My Lords, I rise to propose Amendment 97, which—like Amendment 289, which I will also speak to—is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I also give our strong support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville.
Environmental groups, animal rights charities, health campaigners and the chemicals industry all remain concerned that the Government’s plans for UK REACH put the environment, human and animal health and business interests at risk. The CHEM Trust has specific concerns about whether the Government accept industry proposals for deregulating UK REACH, on which I understand a decision is imminent. Are the Government looking to amend the Environment Bill to allow this, and does the Minister agree that this would effectively make it harder to prevent the chemical pollution of our water, air and the wider environment?
I turn to our Amendment 97. Schedule 20 of the Bill protects the principle of animal testing “as a last resort” and the principle of the promotion of non-animal alternatives. Our Amendment 97 would require the OEP’s strategy to consider, first, how it will ensure that the protected provisions of the REACH regulation, including the principle that animal testing should be used only “as a last resort”, are being upheld—and, secondly, how its enforcement functions may be applied in the case of breaches of protected provisions.
EU REACH requires companies to share data and thus avoid unnecessary animal testing. Under it, animal testing is to be avoided in favour of alternative methods, and tests involving the use of animals can be carried out only “as a last resort”. However, a major challenge in making sure that animal testing has only been used as a last resort and that the promotion of alternatives is applied in EU REACH has been the failure of oversight and enforcement. The European Chemicals Agency, responsible for the EU chemicals testing legislation, has been judged in the past, by the independent EU ombudsman, to be lacking in appropriate action to ensure that the number of animal tests carried out is minimised. This judgment has been acknowledged, as was the agency’s duty to review and prohibit animal tests more effectively in the future. This amendment seeks to ensure that oversight and enforcement of these important principles are included in the remit of the OEP, thus strengthening UK REACH by applying the lessons learned from EU REACH.
However, EU REACH has also minimised animal tests through data sharing and other measures—something that was heavily promoted by the British delegation when REACH was initially created. According to Home Office figures, in 2019, 3.4 million procedures involving living animals were carried out in Great Britain—all, by statutory definition, with the potential to cause
“pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm”.
Importantly, the 2019 figures show a decrease of 3% on the previous year, which is also the lowest number since 2007. So we must not jeopardise this progress.
Many people are deeply concerned about the use of animals in experiments, with 74% of the public agreeing that more needs to be done to find alternatives. Therefore, the regulation of animal research and testing is a significant issue for the UK. The Government must ensure that the public can have confidence that legislation governing the use of animals in science is applied rigorously.
I have talked previously in your Lordships’ House about my concerns that, under UK REACH, the HSE’s lack of access to the full chemical safety data currently held by EU REACH could lead to duplicate animal testing. The Chemical Business Association has said that British businesses do not normally own the testing data required for registrations under UK REACH; it is held by a consortium of European countries. To reuse the data, companies may need to obtain permission from the consortium and would likely have to pay for the extension of rights. If this cannot be obtained, tests may have to be redone to establish safety information, which could involve repeat animal testing.
In the case of new animal tests, a testing proposal must first be submitted and approved, but we have yet to discover what stance the UK authorities, led by the HSE, will take in interpreting the principle of using animal testing only as a last resort. Now that we have left the EU, it is important that domestic accountability is strengthened. We should be seeking to ensure that our standards are the best in the world, while working to influence the EU and other trading partners to raise animal welfare standards.
Amendment 289 would establish a mechanism for reviewing the performance of the HSE in relation to its expanded responsibilities under UK REACH. We have tabled this amendment because the Government have so far failed to demonstrate that the HSE, as the chemical regulator in the UK, will be equipped with the necessary skills and capabilities that at least match what has been provided by the European Chemicals Agency. It is worth reminding your Lordships’ House that the UK chemicals industry has a turnover of £32 billion and represents a workforce of 102,000, so it is imperative that this highly skilled industry is protected. In creating the new UK REACH, the Government have shown insufficient understanding of how chemicals are managed in complex supply chains, with analysis of neither the cost of setting up the new regime nor the additional cost to business. As currently set up, we will worryingly not have the same level of protection from harmful chemicals that we currently enjoy.
Can the Minister set out how the new system will be staffed and resourced to ensure current levels of protection continue, and how that system will be reviewed on its performance and capabilities? Assuming that it will be reviewed, how often will this take place? Who will carry out the review, what will it cover and what action will be taken to remedy any failings or concerns? We need a regulatory system that provides the same levels of protection for human health and the environment that we enjoyed under EU REACH, otherwise critical decisions on chemicals will be made by a body with little experience and with layers of accountability and scientific expertise stripped away.
In a previous debate on this issue, the Minister said he agreed with me that the Health and Safety Executive’s ability to take on the task of the agency is essential to the success of UK REACH, so does he also agree that there needs to be a mechanism to review the agency’s performance to ensure that it is taking on the task to the required standard in order to have confidence that its responsibilities are being properly discharged? There must not be any repeat animal tests, so what guarantees can the Minister give—he is a strong supporter of animal welfare—and how confident is he that this can be ensured and will not just be an undeliverable promise?
The last time I raised this issue with the Minister, he recognised that there are concerns about the duplication of animal testing and, as reassurance, he gave the fact that the last resort principle is enshrined in the Bill as a protective provision. I do not believe that it is a cast-iron guarantee against unnecessary duplicate testing, but if he genuinely believes that the Bill is strong enough and that UK REACH will be capable of working effectively in this area, can he explain exactly how these protective provisions will be upheld and what will happen if any breaches of these provisions are found to have taken place? I beg to move.