The Government needs to be clear on when police officers will be given powers to properly enforce the ban on smoking in cars when children are present, Alex Cunningham has warned, or the success of legislation introduced last year will be at risk of being undermined.
After a campaign lasting three and a half years, beginning when the Stockton North MP introduced proposals under the “ten minute” rule in 2011, the Smoke Free (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2015 came into force on 01 October 2015. But in response to a Parliamentary Question, the Department of Health has indicated that police forces around the country remain reliant on local authorities to enforce the ban.
Having asked when effective processes are expected to be in place to allow the issuing of fixed penalty notices to those caught flouting the law, the Public Health Minister appeared to admit to the Labour MP that police forces must pass information to local authorities to issue fixed penalty notices and collect fines.
“It has taken six months for a confirmed system to be put in place to enforce the regulations that I have wanted to see for so long. This is clearly a welcome sign of progress and has allowed a generous period of time to promote awareness. But it is concerning that the police do not appear to have the power to impose penalties themselves, having instead to report offenders to the local authority.
“While education is doubtless the primary tool in preventing smoking in cars when children are present, for some a deterrent is the only way they will conform. There needs to be a clear process whereby the burden is not passed to local authorities who are already struggling to make ends meet in light of further government cutbacks, and I have today asked when the police will be given that power.
“The Government originally resisted the new law but later saw the light and recognised the importance of such measures to hundreds of thousands of young people. I only hope this convoluted system isn’t a surreptitious effort to undermine the regulations by making them too difficult to implement.”