Clause 2

Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 10 February 2010.

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Duty to prevent sunbed use by children

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

This is the main clause. It states that businesses that offer sunbeds for use on their premises would have to ensure that no one under 18 uses a sunbed or is offered the use of one. Failure to carry out that duty would be a criminal offence. An offence would still be committed if an offer was made to an 18-year-old, even if it was not taken up because the person changed their mind. The clause is crucial.

Let me mention the evidence and say why we are discussing the Bill. The hon. Member for Worthing, West has already mentioned some of the medical background. There is clear evidence of a link between sunbed use and an increased risk of developing skin cancer that is widely accepted. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has upgraded its assessment of sunbeds to its highest level of cancer risk following the publication of a comprehensive meta-analysis in The Lancet Oncology that concluded:

“The risk of skin melanoma is increased by 75% when use of tanning devices starts before 30 years of age.”

That is a crucial comment. It means that sunbeds are now in the same risk category as tobacco.

The scientific evidence is clear: young skin is more vulnerable to harm from ultra-violet radiation. Restricting under-18s from using sunbeds is proportionate, based first on the science evidence and, secondly, on practical considerations. Under-18s are not allowed to buy alcohol or cigarettes, so the Bill would bring the age at which people are able to use commercial sunbeds in line with other age restrictions across the UK. I believe this to be practicable and workable, and it will ensure clarity of messages. That is the medical reason for the Bill.

The clause states that under-18s should not have access to a “restricted zone”, which is defined in the clause. If an under-18 went into a private area with an over-18, it would not be possible to know which person had used the sunbed. If a parent is accompanied by a child, the parent would be expected to make alternative arrangements for the child to be cared for and not to let the child be exposed potentially to UV radiation. That is the reason for restricting access to a specific area.

If a sunbed is in a room with no private area around the sunbed, which seems unlikely, the whole room would be a restricted area. In such circumstances, the owners would naturally be expected to put a screen around the sunbed. The purpose of this provision is to cut down the opportunity for under-18s to use sunbeds. There was some debate on Second Reading about that matter.

The definition of a restricted zone was raised by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I reiterate that it would be highly unusual for there to be no private space close to a sunbed. In practice, that would mean that a sunbed user would have to get undressed in a room with no private space or dressing area. In the unlikely event that such premises exist—Committee members may know of such premises—it would be quick, easy and cheap to rectify the situation. A sunbed operator could create a private space by enclosing an area: that could be done with a simple screen or even a curtain. Alternatively, they would need to ensure that under-18s did not enter the restricted zone. It is important that we cover those issues, because there was concern about them on Second Reading. The purpose of this sensible, practical proposal is to try to stop under-18s getting access to sunbeds.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned on Second Reading the issue of the defence that could be used by a sunbed operator. He was concerned that a sunbed operator could be charged with an offence even if they had taken all reasonable precautions to stop an under-18 using a sunbed. I sought clarification from legal advisers on  that point, as clearly we would not want operators to be charged if they had taken such precautions; that would be grossly unfair. I know that the issue caused hon. Members concern on Second Reading. I have been reassured that, in practice, no operator would be charged if they had taken reasonable precautions to stop under-18s using sunbeds, as they would have a suitable defence. The Ministry of Justice recommended that the legislation be drafted in the way that it has been, but operators will have a defence against a charge if they took steps to stop under-18s using sunbeds. I am reassured on that point, and I hope that other hon. Members will be, too.

We know from research commissioned by Cancer Research UK in 2008-09 that in England, more than 250,000 children—that is 6 per cent. overall—have used sunbeds. I am sure that all members of the Committee will agree that that is a huge number of children who have been exposed to the danger that we are talking about. There are hot spots in England: sunbed use among 11 to 17-year-olds in Liverpool was 20 per cent., and worryingly, among 15 to 17-year-old girls in Liverpool and Sunderland it was 50 per cent. When I visited Liverpool recently, I was struck by the number of sunbed salons that I saw when walking around the city, so there are areas of the country where the issue is particularly acute.

The evidence demonstrates that young people are using sunbeds across the country, and there is evidence that this law is needed. Adults can make their own informed choices, but children are often enticed by cheap prices. At 25p a minute, we are dealing with pocket-money prices. The myth that a tan will protect them before they go out in the sun, or the idea that having a tan makes them look somehow better or healthier, is often strong in young people’s minds.

That point was made forcibly by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East, who, as the Minister said, has fought for such legislation for many years. My hon. Friend said that young people in her constituency perceive getting a tan as their little bit of glamour. Somehow, we have to move away from that perception. We need a lot more than legislation—we need to work very hard to change the perception. However, if we passed this law, we would be well on the way.

We in England and Wales are not alone in taking action on sunbeds. Specific legislation on sunbed use exists in Belgium, Finland, France, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her words so far. She is making a point about legislation in other European countries. We know that in European countries that have introduced such legislation, such as in France, it has made a difference. It has reduced not only under-18s’ access to sunbeds, but the number of melanomas and the number of young people suffering from skin cancer. That point was raised on Second Reading, and it is worth reiterating it now. The measure can make a difference. Legislation is a good thing, and it will help on this matter.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She certainly makes a powerful point about the success of similar legislation, particularly in France. The Irish Government have said that they want to introduce legislation on the issue, and I think that they  are consulting on that at the moment. In Scotland, as we know, action has already been taken to prohibit sunbed use among under-18s and the unsupervised use of sunbeds, and there is also a duty to display information. That legislation was implemented on 1 December 2009. To sum up on clause 2, this is a very important bit of legislation that is urgently needed to protect our young people.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health)

It was remiss of me, in my remarks on clause 1, not to mention the hon. Member for Swansea, East; I apologise for that, given her dedication and diligence in keeping the issue right at the forefront in Parliament, although, sadly, she did not succeed in getting a Bill on to the statute book. I know that she is extremely supportive of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, who has just spoken very eloquently about the kernel of the Bill, clause 2. I do not wish to repeat either what was said on Second Reading, or what other hon. Members have said. For me the clinical evidence is clear and supported by the EU scientific committee which recommended a ban on sunbed use by those under the age of 18 and WHO, which upgraded the link in relation to exposure to UV and skin cancer and other skin ailments.

I do not think there is a serious debate to be had about the clinical evidence in terms of the relationship between young people being exposed to ultra-violet and normal sunlight without sufficient protection and rates of melanoma and other skin diseases. There is a debate to be had about whether 18 is the right age, but I understand why the hon. Lady has opted for 18. There are also significant numbers of young people who are exposing themselves through sunbeds, which I do not think they should be doing, so I think the Bill is absolutely right.

Like the Minister, I have been to Clatterbridge, although I have not been there today. I was very struck by the excellence of the work being done there; it is at the forefront and the cutting edge of cancer treatment. The Minister was right that prevention and providing the relevant information to enable people to make informed lifestyle choices are critical if we are to reduce the rates of cancer in this country and improve our current poor performance on five-year cancer survival rates.

This is the kernel clause of the Bill and there are three specific generic issues that I should like to raise with your permission, Mr. Betts. They need to be considered and should perhaps be brought into the Bill or discussed in relation to the subsequent regulations. The first is one of the points that I made on Second Reading and concerns the equipment and the strength of the UV tubes that are used in some sunbeds. As the Minister and her officials will be aware, in 2007 the Government signed up to an EU directive on the erythemal weighted irradiance level of tubes within sunbeds. This has not been implemented in the UK. It has been implemented in other countries in Europe. The Government are supposed to be timetabling the implementation of this directive, but they have not yet done so. Why are the Government not prepared to add this to the Bill, as the Sunbed Association recommends, and when will this directive be implemented?

This is not just about making sure that people under the age of 18 are not exposed to UV, but that those who are over the age of 18 who make a positive decision to  go on a sunbed do so knowing that the sunbeds they are using are safe and regulated properly, which is not always the case. The second issue I should like to have clarified relates to the unmanned nature of some salons. There is some concern among those who are particularly interested, as all hon. Members here today are, but also some of the charitable and voluntary groups, which lobby so effectively in this area, that the Bill does not go far enough. It perhaps does not go far enough to ensure that there are qualified individuals who can inform those coming into the salons about the potential dangers, particularly of the overuse of sunbeds, as well as to ensure that the people who are excluded under the Bill do not use sunbeds. What is the logic for excluding that from the Bill at the moment?

The third issue on which I seek clarification is that in the impact assessment there seemed to be some confusion and duplication about who would be responsible for monitoring this Bill. Will it be the Department of Health or will it be the Health Protection Agency? In my view it needs to be one or the other, not both. There is already significant duplication within the NHS and one body needs to take responsibility for the monitoring of the enforcement of this Bill to ensure that it delivers what we all want to see.

I should like to go a little bit further than the hon. Member for Cardiff, North and ask about one aspect of the clause. Subsection (5) relates to the room in the relevant premises. There are occasions when a sunbed is in the same room as gymnasium equipment for example. It is clearly preferable, but it will not always be possible to screen off the sunbed. Does the Bill really say that if somebody is in that room using the gym equipment, the owner could be prosecuted even though that individual had gone nowhere near the sunbed? I am particularly concerned about that in relation to the way in which an enforcement officer discovers that a salon allows people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds. The enforcement is reactive rather than proactive, because someone has to tell an enforcement officer that a salon is breaking the law. I understand why the hon. Lady and the Minister have come to that conclusion. It is presumably a function of the cost, and it is particularly important to keep costs to a minimum in the current macro-economic climate. Whoever wins the next election, things will get worse regarding the constraints on public expenditure, but it is important to clarify as far as possible in Committee exactly what the hon. Lady and the Minister and her officials envisage for the enforcement of that inevitably grey area.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 5:00, 10 February 2010

The issues remain. We all have some concerns, which I trust will be addressed as the Bill passes through the Commons and the Lords and back to the Commons. Nevertheless, the Bill is well drafted. I will not insult its parents by being critical, or by suggesting that they simply took a document, because they are too judicious and competent to have done that. I cannot recall all the characters, but I remember the story of a President of the United States making a speech and somebody in the audience shouting, “Author, author”, when he sat down. I hope that those who had a hand in drafting the Bill are identified not for any reasons of admonition, but because the legislation is well drafted.

I shall not cause controversy by identifying anybody, but on Second Reading a number of criticisms were made. Although I thought that most of them were nonsense on stilts, they need to be addressed. One was: why should we busy-bodies interfere in the rights of parents? When it comes to people under the age of 18, it should be the parents who instil sufficient knowledge and awareness in their offspring to encourage them to desist from attending such institutions and running the risk of cancer. I agree with the general point that it should be parents who instil those values, but we all know that not all parents are as aware or as concerned as the ideal parent, parents or relatives. Many young people do not have that set of wise advice.

I received a letter from a distinguished dermatology professional who has been very much involved in the campaign outside Parliament. He told me that he could not control his kids. One of them worked in a salon and he did not know. She was clearly under age and she used the devices. Even a good parent—I do not speak as a parent—would not in this day and age have such control over their offspring as to ensure that they kept out of harm’s way by not going on a sunbed under age. There are some things the state has no right to do, but over the centuries, especially in the last century, Parliament has been prepared to interfere in some areas of private existence. If not a classic case, this is a substantial case in support of the state, if it has the evidence, doing that. Despite what we heard two weeks ago, there is overwhelming evidence of a clear link between sun-tanning, sun and the incidence of cancer. Not everything has been discovered, but there is more than enough evidence to convince any reasonable person, and even some unreasonable people, of the case for 18 as a limit. The case for the link between the two, as I mentioned earlier, is sufficiently overwhelming as to underpin any effort by hon. Members, the Executive and Parliament as a whole to step in and say that there must be a limit of 18.

Photo of Siân James Siân James Labour, Swansea East

One of the questions about the Bill that has come up on several occasions is what is happening in America. Apparently some states have a complete ban, and others have introduced parental consent, whereby the parent gives consent for their child to use the sunbed or accompanies their under-18 child to the sunbed salon.

The interesting thing about the research that has been undertaken in America is that the process is not working. I am not surprised by that. In three of the states where research was undertaken, 11 per cent. of salons were still allowing access to young people who did not have anybody with them or any form of parental consent. Seventy-seven per cent. were getting away with it in Wisconsin, and 80 per cent. in Illinois. States such as Virginia and Washington are introducing legislation to ban the use of sunbeds by young people under the age of 18 because parental consent does not work.

As my right hon. Friend said, we need a concentrated, co-ordinated approach. Parents do their best and try to explain the dangers to their children, but young people want to experiment. What we are seeing in America is that parental consent is important, but it does not work.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Labour, Sheffield, Attercliffe

For future reference, hon. Members should keep interventions brief. If they want to make a speech, I am sure that they will be able to catch my eye.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

I pay tribute to one of the most significant people—perhaps the most significant person—involved in this legislation. There has been good co-operation with our hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North to ensure that the Bill gets through as a result of luck in the raffle, which I said two weeks ago I never succeeded in defeating.

To cite the US is a waste of time. There are 50 states, and they are all different. I would have thought that Wisconsin, with its German traditions—I am not being disparaging in any way—would have been tough, whereas some states that one would have thought would not be tough are quite strong.

The evidence is there. I spent a couple of hours looking at different journals and counting the organisations—not just strong non-governmental organisations but international organisations and Governments—that saw the link and produced valid reports. Truly, there cannot be anyone who is not prepared to accept that the state has a right to indicate 18 as the legitimate age for sun-tanning treatment, and that it is important for the state to lay down standards for how regulation is to be implemented. Local authorities or national organisations must do their job properly. If they just make a perfunctory visit once a year, it will not be good enough. They must check, check and check. There are 8,000 salons around the country, and the research shows that they are largely concentrated in fairly poor areas, so it should not be too onerous for whichever Department or local authority body is responsible to go around and ensure that the standards laid down by the legislation are met.

I cannot imagine or calculate the cost—I am obliged to listen to what the Department says—but even if there is a cost and even it is more expensive than anticipated or calculated, the health of the population aged under 35, especially those aged up to 18, is sufficiently important not simply to pass legislation but also to say that if that legislation costs, it costs. I hope that the costs will be under control, because, as the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness said, we live in difficult times and we cannot squander resources, but I do not want to argue over a relatively small sum of money if the legislation has beneficial consequences. Only recently has there been an awareness of the issues.

I chair the all-party group on skin. I do not think that I need to declare an interest, as I have derived no financial benefit. I have suffered from psoriasis since I was a student, and I think I have almost singlehandedly sustained the skin problem profession because none of the treatments have worked, but maybe I am a bit of an aberration. The all-party group produced a report, but frequent attempts to influence the Department simply to talk to us about it have not yet been successful. I hope that things will change.

Our report, entitled “Skin cancer—improving prevention, treatment and care”, was published in November 2008. Looking at the expertise of those involved in the report, we can see that they are not a few people with vested interests expressing prejudices, but distinguished people from the highest ranks of the dermatology profession.  They are senior people from the British Association of Dermatologists, the Skin Care Campaign and the Primary Care Dermatology Society, principal lecturers in dermatological studies and consultant dermatologists in distinguished hospitals. That group, using all the expertise available, produced a report that made recommendations pretty close, if not identical, to those in this excellent legislation. It did not simply identify the figures, the incidents and the distinguished research undertaken, but put forward advice and recommendations that are largely what is in the Bill.

The case has been well made outside this place by distinguished people who are experts in their field, and everybody seems supportive. There is an opportunity for those who support the Bill, but have criticisms or issues that need to be clarified, to express their views, either now or at later stage, so that we can sustain our near unanimity to ensure that the Bill proceeds. Surely, we do not want a little coterie of individuals, who may have every right to do so, trying to mess things up at a later stage or people being lobbied strongly in this House or the House of Lords.

Even the respectable side of the sunbed business is supportive because the profession realises that the criticisms will not evaporate—they will be sustained. The number of people who stayed on last night at the end of proceedings, when they thought that someone would be difficult over the proposed legislation, was a clear example of overwhelming support. When I looked at the screen, I thought, “I must have slept all the way through the night, because it is 4.30—time to get in.” A lot of people thought that someone would be difficult, not constructively critical, as I suspect the overwhelming majority are, but potentially hostile by raising issues that would have been superfluous.

I say no more at this stage, other than that there are many desirable things in the Bill. The research sustains all the arguments that have been proposed. The Health and Safety Executive got most of the recommendations right, and they are included in the legislation—18 should be mandatory, the institutions should not be unstaffed, coin-operated sunbeds are not sufficient, there should be a mandatory point-of-sale information unit, all sunbed providers should be prevented from undertaking any positive health care advertising, and public bodies, such as local authorities, should be involved in the process.

Lastly, as an academic used to quoting eminent academic sources—

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley 5:15, 10 February 2010

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there should be sufficient encouragement for the owners of tanning salons to ensure that they have sufficient proof of age? We know that some people under the age of 18 may be attracted to use such machines and have been able to do so until now. It is quite difficult these days to work out whether young people aged 16 or 17 are under the age of 18. However, to take away that possibility, if people are in doubt and think that someone may be under 18, even though they look 25, they should show proof of age.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South

The hon. Gentleman has retained his youthful good looks, and I would have thought that he had a good degree of difficulty getting into Parliament  when he first arrived. I have not had those difficulties. I am not a parent, but we all know of kids who are 14, 15 or 16 getting into licensed establishments. The staff or supervisors either do not care or are deceived. The hon. Gentleman’s point is absolutely valid. There has to be proper supervision.

When we were conducting the study, I visited a number of establishments. Most of them appeared to be good, and they were good. Yes, they are supervised, but the supervision is done by someone who has a rota to undertake and complete. Yes, the signs are all around, assuming that people read them, but many do not. It could be a disaster if someone slips through the system, even though there is a reasonable degree of supervision. There are a number of issues that I would like to raise.

Before the hon. Gentleman interrupted me, I was saying that I had quoted all sorts of learned sources, but there is one that is not normally on my list. There was a wonderful launch of the campaign to secure support for the Bill—it was superb. I do not think people came to watch any of us, they came to watch Nicola Roberts, from a group I have seen, although I am too old for it. I am still in the Jerry Lee Lewis era—I haven’t quite matured, or immatured, beyond that point. Perhaps it is a bit naughty to quote a speaker from somebody else’s meeting, but that young lady, Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud, said:

“Tanning is a subject that is very close to my heart. I was once in a place where I did feel the pressure to have a tan. Having a tan made me feel more attractive. It made me feel more accepted. And as a young girl I became very influenced by peers, by media, by everybody in society and that was just the way I felt. If I didn’t have a tan, I didn’t feel attractive. I didn’t feel very good at all and it’s about teaching young men and young women that it is ok to be your own colour, you don’t have to conform” to the norms. She added:

“You don’t have to be tangoed to be accepted! It’s not the way it’s supposed to be”.

I thought that was eloquently delivered, and it resonated when that young woman said how she felt—I presume she meant at that time; she may or may not have been 18 years of age. She expressed a view that may not be one we experienced in our day, but one involving pressures from a very different cultural environment. There are pressures to look beautiful. If beauty means having darker skin, young people think “It won’t cost me much to get it. Some old people might say that in 25 or 30 years’ time I might have cancer, but they’ll have cured it by then. I’m not worried—it’s a long time ahead. My attention span is 25 hours, not 25 or 30 years.” We can understand that pressure.

Young people may not thank us for spoiling their choice, but I hope that in time they will recognise that we are doing the right thing and that we have to protect people who might wish to be protected. I have cantered around the field. There are some more specific issues to consider. I hope that they can be ironed out in the next few weeks.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Minister of State (Public Health), Department of Health

As we have heard, the clause gets to the heart of the issue and would allow us to be sure that people aged under 18 cannot use a sunbed at a sunbed business, except for medical reasons. The Government wholeheartedly support that provision.

As we have heard in Committee today and on other days in the House, sunbeds pose a great health risk. We know that they are being used by more young people  than ever before, and despite the efforts of industry, voluntary regulation just is not working. A major contribution to tackling the rise in skin cancer and preventing a generation of young people from storing up damage for the future is indeed the restriction of access to sunbeds by those who are under 18. The clause does the job for us. It would place a legal duty on businesses to prevent sunbed use by children, backing that up with the creation of a new criminal offence that carried a fine of up to £20,000—members of the Committee can see how serious we are about this.

Businesses that offer sunbeds for use on their premises would be under a duty to ensure that persons aged under 18 were not offered, did not use and did not access their sunbeds, and a duty to ensure that persons aged under 18 were not present in the restricted zone. Having a restricted zone makes the Bill workable in practice, as it would provide clarity about where offences were being committed, if they were being committed. The subsections of the clause make clear what would constitute a restricted zone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North explained very well the situation if there were such premises as the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness described—I, too, am not aware of any; I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is. It is impossible to imagine circumstances in which a gym, as described, would have a sunbed in the corner and no private space in which to undress and dress. However, if that were the case, putting screens around the area is all that would be required, as my hon. Friend said. Therefore, the owner of such premises would be in compliance.

It is important for us to consider circumstances when the sunbed business has done all that it can to comply. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley mentioned young people looking older than their years If a young person came up with a good quality, fake identity card, which was checked by the business owner, it would be a reasonable defence that the owner had not contravened the law. We recognise that by accident and despite all best efforts, the odd person might slip through the net. The clause recognises those who take every reasonable step to comply and, as my hon. Friend said, such people can use it as a defence, if appropriate.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness asked where we would make reference to the supervision of premises. That will follow under regulations. If the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will move quickly to consult on the regulations, which are the right place to contain such references—not in the Bill—as how they are made to work is a matter of practicality. We shall return to that point under clause 4, where allowance is made for measures requiring supervision of the use of commercial sunbeds.

I have discussed the EU standard previously. It is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, so it is not appropriate for such a measure to be included in a public health Bill. As I said on Second Reading, I drew the concerns of the hon. Gentleman to the attention of the Business Secretary, a matter to which I shall return. The Committee might like to know that an enforcement regime is in place, about which the Department of Health is in discussion with BIS. Responsible operators would be expected to comply voluntarily with  the standard in any case. Such practice already takes place and, although the concerns are real, unfortunately the Bill is not the right instrument to tackle them.

The hon. Gentleman talked about monitoring the ban. The Department is responsible for monitoring compliance with the ban, and it will work closely with other bodies. We shall also return to the matter when discussing clause 7 because action enforcement is the responsibility of local authorities. As we all realise, the lead time for the development of skin cancer is too long to make it feasible in all honesty to monitor compliance as we might usually do. However, I accept the need to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are enacted and that will be the responsibility of local authorities with which we shall work closely. I hope the Committee will see fit to accept the clause.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

We have had an interesting and helpful debate. Important issues have been raised, most of which the Minister has covered. We shall be returning to several of them under other clauses. Enforcement is initially a matter for local authorities and it will be carried out via routine visits under health and safety legislation. Such matters will then be referred to the Department, so that it has an overall view.

My hon. Friend the Minister covered the EU regulations and the fact they are the responsibility of another Department. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness also said that even if all salons adhered to the EU opinion on the strength of sunbed lamps, without the Bill many salons would still be able to allow children easy access to sunbeds and thus put their health at risk. Another important point was the recognition of the age of a young person. We will take that very seriously when we undertake the consultation process when drafting the regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.