Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:01 pm on 29th January 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 12:01 pm, 29th January 2010

I do not disagree with that. I merely highlight the salami-slicer effect of legislation in this place. People who have agendas further down the line use measures such as the Bill as a Trojan horse, which enables them to pursue their other agenda later. Sometimes lines in the sand need to be drawn. I always took the view that I was not elected to Parliament to ban everyone else in the country from doing everything that I do not happen to like. I thought that my duty was to preserve people's individual freedoms. In my short time in the House, I have learned that some hon. Members believe that they come to Parliament to do nothing but ban people from doing everything that they do not happen to like. I want to try to prevent that erosion of our freedoms.

Hon. Members, particularly on one side of the House, are good at trying to ban people from doing things. I object to that nanny-state approach, whereby we have to impose our views and beliefs on everybody else in the country and are not prepared to let people make up their own minds. I do not believe that Parliament should operate in that way. I would like to think that, as well as trying to protect children, which is a perfectly worthy aim for Members of Parliament, we consider protecting people's freedoms a worthy aim. I regret that that does not happen as often as I would like. The question is whether or not an outright ban is the way to go, but it appears to be the first option.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North said, quite rightly, that we have tried a voluntary code. There are many decent sunbed operators who do not try to breach the code. They behave extremely responsibly, and there is no particular problem with their operations. We ought to put on record the fact that there are many responsible outlets that do a very good job of protecting children. I would not want us to run away with the idea that this is, in total, an irresponsible industry, because that is not the case. The question is therefore whether or not we ought to adopt the measures in the Bill.

The hon. Lady claims that the voluntary code has not worked. Whether or not that is the case, it has not worked to the extent that she would like. When there is a disagreement, and someone wants to use their artillery to try to make their case, the first weapon of choice should not be the nuclear option. It seems to me that the nuclear weapon in all these debates is a ban. I am slightly nervous about the fact that after the voluntary code, the next weapon that we take from our artillery is the nuclear option of a ban. I wonder whether other measures could be used to do the job that the hon. Lady is seeking to do, without banning under-18s from using sunbeds.

I shall come on to discuss the ban. The hon. Lady did not mention it, but it extends beyond a ban on under-18s using sunbeds to children being banned from being in a room in which there is a sunbed. Other measures could have been tried first, such as the one that I mentioned in my intervention. Some 29 American states that recognise the problems caused by sunbed use and want to protect children have introduced a system to tackle the problem. In three states, there are provisions on sunbed use for under-16s; in other states, there is a ban for under-15s; and in others, there is a ban for under-18s. In all cases, people under the stipulated age require parental permission before they can use a sunbed. As a first stage in the process, trying a system of parental permission might be more appropriate. If we reach the stage at which parental permission is still not doing the job that the hon. Lady wants or that cancer charities think necessary, we can revisit the issue.

I am slightly nervous about going straight for an outright ban. We need to consider the wider picture, which is why I have mentioned parental permission. On so many issues, we send out the wrong message to parents. The premise appears to be-I am sure that many hon. Members disagree with me and will seek to correct me-that the problem with parental permission is that some parents are totally irresponsible, so we have to protect their children. That argument is used to explain why we do not allow parents responsibility on other issues, but I think it is extremely dangerous to go down that route. It instils a culture in which we say to parents, "It doesn't matter what you do. It doesn't matter how you bring up your children or whether you take responsibility for this, that or the other. If you don't do it, the state will do it for you." We have seen in recent years how dangerous that route is.

Surely all hon. Members want parents to take responsibility for their children. The only way in which we can make parents take such responsibility is to give them that responsibility. Rather than saying to parents, "It doesn't matter what you do, the state will deal with it for you," it would be far better for this country in the long term if we said to parents, "Being a parent is a very very responsible thing. There are certain things that you are responsible for that the state is not going to do on your behalf. You must take responsibility for your own children, because if you don't, no one else will." Society would be far better if parents knew that being a parent involved responsibility, that they could not farm out their responsibilities to all and sundry, and that they had to take those responsibilities for themselves.

My fear is that the Bill is yet another nail in the coffin of parental responsibility, where the state decides that it does not really matter what parents think or do, because it will take over the running of their children's lives. Whatever the merits of the measure, I worry about the long-term consequences of such an attitude towards public policy on children. As we have seen in recent weeks, there are many cases where we despair at parents' lack of responsibility, but taking more responsibility away does not help to address that.

I ask the hon. Lady to think again about some of the measures in the Bill. I have no doubt that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and go into Committee, but some parts of it are somewhat excessive. Clause 2, on the duty to prevent sunbed use by children, prevents their entering a "restricted zone". I am sure that the hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong, but it seems that the Bill not only prevents under-18s from using sunbeds, but does not allow them to be in the same room as a sunbed. If the sunbed is in a big area rather than a private room, the restricted zone becomes the whole area.

That is my understanding of the measure. Whatever the merits of banning under-18s from using sunbeds, it seems a bit over the top for a whole host of reasons to ban people even from being in a room where there is a sunbed. If a sunbed is in a big, wide open space, other things might be going on at the same time. For argument's sake, let us say that fitness gadgets are available for people to use in the same room. I often hear Members on both sides of the House lecturing people on how they should do more exercise and saying what a shocking problem obesity is in this country. It would be perverse, when we are supposed to be dealing with the problem of obesity, if a Bill that is supposed to stop children using sunbeds ended up preventing them from using exercise bikes or other fitness equipment. I wonder what on earth we are doing. I would like to think that, on reflection, hon. Members would agree that that is slightly perverse and probably somewhat excessive.

As we have said, adults can make up their own minds about whether they wish to take the risk of using a sunbed. A parent may decide to use a sunbed while they are looking after their young children. The best way for a parent to know that a child is safe is for the child to be sitting in the same room while the sunbed is being used, rather than the child being carted off somewhere else. So why would we want to ban children from being in the same room as a sunbed? If parents wish to use a sunbed, it is understandable that they may wish to have their children close by. In Committee-I fully expect the Bill to make it into Committee-I hope that the hon. Lady will look again at some of these points. I hope that on reflection she will accept that some aspects of the Bill are excessive and might have some perverse outcomes.

The Bill also includes penalties. The punishment for failing to comply with its requirements is a fine of up to £20,000, which seems excessive to me. However, I seek the hon. Lady's guidance on an apparent contradiction. On the one hand, the Bill suggests that it does not matter if the offender intended for the under-18 to use or be in the same room as a sunbed or took steps to prevent that from happening, because he or she would still be guilty under the provisions of the Bill. On the other hand, the Bill also appears to include a due diligence defence. If someone takes steps to prevent something from happening, they have a due diligence defence, so I do not understand that. I shall give the hon. Lady an example to try to illustrate my point.

I used to work in retail, which has many age restrictions connected with the sale of goods. For example, alcohol may not be sold to under-18s. If a retailer is charged with selling alcohol to someone aged under 18, they have a due diligence defence if, for example, they can produce training material that shows they train their staff not to do that and refresh that training each year. In that case, the retailer can argue that they took all reasonable steps to prevent alcohol from being sold to an under-age customer. That is only fair, if the retailer has done everything possible to stop such sales.

I hope the hon. Lady will clarify the due diligence defence and confirm that if the owner of a salon could demonstrate that they had taken all possible precautions to prevent an under-18 from using a sunbed, but they still had, it would qualify as a due diligence defence under the Bill. It is important to try to help responsible operators who are trying to do their best, instead of lumping them in with those who are not taking reasonable steps. The first part of the Bill, which says that it does not really matter whether anybody takes any steps to prevent the offence from taking place, is not particularly helpful. I hope that on reflection she will introduce measures in the Bill to clarify that those operators who do everything possible to prevent under-18s from using sunbeds will be protected and ensure that her fire, so to speak, is directed against those retailers whom she might consider to be more irresponsible.

It is important to point out that the hon. Lady includes an exemption from the requirements in the Bill for those who use sunbeds for medical treatment. That is a useful and sensible provision because, as she rightly recognises, some people are encouraged to use a sunbed on occasions, for their skin complaints or whatever it might be. It would have been perverse if the Bill had prevented sunbeds from being used for legitimate medical purposes if a doctor had encouraged such behaviour.

I want to run through some of the research, because that will help to determine whether the measures in the Bill are proportionate. However, we perhaps lack strong recent research-proper, independent research-into the extent of the problem. That includes research not just on how many people use sunbeds-the hon. Lady went through the figures for that-but on the nature of their use, how long people tend to use them for, how many times a year they use them, whether they use them at home or in salons, and people's patterns of use. At this stage it seems that we lack strong, independent research on those issues.

In 1995, the Health Education Authority published the results of a survey of suntanning and sunbed use, which was commissioned by the Department of Health. Based on the results of that survey, and using the British Photodermatology Group's recommendation that people have

"not more than 20 sessions per year of up to 30 minutes for each session", that research concluded that

"people were putting themselves at risk by using sunbeds too often and for too long," and that

"the public needed more information about the risks of using sunbeds."

The reason I mention that is that one of the Members on the Government Benches-it might have been Caroline Flint, but it might not; she will no doubt correct me if it was not her-mentioned evidence that some salons are still advertising the health benefits of using sunbeds, which is irresponsible. [ Interruption. ] It was not the right hon. Lady who said that; I do apologise.

On the proportionality of the Bill, Sarah Teather mentioned the analogy with smoking. I just wonder whether requirements for health warnings would be a better first step, along with making parental responsibility part of the solution. Before we resort to the nuclear option of introducing an outright ban, part of the solution might be to ensure that sunbed operators do not market their products in such an irresponsible way, but have to give clear warnings to people about the dangers of sunbed use, which under-18s would be able to read just as easily as adults. If such irresponsible marketing is being used, we have an opportunity to make a big difference with the messages that we give to people before they use sunbeds. We could have regulations about the size and nature of the warnings, for example, just as we do with the warnings on cigarettes. I therefore ask people to consider whether other steps could be taken before we impose an outright ban.

Other research into the use of sunbeds was carried out in 1996 by the Sunbed Association. Obviously, that was some years ago, so I am not sure whether the figures are still relevant. However, it is the best information that I have. If other Members have more up-to-date research, perhaps they will be able to catch your eye later, Madam Deputy Speaker, and give us the benefit of it. At that time, there was a great interest in getting a tan, with 51 per cent. of respondents saying that they had either used a sunbed or intended to do so. Only 7 per cent. of respondents had used one during the previous 12 months, however. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North made the valid point that this is not an issue only for women. They are the majority users of sunbeds, but by no means the only ones. The research found that 9 per cent. of women and 5 per cent. of men-giving an average of 7 per cent. of the population as a whole-had used a sunbed in the previous 12 months.

It was interesting to discover why people felt that using a sunbed would be of benefit to them. The irony is that the word "healthier" appeared in many people's responses to that question. The research found that 58 per cent. were using a sunbed because they wanted to look healthier, and that 34 per cent. were doing so because they wanted to feel healthier. They felt that using a sunbed would help them to achieve those things. There is a slight irony in that.

Some important facts about the extent of the problem need to be borne in mind, and we need to ask how far the Bill will go towards solving it. The vast majority-89 per cent.-of local authority or private sector sunbed users had fewer than 20 sessions a year, and about half had only 10 sessions or fewer per year. I would venture to suggest, therefore, that the extent of sunbed use is not so great that we should impose an outright ban for under-18s.

Crucially, the research found that, while 89 per cent. of local authority and private sector users took fewer than 20 sessions a year, only 71 per cent. of people with a sunbed at home took fewer than 20 sessions a year. That brings me to a potential flaw in the Bill, because it makes no provision for sunbed use in people's own homes. I wonder whether it might create a perverse incentive, in that people who were no longer permitted to use a tanning shop or even be on the premises might persuade their parents to get a sunbed at home instead. The research shows that sunbed use is much more dangerous for those with a sunbed at home, because it is there and it has already been paid for so they can use it whenever they want to, rather than having to make an effort to go out and pay to use one each time. Has any assessment been made of the likely effect of a ban on the use of sunbeds at home? We might, despite having the best of intentions, be letting the genie out of the bottle and making the problem worse.

The research also found that 85 per cent. of all users took sessions of 30 minutes or less, and that 95 per cent. did not exceed the European standard that pertained at the time, so it would be dangerous to run away with the idea that many people are using sunbeds for hugely excessive time periods. By definition, some people will be doing so, but I wonder about the extent of such use. Thus, I wonder, again, whether the Bill is proportionate in dealing with the particular problem.

Crucial to this research was the issue of where people use sunbeds. I accept that the figures I am using are out of date, but I am not sure whether more up-to-date figures from independent research exist.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website