Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)

MR BOB ANDREW, MR ROBERT FORD AND MR TIM ROLLINSON

WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002

  100. You also said that three years before that it was a model policy?
  (Mr Andrew) Yes.

  101. How is it then that the Cabinet Office could be looking for renewable wood. Even if we accept there was a planning stage before Mr Meacher announced the policy, surely they should still have been looking at "sustainable" and "legal"?
  (Mr Andrew) I have no doubt they will address that in their report to Parliament. I cannot comment on it.

  102. I look forward to the report. "Legal" in this terminology refers to CITES, is that correct?
  (Mr Andrew) Not necessarily.
  (Mr Ford) CITES only covers about 26 different species of timber but when you talk about "legal" in that sense, yes, that timber has to be legally imported but for the other non-CITES timber, I am not aware that there is any other international agreement or national legislation that regulates the import of timber in that way.

  103. We will come back to CITES, so I will not pursue that for the moment. "Legal" in that definition is CITES plus a contractual legal obligation, legality within the state that the logging is being done and so forth.
  (Mr Andrew) Yes, I suppose it is all those but mainly it is focussed on the legality of the harvesting of the timber and the export of the timber from the producing countries.

  104. Looking at "sustainable" then and accepting the difficulties that this Committee knows about in defining that, in your memo to this Committee you mentioned DEFRA's own definition of sustainability within timber. To me, that very much puts the onus on the contractor. I will not quote it all because you know it but it states: "The Contractor is required to supply timber and wood that derive from trees or plants that were grown in forests or plantations that were managed to (a) sustain their biodiveristy, productivity and vitality . . ." It goes on to state: "The Contractor shall obtain documentary evidence to demonstrate that these requirements have been met." You then say we should see Appendix F. At Appendix F we have what I assume is a model of how this should be worked out within the NHS furniture suppliers, but no more detail than that. Is there any guidance internally about sustainability or is this the only guidance that you have for officials dealing with sustainability issues, that they must merely ask the contractor to tell them it is sustainable?
  (Mr Andrew) There is more guidance than that. There is a Green Guide for Buyers that has been on the DTLR and DEFRA website for a number of years. There is also the model policy framework and a model action plan for implementing green government operations.

  105. That is wider than just timber?
  (Mr Andrew) It is wider than timber, but timber is featured in that. I have to say that that is focussed mainly on environmental issues rather than economic and social issues, but in procurement the economic and social issues are quite difficult and so most of the focus has been on the environmental element of sustainable development.

  106. Your definition does refer to indigenous people.
  (Mr Andrew) It does but that particular definition and that model clause is just a repeat of the model policy. It does not add any more. That has only been issued quite recently.

Sue Doughty

  107. Mr Andrew, I am quite concerned that we are getting hung up on "renewable" and "sustainability" and yet other people seem to have been there ten years ago. You had expert advice at hand. Dr Alan Knight came to see us in a personal capacity. He was Head of Sustainability at B&Q in 1990, so at least somebody knew what sustainability meant at that stage ten years ago. Many of us are very familiar with the B&Q way of doing it. They also recognise the problems you are discussing, and to which Mr Rollinson referred. Some people will claim all sorts of things but only when you go there can you see what is happening on the ground. We all understand that. It sounds to me as if we are a bit embedded in Whitehall but very little is ever going to happen except to look at certificates and everything else. You yourself, or the authors of your memorandum, have quoted the problem about cultural resistance to implementing sustainable development through procurement. You are saying all this is on the website, without having quality-managed procedures where you say, "And how did you check that you did this?" It seems to me that there was very little commitment, until Ms Walley and Greenpeace raised the profile of the whole problem, to going forward and getting this implemented as opposed to being talked about.
  (Mr Andrew) The research and scoping study that was commissioned was done soon after Michael Meacher made his statement. Actually it was commissioned nearly a year afterwards but that was before the parliamentary question you have just mentioned and before the Greenpeace demonstration. There has been a commitment but recent events have added another dimension, another driver, to it. It has made the department aware. The problems are stated in the memorandum. Procurement is devolved. There are many different procurement organisations across government in NDPVs and the agencies, and it is difficult to manage that centrally. The commitment has always been there but recent events have made that plethora of organisations realise that there is a serious issue.

Mr Challen

  108. It is the period of exposure that is driving it rather than any kind of policy?
  (Mr Andrew) That may be so. I could not say. Certainly, we are now getting responses back from departments as a result of the review that Michael Meacher pressed for, which are certainly more positive in that, as I mentioned, we were having trouble getting a department to volunteer a project. We worked with WWF on sourcing and have said that now, as a result of that review, we have at least three, and possibly four, departments already coming back and offering projects where they would be willing to work on with WWF. There are signs of increased commitment now.

Chairman

  109. The disappointing thing about this, Mr Andrew, is that all this happened with the retailers about ten years ago with people like B&Q. People like Greenpeace were pointing out that the timber they were buying was unsustainable. That was denied, maybe in good faith but it was denied, and then it was realised that the denial was wrong and in fact it was not sustainable. The truth came out and then gradually, bit by bit, they began to pursue a different policy. All this happened ten years ago in the private sector and it is disappointing, to say the least, that Government went through exactly the same procedures as the private sector had gone through ten years ago.
  (Mr Andrew) It is not exactly the same, though. The B&Q situation and the private sector generally are not constrained by public procurement regulations and WTO rules. Government has to be certain that it is acting in its procurement policies and practices in line with those constraints. This has been one of the difficulties. B&Q were able to demand timber from independent, certified sources. My understanding and the advice given to me is that were we to implement a similar practice, we would be in conflict with the public procurement regulations. We can ask for independent verification but we cannot demand independent certification, so we cannot, for example, require suppliers to supply products that have an FSC label to the exclusion of any other solution. B&Q, through their policy, presumably under some commercial motivation, and it suited them to do that, had that flexibility and we do not.

Joan Walley

  110. I have three quick questions. In terms of the way Government has dealt with this, do you feel now that this is embedded in good management practice in so far as can be done within the current restrictions? Forgetting about any constraints that there might be, there is now a way of making sure that at least what can be done is being done. It is not just a question of saying this; is it actually being done and delivered?
  (Mr Andrew) I cannot say that because I do not know on the ground what is going on.

  111. Who would know that?
  (Mr Andrew) Individual departments, individual heads of procurement and environmental managers.

  112. You have no remit for what is being done by other individual departments?
  (Mr Andrew) I have a remit through the Timber Buyer Interdepartmental Advisory Group to advise and to set targets and report on progress. When the consultants' report on the research project is completed, we will then have to consider the recommendations and the implications of that.

  113. I thought that DEFRA had the remit right the way across Government for sustainable development issues. You say you do not?
  (Mr Andrew) DEFRA does have that remit for sustainable development issues.

  114. So you could require those individual departments to do things, or they would be very embarrassed if they did not?
  (Mr Andrew) They have been required to follow this policy.

  115. Will you be making sure that they do?
  (Mr Andrew) I will be doing my best to encourage them to do that, yes.

  116. In terms of the difference between the private sector and Government, what about the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment? I understand that that made recommendations in respect of procurement which you were referring to as difficult, given the restraints that there are on procurement. What about their recommendations in Chapter 6? Is yours a positive response to those recommendations, do you think?
  (Mr Andrew) I would have to come back to you on that because I have not got the actual recommendation in front of me. I was involved in the consultation for that particular report by Dr Alan Knight, as Chairman of that Committee. That is dealt with elsewhere within the Department. I would be reluctant to comment on that today. I will do so later on if that is convenient.

  117. Finally, will you be liaising with Greenpeace as well perhaps to look at ways forward on this?
  (Mr Andrew) We would not rule out liaising with any NGO. WWF has been my main point of contact. I am working with them at the moment. I shall be going off with them to see English Heritage in the next couple of weeks to discuss some of things that they have been requiring for building projects, which may have made it difficult to specify the woods used.

  118. That did not apply to the door in the Cabinet, did it?
  (Mr Andrew) I am not sure. I certainly would not rule that out. In fact, I was corresponding with Greenpeace yesterday on that particular issue, so, yes, I would not rule it out at all.

Sue Doughty

  119. You were caught out on this one, or Government were caught out. We are very happy to see that change is coming about. We would not decry change. We have been delving into the past quite enough for anybody's embarrassment or satisfaction. Obviously we need to discuss other aspects. Are there any other little secrets lurking and waiting for Greenpeace to find?
  (Mr Andrew) Not that I am aware of . I mentioned the DEFRA project. We actually became aware of that because contacts in the timber trade alerted me personally to the fact that Iroko was being ordered for that project. We took decisive action to reverse that and change it. We have now sought wood from well-managed forests elsewhere.

 


 
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