House of Commons approves heavily criticised new chemical safety plans

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(25 February 2019) A new Statutory Instrument (SI), which attempts to copy across the EU’s chemicals safety regulation REACH into domestic UK law, was approved by a narrow majority after heated debate in the House of Commons. The SI was criticised by opposition MPs for deleting crucial governance structures for independent scientific advice and stakeholder engagement, and risking duplicate animal testing.

A Government Minister confirmed that the critical IT system may not be up and running by Brexit day and that significant costs and new staff capacities are needed to administer a distinct UK chemicals safety system, amounting to an estimated £13 million a year. As Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will take over ECHA’s role, it will have to employ at least 35 to 40 more people and will also need further financial support, as it has previously suffered funding cuts of 40%. Even with these preparations, critics still point out that HSE “lacks the capacity, the resources, the experience and expertise” to take over duties. Indeed, ECHA, the EU’s agency implementing REACH, deploys around 10 times more resources.

The UK Government confirmed growing fears that the ECHA’s chemical safety database will most probably have to be duplicated due to property rights. Chemical companies could in theory ask for amending consortium contracts and make data available both under the EU REACH and UK systems. Nevertheless, 75% of UK companies hold their data in consortiums, to which access is restricted due to their particular configurations. According to the Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman, additional tests on animals will need to be performed in order to duplicate the already existing data that is not obtainable.

Labour politicians opposed the SI and asked the Government to take it back to the drawing board, however the SI was narrowly passed in the vote. In order to be signed into law, the instrument will now go through a vote in the House of Lords.

Debate in the House of Commons 
More on SI procedural activity
CHEM Trust’s article on the debate and vote

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