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This group of amendments will will the tools. We have shown in the House that we want to resolve the issue once and for all. I am delighted that, finally, after all this effort, we are almost on the last lap, and are approaching the prospect that legislation will be made. I do not propose, unless the House insists, to go through every semi-colon and comma of the Lords amendments, which probably constitute the most scrutinised piece of legislation in many a long year. However, for the sake of the House and people outside, who may include my children but not many others, may I stress that the Bill's key aim is not to slice down leylandii? The whirr of the chainsaws will not be heard on every suburban street corner or even most of the Cotswolds. If enacted, the Bill will apply only where there is a problem. People can still have leylandii arching up to the heavens, but if the trees constitute a problem to their neighbours, they will at last have legal recourse to solve the problem.

The amendments will not mean the end of leylandii, although some of us would be pleased to see the end of that growth. However, where there is a problem, there will be a possible solution. People can still have leylandii and, if they wish, a screen at the end of the garden, but finally there will be a way of dealing with the worst aspects of the problem, such as the soil turning acid from the trees and gardens being in permanent shade. Overall, in the absence of any comments to the contrary, I hope that we accept that the House has taken a problem, addressed concerns, and proposed a resolution.

In conclusion, I pay particular tribute to the officials who have produced at great personal cost, particularly given the time that they spent in my office, which is not the healthiest environment, a terse, exact, precise,

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effective and workable piece of legislation. The provision may appear to be a modest piece of legislation, and may not be one of the great moments in legislative history or one of the high points of the parliamentary record, but it will make an enormous difference for the better for a large number of people. Can we ask more than that, when we come to the House, we do not do harm but good for some people? Tonight, we have the opportunity to bring relief to many who have suffered for too long. [Hon. Members: "Sit down."] I usually hear the cry of "sit down" from my own side, but tonight it has come from the Opposition. I strongly support this group of Lords amendments and again thank the officials, other hon. Members who have tackled this issue and, in particular, the Minister.

Mrs. Brooke: I pay tribute to the many Members who have been involved in bringing this piece of legislation to the point where, we hope, it will be passed. I congratulate in particular the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). I was a bit surprised that, on Report, such a charming and eloquent Member had not gathered enough friends to ensure the smooth progress of his proposals. Indeed, I began to wonder where his friends were. However, the fact that those proposals are now attached to the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill means that he must have gained their support after all, or perhaps he has friends in higher places. It is difficult to match his eloquence, but the Bill has the potential to improve many people's quality of life greatly.

There may be lots of jokes about high hedges, but they are a serious problem for many of our constituents.We must, however, put the problem into perspective; we must not sound anti-hedge, as hedges are an extremely important part of our urban and suburban environment. On Report, it was suggested that the hon. Member for Ealing, North wanted to cut down every hedge in the country, which is obviously nonsense. We are talking about hedges that affect people's quality of life. Conflicts can arise, as some people want privacy, but achieving it may result in the loss of light for others and a detrimental effect on their environment. It is therefore right to have a statutory framework in which to address the conflict, which, I hope, can be resolved through mediation.

Mr. Heath: Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure is a helpful addition to our legislative armoury? However, the greatest benefit will come after the first rash of mediation or enforcement, when people will realise that that there is legislation on the statute book and will have sensible regard for the needs of their neighbours as well as themselves.

Mrs. Brooke: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. If I have any concerns, they are about the enormous amount of work that will have to be undertaken in the first year or two. It will take a number of cases before clear precedents are set, because it is generally true of planning applications that it takes time to look back at other cases. Once we have reached that point, however, it should be much easier to deal with the problem, and people will be much more respectful of their neighbours' needs in the first place. However, it is important to stress that people have the right to privacy, so we must always look at both sides of the argument.

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On Report, we discussed at great length an amendment that would have excluded schools, but that would have had the effect of preventing the worst case in my constituency, involving a private school with a rapidly growing high hedge, from being tackled. The owners contend that it protects neighbouring properties from balls and other intrusions from the school. In fact, it impacts on a large number of people, so it is important that some of the proposed amendments did not get very far.

I share hon. Members' concerns about the resources needed to implement the provisions, particularly in the first few years, and the burden on local authorities. There is a council in my constituency that does not have any rate support grant, so funding should be targeted so that the costs are picked up. However, the majority of people will be prepared to pay a few pence more so that the problem is addressed.

I think of the elderly people whom I have known who have had to live most of their lives in a downstairs room with an electric light on all day long. That is a tragedy when people are coming to the end of their lives and may not be able to go out much. I am delighted that we are dealing with the measure tonight. I give it my wholehearted support, as do my hon. Friends, who did their best to support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Ealing, North.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I think I can claim to be the first in the House to suggest that antisocial behaviour legislation should be used to deal with the nuisance caused by giant hedges. That was during consideration of a previous Bill under a previous Home Secretary. The response that I received and the perplexed look that I was given signalled to me that, unfortunately, the time was not yet ripe for such legislation. Since then, as we have heard, private Members' Bills have been introduced by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound).

During that period, a massive amount of lobbying and the effective group Hedgeline, which was founded by my constituent, Michael Jones, have made their mark. A matter which, I am sorry to say, was considered rather a joke eventually came to be taken seriously by the majority of hon. Members, so I am delighted that the Minister, or Ministers, whoever they were, took the decision to incorporate my hon. Friend's Bill into the antisocial behaviour legislation. They were spurred on by the excellent work of Baroness Gardner, who tabled her own less effective amendment, which was subsequently subsumed into the Government's proposals. I congratulate all those responsible, who worked so hard to bring about the legislation.

I share the hopes expressed by other Members that the prospect of the Bill coming into force will focus the minds of neighbours who are in dispute about high hedges, and that they will come to some amicable arrangement for dealing with the problems. Finally, it is now possible for me to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the meeting that I had requested, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and

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Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and Baroness Gardner had also requested, is no longer necessary, so we can withdraw the request.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): I am pleased that we will not go through every one of the amendments. At 16 pages, the measure is considerably more complicated than I remember it when I served on the Standing Committee and we rather rushed through the private Member's Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). I am pleased that after many years the Bill will be enacted and finally has Government support. With reference to the Minister's comments earlier, I note that since August 2000 the Government have said that a new law would be introduced as soon as there was space in the parliamentary timetable.

Mr. Pound: I am extremely reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in his flow, but the amendments before us are, in the words of parliamentary counsel, to all intents and purposes almost identical with the Bill that was introduced in my name, so I can assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing else has been smuggled in in the shadow of the cypress leylandii.

8.15 pm

Mr. Flook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was referring to the fact that his name will be associated not with a private Member's Bill, but with a Bill on antisocial behaviour. With his predilection for smoking, he would know something about that.

The problem of high hedges is not as gripping an issue in the Taunton constituency as it is in the leafy suburbs of Ealing, but it is nevertheless an issue, judging by the number of letters that I have received. Mr. Bernard Routley of Priorswood has been troubled enough to get in touch with me several times in the two and a half years that I have been a Member of Parliament. No doubt he will be particularly pleased by amendment No. 46 allowing him to seek a remedial notice. I am sure that that will reduce the burden on Taunton Deane borough council, which has had to keep replying to members of the public such as Mr. Routley, who feel constrained by the lack of legislation on the matter.

Even in the rural parts of my constituency such as Bishopswood, which is nowhere near Priorswood, where the houses are sparsely situated along either side of a declining road and which is at the most southerly tip of Taunton Deane, people are worried about the problems caused by high hedges. A gentleman whose house I visited there will be pleased that hedges that are affecting him from non-domestic properties are not ruled out, as I understand it.

I support the amendments, but I have some reservations. After all the work put in by Baroness Gardner of Parkes in another place, by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and of course by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, we still

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await the objective tests from the Building Research Establishment, although I acknowledge that the Minister said she would bring them in as rapidly as possible. I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North will make sure that that guidance about the objective tests is forthcoming as soon as possible.

I am particularly concerned for my local council, Taunton Deane, that the fees that it may be able to charge should compensate for some of the costs that it will no doubt incur. We wait to see the Government guidance on that. I should be grateful if, in the time remaining, the Minister would explain how the planning inspectorate will deal with the great rush of appeals that will no doubt materialise once the legislation is passed, as I am sure it will be.

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