Equine Welfare (Ragwort Control) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:55 pm on 21st March 2003.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 12:55 pm, 21st March 2003

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Greenway on being so high up in the ballot—although I do not know why we congratulate our colleagues in such circumstances, as it is a matter of pure chance. I am glad that he had the good sense to introduce such an excellent Bill.

I must declare a non-pecuniary interest. Until recently I chaired the parliamentary Horse and Pony Taxation Committee. As such I was a consultant to the British Horse Industry Confederation, and I remain president of the Association of British Riding Schools, which takes a keen interest in the Bill.

The Bill is supported by most knowledgeable organisations in this sphere, including the British Horseracing Board, the National Farmers Union, the British Horse Society—which I believe was largely responsible for helping to draft the Bill—the Country Land and Business Association and a variety of other equine organisations.

As others have said, there is a long history of support in the House for action of some sort to deal with ragwort. In November 2002, my hon. Friend Mr. Hayes presented an early-day motion calling for action, and, as we have heard, there have been Adjournment debates. I do not think we have paid enough tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Amess, who presented two ten-minute Bills on the subject, which may have been enough to stimulate the interest of the Government and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale.

We have heard much about the ragwort problem, and I think its existence is fairly widely accepted. I was, however, slightly disappointed by the speech of Sandra Gidley, who seemed rather less enthusiastic than most of us about its eradication. Incidentally, I must take issue with her on one minute detail. She said that county councils should have authority to implement eradication plans or at any rate to deal with ragwort in one way or another. The point of my hon. Friend's Bill is that it requires authorities such as county councils to take the action that they do not apparently take. When the Bill becomes law, as I hope that it will, county councils' highways authorities will be required to deal with their roads just as the main Highways Agency deals with motorways and the like.