Environmental regulation

On Monday and Tuesday this week I travelled to Brussels for meetings with MEPs and EU Commissioners to discuss some of the issues that are central to my shadow Defra brief.

We left on the 6am train and held an intensive series of discussions on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Common Fisheries Policy - which has been nothing short of an environmental catastrophe - and other key environmental issues.

I also gave a speech to a think tank in which I outlined my concerns about the limitations and shortcomings of current EU regulation in these areas. 

A recent example is the proposal to introduce electronic identification of sheep - a policy devised to aid the tracking of flocks as an animal health safeguard. 

It was always going to affect the UK disproportionately - we have the largest sheep flock in Europe - but it was not properly assessed by the Commission before it was drawn up.  And the UK left it too late - helped by a lack of engagement from UK Ministers - to revise the regulation. 

So our farmers, who understand more than anyone the need for effective animal health regulations, are stuck with rules that will cost them dear.

We do need some regulation.  But there should be a proper cost benefit analysis before it is passed.  And negative regulations should not be the default position.

The nature of the huge environmental challenges facing us - climate change, food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources - mean that we need to look at alternatives to conventional regulation which relies on telling people what not to do. 

Instead, we should provide the incentives for people to do the right thing.  So, rather than telling water companies to clean up our rivers, we should provide the incentives for polluters to stop polluting our rivers and watercourses in the first place. 

We have spent the last few decades trying to stop people and businesses from doing things that damage the environment, but today, facing unprecedented challenges, we need them to start going green.

Michelle Taylor