AN attempt to protect teenagers against skin cancer by banning them from tanning salons moved a significant step closer to becoming law yesterday.

The Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill, put forward by a Labour backbencher cleared its Commons stages in a victory for The Northern Echo’s Sunbed Safety campaign.

The legislation now moves to the Lords, where it still faces a tough hurdle to reach the Statute Book before parliament is dissolved for the General Election, probably early next month.

Hailing the Bill’s successful third reading, its sponsor, Cardiff North MP Julie Morgan, insisted it would “save lives”, adding: “It is important – it will protect young people.”

The Northern Echo launched its campaign in 2008, after Katie Turner, from Darlington, was hospitalised after a 20-minute session at a salon.

Meanwhile, government health experts have warned that sunbeds are responsible for 100 deaths and 370 new cases of malignant skin cancer every year.

Teenagers who had been exposed to high doses of radiation from sunbeds were more likely to get cancer in later life, they concluded. Other illeffects included skin ageing, eye damage and burns.

The Bill would place a duty on salon operators to prevent the use of sunbeds by under- 18s and give local enforcement officers the power to inspect the businesses and to penalise owners who breach the ban.

It would also allow ministers to regulate to stop children hiring or buying sunbeds.

However, critics have pointed to a worrying loophole.

Unlike in Scotland, there would be no outright ban on unstaffed, coin-operated tanning booths. They warned that without staff, there would be no one to police the ban and prevent under-18s from exposing themselves to doses of ultraviolet radiation.

Yesterday, the Bill was briefly held up when Conservative MP Christopher Chope insisted the proposed fines were draconian, calling for them to be cut from £20,000 to £5,000. But the MP backed down.

Giving the Government’s backing to the Bill, junior health minister Ann Keen said the evidence was clear that sunbeds were a health risk and that the dangers were greater for young people.

She said: “Voluntary selfregulation by the industry has not worked and the Government is committed to taking action to prevent young people from harming themselves through using sunbeds.”