Equine Welfare (Ragwort Control) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:41 am on 21st March 2003.

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Photo of John Greenway John Greenway Conservative, Ryedale 11:41 am, 21st March 2003

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a second time.

I did not expect quite so many Members to be in the Chamber. I am sure that the fact that so many are now leaving does not show any lack of interest in the issue that we are about to discuss.

This is the second occasion during my 16 years in the House on which I have had the good fortune to be placed in the ballot for private Members' Bills. I have always been in the "teens", never up in the giddy heights of the first seven. On the first occasion I was able to put on the statute book the Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991. Now I am introducing a Bill to control ragwort for the welfare of horses.

Hon. Members may wonder what the second Bill has in common with the first. Certainly, they cover a wide interest in various subjects, but the first Bill dealt with a grave injustice in the way in which mentally disordered offenders were dealt with—it has proved extremely effective in eradicating much of that injustice—and, in my view, the issue of ragwort control also involves injustice. I am thinking of the injustice perpetrated by ragwort on the owners of horses, many of them children who, through no fault of their own, lose a horse or a loved pony for a reason that could have been avoided. And if we in this place can make law to deal with problems that could be avoided, we do a great service to those whom we are here to represent.

This is not the first time that ragwort has been debated in the House, but it is, I believe, the first time since 1959 that a Bill has been introduced to control the spread of that insidious weed. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have strongly supported my proposals. On 21 January last year, Richard Younger-Ross—who, I am glad to see, is present—led a debate calling for action to control ragwort. There was also a debate on 25 July 2000, initiated by my hon. Friend Mr. Paterson, on much the same lines, and last June an early-day motion was signed by, I think, 61 Members.

Why has there been so much interest of late, when there had been none for more than 40 years? More to the point, why has nothing happened, given the interest that the House has shown?

The deadly effects of common ragwort—or, to give its proper title, Senecio jacobaea—have been well recognised by those who care for equines and other livestock. In 1959, when the Weeds Act was introduced, it classed the plant—along with spear thistle, creeping or field thistle, curled dock and broad-leaved dock—as an injurious weed. Ragwort, however, is the most pernicious, and has caused endless heartache and agony to many a horse owner. Only when the Root Out Ragwort campaign—that is a good name, is it not? It rolls off the tongue—was started just over five years ago was greater awareness raised of the havoc caused by the plant. The campaign has been led by the British Horse Society, to which I pay tribute for all its work and support. It has been taken up by several other organisations, including the Country Land and Business Association, the Donkey Sanctuary, the Animal Health Trust and the Home of Rest for Horses.