23 Sep 2010

UK GOVERNMENT DROPS ILLEGAL TIMBER COMMITMENT

The UK coalition government looks set to drop its manifesto commitment to outlaw the possession of illegal timber.

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition document included “measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence.”

However, Jim Paice, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, has now said that government will not move beyond proposed EU legislation on timber import and “will not be pursuing further UK legislative action at this stage.”

That means any move to make possession of illegal timber a criminal offence has been effectively ruled out.

This is a major backtrack by the Tory party. After the US outlawed illegal timber via the Lacey Act in 2009, then backbencher William Hague, pledged to pass UK legislation on top of any strengthened EU directive.

He said such efforts would “send a message to the rest of Europe that we are ready to lead on closing the market to illegally timber” and criticised the then environment secretary, Hilary Benn, for failing to pledge the same.

Despite the backtrack, Jim Paice claims that the EU legislation will be sufficient: “We should also recognise that much illegal timber comes into the country through negligence rather than deliberate criminal activity, and we anticipate that this negligence will be stamped out by the regulation.”

However, economic concerns are apparent in other communications: “In these difficult financial times, we need to focus on the principles of better regulation. There is little to be gained by initiating additional (and duplicative) UK legislation in this area and we must be wary of creating a disadvantage in our timber’s trade’s efforts to act as world leaders in the procurement of legal timber.”

The EU legislation makes it an offence to place illegal timber on the market but does not make it an offence for anyone further down the supply change to handle illegal timber and that is why campaigners believe the UK government still needs to act.

And it is by such measures that users of tropical timbers in the US are being forced to clean up their act, with the recent criminal investigations into Gibson Guitars procurement policy being the most prominent example.

Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas said: “It is deeply disappointing that a government that has an aspiration to be the ‘greenest government in history’ has fallen at the first hurdle.”