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House of Lords Hansard
Consumer Rights (Enforcement and Amendments) Order 2016
20 December 2016
Volume 777

Motion to Approve

Moved by

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That the draft Order laid before the House on 17 November be approved.

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My Lords, the Consumer Rights Act came into force last year. It simplified UK consumer law and it empowers consumers, improves consumer choice and drives competition. The Act provides clear rights for consumers when buying goods, services and digital content. It also provides clear remedies for consumers so they know what they are entitled to when things go wrong and can take action where needed. The Act also provides enforcers, such as trading standards officers, with a set of updated powers, to aid them in investigating potential breaches of consumer law while ensuring businesses have relevant rights of appeal.

The Consumer Rights (Enforcement and Amendments) Order 2016 before us today makes a number of small but essential amendments to Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015. It adds a number of pieces of legislation to the list of legislation in the Act so that enforcers, such as trading standards, can access the updated investigatory powers contained in that schedule. The order will ensure that a comprehensive range of powers are available to enforce the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, which harmonise trading rules on how tobacco products are manufactured, produced and presented, and the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015, which require cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco to be packaged in a standard colour with a standard typeface.

Noble Lords will recall that a number of tobacco companies have challenged the standardised packaging legislation in the courts. I am pleased to say that the Government have won on every ground raised, not only in the High Court but also more recently in the Court of Appeal. It will be important, then, that trading standards have wide-ranging enforcement powers to ensure that this legislation now has the maximum impact on discouraging children from taking up smoking and helping smokers to quit.

Lastly, the order also makes consequential amendments to two pieces of legislation so that the investigatory and enforcement powers contained in Schedule 5 are referred to. The legislation affected by the order is the London Local Authorities Act 2007, which tackles rogue traders by requiring mail forwarding businesses in London to register with their local authority, and the Weights and Measures (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, which regulates the quantity of goods and weighing and measuring equipment used by traders. The Government consider that this order provides for the application of the most modern suite of enforcement powers to these pieces of legislation and, importantly, will allow trading standards to play their full part in enforcing the new tobacco legislation introduced by this Government, and in turn continue to drive smoking rates down in this country. I beg to move.

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My Lords, in relation to the tobacco and related products directive, my noble friend mentioned several times the aim of driving down smoking in this country. We are now in a situation in which there are many varieties of tobacco products available to people, many of which do not involve smoking. Could he bear in mind that good intentions in regulation often lead to unintended consequences? Would he ask his officials to brief him on Yale University’s recent research, demonstrating how increases in regulation of e-cigarettes are pushing up smoking rates among young people?

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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comprehensive analysis of the order before us this afternoon. I declare my interest as president of the Royal Society for Public Health.

We have made great strides in this country in reducing smoking. I am particularly proud of the last Labour Government’s measure in relation to the ban on smoking in public places—and, indeed, of my own amendment in the last Parliament, which the Lords passed, to ban smoking in cars when children are present.

Although the number of smokers in this country has halved since 1974, currently one in five adults still smoke. Enforcing the regulations and legislation relating to the sale, packaging and marketing of tobacco is, therefore, important. In that regard, I want to ask the Minister about progress on the enforcement of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and the Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products Regulations 2015. Can the Minister confirm that enforcement officers have already had a number of options available to enforce these regulations? Secondly, how much enforcement activity has there been? Thirdly, how good does he assess compliance to be?

I want to pick up the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on e-cigarettes. The noble Lord, Lord Prior, will recall that e-cigarettes were embraced within the tobacco regulations. I want to ask him about the recent alarmist and, I believe, misleading report of the US Surgeon General, on the use of electronic cigarettes by young people, in which he urges greater restrictions on access to vaping products. Would the Minister go so far as to agree with me that it was a pretty shoddy piece of work, which does not seem to be evidence based? Does he agree that it focused on risk to teenagers without looking at potential benefits to adult smokers; that while the science is detailed in the body of the report, the headlines and marketing material are not appropriately caveated; that the report does not put vaping risks into context with smoking or other risks; and that the Surgeon General proposed restrictive policies on e-cigarettes for the supposed benefits to young people without considering the likely harmful consequences for adult vapers or smokers? He also appears to be treating vaping products as just another form of tobacco, which of course is absolutely wrong.

Will the Minister say that the Government will not go down the route that the US Surgeon General has taken? Will he confirm that vaping has been outstandingly successful in helping adult smokers to stop smoking? Will he also confirm that there is no evidence of vaping in the UK being a gateway to smoking for young people? Has he also noticed that, in reality, in the US the most recent data on youth smoking, published, just after the Surgeon General’s report, actually contradicts the alarmist nature of that report, since it shows that vaping is in decline? That point was made by the noble Viscount.

The relevance of raising this in your Lordships’ House today is that the risk is that the kind of alarmist headlines that we heard in our own media in relation to that report might dissuade smokers from switching from smoking to vaping. There are concerns that a large and increasing number of smokers incorrectly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking, and there is a real danger that smokers may decide not to switch to safer alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, and are potentially missing out on what I can describe only as a very useful smoking cessation aid. Will the Minister reiterate that evidence to date on e-cigarettes indicates that they present a safer alternative to smoking and, for many—for thousands and thousands of people—are a useful cessation tool?

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My Lords, two questions have been raised. The first related to the existing powers of trading officers, how much enforcement has been going on and how good our compliance is. I hope that the noble Lord will be happy if I write to him with the details as I do not have the figures at my fingertips. We have already had two quite long debates in this House on vaping. I entirely take on board the point made by my noble friend Lord Ridley—namely, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and sometimes good intentions have unintended consequences. I have not read the work carried out at Yale University to which he referred, but I will certainly ask my officials to have a look at it. I am very happy to meet him subsequently to discuss its findings.

On the more general point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I absolutely reiterate that all the evidence, whether from Public Health England or the Royal College of Physicians, indicates that vaping is much better for you than smoking cigarettes. Of that there is absolutely no doubt, so we should be unequivocal about it. On the other hand, I think the noble Lord will agree that better than vaping is not to vape or smoke cigarettes or anything else at all. Therefore, we certainly should not encourage young people to vape. I cannot comment on the science behind the US Surgeon General’s report, but I think that his concern was that the number of people taking up vaping has gone up by some 900% from 2011 to 2015, and that people may have been caught up in vaping who would not otherwise have smoked. If these people would otherwise have smoked, it is obviously much better that they should vape. However, if they would have done neither, it is much better to have done neither. I think that is the Surgeon General’s fundamental concern. Therefore, the policy in this country is to encourage vaping compared with smoking but not to publicise vaping to young people in the traditional way through risqué advertising and the like. That is probably not a bad balance to strike.

Consumers and businesses benefit from the Consumer Rights Act in all sectors. The Act was introduced to simplify, strengthen and modernise the law and consolidate enforcement powers. It is right that these powers are applied to the specified legislation without further delay and to provide legal certainty for enforcement authorities.

Motion agreed.