Clause 2

Part of Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North 4:45 pm, 10th February 2010

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.