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House of Lords Hansard
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17 September 2020
Volume 805

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards introducing (1) a regulation system for chemicals to replace the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals regulations, and (2) a conformity assessed quality standard to replace the CE certification mark.

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The preparations that we have made for the possibility of a no-deal exit mean that we are well placed to be ready with our own independent regulatory regime for chemicals by 1 January 2021. On that date, the UKCA marking will also be introduced as a replacement for the EU’s CE marking. Further details on that were published earlier this month.

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The Minister is in great demand today, but I have to tell him that his proposed framework for the UK REACH is weaker than the one that it is replacing, yet, if we want frictionless trade, we must have common standards. The existing system has kept us safe and secure for many years and has protected our environment. Surely in the current circumstances, instead of pointless and risky duplication, our resources should be put into rebuilding our economy and preserving jobs. This can be helped by simply seeking associate membership of the scheme and not duplicating it. That is what the industry wants. Will the Government do it?

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As I am sure the noble Lord is well aware, we have made it clear that seeking associate membership of the European Chemicals Agency would require us to accept the judgment and oversight of the European Court of Justice, which is not acceptable. Therefore, we will set up our own regime.

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My Lords, this is yet another burden of Brexit. Will the Minister tell the House what the cost will be to the Government and to businesses? Given the fiasco of test and trace, will he give an absolute guarantee that the regime will be up and running by 1 January?

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Yes, I can give the noble Lord that guarantee. We will keep the transition to UK REACH as simple as possible. We have put in place measures to minimise the cost to businesses and maintain access to both the EU and the UK market.

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My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many different EU product regulation systems currently govern UK trade with the EU and what progress the Government have made in providing some sort of replacement for them?

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I can tell my noble friend that there are a number of distinct EU regulatory regimes, including bespoke regimes for chemicals, automotive products, aerospace products, cosmetics and medicines, as well as the CE marking regime, which covers a range of goods. Some but not all of these include registration requirements. Cosmetics and medical devices, as well as chemicals, are examples of areas that include registration or notification requirements. I can confirm that all the necessary regulation and systems will be in place for 1 January 2021.

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My Lords, I understand that the UK agency replacing REACH will spend £13 million a year and employ about 40 staff, to replace an agency with more than 600 staff and a budget of more than €100 million. As the UK’s new database of chemical safety will not have access to the EU’s chemical safety database, is there a risk, about which my noble friend might be able to reassure the House, that we might not be equipped to counter the potential for unscrupulous manufacturers to dump products on the UK market that fail to meet the safety standards?

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We are aware of the possibility, but of course we are working hard to make sure that does not happen. The registration requirements in the UK will be as strict as they were previously; we are seeking to duplicate many aspects of the previous regime. Of course, we are seeking during the negotiations a data-sharing agreement with the European Chemicals Agency which will reduce the costs and burdens of the new scheme.

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My Lords, the Government have been flexible. They have listened and proposed lengthening the registration time for chemicals under British REACH, which I think is welcomed by the industry. However, the cost of registering chemicals has not been addressed. That additional red tape will cost British industry at least £1 billion—that is its estimate. This is money being spent on re-registering chemicals today that cannot be spent on creating jobs for tomorrow. Can the Minister undertake to be similarly flexible when looking at costs and redouble efforts with his department and other departments to address this tax on British business?

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As I said in previous answers, we are endeavouring to be as flexible as possible to keep the transition as simple as possible and to reduce the costs. As I said, we are seeking a data-sharing agreement with the European Chemicals Agency which will make the registration process relatively straight- forward.

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My Lords, the EU Environment Sub-Committee wrote to my noble friend before the summer. Can he confirm today whether he shares my concern at the risk of a lack of oversight of the decision-making process within UK REACH? Can he further confirm what significant resources will be made available to the Health and Safety Executive to give it the tools it needs to manage effectively a new regulation regime?

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We have put in place a new UK REACH IT system, closely modelled on the European system to make the process as simple and as easily replicable as possible. The HSE has been provided with the appropriate resources to police the new system.

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My Lords, can the Minister confirm that, when the transition period ends, health and environmental protection in Northern Ireland in respect of chemical and pesticide imports will be considerably better than in the rest of the United Kingdom because Northern Ireland will still be covered by the existing EU REACH rules and regulations under the withdrawal agreement?

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No. We intend the system in the UK to be as safe and as effective as the EU REACH system.

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Under the Northern Ireland protocol, the process for Northern Ireland businesses moving goods to and from the EU under EU REACH will not change. What does that mean for goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland? Will Northern Ireland businesses have to grandfather their EU registrations into UK REACH?

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Under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, Northern Ireland will remain aligned with all relevant EU rules relating to the placing on the market of manufactured goods and with the EU REACH system.

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My Lords, the UKCA marking will not be applicable in Northern Ireland, whereas the CE marking will be, as well as the UKNI marking. Can the Minister afford the House some advice? What advice would he give to suppliers and traders working in the United Kingdom and producing in Great Britain if they might see their goods popping up in a shop in Northern Ireland? Should they register both with the CE marking and the UKCA marking to ensure that their goods can be marketed not only in Northern Ireland but across the European Union?

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If those traders wanted to sell their goods into the European Union market, because that was the system they had, they would have to be CE marked. They would have to comply with similar standards if they wanted to sell them in the North American market.

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My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked. We now move to the fourth Oral Question.