The Ragwort Control Act, is one of the most peculiar acts of parliament. It does almost nothing. All it does in essence it is explained in the first line of the Act.
The Minister may make a code of practice for the purpose of providing guidance on how to prevent the spread of ragwort (senecio jacobaea L.).
Anyone who knows how government works in the UK will know this power already existed and didn't need an act of parliament (and also the line is based on a falsehood.)
We got this peculiar law because of a fudge. The ironically misnamed John Greenway MP brought in anti-green private members bill sponsored by the British Horse Society (BHS) and the aim was to force the control of ragwort. The government didn't want to do that but there was so much pressure generated by the campaign that they had to do it. It was therefore fudged and a law that did very little was passed.
The BHS had been campaigning against ragwort with well-proven falsehoods for several years. In fact they admitted it in their 2001 newsletter!
To begin with it was difficult to get the media interested. Their first question was always ' how many horses die of ragwort poisoning every year?' The answer of course was we don't know. We couldn't even come up with an owner whose horse had died of ragwort poisonings- The necessary 'case study' that is so vital for any media story.
They then in effect used made up statistics and did a series of statistically bent surveys to establish that ragwort was a problem. These led to a series of commercial ads repeating their claims to be the subject of action by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Coming back to the Ragwort Control Act itself, we can then see that falsehood in the line of that Act was the phrase, "the spread of ragwort."
As part of their campaign the BHS et al had been promoting the nonsensical idea that ragwort was spreading for several years and MPs got the idea that it was increasing like a triffid.
We know about the attitudes of MPs in Parliament because there was an Early Day Motion (EDM) in Parliament. For those not familiar with what an EDM is, it is is a motion, expressed as a single sentence, tabled by Members of Parliament that formally calls for debate, "on an early day". In practice, they are rarely debated in the House and their main purpose is to draw attention to particular subjects of interest.
This was absolutely atrocious. It was factually inaccurate about ragwort poisoning. It was bizarrely wrong about the laws that applied and even the English was bad. You can read my full analysis here Ragwort Early Day Motion.
Just to show the awful start, . It said:.
That this House is concerned that 500 horses died from liver damage due to ragwort poisoning in 2001 and that 1000 deaths are predicted in 2002;
This was complete and total nonsense! There is no evidence at all to support it. Surely someone should have checked that a native wildflower with all the ecological checks on it wouldn't double in a year, which is what this implies.
This is how the falsehood that there was a "spread of ragwort" got applied to the Act.
And where do you think they got those daft figures from?
Well we do know who was going around saying it and regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to see that the name of Professor Derek Knottenbelt is associated with this claim. This is the man who claimed that ragwort was responsible for the decline of the cinnabar moth when ragwort is the moth's main natural food!
Was ragwort spreading? Did we need a Code of Practice enshrined in law to stop that spread? Of course it wasn't spreading! Some years later in 2007 there was a government survey of plants and it showed that during the period all this nonsense was being talked, and a falsehood placed in an Act of Parliament, ragwort had significantly declined.
I am unaware of any other law in the UK that was so badly processed as it got a falsehood written directly into the text!
We really need better critical thinking from our law makers.