Clause 79 - Commencement

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 2:00, 14 May 2024

I have a lot of sympathy with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, and with his amendment and new clause 6. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston mentioned some of the reasons why they are potentially slightly confusing and also, perhaps, unnecessary. I understand the point about the neatness of aligning to Scotland. The hon. Lady asked whether we have discussed this with Ministers in devolved Administrations and, of course, the answer is yes.

The decision we took is that the proposal that we have is adequate. New clause 6 would introduce a requirement for businesses selling tobacco products, herbal smoking products and vaping products in England and Wales to operate an age verification policy. The policy would establish a customer’s age if they look under the age specified by the new clause. The new clause seeks to replicate the existing requirements in Scotland, and the related amendment 24 would mean the requirement to operate an age verification policy would come into force six months after Royal Assent.

For purchases of tobacco and herbal smoking products from 1 January 2034, when anyone born on or after the 1 January 2009 turns 25, the age verification policy would need to be updated to reflect the new age of sale for tobacco or herbal smoking-related products. That means that a person selling such products from 2034 onwards would be required to take steps to establish a customer’s age if they looked like they were born on or after 1 January 2009. The age verification requirement for vaping products would remain the same—that is, to take steps to establish a customer’s age if they look under 25.

Although I welcome my hon. Friend’s intention to ensure that retailers do not sell to anyone under-age, there is a fine balance to strike. We do not want to place undue burden on those retailers who understand their business and customers by introducing new mandatory age verification policies. It is already an offence to sell tobacco and vaping products to anyone under-age, and that is enforced by trading standards, who will continue to take an intelligence-led, proportionate approach to enforcing the law through age of sale test purchases. Retailers should continue to take reasonable steps and exercise due diligence to ensure they do not break the law. Most retailers already follow recommended practice and regularly ask for identification from customers, but, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said, they do not have to do so every single time if they know who the person is and they always buy products at that shop.

Under the new clause, failure to operate an age verification policy could result in a fine of up to £500 for a business on conviction. The Government feel that that is disproportionate and not what we are trying to achieve through the Bill with the introduction of fixed-penalty notices. The on-the-spot fines will complement existing sanctions, allowing trading standards to take swifter action to fine retailers that sell tobacco or vape products to someone under-age.

The new clause would give the Secretary of State in England and Welsh Ministers the power to publish age verification guidance, which businesses must follow. Again, we feel that that is not needed. We are working closely with retailers and will continue to use the long lead-in time before 2027, when the age of sale of tobacco provisions come into force, to better support retailers in preparing for the introduction and implementation of these changes.