Motion to Approve
My Lords, these regulations were laid before both Houses on 15 October 2020. They are part of the Government’s programme to update EU exit legislation to ensure that there continues to be a functioning legislative and regulatory regime at the end of the transition period. The regulations are made using powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 to amend the Construction Products Regulations in the UK. They ensure that the EU construction products regulation continues to apply in Northern Ireland in accordance with the Northern Ireland protocol to the EU withdrawal agreement. They amend the remainder of the UK regime so that it applies in Great Britain only.
I start by providing some context and background to the regulations. The EU construction products regulation, or CPR, is an EU regulation that is directly applicable in all EU member states. It seeks to remove technical barriers to the trade of construction products in the European single market, and currently applies across the UK. The CPR harmonises the methods of assessment and testing, the means of declaration of product performance and the system of conformity assessment of construction products. It does not harmonise national building regulations. Individual member states remain responsible for safety, environmental, energy and other requirements applicable to construction works.
When an EU harmonised standard exists for a product, the CPR places obligations on manufacturers, distributors and importers of that product when it is placed on the market. This includes a stipulation that the product must have been accompanied by a declaration of performance and have been affixed with a “Conformité Européenne” or CE mark. At the end of the transition period, the CPR becomes retained EU law and will form part of the UK’s legal system. The construction products regulations 2019—the 2019 regulations—ensure that its provisions will have practical application in the UK. They introduced UK-wide provisions, such as the UK conformity assessment, or UKCA mark and UK designated standards, in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.
We have now left the EU, with the withdrawal agreement and an Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol. Without the amendments made by this instrument, the amendments in the 2019 regulations would apply in the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, which would not be compliant with the protocol. Regulators would lack powers to enforce the EU regulations in Northern Ireland, and manufacturers would not be able to test their product in the UK and affix the UKNI indication to place the product on the market in Northern Ireland. The general policy is to keep the same requirements set out in the 2019 regulations in Great Britain, but to introduce a Northern Ireland-compliant regime. These regulations do not change the key CPR requirements currently in place. The same standards will apply in Great Britain and Northern Ireland immediately after 31 December as they did before the end of the transition period, and products that meet Northern Ireland requirements will have unfettered access to the GB market.
The effects of these regulations can be considered in three parts. First, they will amend the 2019 regulations so that the current UK-wide provisions such as the UKCA marking and UK designated standards will become GB provisions at the end of the transition period. This will ensure that EU construction products law will apply in Northern Ireland, including CE marking and EU harmonised standards, in line with the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement. Immediately following the end of the transition period, UK designated standards will be identical to those under the EU regime, so there will be no change for businesses on standards that must be met.
Secondly, these regulations make provisions for conformity assessment bodies established in the UK. They enable UK-approved bodies to continue testing against EU harmonised standards for the Northern Ireland market and introduce a UKNI indication, as required under the protocol. Where a UK-approved body undertakes the third-party conformity assessment required under the relevant EU standard, the manufacturer must affix the CE marking together with the new UKNI indication. These construction products will be recognised on the Northern Ireland market from the end of the transition period. The details of the UKNI indication will be established under a separate instrument led by BEIS. Further information on this will follow very shortly.
Thirdly, these regulations restate the enforcement provisions for Northern Ireland in relation to the EU construction products regulation and amend existing UK-wide enforcement provisions so that they apply in Great Britain. These enforcement provisions will work in a very similar way to the Construction Products Regulations 2013. They will ensure clear enforcement rules for economic operators and regulators in Great Britain and Northern Ireland where non-compliant goods are placed on either market.
In relation to Great Britain, the regulations amend the construction products enforcement rules set out in the Construction Products Regulations 2013, as amended by the 2019 regulations. This includes amendments to reflect that the CE marking, together with the UKNI indication, will be recognised in Great Britain. On Northern Ireland, the regulations provide an enforcement regime in relation to EU construction products law. This will allow the existing regime to continue largely unchanged once the transition period has ended and is necessary to allow for reference to the new UKNI indication.
Finally, these regulations also make a number of technical changes to correct deficiencies in the 2019 regulations arising from leaving the EU with the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol.
Our overall approach to these amendments is entirely concurrent with the policy and legal intent of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and enacts the policy that the Government set out in guidance to industry in September. These regulations serve a very specific purpose: to amend the 2019 regulations to ensure a functioning legislative and regulatory regime in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is necessary in response to the withdrawal agreement and the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol that the UK and the EU agreed to in January 2020.
This instrument is necessary to ensure that construction products legislation continues to function appropriately in Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Chamber.
My Lords, when two or three are gathered together you can guarantee there will be consensus. The atmosphere today is very different from that of yesterday when this House again considered the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I commend the Minister on reading beautifully the brief—and it was brief, and I shall be even briefer.
I decided that I would speak briefly this afternoon because I was intrigued. I thought to myself, “Not many noble Lords will seek to speak on these regulations; they are somewhat obscure and do not appear to have any great relevance to the wider debates we’ve been having”, but then I thought to myself, “I’ll go along and just test the water a bit regarding enforcement”. The Minister referred to enforcement; he said there will be no change in enforcement. He also referred to the importance of harmonisation. He reflected on the fact that this would have no impact on Great Britain even though EU regulations will continue to apply in Northern Ireland because of that harmonisation. I began to think to myself, “I might just turn up on Tuesday afternoon and test the water a bit with the Minister about what is all this fuss about? If we can do this on the CPR and recognise that harmonisation makes sense, if the enforcement regime remains the same, if we can have something that is operable through the EU regulation in Northern Ireland and its relationship to the border, and if we can still have the same transport and regulatory framework in terms of the relationship of Northern Ireland to the new Great Britain regulatory framework, which remains the same as the old, then what is the fuss about?” So I have just three questions, really.
First, why cannot we do this more broadly? Secondly, did the Prime Minister spot this one when he signed the protocol, given that he clearly did not spot one or two others? Thirdly, what about this enforcement regime? I genuinely would like to know a little bit more about it. Thank you very much.
My Lords, I think that I will be equally brief in my remarks to the House today. First, I draw the House’s attention to my relevant registered interests as the chairman of the Heart of Medway Housing Association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.
On looking at these regulations one might be forgiven for thinking that they are very technical and will ensure we are ready for the next phase of our relationship with the European Union, and so they will. They are very important not only for our future relationship with the EU but for how the products they regulate will be used both here in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland. It is important that these products are properly assessed, approved and licensed and properly used as well. Like my noble friend Lord Blunkett I would be very interested to hear more about the enforcement regime. We need to ensure that, whatever licences and approvals are given, the products are used properly. Problems can arise when they are not used properly, sometimes with tragic consequences. We therefore need to hear about the enforcement regime. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, we have had a fascinating and lengthy debate that has raised a number of points. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Blunkett, for pointing out that there is a lot to be learned from this example of how we can leave the EU and maintain the consistency that our builders and other users of construction products require. I want to provide a little further detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that we could perhaps deal with other regulations as we have dealt with the CPR. At the end of this year we will have full control over our own laws, but while we are in the transition period we have obligations under the withdrawal agreement to transpose new EU regulations. I am sure that there are many other regulations that will need to be transposed in due course. We are committed to implementing our obligations under the withdrawal agreement and published a Command Paper in May that sets out the approach we will take. This instrument is one of many that will help to ensure a functioning statute book at the end of the transition period.
Regarding the questions posed about the enforcement regime, the new enforcement regime will allow the existing regime to continue largely unchanged. I would therefore think that the current enforcement regime will be in force in the future. However, I am happy to write to both noble Lords with the specifics of that as I do not pretend to be an absolute expert on the current regime. The point, however, is that we will be harmonised with the EU as we leave it and how far we diverge will be a choice for future Governments. It is fair to say that there are sometimes opportunities in diverging, and in other areas there is opportunity in maintaining convergence. That is an important policy choice for this Government and successive Governments.
The Government believe that the regulations are needed to ensure that the construction products legislation continues to function in Great Britain and Northern Ireland after the end of the transition period. I have tried to answer all the questions—or at least the single pertinent question—but if not, I will write in more detail with more information. I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting these regulations, which I commend to the House.