Equine Welfare (Ragwort Control) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:21 pm on 21st March 2003.

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Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Liberal Democrat, Teignbridge 12:21 pm, 21st March 2003

I thank the Minister for those comments.

At that time, we received the response that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—now the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—would take action if ragwort was growing on farmland, but was very unwilling to take any action if it was growing at a purely equestrian establishment. One of the strengths of the Bill is that it will do away with that discrimination and it will require action across the board, whatever the nature of the establishment.

Since then, I have visited the mare and foal sanctuary just outside Chudleigh in my constituency, which does excellent work in looking after distressed horses and ponies. When I visited, the sanctuary had a pony that was recovering from ragwort poisoning, and I am pleased to say that the staff were able to restore the animal to health by using traditional herbal remedies. What is fascinating, however, is that the poor pony was addicted to the weed, so if it was growing in the field where he grazed, he would dig it up. Before the workers could let the pony out, they had to walk the field to make sure that no ragwort was coming up. The weed would re-emerge, even though a pair of workers walked the field daily.

Ragwort comes from a number of sources, and it is often found where there is development. As the hon. Member for Ryedale said, it is found alongside the highways and byways. It is important that it is removed so that it does not contaminate land, particularly where there are horses and ponies.

It is important that in Committee we address arguments about biodiversity, which are of concern to Members. There is confusion between common ragwort and other forms of the plant, and the difference needs to be made clear. That, too, can be dealt with in Committee.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman said that he does not want the Bill to be a burden on local authorities. That is worth emphasising. The highways authority in Devon has recently had £8 million cut from its budget, so the last thing that Devon wants is any extra burdens, and I am sure that council tax payers do not want extra burdens on them, however reasonable the cause. I wish the hon. Gentleman every success with the Bill.