Environment Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 2nd March 2005.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will take steps to include social criteria in the UK's timber procurement policy.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Minister of State (Environment and Agri-Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A key objective of the UK Government's timber procurement policy is to encourage the protection of forest dependent peoples' rights and enhance their well-being. By requiring its contractors to supply only timber that has been legally harvested and by preferring timber grown in sustainably managed forests, the Government are helping to achieve this outcome in many producing countries.

The EU public procurement directives ensure that public bodies conduct their procurement in a fair and transparent manner, do not discriminate or create barriers to trade and obtain value for money for taxpayers. In line with the above requirements, the criteria for selecting bidders must be limited to their capacity and ability to supply the product or service, and the criteria for specifying requirements must be limited to relevant technical, quality and performance characteristics that can be objectively measured and priced. The criteria can include relevant manufacturing processes and that enables forest management standards that affect the product to be specified. Protecting and conserving a product's raw material is relevant, measurable and a reasonable demand to make of a contractor. Protecting and conserving the rights and socio-economic well-being of forest dependent people is not something a contractor based in another country could be reasonably expected to undertake. Such social and ethical issues are beyond the capacity of suppliers to control, measure and price. Furthermore, the introduction of non product related issues into contracts would enable contracting authorities to choose their suppliers on the basis of subjective judgements that would jeopardize the fairness and openness that have served the public procurement process so well for many decades.

A public authority can refuse to invite tenders from suppliers who have been convicted of an offence or grave professional misconduct in relation to the conduct of their business and that could include offences relating to the treatment of forest dependent people. Any such refusal would have to be proportionate to the offence.

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