My Lords, I listened to that speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, with great interest. It was a Second Reading speech for the animal sentience Bill, but I do not know that it argues against any of these amendments, which are just about avoiding the use of animal testing except as a last resort. I do not see that contribution as entirely relevant to the Bill, but I am sure it will be repeated in that other Second Reading later in the year.
I take a particular interest in UK REACH because, when I had the privilege of chairing the EU Environment Sub-Committee, we did a number of reports on REACH. Of course, it is not UK REACH at all; it is called that, but it is actually “GB REACH” because Northern Ireland is still part of the single market. UK REACH does not apply to the Province.
With that clarification, I welcome the speeches of all the noble Baronesses and was very pleased to add my name to the first amendment. However, I want to come to something a little deeper and test the Minister on it. We can talk about animal testing being a last resort but also change the bar of where that last resort is. That is probably far more important than this amendment, although I support it absolutely. Duplication of this testing is necessary because of the existence of UK REACH. Given the hard Brexit that we had and the decision to come out of the single market, we had no alternative. Even if we had wanted it, the EU Commission and Mr Barnier would not have liked or allowed it. However, that will cost British business—this is undisputed by the Government—£10 billion, or something like that.
Defra was totally unprepared. The Secretary of State in front of that sub-committee was unaware of Defra’s responsibilities in this area until quite late, hence the good questions about the preparedness of the HSE, its staffing and ability to make the right choices.
Another thing that did not work out through the trade and co-operation agreement was that there was no agreement within it, at that time, to share information that was confidential between companies so that UK REACH could fill its database and operate effectively. This meant de facto that reregistration had to happen not just for UK businesses but for EU and non-EU third country imports.
As this is fundamental to avoid ever getting to a last resort, can the Minister say how far the Government have gone towards agreeing with the Commission and EU REACH about sharing the information on the databases between the two systems? If we solve that, we do not have such a problem in terms of animal welfare.
There is another issue, which is not often raised, around divergence. Clearly, when we left the single market regime entirely at the beginning of this year, we had similar regulations for chemicals. There was not an issue of divergence. But as soon as we start to diverge, it is not just UK companies that will have to reregister chemicals and test them—the 27 member states of the European Union will have to start complying with UK REACH to register their products here. That may cause animal testing of these chemicals again.
Can the Minister tell me where we are on government policy on divergence between UK REACH and EU REACH? How do the Government intend to mitigate the risk that there will be additional testing, let alone the huge costs to the chemical supply chains of that divergence? Those are fundamental to changing the bar in terms of the problem of last resort.
It is obvious that we need to have a last resort. I do not disagree with some of what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, says, but we are trying to minimise the incidences of animal testing there are now and will be in the future. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, particularly about how we can make this situation far better through how we diverge—if we still intend to diverge—and how we share information between the two systems to makes second tests unnecessary.