Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations were laid before the House on 7 February 2019.
The protection of consumers from unsafe products is at the heart of the legislation before us today. It has a single yet crucial objective—to ensure that, in the event of no deal, the UK continues to have a robust and highly effective product safety and legal metrology regime. It ensures continued protection for consumers across the UK and provides certainty and clarity for businesses.
The UK product safety and legal metrology regime is among the strongest in the world. It is vital that we continue to retain such a robust system, even if the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place. The legislation will not change the existing system or approach taken, which I know is supported by stakeholders. The changes are limited to those necessary to ensure that the 38 product safety and metrology laws it covers will still work effectively on exit.
Before I say more, I would like to explain the approach we have taken, because I appreciate that some noble Lords may have concerns that such a large instrument may be difficult to navigate.
I make no comment.
I assure the Committee that this approach has been designed to increase understanding and reduce the number of similar instruments that would otherwise be needed. Many cross-cutting issues are the same for different products. These have similar definitions, obligations and requirements. As a result they require similar amendments, which it makes sense to group together into one instrument rather than to separate out into many different instruments. Another reason for the size of this instrument is the lengthy technical schedules. These are used widely by industry, and incorporating them here from retained EU law makes it easier for businesses to see and understand the legislation as a whole.
During development of this instrument, we have been mindful of the impact on business of changes to processes as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. Where possible, we have given businesses time to adjust, including an 18-month transition period for importers for any labelling changes and a 90-day transition period for companies notifying key safety information for cosmetic products already on the market. We have also engaged with businesses on the drafting. Drafts of the schedules were shared with stakeholders and feedback obtained. Stakeholders, including trade associations, industry experts and enforcement agencies, took part and welcomed this approach. As a result we have a better understanding of the main requirements and concerns of stakeholders, including businesses, and have been able to reflect these in the legislation that is before us today. In addition, and given the importance of this area of law, we have completed and published a full impact assessment to ensure complete transparency—despite the impact being below the threshold at which an impact assessment is required.
On the detail of the instrument, it is important to repeat that it will not change the UK’s approach to product safety. It keeps important elements; for example, it retains the requirement for conformity assessment to ensure that products meet the essential requirements set out in the legislation, including the need for assessment by third-party organisations where that is currently required. It retains the use of standards that give rise to presumptions of conformity with the legislative requirements, making it easier for businesses to ensure that their products are safe by following a designated standard.
Taking action to protect consumers from unsafe products remains vital, and this legislation ensures that the UK’s market surveillance system will continue to work to limit the number of unsafe and non-compliant goods available to UK consumers and businesses. It also gives ongoing recognition of existing authorised representatives in the European Economic Area for any appointed before exit, while those after exit will need to be in the UK.
For cosmetic products, due to the risk they pose to human health, responsible persons—who play a key role in ensuring the safety of cosmetic products—will be required to be based in the UK from the point of exit. By addressing these issues we are able to give business certainty and—crucially—we will retain our ability to remove unsafe or non-compliant products from the market.
To conclude, I hope that the Committee will agree that maintaining a functioning product safety framework in the event of no deal is essential both for consumer safety and business confidence. Without this legislation in place, there would be major risks to the safety of consumers—the safety of the toys our children play with, the cosmetics we all use every day, and the electrical items which are found in abundance in our homes. Maintaining these protections is vital to people across the country. I beg to move.
Oh, 2.54. I was told that it was 4.5 kilograms, so the figure has doubled. My first thought was: thank goodness for the Explanatory Memorandum. I tried reading the instrument without the Explanatory Memorandum just to torture myself, but I did not get very far without a stiff drink.
When I read the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s acknowledgement that the SI had to be corrected and relaid because of legal drafting errors in an earlier version, it did not fill me with great confidence. The scrutiny sub-committee voiced concern at the department’s decision to combine so many different legislative measures in a single statutory instrument, and I certainly agree with that concern. I come to this as a vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and as a guardian of hallmarking in the Birmingham Assay Office.
It is virtually impossible to scrutinise this instrument effectively with the crazily reduced time limit of 29 March. The scrutiny sub-committee expressed concern about uncertainty and the impact that leaving the EU’s produce safety regime in a no-deal scenario could have on UK consumers and businesses. In that context, I should like to put some questions to the Minister.
On the category of cosmetics, for instance, paragraph 7.19 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that,
“this instrument will make further amendments to ensure the continued protection of UK consumers after exit. In a ‘no deal’ scenario it is likely that the UK will no longer have access to the EU Cosmetics Products Notification Portal which provides essential information to National Poison Centres to protect public health. Work has already begun on a UK replacement database”.
Can the Minister guarantee that no British consumer of cosmetic products will be put at risk of being poisoned? The Explanatory Memorandum uses the phrase “Work has already begun”. Will that really reassure British women—the principal consumers of cosmetics—that all cosmetics made at home and abroad will be safe? What will a functioning statute book actually look like in the cosmetics sector, and could rogue cosmetics firms set themselves up with the precise purpose of circumnavigating loose consumer protection in this area and making fast bucks from an overly trusting shopping sector, especially online? Is this the kind of no-deal consequence that we are facing in this sector? Also, what is the timescale for the completion of the UK’s replacement cosmetics product portal?
Perhaps I may also ask the Minister a few questions about consultation. Paragraph 10.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The Department did not undertake a public consultation”.
At least that has the virtue of honesty and brevity. But further down the page we read, at paragraph 10.3:
“Informal consultation has taken place with a good cross-representation of stakeholders, including trade associations and other industry representative bodies across the product areas covered by this instrument”.
Can the Minister give us his definition of “informal” and “good”, as in,
“good cross-representation of stakeholders”?
How many meetings took place with the stakeholders? Did the cross-representation of stakeholders have the Explanatory Memorandum available when they looked at this SI? If they did not, I admire their superpowers. Did the informal consultation involve, say, trading standards, the Scottish Government or the CBI in all its regional forums, and were the meetings in situ or just a set of emails and phone calls? If we leave the EU without a deal, is this a good time to be “informal” about commercial regulation?
I have a few final questions. On the impact of this SI, paragraph 12.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The impact on business has been looked at in an Impact Assessment … for this instrument”,
and has been assessed as de minimis. That is all right, then. However, later in the Explanatory Memorandum there is a reference to how much this whole procedure will cost businesses, and it does not seem like small beer. Paragraph 12.3 informs us that some of the 241,000 businesses that are to be affected will try to familiarise themselves with the new inventory of regulations. The cost estimate is put at £19.6 million, which is a substantial sum in itself, on the assumption that the average business leader will need only three hours to build total operational familiarity with these new rules. That is ludicrously optimistic. To take the example of a managing director of a company in Birmingham—a city I know well—which trades across Europe and indeed the world, she can get to work on a Monday morning and will have absorbed the consequences for her business of a no-deal Brexit by lunchtime that day. Is that the Government’s professional opinion? I would be grateful for the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, because we overlapped for at least five years as Members of the European Parliament. The noble Baroness referred to cosmetics; I think we will both remember the fevered exchange we had with constituents on animal testing. I echo her remarks.
I am sure my noble friend will be only too aware of the criticism that has been levelled at his department, and I feel for him most deeply, because this epic package is the surest cure for insomnia that any Minister could wish for. Could he put our minds at rest, and those of the members of the sub-committee? I am mindful of the problems we have already heard: this instrument had to be reissued because there were minor drafting errors in the original script, plus the fact that the impact assessment was published subsequently, which meant that the scrutiny committee was not able to perform its function because it did not have that document in front of it.
I do not detract from the fact that this is a very necessary piece of legislation, but I hope that this will not be the way forward. There will be instances where regulations fall naturally together, but the very number of pages here, and the fact that this has had to be repeated and that the impact assessment could not be packaged together with it, must surely be a cause of concern for the department. I do not want to go down this path again.
I have a number of questions. The sub-committee noted that there is considerable uncertainty, for reasons that have been well rehearsed, about the possible impact on UK consumers and businesses of leaving the EU’s product safety regime. Does the Minister share the concern of the scrutiny committee’s Sub-Committee B about the impact that the loss of access to EU product safety databases could have on UK consumers? Even at this late date, might the department be able to provide that information in writing to the committee before the SI transfers from here to the Chamber? That concerns me, given that it relates to offshore installations, other major industries and explosives as well.
I want to share one anecdote with my noble friend. In a previous ministry—it was the Department of Trade and Industry, under a Conservative Government, I think—it was decreed that second-hand toys could no longer be sold in charity shops because of the danger that the eyes and other pieces might be displaced and be a great safety risk to small children. What I was not prepared for was the amount of correspondence—in those days, they were hard-copy letters; people printed out a standard letter and we received multiples of it because we had thousands of constituents. That was an unintended consequence of the toy safety directive as it was implemented in UK law at that time. One might say that it was gold-plating, so it would be nice to know that nothing is being gold-plated here and that we are just transferring what is already in UK law. If my understanding is correct and we lose access to EU product safety databases, it must surely set alarm bells ringing.
With so many regulations or schedules to regulations bundled together here—and following on from what was itemised by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley—is my noble friend convinced that we are not missing a matter of public policy here? This is our one opportunity to discuss it before we pass the regulations in the Committee and subsequently in the House.
My Lords, I am a member of the statutory instruments Sub-Committee B, along with my noble friend Lord Rooker, who is in his place. I want first to thank the Minister for arranging the briefing meeting that took place last week. It is quite an unusual event for a full-scale briefing invitation to go to all Peers. I think it was at the request of the sub-committee, but it is recognition that this is quite an unusual statutory instrument.
I shall not go over the points raised about the sub-committee’s comments. My only question is in reference to the Health and Safety Executive, which is referred to in paragraph 10.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum as one of the organisations that has given technical input. I commented at the briefing and repeat today that this is not the first statutory instrument for which extra resources will be required by the Health and Safety Executive. It should be noted officially that it will be under some strain in completing its responsibilities in this area, particularly as I understand that it has been without a chief executive for at least six months. Can the Minister assure us that some inquiries will be made about why that is and that somebody will be in post as soon as possible?
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, I am a vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. The other interest I declare—as it is pertinent to the remarks I want to make—is my chairmanship of the government-appointed national accreditation body, the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, or UKAS. In that role, I welcome the work that has gone into this statutory instrument in respect to the transposition of the EU regulation on accreditation. I also welcome the consultative approach taken by BEIS and the Office for Product Safety and Standards with UKAS and other relevant stakeholders and the engagement surrounding that consultation. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I thank the Minister and his officials for the briefing we were offered on this statutory instrument.
I recognise that transposing EU regulations to make them operable under UK law necessitates some changes. None the less, the reassurance that there has been no change to government policy is important. Therefore, UKAS is generally supportive of the way that the accreditation regulations have been transposed. We are reassured by the Government’s continuing commitment to maintaining the United Kingdom’s regulatory standards for product safety and the conformity assessment activities required for demonstrating compliance. We welcome the fact that UKAS’s position as the sole national accreditation body has been retained.
However, there are one or two potentially negative impacts from the amendments to EU Regulation 765/2008, the accreditation and market surveillance regulation amendment. My one question today relates to what measures are in place to prevent a competitive and possibly profit-driven rather than a not-for-profit accreditation market developing for United Kingdom-based conformity assessment bodies. Have the Government considered what else they might do to safeguard UKAS’s position as a not-for-profit national accreditation body and to prevent other accreditation bodies offering accreditation in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Minister for conducting a consultation on this “minor” piece of legislation last week and for his explanatory letter to the noble Lord, Lord Fox, which has been passed on to me. However, after the meeting last week I have rather more questions now than I had in the first place.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, this SI creates a new independent regime for checking product conformity, initially mirroring EU product-safety standards. The Government have combined 38 measures into one, creating a piece of legislation over 600 pages long. The concerns that I outlined at the meeting—which were subsequently outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, as well—regarding the breadth of industries and the number of sectors covered by this instrument remain. It makes it difficult for Parliament to read and scrutinise let alone those organisations to which it actually applies. Any company, small or otherwise, looking at this piece of legislation would be daunted, and I do not accept the argument that the repetition over all the different sectors covered will be reassuring and ensure consistency of treatment between different areas, as was mentioned at the meeting last week.
I also do not think that the 241,000 businesses which will be covered by this instrument will thank the Government for making them wade through so much paperwork to find what they need. Surely one of the fundamental principles of a democratic society is that people should be able to know what the law is and easily understand how it applies to them. Today’s SI has the potential to undermine that principle.
We know that there is a premium on time before 29 March, and we certainly have plenty of SIs to get through, but the Government could have laid each of the measures separately and then grouped them together in smaller debates. Companies, and consumers, will not thank them for this tombstone of an SI.
At the meeting last week, I also raised the costs of implementation, which have been calculated at a total of £25 million. The analysis and evidence summary talks of a corporate manager or director taking an average of three hours to familiarise themselves with the new legislation. The £25 million is supposed to cover an estimated £54 billion-worth of GVA and £63 billion-worth of goods from our exporters to other EU countries, with about £104 billion imported from EU countries.
The impact assessment does not include the wider impact caused by the separation of the UK and EU product safety regimes. It is surely here where the biggest costs to businesses of a damaging no-deal Brexit would lie. No assessment that I can see is made of the cost of relabelling products—removing the old CE marker and substituting the new UKCA one. The manufacturers’ organisation Make UK told the BBC that,
“thousands of companies are going to have to spend millions of pounds collectively on changing all their markings to comply with the new mark”.
It does not include the cost to British exporters of having to seek approval from two notifying bodies: one based in the UK and one based on the EU.
My first question is: what assessment have the Government made of those costs to UK businesses and what knock-on effect will they have on consumer prices? Is this not another reason why the UK would be foolish to leave on 29 March without a deal? That is a rhetorical question: the Minister and I both know the answer to it.
My second question, to which I would appreciate an answer, regards the impact of a no-deal Brexit on our 176 notified bodies operating in the UK which provide more than 4,000 jobs between them. If the EU does not allow UKCA-marked products to be sold in the EU, there will be no incentive for foreign manufacturers to have their products certified in the UK. They will go to an EU-notified body to receive the CE mark and then import the products into the UK. Does the Minister agree with that assessment? In the light of it, are the Government seeking assurances from the European Commission that it would accept UKCA products in a no-deal scenario?
On the subject of the CE mark, I should like to ask a question on behalf of the charity Electrical Safety First. It is concerned that although the UK Government have created their own mark, it will not be a consumer mark widely recognised by the public. What plans do the Government have to raise awareness of the new mark among consumers? What are the timings and what transition plans are there? Electrical Safety First would like the Government to work with it and industry to raise awareness of the UKCA. That sounds like a fair offer to me. How does the Minister respond?
Next, I should appreciate some clarification on the expiry of the CE mark. The Government have decided that they will continue to allow products imported from the EU that bear the CE mark to be sold on the UK market and that this will happen unilaterally, regardless of whether the EU agrees to allow UKCA-marked products to be sold to the EU. At the meeting with the Minister, he referred to a transition period of 18 months using the existing marks for importers, and to one of 90 days for cosmetic product imports. We discussed that earlier today. But there appears to be no sunset clause on the SI. I presume the Government will have to change the law to ban CE marked-products from being sold in the UK should they ever wish to do so. Can the Minister clarify whether that is correct?
Finally, I will mention market surveillance. The UK will lose access to RAPEX—the EU’s rapid alert system—and ICSMS, the Information and Communication System on Market Surveillance, which we will replace with our own databases for market surveillance and public protection to help remove unsafe or non-compliant products from the UK market. The charity Electrical Safety First is unsurprisingly exercised about counterfeit goods as well, particularly those sold online. What plans are there to prevent more counterfeit and substandard electrical goods from being sold, particularly online, after Brexit?
I am sorry for the length of my remarks and promise to make it up to the Minister in the next SI, but this is, as I have mentioned, an inordinately long one. I appreciate that I have asked a lot of questions, so will the Minister undertake to write to me on any he may not manage to answer today?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for organising the meeting held last week on this SI—as has been said, it was very useful in covering a lot of the ground that otherwise would have needed to be raised today. It is interesting to have had the experience of going through such an extraordinarily large tome with so many details; it took me into areas of public policy where I did not think I would ever have to go. I particularly enjoyed, and of course immediately read first, the intoxicating liquor order 1988, which was closely followed by the strawberry regulations. Both were of immense interest and, for those who have not yet managed to get that far through the document, worth the journey.
I will not raise many of the points which have been made, but I will come back to a point raised during the meeting which has not yet been properly answered. There is substantial additional work implicit in the change in regulations, which has already been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and my noble friend Lady Donaghy, for the United Kingdom Accreditation Service and the Health and Safety Executive. It is not yet clear that the additional resources that may be required will be funded and that support will be offered. Could the Minister confirm that that will be the case? Additional work will clearly be required; it may be of a short-term and temporary nature, but I suspect that it will be continuing. Assurances need to be given that the additional work will be properly covered, or we will lose.
On that same theme, the Minister said as he introduced this that it was really all about consumer confidence and product safety. Of course, that will be only as good as the body and individuals which have to police it. That will largely fall to trading standards—we have already discussed some of the issues that are raised in this. I asked at the meeting, and ask again: what will the financial arrangement be for this? Clearly we want good product safety and consumer confidence, but will get them only if we pay for them. In the past it has been assumed that the additional work can be picked up by those responsible for trading standards, which are largely local authorities. When primary legislation has gone through this House in the past, we have also asked these questions and had assurances that substantive new additional work applying from primary legislation—such as the recent Bills going through this House—would be funded. Indeed, mechanisms for that have already been described and put in place. Can we again have some confirmation that the additionality implied in these regulations will also be funded?
My Lords, I forget who it was who said, “Never apologise, never explain”, but I will start with an apology for the sheer size of this SI, which has received some comment—not just at this meeting, but at the meeting I held last week. I am grateful for the comments made by all those who came to that meeting and more widely by others, particularly the concerns of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, sit. I also discussed that with the chairman of that committee, the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham. I know he has also had correspondence with my honourable friend Kelly Tolhurst, who has ministerial responsibility for these matters within the department, and with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
I hope that we have made some progress in explaining why we thought it necessary to have such a large SI, with the measures being dealt with together rather than being laid separately, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, suggested. One can argue it both ways. I think that it helps. It might have created something of a joke for those dealing with the vast number of no-deal SIs, and I am the unfortunate person who happens to be in the department with the largest number. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, emphasises that she too is unfortunate, and that is true also of those on the committee who had to scrutinise the SI. However, I think that in the end it was the right decision. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, talked about organisations being daunted by the sheer size of it. I hope that setting out all the legal requirements makes it easier for them, and we are working on a very extensive package of guidance, which will provide clarity for businesses, market surveillance authorities and consumers.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said that she would have liked to see a little more about consultation. I appreciate that we produced a draft SI and then had to produce another one as there were some small changes, but they were small changes in a very large SI. We invited stakeholders to review the draft SI and shared it with them via reading rooms and in face-to-face meetings. I think that stakeholders were supportive of being engaged with in this way and felt reassured by that approach. In addition, their feedback enabled us to make some drafting amendments where appropriate.
We have continued to keep in touch with stakeholders and have updated them via email or in one-to-one meetings. We have attended a number of industry events to discuss the implications of no deal, including an event with the cosmetics association, the British Toy & Hobby Association and the British Retail Consortium, and there will be upcoming events with techUK. Therefore, we have had contact with as many organisations as possible and I hope that that regular contact has been of use to them. Certainly, we have not had any complaints from the various bodies involved.
I will certainly write to the noble Baroness on that and I hope that we can give further and better particulars, as they say in the law. She will then know exactly whom we have spoken to and I hope that she will feel content that we have gone out largely to the right people.
The impact on business was raised by a number of noble Lords. I explained what was behind the impact assessment, which was published on GOV.UK. We found the impacts as being de minimis; they are largely costs of familiarisation. I dare say that, because we are trying to replicate what already exists, familiarisation should not be too much of a problem. As is always right and proper, the impact assessment was shared with the Regulatory Policy Committee. I hope that the smooth arrangements we have put in place will help businesses in understanding that some of the new administrative requirements will make life easier and ease the impact of exiting the EU.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, asked about the cosmetics database and whether I could guarantee that no consumer would be put at risk. She is right to emphasise the importance of this, because cosmetics can have a detrimental effect if not properly policed and supervised in the right way. The SI includes a requirement that all cosmetic products must be safe for human health. Each cosmetic product has a responsible person to ensure that it is safe before it is placed on the market. I assure her that preparations for the UK database are well advanced and trading standards has the power to take action against unsafe products.
That is not a direct cost of the SI; it is a cost of leaving the EU. That is why it was not part of the impact assessment. I will, as I am planning to do for one or two other questions she raised, write to the noble Baroness on what the extra costs are likely to be for registering both here and in the EU.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked about the uncertainty of the loss of access to the product safety database and what effect it will have on consumers. The new product safety database will be available to all market surveillance scientists from exit day. The new service will give the UK national capability to collate information on unsafe and non-compliant products, share information and rapidly alert market surveillance authorities. In addition—as was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, who talked about RAPEX—the UK will retain access to any publicly available information on RAPEX.
RAPEX is very similar to the food alert, which I think is called RASFF—the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, knows it by heart. My noble friend just mentioned information that will be publicly available, but it sounds as though we are not going to be part of it. This raises the question: if there was a rapid alert about a product in this country which we wished to share, would we have a reciprocal arrangement? Will that be part of the deal we hope to negotiate?
That will be a matter for the deal. I was talking about what was publicly available from RAPEX. What we will make available and other such matters go beyond what we are debating at the moment, as we are discussing no deal, but they are matters which we should consider as part of the deal.
I move on to trading standard resources; the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked whether they were sufficient. I have to make it clear that I believe there are no new duties placed on trading standards. The Office for Product Safety and Standards has been working with trading standards to ensure that it has the capability to discharge its responsibilities, including working with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute on EU exit plans. She asked about the appointment of the new chief executive of the HSE. I am afraid I do not have any information on that, but I will add that to the many letters I will be sending out and will write to her.
My noble friend Lord Lindsay asked about the position of UKAS and whether it might be undermined by profit-seeking bodies coming in to take over its job. I make it absolutely clear that there will continue to be just one national accreditation body and that body only will be able to issue accreditation certificates demonstrating that organisations meet the approved requirements. We have it on the record now, but if my noble friend would like me to write to UKAS, I would be more than happy to do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked about the cost of changing to the UKCA mark and the new notified body. The SI means that most manufacturing companies will not have to use the UKCA mark. If a business needs to change to an EU body as a result of the EU’s position on the no-deal scenario, that will be a result of the EU’s position and it is something that would be part of any future negotiations. I also give her an assurance that we will need further legislation should we want to end CE marking recognition, so that will not come through as a result of this.
The noble Baroness asked about Electrical Safety First. Again, I will have to write to her on that. My noble friend asked for an assurance that we were not gold-plating, just as there were accusations when we were taking these things on board the other way many years ago. No gold-plating is going on here; we do not have the powers to gold-plate under the EU withdrawal Act. I hope all we are doing is providing a degree of certainty to the industries concerned and the public that things will continue as before.