Equine Welfare (Ragwort Control) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:07 pm on 21st March 2003.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:07 pm, 21st March 2003

I am not specifically aware that that is covered, but I believe that all options are covered in the information. I shall make it available to all the hon. Members who have participated in the debate. That issue is the kind of thing that may be relevant to the code of practice, and it may well be touched on in Committee.

I am keen to ensure that the Government play a full part in controlling the spread of ragwort. Our powers derive from the Weeds Act 1959. Although that legislation is rather old, it is still an effective tool. Members have quoted from previous debates the authority that it gives to the Secretary of State to control the spread of ragwort as one of five weeds specified in the 1959 Act. The others are the creeping or field thistle, the spear thistle, the curled dock and the broad-leaved dock. It is important to note that the Act does not make it an offence to permit injurious weeds to grow on land. It is primarily concerned with preventing the spread of weeds.

Section 1 of the 1959 Act gives a permissive power to the Secretary of State to serve a notice on an occupier of land on which one of the five injurious weeds is growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the weeds from spreading. Section 2 provides that where a notice has been served and the occupier has unreasonably failed to comply with it, he or she shall be guilty of an offence, and liable to a fine on conviction. Section 3 provides that where an occupier fails to take clearance action, the Secretary of State may take action to arrange for weeds to be removed and may recover the cost of doing so through the courts. Additional powers permit officials to enter land to inspect whether an enforcement notice has been complied with.