Baroness Masham of Ilton will be leading the BHS-initiated Ragwort Control Bill as it receives its second reading in the House of Lords today (Friday 17 October).
“This Bill will strengthen the Weed Act, by putting in place a code of practice which the government has been working on in conjunction with the British Horse Society,” says the Baroness.
“We’re aiming to make a lot more information about ragwort available to people, as it really is a fiendish nuisance. We want to give more advice on getting rid of ragwort to different public bodies and landowners.
“With all the European Union regulations, it’s easy to become confused about what sprays can be used and where, so we want to make sure people have updates on sprays and their dangers.”
Helen Owens of the BHS adds: “The code of practice sets out a minimum standard which people must adhere to. If, for example, a case came to court in which a horse had died from ragwort poisoning and people had not met the standard, there would be more room to prosecute them with the backing of this Bill.”
The ragwort cause is particularly relevant to the Baroness as she has been involved with horses all her life, despite breaking her back in a point-to-point in 1958. She now owns a Highland Pony Stud in Yorkshire, having been given her first Highland pony by her brother as a wedding present in 1959.
“I have seen ragwort increase over the years,” the Baroness says. “I hope this Bill will bring the quantities down again. It’s dangerous to cattle and sheep too and, though a lot of people know ragwort is poisonous when it’s dead, not everyone realises it is harmful when it’s alive too.
“Another important point is that people need to protect themselves. They should wear rubber gloves and cover their skin when pulling the plant up, and it’s not the easiest thing to pull up either, as the roots are locked in the ground. It’s an all-round menace.”
The Bill was sponsored in the Commons by John Greenway MP, and has all party support. It is expected to return to the Commons almost immediately.
“We’re on a tight schedule so I’m hoping there will be no amendments,” says the Baroness. “We want to get this through before this session of Parliament ends, so it will be law by the beginning of next year.”