HL Deb 13 October 1909 vol 3 cc1192-200

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Denman.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

1.—(1) The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland (in this Act referred to as "the Department") may, with the consent of the council of any county, make an. order declaring that throughout the county alt plants of any species to which this section applies-are noxious weeds for the purposes of this Part of this Act.

(2) The species of plants to which this section applies are ragwort, charlock, coltsfoot, thistle, and dock, and the order may include all or any of those species.

(3) The consent of the county council shall be signified by a resolution passed at a meeting of the council, and a copy of the resolution under the seal of the council shall be accepted as sufficient evidence of such consent.

(4) The Department, with the consent of the county council, or the county council, may revoke or alter any order made under this section.

LORD DENMAN moved to omit from subsection (4) the words "with the consent of the county council, or the county council, may," and to insert the words "may, and at the request of the county council, shall." He explained that his Amendment would slightly limit the power of the county council with regard to the Bill. Subsection (4) of the clause as it stood authorised the county council themselves to revoke or alter any order made under the section, but on consideration it was thought better that they should not possess that particular power, and his Amendment carried out that intention.

Amendment moved— In page 1, line 19, to leave out from 'Department' to 'revoke' in line 20, and to insert' may, and at the request of the county council, shall.'"—(Lord Denman.)

On question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2:

2.—(1) Where the Department are satisfied that there are noxious weeds growing upon any land, they may serve upon the occupier of the land a notice in writing requiring him to cut down or destroy those weeds in the manner and within the time specified in the notice.

2. If any occupier upon whom a notice is served under this section fails to carry out the requirements of the notice within the time therein specified, he shall be guilty of an offence under this Act, and shall be liable on summary conviction to a penalty not exceeding, for the first offence, five pounds, and for the second or any subsequent offence, ten pounds.,

*LORD CLONCURRY moved the insertion of the following new subsection:—"Any occupier who causes the weeds upon his land to be cut down or destroyed not less than once every year shall not be liable to a penalty under this section." He said that the Amendment was not put down an any spirit of hostility to the Bill. Part II, which dealt with agricultural seeds, met with their universal support, and Part I could be made both useful and necessary if guarded by the insertion of some reasonable safeguards. Their Lordships were well aware that thistles, for example, would make a second growth in August or September although they had been cut down at the proper season of the year, but that second growth was neither dangerous nor noxious with regard to adjoining land, and he was of opinion that men who had shown their bona fides and their desire to carry out the spirit of the Bill should not be liable to prosecution because of a second growth in cases where they had already cut down their weeds in the same year. Their Lordships were also aware that in certain parts of Ireland itinerant inspectors and reporters could gain cheap notoriety by instigating and recommending prosecutions against men engaged in great grazing industries on a large scale, and he thought where men had shown their bona fides and had once cut down their weeds they should not be laid open to being brought before petty sessions perhaps once a month to gratify some private spite of their neighbours.

Amendment moved— In page 2, line 9, after 'pounds' to insert the following new subsection— '( ) Any occupier who causes the weeds upon his land to be cut down or destroyed not less than once in every year shall not be liable to a penalty under this section.'"—(Lord Cloncurry.)


Whether the Amendment moved by my noble friend is the most appropriate one that can be devised I will not undertake to say, but it does seem to me that he is right in calling attention to this clause and in suggesting that there should be some safeguards as to the manner in which it might be applied. The clause is a very remarkable and extraordinary one, and I do not know whether the House has given attention to it. May I point out what will happen under this clause? The first step is for the Department of Agriculture, with the consent of the county council, to declare that a certain plant or plants is or are noxious weeds. Suppose the Department declares the first weed mentioned in the list, which is ragwort, to be a noxious weed. The next thing that happens is for the inspectors of the Department to start on an official tour in search of ragwort. From my slight knowledge of the country I will undertake to say that their quest will be a very successful one, and that they will find that particular botanical specimen almost universally luxuriant. The inspector, being armed with compulsory powers, may enter upon the land everywhere. There are possibly some places where he might not be received with open arms, but I pass that by. Then the inspector having reported that he has discovered an abundance of ragwort, the Department serves notices upon all the farmers who have been growing it, and I can imagine a shower of notices of the most portentous dimensions resulting all over the country. The recipients of these notices will thereupon have to commence the task of extermination and will have to neglect all other branches of industry, agricultural and political, and concentrate themselves for the time upon the extinction of ragwort. Supposing, which is far from unlikely, that these poor people find a good deal of difficulty in effectually getting rid of this particular herb, they thereupon, all of them, become liable to be hauled before the magistrates and to be fined, on a summary conviction, not more than £5 for the first offence and not more than £10 for a subsequent one. My Lords, it is to my mind absolutely inconceivable that this machinery should be applied indiscriminately and generally all over the country, and I think there will be a very great risk, as my noble friend has pointed out, of its being applied against individuals, and as often as not for a particular purpose. In my opinion, therefore, it is most necessary that somewhere in the Bill there should be words protecting those who have at any rate made a reasonable effort to get rid of these excrescences upon their fields against vexatious proceedings under the Bill. As the clause at present stands, it seems to me to lend itself to vexatious proceedings instigated from personal motives, and I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will consider the suggestion of my noble friend.

LORD DENMAN said he was glad to hear that the noble Lord had moved his Amend meat in no spirit of hostility to the Bill; but he did not know whether the noble Lord quite realised what effect it would have on Part I of the Bill. The noble Lord seemed to fear that certain persons would be liable to prosecution by inspectors and other people for more or less political or other motives. He would like to point out to the noble Lord that the inspectors under the Department of Agriculture in Ireland would have to deal with the administration of that part of the Bill, and so far as he was aware the Department of Agriculture in Ireland had not hitherto been accused of sending inspectors down to take vexatious proceedings against individuals for really unworthy purposes. He did not think the noble Marquess would himself support that contention for a moment. He thought that disposed of any danger of vexatious proceedings under the Bill. But further he would point out that any fines which might be imposed would go to the Department of Agriculture, so that local authorities would be under no temptation on that account to undertake proceedings against individuals. In order to secure a conviction under the Bill it would first of all be necessary to prove that noxious weeds were growing upon the land occupied by the person against whom the proceedings were taken, and, secondly, that although the Department had served a notice upon him calling upon him to cut down the weeds he had failed to do so. If the Amendment of the noble Lord was accepted it would have this effect, that it would be a good defence for a person against whom proceedings were instituted to say he had been in the habit of having his weeds cut down each year, and then he would not be liable to a penalty at all. But the trouble would be there just the same. The cutting down of weeds once a year would not prevent weeds being disseminated and causing injury to other lands in the vicinity. Of course, the fact that there had been attempts made to meet the provisions of the Bill would no doubt tend to mitigate the penalty imposed, but the Amendment as it stood would enable any unscrupulous person to make out a very plausible case and so evade the Bill altogether. So far as he understood, the small holders had raised no objection whatever to the Bill. He did, therefore, hope that noble Lords from Ireland, who might be taken perhaps to represent the larger owners or occupiers of land, would not insist upon such a very damaging Amendment as the particular Amendment moved by Lord Cloncurry. If the noble Lord's Amendment was accepted it would almost altogether destroy Part I of the Bill, and it would then become a question for the Department of Agriculture in Ireland to consider whether it was worth while proceeding further with the measure. A Bill of the kind necessarily must contain some rather drastic provisions, and it could only be by general agreement that such a measure could pass into law, but he would like to remind the noble Lord that it had a most flattering reception from the House on Second Reading, and that noble Lords connected with Scotland and England found fault with the Government because it only applied to Ireland. He did not think he would be contradicted when he said that that was a most unusual thing to happen in the case of a Bill emanating from the Department which he had the honour of representing in their Lordships' House. Of course, they would be very glad to consider any limitations which the noble Marquess desired to place on the operations of the Bill, but he hoped the noble Lord would not press his Amendment, because it was one which they could not possibly accept.


I would like to explain that in anything I said I was very far indeed from casting any imputation upon the Department of Agriculture, or in suggesting that there would be the slightest tendency on their part to exhibit a partisan spirit in these matters. I have the greatest respect for the Department, but it is not the Department with which we shall have to deal. We have to deal in this case with local travelling inspectors, many of them, I believe, of a comparatively humble class, who might very easily be set in motion by interested persons against particular individuals.

VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN said that what appeared to him to be a good point in the Bill was the enactment that a penalty should be imposed upon any person, who, greatly to the injury of his neighbour, insisted on growing weeds rather than the crops which his land ought to bear, and so far he would be very glad to see such an enactment applicable in this country. He confessed he could not vote for the Amendment which his noble friend had just moved because it would be quite impossible, if weeds were to be thoroughly eradicated, to allow a person to escape a penalty by the mere fact that he had cut his weeds down early in the season, for the reason that some of those weeds might have seeded and there might be a fine second crop of weeds before the season was over. He quite agreed, therefore, with the noble Lord opposite that the Amendment would knock the bottom out of the Bill. But was it necessary to enforce the Act by inspectors from the Department of Agriculture? It would be quite impossible for those inspectors to make themselves acquainted with all the weeds in Ireland, and would it not be sufficient to enact a penalty and let offenders be prosecuted in the ordinary way by any one who was aggrieved?


If the risks which the noble Marquess fears have any foundation, I should have thought that to place an unfortunate farmer at the mercy of a common informer might be worse than to place him at the mercy of an inspector of the Board of Agriculture. Although I see what was in the mind of the noble Viscount who has just sat down, that it does seem difficult for inspectors to keep an eye on the growth of weeds all over Ireland, I certainly should have thought that the inspectors of the Board of Agriculture were not liable to be subjected to the particular kind of pressure of which, the noble Marquess seems to be afraid. They are not, I should have supposed, the sort of men who would be subject to local prejudices and local influences, even although they may be of a comparatively humble class, and on the whole I think it, will be safest to adhere to the plan proposed in the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON) said that he had been asked how it was that England and Scotland had not been included in the Bill. He would tell their Lordships. He had obtained as much information as possible in the interim, and he did not find that much enthusiasm existed in favour of the Bill in its present form. Most of those to whom he had spoken on the subject thought that the measure was a little drastic, so perhaps the best thing would be to wait and see how it worked in Ireland before making any attempt to extend the area of its application.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 8 agreed to.

Clause 9:

9. In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires— The expression "noxious weed" means any plant declared by an order of the Department under this Act to be a noxious weed in any county to which the order applies; The expression "agricultural seeds", means the seeds of grass, clover, flax, cereals, turnips; rape, mangel, carrots, cabbage, or parsnips; The expression "occupier" shall be deemed to include—

  1. (a) in the case of any public road, the county or district council by whom the road is main tamped;
  2. (b) in the case of any land the occupier of which (being an individual) is absent from Ireland, any agent or other person entrusted with the management of the land on his behalf.

LORD CLONCURRY said that Clause 9 appeared to him to completely override Clause 1, which contained the definition of noxious weeds. Clause 9 now threw it open to the Department to publish any additional list of weeds that they chose without any restraint and in defiance of subsection (2) of Clause 1.

LORD DENMAN did not think, speaking off-hand, that that was so, but he would inquire into the point and have an answer for the noble Lord when the next stage of the Bill was reached.

THE EARL OF MAYO said there was no doubt that the weeds in Ireland were perfectly outrageous, and that there were a number of noxious weeds in addition to those mentioned in the Bill. As he believed their Lordships' House trusted the Department of Agriculture, which had great experience in the matter, he thought they ought to have power to declare other plants to be noxious weeds in certain localities.

*LORD DUNBOYNE agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Cloncurry, that the two sections were inconsistent. If they were not he really did not know what inconsistency meant. He could only say it was an example of the manner in which Irish Bills were usually drawn.


I do not think that there is really any difficulty on the point. It is quite true that a certain list of weeds is set out in Clause 1, and that power is given to the Department in Clause 9 to declare that other plants are noxious. But that is according to precedent. In the Poisons Act, for instance, you will find a schedule of poisons at the end of the Act, and you will also find a clause empowering, by an Order in Council, other substances to be added to that schedule. That, I think, supplies an analogy, although the procedure is not the same. As the noble Earl, Lord Mayo, said very truly, the question really is whether you are prepared to say that the Agricultural Department in Ireland will exercise a wise discretion in this matter and will not insert in the schedule of weeds plants which are not weeds but something else. I confess I do not quite understand what it is that the noble Lord, Lord Cloncurry, is afraid of. Is he afraid that plants which are of a serviceable character should be inserted in the weed schedule by the Department? I should have thought that very unlikely to happen. We have heard tobacco described as a noxious weed, but great things are hoped for tobacco-growing in Ireland, and it certainly is not likely to be so described by the Board of Agriculture. I really do not see any objection to the form of the Bill as it stands.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

Standing Committee negatived: The Report of Amendment to be received on Wednesday next, and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 198.)