Scotland has been accused by the European Union (EU) of 65 violations of laws meant to prevent pollution, protect wildlife and control waste, according to a secret government database released to the Sunday Herald.
The number of alleged breaches of European legal directives over the past six years is twice as high as previously admitted, prompting accusations yesterday that Scotland's record was "shocking" and had been "covered up".
The range of environmental crimes investigated by the EU is very broad. They include breaking rules on overfishing, hazardous waste, water pollution, sewage, radiation protection, plant imports, pesticides, birds of prey and pigs.
Among the most serious cases were loopholes in the law allowing farmers and the Crown to avoid the need for statutory environmental assessments. The government has also failed to introduce new controls on animal health in time, including foot and mouth disease.
Ministers have been accused of not designating sufficient areas to protect wildlife and natural habitats, of not doing enough to save energy in buildings and of failing to control chemicals that damage the ozone layer. The numbers of whales and dolphins accidentally caught in fishing nets is deemed "unacceptable" by the EU.
Details of the 65 alleged breaches are revealed in an EU "infractions database" maintained by the Scottish government. This has been kept secret, until ministers were ordered to release it last week by the Scottish Information Commissioner, Kevin Dunion.
The database recorded the status of all the infractions that affected Scotland as at June 2006, when the Sunday Herald requested it. The Scottish government has so far refused to release a more up to date version.
In February 2005, in response to an earlier request under freedom of information legislation, the then Scottish Executive produced a list of 32 cases in which it said it was facing EU infraction proceedings.
Of the 65 cases listed in the newly released database, 45 were marked as “ongoing” while 20 were said to have been “closed”. One of the closed cases was Scotland's inadequate plans for waste disposal, though it is still having to send annual reports to Brussels until 2010.
One of the ongoing cases was the alleged failure to control overfishing. “The Commission alleges that the UK has not complied with the rules on conservation, control, inspection and enforcement of the Common Fisheries Policy,” says the database.
In a separate case, Scotland was accused of breaching the quota for blue whiting. There was also an alleged “lack of protection” for golden eagles, merlins and hen harriers, and not enough legal protection areas for capercaillie.
There were specific complaints about sewage spills into the Kilbarchan Burn in Renfrewshire, a major hotel development at Kingask Estate in St Andrews and about the disposal of dental amalgam. One of the closed cases was the failure to limit the levels of sewage pollution of Scotland’s bathing waters.
The Green MSP Robin Harper has been unsuccessfully demanding information about EU infractions for years. “It is now clear that there has been a substantial series of shocking breaches of EU law, most of which have in effect been covered up”, he said.
“We often find out about these incidents only when the EU fines the Scottish government, and that is simply unacceptable. I'm also not impressed that the new government has fought so hard not to release this information.”
Harper added: “However, they do now have an opportunity to ensure that vital EU environmental legislation is always properly implemented in Scotland, and I urge them to take these responsibilities seriously.”
Lloyd Austin, head of conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in Scotland, pointed out that European environmental legislation had been one of the driving forces behind environmental improvement. “It is regrettable that, over past years, Scottish governments have been found wanting in many areas,” he said.
“RSPB Scotland hopes the new Scottish government will grasp the opportunities offered by European law and policy to protect and manage positively our precious natural heritage - as part of their strategy for a Greener Scotland.”
Linda Fabiani, the Minister for Europe and External Affairs, said: “This government takes its EU obligations seriously, and whilst these cases relate to the last administration, we endeavour to progress such outstanding infractions cases as soon as possible.”
While the vast majority of the infractions were environmental, there were a few that were not. One accused Scotland of failing to provide adequate housing and education for immigrants under 18 years old.
Another, according to the database, was a “complaint concerning the award of a contract for the appointment of the architectural practice and main contractor for the design and the construction of the new Scottish Parliament building.”
There was also an alleged failure to put Caledonian MacBrayne's cargo services out to tender. And a case which obliged the previous Scottish Executive to absorb the cost of VAT on tolls for the road bridge to Skye.
A few of the cases were about animal welfare, including an accusation that Scotland failed to maintain "minimum standards for the protection of pigs". More bizarrely, there was an alleged infringement of the EU directive governing “trade in and imports of semen of domestic animals of the bovine species.”
ALLEGED BREACHES OF EUROPEAN LAW BY THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT
lack of protection for golden eagle, merlin, hen harrier and capercaillie
unacceptable numbers of whales and dolphins caught in fishing nets
illegal overfishing, and inadequate enforcement
failure to control sewage discharges
not controlling plant imports
failure to promote waste oil recycling
lack of controls on noise pollution
failure to protect against water pollution
loopholes in environmental assessments of farmers and the Crown
lack of control of hazardous waste
failure to designate enough wildlife areas
failure to save energy in buildings
poor conditions for pigs
source: Scottish government EU Infractions database