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Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2022

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2022 statutory instrument was laid before Parliament on 20 December 2022 and came into force on that same day. These regulations correct an error in the powers used to make the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021. The error was an unfortunate oversight. Due to the volume of Covid, Brexit and trade agreement work, pressures on the Government Legal Department—GLD for short—resulted in this referencing error not being picked up in checks. HSE and GLD regret the error and are taking steps to reduce the risk of this sort of error happening again. The error was identified by GLD during a recent review.

The urgency to make these regulations arose from the need to use the powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 before they expired on 31 December 2022 and so avoid the requirement for primary legislation. This instrument has to be made in the affirmative and debated in both Houses because this is what the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 specifies.

This instrument is non-contentious, as it repeats the previous regulations with some minor technical changes. The preamble to the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021 did not cite one of the enabling powers and was not made with the consent of HM Treasury to certain fees for chemical regulation functions which were transferred from the EU. The correction ensures that the Health and Safety Executive can continue to recover its costs for these functions.

The preamble in the 2021 regulations refers to paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It should also have referenced paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to give the powers for the provisions which allow charging for certain regulatory activity around biocides and classification labelling and packaging—so-called CLP. In addition, this same error was repeated in later regulations, which contained a series of amendments to, and mirrored powers in, the 2021 regulations. This instrument also corrects that error.

Biocides and CLP provisions in the fees regulations 2022 rely on paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, and so consent from HM Treasury is required, as referenced in paragraph 3 of that schedule. I can assure your Lordships that consent has been given. I can also assure your Lordships that we have a rigorous checking process in place which will normally ensure that errors are identified before instruments are made.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity to emphasise that this instrument is a restatement of the fees regulations 2021, with the correct powers cited in the preamble and for which HM Treasury consent has been obtained. These changes put beyond doubt the ability of HSE to charge fees for certain biocides and CLP regulatory activity. The instrument makes no changes to policy or duties, although, as explained in the Explanatory Memorandum, it corrects some minor technical errors as well.

I hope that colleagues of all parties will join me in supporting the new regulations, which I commend to the Committee. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that introduction, and I can only take it that the remarks he addressed to “colleagues of all parties” means me, so I am delighted to be here. I also love it when a Minister announces, as was done in the Commons as well, that an instrument is non-contentious. From the Opposition Benches, our mind goes, “Well, we’ll see about that; that’s our call.” It is not the kind of thing one can do unilaterally.

However, as we have heard, this instrument revokes and replaces the Health and Safety and Nuclear (Fees) Regulations 2021, as amended by the amending regulations, and consequentially revokes Regulation 14 of those. We have heard that the purpose is to correct a number of errors. I accept that some of them are clearly technical. There is the incorrect cross-reference in Regulation 12, the error in the definition of “nuclear provisions” in Regulation 16 and the omission from Regulation 22 of the process clarifying how to interpret terms on classification, labelling and packaging, and so on.

However, there is a more serious error. The fees regulations 2021, as amended, were meant to enable the Health and Safety Executive and the Office for Nuclear Regulation to charge fees for a range of specified activities, but, as we hear, it has become apparent that an error in the preamble to the regulations and to the amending regulations has caused a problem. Neither cites paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the EUWA 2018, but both should have done so. The problem is that that would have allowed provision for the charging of fees in connection with functions following Brexit, particularly those performed by the HSE in relation to biocides and chemicals—I still think fondly of our long debate on biocides and chemicals not very long ago.

I have some questions. The effect of the error was that the required Treasury consent was not sought prior to the making of regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the EU withdrawal Act. I accept that the Treasury has indicated that it would have given consent had it been asked. However, it was not asked, which is of course the problem. The EM says that the error

“may raise doubt as to HSE's ability to continue to recover the affected fees.”

Can the Minister unpack that a little more for us? First, we need to be clear what fees have already been charged using the flawed powers in the 2021 regulations. When these regulations were debated yesterday in the Delegated Legislation Committee in another place, the Minister, Mims Davies, said:

“About £25,000 was charged across the industry under the powers related to the error. However, HSE judged that there is a low chance of any case being brought, due to the amount of money involved. That is why we are rectifying it extremely quickly. HSE will continue to manage any legal implications on a case-by-case basis.”—[Official Report, First Delegated Legislation Committee, Commons, 30/1/23, col. 8].

Can the Minister tell the Committee: was there a legal basis for charging those £25,000-worth of fees? If not, will the money be refunded to the firms which paid them, or do I take it from that last sentence of the Minister that the Government are simply waiting to see whether anyone who paid them under deficient rules will sue to get their money back? Were any fees not charged as a result of this error that would otherwise have been charged? If so, has any revenue been lost?

There are two other questions. We need to know more about how we got here and, more importantly, how the Committee can be assured it will not happen again. I accept that drafting errors happen, of course, but there are quite a lot of errors in one set of regulations here. Yesterday, the Minister gave the explanation that the noble Lord has repeated today, which dumps the blame pretty much lock, stock and barrel on the Government Legal Service, saying that it was under pressure as a result of Covid, Brexit and trade agreement work, it had too much pressure and that is why it happened. The only problem with that is that two of those three were completely foreseeable. I realise that post Brexit there will have to be redrafting of regulations and other legislation, but the volume and speed is a direct consequence of decisions the Government made about the nature of Brexit and about the way to handle retained EU law.

So, knowing all this, why did the Government not plan and resource the GLD accordingly so that it could deal with the volume of work and the pressure that it would be facing? We cannot simply accept that our statute book should be in a mess as a result of Brexit. There were various points at which these errors could have been picked up. Why were they not? Is there a quality assurance process in place? Does the HSE or the DWP do any checking of their own legislation? Do they literally just give it to the GLD, say, “Do it!” and then take whatever is given back and put it out? Is there a quality assurance process and, if so, why was none of the errors picked up? I spent some years as a non-executive director on a board. If the executive reports a significant error, the question that one asks is: is it systemic? If the answer comes back, “No, it is not”, then one wants evidence of that; if the answer is: “Yes, it is”, one wants to know how one can be assured that it will not happen again?

The Minister yesterday in the Commons said that,

“the HSE and the GLD have completed a full review of the lessons learned,”


“identified some practical actions”.—[Official Report, Commons, First Delegated Legislation Committee, 30/1/23; col. 7.]

to improve ways of working between their officials. That is nice but—this is an important question—if those practical actions had been in place, would they have avoided these errors? So, one has done lessons learnt. If one had done those things then, could this error have happened? If it could still have happened, then we have not solved the problem. Did the review look at other errors, other than the one that it turned out had created this problem?Crucially, how confident is the Minister in assuring the Committee that something this serious will not happen again?

Finally, we are told that

“the Department is adopting the free issue procedure in relation to this instrument.”

Do I take it that that means that there will be free issues of this instrument and the amendment regulations? What will be the cost of that?

Given that I have fired a number of questions, I really want to get answers today—I do not want any more letters because they never arrive, or they may arrive eventually but it takes a long time and these regulations have already been made. To clarify, I am interested in finding out: what happened; why the mistakes were not picked up; whether fees were charged without any legal cover and, if so, whether fees are going to be refunded and whether there were fees that could have been charged that have not been; whether there is quality assurance in place; and whether the DWP and the HSE do any checking of their own legislation and how they can assure us that this will not happen again. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, for her response. I totally understand the tone and nature of the questions that she has asked. I hope that I can respond. It may be that the detail in the responses is not quite what she is looking for and, of course, I will say that I will write to her if the answers are deemed to be not satisfactory. But I will certainly do my best.

I should like to say first that these errors are unfortunate. As I said, the error was an unfortunate oversight caused by pressures on the GLD—the legal side—due to the volume of Covid, Brexit and trade agreement work. Despite checks in place, the omission of one of the powers from the preamble was not noticed. I shall go into a little more detail in terms of how the error was noticed. The preamble to the fees regulations 2021 referred to Paragraph 7 of Schedule 4 to the EUWA 2018 but should have also referenced Paragraph 1 of that schedule. The error was repeated in the amendment regulations, being a set of regulations that amended the fees regulations 2021. Due to that unfortunate oversight, the correct power was not cited in the preamble, which meant that certain regulations were made without the consent of HM Treasury, as they should have been. The error was spotted during a recent review of the fees regulations 2021, as I mentioned.

On the noble Baroness’s question what has been done to prevent such errors happening again, I believe that the review has been rigorous, and we do not believe that it will happen again. However, I shall give a bit more detail. HSE and GLD have completed their review of lessons learnt. This has identified some practical actions that can be taken including better ways of working between GLD crucially and HSE policy officials.

The question of HM Treasury and its role came up, and perhaps I can be helpful in answering some questions. HM Treasury has approved the 2022 fees regulations and has confirmed that consent would have been provided at the time of the 2021 regulations, if sought. HM Treasury consent was given when the fees were first introduced into UK law in 2019 by way of amendments to the fees regulations 2016. HSE is informing HM Treasury of the proposed treatment of the approximately £25,000 of fees received between 1 April 2021 and 21 December 2022. Some 14 companies have been charged between £500 and £5,000, so I hope that is helpful.

These regulations put beyond doubt the ability to charge these fees. We are liaising with HM Treasury on the repayment. There is a quality assurance in place, and we regret that it was human error that led to this. We have reviewed our processes, as mentioned earlier, and have implemented actions to improve this. If they were in place, the error would have been avoided. I hope that helps to answer the questions raised by the noble Baroness.

On the £25,000, I asked a specific question: was there legal cover for charging that money? I would like an answer to that. I think the Minister said that the HSE is informing the Treasury as to what it will do about the money. Can he inform us what it is going to do about it rather than just the Treasury?

Those are two fair questions. I will have to write to the noble Baroness to follow through on the specific details that she has asked for. I will certainly write a letter and make sure that she is fully informed. With that, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.