HL Deb 18 December 2002 vol 642 cc646-8

2.48 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies asked Her Majesty's Government:

What they are doing to stop the spread of Japanese knotweed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 provides measures for prohibiting spread of this invasive species. Under Section 14 it is an offence to plant or otherwise cause Japanese knotweed to grow in the wild.

Waste containing Japanese knotweed is controlled under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Environment Agency produces detailed guidance for landowners and managers on how to control this species.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is it correct that much research is devoted to the problems caused by Japanese knotweed? When I first asked a question on the matter in 1989 nothing much was going on. Therefore, I am grateful for the noble Lord's reply. Have any successful prosecutions been brought under the 1981 Act?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there is no central record of all the prosecutions that take place, but I suspect that there are very few. I am aware of a prosecution earlier this year, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which related to fly-tipping the waste of Japanese knotweed.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that this particular pernicious weed, and a number of other foreign species, continue to spread? Although the action taken under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is entirely laudable, a further approach would be desirable to attack the sites where they flourish.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, certainly the species is aggressive and difficult to shift and so requires some effective measures to remove it from places such as river banks, where it creates danger by causing flood problems, and other amenities and land. For that reason, the Government are undertaking a fundamental review of policy on that and other invasive non-native species, which is due to report within the next couple of months.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, I understand that this appalling weed, as many of your Lordships may know, is perhaps the largest female clone on the globe. Whether that has any impact on what should be done about it, I do not know. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, is looking at me angrily, so I shall move on quickly. Given that the weed is present in perhaps over half the country, is there a good case for introducing biological controls against it, such as appropriate insects and fungi? The invasive nature of the weed is due to the lack of such predators in its environment.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I bow to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on the subject of female clones. It is certainly true that new methods of control need to be identified. Among the possibilities is that of biological control. It is a strong weed and has such a firm hold because, although it is a non-native species, it has been here since the early 19th century and has established itself. Therefore, one would need a pretty strong biological control system, which might well have side effects. All those points are being considered.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, what is the botanical name of Japanese knotweed?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am extremely glad that noble Lady asks that question. I am sure that I have the name somewhere. No, on second thoughts, I shall have to write to her.

Lord Geddes

My Lords, I do not know whether I can help the Minister. Are we talking about the plant that is known in the United States as Japanese kudzu? This is a serious question because, if it is the same plant, I wonder whether the Minister is aware of the devastating effects that kudzu has had on trees and forests in the southern United States.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it would appear that I have neither the Latin nor the Japanese name for the plant. There have been problems in the United States with the plant that we are discussing, although I am not sure whether it is the same plant as the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, referred. Japanese knotweed has had devastating effects on parts of other countries besides our own. We have had some success in controlling it in particular areas. As the Environment Agency has said, it has threatened flood defences. There is a scheme in Cornwall that takes a focused approach to eradicate the weed, but it is very resource intensive, so we need to find other ways.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, it is called Fallopia Japonica.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I had the Japonica bit, but the other bit failed me.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, far be it from me to minimise the threat from Japanese knotweed, but is it not a fact that the pink-flowered Himalayan balsam is just as threatening? Indeed, it is more so because it is attractive, invasive and difficult to eradicate because of its proximity to watercourses.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is right that this is another invasive species to which we must pay attention. Of course, it does not have such a strong hold as Japanese knotweed, which was also brought over primarily for ornamental purposes. Some people, at least, find Japanese knotweed attractive. Balsam is among the plants that we shall need to consider under any changed strategy.

Baroness Strange

My Lords—

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Cross Bench!

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in Streatham, my son is not allowed to put oat his garden waste in plastic bags because he has an infestation of Japanese knotweed in his garden, so it has to be burned in situ?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I was not particularly aware of Lambeth Council's approach to the problem, but it is true that one is not supposed to put Japanese knotweed in normal garden waste. The prosecution to which I referred earlier related to that matter.