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Conformity Assessment (Mutual Recognition Agreements) (Construction Products) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Volume 816: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Conformity Assessment (Mutual Recognition Agreements) (Construction Products) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

My Lords, these regulations were laid before both Houses on 16 September 2021. They are part of the Government’s programme to implement the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement, specifically in the context of construction products.

These regulations are made using powers in the Trade Act 2021 to amend the Conformity Assessment (Mutual Recognition Agreements) and Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) (Amendment) Regulations 2021, known as the 2021 regulations. They make a simple amendment in order to cite the construction products regulations as specified regulations within that legislation.

This brings me to the detail of our statutory instrument. Using powers from the Trade Act 2021, these regulations make an amendment to the 2021 regulations to include the UK CPR as a specified regulation. They do no more than is necessary to implement the mutual recognition agreement on conformity assessment under the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement. They do not change the key CPR requirements for placing construction products on the market in Great Britain. For those reasons, they are very simple to understand.

The effect of making this amendment can be considered in two parts. First, these regulations ensure that, pursuant to the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement, the UK recognises and accepts a conformity assessment procedure or result issued by a Canadian conformity assessment body that has carried out the assessment of a construction product against UK CPR requirements. The effect of this is that a conformity assessment procedure undertaken by a Canadian conformity assessment body against UK designated standards will be treated as if it were performed by a UK approved body, enabling Canadian-assessed UK conformity assessment marked products to be placed on the market in Great Britain.

Secondly, and finally, these regulations enable the Secretary of State to assign an identification number to, and include in any register, a Canadian conformity assessment body carrying out an assessment in relation to the UK CPR and include a Canadian accreditation body in a register of those bodies. As a result, manufacturers can easily find and use a Canadian-based conformity assessment body that is accredited to undertake conformity assessment procedures against UK designated standards prior to export to Great Britain.

In summary, our overall approach to these amendments is entirely consistent with both the policy and legal intent of the Trade Act 2021 and enacts the policy that the Government have an obligation to execute as part of their international agreements. Equally, these regulations, and the 2021 regulations they amend, are entirely concurrent with the Northern Ireland protocol, which applies in Northern Ireland. These regulations serve a very specific purpose: to amend the 2021 regulations to ensure that the UK CPR is a specified regulation. This is necessary to enact the provisions of the UK-Canada Trade Agreement protocol on conformity assessment that came into force on 1 April 2021.

This instrument is necessary to ensure that we remove a technical barrier to trade between the UK and Canada and meet our obligations within the UK-Canada Trade Continuity Agreement, which has already come into force. I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting the draft regulations. I commend them to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these regulations. Time is of the essence and I propose to be brief. In paragraph 4 of the helpful Explanatory Memorandum, reference is made to the territorial applications. So far as Wales is concerned, I refer to paragraph 10 on consultation and ask by what means were the consultations carried out? Were they carried out by officials—probably—or by Ministers? Was business done simply by letter? How did the department and the Senedd relate on this technical matter, which one supports? On this issue, how does a great department of state deal with a Parliament in faraway Wales? The Minister may have an observation to make.

Paragraph 12 deals with impact. Can the Minister furnish an example of how these regulations affect a specific business? Perhaps he can give one example, large or small. Paragraph 13 deals with small businesses, which are the lifeblood of the Welsh economy. Clearly, Government UK are the agency involved in communications with small businesses. Was the Federation of Small Businesses involved? Were chambers of trade and the CBI involved? What were the channels of communication used by Government UK where Wales is concerned? Is there an existing estimate of the envisaged effects? Also, is there a word missing from the first line of paragraph 13?

If the answers are not available now, might the Minister write? He might know that with regard to the European Union, Wales very heavily decided that it wanted to come out.

My Lords, the Minister read out the technical details with gusto. He obviously enjoyed doing it. In a nutshell, what we are being asked to accept today is the transfer of a protocol attached to the EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada into UK law.

This simple transfer has involved a Command Paper—351—followed by the process in both Houses and presumably a time since January 2020 when Canadian building products were not able to be certified in Canada and the certification accepted by UK authorities. Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain whether that is the case and whether building products from Canada have had to be certified here in the UK as well as in Canada during this period.

Then there is Regulation 6, which appears to relate to the assessment of the Canadian assessment bodies and whether these comply with UK standards. Can the Minister explain how the assessment body in Regulation 6 is held accountable for its determinations?

At the heart of all this are the UK construction products regulations. These regulations may well be comprehensive and require construction products to comply with basic safety standards. However, regulations are only ever as good as the processes for ensuring full compliance. The Grenfell Tower tragedy has exposed the awful failings in this regard. The question, therefore, to the Minister is a very important one: how will the Government ensure complete compliance with the assessments of complex construction materials and, as importantly, ensure that the products are used as per the regulations? Those are the lessons from Grenfell.

In conclusion, this SI is a straightforward transfer of mutual recognition agreements from EU law to the UK in relation to construction materials from Canada. The wider issue is this: quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [Interruption.] Well, our beloved Prime Minister uses Latin all the time, so I thought I would add some in.

Exactly, perhaps. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who guards the guardians? This is important. With those remarks, I broadly agree with the proposed changes.

My Lords, it is good to be back in the Moses Room with the Minister. As other Members have said, the regulations before us are technical. I can say at the outset that I am happy to support them.

My noble friend Lord Jones asked about consultation. I am sure that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, will come back on that point, particularly in regard to consultation with the devolved Administrations. My noble friend mentioned the Senedd, but it would be interesting to hear what consultations have taken place with the other Administrations. I also noted from the Dispatch Box that there was no consultation with the public because it was not deemed necessary.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, raised an important issue in respect of Regulation 6. It is absolutely fine to agree the regulations as they are here now; there is no problem with them whatever. But the question is always, is it not, what happens when things go wrong. I think that was the noble Baroness’s point. It is a fair point. We are authorising a body in another country to certify that products are correct and stuff, but further down the track, if things go wrong, what processes are there? How do we deal with that? This is the nub of the question that the noble Baroness and I want answered.

I will leave it there. I accept that, if the Minister does not have an answer now, he will write to colleagues and place a copy in the Library. As I said, I am content with the regulations as they stand.

My Lords, I particularly appreciated the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who I gather has had more than half a century of parliamentary service. That is quite incredible; I am almost the same age as the number of years he has served in both Houses. The noble Lord is obviously very passionate about Wales. He wanted to know about the consultation. No public consultation was carried out, because it was not considered necessary.

I understand a bit about the principles of this. It is all about opening up markets. We know that there is a shortage of construction products; that was the nature of the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. Although it is good in principle, how do we ensure in practice that the construction products that are recognised by a conformity assessment body that is not our own do not result in any dumbing down in standards? Obviously, as the Minister for Building Safety, that has been the key question on which I have wanted reassurance. We are absolutely committed to maintaining high standards for construction products. We know what we saw in the tragedy of Grenfell; indeed, I referenced Lakanal House in Southwark and Garnock Court in 1999. Every decade, we have had a tragedy.

I assure noble Lords that this legislation does not amend the standard of construction products being placed on the market. That is the critical thing for everybody to recognise. However, there is a shortage of construction materials, so we will get high-quality products, increase availability and encourage the flow between the UK and Canada. That can only be a good thing, but I take the point. I hope that I have given sufficient reassurance and answered the specific point on consultation.

If there is anything else, I will be happy to pick it up and write to noble Lords, for example on some of the technical points.

Thank you. To conclude, we think that these regulations are vital, as is getting these construction products assessed against UK CPR requirements. If those assessments are to be carried out by Canadian conformity assessment bodies, we need to ensure that they are assessed against our own regulatory requirements.

I have done my best to answer the questions I can answer. I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Jones. I take it that noble Lords support the regulations, and I thank them for that.

Motion agreed.