Clause 24 - Fixed penalty notices

Tobacco and Vapes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Preet Kaur Gill Preet Kaur Gill Shadow Minister (Primary Care and Public Health) 3:15, 9 Mai 2024

I beg to move amendment 20, in clause 24, page 12, line 14, leave out “£100” and insert “£200”.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clauses 25 and 26 stand part.

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

The amendment is very simple: it would amend clause 24, which introduces fixed penalty notices for retailers that breach age of sale, proxy purchasing and free distribution restrictions on tobacco, vapes and nicotine products, by doubling the fixed penalty notice from £100 to £200.

The need for the amendment is clear. In 2022-23, national trading standards identified that 20% of the 1,000 vape test purchases carried out with retailers resulted in an illegal sale. In 2019-20, 50% of councils that undertook test purchasing reported that cigarettes or tobacco products were sold to under-age people in at least one premises. Despite existing regulations, there is a big and widespread problem, which suggests that the current penalties and fines, which can end up as high as £2,500, are an insufficient deterrent. I strongly support giving trading standards officers the power to issue on-the-spot fines to retailers doing the wrong thing, but the current level of the fine is too low.

My amendment would increase fines to £200, precisely doubling the deterrent in the Bill. Under the Bill as drafted by the Government, offenders can be forced to pay only £50 if they pay off their fixed penalty notice within 14 days, and it is surely too easy for those breaching the law to factor that in as the cost of doing business. Stakeholders including the Association of Convenience Stores and the Local Government Association agree that £100 is too low and that £200 makes logical sense as the level at which to set fines, equalising it with the level for other, similar offences, such as that proposed in the draft regulations for the disposable vapes ban. In the Government’s consultation, £200 was also the most popular response—three times as many respondents supported £200 over £100.

The other reason why my amendment is important is that the penalties from fixed penalty notices can be retained by the local authority. I have raised my concerns, as others have, about the decline of local trading standards, and the amendment would increase the funds they have available to enforce other aspects of the Bill, including regulations yet to be made under it. All of that comes with a cost, and anything that we can do to give local authorities the tools they need to enforce the regulations, the better. I note that clause 26 would provide the power to amend the level of the fixed penalty notice by way of regulations, so the issue could be revisited if needed.

I urge other Committee members to support my amendment in order to strengthen enforcement and provide a proper deterrent to rogue retailers that choose to sell addictive and dangerous products to children.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

I rise to support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston. I completely agree that when we set these figures, we often forget that the economy has moved on so much, and that the rise in inflation has meant that so many things cost so much more. Just £100 is a very small amount to many shops, which take their cut from these products. It is therefore essential that we move into the realms of reality, not least because the consultation advised the Government that £200 would be an appropriate starting point and would have public support.

Clause 26 says that the figure can be amended by the Secretary of State, should they choose to do so. So the amendment would not place a limit in primary legislation, but it would make this a more realistic deterrent to ensure that shopkeepers abide by the law. It is also really important to have an incentive for them to ensure that they are fully up to speed with their obligations. This change would focus their minds as regulations are introduced, as the Minister alluded to, and ensure that they keep themselves up to date, because they know that the penalty makes it worth doing that. I therefore urge the Committee to adopt my hon. Friend’s amendment. It is a simple measure that would not cause the Minister any grief as the Bill passes through its later stages.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston for bringing this discussion to the Committee, and I fully appreciate the sentiment behind the amendment. I completely understand why it is attractive to raise the fixed penalty notice and make it more material to the individual, but I urge hon. Members to take into account the fact that local trading standards take a proportionate approach to tobacco and vape enforcement. The Bill proposes fixed penalty notices of £100 to enable trading standards to take swifter action by issuing on-the-spot fines, rather than needing to go through lengthy court processes. Littering, parking or under-age alcohol sales attract on-the-spot fines. The proposal in the Bill is for £100, or £50 if it is paid within two weeks. That avoids people thinking, “I can’t pay this, so you’ll have to pursue me through the courts.” That creates an incentive for these issues never to come to court, and it can clog up court time and so on. I fully appreciate the hon. Lady’s point, but this is about practicality.

I find it slightly odd that the hon. Lady says £100 is affordable but £200 is not. I would be shocked to get a £100 on-the-spot fine, and I am sure she would, too. Most retail workers would find a £100 fine to be quite devastating vis-à-vis their daily cost of living. I fully understand the sentiment behind the amendment, but £100 is in line with the precedent set by penalties for comparable offences. The fixed penalty notice for under-age alcohol sales is £90. If the penalty were raised to £200, as the amendment suggests, trading standards could issue higher on-the-spot fines, but how many of us have that kind of money on us? It would push a person into severe difficulty. As we have discussed, there is a very swift escalation—it is a “two strikes and you are out” policy—and there is the ability to take the business to task, too, so I think the current penalty is actually quite stringent.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I think we must always consider the most stringent possible fine for selling these things to kids. Will she confirm that, in the event that someone is selling age-restricted tobacco and vaping products to children, the shop worker, who is unlikely to be on a particularly high income, could receive an on-the-spot £100 fine, which they would have to pay immediately; and that the shop premises can be taken to court, and if necessary, enforcement can result in the shop not being able to sell these products at all? In addition, under clause 1 an individual can be taken to court for selling these products and can get a level 4 fine. There is a whole range of options, from on-the-spot fines, which may be relatively low and can be used if the trading standards officer wants to quickly remind someone not to make such mistakes in future, to much more severe penalties for those who are more persistent or deliberate.

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

My hon. Friend is exactly right, and I will run through the levels of fines for the benefit of hon. Members.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is not the whole point of having fines that they act as a deterrent? We do not want lots of people just paying £100 because it is manageable. The thought that they may have to find £200 on the spot could be more of a deterrent. The reason we have these fines in the first place is that they act as deterrents, is it not?

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

I completely agree; the hon. Lady makes a good point. What people would see as a deterrent is an open question. I would see a £100 fine as a deterrent; I do not have £100 in my purse, so I would have to go to the cash point. I would not be keen to do that, and Members of Parliament earn quite a bit more than most retail workers. That is the truth of it. I actually think that setting the fine in line with the £90 fine for the offence of selling alcohol to someone under age is quite a material deterrent.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

I think the Minister is making slightly the wrong comparison. A retail outlet will have a till, and that till will have money in it. Therefore, it will be the business, not the shop worker, paying the fine. She makes the point that for one person, £100 could be incredibly steep, but for someone working in a venue that sells products out of the scope of the legislation, paying £200 out of a till is not really out of the ordinary, and these businesses make extortionate profits out of these things. I wonder if she could address that point.

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

The hon. Lady makes a good point. There is an open question as to what the right level is, but it is for trading standards to decide whether the individual member of staff or the business pays the fine. So this is a very relevant point, but it is not just about taking the money out of the till. That is not necessarily the choice that trading standards would make; the fine may well be imposed on the individual.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I wonder whether looking at what an individual person may have in their purse is the right way to think about this. The Minister is right that I do not have £100 in my purse, but I am fortunate enough that I do have £100. It strikes me that in these situations, there would be a more modern way of paying the fine than expecting people to have it on their person at that moment. That puts a whole layer of obligation on them. I am slightly agnostic about what the level should be, but I wonder if we could look at what is reasonable rather than what people might have about their person.

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

The hon. Lady makes a good point. Of course, most of us do not carry £100 in cash, because we do not need to these days. My point was more that if the fine is £200, an individual might say, “Well, you’ll have to take me to court over it.” That creates a huge administrative burden that will slow down justice.

I will turn to the other clauses, because I think that will help in this debate. Clauses 24 to 26 relate to fixed penalty notices in England and Wales. Clause 24 introduces fixed penalty notices for the under-age sale of tobacco and vaping products and for the free distribution of vaping products to under-18s in England and Wales. The current penalty regime requires trading standards to prosecute an individual or business, and they must be convicted in a magistrates court. The new fixed penalty notices will allow trading standards to take swifter action by issuing on-the-spot fines to retailers, instead of escalating to a court process. Fixed penalty notices are already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Fixed penalty notices offer an individual the opportunity to avoid prosecution for an offence if they make a payment within a specified period. They are already in place for proxy purchases of tobacco and vape products. A strong approach to enforcement is vital to ensure the smoke-free generation policy, and that our approach to tackling youth vaping has real impact. Fixed penalty notices will complement the existing sanctions and strengthen the toolkit available to trading standards officers, allowing them to take swifter action to fine those selling to anyone under the age of sale.

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

I will make progress, if that is all right—I will give way before I finish. I just want to ensure that hon. Members are aware of the facts.

Clause 25 states that funds received from fixed penalty notices issued in relation to the offences in the Bill will be retained by local authorities and must be used in connection with their functions under the Bill. That means that if trading standards issue a fixed penalty notice, the local authority will retain the funds from the fixed penalty notice, and those funds must be used by the local authority to support the enforcement of tobacco and vape legislation. That allows local authorities to cover the enforcement costs of issuing fixed penalty notices, and to reinvest any remaining funds in enforcement regimes.

Clause 26 provides the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and Welsh Ministers with the power to change the amount of a fixed penalty notice and the percentage discount for early payment as set out in clause 24. The power provides flexibility for Ministers to adapt the amounts specified and will future-proof fixed penalty notices, ensuring that they remain an appropriate and proportionate enforcement tool to deter offenders.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Ceidwadwyr, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I thank the Minister for giving way. The purpose of the penalties is presumably to punish those who have deliberately acted against the rules, and to be a deterrent against those who consider doing so. I am satisfied that the Minister has thought very carefully —I know she has—about the level at which the fines should be set. She has come up with £100, but can she reassure me that the Government will monitor to see whether that is sufficient and, if it is not, that they will increase it accordingly using the regulations provided for under the Bill? Secondly, when an individual is deciding to break the rules and to sell an age-restricted tobacco product to a child, could they know whether they would be dealt with under the fixed penalty notice or under clause 1, which carries a much bigger and more deterring fine?

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

I can give my hon. Friend the reassurance that she seeks. With regards to the issuing of fines and whether the shopkeeper would know, it will be for trading standards to have the total range of enforcement tools that are available to them, including being able to impose a fine of up to £2,500 upon conviction in a magistrates court, as well as the other, potentially unlimited fines that we have discussed—for breach of a restricted premises order—or, indeed, this on-the-spot fine, which hon. Members will appreciate is a much faster way to provide swift and immediate punishment of offenders. Its escalation has already been set out—two offences in two years leads to the restricted premises or sale order.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Ceidwadwyr, Harrow East

I always seek a spirit of compromise in such circumstances. At the moment, the Bill states:

“The amount specified in a fixed penalty notice must be £100.”

I am concerned about how that could be altered by regulation. Clearly, a consultation or other measures might be needed. A relatively simple amendment could have the clause state that the fixed penalty must be a minimum of £100 and can be varied by regulation. Will the Minister consider that as not necessarily an amendment today, but as something she might consider taking forward so that we can satisfy all sides?

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

My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion, and I will certainly take that away to reflect on it. My initial thought is that we could, unfortunately, end up with a situation where a particular individual or premises felt that they were being unfairly penalised, because they got £100 and I got £200. We can imagine that. Nevertheless, I think it is a really good idea and a very good proposal for compromise, so yes, I will reflect on it.

I think, Dame Siobhain, we have come to the end of the discussion, so I commend clauses 24 to 26 to the Committee.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Llafur, Mitcham and Morden

I apologise, Minister, but as this is the shadow Minister’s amendment, she in this case gets an opportunity to respond.

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

I thank the Minister, although of course I am disappointed at her rejecting the arguments that she has heard today. I welcome the suggestion from the hon. Member for Harrow East. I think that that would be a fairly reasonable way forward. Of course, we do not know whether the Minister will make those amendments.

The Minister talked about a fixed penalty notice of £100, but actually, that is not true, because people have 14 days and it is reduced to £50. I do not see £50 as a deterrent. I think that if it were £200, for example, and people therefore had to pay £100 within 14 days, that would be more likely to be a deterrent. I would therefore like to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 1 Tobacco and Vapes Bill — Clause 24 - Fixed penalty notices

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 8 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 25 and 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.