Christopher Booker's Notebook
Smallholders lumbered with petty regulation Norway has other fry to fish It costs £510 to close One law for the French
When a tree recently fell into the River Lugg on David Delaney's Herefordshire smallholding, he had to call out his old friend Graham Wixey from the Environment Agency to deal with it. They have known each other for years, since Mr Wixey worked for Welsh Water, and in those days he would have sent out a team to remove the tree almost immediately.
Now that responsibility has passed to the Environment Agency, the inspection is only the start of a laborious process. Its official must return to his office to write a report. He must contact gas, water, electricity and telephone companies to confirm in writing that none have services near the river, even though everyone knows they don't. Replies may take weeks. Another official will then inspect the site to produce a "method statement", including a work plan and a risk assessment. This will then go to the "contractor", another agency department, to cost the job and get permission to proceed. Mr Delaney will be lucky if his tree is removed within a couple of months.
Mr Delaney has become familiar with such problems in recent years. Under European Union rules, he is no longer allowed to sell the eggs from his free-range hens to local shops.
Much of the top-quality milk from his herd of pedigree goats must now be thrown down the drain because, under other EU rules, he would have to spend up to £10,000 on a fully-equipped dairy to be allowed to sell it. These rules mean that only a fraction of Britain's thousands of goatkeepers can continue to provide milk to the vast number of people who need it because they have multiple sclerosis or allergies to cow's milk. This means that goat's milk in supermarkets can come only from those vast, intensive operations that the EU invariably prefers.
Now, thanks to yet more new regulations under EU directives, Mr Delaney must pay for advice on how to deal with the harmless asbestos cement in factories that he leases out as his main source of income.
Multiplied millions of times over, these are the kinds of problems now faced by almost anyone in Britain trying to run a business: that exploding mass of regulations which the CBI warns now threaten our economy with disaster and of which ministers such as Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, Mr Blair's chief apologist for regulation, show no understanding whatever.
It is not often that one can safely predict that a minister is going to mislead the House of Commons, but this is what will happen next Thursday when fisheries minister Elliott Morley speaks in a debate on the EU's proposed ban on cod fishing in the North Sea.
This ban is creating uproar in Scotland, where fishermen's organisations predict that it will not only wipe out much of what remains of Scotland's whitefish fishing fleet (175 boats have already been scrapped following last year's ban), but could destroy 30,000 associated jobs, creating a social disaster.
Mr Morley will echo the Brussels spin, dutifully parroted by the BBC and most of our media, that the ban is essential to save stocks that have been all but destroyed by over-fishing. This is a shameful distortion of the truth. The real reason for the ban has nothing to do with conservation. It is political, as is demonstrated by the fact that Brussels will continue to permit the outrage of industrial fishing, whereby Denmark and Norway can legally catch more than a million tonnes of sand eels and smaller fish, largely to provide fishmeal for the powerful fish farming industry.
Astonishingly, while Scottish fishermen are forced out of business by the ban on catching cod, hake and other whitefish, which are their source of livelihood, the industrial fleet is still permitted a "by-catch" of more than 100,000 tonnes of cod and other species, to supply fish farms - which need eight pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of pale and sickly farmed salmon. Not only does this remove billions of small cod from the North Sea that, if allowed to mature, would more than replace all the stocks lost. It also destroys the food source for larger fish, causing them to swim elsewhere. It is particularly scandalous that the EU permits Norway to destroy this food source in the North Sea's British waters to supply its booming fish farms, while leaving smaller fry in its own waters untouched, since this also encourages larger fish to migrate out of EU waters into Norwegian waters where food is plentiful.
The real, hidden, reason for the cod ban lies in the fact that, at the end of next month - as the EU's fisheries commissioner Franz Fischler for the first time publicly admitted last week - the "transitional" phase of the Common Fisheries Policy comes to an end. This means that the vast Spanish fleet will then have full right of "equal access" to "Union waters", which until now has been limited.
It is vital to the commission to eliminate Scotland's whitefish fleet, still the largest in northern Europe, to make way for the fleets of Spain and would-be EU members from eastern Europe. This is the "beneficial crisis" on which the commission relies to justify taking all control of fishing policy out of the hands of member states.
Easily the biggest loser will be Britain, which, thanks to Edward Heath, handed over waters containing 80 per cent of western Europe's fish as the price for joining the Common Market. We are now about to pay the final instalment, by losing what remains of a fishing fleet that in 1973 was still the largest in Europe. On all this next Thursday Mr Morley will stay strangely silent.
As a private care-home owner, Peter Tuckfield was different from most, in that he was once a senior employee of a council social services department. But his dream was to run his own care home on model lines, and for 10 years he did so. Recently, however, like thousands of other home-owners, he gave up the battle. Social services in Dumfries and Galloway had refused to allow him enough money to keep the home viable. They were giving up to £150 a week more of taxpayers' money for each elderly resident in their own state-run homes than they allocated to residents in private homes.
With only two residents remaining, Mr Tuckfield arranged for one to move to a home nearby. The other, a 97-year-old, so loved what she regarded as her home that he decided to keep her on as part of the family. He notified social services that his home was now closed, only to receive a demand from the council for £510 as a "closure fee". When asked why he should pay to be forced out of business, the council explained that this was to cover its expenses in arranging for his residents to be transferred. He pointed out that, as they were aware, he had already made all those arrangements, and would not therefore pay their fee.
Although he and his wife have every professional qualification imaginable, social services nevertheless insist that someone must come round four times a day to feed the old lady and make sure she is being properly looked after.
You have to hand it to the French. For a long time they refused to obey Brussels's instruction to allow the resumption of British beef imports, while somehow persuading the European Commission that they should be excused the massive fine that would have been imposed on any other EU country for such flagrant defiance of EU law.
Now the commission has itself breached EU law, by allowing the French government to bail out its ailing computer firm Bull with a "rescue package" of €450 million (£300 million), the second since 1994. EU competition law clearly states that it is illegal to give such subsidies more than once in 10 years.
France seems to have a habit of getting away with this kind of thing, as when it talked the commission into allowing a £1 billion subsidy to Air France, even though this had already been ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice. Should someone not give Tony Blair the commission's phone number so that he can get permission to break EU law too?