Clause 24 - Fixed penalty notices

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

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

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.