Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this statutory instrument was laid before this House on 20 April 2023 and makes technical amendments to UK REACH. UK REACH is the retained version of EU REACH and is one of the key pieces of legislation that regulates the use of chemicals in Great Britain. This instrument is being made pursuant to powers in the Environment Act 2021. In accordance with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, UK REACH maintains the core approach and key principles of the EU REACH regulation. Its primary objectives remain focused on safeguarding a high level of protection of human health and the environment.
This SI introduces two changes. I should make it clear from the outset that the changes do not affect the key principles of UK REACH. The first change this SI introduces is that it amends Article 127P(4B) of UK REACH. This provides an additional three years for businesses to submit technical information on the hazards and risks of their substances to the Health and Safety Executive. This extension applies to all grandfathered registrations and chemicals being imported from the EU under the transitional arrangements. Industry will now be required to submit technical information on the hazards and risks of substances that it manufactures or imports by 27 October 2026, 27 October 2028 and 27 October 2030, depending on the tonnage and toxicity. These dates are changes from 27 October 2023, 27 October 2025 and 27 October 2027 respectively.
This SI supports the work that we announced in December to explore an alternative transitional registration model for UK REACH in order to address the significant potential cost, estimated at between £1.3 billion and £3.5 billion, of obtaining or accessing the full hazard information required to meet UK REACH registration requirements. Work on the alternative transitional registration model is ongoing. In response to concerns about the potential costs, we are currently engaging with stakeholders, including NGOs, to develop an alternative transitional registration model for UK REACH that will help reduce the costs associated with obtaining hazard information, including from expensive EU REACH data packages, while still ensuring that industry remains responsible for the safe use of chemicals throughout the supply chain.
The model also aims to place more emphasis on improving our understanding of the uses and exposures of chemicals in the GB context, which will enable better targeting of regulatory actions. Extending the deadlines will provide certainty to industry so that it can avoid making unnecessary investments towards obtaining information for the existing registration model when that information may no longer be necessary under an alternative model.
I now turn to the second change that this SI introduces. It moves the timelines for HSE to complete its compliance checks to ensure that the information submitted by industry is of sufficient quality. These timelines have been moved in order to align them with the extended submission deadlines. We need to move the dates for these regulatory checks because the current deadlines for compliance checking, as set down in Article 41(5) of UK REACH, would otherwise fall before the amended dates for submitting the relevant information. HSE will now have to complete its compliance checks by 27 October 2027, 27 October 2030 and 27 October 2035, corresponding to the three extended submission deadlines.
This is the first time we have prepared an SI using the powers to amend REACH set out in Schedule 21 to the Environment Act 2021. We have followed all the safeguards we attached to those powers: we received consent from the devolved Administrations of Wales and Scotland; we consulted widely with our stakeholders on our plans to extend the submission deadlines; and we published a consistency statement alongside the consultation, as required by the 2021 Act. This provides the Committee with the necessary assurance that extending the submission deadlines is consistent with Article 1 of UK REACH.
Our assessment, as outlined in the consistency statement, demonstrates that the UK REACH regime will still be able to ensure a high level of protection for human health and the environment for three main reasons. The first is the information and knowledge on chemicals registered under EU REACH available to both the Health and Safety Executive and Great Britain registrants. Secondly, importers from the EU will continue to receive EU REACH-compliant safety data sheets from their EU suppliers, which will enable them to identify and apply appropriate risk management measures. Thirdly, the Health and Safety Executive has the ability to seek risk management data from other sources, if necessary, as it did when acting as a competent authority under EU REACH. This could include calls for evidence or using data from EU REACH and other relevant sources that can provide Great Britain-specific hazard and exposure information.
Alongside the public consultation, we also published a full impact assessment on extending the deadlines. The impact assessment was awarded a green “fit for purpose” rating by the Regulatory Policy Committee. The territorial extent of this instrument is the United Kingdom. The devolved Administrations were engaged in the development of this instrument and are content. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments did not report any concerns with this statutory instrument.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised four main concerns in relation to this SI and the ATR more generally, including whether the implementation deadline of 2024 is achievable; concern from stakeholders about weakening protections for human health and the environment; and concerns about the HSE’s regulatory function and the impact of the REUL Bill. As I have already commented, we are confident that UK REACH will still be able to ensure a high level of protection of human health and the environment. I will take the other concerns in turn.
In relation to the timeline for delivery of the ATR, this is a complex project. It is right that we take the appropriate time to develop the policy and test it with stakeholders. We are extending the transitional registration deadlines to ensure that we have a reasonable amount of time to do that. The earliest we can formally consult is the end of 2023, introducing legislation in 2024, and this remains our aim. The timetable is driven by both the technical and the sequential nature of the work. We are just coming to the end of an evidence-gathering project, including detailed interviews with companies including SMEs. Together with the new deadlines, this draft SI will give industry the time it needs to adapt to the new arrangements.
In relation to the HSE’s regulatory capacity, I am pleased to say that it continues to increase its capacity to take on new regulatory obligations. The HSE’s Chemicals Regulation Division increased by 46% between September 2020 and March 2022, and it has continued to build capacity over the last year. By 2025 the number of HSE staff working on UK REACH delivery is expected to grow to at least 50.
Finally, regarding the committee’s concerns about the impact of sunset provisions in the REUL Bill on this SI, I confirm that REACH was not on Defra’s list of retained EU law that it intends to remove from the statute book from 31 December 2023 following the retained EU law Bill becoming law.
I am confident that the provisions in these regulations mean that we will continue to ensure the highest levels of protection for human health and the environment, based on robust evidence and strong scientific analysis. At the same time, we are taking the necessary steps to provide industry with the legal certainty it needs to operate and to preserve the supply chains for the chemicals we depend on. For these reasons, I beg to move.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for the opportunity to debate the regulations, which I broadly support, and to share with him some concerns that have been raised—in particular, by industry.
I start with the last bit of what my noble friend said about the REUL Bill: that this is not currently on the Defra list of retained EU law that might be changed. Can he give us, and therefore industry, an absolute commitment that in the next two to three years there will be no attempt by Defra to amend or revoke this? When the REUL Bill, which is now in the other place, went through its initial stages, we learned that Defra has absolute power to review, amend and revoke any piece of primary or secondary legislation—I forget all the nomenclatures—on the statute book. We as a Committee, a Parliament and a House do not have the right to review that, so it would be fair to business to know that it is not within the sight, mind or intention of the department to amend or revoke within the next two to three years.
On 24 May my noble friend was kind enough to reply to a Question I tabled on REACH and maintaining compliance with the EU REACH programme. He repeated today that, as we speak, we do not know what the total cost of the statutory instruments and the measures therein will be. In his Answer my noble friend said that it will be £2 billion over six years, but he and the Committee will understand that it is not very helpful to those preparing—the NGOs and particularly the chemical firms involved—that the Government do not have an idea. He concludes by saying:
“Although values of chemical exports are increasing, this is not generally reflected in volume, suggesting that inflationary pressures are contributing to the figures”.
I do not expect my noble friend to be able to reply this afternoon, but I understand that the cost of paint went up hugely after the UK left the European Union and I wonder whether that is partly because of the instrument before us this afternoon and the fact that those who wish to export still comply with EU REACH and are now having to comply with UK REACH, albeit with the slight delay.
The UK chemical sector, represented by the Chemical Industries Association, was kind enough to brief me for this afternoon, and I will share with my noble friend and the Committee its concerns. It
“would like to stress the importance of urgently providing legal certainty to businesses. The current level of uncertainty around future registration requirements, expected timelines and related costs is currently not encouraging new market opportunities. While the proposal to extend the deadlines is much welcomed by industry, clarity on the viability of the future registration model will also be needed very shortly to allow sufficient time for appropriate legislation to be developed and for authorities and industry to implement it”.
When will the future registration model be available?
As regards the concerns raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, I share its concern that the potential date of late 2024 is not achievable, because my understanding is that the Government are looking at a completely new design for UK REACH, including all the things that businesses are expected to do. Again, I ask my noble friend to put our minds at rest. If it is a whole new design, how, hand on heart, can he explain that the department will be in a position to complete it?
The CIA is also concerned that:
“In considering a different approach to registration, it will be essential to avoid a situation where compliance costs are simply shifted rather than reduced, for example from buying access to data under the current system to new administrative costs due to the work needed to generate a dossier under the new model”.
Therefore, I am sure my noble friend would accept that there is considerable uncertainty as to whether the registration costs can be minimised and that the industry needs to know a workable alternative registration model. The CIA is
“of the view that an effective UK REACH regime could be achieved even without requiring a full resubmission of dossiers for all substances already registered under EU REACH”.
I could go on—my noble friend the Minister is aware that I have tracked this issue for some considerable time—but I share the ongoing concerns raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I thank it for providing its report in time for us to consider it this afternoon. My main concerns are that 2024 is not achievable and that the REUL Bill gives my noble friend and his department complete power in this field to revoke or amend this without any consultation of businesses or real scrutiny in this place.
With those few remarks, I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I rise briefly to make just a couple of points. I remember when the EU REACH legislation was going through the European Parliament. I was involved in a different capacity. It was, as Members will know, the biggest piece of legislation that the European Parliament had ever dealt with. This is a very complex area.
I appreciate the Minister’s exposition of this statutory instrument but, like other noble Lords, I have a couple of questions. As the Minister mentioned, this is not the first extension. I am not surprised by that because this is a complex area. Nevertheless, I want to raise something that I think other Members will also raise; indeed, it has just been raised by the noble Baroness. Is the 2024 deadline realistic, bearing in mind especially that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred to concerns that the ATR might be weaker in its effect? Does the Minister care to elaborate a little more on that?
Another question that arises is whether the HSE has enough staff to cope with the complexity and volume of data and the examination that is necessary in this process. Does the Minister care to comment a little on the industry’s concerns about cost? There are some legitimate concerns about that. Who did the Government consult in the course of preparing this SI? The Minister did not mention anyone specifically, but did the department consult the Chemical Industries Association or the professional body for chemistry, the Royal Society of Chemistry, which has taken a close interest in something of such importance over a period of many years? Does the Minister care to say anything about the capacity for confusion in Northern Ireland between the parallel systems of EU REACH and UK REACH?
Finally, in respect of the retained EU law Bill, I really do think—I hope Members agree—that this is too big an issue for us to allow a future Government to make a major change without consulting Parliament. I would be grateful if the Minister could address those points in his reply.
My Lords, I too have experience of dealing with REACH at the European level. When I was the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, we worked with the British chemical industry, including the Chemical Industries Association—often against opposition from the powerful German chemical industry lobby, which was hostile to the whole concept of REACH. I was very pleased when we got it through; as my noble friend Lord Stansgate just outlined, it was not without considerable difficulty and this is an extremely complex area.
I will make two points today. First, I want to give a little tribute to the Chemical Industries Association, which I have found over the years to be as good a lobby group as any in the business world in terms of taking a broad view of issues, as well as looking after its members’ interests. That is important.
I am particularly concerned to ensure that in the extension that has been given, which I support, we continue to adhere to EU REACH, because we have nothing at the moment and the game plan is there. No doubt we will have some variations on it in due course, and I accept that, but in the meantime, in the absence of a British UK-EU arrangement, I hope that the Minister can ensure that the British industry follows the EU rules until they are replaced.
My Lords, I rise to express significant green concern about this SI and the general direction of travel. We must look at the framework within which we are considering this. We have recently seen published peer-reviewed research showing that the world has exceeded the planetary boundary for novel entities. We have natural systems and, increasingly, human health systems, that cannot cope with the burden of novel entities. I usually talk about those as shorthand for pesticides, plastics and pharmaceuticals, but it is basically what is covered by the REACH directive.
There is now increasing scientific and public concern about the impact of these on environmental health and public health. PFAS forever chemicals are one example of an area that we are coming to understand in our understanding of biology. Most organisms on this planet are structurally holobionts, made up not just of their own entities but of bacteria, fungi and viruses. We are grasping the sheer complexity of life on this planet far more than we did 10 or 15 years ago, and the impact of these chemicals is increasingly understood—for example, the impact of chemical exposure creating antimicrobial resistance, a whole new area of research where there have been considerable advances in the last few years.
In that context, it is interesting to look at some figures. I pay tribute to CHEM Trust, which has provided me with a large amount of information on this issue, with significant expressions of concern. If we take the substances of very high concern, the UK has not added any hazardous chemicals to its list since we left the European Union, while 24 substances have been added to the EU’s list. Defra is considering just four out of 10 substances for the UK list which the EU added in 2021 but is yet to publish assessments on them. In the meantime, another five substances were added to the EU list in 2022 and nine since January this year. This is happening at a very significant pace, and we are falling further and further behind. There seems to be no interest. Can the Minister suggest how we might catch up with the EU in this specific area?
There are obvious public and environmental health issues here, but there are also issues for trade. If our companies are operating on our standards, they will increasingly be excluded from other markets. The Prime Minister has this week been speaking of the desire to be world-leading in innovation. When substances of very high concern are put on that list, there is a push on companies to look for alternatives—to innovate and find new ways of doing things. If we are not creating an environment in which that is likely to happen, then even in the Government’s own terms we are falling behind on the global stage of science and innovation.
Picking up on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Monks, it is worth noting that the UK was one of the driving forces behind the creation of EU REACH and the restriction of chemicals regulations in 2007. Last night, I was at an Industry and Parliament Trust meeting, talking about trade. I heard there an expert in standards talking about how the UK has in recent decades been a leader in pushing the creation of ISO standards. However, it is our industry, our scientists and our NGOs that led that push towards higher standards. The Government must keep up, and support the drive in our industry, our NGOs and our scientists.
I shall pick up the points made by other noble Lords about the lack of regulatory capacity. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have pointed to this lack, which is creating serious problems that are being identified on every side. Others have already spoken about the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which also highlights concerns about human health and the environment, and the HSE’s capacity. We are hearing the same messages from all angles.
In particular, the impact assessment says that the absence of data
“could lead to reduced regulatory oversight and regulatory delays”,
but suggests that it would not be significant because other sources of information can be drawn on. However, the publicly available information about registered substances in EU REACH does not include details on safety tests, uses and how the industry reached its conclusion on the hazards and risks of substances.
The time factor needs to be focused on, as does the fact that we know that today, at this moment, we are exposing everyone in Britain and every bit of the UK’s natural systems to harm from chemicals that we continue to release into the environment when we know we should not be doing so. That will keep piling the costs on. The slower we operate, the more costs there will be. Think of the pressure on our NHS and on one of the nature-depleted corners of this battered planet: if we act slowly, the costs will just keep mounting up. For example, I mentioned PFAS forever chemicals: once they are there, we cannot get rid of them. There is no going backwards if we allow their use to continue.
I have some very specific questions. Will the UK look towards mirroring, moving faster than and eventually matching the EU’s pace of action, particularly on the chemicals of most concern? The UK Government talk about whether a control is right for GB. Do the Government see lower standards as being in some way better for us? How can the Minister say that lower standards of chemical regulation and safety are better for us?
An issue on which I have done a great deal of work and have a great deal of concern is microplastics. The Committee will remember microbeads. Indeed, the Government acted a few years ago on microbeads, but many intentionally added microplastics are still not covered by that legislation, which the REACH work programme of 2022-23 indicated as one of its five priorities. However, it has not yet published an evidence review or initiated any restrictions. Can the Minister tell me when we are likely to see that evidence review on intentionally added microplastics? In the light of that question, I note that EU national experts recently voted to adopt restrictions at the REACH Committee. That is now going to the European Parliament and the European Council, so the EU has steps in progress on these microplastics. When will we?
To be really concrete and scientific, and to focus on the importance of this for environmental and, potentially, human health, we—by which I mean scientists collectively: the human race—have identified the new disease of plasticosis. That was identified in one species of seabird, because we have looked for it in only one species of seabird. We are choking this planet with plastics and we have no idea what that is doing to us or to nature.
My Lords, I had the honour to serve on the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee when it considered Brexit and the trouble with EU REACH, in that it was not in the least transferable so it is totally dependent on grandfathering, unless there is a stream in which we allow people to apply for new chemicals. We obviously started from zero in our collection and we rely on manufacturers to submit the EU REACH approvals. Do we keep track of how extensive our REACH is, compared with the European one? As the previous speaker said, the EU is expanding its schemes. Do we have tighter regulations than the EU imposes at present?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. As with a number of SIs in the past, we have been facing this issue since 2019. At that time, the Government were urged from all sides, especially the chemical industry, to stay within EU REACH. The data analysis and licensing systems that would not be made available to the UK were and are extensive. This would not be the case if the country remained within EU REACH.
The need for registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals is obvious. It protects the public, plants and animals from the harm caused by toxic chemicals, all of which have to be licensed and registered. This is a complex process. Without access to EU REACH data, a completely new set of data had to be compiled and licensed from scratch. This involves animal testing. We cannot get away from this fact. It is necessary, but it could have been avoided. It will also involve huge financial costs to the chemical industry.
On 4 March 2019, my noble friend Lord Fox and I met Defra officials along with the then Minister. We stressed the huge costs involved, which we felt ran into billions, and the long timeframe needed to get the necessary licences in place. I regret to say that we were treated with contempt and told that it would be much cheaper and quicker than our predictions.
The deadline before implementation has already been extended from that set on 26 March 2019. In answer to an Oral Question in September 2020, Defra revealed that EU REACH employed some 600 staff and took 10 years to deal with the difficulties in the system at a cost of £100 million. Defra proposed to achieve the same with 40 staff, at a cost of £13 million. By December 2020, in a debate on a regret Motion, a cost of £1 billion was mentioned.
Here we are today once again extending the already extended timeframe. This is a piece of elastic that has come to the end of its life. Defra’s estimation of the current costs for completing the licensing is now between £1.3 billion and the figure that I think the Minister mentioned of £3.5 billion. I have tremendous respect for the Minister and his predecessor, but on this occasion I have to say to Defra: “We told you so”.
In a debate in 2020, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, began his remarks by saying:
“My Lords, I would like to echo the regret that others have expressed that we have allowed ourselves to walk into this unnecessary nightmare”.—[Official Report, 8/12/20; col. 1162.]
I could not agree more. It is clear than an extension of the timeframe is needed. Is the Minister sure that the timings now being requested will be sufficient? In its report of 11 May, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, to which he referred, says that it does not believe that the alternative transitional registration—ATR—model deadline of 2024 is achievable. Can the Minister say whether, during this extended timeframe, animals will continue to be subjected to painful and harmful testing methods? Others have spoken about the effect and the danger of hazardous substances.
Given that the extended timeframe favours large businesses with the greatest tonnage, can the Minister assure the Grand Committee that the smaller but nevertheless vital businesses often providing subcontract work will be able to survive? How many, if any, businesses dealing with and producing chemicals have gone under since the country left EU REACH?
The Minister referred to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. How will the three-year extension period proposed today interact with the sunset provisions in the REUL Bill? I believe he said that there would be no impact, but I would be glad for confirmation. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised this issue and the proposed extended deadlines.
In November 2022, Defra extended the submission deadlines for the consultation outcomes. Some 82% of the 289 responses had a strong preference for a three-year extension. However, the NGOs preferred no extension at all. This was due to concerns that the ATR model would be weaker and less protective of human health and the environment than current transitional arrangements, which are also still under development. UK REACH is supposed to be bound by the Environment Act’s precautionary principle. However, there is clear risk involved in the ATR model.
The Chemical Industries Association, the CIA, stresses the importance of urgently providing legal certainty to businesses. The current level of uncertainty around registration requirements, expected timelines and related costs is not encouraging new market opportunities. Extending deadlines is not providing the clarity needed on the viability of the registration model or allowing sufficient time for appropriate legislation to be developed and for authorities and industries to implement it. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, referred to this. Will the Minister please comment?
The CIA is of the view that an effective UK REACH could be achieved even without requiring a full resubmission dossier of all substances already registered under EU REACH. Sadly, so prejudiced is Defra to anything that might smack of the EU, it will not adapt EU REACH and insists that UK REACH will be better. If we ever get there, it certainly will not be cheaper.
I will give an example from the CHEM Trust. In its second-year programme, UK REACH deprioritised controls on nine hazardous substances targeted by the EU. These included concentration limits for eight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons used as infill and, in loose form, in synthetic football pitches and playgrounds. These are linked to increased cancer risk. A typical sports pitch uses 120 tonnes of these crumbs. According to a 2017 study, six tonnes of potentially carcinogenic material would be non-compliant with the current EU standards. Is Defra’s prioritisation of fewer EU controls on harmful substances a short-term measure until it reaches capacity, or will it introduce other measures to close the protective gap that is opening up before our eyes?
I have serious concerns about the deliverability of the UK REACH regulations. However, I feel I have no choice but to support the extension of the timeframe for delivery. I have a terrible feeling that the ATR will not be achieved and that we will be debating this issue again before too long.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his overview of the SI before us and for his correspondence in advance of today’s debate. I also thank all noble Lords for their contributions, which highlight the importance of the discussion. Given the discussion in the other place, it will not surprise the Minister that His Majesty’s Opposition will support this SI. However, we have some specific concerns relating to the direction of the post- Brexit REACH regulatory framework and the capacity of the HSE as a statutory body to provide effective enforcement.
As we discussed last week in our debate on the packaging waste statutory instrument—I am becoming a pro—the collation of this data is key to the implementation and enforcement of an effective regulatory regime. But that requires the Government to move at speed to ensure that they have the data available to make informed decisions. Paragraph 7.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum states:
“The changes provide sufficient time for the government to develop and introduce a new registration model that will cater for EU registrations transferred to Great Britain under Title 14A of UK REACH”.
The Government have known about the need to develop and introduce this model for seven years. In fact, the Minister will remember that discussions regarding the future of REACH were a regular feature of the debate around Brexit in the other place before and after the referendum. Given that the industry has been doing everything possible to support the department in reaching a new model, can the Minister inform the Committee why the department is so far behind schedule and why this is being addressed only now?
Paragraph 7.2 of the EM states:
“The statutory timelines for HSE to carry out their compliance checks on the information submitted by industry are also being extended to align with the data submission deadlines”.
I sound like a stuck record, but this is a similar situation to the ones we have seen with imports of food and certain goods from the EU, with launch dates repeatedly postponed due to a lack of preparedness. Can the Minister inform the Committee why we repeatedly need to extend the deadlines?
Later paragraphs of the EM—from paragraph 7.7 onwards—explain why His Majesty’s Government have opted to take a different approach and outline the likely timescales on implementing changes to IT systems. Why were industry concerns about the cost of the original proposal not given more weight at the time? How many civil servants have been used and how much financial resource has been spent on the original option? How much of the work that has already been done can Ministers carry over? While industry supports the changes being made, concerns have already been voiced about the workability of the alternative system and its potential implications for safety, which must remain paramount. We are not against divergence from the EU, but we must not allow gaps to form in our regulation of chemicals. Neither businesses, workers nor citizens will benefit if health and well-being are put at risk unnecessarily.
The Minister in the House of Commons, Rebecca Pow, addressed concerns about the HSE’s capacity by saying:
“Its capacity is increasing all the time … by 2025 the number of HSE staff working on UK REACH delivery is expected to grow to 50, and the number is around 60 or 70 if we consider the wider support functions”.
We welcome that ramping up of capacity, but is the Minister satisfied that this staffing level is sufficient given the areas that we are talking about? In that debate, the Minister also said that the department
“will be developing a chemical strategy”
and that we
“will hear more about that in due course”.—[Official Report, Commons, Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee, 16/5/23; cols. 9-10.]
Can the Minister here, the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, be any more specific? How confident is he that this will not simply be added to the list of items that arrive late?
I sincerely believe that each and every one of us wants nothing more than a regulatory framework that keeps our population safe and secure. Given the nature and importance of the REACH regulations, it is therefore vital that we do not just get this right but get it done quickly.
I am grateful for noble Lords’ interest in this issue, their important contributions to this debate and their support for the REACH (Amendment) Regulations 2023. I will deal with as many of the points as I can.
On my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s point, I can absolutely confirm that there is no intention to amend or revoke any of these measures in the next two years. I will come on to the point about cost.
On the 2024 date, which the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and a number of noble Lords raised, I repeat the point that I made earlier: the Government are confident that we will be able to meet that date. I am sure that noble Lords will be active in holding the Government to account on that.
On the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, the Health and Safety Executive continues to increase its capacity. The National Audit Office report from May 2022 details the increased staffing levels at the HSE, including the staffing level in its Chemicals Regulation Division going up by 46% between September 2020 and March 2022. The HSE has continued to build capacity in the last year. In the longer term, by 2025, the number of HSE staff working on UK REACH delivery is expected to grow to 50, or around 60 to 70 when considering wider support functions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned that the staff in the EU directorate numbered 600. Of course, that covers the whole of the EU, which is a considerably larger area, but nevertheless we seek to align any regulatory changes we can with them, working with the EU, and I will give more assurances on that.
We do not yet know what the costs of ATR for business would be. As the work is still ongoing, it is not possible to comment on any cost savings. We should have a better idea when we have completed gathering evidence against the developed model. Our estimate is that the existing model could cost industry about £2 billion by 2027. This figure is highly uncertain; it is expected to fall within the range of £1.3 billion to £3.5 billion, although the final cost will depend heavily on industry behaviour. For example, trade bodies in the UK and the EU have recommended that GB companies should not be charged a second time for data they have already used for the purposes of EU REACH.
The costs are composed mainly of business-to-business payments for data, with administrative costs and registration fees also contributing. The central estimate implies an average cost per substance of £91,000 for 22,400 substances. Substance costs are derived from a published evaluation of registration costs under EU REACH but discounted to take account of Great Britain- specific factors.
The noble Lord, Lord Monks, made a very important point about how aligned we are with EU decisions during this extension period. We do not believe it would be appropriate to adopt all future EU decisions under UK REACH. This is because the EU no longer considers the impact of its decisions on GB, including the use of exposure patterns in Great Britain. Nevertheless, the UK will continue to monitor EU decisions and consider whether they are right for GB. On his point about parliamentary scrutiny, ATR will be subject to public consultation, will require the devolved Administrations’ consent and will be brought back to Parliament for affirmative resolution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made a number of important points. I entirely agree with her and share her concerns about AMR. Although it is a slightly separate subject, it is top of our priorities to address. All 209 substances on the EU list were transferred to the UK list of SVHC on EU exit. While further substances have been added to the EU list under UK REACH, a substance will not be proposed for inclusion on the candidate list unless it is a good candidate for the authorisation list. Our approach to prioritising substances of very high concern was published on 9 December, 18 months ago. We believe that focusing the candidate list on identifying substances that are genuine candidates for authorisation—the statutory purpose of the list—will more effectively enable substitution away from the most hazardous substances.
On the noble Baroness’s allegation that the UK is not keeping pace with the EU, since leaving the EU we have initiated regulatory risk management options analyses on four substances to assess whether they should be added to the candidate list. These will conclude shortly. Defra, together with the technical specialists at the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency, monitors the European Chemicals Agency’s work to introduce new substances of very high concern to the EU REACH candidates list. Since UK REACH came into force, our work programme has prioritised the issues that are most effectively addressed through UK REACH and where action would have the greatest impact for human health and the environment. Where this work is relevant for Great Britain, we will assess the scientific evidence and ECHA’s rationale for taking this regulatory step. If inclusion on the UK REACH authorisation list would be an effective risk management measure for that substance, we will take action to recommend it for inclusion on the UK candidate list of substances of very high concern. That reflects the concerns of a number of noble Lords.
Now that we have left the EU, we have the freedom to make our own regulatory decisions where we believe that there is a strong case that there is a risk to human health or the environment in Great Britain that needs to be addressed. Defra, the Scottish and Welsh Governments, the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency have sought to focus our work programme activities on those issues that are most effectively addressed through UK REACH and where actions should have the greatest impact for human health and the environment. We have conducted stakeholder engagement workshops with representatives from NGOs, industry, trade associations and academia to inform our priorities and articulate our prioritisation principles. The Government are certainly not interested in lower standards. The requirement in the Environment Act that any changes to REACH must be consistent with Article 1 of REACH demonstrates that.
The noble Baroness also raised important points about microplastics. We are commissioning a research project on microplastics to better understand the risks and consider the best policy options domestically. We will continue to play an active and ambitious role in the UN’s landmark plastics treaty, which it will be critical to progress globally. One of my first jobs as a Minister over a decade ago was to attend the OSPAR talks in Bergen in Norway, where we were shown the revolting sight of the intestines of a fulmar that had ingested plastic. That has affected my view and my determination that cross-party—I know that we all agree on this—we should make this an absolute priority. We have created a nightmare, which this Government have done enormous amounts to try to turn around, but there is still massive work to do, both domestically and internationally.
On the key point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, the UK has long been at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches could be used. The last resort principle remains a core part of our approach to UK REACH and has been retained and enshrined in legislation through our landmark Environment Act. The UK supports work internationally to determine which new approach methodologies can provide information on chemical hazards and risk assessment. She asked what impact extending the deadlines will have on animal testing. The alternative model that we are developing should remove any remaining risk by reducing the need to submit detailed information on chemical hazard. As I said, the UK has long been at the forefront of opposing tests where alternative approaches can apply.
Let me give the rationale behind extending the deadline for three years. We consulted on extending the registration deadlines last year. I am satisfied that, based on responses to the consultation, the three-year extensions are the best balance between timely access to registration data that the HSE will need to help it in its regulatory work under UK REACH and the impacts that the changes could have on businesses, especially the potential cost burdens on downstream users and SMEs. The timeframe should allow industry to submit better-quality registration and maximise its chances of compliance. The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, is, as always, forthright in her determination that we all stick to deadlines and that there is no slacking off in standards. It is vital that we keep our engagement with the European Union and that we work off the data to make sure that we are up to date with all the information that it is receiving and vice versa.
The noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, asked about consultation. I cannot give here the list of the many organisations, but I am happy to provide it—I am sure that it is available. It was and is an extensive list of continuing consultation and will remain so, because these things are not done in isolation and it is important that we work with all organisations to achieve this. We want to extend the deadlines for the reasons that I have set out. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2021 allowed us to start these changes, so we are moving at the greatest pace possible to achieve the necessary regulatory framework.
REACH never fails to generate high levels of interest, as has been said. Today is no exception. We have had a wide range of contributions and a number of questions have been asked. I endeavoured to answer as many as I could in the time available to me.
Putting aside wider issues, I must return to the SI in front of the Grand Committee. As I said at the start of the debate, this instrument is necessary to allow us to extend the existing UK REACH submission deadlines while we make the much-needed changes to the existing transitional requirements for submitting information to the Health and Safety Executive.
Without these changes, businesses would be forced to expend resources obtaining and then compiling dossiers as they would be statutorily compelled to submit information under a model that is likely to change and potentially require different information. This means that the existing deadlines need to be amended before October 2023, when the first deadline falls.
We have made these changes to UK REACH without any impact on the high levels of human health and environmental protections, as demonstrated by the consistency statement and the impact assessments that accompanied the public consultation in summer 2022. Our chemicals sector is world leading and one of the UK’s largest manufacturing exporters by value. We fully recognise this sector’s economic importance and its importance to the way we all live our lives. At the same time, we also recognise the risks to human health and the environment if chemicals are not used properly. We must continue to strike an important balance between these two factors. I commend the draft regulations to the Grand Committee.
Before the Minister sits down, may I briefly raise two points? He said that a difference in exposure patterns would help to explain the differences in regulation between the EU and the UK. I tried to imagine what those differences might be. Some parts of the EU have considerably more heavy industry. We were at a joint event this morning where we were told that both have large areas of factory farming. Thinking about what people actually consume in the EU and the UK, I cannot think of any significant differences between the two that there would be in the pattern of life in terms of consumption. Either now or perhaps in writing, would he consider explaining what those different exposures are?
Finally, I acknowledge that the Minister very much welcomed and is enthusiastic about the microplastics review. What timeframe are we looking at there? I realise that he might not be able to be precise, but will it be this year or next year?
The noble Baroness half answered her first question. An example is that river flow is often lower in England than in the EU. That is a factor, but I will certainly go back to the department and seek further answers on that and on her subsequent question on plastics. I will certainly write to her.