Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:13 pm on 29th January 2010.

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Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health) 1:13 pm, 29th January 2010

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I would go further. Not only are people under 18 unaware but many people over 18 are unaware of the negative side effects, both of using sunbeds and tanning salons and of staying in the natural sun for far too long without sufficient protection. We need much more easily understandable and accessible information, so that people can make informed decisions about what they want to do with their lives.

Significantly, the Sunbed Association is in favour of the Bill, but there is uncertainty about the number of sunbed outlets. It is estimated that there are 8,000, only one fifth of which are registered with the association. The vast majority are therefore outwith the existing regulatory structure. It would be helpful if the Minister explained either today or perhaps at a later stage what estimate her Department has made of the number of sunbed premises in the country, and whether there is any research on prices and the cost of using sunbeds. Caroline Flint made the point that a session can cost as little as 15p; the cheapest session that I have come across costs 40p, which is peanuts.

The existing voluntary regulatory structure has not worked, and there is a much bigger agenda to tackle. I am not going to be deflected into discussing it, but we must find ways of reducing the incidence of cancer and of improving five-year cancer survival rates in the UK which, the whole House will know, are extremely poor compared with survival rates in other EU countries. We could do so by increasing and ring-fencing the public health budget at the Department of Health, and by providing much greater access to information. There is a strong argument for that, as there is a causal link in pockets of socio-economic deprivation to growing health inequalities, which is why we have said that we need to increase the resources going into those areas and why we have introduced our patient premium.

We in this House should not introduce legislation lightly, but the Bill is moving in the right direction. We need to support informed choice. I am as disappointed as other hon. Members that voluntary regulation of the sunbed industry has proved ineffective, so the Bill is a necessary step.

The key to the success of any such measure is enforcement, evaluation and monitoring. There is already too much duplication in evaluation and monitoring in national health service structures, and I notice from the impact assessment that the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency will both be responsible for collecting data and pulling the assessment together. It would be much better to have one or the other-I would opt for the HPA. Perhaps as the Bill progresses, we need to look at that detail.

There is a slightly quixotic reference in the impact assessment-on page 14, for the Minister's officials-to pilot projects. I wonder what pilot projects there could be for an outright ban on the use of sunbeds by those aged under 18.

Another issue that needs to be thought about as the Bill progresses, which I hope it will, is whether 18 is the correct age. Are we saying that people who are 16 and 17 do not have the ability to make informed choices, or is there specific clinical evidence of a problem with their going on to get melanoma and other skin problems? I have looked for that research and not found it, but it would be helpful to know whether it exists.

I strongly agree with clause 5, which requires sunbed businesses to display information about the health risks of sunbed use. However, it would be interesting to know much more about that information: who will be responsible for it and will it emanate from the Department? Should that not be in the Bill rather than in subsequent regulations, despite the Secretary of State's assurances that they would follow quickly? I would like GPs and pharmacists also to have a role in disseminating that key information, as well as it being on premises where there are sunbeds.

Clearly, the objectives of the Bill are to protect young people from harmful effects of sunbed use and to raise their awareness, but there is concern about the equipment that is currently used in many tanning salons in the UK. The Minister will be aware that in 2007 the Government signed up to an EU declaration on the erythemally weighted irradiance level of tubes in sunbeds. As a consequence, all new sunbeds must comply with that limit, but the Government have failed, first, to implement their commitment to ensure that all existing equipment complies with the regulation, and, secondly, to set a time scale for its implementation.

The directive has already been implemented elsewhere in the EU-Austria, for example, has done so completely, and Denmark and Germany almost completely. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister explained where that has got to. Clearly, it is potentially significantly more damaging for UV output levels to be higher than those of the midday Mediterranean sun, which is why the regulation was introduced. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North and the Minister need to consider amending the Bill to ensure that sunbeds comply with the EU directive, which was supposed to be in operation from 1 April 2009. Alternatively, there should as a minimum be a commitment in the Bill to a time scale for compliance. For the edification of hon. Members, I confirm that the directive is not aimed solely at new sunbeds. It is also retrospective, so all existing sunbeds have to comply.

The explanatory notes and impact assessment refer to the costs of the Bill, relating to the authorised officer and the enforcement capacity. That seems sensible, but the total cost-supposedly-of these additional responsibilities for every single local authority in England and Wales is assessed at only £100,000. I find that very hard to believe, and we need a much more accurate assessment of the additional responsibilities and costs for local authorities, especially given the deteriorating macro-economic situation and fiscal deficit. Whoever is in power after the next election, that situation will have to be rectified.

The hon. Members for Cardiff, North and for Swansea, East were right to raise the issue of coin-operated salons, and I share their concern. That is not an acceptable approach. I understand from those in the industry that the Department of Health has been reluctant to discuss the impact of the Bill with those in that sector of the sunbed market. It would be helpful to know whether any research has been done or calculation made about what proportion of a sunbed salon's revenues is generated by under-18s and therefore what impact the Bill would have on the industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned the possible displacement impact, encouraging people to have sunbed treatments at home in unregulated conditions, rather than in salons, and that point needs to be considered. I am supportive of the medical purposes exception highlighted in the Bill, but I would like to know whether the Minister thinks that that will have to be achieved by prescription or just on a nod and a wink from a GP or other clinician.

There is legislation relating to sunbeds in other parts of the world-in the US, as we have heard, and in parts of Europe and Australasia-and we need to know what lessons can be learned from that. Has the legislation made a difference? What contact has the Department had with health departments in those countries to ensure that the Bill has the maximum impact?

We think that this legislation is going in the right direction. We will support the Bill, but some key issues remain to be addressed, which I hope will come out in Committee.

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