Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-189)
MR BOB ANDREW, MR ROBERT FORD AND MR TIM ROLLINSON
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
180. I thought of that, but it is about the percentage of illegal as opposed to legal tropical imports. I cannot see that the fact that we may import more should affect the percentages.
(Mr Rollinson) The reason we are not going to attempt to refute the figures is because we do not have any other figures of our own. There are no internationally agreed statistics on the trade in illegal timber. Greenpeace have made their own estimates of what they think is going on. We are concerned about what is going on, which is why the various actions have been taken but I do not think it is the case that other European countries have better systems of controlling imports than the UK. That would be as good a response as I could give you.
(Mr Ford) I am not aware that any other European countries have any controls over timber other than the CITES controls we have. At present in the UK, there are no regulations that enable Customs and Excise to control the entry of timber that has been illegally logged, unless it contravenes CITES. There is currently no Community legislation or UK law to confiscate illegal goods and prosecute offenders.
181. Are you doing anything about this deficiency?
(Mr Ford) The European Commission held a workshop in Brussels to discuss the issue on 22-24 April and there has been inter-service group consultation within the Commission on measures that need to be taken. The Commission was informed that a communique is being drafted that would consider a possible new EU framework to enable such controls to be put in place modelled on either the CITES framework or along the lines of the US Act, with a view to issuing an EC communication before the end of the year. They are looking at this broader issue.
182. Can I ask helpfully whether or not the Cabinet report which we are going to get next week will be making very specific recommendations about action which needs to be taken at the European level and possibly through international environmental agreements as well which could address the deficit which the questioning from Mr Jon Owen Jones has just exposed?
(Mr Andrew) I am not personally involved with the writing of the Cabinet Office reports.
183. No, but might you be advising them?
(Mr Andrew) Such issues can be taken forward but my understanding is that the Cabinet Office has just looked at the particular issues surrounding that project, rather than the wider implications. I am not sure about that.
184. I am talking about the wider role which the Secretary of State tells us DEFRA has in respect of sustainable development. There has to be this cross cutting approach to Government, surely, but it is not a matter for you, you are telling us?
(Mr Andrew) It is certainly something I will think about and take up with those who are responsible.
185. A lot has been said throughout the whole of the questioning about the restraints from procurement policy. I would like to know what changes should be made to change the procurement policy and at what level that might need to be addressed. Are you talking about a European Union procurement policy? Whose is the overall responsibility for procurement policy? At what level does that need to be addressed if we are going to remove the constraints which both Mr Andrew and Mr Ford have referred to in order to do anything about this subject?
(Mr Andrew) The constraints of public procurement regulations are the responsibility in the UK of the Office of Government Commerce. They would take forward any issues and make representations on whatever appropriate mechanism exists within the European Commission and the European Union. The word "constraint" may have conveyed the wrong impression. There are certain rules that we have to work within which have been in existence for some time, which are there for the good reason of preserving free trade and the free movement of goods and ensuring non-discrimination when letting contracts.
186. Is this through the World Trade Organisation? Should it be taken up through the Doha arrangements or is it quite separately something which the UK unilaterally chooses to do?
(Mr Andrew) No, the UK does not unilaterally choose to operate within those rules. It is either the WTO rules or the public procurement directives that the European Union is responsible for.
187. Should there be a follow-up in respect of all the problems that we are trying to address in respect of what is happening in terms of the EC and Doha and WTO? If so, who should be the lead minister or department at official level to take this forward?
(Mr Andrew) If we find that we cannot implement effectively the timber policy
188. Which you told us you cannot because of procurement constraints.
(Mr Andrew) We have found it difficult so far but we are working on a means of implementing and working within the rules. We are confident that we can do that.
189. You are telling us really that if it is that that contract in the Cabinet Office is going ahead, because the stuff has been purchased and put in place, that would be the last of its kind. We can have a green plaque saying, "This is definitely the last time that HM Government has unsustainable timber in a government building."
(Mr Andrew) I would like to promise that but I think it would be foolish. I am hopeful that we will have a robust enough system to enable us to procure sustainable, legal timber in the future. If in the event that does not prove to be the case and the reason for that is because there are public procurement directives that prevent that, then it would be appropriate to look at those again and discuss with the relevant departments and ministers whether there is a need to pursue that.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.