Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 6:28 pm, 25th February 2019

The costs are still going to be significant for administering our own chemicals system in future, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that the safety standards will be consistent and, indeed, we will continue to learn from ECHA in future. As he will be aware, in the future economic relationship that has been put forward through the political declaration, and in ongoing statements by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, we would seek to become an associate member of ECHA in future to share these things in order to try to reduce or mitigate some of the challenges that people like Rolls-Royce are anticipating. But that is not yet an agreed matter, and it is important that the Government set before the House appropriate regulations to make sure that we have that continued safety of chemicals.

Before I explain the provisions further set out in the SI, I want to emphasise that we are absolutely keeping the fundamental approach of REACH, with its aims of ensuring a high level of protection of human health and the environment, as well as enhancing innovation and competitiveness. The building blocks of REACH will all remain: industry’s primary duty to understand the hazards and risks of chemicals and to ensure safe use, all tied to the principle of no data, no market; registration by industry of the chemicals it produces and places on the market; dossier evaluation by the regulator of at least 5% of registration dossiers to check compliance and quality, exactly as ECHA is expected to do today; and substance evaluation, which is investigation by the regulator of outstanding concerns about a chemical often leading to a requirement on industry to fill the knowledge gaps. The UK has been responsible, through ECHA, for making sure that there have been 24 evaluations—for example, of the chemical climbazole, which is used in anti-dandruff shampoos but is suspected of causing feminisation in fish. Then there is the authorisation process that forces industry to apply for and justify continued use of substances of very high concern. Finally, there is restriction of the most dangerous chemicals where unacceptable risks remain.

On the definition of duty holders, article 3 of schedule 1 of the statutory instrument changes the definitions of the various industry duty holders so that they refer to the United Kingdom rather than the European Union. Obviously, this is a simple change, but essential. Without it, UK industry would have no duty to ensure the safe use of the chemicals it produces and uses.

UK REACH will continue with an independent regulatory agency to carry out a central role with a range of technical, scientific and administrative functions—the role that is currently carried out by ECHA. The statutory instrument allocates this role to the Health and Safety Executive under article 2A of schedule 1. The HSE will receive industry’s registrations of chemicals. It will make many technical decisions itself—for example, in dossier and substance evaluations, as well as in scrutinising authorisation applications and making scientific recommendations on restrictions. This builds on the HSE’s existing activities as the UK competent authority for REACH. At the same time, the Environment Agency and the devolved environmental regulators will have the role of providing the advice that the HSE will need on environmental matters, as set out in article 2B of schedule 1.

The HSE, as the UK agency, must also draw on independent expert scientific advice when developing its opinions on restrictions and authorisations. This will add to the robust evidence and analysis underpinning its opinions. We expect the HSE to obtain external advice, but there may sometimes be reasons why it does not feel it needs to do so, such as where ECHA has already published a robust opinion on a chemical. In such cases, where the HSE decides not to take further scientific advice, it must publish its justification, as set out in article 77. Finally, appeals against the HSE’s decisions will be heard by an independent body, the first-tier tribunal, as set out in article 91.