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Huhne defends environmental regulation against ‘zealots’

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne (pictured) has said he is determined to protect environmental regulations from “deregulation zealots” in the Conservative Party.

Speaking at the weekend at the conference of the Social Liberal Forum, a body recently set up to represent grassroots Liberal Democrats and give a greater voice to the left of the party, Huhne said he does not want the Climate Change Act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the National Parks Act to be included in the Government’s review of UK regulations.

It is reported that Business Secretary Vince Cable, who also spoke at the gathering, backs Huhne’s stance.

Huhne said: “Between the obsession with micro-management and target-setting displayed by the Labour party, and the fixation with deregulation and scrapping rules – just because they are rules – on offer from some rightwing ideologues, we Liberal Democrats have a real chance to define an evidence-based, intelligent and distinctive approach.”

The ongoing ‘red tape challenge’ exercise being run by the Government via a website encourages people to name regulations that should be scrapped, with ministers then being forced to make the case for unpopular rules to be kept in place. The list includes 278 environmental regulations.

Huhne argued that deregulation often had unintended consequences, saying: “How would a deregulation zealot have dealt with the Montreal protocol, for example – the most effective international environmental treaty to date? Under the protocol, in 1987, countries agreed to phase out the production and consumption of CFCs and other chemicals that destroy the ozone layer.”

Referring to the ‘one in, one out’ principle which says that new regulations can only be brought in if old ones are scrapped, Huhne continued: “These regulations didn't replace anything, as no one knew until the 1980s that CFCs were harmful.

“Take the example of digging up roads and pavements. Thirty years ago only about a dozen companies had the right to dig up public roads. Then in the 1990s, with the privatisation of utilities and the advent of cable TV, this ballooned to over 150. Streets were dug up repeatedly with no co-ordination or control. Congestion wastes time, and time costs money.

“The belief that regulation always implies costs is equally fatuous – something that's obvious to Liberal Democrats, who have never taken the view that the market is always right.”

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