UK Chemical Industry: Regulatory Divergence

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:29 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade) 4:29 pm, 26th February 2020

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered regulatory divergence in the UK chemical industry.

If we buy a car, house, cleaning products, food or clothes or visit the swimming pool or cinema, chemicals are involved in making the products we use. Chemicals are ubiquitous in our lives, and the chemical industry is a vital part of our national economic wellbeing. Chemicals are vital to the jobs of thousands of workers. Contract Chemicals is an SME in Knowsley that manufactures chemicals, and Blends is another that sells products made from chemicals. Both employ some of my constituents, whose livelihoods could be at risk if the Government do not get the chemical regulatory regime right. In the Liverpool city region, Jaguar Land Rover, Ford and Vauxhall employ thousands of workers in car production in which chemicals are vital components. Without a robust system of regulation, safety and quality will be compromised and our chemicals market will be open to the dumping of cheap chemicals from markets that do not have our high standards.

The consequences of poor regulation are spelled out in “Dark Waters”, which will be released on Friday in the UK. The film depicts what can happen to tens of thousands of people and to wildlife without adequate safeguards. In our addressing the climate crisis and moving to net zero, the chemical industry has a vital role to play in ending the use of fossil fuels, recycling plastics and finding sustainable alternatives, including for the types of forever chemicals depicted in the film.

The chemical industry employs 102,000 well-paid people in the UK, with 24,000 in the north-west alone. The industry is worth £31.4 billion in exports and £34.6 billion in imports, and its products feature in their thousands in the production of goods across the entire economy. Some 57% of those exports are into the EU. The importance of the industry around the country is also spelled out by the productivity of the sector compared with the rest of the economy. In the north-east, it is three times more productive; in the north-west, four and a half times more productive; and nationally, it is twice as productive. We cannot afford to undermine such a key part of our economy.

Chemicals are the subject of REACH—the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—the strict European-wide regulations that make sure the chemicals used here are the safest in the world and help to produce the highest quality products.