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Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has done as well as any Minister could have done in replying to so diverse a debate. I thank the Minister on behalf of the other 14 contributors for all that he has said, and for the fact that, in so far as he has failed to answer any specific questions, his Private Secretary will be busy making sure that there are letters for him to sign.

The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, who is no longer in his place, said that the debate had been one long whinge. That is precisely what it has not been. I have been restored by the extent to which local initiatives of one kind or another, referred to on all sides of the House, hold out more hope than otherwise might be the case for many of the deprived areas.

In his spirited comment, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, suggested that there was a particular interest on these Benches in the issues raised. He is right. But I believe that it is shared by Members on all sides of the House who are deeply concerned with problems of deprivation, whether mainly in the countryside, which we have principally discussed today, or in towns, cities and urban areas in general.

We shall return to these matters in due course but, meanwhile, in thanking all those who have taken part in the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Statutory Nuisances (Hedgerows in Residential Areas) Bill [H.L.]

7.52 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Gardner of Parkes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Lockwood) in the Chair.]

3 May 2000 : Column 1092

Clause 1 [Statutory nuisance]:

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved the amendment:

Page 1, line 12, at end insert-
(""hedge" means a number of woody plants, whether capable of growing into trees or not, which are so planted as to be intended to be in line and, when mature, to be so integrated together as to form both a screen and a barrier;")

The noble Baroness said: This is a simple and straightforward amendment. It has been placed before the Committee because it became clear in the Second Reading debate on 11th January that we needed to have this definition of a hedge included in the Bill.

The amendment is fairly self-explanatory. I put down a Question for Written Answer on 29th March and received a reply from the Minister on 19th April stating that he had received 3,000 replies to the consultation document. So it is clear that this is a matter of considerable interest to people. I believe that the amendment will improve what I consider to be a right and correct Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I rise to support the amendment, and also to express some disappointment. Before the House went into Recess, after collaboration with the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, I asked her to add my name to the amendment. As the Clerk at the Table will tell us, that is not appropriate, and I needed to speak directly. I was given the telephone number of the Clerk on duty during the Recess. I telephoned him last Friday and asked him to put my name down. When I came to the House yesterday and found that it had not been added to the amendment, the Clerk in the Printed Paper Office was kind enough to say that perhaps the provision only begins to operate when the House returns, and therefore it should be down today. Unfortunately, it is not down today. I note that I have the attention of the Clerk at the Table. I hope that he may cause inquiries to be made as to why, having spoken to the proper source, my publicised support for the amendment was not made available to the packed Benches listening with avid attention to what is undoubtedly a major legislative matter.

The situation as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, and I see it is simply this. First, we are grateful for the progress that has been made by what might be called the hedge industry, the hedge agitators, or the group of people--the many thousands--who want to see some improvement made. For many years, primary legislation has been required, and there is enormous pressure on time. The Minister who will reply will recognise, as we do, the enormous burden that is carried by her department on a range of issues. We should be hard put to it to make out a case that this should take precedence over other pressing matters. Nevertheless, those who are affected are often frightened, timid and poor; they cannot face the prospects of a court case possibly costing tens of thousands of pounds. A very good friend of mine, Michael Jones, spent a fortune and eventually won, but the case had to go through the courts.

3 May 2000 : Column 1093

The purpose of this provision is to take the burden off the individual resident and place it on a third party. The Government fairly and helpfully produced a document entitled high hedges/possible solutions which offers four options for action. The one that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner or Parkes, I and many others favour is Option 4. I hope that the Minister can tell us a little about where the 3,000 replies fall. I am convinced that the vast majority of them will favour Option 4.

In essence, Option 4 provides that,

    "Legislative provisions could be introduced for a tailor-made system for taking action against hedges which cause problems. There are at present no relevant powers to introduce such measures through secondary legislation. Primary legislation would, therefore, be required.

    "One approach would be to allow people who have problems with high hedges to complain to a third party, probably the local authority. If the authority upheld the complaint, it would specify the remedial action necessary and enforce it".

That encapsulates not merely the solution but all of the problems in arriving at the solution. Ultimately, in most planning matters enforcement is the nub. It is all very well having legislative provisions, sections and subsections, but how do we enforce what the law lays down?

There is a range of options and possibilities. I was very pleased at the enormous breadth of the consultation that took place. I hope the Minister will refer to it. The document contains a list of consultees, including the Association of London Government--and I declare an interest as vice-president. There is a body called Birch Homes. I wonder which branch that is! The list also includes Fairview Homes; the Federation of Private Residents' Association; Hedgeline; Leech Homes; the Local Government Association; and Mediation UK--it may have a part to play in this. It goes on to mention the National Farmers Union and the National Housing Federation. I congratulate the Government on the breadth of the consultation. Perhaps the document is itself part of the reason why this matter has come before the Committee. It is understandable that people should spend a good deal of time on this matter because the options are explained and the arguments are teased out so well.

At the end of the day, this amendment seeks to keep alive a Bill which, as the noble Baroness and I recognised at Second Reading, could not proceed without government support. If the Government say tonight that they are not in a position to be more helpful than to tell us that 3,000 responses have been received but not what they say nor what they intend to do in response--it is for the noble Baroness opposite to decide what to do with the Bill but the Government should be under no illusion that there are thousands of people with legitimate concerns to raise.

I have an interest in people who live in park homes. Sometimes the site owners are very bad. Some of the people who live on these sites are old, frail, frightened and poor and require muscle from someone who is willing to use it: the Government. The noble Baroness

3 May 2000 : Column 1094

and I and many others, including the Minister who is to reply, have served on local authorities. The Minister will understand that, if local government is to have a sufficient number of officers to carry out this task, an enormous burden will be placed on it. Unless we deal with the little people and the little issues, the quality of life in this country will be the poorer.

I look forward with a great deal of interest to hearing what my noble friend has to say. I fully support the amendment, which has been properly tabled and whose genesis can be found in the report itself. In paragraph 5.25, one sees:

    "A definition of a hedge which has been used in a civil legal judgement is 'a number of woody plants, whether capable of growing into trees or not, which are so planted as to be intended to be in line and which, when mature, to be so integrated together as to form both a screen and a barrier'".

That is precisely the wording of the amendment. If that definition is good enough for the courts it should be good enough for the Committee. I fully support the amendment.

8 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw: This amendment and the Bill as a whole have the support of these Benches. We hope that the Government will find time to support the legislation. We regard the planting of particular kinds of trees not only as environmentally undesirable but as an instrument to be used aggressively to bully vulnerable neighbours. We support the amendment.

Lord Hardy of Wath: I echo the definition that is offered in the amendment to which my noble friend referred. Some time ago I recall looking at a wide variety of former enclosure Acts. In those Acts the word "fence" was frequently used as a description of a hedge. The description offered in this amendment is far more appropriate than "fence", which would not necessarily be regarded as a hedgerow in the 21st century. I trust that noble Lords will be sympathetic to the amendment and ensure that the Bill completes its Committee stage rapidly.

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