Britain slowest to implement EU's green laws

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Britain is dragging its feet in implementing European green laws, risking a return to being dubbed the "dirty man" of the continent, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

It has failed to adopt on time seven out of every eight European Union environmental and agricultural directives since the last general election. The European Commission has had to resort to legal proceedings against Britain more often than against any other country - and nearly twice as frequently as against the next worst offender, France.

The revelations give the lie to repeated boasting by ministers that Britain observes European laws more conscientiously than other EU countries. They also come at an embarrassing time for the Government. On Thursday, Michael Howard, the Conservative leader who has said he intends to increase his party's emphasis on green issues, highlighted how the EU had "achieved some of the best environmental standards in the world" in his first major speech on Europe in Berlin.

Britain's poor record is documented in a written reply by Alun Michael, a junior environment minister, to Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman. It shows that in the 18 months between the last general election and the end of last year, only seven of 56 laws had been adopted by deadlines that the Government itself had approved.

Forty-two had been implemented up to 18 months late, including directives to limit pollution from power stations, fix maximum levels for pesticide contamination in food and lay down minimum standards for the welfare of pigs in farming. Seven more - including one regulating air pollution - have still to be adopted even though their deadlines are long past.

In the most flagrant example of all, ministers are still "consulting" on how to implement a directive on disposing of the two million old cars that reach the end of their lives each year - almost two years after they were supposed to implement it.

David Baldock, the executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy, said: "Britain is failing to implement more important measures more frequently than in the past."

Mr Baker commented: "It seems that we are well on the way to being seen as 'the dirty man of Europe' again."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs yesterday defended the UK's record and said when it was late this is "frequently because of the care we take to meet the challenge in a thorough and proper way".