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

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but I am not sure that we are in a position to answer him, as that is one of the issues that the Minister and I agreed that we would like to thrash out in Committee. That is one reason why I want to ask the House to allow the Bill to proceed into Committee. We have identified the problem, and I hope that in this lengthy—I am sorry—but wide-ranging speech I have made the case that something must be done. As we know from bitter experience—I have been here for 16 years—we often get knee-jerk reaction legislation imposing impractical measures that ultimately do not work. We want to avoid that.

Even if we ended up with a Bill that provided a code of practice to be given by the Minister's Department to all public landowners and local authorities, that would give them a structure to help them to deal with the problem. Instead of enforcement, we would be taking preventive measures. The attitude that has been adopted by Oxfordshire, Hampshire and other local authorities indicates that they want to do the right thing, but we need to determine what is the right thing and how they can make changes. That is why the Bill is so important.

This is not a Government handout Bill; it has been drafted by the British Horse Society and, in an ideal world, is what we would want. We know that, in the real world, we will not get it in full. However, the Bill follows on from a detailed review of the current situation. If the Government would adopt just one of the options—and I describe the three different aspects of the Bill as options—it would go a long way to improving the situation. I know from conversations with the Minister that there is an ongoing discussion between him and the LGA with the aim of arriving at the right solution through a code of practice.

The code and this Bill have been initiated by the British Horse Society. I would like the House to give all parties the opportunity to pursue this issue and to allow the Bill to go to Committee. If, at that stage, we can agree that at least one of the options could be adopted in a way that would avoid the problems that I have outlined and would bring about the solutions that we all want, we would have the makings of a very effective piece of legislation that could come back the House and, I hope, be approved on Third Reading. The most important thing is to enable those responsible to benefit actively the welfare of the horse.