Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, the Hazardous Substances and Packaging (Legislative Functions and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 and the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 make small but important changes to ensure that our existing domestic legislation reflects that the UK is no longer part of the EU. Both instruments take power back from the European Commission, which will allow the UK to maintain its high environmental standards. The instruments require the Government to carry out a public consultation before using these powers.
I will take each instrument in turn. The Hazardous Substances and Packaging (Legislative Functions and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 cover two different subject areas: first, regulation of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, or EEE; and, secondly, regulation of essential requirements for packaging—that is, the requirements producers need to fulfil if they place packaging on the market, such as manufacturing and composition requirements.
Hazardous substances in EEE are regulated by the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2012—the so-called RoHS regulations, which implement an EU directive, the RoHS directive. This instrument transfers to the Secretary of State powers currently held by the European Commission under the RoHS directive. After the end of the transition period, these powers will allow the Secretary of State to grant, renew or revoke exemptions to the restriction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment as specified in the RoHS regulations. Exemptions allow the use of restricted hazardous substances above threshold limits for specific uses, such as solders in medical equipment. The Secretary of State will also be allowed to amend the list of restricted substances and maximum concentration values, and to prescribe detailed rules for complying with maximum concentration values.
These powers will apply in England, Wales and Scotland, but not in Northern Ireland. This is because the RoHS directive will continue to apply in Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period due to the Northern Ireland protocol. These changes are vital, as the instrument will allow the Secretary of State to make important decisions on RoHS.
The instrument also amends the RoHS regulations and the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations 2015. It amends both those regulations separately for Great Britain and for Northern Ireland.
The amendments to the RoHS regulations for Great Britain introduce key measures to ensure a smooth end to the transition period for businesses placing manufactured goods on the GB market. These include transitional provisions for importer labelling to provide a 24-month period in which importer details can be provided on accompanying documentation, and a similar transitional provision for the application of the new UK marking, which will replace the European Union’s CE marking. This will provide businesses with more time before undertaking relabelling.
The instrument also ensures that, except for qualifying Northern Ireland goods, the automatic recognition in Great Britain of EEE meeting EU requirements will expire 12 months after the end of the transition period. It amends both the RoHS regulations and the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations to make provision for access for “qualifying Northern Ireland goods” to the GB market.
Finally, the instrument amends the RoHS regulations and the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations separately for Northern Ireland. The amendments applying in Northern Ireland are more limited. They are to reflect that the RoHS directive and the packaging directive will continue to apply in Northern Ireland, though not the rest of the United Kingdom, by virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol. They will allow the UK to meet its obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol relating to packaging and RoHS.
We have ensured that the changes for Northern Ireland are as minimal as possible, while also allowing the UK to fulfil its obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. However, there are some unavoidable costs for businesses as a result of the amendments to the RoHS regulations, including familiarisation and new labelling costs.
No impact assessment was prepared for the instrument as any costs to, or benefits for, businesses, charities and voluntary bodies were predicted to fall below £5 million in one year.
This instrument is reserved as it covers specific technical standards and requirements on all businesses in relation to products, which is a reserved matter under all three devolution settlements.
I turn to the second instrument, the Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. This instrument includes a mixture of devolved and reserved content. We have worked with the devolved Administrations on this instrument and it has received consent from Scottish and Welsh Ministers, but DAERA Ministers have decided not to provide consent on this SI. However, given that time to make this SI is now short and the overriding need to provide certainty for businesses at the end of the transition period and to discharge our protocol obligations, we are proceeding with debating this SI without consent. We will continue to work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive in the coming days to resolve outstanding concerns in advance of making this SI.
This is a technical instrument that makes small but important changes to existing legislation so that it refers to the latest versions of the EU directives and domestic regulations as amended by the EU circular economy package. These are small changes but they will ensure that legislation relating to waste and environmental permitting can be properly enforced by the Environment Agency and its devolved counterparts.
The instrument also makes some small technical amendments to provisions of earlier EU exit SIs that amend domestic legislation relating to batteries, and it changes the extent of amendments in an earlier EU exit SI to the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances regulations and the Packaging (Essential Requirements) Regulations so that they do not extend to Northern Ireland. These changes are needed to reflect that the directives that those regulations implement will continue to apply in Northern Ireland but not in Great Britain, as a virtue of the Northern Ireland protocol.
In practice, we have kept the GB and NI requirements exactly the same for batteries on the ground that there will be no changes to how batteries are collected, treated and recycled. The requirements for batteries reaching market in the first place will also remain exactly the same. This instrument simply ensures that the correct references are in place depending on whether the legislation applies in GB or Northern Ireland.
The SI also transfers the European Commission’s powers related to Article 7(1) of the waste framework directive. This power is being transferred to the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations. This power will allow the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations to establish their own lists of waste or to amend the existing list of waste as it becomes part of retained EU law after the end of the transition period. The list of waste gives identifying codes to different categories of waste, which are used by waste management businesses, and specifies which categories of waste are to be treated as hazardous waste. The Secretary of State will need the consent of the devolved Administrations to make amendments to the list of waste on their behalf.
The schedule to this instrument revokes some recent EU decisions or regulations. These revocations are either to tidy up our statute book or because we should no longer be bound to those decisions after the transition period ends—for example, because they specify formats for reporting data to the European Commission, which the United Kingdom will cease to do at the end of the transition period. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very clear explanation. I will focus primarily on the first of these two instruments, although I express concern that, as he has just told us, there is not full devolved consent to the second one. I hope that can be resolved very quickly.
I begin with the department’s response to the submission from ClientEarth to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, specifically on the point about the transferring of the competent national authority position in England. The departmental response says that the Environment Agency will continue to act as the competent authority.
I note that in October this year, just a couple of months ago, the chair of the Environment Agency called for greater funding from the Government to help the enforcement body to better prevent pollution—the issue that this SI addresses. In response to an article published in the Times on 24 October which reported that there had been a sharp rise in serious breaches of pollution rules designed to protect people and wildlife, the chair of the Environment Agency said in a Defra blog:
“We constantly innovate to do more with less. But ultimately we will get the environment we pay for. A core part of that is funding the Environment Agency properly. The government has an opportunity to do that in this year’s spending review. We hope it will.”
I have checked the spending review documents and, so far as I can see, there is none of the extra funding that has been asked for—you might say begged for—but I would be delighted if the Minister could tell me I had missed something. It would have to be a very big offering in the spending review, given that in March a report on Greenpeace’s Unearthed blog revealed that a surge in pollution incidents driven by climate change was “overwhelming” the staff. That came on top of data showing that teams tasked with responding to pollution incidents have seen their numbers decline by 15% since 2015.
All the SIs that we are debating now seem to create extra responsibilities and extra work, so the question is where the resources are going to come from, given that we have a huge regulatory gap already. I note the invaluable report in 2019 by the Institute for Environmental Management and Assessment, in coalition with 19 other organisations. It revealed that funding for 10 environmental and social regulators fell by 50% on average between 2009 and 2017 in real terms, with the Environment Agency budget down by 62%. The total number of full-time staff working at these regulators was down by 30% over the period, with spending by local authorities and fire authorities down by 35%. Before these regulations and before the end of the transition period, we had, however limited it may have been, oversight through the EU and, as ClientEarth has successfully used, the legal mechanisms through that.
The departmental response said that once the office for environmental protection is established and functioning, it will take over these roles. That is a debate for another day, but it highlights the importance of the independence and funding of that body, as a crucial body in maintaining our environmental health in the UK. In the meantime, as ClientEarth put it, we will have the Government regulating themselves. We have a period of uncertainty—a hiatus, rather like we have in your Lordships’ House’s Forthcoming Business at the moment.
Since we have just had a report from the Environmental Audit Committee, I want to turn to the broader issue of electronic waste in general. In this very Committee last week I referred to a need for a right to repair, as the committee in the other place has done. The report notes that the UK creates the second highest level of electronic waste in the world after Norway—we are almost world-leading, but not, I hope, in a way that the Government would intend. A lot of the electronic waste that these regulations refer to currently goes to landfill or incineration, and some 40% of it is dumped overseas. The MPs on the committee noted that the Environment Agency was again not doing nearly enough to monitor where that waste was going and how often it was going abroad illegally.
The committee also noted the fact that we have online retailers making massive profits but not taking responsibility for the products they get those profits from. I have so many things to mention that I am going to run out of time.
Finally, if we are to be practical, let us bring this down to earth. Here in Sheffield, where I am talking to noble Lords from, there are no bins in local areas for electronic waste. There are no bins that you can walk to and put electronic waste in. There is no range of bins in supermarkets and hardware stores, as there is in many parts of the continent, where electronic waste, such as light bulbs, can be deposited. Here, we are dealing with the detail, but I ask the Minister to make sure that the Government consider the huge and wide-ranging problem—the tsunami, as the Commons committee described it—of electronic waste, which we must deal with and get a grip on very soon.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I agree with much of what she said. My understanding is that the changes introduced by my noble friend in these two welcome SIs are part of the circular economy; obviously, that rationalises waste disposal, so it would be a good thing.
I want to make a general comment to my noble friend in thanking him for introducing these regulations. We are coming to the end of multiple statutory instruments over a period of two or three months. His department has borne the brunt of them, so I thank him and our noble friends Lord Gardiner and Lady Bloomfield for all their work. I also thank the team of officials at Defra for preparing for these measures and bringing us to this place.
I have a couple of questions. One is a general question relating to both sets of regulations. My noble friend said that a period of consultation would be held before the powers laid out in the regulations came into effect. Can he explain what form that consultation will take? Will it be a proper consultation period of at least two months? Also, will he undertake to publish all responses to the consultation in full so that those of us with an interest can see whether there are any issues pertaining to it?
In paragraph 62 of its 32nd report, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee mentioned that it
“received a submission from ClientEarth which raises concerns about a potential lessening of consultation requirements and a weakening of the objective to protect human health and the environment.”
Against that background, in what circumstances would the protections be changed? Can my noble friend give the Committee an undertaking that the objective would not in any way seek to compromise the protection of human health and the environment? I know how much he cares passionately for the environment so I am sure that he will confirm that that is not the case, but ClientEarth raised this issue during the committee’s scrutiny so it is worthy of a response.
On the waste and environmental permitting regulations, my noble friend said that DAERA had not given its consent. He went on to say that, when the amendments are brought forward under the powers set out in these regulations, the department would need the consent of the devolved Administrations to bring these powers into effect. If DAERA continued to withhold its consent, what would happen? Could it simply not bring these regulations into effect in Northern Ireland? Finally, can he share with us the reason why DAERA has been unable to give its consent to date?
My Lords, I shall restrict my comments to the changes in the waste and environmental permitting regulations. I have questions for the Minister relating to assurances—even guarantees—on crossover and legacy issues.
I have spent a disproportionate amount of my life over the past five years dealing with orphan waste sites and the inability of the British state at every level to get on top of the problem. It is a nationwide problem. It manifests in public when orphan waste sites are set alight, with spectacular fires and consequential dangerous pollution leading to the evacuation of commercial and domestic premises for rational safety purposes. I have looked at this issue in detail; there is nobody at any level in the Environment Agency whom I have not had visit at least one orphan waste site, including one that I am very familiar with and live not too far from.
I note that, in most parts of the country, five authorities are responsible: district councils, county councils, the Environment Agency, HMRC—because of the landfill tax—and the Crown Estate, which, if a site is orphaned, then owns it. That is five arms of governance dealing with one problem.
The problem is not straightforward to deal with but straightforward to understand. Hazardous waste is moved around sites, usually at night. The sites are permitted but no one is sure what exactly is on them. When the authorities catch up with it, the hazardous waste moves to another site; or, when it reaches the culmination of the cycle of illegal movement, the owners of the site—the permit holders—disappear. They vanish. The site becomes orphaned and, by law, ends up in the ownership of the Crown Estate, which sees it not as an asset but as a liability and waits on others to find a way to sort out its liability.
The waste therefore remains with no one agency able to have total power of responsibility for removing it; it is a shared responsibility. If two-tier authorities, with district councils and county councils plus the Environment Agency, manage to negotiate with HMRC an important agreement that landfill tax could be removed—that is 85% of the cost of the removal of hazardous waste—that itself does not bring a site back into productive use for waste or other purposes.
At some stage, the Minister needs to crack this problem. Perhaps he could crack a few heads together and simplify the system, for better or for worse, and ensure a clear designation of ownership of the problem. There will never be a resolution with it split between five arms of the state. The roundabout will carry on going on.
Specifically and importantly on the regulations before us, and this is a key reason for my speaking, I have noted how the law has been carefully manipulated over the past few years in many parts of the country to avoid problems and to allow re-permitting. Are there any legacy or crossover issues in relation to this change that would allow an operator to have ongoing investigations ignored when it comes to application of the new legislation, which itself might be a rationale given to allow re-permitting, and therefore the continuation of the cycle, even of the same operators whose practices have appeared incredibly dubious in the past but were not criminally prosecuted? How will those legacy crossover issues be dealt with? Are they an issue? If they are not, that would be reassuring to know, because many investigations go back many years—I could cite some that go back more than two decades in terms of the evidence base required. Is there any risk therefore in this change of unforeseen circumstances that could give the illegal or inappropriate operator powers that the Government would not wish them to have?
My Lords, this SI has been prepared by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It transfers legislative functions currently conferred on the European Commission by directive 2011/65/EU of the European Parliament and the Council on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment to be exercisable instead by the Secretary of State in relation to England, Wales and Scotland after the end of the EU exit transition period. The directive requires member states to ensure that electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market does not contain certain hazardous substances.
The legislative powers conferred on the Commission by the RoHS directive are transferred into domestic law so that the list of restricted substances in EEE may be amended following reviews, and exemptions may be granted, renewed or revoked by secondary legislation. The SI transfers powers under the RoHS directive currently held by the European Commission to the Secretary of State in relation to England, Wales and Scotland. There is bound to be an impact on businesses. Can the Minister explain whether those who breach the guidelines will be fined and, if so, up to what level?
I thank the Minister for his introduction in setting out these two statutory instruments. As he said, they make minor adjustments to enable the Secretary of State to carry out functions relating to packaging and restriction of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Hazardous Substances and Packaging (Legislative Functions and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations is bland and reassuring. However, the instrument is full of detail and percentages relating to some very hazardous substances such as cadmium, mercury and lead, and the uses to which they are put. While this is alarming, there is no change to the use to which the substances are put; it is only to who will be responsible for licensing.
Paragraph 12.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that minimal costs are involved in changing labelling and packaging for business, charities and voluntary bodies—these are stated to be below £5 million, which I am sure is the case. However, given the severe impact of the Covid epidemic, particularly on charities and voluntary bodies, I wonder whether this might be the last straw for some that have suffered severe loss of income during the past year. Taking this into account, will the Government consider covering the cost of repackaging and relabelling to comply with the law for those who are not businesses but who would find the cost unsustainable?
The Waste and Environmental Permitting etc. (Legislative Functions and Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 also deal with classification of what is deemed hazardous waste material. It will be important for the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations to be able to make legislation that is appropriate for each authority once power has passed from the EU to the United Kingdom. Consultation between the devolved Administrations and the Secretary of State on any proposed modifications to the directives will be essential, otherwise confusion will ensue.
Paragraph 6.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to the list of EU directives on waste management in Statutory Instrument 2019/188. Having looked this up, it all came flooding back to me, as we debated this last year. I remember particularly the issue of end-of-life vehicles.
As we begin the transfer to wholly electric vehicles, a significant number of petrol and diesel-driven vehicles will need to be disposed of. All will have components classed as waste, including batteries, which are classed as hazardous waste. The volume of these vehicles is such that scrap yards are likely to be extremely busy. Much of their business is around reclaiming parts that are then sold on to owners looking to repair their vehicles. As the number of petrol and diesel vehicles diminishes, this trade in spare parts is also likely to diminish. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the volume of electronic device waste. It would be somewhat unfair of me to ask the Minister whether the Government have made any plans to deal with the sheer volume of vehicles needing to be scrapped as we move to electric, but perhaps he could write to me with an answer.
Apart from that, I am content with this statutory instrument, which merely replicates current EU legislation and makes only minor amendments, such as replacing “exit day” with “IP completion day”. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this short debate.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these SIs this afternoon and for our helpful conversations this morning. I shall speak first to the hazardous substances and packaging regulations 2020. As we have heard, these draft regulations propose to transfer the legislative functions from the European Commission to the Secretary of State in relation to England, Scotland and Wales after the end of the transition period. The instrument also proposes changes to help ensure that the UK meets its obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol.
The Minister referred to paragraph 12.3 of the EM, which states:
“An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument because no significant impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies is foreseen”.
But this is an important transfer of powers. Paragraph 12.1 of the EM states:
“There will be an impact on business.”
So there is an impact on business, but there is no impact assessment because no impact is foreseen. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify what assessment has been done of an impact and how severe it is.
Paragraph 2.4 of the EM states that allowing future changes to the list of restricted substances, exemptions and so on by secondary legislation is appropriate because it will enable changes,
“of a technical nature, to be made in a timely and proportionate manner.”
While it may be appropriate for most technical changes to be made in this way, will the Minister commit to ensure that there is appropriate scrutiny of any future SI that may make more substantive changes?
Paragraphs 10.1 and 10.2 of the EM mention “regular discussions” between the relevant departments and agencies. How regular have such discussions been? Is there a need for ongoing discussions beyond the end of the transition period and, if so, would they take place regularly or just on an ad hoc basis where necessary?
The department has also stated that it is “the Government’s intention” to carry out public consultation. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady McIntosh, both mentioned ClientEarth’s concerns about a potential lessening of consultation requirements and a weakening of the objective to protect human health and the environment. Can the Minister confirm that a public consultation—including seeking the views of environmental groups—will be carried out when the list of substances is amended? Can he provide any information as to when this may start and the length of consultation we are looking at? As others have asked, can he also confirm that the power to amend the list of substances will not be used to weaken environmental protection?
The EM also outlines the cost implications of these changes, which the Minister and others have mentioned, particularly of new labelling requirements. What kind of window will there be for adjustment to the new requirements? In the case of GIs on food products, an earlier SI said that the UK label and logo would not become fully operational for three years. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many businesses financial difficulties. Could the Minister see whether the Government can provide support to businesses during this transition period to the new system?
The second instrument, the waste and environmental permitting regulations, is much lengthier and amends a variety of existing EU exit SIs, both to correct deficiencies and to bring legislation up to date following recent developments in EU law, and again to implement the Northern Ireland protocol. The Schedule is a lengthy list of revocations—14 in total. These are briefly referenced in the Explanatory Memorandum, but there is no justification or explanation for them. I know that the Minister gave some clarification of the reasons behind these revocations during his introduction, but it would be useful to have more detail in the document as to the reasons. Is it because the measures being revoked are unnecessary in the context of us having left the EU, or, if they are necessary, are provisions being found elsewhere? That is just so we have a proper understanding of the reasoning behind this.
As a final piece of clarification, the third bullet point in paragraph 7.1 of the EM notes that some legislation that provides for EU directives has been superseded by the circular economy package, meaning that
“The opportunity has also been taken, in a few places, to simplify provisions”.
Can the Minister confirm what practical changes, if any, will come through from those changes?
I thank noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. As we look forward to the transition period ending, it is essential that our legislation reflects this new future. I will do my best in the time allowed to address the questions put to me. I will do so in no particular order.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, raised the important issue of legacy or cross-over issues. He wanted reassurance that no issues can arise where prosecutions have been ongoing regarding orphan sites. I reassure him that nothing in the SI will lead to investigations or prosecutions related to orphaned waste sites, or any other type of waste crime, being paused, discontinued or otherwise disrupted. I hope that answers his question. I am happy to continue that discussion afterwards if it does not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised a number of issues relating to the influx of old cars that will need to be dealt with following the new rules coming into play in 2030. On end-of-life vehicles, regulations already exist that place the financial cost of proper disposal in the hands of manufacturers. Currently, more than 90% of an average vehicle by weight is recovered or recycled. However, we plan to review the existing requirements, and in doing so will take into account the impact of the move to electric vehicles.
The noble Baroness also talked about the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations. We are reviewing those regulations with a view to driving up reuse and recycling, and to encourage better ecodesign to ensure that manufacturers and retailers, including online marketplaces and distance sellers, take full responsibility for the waste that they generate. That is a theme that runs through the Environment Bill: putting the onus, wherever possible, on producers not consumers.
I will briefly address some issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. She referenced in particular the concerns raised by ClientEarth. I will say absolutely confidently and clearly on the record that the Government will not seek to lessen or weaken the protection of the environment through any future amendments to the RoHS regulations. Incidentally, if there were any changes, they would be subject to public consultation. When exercising powers under Regulation 5 of the Hazardous Substances and Packaging (Legislative Functions and Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, the Secretary of State is bound by Regulation 8(1) to undertake a consultation before making regulations.
The noble Baroness mentioned the importance of the new OEP, which will come to life following the successful passage, one hopes, of the Environment Bill. She is absolutely right that the OEP has an extraordinarily important job to do. It needs to retain its independence, to be free from ministerial interference and to be sufficiently resourced. That is very much my view and that of the Government.
I scribbled down “producer responsibility”, but I think that I have already covered that. I will make the general point that that is probably the single most effective way we have to minimise waste generally, both in electrical goods and outside of them.
The noble Baroness also asked about maintaining current standards to protect consumer health, but also to protect the environment. The Government remain completely committed to ensuring that the level of protection afforded to consumers against unsafe or non-compliant goods is not in any way diminished now that the UK has left the European Union. Through our own regulatory regime, we will continue to seek to ensure that products are safe for consumers, compliant with Great Britain and Northern Ireland rules, and environmentally sustainable, with the smallest possible impact.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised a number of issues, and I thank her for calling me earlier to discuss some of them. Incidentally, I am grateful to her for her support. She cited paragraph 12.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum, where, she says, she has spotted a contradiction as to whether this will have an impact on business. To be clear, the withdrawal agreement Bill set out an impact assessment on the provisions governing the UK’s exit from the EU, including the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol. This SI is the detailed implementation of that policy, which has already been assessed by that impact assessment. Therefore, no new burdens need to be assessed in that regard.
The noble Baroness asked how the SI will be enforced for restricted substances and how we are making sure that any changes to the list of restricted substances are properly scrutinised. The SI will be enforced by the Office for Product Safety and Standards on behalf of the Secretary of State. Any changes to the list of restrictions will be subject to a public consultation. The noble Baroness asked whether I will commit, on behalf of the Secretary of State, to a public consultation before making any changes to the list of restricted substances. The Government will not seek to lessen or weaken the protection of the environment through any future amendments to the RoHS regulations. However, any changes would absolutely be subject to consultation —that would happen.
The noble Baroness asked about a number of other issues. She asked what transitional measures we are putting in place. New regulatory regimes will be ready to come into force immediately after the end of the transition period. However, under exceptional circumstances as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are now giving businesses more time to get ready to operate new UK rules, including a 24-month transition period for the application of the new UK marking, which will replace the European Union’s CE marking. During this period, importer details can be provided on accompanying documentation.
A number of noble Lords have raised the issue of supporting business through this process. As well as providing certainty for businesses about requirements, this SI provides transitional measures to help minimise the costs arising from uncertainty and to give businesses additional time, as I mentioned earlier. Additionally, this SI will ensure unfettered access for Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, which means no new regulatory checks, customs checks or additional approvals for Northern Ireland businesses to place qualifying goods on the GB market.
The noble Baroness asked me to clarify—I hope I am getting the right Peer—how the EU circular economy package is relevant to this SI and what practical changes it involves and so on. We have had to amend our previous EU exit SIs from 2019 as the underlying EU and domestic legislation to which they related has since been amended by the EU circular economy package. In order to become up to date, we have had to revisit some of those SIs. That means that the technical references in the previous SIs are no longer relevant and no longer work. This SI rectifies that problem, as other SIs have, and ensures that our legislation will be fully operable at the end of the transition period. I was going to give examples of that, but in the interests of time, I shall move on.
The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, talked about the importance of safeguarding environmental and health standards and the importance of minimising waste generally. I think I have covered most of those issues in previous answers, and I hope he is satisfied by that. If not, again, I am very happy to continue that discussion after this debate.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked a number of questions about the consultation. She asked whether any consultation would be published in full. She mentioned the EAC inquiry, and I can tell her that we will be responding in full to the EAC. I am afraid that I do not have a date, but I am assured that it will be early next year. She also spoke of the concerns raised by ClientEarth. Just to reiterate, Regulation 8(1) requires the Secretary of State to carry out consultation before making the kinds of changes that have been cited by ClientEarth as areas of concern. I hope that reassures my noble friend.
My noble friend also asked what kind of consultation had been carried out and with whom. Industry and local authorities were not consulted during the development of both SIs because of sensitivities surrounding the protocol. However, discussions were held with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, the Environment Agency and the Office for Product Safety and Standards. Those discussions led to the approach implemented in this SI. The changes to the RoHS regulations implemented by these SIs are consistent with the Government’s approach to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol.
I am seconds away from being out of time and I am pretty sure that I have not answered all questions. My noble friend asked in what circumstances would objectives be changed—the implication being, in what circumstances would we be willing to lower environmental health standards? The answer is that we are not willing to compromise on environmental health. That is a rule and a principle to which we are absolutely committed.
I hope that I have covered most of the questions. To conclude, I trust that noble Lords understand and accept the need for these instruments—I think that is the message that we have received. They make small but important changes to existing legislation and make amendments to the legislation relating to RoHS, packaging and batteries so that the UK complies with the Northern Ireland protocol. We have tried to minimise the impact of this on business where possible. Once again, I thank noble Lords for their contributions and support today.