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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will it now mean that injecting cannabis is a class C situation? I believe that there should be no compromise with dirty needles and the risk of HIV and hepatitis.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, as I said, cannabinolit is late at night; having sat on this Bench for a long time, I cannot even say the wordcannabis oil, if I may use a different form of the word, is included in the reclassification of class C drugs. All forms of cannabis will now fall within the class C classification.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, the hour is late and so I shall be very brief. I am extremely grateful to Members from all sides of the House who have spoken in support of my amendment. I am sorry that my noble friend Lady Carnegy and the noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, thought that I was being lily-livered. Whether she supported me or not, it was a privilege to listen to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids. Due to the sincerity with which she spoke, whether she was for or against me, I would have been proud to hear that speech. She spoke sincerely about petty crime, family break-up and mental illness and made a terrific speech.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment. Those who were less supportive included, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. However, when they began to speak, I found that much of what they said was in tune with my thinkingthat is, the noble Baroness referred to the muddle over the class C classification and whether we
However, the Minister rounded off her remarks by saying that the Government have been on a tortuous journey. You can say that again! They are trying to be all things to all men. The order sends a mixed message leading to a muddle. It may not seem to be a muddle from a desk in Whitehall, but the noble Baroness has only to listen to the messages from around the House tonight to know that the issue is a muddle out there in the country where it really matters.
Mine is not a fatal amendment, as it is termed, but it will send a clear signal to the Government that your Lordships are concerned about the dangers of the policy that the Government are following. Following on from the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, I do not believe that the noble Baroness will withdraw the order and think againshe shakes her head as I look at her. Therefore, I intend to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion, as amended, agreed to accordingly.
The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I expected a certain exodus at this stage. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, if she has been caused anxiety by my amendment. There is undoubtedly a problem of horses suffering and dying after eating ragwort, but the scale of the problem is very unclear.
At Second Reading, evidence to support the contention was produced in a very muddled and inadequate way. As reported in Hansard at cols. 123940, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, underlined the need for proper scientific evidence to support legislation. That need was strongly affirmed by the Wildlife and Countryside Link, a consortium of nature conservancy bodies of great expertise. We do not believe that that evidence has been brought forward.
Supporters of the Bill have made some sweeping assertions, unsubstantiated and unreconciled, over the alleged spread of ragwort and the number of horse deaths. There is no mention of mortality trends. One would have expected comparative figures for several years to establish an increasing risk of ragwort poisoning, if that is indeed the case. Uncertainty about the distance that seed can travelfrom several miles to 14 metres depending on whom we believeand about the distribution of ragwort itself, conflicts with the evidence of the New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora published as recently as last year.
A number of questions were raised and not effectively answered at Second Reading. There is a confusing and not very convincing picture of a problem, although clearly there is a problem. There is a real danger of overlooking the importance and the value of ragwort as a significant plant in the food chain, supporting very large numbers of insects including the beautiful and none too common cinnabar moth, with its wonderful orange and black football sock caterpillars that are so distinctive and characteristic. The answer to the problem lies in good pasture management and a careful scrutiny of forage by suppliers and by horse owners who buy it in, because ragwort in forages is even more poisonous than ragwort on the ground. Suppliers of forage should guarantee that their product is ragwort free. It is certainly incumbent on those who sell forage to horse owners to take this provision very seriously indeed.
Prevention of the problem is better than any kind of possible cure. There are three possible curesthrough culture, chemicals or biological control. Of those, biological control is much the most desirable from the ecological point of view. In any case, the objective must be, as my amendment tries to make clear, to reduce the risk of horses dying from eating ragwort, rather than to reduce substantially the amount of ragwort, which plays such an important part in sustaining biodiversity. We should be highly selective in any method of control, concentrating on pasture, preferably by alternating grazing by horses with grazing by sheep. The National Trust, which cares a great deal about good pasture management and encourages its tenant farmers to practise it, has not been aware of a ragwort problem.
An important point needs to be made about amenity land and highway and railway verges, because those are places where ragwort is frequently found and is alleged to be increasing in quantity. There is a real risk of overkill control by spraying with an indiscriminate broad-leaved herbicide, which could seriously damage and diminish the range of broad-leaved plants, not only ragwort. Unfortunately, there is no specific herbicide which tackles just ragwort.
My fear is that the Bill, as it stands and simple as it is, conceivably might encourage cowboy sprayers to consider that they have carte blanche to go out and kill ragwort, and a great deal of other valuable material at the same time. It is in those placesthat is, amenity land, roadside and railway verges, cuttings, and so
I also must admit that the revised code of practice has many virtues; not least, its emphasis on the need to prevent the problem rather than to treat and control it and its acknowledgement of the very great care that is needed for sites of special scientific interest, in particular. There is also the need to consult widely, especially with English Nature, before any control of ragwort is attempted on such sites, although, of course, such sitesSSSIsmake up a very small proportion of the total landscape that we are considering.
I accept that the Bill may be the lesser evil in the sense that it is a small step in the direction of meeting a problem that exists for horse owners but also, particularly in the code of practice, recognises the ecological importance of ragwort and the nature conservancy need to be very careful in any control measures that are undertaken.
I probably should say that the British Horse Society, which has made the running in producing the Bill, may not be entirely aware of the considerable importance of ragwort in terms of nature conservancy and biodiversity. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says in response. Meanwhile, I beg to move.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I believe that I am right in thinking that the right reverend Prelate will be retiring in a few weeks' time. If I am right, perhaps I may take this opportunity to wish him a very long, happy and ragwort-free retirement.
Last weekend, I stayed in a friend's house near Newmarket. She has about 15 horses, mostly eventers. She is assiduous in getting rid of any ragwort growing on her land. Yet, every year, back it comes. Of course, there is ragwort growing on neighbouring land on set aside, and on the sides of roads. In due course, when seeds land on my friend's land, the merry-go-round will start again.
I am really conscious of an increase of ragwort on the sides of roads. I would submit to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that gypsy horses and ponies do graze in such places. I have read the eloquent speech made by my noble friend Lord Brooke at Second Reading very carefully. Of course, I see his point of view and I understand some
Curiously, hardly any mention was made at Second Reading about the very real danger to humans who, unless they wear gloves when touching ragwort, can develop liver sickness resulting in death. I hope that my noble friend Lord Rotherwick's pal by the name of Cookie wore gloves and is in the pink of good health at present.
I could not help but think that perhaps there is a parallel between ragwort and stinging nettles. Both are beloved by butterflies, but while a few are tolerated, who would want stinging nettles all over their garden? It may be that a code of practice will be able to prevent the spread of ragwort while at the same time recognising that this beastly plant, to some degree, is here to stay.
I have to say that, with the best will in the world, I believe it is impossible to get rid of ragwort. I applaud the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on bringing forward this timely Bill. Clause 1 is reasonable and realistic, and I hope that the Bill is passed without alteration. If any changes are made, the measure will fall because there is no time left to change it.
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