Clause 7

Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 10 February 2010.

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Enforcement by local authorities

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

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

Clause 7 puts a duty on local authorities to enforce the Bill. It is important to say that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the Local Government Association and the Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, part of the local government group, all support the Bill. The message that I have received from those organisations is that local enforcement officers on the ground would like to have additional powers to inspect sunbed salons to ensure that minimum standards are being met. They currently believe that their hands are often tied because of the lack of appropriate legislation. Those organisations all welcome the legislation.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health)

Clearly, enforcement will be critical if the Bill is going to be a success, and I am delighted that all the local authority organisations seem to be uniformly agreed on the importance of this aspect of the Bill. I have one question about the schedule that is attached to the clause. The schedule notes the ability of the relevant authorised officer to enter premises. What is the notice period for entering the premises? Is it 24 hours, as is the case for local authorities entering houses in multiple occupation? A recent pharmacy regulation also gave 24-hour notice for the relevant officers to enter pharmacies.

There are pros and cons in having a notice period. On the one hand, the owner of the salon will know that somebody is coming to inspect and they can put things right and make sure that nobody under 18 is in there. On the other hand, it needs to be clarified; otherwise it could be open to legal challenge, which may stop the enforcement officer being able to regulate appropriately in the first place. The proper enforcement of the regulation will be key to the Bill’s success, so it is important that we understand that key element.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Labour, Llanelli

Enforcement is extremely important and is vital to the success of any legislation. We are discussing a duty that will probably be undertaken by the environmental health departments of local authorities. In my local authority, that department is aptly called the public protection department, and it has done a good job recently by visiting local retailers  and naming, shaming and punishing those that have been supplying alcohol to under-18s. It is crucial that we get the same sort of approach in relation to the Bill.

First and foremost, an information campaign must be aimed at young people and their parents to make sure that they are fully aware that a law is coming into force that will make it illegal for under-18s to use a sunbed in commercial premises. The message needs to go out loud and clear that we are banning them not because we are fuddy-duddies, but because there are genuine health reasons. The vast majority of young people will fully understand the problem when they are given those reasons and the facts and figures. We must accompany the legislation with a far-reaching and hard-hitting publicity campaign.

Enforcement largely depends on consensus among the general public. Therefore, if we think that something is amiss, we all have a duty to report. We need to make sure that people are aware of that, and of where they have to go and to whom they have to report. That way, we can suss out the sunbed premises owners and operators who are allowing under-18s to use their premises and take appropriate measures against them.

Thirdly, we need to have back-up for the local authorities. The LGA has made a clear point about the additional resources that it will need, and we passed the money resolution yesterday evening. We need to make sure that it has the necessary means properly to carry out and enforce the legislation. Without enforcement, it will be of little use.

We have to make absolutely certain that there is appropriate dialogue with the Local Government Association and the Welsh Local Government Association to ensure that we get all these points right and that we make this a highly workable and effective piece of legislation.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George Labour, Walsall South 6:00, 10 February 2010

It is possible if one has not sought to take a serious view of this Bill to think that it is pretty manageable and pretty understandable. It is all about stopping those under 18 going into salons. But the more one reads about this area of policy, the more one realises how complicated it is. Therefore a public health officer who has not dealt with this issue before will not be able to meet the requirements of even a short Bill like this. I was wading through the documents and it is worse than doing O-level chemistry; not that I ever did. Oh I did, yes. I think I failed. The 13th report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment is very complicated.

I should like some assurances. When one is dealing with enforcement, there will be a power to prosecute. I have mentioned the security industry authority. For a long time the guy who was responsible for enforcement said—I was at a conference where he said this— that he did not believe in prosecution. There are some cases where a tap on the wrist or a fine will not be enough. There will be some cases where something stronger must be done. Enforcement should have a high set of sanctions. Enforcement by local authorities should involve those who have a competence—I am sure they do—and the training.

What thought has been given in the Minister’s Department to the standards that will be need to be attained by the officers who will look around and  enforce? Is there any idea yet of training courses put on by different organisations? Is there any indication that those who are going to have this quite onerous responsibility have had the training before they can go out and enforce what they will be legally empowered to do? It might not look too complicated and it might look as though this is pretty simple, but I suspect that some elements of it will require something more. I am not suggesting a sub-specialism or that every local authority has to have somebody with a masters in this area of policy, but I just want to be certain that consideration is being given to ensure that those who do this job have the qualifications, the experience and the learning to do it.

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

For the Bill to be effective it has to be enforced properly. We believe that local authorities are well placed to authorise officers to enforce the provisions of the Bill in their area. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli makes good points about the support for the Bill from young people themselves. She said that good quality enforcement is about good quality understanding and support from the public. I believe that the Bill will have that.

To answer the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, no notice period is required. However, if entry is not given voluntarily, a justice of the peace warrant is needed. This is an on-notice application, although there are circumstances where notice of application for warrant is not given, in other words when it would defeat the very object of the Bill.

Perhaps I can reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South. Standards will be set by local authorities and their representative bodies which we work very closely with. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North has done so too. However, if we get to that stage, the Department of Health plans to produce guidance to assist enforcement.

It is interesting to note that France has had a mandatory registration scheme since 1998, and that 80 per cent. compliance has been achieved. Given the combination of matters that will go on, and the awareness of the communities in which operators are based, we should be realistic about the challenge. We certainly do not expect a masters degree or a doctorate in order to ensure compliance.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

I wish to add to what the Minister said and respond to the queries raised.

Entry to commercial premises is already included in health and safety legislation. The warrant allows entry at all reasonable times. It is up to the local authority to determine the most appropriate person and the best use of resources. It could be environmental health officers, as they already visit suntan premises for health and safety compliance checks. That position was suggested by the Local Government Association.

Enforcement officers are trained to apply a wide range of legal requirements. Evidence is generally provided by the Department with responsibility. Additional training will not be a major issue, but the Minister has already covered that point.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.