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Exiting the European Union (Energy Conservation)

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 18 November 2020

I beg to move,

That the draft Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 13 October, be approved. 

In recent years, the EU has introduced, through the ecodesign directive and the energy-labelling framework regulation a suite of product-specific regulations. Ecodesign regulations are all about minimising the cost and environmental impact of products used in homes and businesses by setting minimum energy performance standards. Energy labelling regulations provide consumers with information about a given product’s energy performance to allow them to make informed purchasing decisions. In 2020, those policies will save households approximately £100 on their annual energy bills, and they will also lead to greenhouse gas emissions savings of 8 million tonnes of CO2 while driving innovation and competitiveness in business.

The aims of the statutory instrument are relatively straightforward. It amends retained EU law to ensure that the ecodesign and energy labelling regime remains operable in the UK once the transition period ends at the end of this year. The SI also implements the Northern Ireland protocol and unfettered access for ecodesign and energy-labelling policy.

I am concerned about the Northern Ireland protocol. We spent some 60 minutes on that in the urgent question to the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. Will the Minister clarify the issue of labelling on products from Northern Ireland and confirm that the protocol will not prevent my agrifood sector and other sectors from selling their products across the water east-west and west-east?

I think there are two different issues. Clearly, there are labelling issues, but the question that the hon. Gentleman is asking relates to market access. There is no reason, once the SI is on the statute book, that there should be any impediment to trade.

Amendments to retained EU ecodesign and energy-labelling legislation are required to ensure that that legislation can continue to operate legally within the UK from 1 January 2021. Amendments are also made to our 2019 EU exit SI to ensure that that continues to function as intended. New energy-labelling regulations for some products have come into force in the EU, and they require that suppliers of the relevant goods provide rescaled energy labels with their products from 1 November 2020. Retailers, however—this should be stressed—do not need to display those labels until 1 March next year. This SI ensures that the March 2021 requirements that would otherwise not become retained EU law still come into force in March, as intended.

On retailers needing to display the new labels, does the retailer just swap one label for another, or is there some other process they need to go through come March?

There will be a requirement from March 2021 for retailers to display the requisite labels, but we do not envisage this as being a particularly difficult transition.

To ensure legislative implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol—this relates to what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said—the statutory instrument amends our 2019 EU exit SI, and underlying legislation, so that certain UK-wide provisions are limited to Great Britain only. This will ensure that EU requirements continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the transition period, as per the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol. The instrument also allows relevant qualifying Northern Ireland goods that comply with EU ecodesign and energy labelling regulations to be placed on the GB market without—this relates directly to his point—undergoing additional checks. Qualifying Northern Ireland goods are defined in another instrument laid before Parliament by the Department.

Finally, the SI implements a decision to replace the EU flag on energy labels with the UK flag. Alongside this, we have removed EU language text from energy labels, and UK energy labels have been made available to businesses—free of charge, I would like to add—through an online service that supports compliance with this amendment.

These regulations are necessary to ensure the continued functioning of ecodesign and energy-labelling policy in the UK, while upholding our commitments under the Northern Ireland protocol, with the result that the UK, its consumers and our businesses can continue to realise the benefits of this policy. I commend the regulations to the House.

I thank the Minister for giving us a careful and clear exposition of the position that was the case prior to this year and what will now be the case with the effective continuation of the provisions of the two EU directives that he mentioned—the EU ecodesign directive of 2009 and the EU energy-labelling framework regulations of 2017—in terms of their position as continuing defenders of consumer rights in the purchase and use of electrical goods and similar items that are covered by those directives. They deal, in the first instance, as he mentioned, with ensuring a progressive energy efficiency base for electrical products so that the least efficient are progressively withdrawn from sale as the provisions of the ecodesign directive comes in—that is, the requirement that goods are progressively designed in an increasingly energy-efficient and therefore energy-saving way.

The second directive, as the Minister mentioned, provides a labelling system, which I think hon. Members will be familiar with, that covers the energy efficiency rating of a particular product and therefore gives customers guidance on the products that they are purchasing and reinforces the ecodesign directive in terms of informing customer choices about what they are purchasing. Clearly, it is very important for the purposes of continuing the protections and support for the marketing and purchasing of those electrical items that what was in the directives is properly transposed and changed into UK law. As far as I can see, what has happened with both statutory instruments in this area is that the transposition has been fully made so that the provisions come properly into UK law.

Of course, that is not the full story and we need further elucidation on one or two things, whether or not we agree that the SI does its job of making sure that after 1 January—or in this case, March—the provisions are fully transferred and protection can continue. Slightly confusingly, this SI follows on from an SI with exactly the same name in 2019, which first transposed EU eco- design and energy labelling directives into equivalent standards in UK law. That SI transferred those arrangements on the basis that they would come into force in March 2020. However, with the extension of article 50 and the date of exit now being 1 January 2021, the SI might conceivably have needed updating to deal with the new date. Indeed, as it transpired, a number of amendments, changes and developments in those EU directives were made and came into force in the period between the original start date of the 2019 SI and the start date that is envisaged in the new SI we have before us.

I wish to take my hon. Friend’s point somewhat further forward. Does he agree that the public and many environmental organisations are deeply concerned, in exactly the way that he is pointing out, about the slippage and the way that the Government, through sleight of hand, are watering down very important EU environmental regulations?

I agree that the public are concerned about that, and we in this House should be concerned about it, because in a number of instances we can see that the period between the lapsing of the EU regulation and its replacement by UK-based provisions has been used, either accidentally or purposefully, to lose some of the protections in transition. Part of our job today is to make sure that what was there for our protection prior to EU exit remains there and continues for future purposes. On this occasion, I think—this SI is 118 pages long, so it is quite a read—

The hon. Member quite rightly corrects me; it is substantially shorter than I thought.

The provisions appear to be consistent with what was there before and what is there for the future, but that does not cover all the issues, important though it is that we get that right. It was not just a question of checking that the original SI had done the job of making the transition safely into UK law. There was a period during which we were effectively bound to EU law, and a number of changes took place that were to be implemented during that period between the passing of the first SI and this SI being introduced. This SI therefore had to do a number of additional things, to incorporate those changes into UK law for future purposes.

In so doing, a number of issues have arisen, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland protocol comes into question as far as those changes are concerned, as well as how Northern Ireland and Great Britain would be incorporated into the changes for exit on 1 January. The two things that have happened in the intervening period seem to throw up some difficulties, and I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on them.

The first is that the question of the status of the regulations has arisen as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, because Northern Ireland will now continue to be in the EU regulatory system for the purposes of the two directives and will continue to eco-label on EU badging. That appears to present a problem for the marketing of Northern Ireland-manufactured products in Great Britain. In the SI, those products have effectively been given leave to market in GB on EU labelling and efficiency bases, but with a clear marking of their origin, which is tracked into GB.

That issue may well have been resolved by this SI, but there also arises a problem the other way round. If goods are being marketed from Northern Ireland with EU eco-labelling on it and are subject to ecodesign regulations, it is important that those labels and the ecodesign standards are compatible within the UK. The UK Government have effectively provided an internal solution to that problem by ensuring that the new regulations on UK eco-labelling apply only to GB and not to Northern Ireland, and what comes in from Northern Ireland can be marketed in Great Britain without further additional labelling.

However, what about the marketing of Great Britain-manufactured and labelled goods into Northern Ireland? The SI mentions a possible solution to this, which I would like the Minister to comment on. It has been agreed that there should be a mark on the GB certification to allow those goods to be sold in Northern Ireland. I am not clear what that mark is, how it will be distinguished for the purpose of selling in Northern Ireland and how it will differentiate goods that are being sold from the EU in Northern Ireland, as opposed to being sold from Britain. That is particularly important because of goods from the Irish Republic.

As for the marketing of UK-manufactured goods in the EU, I expect that the UK will have to produce separate agreements on conforming to EU standards to market, and that the existence of a UK mark will not be sufficient to secure marketing arrangements. Can the Minister clarify that position and say whether the eco-labelling UK label will be sufficient for goods that are manufactured in the UK, but marketed in the EU, if those arrangements are in parallel? Would that be acceptable for marketing purposes, or will UK companies have to agree on an additional EU label, over and above the UK label, to secure those marketing opportunities? That is the first additional problem with which we must get to grips.

In addition, some of the changes in the directives issued between March and January are not due to be implemented until 2021. Although those measures should have passed into UK law between March and January, the UK Government opted not to include them in this SI, because they are not due to be implemented before we have left the EU. We may ask whether that is of any significance. Indeed, there is a question mark in my mind about whether or not it is significant, because one change that was made in the regulations prior to this period, and which therefore should have been implemented but will not come in until 2021, relates to lighting standards. It looks as if those who manufacture lighting products in Northern Ireland will have to apply further changes in lighting standards and eco-labelling in 2021, which will set Northern Ireland at odds with GB standards. As far as the UK is concerned, in Great Britain that element of EU law will not yet have been passed on at all, and it may or may not be in the future.

What plans does the Minister have subsequently to incorporate those changes into UK law, so that those standards will be the same? He will agree that this is not an academic point. There could be divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain on those standards, and that might take us further away from the simple question of putting on a mark, or providing a way leave.

Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I assumed he was aware—although he might not be—that in a motion such as this, which has a 90-minute limit, even though there is currently no pressure from other Members who wish to speak on this specific item of business, it is unusual for the Minister or shadow Minister to take more than 15 minutes to make their point. The hon. Gentleman has taken significantly more than 15 minutes so far, and although he would be right to argue that plenty of that 90-minute slot is left, on behalf of Members who are waiting elsewhere to speak in the next and subsequent items of business, I should point out that there is a lot more business for the House to get through today. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would consider truncating his remarks.

I thank you for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. In my defence, this is a particularly complicated statutory instrument and I have felt it necessary to try to lay it out in some detail to get to the heart of what we are trying to talk about. If I have taken rather longer than I might have done in that process, I am sorry, but I hope that I will be coming to the end of my remarks shortly.

Will the Minister set out what will be done about the lighting changes that have taken place in directives and how that can be reconciled with procedures in Northern Ireland and Great Britain? There is also no agreement yet, as I understand it, on access by Northern Ireland to the EU product database, which informs eco labelling and product standard activity. The UK is not supposed to have access to the database because it will be independent of the EU and will need to set up its own database in due course—or rather quickly I would have thought. However, if Northern Ireland is to continue to work on EU eco labelling criteria, it should have access to that database. Will the Minister tell us what is happening now about this apparent impasse?

You will be pleased to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we will not oppose this statutory instrument this afternoon, but I do hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us on some of the points that I have raised. I think that, at the end of this, he might perhaps agree with me that this is rather a mess, isn’t it?

I presume from your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you do not want me to try to push this to the full 90 minutes.

I will do my best.

This sounds all very grand—"Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products”. I look forward to scrutinising and getting stuck into this legislation, but will it be about a cleaner, greener UK, or taking back control and leaving the EU? Well, no. There are actually 116 pages of legislation, nearly 100 pages of which are nice pictures of labels. Rather than taking back control, this is all about putting a Union Jack over what was formerly the EU flag on the labels on our appliances, which we all recognise, that tell us how energy efficient they are. The explanatory notes, at 10 pages, are nearly as long as the text in the regulations, which, again, says it all.

Noting what you said, Madam Deputy Speaker, about other important business coming later on, we have to ask: why is this legislation being debated in the main Chamber and not where SIs are usually done, which is in a Committee Room? It prompts the question of why the Government are bringing this legislation here anyway.

Will the Minister tell us whether a consultant was used to design these new labels and specifications included in the 100-odd pages, or was he able to do it in-house with civil servants? Did they come up with the new specification and the colour coding all by themselves, or did they have to go to someone external? Can he tell us what the advantage is of removing the EU language from the labels? Is that really necessary? In paragraphs 2.12, 2.15, 2.26 and 2.27 of the explanatory memorandum, reference is made to “fixing deficiencies” in retained legislation. Will the Minister confirm that no improvements or alterations have been made to coding and regulations other than, as has been already said, substituting references to EU legislation and EU bodies for references to UK bodies and adding a Union Jack to the labels, and that the measure just mirrors other regulations that have been incorporated, such as the power transformer amendment regulation? Does that mean there are no actual deficiencies in EU legislation to be fixed and that it is just about sorting UK legislation out before leaving the EU? If the Minister could confirm that, it would be good.

Can the Minister explain why there is just a one-year transition period for CE marking? As I tried to ask in my intervention earlier, for goods that arrive in the UK during that transition period but are not sold until later, when the regulations kick in for the new labels that must be displayed, will it just be a matter of the retailer swapping the label over to the new label without doing anything else, or will some other process have to be followed to provide certification?

Paragraph 10.1 of the explanatory memorandum states that stakeholders

“raised concerns about the limited timeframe being granted to implement the required”

changes. What has been done to help stakeholders with the timeframe, and what additional stakeholder engagement has taken place?

Paragraph 12.3 of the explanatory memorandum gives an estimate of the total cost to business under de minimis self-certification of £1.95 million. What is the total of all the various de minimis assessments that have come through the Minister’s Department? That £1.95 million cost itself is small, but if we keep adding up all these de minimis estimates, what is the estimated total cost to business of changes as a result of our leaving the EU?

Paragraph 2.25 of the explanatory memorandum gives details on compliance with the Northern Ireland protocol, which is good, but ironically, the UK Government seem to want to rip up that protocol, which was the whole point of the urgent question earlier today. Unfettered access for goods in Northern Ireland—for goods coming from Ireland and the EU, and for getting GB goods into Northern Ireland—would seem to be a really good advantage for distributors in Northern Ireland. Does that give Northern Ireland distributors an advantage over their GB mainland counterparts in business overheads and the checks and scrutiny they need to do?

Going forward, if there is a divergence in standards between the EU and the UK, how will the declaration of conformity for goods coming in and out of Northern Ireland to GB be implemented and checked? What discussions has the Minister’s Department had with counterparts in Northern Ireland?

It seems to me that even this simple replacement of labelling and updating of references to standards to comply with the EU—to make UK law valid and compliant as we exit the EU—is being left to the last minute. How are we supposed to believe that the UK is ready and okay to handle a no-deal exit, which the Government say will cause no problems whatsoever to business and transactions going forward?

As the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) asked, what is the reality for GB goods being exported to the EU on exit? What arrangements are in place so that, going forward, these GB regulations that are coming into place will be accepted by the EU once the UK is a third country? Have any discussions taken place? Are any agreements in place, or is this all at the mercy of whether we get a deal or no deal? We do not have long left for that to be sorted out.

Let me conclude by asking the Minister this. Given that he is introducing legislation today that swaps flags and changes references from EU legislation to UK legislation while possibly missing key export issues that we need to understand, is he not embarrassed to be doing that from the Dispatch Box rather than in a Committee Room?

Before I call the Minister, I thank the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for having pointed out what an interesting piece of legislation this is. Very rarely do we get a fully illustrated instrument like this before us. I have never understood energy labels, but I have a much better idea now than I ever had before. I hope that many people will go to the Vote Office and pick up this draft statutory instrument.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am delighted that you appreciate the various illustrations in the legislation, and I am delighted, too, that you have learned a great deal about energy labelling.

I shall sum up very succinctly, because I fully understand the pressures on time and the fact that people want to move on to subsequent debates. I thank the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) for their contributions. I will address two or three of their points as succinctly but as clearly as I can.

In relation to the implementation period—the transition period, as we call it now—it was always the case that we had an obligation to enshrine in UK law measures that were introduced by the EU in the course of the transition period, but once we had left the EU, there was no such obligation. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test is therefore quite right to say that, as per the Northern Ireland protocol, there could in theory be some divergence. However, if that happens, we can keep on an equal basis, mirroring what goes on in Northern Ireland at a subsequent date after we have left the EU. That is possible, and I am not going to prejudge the outcome of that.

With respect to marketing, in the provision in the statutory instrument, there is a period of a year where EU goods can be marketed in this country. As the hon. Gentleman said, leaving the transition period will not affect the marketing of goods from Northern Ireland into Great Britain, nor should it affect the marketing of goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, but there will be a marker. I cannot remember its exact design off the top of my head, but I will certainly come back to him on that question.

As to why this debate is happening on the Floor of the House and not in a Committee Room, that is clearly an issue for the business managers of the House. I am not in a position to fully answer that question, I am afraid, but I reiterate our commitment to the standards, ecodesign and energy labelling regime that has helped us to significantly reduce energy bills and increase emissions savings. This will make a massive contribution to our carbon reduction commitments in future. I think Members of this House will be very pleased to know that our standards have led the EU over the past few years: no country in the EU has decarbonised as readily as we have done since 1990. I notice that our German colleagues are still committed to the mining of coal until 2038, and I am pleased to say that we are taking coal off the power generation grid by 2024. I make that point not as an idle boast, but to say that we are, and have been, leaders of the EU, and with COP26 we will continue to provide leadership on the decarbonisation agenda.

This draft instrument will allow businesses in Northern Ireland to trade smoothly with Britain. It will allow Northern Irish products to circulate without any hindrance on the GB market, and it will also preserve the highest standards within businesses in this country.

I think the Minister has concluded, so the hon. Gentleman’s opportunity has, I am afraid, passed.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft Ecodesign for Energy-Related Products and Energy Information (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, which were laid before this House on 13 October, be approved.

Between this item of business and the next, I ought to briefly suspend the House in order that the Dispatch Box and so on can be sanitised. I suspend the House for three minutes.

Sitting suspended.