In the UK you can get five years in prison for possessing class B drugs, four for carrying a knife. Now Labour MP Barry Gardiner is proposing a five-year jail term as a maximum penalty for anyone convicted of knowingly trading in “illegal timber”.

Mr Gardiner’s private member’s bill includes a “sliding scale of stiff penalties” for handling and trading in timber “harvested, manufactured or otherwise dealt with illegally” in the country of origin. The severest punishment is the five-year sentence, or £100,000 fine. At the lower end of the scale, anyone unwittingly supplying illegal material could face a £5,000 fine.

Mr Gardiner has a reputation for taking no prisoners when it comes to timber and forestry. Last year he wrote in TTJ that, in questioning government timber procurement policy, Timber Trade Federation members put commercial self-interest above the needs of poor people in supplier countries.

His bill seems cut from the same black and white cloth. And, as our report on the issue shows, it doesn’t seem to be in tune with government thinking. Defra’s statement that “it is important to encourage EU-wide legislation which will be much more effective than a single country acting alone”, effectively pours cold water on the proposals.

All agree illegal logging is a serious problem, but what sanctions should there be to stop it? And is it fair, if handling illegal timber does become subject to new laws in this country, that the onus for policing the situation should land mainly on the timber sector, especially if the definition is “illegal in the country of origin”. Many feel the latter is nebulous and could still cover a multitude of sins. Some say a more equitable solution, and one less open to interpretation, would be a CITES-style, risk assessment-based listing simply stating which timber species from which sources you cannot touch.

Whatever the outcome for Mr Gardiner’s bill, it’s clear the industry needs to continue to push forward with its own solutions for ending the illegal timber trade and convince decision makers in Westminster and Brussels of their value.