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Mr. Paterson: Give the changing role of the RSCs, does the Minister see a role for officers who are travelling from regional offices to farms to be more active when they see ragwort, by reporting back and getting something done about it?

Mr. Morley: That is a fairly reasonable point to make. There is nothing wrong when people from our various agencies, especially the Farming and Rural Conservation Agency, which will be merged into mainstream MAFF as part of the changes, look out for such infestation and draw it to the attention of landowners.

Generally speaking, when complaints are raised with MAFF and when we raise them with the landowner concerned, action is taken. It is in only a few cases that we may be forced to use the powers that we have under the Act. Although there are changes taking place within the regional service centres to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, there will continue to be a regional presence of MAFF in all parts of the country. There will still be points of contact with the Ministry so that issues of this sort can be taken up.

We recognise that the hon. Gentleman has raised an important matter, and we do not take it lightly. We are doing what we can in relation to our powers within the area of our responsibility. However, it must be understood that MAFF is not responsible, for example, for people's gardens or their allotments. Landowners have a responsibility to control weeds. Our priority is agricultural-based businesses.

We recognise that equine activities are evolving, and we are keen to promote and support them. We will give further consideration to how we can use our powers to protect the industry, especially where a commercial element is involved.

Question put and agreed to.



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