Thursday, February 07, 2008

Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Duncan?

On Monday, we are told, the Conservatives' shadow business team launched an independent review of regulation, risk and rules. This is from Alan Duncan MP in an authored piece in The Daily Telegraph headed, "Let us lift this burden of petty bureaucracy".

"We are weighed down by petty bureaucracy in our society," Duncan goes on to say, which is enough to tell you the Conservatives still haven't got the point. Since John Major’s first “deregulation” initiative, introduced in his speech to the Conservative Party conference in October 1992, they have been immersed in the legend of "red tape" and "pettifogging" regulations. They still have not understood that regulations are not "petty" and it is going to take more than yet another "independent review" to work out ways of getting rid of them.

Yet Duncan actually tells us that, to understand this subject, "we're going to need an entirely new lexicon." He says we should not be afraid of asking the really obvious questions: how do we define regulations; what should our first principles be; how can we preserve a free society through our legislative and regulatory processes?

But the questions he does not ask, of course, are: who makes most of our regulations; and are we free to change them or abolish them? The answers, known to us all are, respectively, the European Union and "no" – we are not free to change them as long as Parliament continues to accept the supremacy of EU law.

All we get on the subject from Duncan is that his new review, chaired by Sir David Arculus, is "in a unique position to look at how regulation creeps through our system in a three-stage horror machine: from Brussels to Whitehall to town hall, with a 10-page European directive turning into a 30-page British law and a 100 pages of local guidelines."

In other words, rather than look at the source of the regulation, the Conservatives are, once again, going to ignore the elephant in the room and concentrate on the red herring of gold plating even though, as Duncan admits, the cost of Brussels legislation is over five percent of EU GDP.

Coincidentally, the malign effect – and the scale - of this “petty bureaucracy” is to be found in The Guardian which heads a story, "Green laws and regulation risk energy crisis, say Europe's power companies".

Europe, according to the energy companies, is facing an energy crisis because of green-influenced legislation and regulation, and difficulty in obtaining planning approval for key projects.

On the continent as a whole, €2 trillion needs to be spent on upgrading power networks in the next 25 years but leading energy companies have cancelled investments in new power plants worth billions of euros because of increased regulatory uncertainty, a senior executive has claimed.

That "senior executive" is Johannes Teyssen, chief operating officer at E.ON, Germany's biggest energy group. He blames the EU commission's plans to make companies pay for all their pollution permits from 2013, huge delays in approving planning applications and confusion among national regulators for the cancellations.

Teyssen, vice-chairman of the World Energy Council (WEC) Europe, says: "We see now every week a new investment project being cancelled across the EU." The Guardian then cites him saying that at least four multibillion-euro projects to build power plants in Germany and that thousands of kilometres of new power lines were "lying on the table" because of planning delays.

Teyssen adds that the commission's plans to scrap free emission permits and move to a full auction system would further blight investment decisions. He also says it took longer to approve planning applications than to build a nuclear power station. "I hardly know of any EU nation where it's easy to build a high-voltage transmission line or new gas pipeline."

Interestingly, an issue we also pointed up Teyssen is urging the EU to avoid putting all its eggs into the renewables basket, arguing that they could cause more harm than good if national and cross-border grids were incapable of meeting the growth in their use.

From this, it clearly emerges that regulation is (and will continue) to affect the most basic requirements of our lives and is thus very far from "petty". But one does not expect Duncan to understand that – or act upon it even if he did. But how long do they think they can continue trying to kid us that the Conservatives are going to do anything serious about regulation?

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