Former long-serving Environment Secretary, Lord Deben has made an impassioned plea to the waste industry to back the case for the UK to remain a part of the European Union.
His call to support Europe came in a keynote address on environmental issues at letsrecycle.com’s Awards for Excellence in Recycling and Waste Management at London’s Landmark Hotel yesterday (19 May).
Lord Deben, who as John Gummer was secretary of state for the environment from 1993-1997, oversaw the introduction of the packaging recovery note (PRN) system as well as paving the way for the introduction of a landfill tax across the UK. He is also chairman of the Climate Change Committee and referred to packaging and climate issues in his address.
The Conservative peer told the audience that industry would lose its voice in shaping regulations if the UK opts to leave the EU, arguing that the waste industry should be keen to work with government to ensure that regulations are ‘efficient and effective’. He added that this is particularly key in the discussion around the circular economy, which he said had largely been drawn up by ‘theoreticians’.
He also called for a unified approach to lobbying from waste and recycling businesses, claiming that government ‘does not listen to a plethora of voices’.
He said: “It’s at this point we ought ourselves to look at the structure we have. I’m not sure the waste and recycling industry is in the best place internally to put the right pressures on government. We know that Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are doing things differently than the UK as a whole and some of them are doing it better.
“If this industry can help us to remain then it can have a real future, and help to ensure future regulation is what we know works.”Lord Deben
“How can we ensure that the UK government learns the lessons that Scotland can teach them? How can we be the conduit that we learn from the experience of others?”
Turning to the EU referendum, which is just over one month away, Lord Deben claimed that he had first become ‘enthusiastic’ about waste and recycling, when the UK was described as the ‘dirty man of Europe’ due to its poor recycling rates in the early 1990s.
He added: “It was the pressure of the European Union that brought us to the position we are today. We pressurised our colleagues to do other things which we are better at.
“We are better together and the idea to exist separately when we are so close and so many things are inter-related seems to me just barmy. Businesses are not tied to these isles. Businesses are Europe wide. The environment is a matter which can only be dealt with on a European basis.”
And, concluding his address, Lord Deben argued that businesses can continue to play a role in influencing future legislation if the UK remains a part of the EU.
“If we have regulations of our own, we would still have to have the Brussels regulations for all the things that we export, and we depend on our export, so I don’t want people making regulations for us that we don’t have a say in. The worst possible position for the future is if we are outside, obeying all of the rules and we don’t have a say.
“If this industry can help us to remain then it can have a real future, and help to ensure future regulation is what we know works.”