Sunday, 1 May 2011

Did somebody say 'diatribe'?

Ever been to the Lake District?  Nice, wasn't it - even if it did rain quite a lot.  How about Exmoor?  Or the Yorkshire Dales, with their dry stone walls and hardy sheep?  Perhaps the Norfolk Broads are more your style, or the New Forest, full of wandering ponies.

Coniston Water, Lake District National Park.
Photo by Flickr user estoril.
If you've ever enjoyed one of those places, or any of Britain's ten other National Parks, including the new South Downs National Park which stretches from Eastbourne to Winchester, then you'll share my concern about the government's "red tape challenge".  David Cameron and co. apparently feel that we have too many pesky laws getting in the way of businesses making money and "it's time to fight back".  So they're asking us, the public, to evaluate around 20,000 regulations to decide what can be thrown out.  Everything except tax and national security legislation is considered to be potentially unnecessary, and, according to The Guardian, regulations will be presumed guilty until proven innocent - that is, unless a minister makes a strong case for keeping a particular regulation, it will be for the chop.

Why don't we let businesses save money by giving up
on these ugly green signs?  Individuals should have the
freedom to choose their own way out of a burning
building instead of being dictated to by government.
Ah yes, all this red tape has really been holding us back, hasn't it?  Fire safety in the workplace: who needs the government to set standards for something as trivial as that?  Or the silly rules that prevent your boss from sacking you with no notice for no reason - yawn.  All those long-winded equality regulations that are designed to give legal protection against racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination against disabled people... What were previous governments thinking?!  And, erm, that whimsical little piece of legislative folly that makes it illegal to hire out crossbows to small children.  This is red tape gone mad!  After all, if someone wants to make their living selling dangerous weapons to under-17s, why should the government stop them contributing to the economy that way?  [Sarcasm aside, I'm actually quite alarmed to learn that over-17s can buy and hire crossbows so easily - now I'll have to go and comment that they need to add lots more red tape there.]

So, in the name of promoting entrepreneurial vigour and economic vitality (which is to say, in the name of money), all of that's up for review by anyone who wants to weigh in (a quick glance at the comments on a few different categories revealed some very sensible defences of our laws, which is heartening).  Do go and add some comments yourself if, for instance, you like to know that your kilo of unaffordable brown rice is really a kilo and not just something the supermarket randomly slapped a "1kg" label on.  (The Asda Weight Guarantee: did you find it heavier elsewhere?)

What I was planning to write about, before I visited the government's website and discovered there was so very much to be outraged by, was the body of environmental legislation that the government thinks we might be better off without.  Of course I never believed Cameron's promise to lead the "greenest government ever" and I suspected from the off that there'd turn out to be no point at all to Zac Goldsmith.  But still...

The Wildlife and Countryside Act, which could be scrapped by David Cameron's government if no minister makes a strong enough case for keeping it, currently means that nobody can use their rented crossbow on the heron I saw by the reservoir this afternoon without having the courts to answer to.  They can't steal wild birds' nests or eggs, either.  I don't believe the majority of people would want to abandon that protection so that a few could make money selling wild eggs.

Coniston again - if you look at this and see red tape or £££ please
consult your optician/psychiatrist. Photo by Flickr user estoril.

I'm glad there isn't a McDonald's on the banks of Coniston Water, even if it would make money, aren't you?  Right now we don't need to worry too much about the dreaded golden arches suddenly rearing up to loom over Brantwood because the Lake District is a National Park, and that means it's a protected area:

"A protected area is a location which has a clear boundary. It has people and laws that make sure that nature and wildlife are protected and that people can continue to benefit from nature without destroying it.(National Parks website)

National Parks, and rights of access to them and other countryside, could also go, however, if nobody stands up for them in parliament (Caroline, this is your moment - or does it have to be a government minister?).  We seem intent on destroying the oceans, but Marine Nature Reserves are one small way in which we protect precious ecosystems - we should be expanding them, not ditching the idea.  And while I'm not a huge fan of the Climate Change Act, that's only because I don't think it goes far enough, fast enough.

Bees need red tape - and we need bees.
To protect wild animals and plants including endangered species, National Parks, Marine Nature Reserves, and our right to enjoy all those things without having to pay some profiteering corporation for the privilege, and to keep the country at least slightly directed towards saving the planet, we might have to get involved in this ridiculous and embarrassing "red tape challenge".  So, if you have time, please go to the environment page and let the government know that some things are more important than profit margins.  If you run a small business, tell them you're speaking on behalf of your business - they might take more notice.
If you don't have time for that, please at least sign this petition, which will take you about as much time as saying "Egton Moor Peat Bog".