Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations, which were laid before the House on 28 April 2021, be approved.
Before I begin, let me provide a brief overview of ecodesign and energy labelling and what these policies are attempting to achieve. Ecodesign policies regulate products that consume energy when in use, such as household white goods, by setting minimum energy performance standards to increase their energy efficiency. More recently, ecodesign policies have also included resource efficiency measures, which seek to make products more repairable and recyclable, thereby reducing their use of material resources. In effect, ecodesign policies make the products we use in our homes and businesses more environmentally friendly, and also support long-term product innovation.
Energy labelling policies are intended to make clear and consistent information on a product’s energy usage readily available to consumers at the point of purchase, to help them make more informed purchasing decisions. In effect, energy labelling encourages the uptake of more energy-efficient products, thereby reducing energy usage and saving consumers and businesses money on their energy bills.
Taken together, these policies make an important contribution to reducing energy use, improving environmental outcomes and cutting energy bills. It is estimated that the suite of ecodesign and energy labelling policies in force in Great Britain will save consumers £75 on their energy bills and save 8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2021—the equivalent of the average yearly carbon emissions from electricity use of something like 12 million homes.
This statutory instrument seeks to enact commitments made by the UK in 2018 and 2019 when it was an EU member state in support of a package of new product-specific ecodesign and energy labelling measures. New ecodesign requirements are introduced by this statutory instrument for welding equipment, electric motors, household washing machines and dishwashers, domestic and commercial fridges, and televisions placed on the market in Great Britain. These requirements will raise the minimum energy efficiency of products on the market. In effect, this will phase out the least energy-efficient products—in other words, the most costly and environmentally damaging products to run.
New obligations on manufacturers to make these products easier to recycle and repair will also be introduced. When buying a new washing machine or television, consumers will now be entitled to access spare parts with which to repair their appliances. This will help consumers keep appliances in use for longer, thereby reducing electrical waste. A wider range of spare parts and helpful information will be made available to professional repairers, which will facilitate even more complex repairs to be carried out by people with the right skills to do it safely.
In addition, this statutory instrument will introduce an energy label for commercial refrigerating appliances for the first time. Underpinned by new minimum energy efficiency requirements, the energy label will provide information to businesses when buying a new refrigerated sales cabinet, for example, to help them to understand and compare the energy consumption of different products. This will encourage businesses to opt for more energy-efficient fridges for use in supermarkets and other commercial environments, helping to cut down on the energy use and associated carbon emissions of this product group. Furthermore, by setting ambitious boundaries for the A-G classes on the energy label, this policy will spur innovation in the design of commercial refrigerating appliances as manufacturers compete to achieve the highest energy efficiency ratings.
By introducing these more ambitious and environmentally friendly ecodesign and energy labelling requirements, we will ensure that we maintain high product standards in Great Britain and push the market to achieve ever greater carbon savings. The measures introduced by this SI will contribute savings of approximately 1.7 megatonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. On top of this, the resultant reduction in energy use will improve air quality in Great Britain and cut many pounds from household and business energy bills. As I mentioned earlier, through greater repairability and recyclability of these electrical appliances, the measures introduced by this SI will help reduce the quantity of electrical waste reaching landfill each year. Lastly, introducing these requirements in Great Britain will ensure a common set of product standards with Northern Ireland, thereby facilitating trade across the Irish Sea.
A public consultation was conducted between September and November 2020. Feedback on the consultation proposals showed significant support among the respective manufacturing bases for the affected products and among environmental campaign groups for implementing these new requirements in Great Britain.
In conclusion, introducing these requirements is aligned with the Government’s ambitions to achieve our carbon budget and net-zero targets; they will take us ever closer to reducing our energy use and environmental impact. Furthermore, the new measures will provide greener choices for consumers and businesses and will encourage product innovation. I therefore commend this statutory instrument to the Committee.
My Lords, it is impossible for me as a Green to disagree with anything in the opening statement, because these are things that we have been saying for 30 or 40 years—so I am glad that the Government have finally caught up with all these concepts, such as lower power usage, longer life for all sorts of goods, repairing them, saving money for customers on their bills and having less waste to landfill. Those are all things that we have been arguing for for decades. However, in the statutory instrument, all I could really see is that it changes the flag on a label from an EU flag to a union flag. Please tell me if I am wrong; it is a very thick document, so presumably something else is in it, but that seemed to me the only pertinent point.
The rest of the instrument is all about ensuring that EU law continues to operate effectively in the UK. For me, it is another sad reflection of this Government’s implementation of Brexit, because they made lots of promises about how we would be free from the shackles of the EU and how it would allow us to have the best environmental protections in the whole world—world-leading environmental protections, even. But the reality is that we are actually keeping 99% of EU laws, or weakening them, and then just sticking a union jack label on. Perhaps the Minister can point me to where I have gone wrong on this.
After reading this, I wonder what happened to creativity, ambition and even, as the Minister said, innovation. I know that the Government were carrying out a consultation on higher energy standards, and I am curious about that because, although I had only a quick search, I could not see the results. I do not know whether it is still ongoing, but it will be interesting if that says anything about improving on EU levels.
Of course, as any fool doth know, the cleanest, greenest and cheapest energy that you can have is the energy that you do not actually use. Our appliances and devices still use far more than they need to. The EU’s headline energy efficiency target for appliances is for at least 32.5% by 2030. Are we going to improve on that or are we going to be left behind? The consultation to which I referred talked about the possibility of appliances being part of a smart grid—so, for example, a freezer could store the energy and might store electricity in the form of extra cold to be used when there was a bit more demand or energy is scarcer. That is an important advance in an entire rethinking of the energy system, relying on renewables and storage.
There is also talk of displaying lifetime energy costs at the point of purchase for a product, plus additional information on the cost of running it and, importantly, how easily it can be repaired, reused and recycled—namely, how durable it is. I have quite a lot of questions, but my main one is: what has happened to that consultation on higher energy standards, and has it encouraged the Government to raise their own standards?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introductory comments and his explanation of this statutory instrument.
I note that the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“this legislation will protect the Great British market from the risk of ‘dumping’ of less efficient products which do not meet the minimum standards in the EU and in Northern Ireland ... For some products, without this SI suppliers may need to have two product lines—one for the GB market and one for the EU and Northern Ireland market ... Suppliers may also have to undertake dual conformity assessment procedures to ensure compliance with both sets of requirements. This legislation avoids this outcome and the associated costs to business.”
I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that this is a powerful argument for regulatory alignment and, indeed, for membership of the single market and, in order to influence the single market, membership of the European Union—but that is perhaps for another day.
I wonder whether the Minister can answer a few questions about this SI. Paragraph 7.8 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“In order to demonstrate or measure conformity with the ... Labelling requirements introduced by these Regulations, designated standards must be used ... However, none of the standards for the requirements in these Regulations is available to be designated yet due to their ongoing development.”
Is it usual to introduce legislation imposing labelling requirements where standards have not been designated? I understand that some of the products covered will be expected to use existing standards, but the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“For commercial refrigeration and welding equipment, for which there are no existing Regulations nor a transitional method of measurement, we expect suppliers to use the best available standards.”
Can the Minister explain what that means and how conformity will be achieved between different manufacturers? Who will decide?
Could the Minister also explain why the regulations do not apply to appliances that are battery operated but can operate via a separately purchased AC/DC converter? Can the Minister also tell us what the practical difference is between the EU provision, referred to in paragraph 7.12, for a “product database” and the UK Government’s proposal for a “publicly accessible website”? Can he explain how those two differ? Can he also tell us when the designated standards are likely to be available?
Finally, I note that, while the standards for the appliances under this regulation relate to energy efficiency, products covered here include dishwashers and washing machines. I wonder what plans the Government have—or whether there are different measures by which they can set standards for water usage. People who took part in the debate on the Environment Bill will know the difficulties and pressures that are caused by excess water usage, so I hope that the Government will consider how these may be brought in in future.
Once again, I thank the Minister for his introduction to the regulations. They seem to be simple, straightforward updating regulations to continue the in-built progress to consumer standards from increases in product developments. This raises energy performance and efficiency standards in electric motors, various household goods and now, for the first time, welding equipment and commercial refrigeration. Has welding equipment become an everyday item in the marketplace?
I am pleased to the see that the Government are being practical and sensible in resisting the temptation to insist that the UK undertakes its own post-Brexit consumer products standards. While these standards were agreed by the UK as a member state, I trust that the Government will continue with this alignment. Independent standards would be extremely tedious in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol and would add greatly to costs generally.
As these regulations continue with the updating practice that existed before Brexit, I presume that trading standards will be able to pick up the changes relatively smoothly. Since monitoring of regulations and post-implementation reviews will continue, does the Minister foresee any problem resulting from these regulations across any part of the United Kingdom? The full 29 schedules covering online labelling and internet selling would suggest that the department is following well-worn pathways and extending these to welding equipment with practised ease.
If I may, I will make one consumer observation on product development. I do not often stray into the market for vacuum cleaners but, when I have done so, I have seen that generally the most powerful machines become irreplaceable with powerful replacements no longer available. Does the insistence on energy-saving improvements necessarily rule out the continuation of more powerful machinery in the marketplace? The more power that is needed tends to lead to these more powerful machines being withdrawn. Do the minimum energy performance standards—MEPS—need to take account of the range of options available within the average energy efficiency of all products in a product category? There may be other cases in the household product marketplace. Does the Minister have any insights from the department on this aspect?
I am glad that repairability is now being recognised as important. As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, remarked, it does seem rather unusual under paragraph 7.8 in the Explanatory Memorandum to bring in regulations on ecodesign and energy labelling before any of the standards for the requirements are available to be designated, due to ongoing development work. While I appreciate that the GB market must be protected from the risk of the dumping of less efficient products, should these regulations not be implemented in tandem with the EU, can the Minister explain why this is happening in this case? With that, I am happy to approve the regulations today.
First, let me thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. As I said before, the Government are committed to delivering their carbon budget and net-zero targets. These regulations will help to achieve this by increasing resource efficiency and setting higher product standards, leading to 21.5 terawatt hours of electricity savings in the domestic sector by 2050, equivalent to around 1.7 megatonnes of carbon dioxide.
In response to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I thought for one brief moment that she was about to agree with something we were doing but, sadly, about two minutes into her speech, my hopes were dashed: she did not quite agree with everything we were doing, although perhaps she thought that we were on the right track.
On what the SI actually does, it will raise the minimum energy efficiency requirements of these products. Manufacturers will be obliged to make products easier to recycle and repair, including giving consumers access to spare parts to repair their appliances. An energy label for commercial refrigeration will be introduced to provide businesses with information to help them to understand and compare the energy consumption of different products, encouraging them to opt for more energy-efficient fridges. Furthermore, the measures will ensure a common set of product standards with Northern Ireland, helping to facilitate trade across the Irish Sea.
The regulations closely reflect the EU regulations, with the exception, as the noble Baroness pointed out, of the UK flag. We will be coming forward with our own proposals for how the UK can go further with ecodesign and energy labelling in future with our energy-related products framework. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be delighted to support us when we do so.
In response to the noble Baroness’s question about consultation, the 2020 call for evidence will help to inform which products and policies to pursue as part of our energy-related products policy framework, which was announced in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan last November. To support building the UK evidence base for energy-related products, we have launched a study that will help to inform which products are high priority in terms of their overall environmental impact, considering their contribution to carbon emissions and resource depletion and the potential for improving their environmental performance. I am sure the noble Baroness and the Greens will welcome the Government’s intention to launch a world-class product policy framework for energy-related products later this year, when more details will be set out on future policy and ambitions.
In response to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who asked about designated standards, it is not uncommon to introduce new requirements before standards have been officially designated here. The regulations and supporting test standards have been discussed at length with industry, and alternative methods are available to measure the technical parameters. The designation process will take place very shortly, and the designated standards will be made clear in guidance. I would be very happy to write to the noble Lord about battery-powered appliances. It is a fact that the UK no longer has access to the public part of the EU product database, so the same information will be available to consumers on a free-to-access website. In relation to water usage, as part of our world-class policy framework we will set out our ambition to maximise the energy, carbon and energy bill savings from these energy-related products.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about the Northern Ireland protocol. These regulations will apply to Great Britain only. Under the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol, equivalent eco-design and energy label requirements already apply in Northern Ireland in line with EU regulations. This will ensure that a consistent approach on product standards is followed across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the EU. In all future policy we will need to uphold the terms of the protocol.
To close, let me underline once more the main purposes of the instrument. It will help raise the minimum energy efficiency of a range of electrical products sold in Great Britain, including many household goods, such as washing machines, dishwashers and televisions. It will involve new obligations on manufacturers to make products easier to recycle and repair through better access to spare parts, and it will introduce energy labelling for commercial refrigerating appliances for the first time, helping to make the fridges we see in our supermarkets and shops more energy efficient. These measures will help to spur innovation, maintain high product standards and give consumers the choice of more energy-efficient products on the market. I commend these regulations to the Committee.
Committee adjourned at 5.38 pm.