Clause 79 - Commencement

Part of Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14 May 2024.

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Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health) 2:00, 14 May 2024

I thank the hon. Gentleman for setting out the case for his amendment. We have already debated clause 79 to some extent, and I raised my concerns that we were not introducing regulations to close the loophole on the free distribution of vapes to under-18s sooner.

On new clause 6 and amendment 24 I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, which is that a mandatory age verification policy has been in force in Scotland for anyone looking under 25 since 2017. My understanding is that that is working well and, indeed, we also have Challenge 25 here in England and in Wales, although not on a legislative footing. The policy of providing a buffer can only help to ensure that those who are under-age, but who look over-age, are caught and are asked for ID—provided everyone knows where they stand and the Challenge 25 policy is well advertised.

As we have already discussed, the view taken in the design of these regulations is to put the responsibility for age of sale restrictions with the retailer, rather than the customer. The question the hon. Gentleman is raising is whether to make carrying ID effectively mandatory for customers buying cigarettes or vapes. I have a few concerns about that that I would like to raise. First, quite rightly, in order to be consistent with the rest of the regulations, his amendments put the responsibility for such a policy on the retailers. However, the effect of the policy would be to require customers to carry ID in order to buy these products if they were under a certain age. There does seem to be a bit of a disjunct, as that risks legislating twice for the responsibility to make sure that retailers do not sell to people who are under-age. Does this not suggest that the penalties for breaching the age of sale legislation need to be stronger in order to incentivise retailers to put robust policies in place?

I am slightly concerned that the policy will also remove flexibility when it comes to, for example, shop workers in local corner shops, who know their customers. Would they not end up having to ask people for ID every time, even when they already know they are over-age? Secondly, I just want to ask how the hon. Member envisages this working in the longer term, given that the age of sale for tobacco will rise every year? How will the Challenge 25 buffer be set accordingly? As it stands in his proposals, it would run out in 2033.

My other question is for the Minister. Presumably there has been a conscious decision to not align with the Scottish law on this subject. Can she explain why that decision was taken, on balance, when consistency in the law across Great Britain would surely be beneficial? Moreover, can I ask whether she has discussed this with Ministers in Wales? Once again, I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East for tabling the amendment and I will be interested in the responses to the questions that I have raised.