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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 August, 2004, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Tories pledge to cut EU red tape
Abattoir
Rules on abattoirs are an example of "gold plating", say Tories
Britain needs to stop implementing EU business rules more strictly than its competitors, say the Tories.

The call came as the party unveiled its business deregulation programme at Westminster on Wednesday.

Shadow trade and industry secretary Stephen O'Brien is promising to end so-called "gold-plating" - where extra controls are added to EU directives.

The Tories say the problem is worse in Britain but the government denies it happens routinely.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme too many EU rules, which made up more than half of new legislation in Britain, was waved through without proper scrutiny.

'Price tags'

"The UK Government will gold plate by multiplying the burden of regulation by over three times from the original directive," said Mr O'Brien.

He pointed to a 12-page EU directive on abattoirs which had been cut to seven pages when implemented in France but increased to 96 pages in Britain.

There is no evidence that the UK routinely over-implements European legislation
Cabinet Office spokesman

"There are lots of examples like that where they build on things as well as over-interpret and over-implement," he said. "It's a menace to British business."

Mr O'Brien said lack of clarity over EU rules should be cleared up before the directives leave Brussels, with proper "price tags" put on each rule.

There would also be reviews of how the regulations work in practice. He said the UK had only 23 directives which it had still to implement, compared with 59 in Italy, 50 in France and 46 in Germany.

Verbose?

Under the Tory plans, businesses would get the right to go to the courts to have "gold plated" rules abolished or sue over the extra costs caused by future regulations.

Experts on regulation question how the plans will be put into practice because of the difficulty in defining "gold plating".

But the Tories say they would do the minimum necessary to implement the regulations.

And they argue rules which are unclear from the start should simply be sent back to Brussels.

A report from the British Chamber of Commerce earlier this year also complained about "gold plating".

Competitive?

Labour promised in its manifesto for the European elections in June to seek an end to "gold plating" to ensure businesses did not face undue burdens.

But it blamed many of the present problems on the "negligence" of past Tory governments who had done nothing to reduce excessive regulation.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office's regulatory impact unit said the government's policy was to implement directives to achieve their aims, on time and according to other UK policy goals.

"There is no evidence that the UK routinely over-implements European legislation," he said.

"In their research, business representative organisations and the Better Regulation Task Force have found few instances of gold plating.

"If the UK did regularly gold plate, it would be a less attractive place to do business than other member states. International surveys show this is not the case."

'Lawyers' charter'

The spokesman said UK lawyers sometimes elaborated EU regulations to give them greater clarity, thus helping firms to avoid unnecessary costs.

Liberal Democrat trade spokesman Malcolm Bruce said laws needed to be simpler but the Tory proposals amounted to a "lawyers charter".

"It will lead to an escalation of litigation, which will cost Britain even more money," he said.

The Tories instead said there would not be a rush to legal action because firms would need to be suffering heavy financial burdens to resort to such measures.




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