost around £300 every time the firebrigade is called out, NHS treatment and TV and poster advertising.

    All of this misuse is already illegal, so why the Government thinks that brining in more unenforceable laws is going to make any difference I will never known, this new firework bill is only an enabling bill with limited powers to restrict certain types of fireworks, this bill does NOT give the Government the power to regulate or restrict garden fireworks, they are talking about restricting the noise level of private fireworks to 120 db and display fireworks can be 130db plus, 85 db can damage human hearing.

    Then we have the curfew no fireworks between 11pm to 7am, how and how is going to enforce this ? This still leaves 16 hours of the day that we can legally be bombarded with fireworks. they are still saying that the public will be able to buy fireworks throughout the year for weddings, birthdays etc, but they keep saying that they are going to limit the sale of fireworks to three weeks before Nov 5th and a few days after and again for new years eve, how is this possible if they are going to allow you to buy fireworks all year round to celebrate every other occasion.

    We have to keep the pressure on the Government to make sure that they do change the firework laws and that these changes protect us, our animals and our property, not just their revenue and the firework industry’s profits.

    I have started a new petition asking the Government to amend the firework bill, to restrict fireworks to licensed displays only at fixed times, to reduce the noise levels of all fireworks, anyone wanting petition forms or to add their names write to Teresa Kulkarni 1, Methuen Avenue, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE30 4BN or download forms from website: http://freespace.virgin.net/nicholas.k

    Yours Sincerely

    Teresa Kulkarni
    1, Methuen Avenue, King’s Lynn, Norfolk PE30 4BN Tel: 01553 775461

  • keane Beamish

    I’ve never been woken up by a firework, yet I’ve lost many a good nights sleep from motorcycles. So should the government put a decibel limit on them, or ban them alltogether? All the government needs to do is set up a liscensing system for amateur/semi-professionals (look at New Zealand) and stop sale in newsagents! – as this is the cause of ALL your problems. Believe me, the people buying display fireworks from reputable businesses are different from the thugs buying them from newsagents! (I have witnessed many fireworks including illegal bangers being sold to children about 13-15 years old) It seems so simple to me – how do you screen potential mis-users if there is no liscensing system and they are available from ASDA, or the local corner shop? eh? think about it!

  • Jomo Kenyata

    Since the Blair government came to power, there has been one knee-jerk ban after another, starting with the post-Dunblane ban on handguns. This did absolutely no good whatsoever and indeed, gun crime subsequently went through the roof when the IRA started dumping weapons onto the open market. So legitimate handgun ownership was not to blame after all. Ho hum, more popular votes gained in Nanny Britain.

    And it is the same with fireworks. Whilst the recent increase in the purchasing age is a good thing, this does little to stop the real trouble-makers abusing fireworks. The real problem is not fireworks, it is trouble-making cretins. If there were fewer of those, then the rest of us could enjoy what few scraps of pleasure the EU and their lackeys, the Blair government, leaves us. But will they introduce proper discipline in schools? Will they get rid of stupid politically correct Policing policies? Will they dismantle the absurd Human Rights claims culture. No! No, they want compliant and unthinking idiots who will go on electing them ad infinitum, so they’ll keep right on. And meanwhile, we pay.

    So, sure, let’s ban all the bloody fireworks and guns, and bonfires, and fruit knives, and non-standard teddy bears, and small parts that a three-year old might choke on, and while we’re about it why don’t we just throw the towel in and abandon any joy or pleasure in life as well? Because our leaders are not interested in turning out good, well-balanced citizens who know how to behave, and can be trusted with things like fireworks. They want to protect and uphold our right to produce children out of wedlock. They want to “empower” and “understand” people who deserve neither. They want to create a lowest-common-denominator society of modern thinkalike clones for whom the greatest tingle of excitement will be watching an EU licenced, UN-approved Supervisor lighting a small sparkler three hundred yards away, preferably whilst the audience wears kevlar.

    For this, and a whole host of other reasons, I am leaving Britain for good. I am going to country where you are trusted to fire a weapon without killing someone, and where you can have fireworks, and God forbid it, even some fuse to light them with.

    Nope, it’s not America!

    I wish anyone who cares to stay in EuroBritain and tolerate this nonsense, the very best of luck.