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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Has UK gov notified EU of regulatory changes to electrical safety ("Part P") before consultation has closed?

What does it take to be a policy geek? Well for one you stay glued to the various EU/EC mailing lists.

And this morning I was catching up with some non-telecom notifications and I spotted this in the EC Enterprise and Industry notification database: Changes to Part P (Electrical safety - Dwellings) of the Building Regulations. The draft text is visible from this link.

Why is this relevant? Well the text was submitted to the EC on the 13th February 2012, but the government consultation on these changes doesn't even close until next month!

Has the government presumed the outcome of both a public consultation and Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry?

In total, the UK government submitted draft changes to six sections of the building regulations  (parts A, B, C, L, P, K) on 13th February before a parliamentary select committee inquiry into changes in building regulations even took its first evidence on 20th February.

As discussed on this blog in relation to 2 remaining pieces of legislation required for the file sharing clamp-down under the Digital Economy Act, the UK government must notify Brussels under the 'Authorisation Directive' (98/34/EC) of upcoming changes to 'technical standards'.

The purpose of notification is to give visibility to suppliers throughout Europe of upcoming changes to UK regulation so that they may plan for the change or object on the grounds that the change will affect free trade across Europe.

As revealed on this blog, even strongly pro-Europe MPs are concerned that in theory the notification requirement can lead to a deadlock between the UK government and Europe, with the EU vetoing a bill after Parliament has passed it.

So it makes sense for draft legislation to be notified before final vote in Parliament. But that assumes Parliament won't try and amend regulations, for if they do, then the amendments will need to be re-notified to Europe. Each re-notification causes a 3-month standstill period which could delay urgent legislation.

But in practice this rarely (if ever) happens and it seems absolutely absurd to notify the European Commission of changes before a Parliamentary Inquiry and public consultation has even closed, never mind reported on recommendations.

It certainly looks to an outsider not involved in this sector that the Government has made up its mind ahead of the public consultation, and in a highly public way, which could leave the relevant ministerial decisions further down the line open to judicial challenge.


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