HC Deb 18 June 2002 vol 387 cc218-9W
John Mann

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has to make the irresponsible spread of ragwort a prosecutable offence; and if she will make a statement. [60763]

Mr. Morley

Using powers contained in the Weeds Act 1959, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs can take statutory action to control the spread of five injurious weeds, including common ragwort.

Under the Act, the Secretary of State can serve an enforcement notice on an occupier of land on which any of the five injurious weeds are growing requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the weeds from spreading. The Act also permits officials to enter land to inspect whether an enforcement notice has been complied with. If an occupier has unreasonably failed to comply with the notice, he or she shall be guilty of an offence and, on conviction, is liable to a fine. The Act also contains additional powers, which enable the Secretary of State to take action to arrange for the weeds to be cleared and recover the cost of doing so from the occupier, if necessary through the courts. If the occupier of the land cannot be traced and he or she is not the owner of the land, the costs may be recovered from the owner, or failing that, a charge in respect of the costs may be placed on the land by order of the courts.

In practice, it is rarely necessary to invoke the formal powers of the Weeds Act. DEFRA investigates each complaint about injurious weeds on its merits, but gives priority to complaints where there is a threat to farmland, farming activities and on farm diversified equine activities. Once DEFRA officials have made the occupier of land aware of the presence of injurious weeds, the matter can usually be resolved satisfactorily through co-operation and advice, without taking statutory action.