A pointless sovereignty

There are deregulation initiatives and deregulation initiatives. The Government's latest looks like being more consequential than those of the 1980s. It has, after all, all the once inconsiderable authority of the Prime Minister behind it. There is also a beefed up Deregulation Unit at the Department of Trade and Industry whose staff know that their next career moves depend on how many items of legislation they can offer up for sacrifice. A slot appears to have been found for a Deregulation Bill in the next session of Parliament. And arrangements have also been made to involve industrialists in identifying candidates for the chop (see pp 15-16 ).

It is easy to forget in this new climate that the UK once took pride in having environmental laws which it was able to offer as models for the rest of the EC to follow. It succeeded, for example, in influencing much of the Community's early framework legislation on waste. Yet that, seemingly, is no longer to be the philosophy - quite the contrary.

May saw the Department of the Environment proposing to scrap one element of Britain's legislation on hazardous waste on the grounds that it is not a requirement of EC law (see pp 28-29 ). The regulations in question, which require the notification of hazardous waste movements to the authorities before and after their journey, dates back to 1972, and was rushed through Parliament after one dangerous fly-tipping incident too many. The legislation has proved its worth, and is supported by both waste regulators and waste management businesses. Yet deregulated, apparently, it must be.

This new aspect of the deregulation drive poses an interesting question about the UK's relationship with the EC. The Government has taken a stand against what it regards as the Community's centralising and interventionist tendencies. Yet if it is not prepared to preserve valuable environmental or other laws passed by Parliament because they are not required by EC legislation, then what precisely is this precious thing called national sovereignty for?

Gaps in the statistics

Deregulation prompts another question about the UK's environmental statistics, the latest annual volume of which was published in May. Packed with more data than ever before, the digest nevertheless has one notable omission. The UK, the Government informed us last year, spends £14 billion annually on environmental protection - at least it does so within "broad orders of magnitude". Expenditure as large as this surely deserves more serious treatment, and yet the DoE evidently attaches a low priority to assembling authoritative figures in this area.

A breakdown of pollution abatement costs by industry would be a particularly valuable addition. As we observed last month, inaccurate forecasts of the kind produced by the Chemical Industries Association are liable to mislead those who weigh up how urgently, if at all, to demand environmental improvements. Lessons can be learned here from other countries, such as the Netherlands, about ways and means of assembling more reliable trend data on the costs of environmental protection.

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