Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:02 pm on 16th October 2020.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 12:02 pm, 16th October 2020

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.

First, as hon. Members will hopefully recognise, I am not my hon. Friend Ms Dorries. I know that she would very much have wished to be here today, given her work with my hon. Friend Laura Trott on her Bill. She has asked me to say that, as a close contact with someone who has tested positive for covid, she is, as always, doing the right thing and staying away from the House.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks for her efforts in bringing forward this Bill today. I know that my hon. Friend, who is the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, has had many positive conversations with her about this issue.

I recognise, given the amount of time that we have been spending opposite each other in debates in recent days, that the shadow Minister, Justin Madders, has picked up on some points that I was already going to pick up on—I suspect that that comes as no surprise. He is right to highlight that this is an issue that unites the House, regardless of party. It is important that I join him in paying tribute to the hon. Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and indeed to Mr Jones, who has also taken a big interest in this issue. I also pay tribute to very powerful campaign of The Sun.

Turning to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks, I know her well and I have known her since before she was a Member of this House. She is always eloquent and effective in her campaigning, and she truly cares about these issues, so it is a privilege to speak in this debate. I also know, from her campaigning, her determination to achieve results and that she always does so. With that in mind, it is a pleasure and, indeed, a relief that, on behalf of the Government, I can offer my wholehearted support for the introduction of an age restriction for cosmetic procedures, and I hope that this Bill—this very important Bill—will receive the wholehearted support of the House.

Let us be clear, this is an ever-expanding multimillion-pound industry and there is more work to be done to ensure that it operates safely. In recent years, there has been a huge rise in the number of people seeking botox and fillers, which has led to an equally large rise in the number of people offering such treatment. The physical and psychological implications of cosmetic procedures are not to be underestimated and need careful consideration. The Bill rightly focuses on protecting young people from receiving botox and fillers until they are able to fully weigh those implications, and I support those aims.

The growth of the cosmetics industry is well documented, and we have seen a fundamental shift in attitudes to cosmetic interventions. It is important to acknowledge the economic and wellbeing contributions of the broader beauty and aesthetics industry. The value of the non-surgical cosmetic interventions market is predicted to rise to over £3.6 billion in the UK by 2021. People have the right to choose what to do to their own bodies, but it is vital that the regulatory framework around the cosmetics industry enables consumers, particularly vulnerable consumers, to make an informed and safe choice.

As my hon. Friend set out, children are currently able to access invasive cosmetic procedures on the commercial market without any requirement for a medical or psychological assessment. Understandably, that has come as something of a surprise to many Members who recognise that they perhaps assumed it was illegal already. I think that my hon. Friends the Members for Wantage (David Johnston), for Newbury (Laura Farris) and for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) alluded to that. There are many reputable and experienced practitioners working in the sector, and this is not an attack on them, but that is by no means universally the case.

It is vital that young people are protected from practitioners who provide botox or fillers for a young person where there is no clinical need on purely aesthetic grounds. We are in danger of mistakenly thinking that having a cosmetic procedure is as straightforward as going to the hairdressers, whereas in reality, as we have heard today, the risks associated with such procedures going wrong are serious and long lasting.

Those risks were set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Dr Evans), my constituency neighbour, drawing on his extensive medical experience. My Department has been working to identify where improvements could be made and regulations strengthened to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable consumers. My hon. Friend’s Bill has identified an important area where the safeguards can and should be improved now. My Department is also considering whether further protections should be put in place.

I will make a couple of further points, Madam Deputy Speaker, before drawing my remarks to a close. This is not about making judgments. Young people, as we have heard, are bombarded every day with filtered selfies on social media, influencers and celebrities selling a glamorous lifestyle, which, they suggest, depends on the way someone looks. It is a dangerous and misleading prospectus.

We have heard from many Members today. My hon. Friend Suzanne Webb made her point very powerfully. It is always a pleasure to hear from Ms Brown, who rightly made a typically powerful intervention. She talked about the need for positivity and recognising that everyone is beautiful as they are and the importance of that attitude. The pressure on young people around body image is immense. That is something I saw in my work on eating disorders before becoming a Minister, working with the amazing charity Beat, to which I pay tribute.

The increased accessibility and affordability of cosmetic treatments, alongside that pressure on young people to look a certain way, has perhaps led to a sense of the normalisation of procedures. Our role in government is to support young people in making safe and informed choices and, where necessary, to protect them from the potential harm that procedures can do to their health. We currently place the responsibility to make a considered decision about something seemingly commonplace, but which could have serious consequences for their health, on very young shoulders at a time of physical and emotional development. There are already statutory age restrictions in place for tattooing, teeth whitening and sunbed use, and it makes little sense that there are no similar protections for invasive injectable cosmetic procedures. Alongside the Bill, my Department is exploring a range of options for increased oversight of practitioners, including a system of registration or licensing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks, as I alluded to earlier, highlighted the potential health risks of the procedures covered by the Bill. I will not repeat them, but it is safe to say that I agree with her assessment of which products should be covered by age restrictions. The proposals in the Bill will ensure that the procedures for under-18s are placed firmly within a clinical framework. They permit the procedures to continue under the directions of a doctor and to be administered within a regulated environment for medical purposes.

This Bill is the right thing to do. It represents an important and real step forward, and once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks on her important and impressive work and offer the Government’s full support to the Bill.