Problem communicating with remote server...
Previous Section Index Home Page


12 Mar 2010 : Column 526

Are the Bill's regulations necessary? Are they proportionate? Could the problems that they seek to address be dealt with in a better way? Will the regulations be vulnerable to the law of unintended consequences? Are the regulations necessary as a matter of substance, or are they more equivalent to exercises in gesture politics?

My understanding is that the sponsors of the Bill believe that exposure to ultra-violet light can lead to skin cancer, particularly if young, unprotected skin is exposed over a prolonged period. There seems to be a substantial amount of medical evidence to support that proposition. The sponsors consequently argue that because malignant melanoma is one of the five most common cancers among those aged 15 to 24, and because four out of five melanomas are caused by exposure to UV sunlight, something has got to be done, but it will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is an undistributed middle in the sponsors' logic.

That malignant melanomas are one of the five most common cancers among 15 to 24-year-olds is a statement of fact, but the suggestion by implication, is that those melanomas are caused by exposure to artificial sunlight, and there is no evidence for that at all. In Committee, the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), argued that the consequences of UV exposure-in terms of skin cancer-are often not apparent for many years. If it is correct that exposure to UV rays results in malignant melanoma a long way down the track, where is the evidence that the melanomas in people aged between 15 and 24 are caused by UV exposure? Might there be some alternative explanation?

The incidence of cancers among relatively young people is quite small. Obviously, one case of cancer is one too many, but the sponsors of the Bill, who say that UV exposure is the fifth most common cause of cancer in young people, have unfortunately not given us any direct figures. We need to ensure that intellectual rigour is brought to the arguments in support of the Bill.

The sponsors have not discovered a way in which to prevent people from exposing themselves to natural UV light from the sun. That is obviously the most common way in which people are exposed to UV light, and thereby the risk of contracting melanomas. We know that as soon as there is any sunshine, the number of people who rush out and strip off-not necessarily completely-is considerable. That shows that there are limits on the legislative zeal to regulate. There is no proposal by the promoter of the Bill to regulate exposure to ordinary sunlight. Instead of doing that-they cannot regulate such exposure, but it is obviously the biggest cause of melanomas-they are bringing their legislative zeal to regulating exposure to artificial sun.

Artificial sun is produced by sunbeds or, more accurately, by the ultra-violet tubes inside sunbeds. I am told by the Sunbed Association that an ultra-violet tube emitting ultra-violet radiation of 0.3 W per square metre is equivalent to being in the Mediterranean sun at midday, so a 10-minute session on a sunbed should produce a tan without burning. Prevention of burning is often ensured by the use of anti-sun tanning creams, which stop the skin being over-exposed to the ultra-violet light from the sunbed tubes.

Interestingly, although the Government apparently support the Bill, they continue to impose the full rate of VAT on sun creams, which are a much better way to
12 Mar 2010 : Column 527
prevent the adverse consequences of exposure to all UV light, whether from the sun or artificial sources. So although the Government say that this is a desperately important problem that needs to be addressed urgently, they still impose a 17.5 per cent. tax on the creams that help to prevent the adverse consequences of exposure to UV light.

New clause 1 addresses the issue of sunbeds with tubes that emit higher levels of UV radiation. If a sunbed has tubes that emit levels of radiation greater than 0.3 W per square metre, the likelihood of consequent burning is greater. Burning is normally the precursor to a raised risk of melanoma, so it is important to prevent burning and ensure that only a gentle tanning takes place. I was very interested when my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds)-I am delighted to see him in his place on the Front Bench-raised this issue in Committee. He said that if we want to deal with this problem and reduce the risks of using sunbeds, we should first act to regulate the amount of UV radiation emitted by the tubes in sunbeds. I was surprised that the Government did not say that they agreed and would therefore use this Bill as an opportunity to ensure that the European standard was incorporated into British law, so that anyone hiring out or selling a sunbed that exceeded the recommended maximum wattage per square metre of UV would be outlawed. A logical regulator would make that their starting point in introducing legislation.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I note that this Bill places new duties on anyone hiring or selling sunbeds. Regulating the wattage is a fairly simple aspect on which to regulate, but under the terms of the Bill people who carry on sunbed businesses would have to ensure that people under the age of 18-it would be reduced to 16 if later amendments are accepted-do not use them. How, in reasonable terms, could every operator be certain that someone below that age will not use their sunbeds, especially when the sunbeds are unattended? At some premises, no one is in attendance, but there are warning signs. How can operators be reasonably expected to stop people ignoring the warning signs? If someone below the relevant age did ignore the signs, who would be responsible-the person who had ignored the signs or the owner of the premises?

10.15 am

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend makes a powerful and important point and I shall address it later in my remarks. New clause 1 would provide that we deal with that issue at the earliest possible stage. It would ensure that the tubes in the sunbeds comply with the European standard. That could be achieved easily, which would then raise the question of whether we would then need to criminalise those who are duped by someone aged between 16 and 18 into allowing them to use a sunbed. The person using the sunbed would incur no penalty, but the person supplying the sunbed-however innocently-could be brought before the courts. That is one of the flaws in the Bill.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals in the Bill are in line with the way in which the law works when it comes to selling cigarettes to those under age, or admitting under-age people to public houses?


12 Mar 2010 : Column 528

Mr. Chope: My point is that the Government have introduced an extension of the nanny state to try to make it more difficult for those between 16 and 18 to gain access to cigarettes and alcohol, but we know how counter-productive that exercise has been. We now probably have record levels of youngsters using illegal drugs, drinking to excess below the age of 18, smoking tobacco and carrying illegal knives. I could go on. My hon. Friend may have heard reports on the radio just this morning about the number of youngsters engaging in self-harm by cutting themselves. Some 3,000 youngsters a year end up in accident and emergency for that reason. The promoter of the Bill is not suggesting that we should bring in a law outlawing self-harm, but that statistic illustrates the propensity of young people to experiment and do their own thing, irrespective of what the legislation says.

Mr. Burns: I do not wish to be unhelpful to my hon. Friend and I accept his point about the levels of smoking and drinking, but that is not an argument to abandon the law altogether in those areas.

Mr. Chope: I am sure that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to suggest that we could use the Bill as a vehicle for changing the laws on alcohol and cigarettes. I am certainly not going to be drawn down that line.

Mr. Burns: I was not for one minute suggesting that the Bill be used in that way. My point was that, to my mind, the Bill is eminently sensible in having an 18-year threshold. That is in line with the law on buying cigarettes and going to public houses, so it would be a consistent and logical level, if we are to have an age limit.

Mr. Chope: I shall address in more detail the question of whether the limit should be 16 or 18, if it should be regulated at all. Before we start introducing more regulations-this is a very good rule of thumb-we should see whether similar regulations are working in practice. I put it to my hon. Friend that similar regulations trying to restrict access to alcohol and tobacco by 16 to 18-year-olds have not achieved anything, except-probably-to bring the law into disrepute. I can see that the argument, "Well, because we already have that bad law in place, there is a case for putting another bad law on top of it," might be logical-I cannot argue against the logic-but I do not agree with the wisdom of it. That is the point that I shall try to address when I turn to the amendments in this group dealing with the question of whether regulations should apply only to under-16s using sunbeds or whether they should extend to those aged 16 to 18 as well.

Before those interventions, I was talking about what I think is the most important issue. My new clause 1 is designed to improve the Bill by introducing more protection for people who use sunbeds, so that they do not-unwittingly or otherwise-use any that emit more than a safe amount of artificial UV radiation. I wait with anticipation to find out whether the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, and Ministers have changed their tune on this issue. I would have thought it logical for any rational regulator to put at the top of any list of priorities the need to ensure that there are no sunbeds for sale, hire and, ultimately, in use-this point
12 Mar 2010 : Column 529
is supported by the Sunbed Association in England and Wales-that emit more than 0.3 W of radiation per square metre.

That elementary, cost-effective and simple regulation could, and should-in my view-have been enacted by the Government already. It is the specification in European standard EN 60335-2-27, which is referred to specifically in new clause 1. That standard was recommended by the European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Products in 2006, and was adopted and published in a European Union declaration in January 2007. The United Kingdom Government signed up to that declaration, but have failed to legislate to ensure that all UV tanning equipment in service complies with that important safety standard.

That is another example of the Government talking tough on questions of health protection, but actually failing-neglecting-to take measures that, at a stroke, could increase product safety and reduce the risks to sunbed users resulting from exposure to sunbeds with wattages higher than the limit to which I have referred. I am told by the Sunbed Association that there might be as many as 60,000 sunbeds around, and that a large proportion of them contain tubes that emit UV radiation in excess of the European standard.

New clause 1 would fill that gap in the law and ensure that all sunbeds for sale or hire would have to meet that basic safety standard. In my view, that is common-sense consumer protection. Although I am instinctively against regulation, there is a lot to be said for consumer protection when the consumer himself cannot be expected to have the information available to determine whether the product that he is using is safe. I see this as being a very sensible area for the law of consumer protection to apply. The reason is that no ordinary consumer would otherwise know what level of UV radiation emissions from the equipment would be safe.

The fact that the Sunbed Association, which has been prayed in aid as supporting the Bill, strongly supports the new clause makes me feel that I am doing the cause of public health a good turn by enabling the House to adopt the new clause as part of the legislation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness will support the new clause if it goes to a Division. Before that, however, I hope that the Government or Bill promoter will accept that it would be much better to incorporate the new clause than to exclude it.

Although there may be a change of heart along those lines today, I must say that at a meeting this Monday, when the Bill's promoter held a discussion with representatives from the Sunbed Association, who argued strongly for my new clause, she expressed her strong opposition to it. Perhaps she was echoing the bizarre line of defence given by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness in Committee. The Minister said:

Why not? If something is the responsibility of Lord Mandelson, why should it not be included in a Bill before the House? Were it included in the Bill, it would increase consumer safety. A satisfactory answer has
12 Mar 2010 : Column 530
never been given either by Ministers or by the Bill promoter to the question of why, just because it is technically the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, it cannot be incorporated into the Bill.

We have had almost 13 years of this ghastly Government. They have spoken repeatedly about the need for joined-up government, but here we have, on the eve of their demise, a ringing example of how, even now, they are not joined up-indeed, there is a stand-off; they are in different silos. Perhaps because it is Lord Mandelson's Department's responsibility for some reason the Department of Health cannot possibly engage with it and is not prepared to concede the point-or perhaps they are simply not discussing it with each other.

In Committee, the Minister went on to say that

Perhaps-this is being generous to her-she thought then that the new clause might not be selected because it was not within the scope of the Bill.

However, the new clause has been selected; therefore it must be within the scope of the Bill. The new clause having been selected, it is apparent that this Bill could be the right instrument to tackle the problem.

10.30 am

Now that the new clause has been selected, I hope that the Minister will indicate her support for it. I would be happy, as I always am, to reduce the length of my arguments if I thought that the Government had accepted them. I would therefore be happy to give way to the Minister if she were to say to me, "Don't worry any more about new clause 1. The Government will accept it." If the Minister rises to intervene, I will happily give way to her, but I note that she is declining to do so, for reasons that we will perhaps find out in due course. Indeed, I hope that the Government will express some views on this group of amendments before the day is out.

My new clause would protect all those who hire sunbeds, irrespective of their age, which is very important. When people look back over the history of this Bill and its gestation, I think they will remark how extraordinary it was that a fortnight ago almost every vested interest group in the country was trying to persuade me to withdraw my new clause-I gave two weeks' notice-even though it would improve product safety, as well as public health and public well-being. The Sunbed Association told me that without the new clause, everything in the Bill will at best merely amount to papering over the cracks-satisfying the test that I set out earlier and demonstrating that this Bill is about gesture politics rather than addressing the substance of the problem. That brings me back to why we are considering the amendments and whether there is a better way of addressing the problem. I suggest that one such way would be to incorporate new clause 1.

Let me now discuss the need to educate and encourage people not to over-expose their skin to UV light, whether from the sun or from UV tubes in sunbeds. I think I speak for a generation of people who used to expose themselves to the sun in probably too great a measure. I can remember members of my family going out in the sun and, far from using sun creams, putting olive oil on their skin, thereby increasing the burning sensation. I am not sure how many of them ultimately suffered from
12 Mar 2010 : Column 531
melanomas, but that is an indication of how public attitudes have changed over a generation. That has happened as a result of increased public awareness, largely through education and the marketing of sun creams by companies.

An important educational role is also played by responsible suntanning studios. I went to visit one in Christchurch two or three weeks ago, because as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not like to come to the House without being fully informed about the issues that we are discussing. I was very impressed by the detailed questionnaire that the staff at that studio, which is a member of the Sunbed Association, put to clients, asking them about their medical history and the nature of their skin, which they look at carefully. From those calculations staff can work out an appropriate amount of exposure to the UV rays in a sunbed. All that activity takes place under tight supervision, with advice and, of course, appropriate sun creams. If a young person-say, a 16-year-old-goes along to such a studio, they are likely to have a greater understanding of what is involved in exposure not just to artificial UV, but to natural UV, and be more aware of the need to use creams as a preventive measure.

Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend refers to 16-year-olds, whereas 18-year-olds are deemed to be adults, and therefore responsible for their actions. Just as with the purchase of alcohol or tobacco-in that parents must be responsible for how much money their children have to spend unsupervised, as well as knowing where they are and what they are doing-where does my hon. Friend see parental responsibility in the use of sunbeds by 16-year-olds?

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but the trouble is this. I speak as a parent of one child who is still a teenager, and not yet 18, and of another who has just turned 20, but I am not sure that all young people are blessed with families who are sufficiently concerned about their welfare and well-being. We hear of the most ghastly cases of parental neglect, and not just of children between the ages of 16 and 18, but of far younger children. I am afraid that the reality is that parental responsibility does not enter into the lives of lots of families up and down this country, which is a great pity.

Angela Watkinson: I wonder whether my hon. Friend could enlighten me-and possibly other hon. Members present-on the cost of a session on a sunbed. I do not know what the cost is, but the money has to come from somewhere, and where 16-year-olds are concerned, presumably it comes from the parents.

Mr. Chope: That might be true in the world in which my hon. Friend lives, but I suspect there are large parts of the country where the money that 16-year-olds have does not come from their parents. It might come from casual work-who can speculate?-but in answer to my hon. Friend's question about the costs, I did not inquire in the Christchurch studio that I visited.

Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con): It might be of assistance to my hon. Friend to learn that evidence was put before the House on Second Reading to suggest that it might be possible to get a session in a treatment salon for as little as 15p.


Next Section Index Home Page