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Mr. Wilshire: I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I well understand why he would prefer not to be here at this moment but I am glad that he is here to hear people say, "Well done. Congratulations." The House is doing him a favour because, if he were to have caught the 11 o'clock train, he would have been in York in time to lose money on the 2 o'clock. At this rate, we will save him money on the 2.30. He will start losing at about 3 o'clock, or whatever time he gets there.
I support the Bill. I know from experience that ragwort is a real problem. My only reservations are as to whether the Bill will solve the problem as effectively as we all hope it will. When I look at the extent to which the Bill modifies the Weeds Act 1959, I personally think that there are one or two missed opportunities.
I understand why it is that a private Member can only go so far with a Bill. Therefore, I make no criticism of my hon. Friend for not going further. My main concern is that, although the Bill enables more effective court action to be taken by the code of practice being an admissible matter in any court action, it does not make it easier to take court action. The Weeds Act says that any court action must be authorised by the Minister. I would have preferred it if any principal council were able to do so. I accept that some councils are villains but some are not. If we are to tighten up and to use the Bill and the code of practice to take more effective action, the mind boggles at the Minister having to rush around the country signing orders all over the place. That could slow down progress. I would have liked to see some extension to the powers of various authorities to institute court proceedings.
I have not had a chance to talk to the Minister about the work that has been done on the code of practice but I sincerely hope that the main focus of parts of the code will be on the unthinking and the uncaring. I know the problems from bitter experience. I said on Report that I acquired some land. I am not a horse person and therefore do not keep horses on it. I am here so much of the time that I have not been able to keep any animals on it. Therefore, it seemed sensible to have a hay crop.
I had the misfortune to have someone next door who could not care less. The weeds just grew and the wind blew. If one is growing hay, the wretched stuff does not appear until it is very big and over the top of the crop. The problems of getting it out and of complying, if one cares about it, are enormous. I can assure hon. Members that my efforts with a fork to get the wretched stuff out was no happy experience. Therefore, I hope that the focus of attention will be on those who let their land run amok and just let the stuff grow, and that those who are already trying to do something, even if what they try to do is not as effective as some people would like, are not singled out. The real targets lie elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) asked why the measure applies only to England and Wales and not to Scotland, with his horses going to and fro. Unless the Scottish Parliament acts, we will do something in England and horses can be poisoned effectively a mile up the road. Earlier, comment was made about consulting with the Irish Government. I do not want to reopen the issue that I was tempted to reopen, but the measure does not apply to Northern Ireland. The point has been made about the Irish horse industry. If we are not to take the same view of the situation in Northern Ireland, particularly with Stormont suspended at the moment, are we missing an opportunity to do something in that part of the United Kingdom, too?
There is just one other thing that I cannot resist the temptation to mention. I think that it is the lot of most hon. Members to be bombarded from time to time by organisations that want to preserve the world as it is. My mailbag, postcards. e-mails, telephone calls and surgeries are full of people saying, "Please leave the countryside alone." It is interesting that no one, not even the great carers for the past and our heritage, have leapt to the defence of ragwort, saying, "It is part of our heritage, leave it alone." If that voice is silent, if those who would have us not do anything else ever again to upset the countryside are not prepared to jump to the defence of ragwort, it is entirely proper that my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale is doing what he is doing. I congratulate him and wish the Bill well.
Mr. Miller: This could go down as the potential title of a J.K. Rowling novel: "John Greenway and the Ragwort Menace." I congratulate the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) on the way in which he has dealt with the Bill. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister not only for his positive approach to the Bill but for being proactive and dealing with some of the issues at an early stage.
Mr. Miller: No. Biological identification was what I was considering but, on a serious point, we should encourage landowners to look carefully at DEFRA's website, where the identification leaflet can be seen, including some pictures and line drawings of the plant. The hon. Gentleman is right. There are a lot of new landowners, people buying parcels of land, speculating about its future use in terms of construction and in some cases not looking after it terribly well.
Mr. Miller: I see the hon. Member for Ryedale acknowledging that. It is proving a problem where we have people who do not have the traditional husbandry skills and do not recognise the plant at an early stage. As a small landowner, I am in exactly the same position as the hon. Member for Spelthorne.
Mr. Miller: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Tories do not have custodianship of the countryside. Considerably more Labour MPs fit the bill there. I say seriously to him and to landowners that, having taken care to identify the nature of the plant, one way of dealing with ithe is right that, if one leaves it until the grass is at the level of hay, it is a serious problemis to get at it earlier. Walk the fields much earlier.
Inspect the fields very early and pull the weed at a very early stage. The alternative control methods raise some interesting points. There has been some interesting work on the use of the cinnabar moth, flea beetles and so onbiological control agents. I referred earlier to a paper published in Australia, where that is described in great detail. Those can be an effective biological control agent. Where there are horses on the land or nearby, the most effective method is pulling.
Herbicides can be used, and the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) may be familiar with a paper written in New Zealand not long ago that evaluated the trials of sulfonyl urea herbicide in some detail. That commercial product proved effective in respect of spot killing, but dangerous for widespread use on pasture because of the damage to the underlying grass. I urge landowners to concentrate on the physical
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ryedale on proposing a particularly important Bill, given the change in ownership of land in the countryside. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that the code is in force at the earliest possible opportunity.
Mr. Osborne: I shall be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I see the Members whose Bills are next on the Order Paper are sitting in the Chamber. It was useful to hear the Minister's speech on Third Reading, in which he fleshed out what will be in the code of practice; we look forward to seeing it. The Minister is modest, because he is also Minister for the horse, which sounds like an 18th century court title. That is better than Roman emperors who used to make their horses ministers[Interruption.] I suspect that was my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger) disagreeing.
I am sure that I speak for everyone when I say that we are grateful for the support and help that the Government have given to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) in proposing his Bill and in taking it through the House. We wish it speedy progress in the other place. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words about my debut at the Dispatch Box. By the end of the day, I shall be a veteran, because I am covering quite a lot of subjects. In opposition, we can handle these matters with one person, while the Government need several Ministers.
I shall end by saying that the entire rural community is grateful to my hon. Friend who, as I said earlier, is the hero of the horse world. I shall end with a quote from Kay Driver, chief executive of the British Horse Society, who said: