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

In that event, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to respond in the way that I have suggested. I would then look forward to working with him on the Bill in Committee because I believe that the code of practice has an important role to play in clarifying responsibilities and best practice in relation to weed control.

We are already reviewing the way that DEFRA pursues its responsibilities under the Weeds Act 1959, but that is not to release additional resources. Anyone who is aware of the needs of the countryside and the pressure on the Department will be aware how stretched we are, but I do believe that there are things that could be changed to make a difference to horse owners and target more effectively the available resources and the action that is undertaken. I hope that the Government's offer of co-operation on the Bill, our willingness to work with the industry to prepare a code of practice and the review of enforcement policy that I have announced today will be a signal to the horse industry, as suggested by hon. Members, that we are listening, that we have taken note of their concerns and that we are prepared to do something about them.

I hope that we shall be able to move forward supporting the Bill—that will help to cement closer working relationships with the horse industry, which is such a strength in the rural economy—and that by protecting the welfare of the horse we shall be able to protect the welfare of the industry and the wider economy. Provided that the hon. Gentleman is willing to commit himself to the approach I have suggested, I will be in a position to recommend to the House that the Bill pass into Committee for further discussion and amendment.