Skip to main content

Illegally Logged Timber (Prohibition of Import, Sale or Distribution) Bill

Volume 522: debated on Friday 4 February 2011

Second Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This Bill should be a Government Bill, but the coalition appear to have dropped their commitment to legislate on illegal timber. This week saw the launch of the international year of forests at the UN General Assembly in New York. It saddens me that instead of championing their promises on illegal timber, the coalition instead seem prepared to abandon them. Shortage of time prevents me from talking at length about the importance of our rain forests, with regard to biodiversity, their capacity to regulate our climate and mitigate climate change and their importance for indigenous people, but I will note that in the past 24 hours there has been news that extremely worrying droughts have been killing the Amazon rain forests, leading them to becoming a net emitter of CO2 in 2005 and 2010.

I will explain a little of the background to the Bill. In 2009, the United States introduced the Lacey Act, which made it illegal for a person or company to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase timber or timber products that have been illegally taken, harvested, possessed, transported, sold or exported. The current Foreign Secretary promised voters before the general election that the Conservatives would do the same.

It is early days, but there is every indication that the Lacey Act has been successful. More to the point, it demonstrates that that kind of legislation is perfectly possible.

I want to talk about why the Conservatives promised that they would bring in a prohibition on the possession or import of illegally logged timber. Let me quote the following words:

“The earth’s rain forests are not only one of the greatest wonders of the natural world; they are the green lungs of the planet. They are also the source of the forest resources that help to support the livelihoods of nearly 1 billion of the world’s poorest people.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 737.]

To those Members who were here last March and have good memories, those words might sound familiar: they were the opening words of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), now the Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, in a speech to support his ten-minute rule Bill—Illegally Logged Timber (Prohibition of Retail, Wholesale and Distribution)—just weeks before the general election. It was a Bill that I would have strongly supported. The reason I repeat his words is to highlight my dismay at the contradictions that are there for all to see of a party saying and promising one thing, but not acting once it has the power to do so.


In his speech on his ten-minute rule Bill, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle did an excellent job of explaining why UK legislation was needed, stating that

“it is clear that action at European level will not go far enough”.

Quite correctly, he went on to describe the problem with the EU legislation:

“It lacks an explicit overarching prohibition on illegal timber in the EU market... Loopholes are therefore created whereby all downstream companies—the majority of EU traders—are exempt from even the bare minimum of due diligence requirements. A prohibition on illegal timber needs to apply to all companies that make timber available to the market, whatever their position in the supply chain.”—[Official Report, 16 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 738.]

I will not, because of lack of time.

That is all good stuff, and I of course agree with it. A commitment to just such a prohibition was repeated on page 17 of the coalition agreement, which states that the coalition will bring forward

“Measures to make the import or possession of illegally logged timber a criminal offence”.

Given the critical need to act now and the Government’s clear commitment to go further than the EU, I was alarmed to receive a letter last July from a DEFRA Minister stating that

“we will not be pursuing further UK legislative action at this stage”.

Indeed, another Back Bencher showed me a similar letter that went further by dropping “at this stage” and bluntly stating that

“we will not be pursuing further UK legislative action.”

The Deputy Speaker interrupted the business (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 10 June.