Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Westminster's sheep

How many of our laws are made in Brussels — 75%, 80%, more? No matter, the effect of each on democracy at Westminster is the same.

Yesterday, another unwanted, wasteful and damaging EU law passed unhindered through the House of Lords. This was the requirement for all sheep farmers to introduce electronic tagging as an identity aid in the event of an epidemic.

British sheep farmers – among our lowest income earners – already operate an efficient and effective traceability system for just this purpose. But that is not the concern of Brussels who insist each farmer must pay for a new electronic implant unit and set about re-tagging his sheep.

The minister, Lord Tunnicliffe, neatly summed up the actual impact of this compulsory measure by saying: "I accept that this regulation is probably, on balance, not a good idea. It will create more costs than benefits in most of the industry". Nevertheless, both Houses are required to agree to it and it will duly appear on the Statute Book. Brussels : 1 more – Westminster : 0.

And I foresee further unwanted costs being imposed on the public with the announcement, from Lord Mandelson yesterday, that the higher and further education departments are to be merged. A sensible staff rationalisation programme one might think. But my experience while working at a charity of how further education classes can be undervalued suggests more cuts are on the way.

Lipreading classes help deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate. A little over two years ago, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority switched these day and evening classes from Life skills to Leisure studies. The impact was to triple the cost of classes as Leisure classes receive no central subsidy. Student numbers dwindled and scores of classes around the country closed.

It would be hard to think of a more appropriate term than Life skill to describe the study and practice of lipreading. Yet I imagine other life enabling classes being deemed unessential in future as the government's impractical entry targets for higher education swamp the needs of older people seeking further educational skills for life.

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