I move: "That be Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am pleased to bring before the House today the Chemicals (Amendment) Bill 2010. The main purpose of the Bill is to meet EU obligations to implement and enforce certain EU regulations. These include the EU regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, known as the "CLP regulation"; a replacement EU regulation on the export and import of dangerous chemicals implementing the Rotterdam Convention; and periodic technical amendments to these two EU regulations and to the EU REACH and detergents regulations. The Bill also includes some minor technical changes to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
The provisions of the EU regulations, with which this Bill is concerned, are directly applicable in Ireland. That means that their provisions must be complied with, and cannot be changed by any implementing legislation. Therefore, the provisions of the Bill relate only to measures necessary for enforcement.
By way of background, the EU CLP regulation was introduced into EU law on 20 January 2009. This has its origin in the UN Globally Harmonised System of classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals. It is useful to understand the aims of this UN system. Some chemicals, from their production right through to their ultimate use, can be a danger to human health and the environment. All classes and ages of people can be confronted on a frequent basis with potentially dangerous products.
Given the global trade in chemicals and the need to develop programs to ensure their safe use, transport and disposal, it was recognised that an internationally harmonised system for classification and labelling would be desirable. Such an approach would facilitate the creation of national frameworks to control chemical exposures and protect people.
The globally harmonised system of classification and labelling of chemicals, otherwise known as GHS, was created to meet this need. GHS classifies chemicals by types of hazard. It generates harmonised templates for communicating hazards, including labels and safety data sheets.
GHS seeks to ensure that information on physical hazards and toxicity from chemicals is available in order to enhance the protection of human health and the environment during the handling, transport and use of these chemicals. The GHS also provides a basis for harmonisation of rules and regulations on chemicals at national, regional and worldwide level, an important factor also for trade facilitation.
The EU CLP regulation is the EU's expression of that global system. As with the global system, the main aims of the CLP regulation are to help protect human health and the environment by determining which properties of substances and mixtures lead to classification as hazardous, and by correctly identifying and communicating hazards. The changeover to the new rules will be phased and will fully replace the existing body of EU law in this area from June 2015. The first notable change will be the requirement on manufacturers and importers to reclassify their substances from 1 December 2010. All substances placed on the market on or after 1 December will be required to be notified to the European Chemicals Agency within one month. I am informed that the European Chemicals Agency's feedback from industry predicts that the number of notifications could be two million or even more.
I indicated at the publication of the Bill last week that it is very important for our industry to meet the CLP notification deadline. The European Chemicals Agency will maintain an inventory of all notified classifications and this inventory is one of the cornerstones of CLP. As well as the potential health and environmental benefits of the inventory, there should also be business benefits through improved trade flows throughout the EU.
The Health and Safety Authority has a dedicated helpdesk to provide information and assistance to manufacturers and importers in meeting their obligations. The second new EU regulation concerns the export and import of dangerous chemicals. It replaces an EU regulation from 2003 and implements in the EU the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent. The aims of that convention are: to promote shared responsibility and co-operative efforts in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals; to contribute to the environmentally sound use of those hazardous chemicals by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics; and to provide for a national decision-making process on their import and export.
The convention covers pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by Parties to the Convention. In the context of the EU regulation, this means that dangerous chemicals and pesticides listed in the annexes of the EU regulation may only be exported with the prior consent of the importer in the importing country. In addition to provisions relating to chemicals and pesticides listed in the annexes, the regulation contains provisions that apply to all chemicals when exported. These provisions address, in particular, requirements on packaging and labelling as specified by EU legislation.
I will now outline to the House the provisions of the Bill. Section 1 is a standard section, and defines references to "Principal Act" as meaning the Chemicals Act 2008. Section 2 contains technical amendments to definitions in Section 2 of the principal Act. These changes reflect the new EU regulations being brought within the enforcement framework of the Act.
Section 3 clarifies the regulation making powers of the Minister in section 5 of the principal Act in relation to classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals, and permits the Minister to amend the Act by regulation for the purpose of giving effect to an EU act relating to chemicals. This is an important amendment as it means that there will not be any unnecessary recourse to primary legislation for the purposes of implementing changes to the EU acts within the enforcement scope of the Chemicals Act.
Section 4 amends section 8 of the principal Act by providing for the competent authorities for the purposes of the CLP regulation, namely, the Health and Safety Authority; the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in respect of pesticides; and the Minister for Health and Children, in respect of appointing the bodies responsible for receiving information relating to emergency health response. This allocation of responsibilities reflects the division of responsibilities under current legislation. Section 5 amends section 9 of the principal Act to ensure that co-operation arrangements apply also to competent authorities for the CLP regulation.
Co-operation between competent authorities is a very important feature of this legislation. The IDA has highlighted the extent to which the pharmachem industry in general is regulated. At the same time, Forfás identifies regulation as one of the key elements to the mix that should provide a supportive business environment in order for business to grow. Indeed, the degree of regulatory compliance is one of the key measures in determining the competitiveness of an economy. Putting in place such co-operation arrangements should contribute to a clear regulatory framework for business and should allow us to make optimum use of resources and to avoid unnecessary costs for both the competent authorities and industry.
Sections 6 and 7 amend sections 14 and 15 respectively of the principal Act. This amendment seeks to rectify weaknesses in the provisions of the Act which deal with improvement notices. This came to light as a result of a High Court ruling on similar provisions of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. The Bill is making it clear that an improvement plan or revised improvement plan prepared by an operator and submitted to an inspector must be adequate in the view of the inspector and must be implemented by the operator. It is important to rectify this if the section is to retain its usefulness and to avoid the need for competent authorities to use more stringent enforcement powers. A similar amendment to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 is included in the technical amendments under section 12 of the Bill.
Section 8 amends section 16 of the principal Act to make it clear that the power to issue prohibition notices applies with regard to the enforcement of EU rules concerning major accident hazards involving dangerous substances. Section 9 amends section 29 of the principal Act to create offences for breach of the CLP regulation and to allow the penalties under section 30 to apply. Section 10 amends section 30 of the principal Act to increase the maximum custodial sentence on summary conviction from six months to 12 months, following the advice of the Attorney General.
Section 11 has the effect of including within the enforcement framework of the Chemicals Act purely technical amendments to the four EU regulations within the scope of the Act as amended, namely, the REACH, CLP, detergents, and Rotterdam regulations. This will keep the regulatory framework simple, avoid gaps in the legal basis for enforcement activities, and avoid unnecessary demands on the resources normally required in the preparation of regulations.
Section 12 makes technical amendments to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, including the completion of the transposition of Directive 91/383/EEC, which supplements measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of workers with fixed-duration or temporary employment relationships, of 25 June 1991. It also clarifies the Minister's obligations to carry out consultation when making certain regulations, clarifies the provisions on improvement plans and revised improvement plans, as I mentioned under sections 6 and 7, and increases the maximum penalties on conviction for summary offences from a fine of €3,000 and/or 6 months' imprisonment to a fine of €5,000 and/or 12 months imprisonment. Section 13 is a standard section, providing for the Short Title of the Bill, collective citations and commencement.
The chemicals sector is a key economic sector for Ireland. By its nature, this sector includes highly dangerous chemicals which have the potential to cause serious and widespread damage to human and environmental health, and it is vital that the regulatory framework is up to date. The Chemicals (Amendment) Bill 2010 builds on the enforcement system of the Chemicals Act 2008, which aims to provide a clear regulatory framework for business, aimed at ensuring high levels of compliance and increased co-operation between the various competent authorities involved in enforcement to optimise the use of State resources and, most importantly, alleviate any unnecessary administrative costs to business. I commend the Bill to the House.