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Mr. Greenway: When we discussed this some months ago, the Minister made it clear that he would ensure that Parliament would see a copy of the draft code. Will he place a copy in the Library of the House at the appropriate time?
Alun Michael: As soon as the code has been finalised, we will publish it and place a copy in the Library, and we shall obviously be interested in the comments on it of hon. Members as well as of the bodies that have been formally consulted.
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater): Given our proximity to Ireland and the number of horses that move backwards and forwards between the two countries for racing and so on, and the dangers of ragwort to horses, will the Minister consider allowing the Irish Government to see the code? That is not under the Minister's direct control, but it will give them some idea of what we are trying to do to control ragwort on this side of the Irish sea.
Alun Michael: The formal consultation will be with directly affected organisations in Britain, but the code will be in the public domain and we would be perfectly happy for it to be available to others in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests.
I hope I have been able to reassure hon. Members that it is our intention, as it has been the intention of the hon. Member for Ryedale, to proceed as quickly as possible to effective action in order to improve the eradication of ragwort and the nuisance that it poses to livestock in general and to horses in particular.
Mr. Wilshire: Given the more relaxed mood of a Friday morning, I am tempted by the last intervention about consultations with the Irish Government to say that formal consultations with a foreign Government, particularly when it comes to the Belfast agreement, do not appeal to me, but I am sure that I would be ruled out of order were I to develop my thoughts on that, so I shall resist the temptation.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill, although it could be made tougher than it is, and I have no wish to prevent it reaching the statute book. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) because being in the Opposition Whips Office means that one does not have the time to do some of the things that one would like to do, otherwise I would have been willing to be a member of the Committee had he been able to tolerate that. I shall not ask him to answer in public.
Nevertheless, having not participated in the Committee, I should like to explain why I feel strongly about the Bill. In doing so, I want for the avoidance of doubt to set out some information that is not quite a declarable interest, but which is relevant in that context. Some 10 years ago, I became the joint owner of four acres of farmland. Until I acquired my interest in the land, it had been grazed by sheep, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) has mentioned. I did not have any knowledge of farming and I acquired the land because it was attached to a house as part of a joint lot. I did not set out to become involved in such matters. When I bought the house, I did not buy the sheep, which had departed. As the sheep had gone, the grass grew, as did the ragwort. I did not know what it was at the time. I thought that it was pretty and that it would look decorative if one gathered it and put it in the housean attitude of which I was soon disabused.
The problem was that the four acres with which I was involved were surrounded by lots of other fields full of horses. As is patently clear from the point made by the Minister, I am not a horse person, which is why I did not keep horses and why I do not understand who represents what in terms of riding. None the less, I rapidly discovered that ragwort is a problem. In that regard, I have some further observations about the Bill as a whole that I would have made on Second Reading if I had been able to do so. Perhaps I can do so on Third Reading, but I shall not try your patience just now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I need to speak about the amendments.
I should like to deal with the amendments in the order in which they appear on the selection list rather than to speak to my own first, as that seems the logical way of proceeding. Amendment No. 3, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, seeks to delete the word "may" and insert the word "shall". I always like the recurrent debate about "must" or "shall" in the context of time wasting, but that point does not arise in this discussion, and I am perfectly happy to settle for "shall".
The amendments raise a general issue. There are occasions when I thoroughly enjoy kicking the current Government around the place as hard as I possibly can. It would be possible to lay some blame at their door in respect of some of the amendments, but this is a Friday morning and I am in a more charitable mood. For the purposes of the amendments, my castigation of the Government is a castigation of all Governments. For 10 years, until I was put into the Whips' Office in the hope that it would shut me up, which it patently has not, I was a dedicated Back Bencher who was suspicious of all Executives, whatever their political colour. I still have that attitude in the back of my mind.
If we believe that it is worth having a code of practiceI believe that it iswe must be sure that the Government will proceed with it. I have never been willing to take it on face value that any Government will get round to something if it does not have to do so. Governments have far better things to do, such as social
Mr. Wilshire: I suspect that if I tried to answer that question, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not let me continue. I am a little disappointed that my hon. Friend is trying to get a Labour Minister off the hook; I would rather leave him dangling, if I possibly could.
Sir Paul Beresford: Is my hon. Friend aware that anyone who drives down the A3 will pass on the left hand side a farm that predominantly farms sheep, but has introduced llamas to keep the foxes away. It is possible that ragwort is poisonous to llamashence the link to foxes.
Mr. Wilshire: The best that I can say is that I understand the difference between them, but I know nothing about any of them. I shall not pursue that train of thought, partly because you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, do not want me to do so, and partly because I am not sure what I can say about llamas at this moment.
If a code of practice is worth having, the Government of the day must have an obligation to do something about it, and I wish to test the Minister on that point. He told the House that he had already acted, that there was no problem and that we did not need to worry. If we do not need to worry and he is going to proceed, why does he wish to resist an amendment seeking to insert the word "shall"? As he is going to proceed anyway, can he not make a gesture in accepting an amendment so as to indicate that his total commitment can be put beyond all doubt?
The fact that the list that I propose is not the right list does not affect the point that I am trying to make. I will not burden the House with the provenance of the list, but I point out that it was drafted in rather a hurry,
Mr. George Osborne: My hon. Friend should not be too hard on himself. By tabling the amendment, he has obtained from the Minister an assurance that the organisations that he did include in the amendment, albeit in haste, will feature in the list of consultees.
Mr. Wilshire: I am always glad to be rescued from my self doubt, so those are helpful remarks. None the less, whatever one makes of my particular list, the principle of making it an obligation for the Minister of the day to consult certain people is correct.