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12 Mar 2010 : Column 532

Mr. Chope: Fifteen pence? Well, that sounds pretty inexpensive to me-it is even less than the price of a Mars bar, or whatever young people eat these days. I read somewhere that the price was 25p in an unsupervised studio, but if the price can be as low as 15p, that suggests that the costs of provision are probably very low and that there is scope for the development of a black market, with substantial profits to be made. If sunbeds are driven out of the legitimate community and pushed underground, we could end up with another sub-culture being exploited by some of our friends from Albania or wherever, although that is speculation. It would therefore be a mistake to start legislating heavily in a way that would result in such activity going underground and thereby becoming even less apparent to those concerned to regulate it and ensure that it is of high quality. There is an important educational role to be performed, in relation not only to artificial UV but to the natural UV from the sun.

Many people experience a feel-good factor following exposure to UV light. Indeed, the dark, sunless days of winter are known to have an adverse effect on the mental health of many citizens, although I am not advocating access to sunbeds as a solution to all the mental health problems in this country. On the radio this morning, I heard evidence that mental health problems had increased significantly during the lifetime of this Government, but I will not go down that route now.

It used to be the privilege of only a few to be able to top up their tan in the West Indies in January and February. Now, that can be done by jetting off to places such as Dubai, Egypt, other parts of north Africa or the Canary islands. For those who cannot afford the time or the expense of such excursions, however, a local sunbed salon is attractive. Only a couple of days ago, I was talking to someone who works in this great Palace of Westminster and who is getting married next month in Las Vegas. She has decided that it would be a good idea to top up her tan in advance of the trip by using a sunbed. She told me that that would raise her self-esteem and prepare her for the sun that she hoped to experience in Las Vegas. The local sunbed salon has a legitimate role to play in that regard.

I was unfortunately unable to attend the Second Reading debate, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised the possibility of there being an agenda out there among those who want to ban all sunbeds, and wondered whether everyone in the country might ultimately be prohibited from using them. There was no clear answer from the Minister or from the promoter of the Bill to the question whether the Bill would set us on the slippery slope, or whether it was simply a free-standing Bill that was not part of a more wide-reaching agenda.

How great is the demand for sunbeds? There is a shortage of hard evidence, but the Sunbed Association has told me that there are up to 6,000 salons, of which about 1,000 are members of the association.

Angela Watkinson: Has my hon. Friend given any thought to the anecdotal evidence in the newspapers that a small number of young people-young women in particular-are almost addicted to having a very heavy tan? Does he think that some thought should be given to the frequency with which customers visit sunbed
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establishments, and to whether, in extreme cases, the proprietors should take responsibility for limiting the number of such visits by young girls?

Mr. Chope rose-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Gentleman responds to that intervention, may I point out that he is in danger of straying into a Second Reading debate? He ought to be a bit more specific and relate his remarks to the new clauses and amendments before the House.

Mr. Chope: Certainly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I should just like to respond to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). We should think about that issue. The Sunbed Association has a demanding code of practice that includes the need for the inspection of premises. I believe that the association would have regard to whether people were having sunbed treatment too frequently, particularly those between the ages of 16 and 18. If a member of the association failed to comply with the code of practice, they would lose their status as a member of the association. Such status can be helpful in enabling them to drum up business and build a reputation for providing a high-quality service.

10.45 am

I shall return to the specific issue of people between the ages of 16 and 18. I understand that the Sunbed Association's code of practice does not prohibit treatment for people between those ages. If the Bill were to be passed in its present form, however, such treatment would obviously be prohibited. The association recognises that people of 16 are in a different category from those who are under 16.

The amendments in this group deal with changing the age limit from 18, as set out in the Bill, to 16. My view is that, as Conservatives, we should be encouraging young people of 16 and over to take responsibility for their own lives and their own health. There is relatively little that the nanny state should do to people over 16 to force them into a particular pattern of behaviour. We can encourage, educate and cajole them, and we can give them incentives, but ultimately, we must accept that 16-year-olds are people with independent minds who will make their own decisions.

Mr. Burns: Would my hon. Friend give the vote to 16-year-olds, then?

Mr. Chope rose-

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not think that we can start talking about voting in a debate about sunbeds for 16-year-olds. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) should definitely ignore that intervention.

Mr. Chope: I will ignore it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, other than to say that I note the inconsistency of the promoter of the Bill saying that it should apply to people up to the age of 18, even though she introduced a Bill two years ago-admittedly without success-to reduce the voting age to 16. Perhaps my hon. Friend the
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Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) could draw that inconsistency to her attention at an appropriate moment.

The Government's attempts to deny those aged 16 and 17 access to alcohol and cigarettes have manifestly failed. Illegal drug taking among teenagers has now reached epidemic proportions, as have alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking. Even more sinister is the fact that the laws to restrict the carrying of knives and the sale of knives and other offensive weapons to people under 16 seem to have had no effect whatever. Record numbers of young people drive without insurance-they routinely ignore those rules-and the incidence of drink-driving and drug-driving among young people is also on the increase, having at one stage started to decline.

The Bill in its present form would ban 16 and 17-year-olds from using tanning salons, but would those young people actually forgo their tanning sessions if they really wanted them? Of course not. They would simply go and find another outlet where they could have access to a sunbed. I have looked on the internet to find out the availability of sun-tanning machines. They can be bought online for a couple of hundred pounds. If we drive 16 and 17-year-olds out of the legitimate salons on the high street, they will simply go to friends' houses. They will club together to buy pieces of equipment-often second-hand-which may not comply with the standards that I mentioned earlier. All of this would be counter-productive.

Mr. Burns: Is that not one of the reasons why this legislation is before us today? I have no doubt that the vast majority of people who provide sunbed facilities and services are highly reputable and that the services are well and properly run, but there is a rogue element whose standards are not at the proper levels demanded-hence the need for regulation and legislation such as the Bill before us.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend will know that the Health and Safety Executive has an important role to play. The rogue elements to which he refers are probably already operating in breach of relevant health and safety regulations. Another disease that we have as a Parliament is that where existing regulations are not complied with or not enforced, we duplicate them instead of enforcing the existing ones. We say, "Let us make a fresh lot of laws and see if we can make them a substitute or a duplicate," thereby adding to the legislative burden and making it more difficult for people to understand where they are. I believe that existing laws are in place to deal with what my hon. Friend describes as the "rogue" tanning salons.

I am much more concerned about driving-unwittingly or otherwise-legitimate, good-quality salons out of business, forcing people who want to get access to these salons to go underground, adding to the underground culture that is on the increase in our society. My question is this. By banning 16 and 17-year-olds from sun-tanning salons, will we ensure that they do not expose themselves to sun tanning? Of course we will not. One might also ask the rhetorical question, "How naive can MPs be about this?" Indeed, "naivety of MPs" might be quite a good collective noun to apply to MPs in this gesture-ridden and regulation-obsessed generation of parliamentarians.

My amendments to change to 16 rather than 18 the age limit for entry to a salon are designed to address the reality gap between good intentions and unintended
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consequences. Far better, in my opinion, for a 16-year-old who wants a tan to go to a tanning studio and receive proper advice than to go to a friend's house where the tanning is uncontrolled and unsupervised.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) will know of the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), supported by me and others, for more private Member's Bill Fridays in this last Session of Parliament. This is now the last private Member's Bill Friday, so it is a time when compromise should be in the air. Although the hon. Member for Cardiff, North might ideally like her Bill to extend the restrictions to 16 and 17-year-olds as well as to those below that age-we look forward to hearing her contribution shortly-she might share a spirit of compromise and accept that passing a Bill that is less than ideal from her point of view would be better than passing no Bill at all. On those grounds, she might feel it sensible to concede to my amendments.

Mr. Burns: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is generous in giving way. I am a bit confused, however. He is making a powerful case, from his point of view, about 16 to 18-year-olds, but if we look at his amendment 8 we see, surprisingly, that he proposes to remove from the Bill the exemptions relating to the use of sunbeds for medical purposes, yet part of clause 3 specifically provides that people under 18 who are based in a medical establishment will be allowed to use a sunbed. Is there not a contradiction there?

Mr. Chope: On the face of it, I would concede to my hon. Friend that there is a contradiction. When I come to discuss amendment 8, however, my hon. Friend will see that it takes the form of a probing amendment rather than one that I would wish to press to a vote. I hope to be able to come to that point quite quickly.

I was saying to the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, that there is an opportunity for compromise between reasonable people on this issue. At the age of 16, people are able to take key decisions relating to their personal health and well-being. In a sense, issues around sunbed exposure are relevant to personal health and well-being. People at that age are able to choose their doctor and their medical treatments; they can also choose which piercings they want, which tattoos, if any, and so on. The Electoral Commission produced a list of all the things that 16-year-olds could do. It seems to me that the opportunity for them to take responsibility on whether or not to go to a sun-tanning studio and expose themselves to artificial UV should be included on that list.

Angela Watkinson: If my hon. Friend's amendments succeed and the Bill prohibits under-16s from using sunbeds, an offence would be created. To whom would that offence attach? Would it be to the provider or proprietor of the sunbed establishment; would it be to the individual who used the facilities; or would it be to the parent, who is still responsible for the behaviour of their children?

Mr. Chope: I stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that the parents are not responsible, even though they have responsibilities under other legislation. There is no responsibility for the users, even if they acted with
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deception, malice or criminal intent. In the rough world of competition, a sunbed provider might set up someone who looks well over 18-but is younger-to go along to a rival sunbed establishment to get access to sunbeds; then, as soon as access is given, they could blow the whistle. There might be scope for that sort of activity because of the arbitrariness of the enforcement and penalty regime in the Bill. If my hon. Friend looks at the selection list, she will see that it is the second group of amendments-amendments 7, 21 to 25 and 32-that deal with offences and penalties. When we reach that stage of the debate, I hope that she will be able to develop her remarks in more detail.

To summarise so far, I have discussed new clause 1, along with amendments 1, 2 and 3, which leave out "18" and insert "16". I now come to amendment 8, to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford referred. Under this amendment, clause 3 would be left out. It is a probing amendment, because I wanted to find out exactly in what circumstances it was thought reasonable for a person under the age of 18 to have access to a sunbed for medical treatment.

If the promoter's argument is that any exposure by a young person, or child, to artificial ultra-violet light on a sunbed is bad for the health, why does clause 3 contain a special exemption for medical treatment? It would be useful to know in what circumstances that exemption would apply, and whether it would extend to medical treatment not directly related to a skin condition, but related to a person's mental state. Medical treatment can be related to mental as well as physical health, and it is not clear to me whether clause 3 would apply in that context. I hope that, in the spirit of openness and transparency, the promoter will help us to understand the thinking behind the clause.

11 am

Amendments 4, 5 and 6 are all consequential. They all state

Amendment 15 proposes to leave out clause 4(4). The clause is headed

"Power to make further provision restricting use, sale or hire of sunbeds".

Subsection (4) states:

It seems to me that we should allow the consultation period to run only after the enactment of the Bill. A consultation period cannot suddenly be followed by the announcement of the commencement of a section. The Bill states:

That makes clear that there is no great urgency, and that whether the Bill succeeds today in whole or in part will make no difference to anyone using a sunbed for the next 12 months. This may be more of a Third Reading point, but surely it is better for the Bill to be perfect-even if it takes a little longer to get it right-than to rush it through, given that, as it will not come into effect for at least 12 months, there is no need for a rush. I consider that provision to be inconsistent with the provisions in
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clause 4(4) about the consultation period. I think that, as a matter of good practice, only after a clause has come into effect-after a section has commenced-should any consultation arising from that clause take place.

I feel that rather than the Bill's containing a lot of the Government's ideas, the Government are holding back, saying, "Why do we not deal with this by means of regulations?" When the Minister was asked, on Second Reading and in Committee, what exactly she had in mind, she said that the Department would make a decision before the introduction of the regulations. That was unnecessarily vague. I would much prefer to know exactly what the Government, and for that matter the promoter, have in mind, and I think that clause 4(4) compounds the error.

Amendment 16 proposes to leave out clause 5, which is a very controversial provision. It is headed:

and states:


It also states that

and that

That is a very wide-ranging provision, which is strongly opposed by the Sunbed Association. The association believes that, apart from anything else, it would duplicate much of the existing consumer protection legislation. Legislation already exists to prevent people from making false health claims in relation to treatments that are offered. The idea that a Big Brother Government-the Department of Health-should prescribe exactly what can be contained in what piece of legislation is a step too far down the Big Brother route.

Mr. Burns: I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, but surely he is not comparing like with like. The existing rules concern false claims, whereas clause 5 merely deals with the provision of factual information about the health risks. Surely educating people about risks, and about how they can protect themselves to benefit their general health and well-being, is a positive step.

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