HL Deb 11 September 2003 vol 652 cc146-8WA
Lord Willoughby de Broke

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that local authorities are meeting their statutory obligation to control ragwort; and what action they will take if authorities do not meet these obligations. [HL4266]

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

Primary responsibility for controlling the spread of ragwort lies with the occupier of the land. A local authority has clear responsibility as an occupier if the authority owns the land or has responsibility for it. Local authorities also have a positive role to play in the control of ragwort, for example, by active weed control alongside rural roads and upon any other land for which they may be responsible. They may also play a part in publicising the threat that the weed poses to livestock and in particular to horses.

Common ragwort is one of five injurious weeds specified in the Weeds Act 1959. The Act permits the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to serve notice on any occupier of land to take action to prevent injurious weeds from spreading. An occupier who unreasonably fails to comply with the notice will be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine on conviction.

The Ragwort Control Bill, which will shortly be presented to the House, provides for a code of practice to strengthen enforcement of the Act by making it clear what should be done to clear ragwort when that is necessary. The code will also be admissible in evidence in enforcement proceedings under the Weeds Act.

Defra has also revised its procedure for dealing with complaints about ragwort in order to co-operate effectively with complainants and to focus available resources for enforcement in a more targeted way.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What studies have been carried out on the toxicity of honey produced in areas of heavy ragwort infestation. [HL4267]

Lord Whitty

A survey of UK honey produced by bees with access to ragwort found that the naturally occurring toxins known as pyrolizzidine alkaloids were only present at either undetectable or very low levels of the sort that the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment had advised were not a cause for concern.