Government misled MPs over 'Cabinet' timber

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Indy Politics

The Government was facing embarrassment last night over the use of sustainable timber to refurbish a Whitehall building after it said it had misled MPs about the origin of the wood.

The Cabinet Office minister Christopher Leslie admitted he had incorrectly reassured MPs that sustainable timber was used in the refurbishment of the new Cabinet Offices in London.

Greenpeace invaded the offices earlier this month to highlight claims that the Government was using more than £460,000 of wood from suspect sources in Cameroon.

The Prime Minister criticised Greenpeace's campaign and accused the group of getting its facts wrong. The revelation will also cause huge embarrassment to Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Only yesterday, she rejected claims on BBC Radio Four's Today programme that the Government scored a "spectacular own goal" by using allegedly illegally imported timber for Cabinet Office restoration work.

"The contract was very clearly for timber that in fact had met all the criteria that anyone would wish," she said. "I know that people are looking to see what in fact happened. I have not had the results yet of that investigation. But it's absolutely clear the Government followed through its policy."

The Prime Minister also told the House of Commons that Greenpeace's protest at the use of unsustainable timber was "misconceived" and suggested that the information he had was that the wood was from sustainable sources.

Yesterday, Andy Tait, Greenpeace's campaigner against illegal logging, said that he was dismayed that the "Government could not get its act together". He urged the Government to publish all the contracts for the building.

"It's an outrage that the Government has no idea what timber it is bringing in two years after promising to buy from sustainable sources," he said. "The Prime Minister himself has misled MPs that the timber used was certified. This is complete nonsense."

Yesterday Christopher Leslie admitted in a parliamentary reply that he was wrong when he told MPs in February that the timber used in the Whitehall refurbishment was from a "certifiable sustainably managed source".

He said that only wood used to make door frames and doors – but not windows – was guaranteed to be have been logged in a "renewable" way. "I regret to say that the information I provided was incorrect," he said.