UK Chemical Industry: Regulatory Divergence

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:24 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) 5:24 pm, 26th February 2020

I thank all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for their comments. I appreciate the Minister’s difficulty in giving fuller answers, and I take her point that it is important not to speak in the middle of negotiations. I am glad that we are in the middle of negotiations and that they have actually started, because the reports lead us to question whether we are even at that stage. Time is rapidly running out—an important point that needs to be reiterated.

The Minister talked about divergence. Is not one of the problems that once we give ourselves the ability to diverge, the assumption is that clarification can be given to enable the import and export of chemicals, or anything containing chemicals, only through having two sets of regulations? That is one of the main reasons why the industry is so concerned about moving away from being part of EU REACH, either as an associate member or through some other close relationship. I encourage the Minister to pursue those avenues, because the chemicals industry and everybody who relies on it need clarity.

Investors need certainty. They are making decisions about where to locate and whether to continue investing in this country or to put alternative arrangements in place, particularly in the EU27, with a cost for jobs and an impact on our economies, especially in the nations and regions of the UK outside London. It is therefore vital that all attention is given to getting this right in a way that protects and enhances our industry, and does not undermine it.

I thank Dave Doogan for his comment about potassium dichromate. I hope that was not the cause of the injury he described—it seems a little unlikely. He made some excellent additional points, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I thank my hon. Friend Ruth Jones for her contribution.

The chemical industry is fundamentally important for pharmaceuticals and across manufacturing. Anything we do to undermine it we do at our peril. It is a high-profile, high-quality and world-leading industry in the UK, and every effort must be made to listen to the concerns being voiced by the relevant organisations. There is unanimity in what is being said across the piece by the industry, trade unions and the environmental lobby—it is almost unheard of. The Government will do well to take that on board. I am glad the Minister said that if a longer timescale is needed to get this right, the time will be taken, but to be frank the industry needs assurances now; it cannot wait to make decisions. I hope the Minister will take on board all the points made this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

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

Sitting adjourned.