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The British Horse Society British Horse Society Ragwort Bill goes to House of Lords committee

The British Horse Society (BHS) initiated Ragwort Control Bill successfully had its second reading in the House of Lords recently (17 October) and now moves to Committee and Report Stage (4 & 10 November respectively). Provided the Bill moves smoothly through these latter stages it should return to the Commons prior to the Queen's Speech on 26 November and will come into force three months after adoption.

The Bill was led by Baroness Masham, herself a Vice-President of the BHS and Ponies (UK), as well as running her own Highland Pony Stud and a riding centre in North Yorkshire. In her speech, Baroness Masham described the problems she has, as a landowner, in controlling ragwort and explained how the Bill provides for a code of practice to strengthen enforcement and provide clear guidelines on best practice to control the spread of ragwort.

As vice-chairman of the All Party Group on Conservation and Wildlife, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville expressed the concern of several conservation groups as to the ecological effect of the code on ragwort, whilst in no way decrying its danger to equine welfare. In his response, Defra Under Secretary for State, Lord Whitty, stated that the code of practice and methods of enforcement would take into account environmental and biological concerns, believing that the Bill and code would strike the right balance. He also stated that whilst the most recent national countryside survey found no overall increase in fertile or infertile grasslands up to 1998, there was a significant increase in the frequency of ragwort in lowland woods and on arable land. In some localised areas there had also been an increase in grassland and this, coupled with there being far more horses now than 50 years ago when the Weeds Act was first introduced, meant that proper management of ragwort was needed to ensure that the danger to horses was minimised.

Despite concerns raised during the debate, the Bill was moved unopposed to have been read a second time and it is hoped that, should any amendments be tabled, it will not be held up at committee stage.


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