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CIC speaks out on risk to safety standards from Government Act

Posted: 6th July 2023

A Government Act to revoke EU Laws runs the risk of damaging UK standards that impact millions across construction, the built environment and the wider engineering sector. Many of the laws supporting the wellbeing of those involved with these sectors are derived from the EU.

Loose assurances on scrutiny

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 will allow major changes to be made to the body of retained EU law in UK domestic law. Despite substantive changes to the plans during the parliamentary process, the Bill received Royal Assent on 29 June with only loose, non-binding assurances about the level of scrutiny that would accompany the revocation of critical industry standards.

In particular, the Government’s rejection of the Lord’s Amendment 42 to the Bill could damage UK standards that have led to productivity and safety gains for millions of people. The Amendment would have required the removal of a law to be debated and voted on in both Houses if it represented a substantial change or if a sufficient public consultation hadn’t been carried out.

Serial political confusion

The current situation underlines the considerable dangers that stem from serial political confusion between the removal of operational business red tape and the elimination or watering down of essential safety standards, whether applied to products, competencies, or activities.

The identification and removal of unnecessary red tape is a worthwhile goal but the dilution or removal of effective business and consumer standards is ill-conceived and dangerous.

Poorly thought-out changes would be costly, time-consuming and counter-productive for business. Indeed, they could necessitate further remedial legislation later on to shore up the very standards that were needed in the first place.

Expert input needed

The protection of consumers, society at large, the environment and the pursuit of national productivity requires the existence of effective, nationally applicable product and operational standards, backed by legislation. It is sensible and in the interests of all parties that current standards are not changed or revoked without due parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses and input from experts who can advise on the likely consequences of such actions for individuals, organisations and the UK economy.

The debate on scrutiny has seen leading voices from the health & safety and environmental sectors lobbying Government to make a firm commitment to engage sector experts and parliamentarians in the event of any changes to the laws. Although Government scrapped a generalised sunset clause which would have seen thousands of laws revoked by the end of the year, the Act did not include bind ministers on non-regression or scrutiny.

CIC, through its Health & Safety Committee, is urging Government to make a binding commitment to engage relevant departments, listen to experts from industry and ensure that a firm scrutiny procedure is put in place. It will be monitoring Government’s plans concerning the laws affecting construction, the built environment and the wider engineering sector which are being revoked.