Obituary: Lord Ashby

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ERIC ASHBY made a major contribution to the development of environmental policy in the United Kingdom, writes Professor Sir Richard Southwood (further to the obituary by Alan Burges, Sir Peter Froggatt and Sir Brian Pippard, 28 October).

When, at the time of the Stockholm Conference, environmental issues first became a significiant item on the political agenda, the British government responded by establishing in February 1970 the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP). Sir Eric Ashby (as he then was) was appointed as first chairman of the commission and presided over the production of its first three reports. Its terms of reference were widely drawn, but under Ashby's chairmanship it established a pattern of in-depth review of particular issues with an occasional tour d'horizon - a pattern which has continued under his five successors and on which the reputation of the commission has been built, helping it to survive the 'quango hunt' of the early 1980s. While never hesitating to draw attention to real environmental problems, Eric Ashby always eschewed the emotional approach: his analyses were rigorous in their cool precision, and this was the basis of their effectiveness.

After demitting the chairmanship of the Royal Commission, Ashby played a leading role for nearly two decades in environmental debates in the House of Lords, often introducing discussion of the latest RCEP report and leading the review in Subcommittee G of the growing quantity of environmental legislation from the European Community. He set a standard for scientific rigour and objectivity which was an example to those who worked with him or followed him.