HC Deb 28 July 2000 vol 354 cc946-8W
Mr. Burgon

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on timber procurement following the commitment made by G8 heads of Government. [133792]

Mr. Meacher

The UK has worked hard in recent years to promote sustainable forest management and help reduce illegal logging world wide. Illegal logging damages both the environment and society. It reduces government revenues, destroys the basis of poor people's livelihoods and in some cases even fuels armed conflict.

Working directly with affected countries to combat illegal logging will continue to be the mainstay of our efforts in this area. Among other initiatives we will sponsor later this year, along with the US and World bank, is a high-level meeting in south-east Asia to examine what can be done to strengthen enforcement of forestry laws in the region, and how donors can assist in this. However, we must also deal with parts of the problem nearer to home. It is counterproductive to help enforce laws abroad without striving to ensure that illegally produced timber is not consumed at home.

The Government are a major purchaser of both timber and timber products, and have a responsibility to ensure their own house is in order. Guidelines already exist to encourage Government Departments to purchase from legal and sustainable sources, but we can do more. To show a lead in addressing the G8 communiqué's call to examine how best we can combat illegal logging, including export and procurement practices, we will implement a progressive programme of work to improve current purchasing practice for timber and timber products. This initiative will have three components: Current voluntary guidance on environmental issues in timber procurement will become a binding commitment on all central Government Departments and agencies actively to seek to buy timber and timber products from sustainable and legal sources, for example those identified under independent certification schemes such as that operated by the Forestry Stewardship Council. Each central Government Department will report annually on its timber purchases. It will be required to explain what steps it is taking to pursue this objective; the quantity and types of its purchases; and what assurances it has received that the source of timber is sustainable and legal. This process will he monitored by an inter-departmental group reporting to the committee of "Green Ministers". The group will: assist Departments and agencies in working with timber suppliers and producers; give guidance on best purchasing practice; set progressive overall targets for government timber purchases from assured sustainable and legal sources; agree appropriate targets for individual Departments and agencies.

This programme does not involve banning the purchase of timber or timber products which cannot be shown to be sustainably and legally produced. That would be both unfair and impractical. There is currently not enough timber that can be independently guaranteed to have come from sustainable and legal sources to meet all needs; albeit that different assurance schemes are growing quickly. We would also not want to penalise poorer countries and producers which have not been able to put in place such schemes. We will continue to work with such producers to ensure they have fair market access, and that any action is fully consistent with our international obligations. Our aim is to give confidence to those obeying their country's laws and managing their forest sresponsibly that they will find a welcome market in the UK, and will not be undercut by unscrupulous and illegal competitors.

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