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Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Like many hon. Members, I find myself in an unusual position this morning because the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) represents sweet moderation and the via media between the figures two and six. Does the hon. Gentleman accept from me that two of the trees that we are dealing with could be 6 ft or 12 ft wide? They grow not only high but wide. A hedge could reasonably be described as a barrier of vegetation. Two such trees could form precisely that: they are a barrier. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that?
Mr. Chope: I do not, because we need to incorporate in our legislation terminology that accords with common parlance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not had the chance to look at the Royal Horticultural Society's "The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening". On page 515 of volume 2, hedges and hedging are defined. I will not trouble the House with the four or five columns of close print that follow from the definition, but hedges and hedging are defined as
Mr. Chope: My right hon. Friend is right. That is my big concern. People have not woken up to the implications of the Bill, and when they do, they may well decide, out of spite or for some other reason, to make a complaint against their neighbour. The consequences in terms of administration, worry and all the rest of it would be considerable.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) is a distinguished lawyer. He will be aware of the statutory definition in the Highways Act 1959. That legislation refers to "hedge, tree or shrub." That definition implies that there is a difference between the three, yet the definition in the Bill will effectively merge them. That is absurd.
Mr. Pound: I am not sure whether this is a point of order or an intervention, but I deny absolutely that I have ever been employed as a lawyer. I always plied an honest trade before I came to the House, and I would never claim any association with the law except occasionally from the perspective of the defendant.
Mr. Chope: I apologise unreservedly. I had always associated the hon. Gentleman's wit, articulacy and general ability to hold the attention of the House with the fact that he had a legal training, because those are usually the main characteristics of people who have had a legal training. [Interruption.] That may be a slightly controversial remark, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, who is the promoter of the Bill, will agree with me on that, if not with my other remarks.
Amendment No. 59 would insert the word "adjoining" instead of "adjacent". My authority for making the suggestion is the "Dictionary of Legal Words and Phrases". I am keen that the Bill should be as clear and precise as possible. The dictionary defines "adjacent" as follows:
I am afraid that I cannot understand why the Bill's drafters have chosen instead to use such a vague and discredited expression as "adjacent". We know that "adjacent" is the type of word loved by new Labour because it is open to so many different interpretations as to be effectively meaningless, but we in the House should use precise language so that we produce precise legislation that ordinary people can understand.
Maria Eagle: The hon. Gentleman has very helpfully cited some definitions, but when he defined the word "adjoining", did I hear him use a definition that included the word "adjoining", as that would not assist us quite so much?
Mr. Chope: I am not sure whether I understand what the hon. Lady is seeking to say, but if she likes, I shall ask one of my colleagues to pass behind the Speaker's Chair and give her the extracts from the dictionary, and she will be able to understand my point. I am sure that if she thinks that I have misrepresented the legal position, she will be the first to say so later in the debate. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst for passing that document to the hon. Lady.
Amendment No. 60 represents another of my efforts to try to improve the Bill and make it more precise. Under amendment No. 60, the word "evergreens" would be replaced by the word "conifers". Under amendment No. 62, the word "conifer" would be defined as
Two graceful, mature holm-oaks--50 ft apart, but with their leaves touching--do not form a hedge in my submission. Pittasporum, eucalyptus, holly, ivy, laurel, rhododendron and yew are not the problem trees and shrubs in need of legislation, backed by criminal sanctions. Let us be blunt; the problem is cupressus, especially the cupresso siparius cross, created by crossing cupressus macrocarpa with chamaecyparis neotkatensis to produce cupressocyparis leylandii.