Clause 12 - Restricted premises orders

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 9 May 2024.

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

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Clauses 13 to 15 stand part.

Clause 56 stand part.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

This group of clauses relates to restricted premises orders, or RPOs. These are existing measures that local authority trading standards in England and Wales, and district councils in Northern Ireland, can deploy when a retailer is found to persistently breach tobacco and vape age of sale restrictions.

Clauses 12 to 14 are based on and replace existing legislation in England and Wales. Clause 12 provides that a persistent offender can be issued with a restricted premises order, which could prohibit the sale of products— such as tobacco products, herbal smoking products, cigarette papers, vaping products and any nicotine products —on premises for up to 12 months. This is an important enforcement mechanism for tackling persistent offenders. A persistent offender is someone who has sold tobacco or vape products to someone under-age at least twice within the previous two years.

Clause 12 is important to the overall functioning of the Bill, as it enables trading standards to use a range of enforcement measures and to escalate the punishment for retailers who do not change what they are doing, in order to deter offenders from re-offending. It allows trading standards to take a proportionate approach to enforcement action on under-age sales that reflects the level of offence committed.

Clause 13 requires notice to be given to people who might have an interest in a restricted premises order being made and sets out situations where an interested person might challenge such an order. An interested person is someone who occupies or has an interest in the premises where tobacco or vaping products are sold, such as the manager or the owner. Clause 13 sets out the circumstances in which interested persons are allowed to make representations to the court to try to prevent a restricted premises order being made against a retailer. This is a safeguard to ensure that suitable steps are taken before a restricted premises order is made, and to maintain fairness so that a relevant person is informed of an impending restricted premises order.

Clause 14 makes it an offence to breach a restricted premises order. The offence is committed when a product prohibited under a restricted premises order is sold on the premises. The penalty for the breach is an unlimited fine. Still with me, everyone? This is complicated. Making it an offence to breach a restricted premises order gives trading standards the ability to escalate action to tackle persistent offenders. The penalty of an unlimited fine is a great deterrent.

Clause 15 provides the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care and Welsh Ministers with the power to add to the offences under which restricted premises orders can be made. Again, that is trying to get ahead of the sorts of breaches that could take place. This is a new power for the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care and re-enacts an existing power for Welsh Ministers. The Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers must consult before making regulations under this power. Additional offences can relate to tobacco products, herbal smoking products, cigarette papers, vaping products or nicotine products only.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:45, 9 May 2024

I thank my right hon. Friend for explaining the nature of these various different measures. I think retailers will have a concern about, for example, where a manager or an errant individual breaches these rules and is therefore subject to action, what actions the retailer can then take to alleviate the challenge afterwards. For example, if the person is dismissed or is told they are no longer welcome on the premises, will that be sufficient, or will it have to be a case of serving a time before such premises can be brought back into action? Obviously, retailers will want to know what they must do to comply with not only the letter but the spirit of the law.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend makes a really good point. It also justifies why this is particularly complicated to explain, let alone to take in. That is one of the reasons why there is a long lead-in period for that new regulation. There will be training for retail. We have discussed this with various industry bodies, and they support it and consider that there is enough time for them to get up to speed. Essentially, that strays into the issue of the quantum of fines. The idea is that it is effectively an on-the-spot fine; it is really, “Two strikes and you’re out.” If someone offends twice, they will end up with a restricted premises order, and if they offend again, they will get an unlimited fine. It is an appropriate escalation. At the starting point, there are a number of other fines that are of a similar quantum, where someone could potentially argue, “Well, I did not realise. I am new; I did not get the training; I was not here that day,” and then it is not such a painful fine. They would certainly learn their lesson, however, and after two offences it escalates very significantly.

Clause 56 amends the Tobacco Retailers Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 and introduces the power for the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to amend the definition of a tobacco, nicotine or non-nicotine vape offence for which a restricted premises order can be issued. That is the same provision made for England and Wales in clause 15. Clauses 15, in England and Wales, and 56, in Northern Ireland, are important to maintain the longevity of the legislation. They will ensure that enforcement action remains up to date to reflect any relevant new tobacco or vape products that come on to the market in future. I therefore commend the clauses to the Committee.

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health)

We support the introduction of restricted premises orders for breach of age of sale laws on nicotine and vaping products in the same way that they already exist for tobacco. A repeat offender should know that there are serious consequences for breaching age of sale legislation, so I strongly support the principle of providing a strong deterrent to any retailers that would break the law. The threat of enforcement action cannot be seen as the cost of doing business.

I have a few questions about how the orders work in practice. The Bill introduces a requirement for trading standards authorities to consider whether to conduct a programme of enforcement at least once a year. That is not a strong requirement. There is nothing to say that local teams must conduct any enforcement action within a two-year period on the matter, even if they receive complaints, and many trading standards teams are woefully under-resourced. Therefore, the requirement for the powers to be used for “persistent” offences, meaning at least two breaches within a two-year period, suggests to me that the orders will be very seldom used.

That is not to mention the question of how the orders would be enforced once granted by a magistrates court, or indeed the backlogs before that. Can the Minister say how many times restricted premises orders have been used in relation to tobacco in recent years, or even in the last decade? We heard from trading standards at the evidence sessions that boots are needed on the ground to make this work. My understanding is that of the money that the Government have announced for enforcement, only £10 million will go to trading standards. Will the Minister confirm whether that is correct?

At the same time, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute is warning that its profession is in jeopardy because of a lack of investment. Its funding has been cut by 50% over the past decade, and it estimates that around the UK as much as half the workforce is set to retire over the next decade. Has the Minister heard any of those concerns? What conversations has she had with colleagues and other Departments about staff retention and investment?

I am foregrounding one of my amendments to a later clause, but I am of the view that the proposed fixed penalty notice powers will be a more effective mechanism to enforce compliance on age of sale, particularly given the clause on use of proceeds, if we do not have strong reassurances that trading standards will get the necessary resources from central Government.

We strongly welcome any measure that will aid authorities in cracking down on the sale of tobacco, vapes and nicotine products to children. However, I urge the Minister to look again at whether the new regulations will be coupled with the enforcement action needed on the ground. Without it, they will not achieve what we need them to, and more young people will fall prey to addiction.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am pleased that the hon. Lady supports the clauses. They are absolutely vital to ensure that we have the proper enforcement powers. She asked about the investment in enforcement. I can tell her that we are investing over £30 million of new funding a year into enforcement agencies, including trading standards, HMRC and Border Force. That increased investment will boost enforcement surrounding the sale of illicit tobacco and illicit vapes and help local trading standards with enforcement on underage sales of tobacco and vaping products at a local level. There will also be £100 million of funding over five years to support HMRC and Border Force’s new illicit tobacco strategy, which will seek to tackle the illicit trade and create a new illicit tobacco taskforce. Various measures are under way, including training, but enforcement will be absolutely key.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 13 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.