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10 am

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

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Mr. Forth: I am beginning to suspect that the problem that we now face, which is fundamental to the purpose of the Bill as I understand it, is that the legislation seems to have arisen from the obsession with complaining and complaints. If we are not careful, if a Bill such as this were allowed to pass unamended, it would be a vehicle for a large volume of complaints based on the loose definition that the Bill offers, which does not sound anything like a hedge to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), to me or to many other people. Does my hon. Friend share my worry that the number of complaints that could arise as a result of the loose drafting of this part of the Bill could be substantial?

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.

So the essence of amendment No. 59 is, I hope, apparent. I can pray in aid "The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening" and legal cases in relation to the definition of a hedge.

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:

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The Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1963 contains a reference to premises adjacent to a quarry. It was decided that a processing site to which china clay was piped three or four miles from the place where it was extracted was not adjacent. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull will accept that it is better to use the expression "adjoining" than the imprecise word "adjacent". The word "adjoining" is a legally recognised term that has a specific meaning. It is included in section 10(3)(b) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, and is held to mean

The Housing Act 1957 defines adjoining land as

The issue of adjoining occupiers is also dealt with in the Rent Act 1977. So the expression "adjoining" is very well known and established in legal definitions.

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.

Mr. Pound: A PPS at last.

Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: I never had a PPS, so this is an historic day.

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

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Those amendments should find favour with the promoter because, surely, the Bill should attack the mischief that is popularly perceived as the real problem.

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.

On page 781 of volume I of "The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening", the leyland cypress is defined as

It states:

115 ft, in ordinary language--

That tree is the problem. It is

I am not the only one who says that cupressus is the problem; that was what the Government found when they consulted on the subject.

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