UK Chemical Industry: Regulatory Divergence

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:07 pm on 26th February 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:07 pm, 26th February 2020

In many ways, the hon. Gentleman will find that we are on exactly the same page, so I ask him to listen to the rest of what I have to say. We can then discuss the position as it emerges in the negotiations this year.

As I said, we are leaving the single market and the customs union, so we need to prepare for life outside at the end of this year. Many in the sector have already started to prepare and we will help them as much as we can. First, we must create our own independent regulatory regime, which is called UK REACH, as we have heard. Hon. Members will note that that is not a million miles away from the name of EU REACH. That will ensure continuity and minimise disruption for businesses and consumers, and will give us the freedom to do things differently where we consider that in our best interest. UK REACH will be our own framework but will retain the fundamental approach of REACH, including its aims of ensuring a high level of protection for human health and the environment, and of enhancing innovation and competitiveness. We have developed transitional measures, such as grandfathering and downstream user import notifications, that address the industry’s concerns about maintaining continuity of supply between the UK and Europe.

The building blocks of REACH will all remain. Through the Environment Bill, we will make provision to allow us to amend REACH in future to ensure that our chemicals management remains fully up to date. All change will remain consistent with the fundamental aims and principles enshrined in EU REACH. There will also be a series of protected provisions that cannot be changed, such as the last resort principle on animal testing, which will be included in the Environment Bill, as has been said. The UK will, of course, continue to be at the forefront of opposing animal tests where alternative approaches can be used. We have led the way on that in the EU system to date.

I recognise the concerns that several hon. Members have raised during the debate about the UK diverging from the approach taken in the EU to the regulation of chemicals, which are obviously shared by all our stakeholders. We will not diverge for the sake of it. If we diverge, it will be done in the best interests of the UK and the environment, and of course we will take account of the impact on industry. What matters is that the decisions we take will be our own, reflecting our new autonomy. Robust scientific evidence lies at the heart of the decisions we take, and that will continue, as provided for in the UK REACH legislation. As I said, we are continuing to develop the proposals, to make sure that we take decisions transparently and with stakeholder engagement. I am keen that we go forward in that vein.