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

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s anxiety. What I will say to reassure him, in so far as I can in a live negotiating situation, is that we will avoid change for change’s sake. We will do our best. We are fully cognisant of the need to minimise the burdens on business. That lies at the absolute heart of all that we are doing to put UK REACH in place.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman an example. In building the UK REACH IT system, we have made sure that it will work very much like the ECHA REACH IT system, including the same software requirements and many of the processes that businesses have been using and understand. I am aware that we will require businesses to provide us with the data that supports their registrations. I understand the concern that that may not be as straightforward as they would like and may generate costs. That is why we have introduced the transitional arrangements that I mentioned earlier, which give businesses two years, starting from the end this year, to provide that information. We will keep those timeframes closely under review.

We are often asked why we need the data and why information that has already been provided to the ECHA needs to be reprovided to UK REACH. In short, we need it because we will not be able to rely on the fact that the data has already been sent to the ECHA. Registration is how a company shows its understanding of the hazards and risks of a chemical. It does not mean that the ECHA has, in legal terms, approved a chemical or endorsed it as safe. The data is necessary for any regulator, such as the Health and Safety Executive, to operate an effective regulatory regime, to understand the hazards and risks of chemicals, and to ensure their safe use. We are making sure that the HSE as the UK regulator, the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have the resources and evidence they need to ensure the safe management of chemicals and to protect public health and the environment.

With the UN projecting a doubling in the size of the global chemicals industry by 2030, it matters more than ever that the UK continues to be a world leader in the management and regulation of chemicals. Our internationally recognised scientific expertise and evidence-led, risk-based approach give us a strong and influential voice as we advocate for ambitious global action on chemicals and waste management after 2020.

I want to finish by saying something about the chemicals strategy we are developing, which will set out our priorities and approach to domestic regulation now that we have left the EU. It will be our first such strategy for 20 years. We aim to drive sustainability, circularity and innovation in the chemicals industry, while protecting human health and the environment from harmful chemical exposure. A call for evidence will be published very shortly—this spring—and we will then undertake a public consultation on a draft strategy before its final publication, which is scheduled for 2021-22. We genuinely want to hear from the industry.