Clause 22 - Power of ministers to take over enforcement functions

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 23 stand part.

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

Clauses 22 and 23 relate to powers for Ministers to take over enforcement in England and Wales. Clause 22 provides a power for the Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Care or Welsh Ministers to carry out the enforcement of a particular case, or a particular type of case, instead of local authority trading standards.

Trading standards operate in all local authorities, and it is standard practice that they undertake required local enforcement action, as will be the case for offences under part 1 of the Bill. However, a situation could arise where they are unable or unwilling to undertake enforcement in a particular case. For example, a tobacco company could develop a new tobacco product that it argues is outside the scope of enforcement, which could result in trading standards being hesitant about pursuing action—as we have discussed, tobacco companies are nothing if not inventive in their determination.

Clause 22 replaces, and is based on, existing legislation. It allows for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care or Welsh Ministers to take over enforcement action, should that be deemed necessary, and it ensures consistent, strong and effective enforcement of the tobacco and vape measures in the Bill.

Clause 23 provides a power for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care or Welsh Ministers to take over from trading standards the conduct of any legal proceedings relating to an offence under part 1 of the Bill. In a similar manner to clause 22, this clause replaces, and is based on, existing legislation. It allows the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care or Welsh Ministers to take over the conduct of any legal proceedings, should that be deemed necessary, and it ensures consistent, strong and effective enforcement of the provisions in part 1 of the Bill. I therefore commend clauses 22 and 23 to the Committee.

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

Let me start by saying that I support these two clauses being added to the Bill, providing the Secretary of State with powers to take over enforcement functions from local authorities or to take legal proceedings in court instead of a local enforcement authority.

The rationale for these additions is, first, to ensure that where local authorities are unwilling or unable to take enforcement action, the Government themselves can intervene to speed that work up and get it done. That can only be a useful backstop, although it does underline the important points that I and other colleagues have raised about local authorities having appropriate resources to discharge their responsibilities in the first instance. Secondly, as we heard in evidence, there is the matter of illicit tobacco, and often vapes too, being linked to organised crime. Such criminal networks often span large areas, crossing local authority lines, and in theory it could be useful for national Government to intervene in large cases that extend beyond the jurisdiction of a single local authority.

We hope that the work of trading standards officers is sufficiently joined up with the work of officers in other local authorities and the work of national agencies such as the MHRA and Border Force, but the point remains that national authorities should be able to step in if required. Nevertheless, I would be grateful if the Minister could for the record expand on how she would expect to utilise the powers in clause 22 and in what scenario she would consider that necessary. Could she also confirm whether she plans to devote additional resources to national trading standards as part of her plans to deal with the rapid growth of the illicit market in vapes in recent years, including unsafe products with illegal nicotine strengths and so on?

Given the widespread appearance of some illicit products on the shelves of shops and the co-ordination work that will need to be undertaken with the likes of Border Force to stop such illicit products getting into the country, in what scenario would the Minister consider it appropriate for the national authorities to lead on certain priorities instead of local teams? We know that local trading standards officers are often intelligence-led, whereas national authorities have greater resources at their disposal. How is that work co-ordinated, and can we do it better?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 3:15, 9 Mai 2024

I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston for her comments and views. She asked a really important question: will we enforce at a national level? The answer is that, at the moment, we want to be able to enable that, should it prove necessary. She will be aware that, as I set out, we are expanding—by £30 million a year—the resourcing available to His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, trading standards and Border Force to clamp down and enforce. As that work progresses, we may well uncover organised crime, for example, or significant bad practice that, as she rightly pointed out, crosses local borders and where a national-level intervention would be more appropriate. I cannot tell her right now what the plan is, because it will emerge over time, but having those powers is essential.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.