HL Deb 30 September 1909 vol 3 cc591-6


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I think the case for this Bill is generally admitted, and I cannot help feeling that all those who hope and look for an improvement in Irish agriculture will welcome the objects for which the Bill is framed. The first part of the Bill deals with the question of noxious weeds, and the object is to check as far as may be the growth of these weeds, and, naturally, as a result of this, to protect those industrious and careful farmers who do their utmost to keep their lands in a clean condition, and who are bound to suffer from the thistle-down and other seeds which are blown from the lands of farmers who are not so careful in dealing with weeds. It is quite unnecessary for me, especially in your Lordships' House, to talk of the evils which accrue to any holding where weeds of the description mentioned in the Bill are allowed to grow in any quantity, or to point out the injury done to those who have the misfortune to have properties or holdings next to those who keep their land in the condition to which I have just referred. Under Part I of the Bill the Department of Agriculture seek for powers, with the county councils's consent, when satisfied that such a state of things exists as I have already alluded to, to compel the occupier to cut down or destroy the weeds in question. If the notices of the Department are not complied with, there is a penalty attached—namely, £5 for the first offence, and £10 for the second or any subsequent offence. I do not think I need go into the question of precedents for a measure of this sort, but there has been legislation in the Isle of Man, Canada, South Africa, Australia, the United States and, in Germany. Part II of the Bill deals with the question of seeds. As your Lordships are aware, the Department in 1901 introduced a seed testing station, and the value of this station has been fully shown by the advantage that has been taken of it by numerous farmers. The Department have found, as a result of the tests that they have been asked to make, that there is a very large amount of bad, seed sold to the small farmers more especially in their dealings with small shopkeepers. As your Lordships are aware the farmers in Ireland are protected, to some extent with regard to their manure and feeding stuffs by the Fertilisers and Food Stuffs Act of 1906, and your Lordships will fully realise that the question of the condition of the seeds that are employed is at least as of great importance as that of the manures and feeding stuffs. Under this Bill the power that the Department of Agriculture seek to take is merely that of examining samples of the seeds that are for sale, and they hope that by the knowledge that such examinations may take place, and also by the powers they seek for bringing this matter before the public where they think necessary, they may make some steps towards remedying the existing state of things. As your Lordship will see, the general effect of this Bill will be to make the work of the Department more effective, and, as I think, to supplement much of the good work that has already been done. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord O'Hagan.)


My Lords, before this Bill is read a second time, I rise to say that there are many of us who cannot regard it as being either a very small matter or non-contentious. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord who has charge of the Bill either to postpone the Second Reading until after the House has dealt with the important Scottish Bill on the Paper, or else to accept from us briefly notice that we cannot consent to passing this Bill into law exactly in its present state. There are some most important safeguards that we desire to see inserted, and the noble Lord in his speech has very much indicated the lines on which we wish to proceed. He has mentioned a case where a man has taken pains to keep his lands clean and has to suffer for the neglect of his neighbour who will not cut his weeds. But what we all desire to secure is that the farmer who does honestly cut or destroy his weeds within the meaning of the provisions of this Bill shall not be liable to vexatious prosecutions which he will be open to if this Bill passes in its present form. I would, therefore, ask the noble Lord to say whether he will either postpone the Second Reading or accept my few words as a notice that we must deal with this matter seriously in Committee.


Knowing something about the Scottish Bill which is to come on in Committee, I do not think there is any reason for postponing the Irish Bill on that account. I do not think the Scottish Bill will take a very long time, and it would be a pity that the Irish Bill should be postponed.


After what has fallen from my noble friend I may say that those of us who take an interest in national emblems are surprised that Scotland should not have the benefit of this Bill, which deals mainly with the subject of thistles. There is another allusion I should like to make with regard to Scotland. Many of your Lordships have passed through the glens and straths of that country, and probably have seen the large grazing farms. Surely in those places there must be ragworts and thistles growing. The same occurs in Ireland. But under this Bill every holder of a grazing farm would be liable to have one of these inspectors popping down upon him and bringing him before the court for allowing thistles to grow upon his land. I say that there should be some provision to prevent these itinerant inspectors from starting prosecutions, or persecutions as they may well be, against the holders of grazing farms. Many of these graziers have a fear of this, and some of them have written asking me to bring this matter before the House, because they fear the Bill may be used as an engine of persecution against them, as they have been used to treatment of the same sort before. All I desire is to alter the Bill so that the man who honestly cuts down or destroys his weeds within the meaning of the Act shall not be liable to these vexatious prosecutions.


My Lords, I have no right to say anything on the application of this Bill to Ireland, and I have no doubt the suggestion of the noble Lord who has just spoken has a great deal to be said in its favour. But I rise to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture for England why it should not be possible to apply something of this kind to England? We have weeds in England which do harm to neighbouring farms, and why the first and second clauses of this Bill so far as they enable the Department to frame a list of noxious weeds and impose a penalty on an occupier if these weeds are not properly kept cut should not also be enacted for England I do not understand. May I ask the noble Earl whether he can hold out any hope that, at any rate so far as this Bill can be made applicable to England, he will favourably consider Amendments in Committee? I know one chamber of agriculture in my own county who would desire this to be done.


My Lords, it is somewhat pleasant to be told at last that Ireland is ahead of England as regards legislation, and that that legislation seems to be satisfactory to most of the Members of your Lordships' House. I will not fail to lay to heart the words of advice I have received, and I will make at once prompt inquiries as to whether there is any reason why this Bill should not be applied to England. Speaking for myself alone, I hope that I shall be able to follow the advice given from the other side, and that we may be able to include England and Scotland as well.


My Lords, it has been my fortune or misfortune to sit upon a great many Committees. I recollect some years ago I was Chairman of a Committee which inquired into and reported upon this very subject with regard to England—I am not sure of the date, but it must be about ten years ago. I have often seen comments that nothing was ever done by the Board of Agriculture—I admit I was myself to blame to some extent, because for a time I held the honourable position now occupied by the noble Earl opposite—that we never did anything to carry out the Report of that Committee. Now when His Majesty's Government introduce a Bill dealing with this subject in this House it does seem to me a little strange that they should not have endeavoured when occasion arose to give effect to the recommendations of that Committee. I am bound to say I do not carry in my mind exactly what recommendations we made, but we certainly recommended that a Government testing station should be erected, and that all seeds should be brought there and tested either free or at a very low charge. That seems to be the purport of Part II of this Bill. I am not sure that I agree with my noble friend Lord Cloncurry that we should all like to see Section 2 applied to England, so that any one might serve a notice upon us requiring us to cut down and destroy those botanical growths which the Board of Agriculture might choose to describe as weeds; but I think, as far as the power of having seeds tested by a farmer is concerned, that is an advantage which ought not to be confined to Irish agriculturists alone. I hope between this and the Committee stage, when the noble Earl is considering the matter, he will at least see whether the same facilities for testing seeds cannot be extended to the English farmer in the same way that this Bill proposes to extend them to the Irish farmer.


My Lords, as coming from the west of Ireland I wish to state that while I agree with those who say that this Bill should not be made an engine of persecution to fall upon the unfortunate grazier, who has enemies enough already, I do submit that it is a measure which is urgently required. Many people who do their best to cut their weeds and thistles suffer from the fact that their neighbours do not do so. I suffer myself a great deal from it. I spend a large sum of money every year on cutting thistles, and yet find my fields sown over with thistles blown from the lands outside. This Bill will be exceedingly useful, care being taken that it should be used legitimately and not for the purpose of oppression. I hope if the Bill passes that the inspectors of the Department will also turn their attention to the public roads, for though the road contractors are bound by law to cut weeds and thistles we find that we often have to drive along between a hedge of thistles on each side, and the seeds are sown all round about. The Bill is required, but great care should be taken in its administration.


My Lords, I think it would be a pity not to deal with the Second Reading of the Bill at this juncture, and even if your Lordships were to agree with the points raised by Lord Cloncurry, yet I think they are such as would be more properly considered at the Committee stage. Of course, any words that the noble Lords may suggest to deal with the dangers which they anticipate will receive every attention at the hands of the Irish Department, but as I have slid, I think those are matters that can be dealt with in a more satisfactory manner in Committee. Under these circumstances I still hope that the Bill may be read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.