8 DECEMBER 2001, Page 22

Banned wagon

A weekly survey of the things our rulers want to prohibit

BEWARE your backgammon set: the time has come for it to join your fur slippers and ivory-handled knives in the deep recesses of your loft, safe from the prying eyes of any do-gooder or backbench Labour MP you might thoughtlessly invite into your home. The right-on brigade have found a new object of hate lurking in the nation's drawing-rooms: mahogany. Woe betide the memory of Augustus Pugin if it is discovered that he used the tropical hardwood in the Houses of Parliament — it may be necessary for the Commons to be stripped down and 'cleansed'.

The reason is that Joan Walley, Labour member for Stoke-on-Trent North, and 59 other MPs have petitioned the government to seize at once all imports made from Brazilian mahogany. Their reason is that the Brazilian government has suspended mahogany exports while it investigates claims that 80 per cent of logging in the Amazon basin is illegal. Illegal exporters must, of course, be tracked down and punished, but is it really in the interests of justice that the 20 per cent of loggers who obey the law must also be treated like pariahs?

The fact is that Walley et al. are against the very principle of cutting down a rainforest tree. The mahogany industry, they say, 'has been implicated in serious social disruption of indigenous communities, including assassination, alcoholand drug-related problems, increased prostitution and the spread of diseases' — quite a charge to lay against the honest loggers who are only doing what the developed world has done for centuries: exploiting their natural resources.

If I read Arnold Bennett correctly, similar charges of social and environmental damage could have been laid against the 19th-century ceramics industry of Stoke-on-Trent. How about seizing every British-made plate and pot? See bow that goes down in Ms Walley's

constituency. Ross Clark constituency. Ross Clark