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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I was interested in the noble Baroness's amendment. I had not given the matter much thought, because I had picked up the Bill—it was John Taylor's Bill in the other House—and that was the wording in it. Therefore, I had not applied my mind to the significance of the word "barrier".

I listened to the Minister, and when he said that "barrier" was generally understood he was absolutely right. However, I received a fascinating letter that makes a number of points that we have to consider. The letter states:

The writer of the letter supports the Bill, and goes on to say:

    "I also respectfully suggest that the added requirement of there being a barrier is likely to cause confusion and reduce the effectiveness of the legislation. I ask rhetorically against what is a barrier to be?".

My correspondent also raises the most important point of all, which is that there is no definition of "barrier". Although we might believe that it is clearly understood, we apparently need to define what a barrier is, if the word is to remain in the Bill. For Amendment No. 9, it would certainly need to remain unless we found some attractive alternative. The Minister made clear all the problems that could arise if we did away with "barrier". Anyone could say, "Are these two trees close enough together?". We could get into quite a minefield. However, if we agree some satisfactory definition of "barrier" between now and Report, Amendment No. 9 might be appropriate.

The letter states:

    "Further, when evergreens are allowed to grow to a sufficient height for them to cause material diminution in light, they may cease to be a barrier for people at the lower levels".

That is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Monson, pointed out. We would have to cover not only what is a barrier, but what was a barrier. Someone might say, "Well, it is no longer a barrier because it has grown up," and sure enough there might be many spaces. One often sees that evergreens tend to lose lower branches, and all the growth is high, where it takes away light but is no longer a barrier.

We have to define "barrier" in such a way that we are sure that it would cover even such trees that had grown past the point where they actually formed a barrier. I hope that the noble Baroness is willing to give us the benefit of her advice when we all consult on the issue of a barrier. Meanwhile, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I very much take the point made by the correspondent quoted by the noble Baroness, which was that we should concentrate on the adverse

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effects caused, rather than being diverted into definitions that may go against the application of provisions on them.

I must be one of a small minority who still does not understand the term "barrier". The discussion about a group of trees ceasing to be a barrier because of losing the lower branches confirms that we are talking about a physical barrier. However, if that physical barrier is on the other side of a wall, within the property of the owner of the trees, what does it matter whether that is a barrier, frankly? It is not a barrier to that property owner, because he can walk round the barrier of the group of trees and the fence. The more I think about it, the more confused I get.

I was attracted to the term "a single unit", which the Minister used. That describes the notion of a number of trees comprising a single whole. Therefore, "group" or "unit" seems a less confusing way to go. I shall not pursue the point now. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 not moved.]

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 2, line 18, at end insert—

"(c) a group of evergreens is to be regarded as forming a barrier, irrespective of the existence of a fence, wall or other barrier, if the siting of the group of evergreens is such as to lead to the adverse effects mentioned in section 1(1)."

The noble Baroness said: The reason for the amendment is quite important. The classic case took 20 years through the civil courts before the trees were reduced and was rather defeated by the fact that the person who then had to cut the hedge replanted, some metres in from their boundary, a hedge that could grow even taller than the original and do worse damage. It took many more years to get a second court decision in favour of that.

The amendment would also solve the problem of the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, about trees growing too close to his property. What would be important would be not where the hedge was exactly—whether on the boundary line, inside it or set back—but its effect on the light. That is the criterion to which I draw attention in the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: Now that Amendments Nos. 6 and 8 have been dealt with, it is all the more vital that we pay serious attention to Amendment No. 9. It is extremely necessary, if not necessarily in its present form. As I said earlier and as the noble Baroness confirmed, once the lower branches of leylandii have dropped off they cease to form a barrier, but still block off the light entirely at heights above head level. All that an unscrupulous owner has to do is erect a single-strand barbed wire fence and say, "That is my barrier. What are you complaining about?". The amendment goes a long way to addressing that problem.

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Lord Methuen: I agree. The amendment goes a long way to meeting the points about my plantations. I would certainly like to give it further consideration. The particular plantation that I am thinking of is on a falling slope. The lower trees would not cause any problem, but the ones at the top would be included in the definition, so I support the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: I am sorry to inject a slightly less positive note but, without in any way arguing with the substance of the point, is not the amendment circular? It states that,

    "a group of evergreens is . . . a barrier",

if it leads,

    "to the adverse effects mentioned in section 1".

That just takes us round in circles. When we reconsider the whole issue, I hope that we can consider whether that is quite the way to go about it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The important thing about the Bill is that it considers the impact of the high hedge. That must be—dare one say it—the root of the issue. That is the point, rather than where the high hedge is situated. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is concerned that the Bill should apply not just to boundary hedges. That is an entirely appropriate concern, and I can give her some reassurance.

While on the issue of terminology, I accept that the term "barrier" is open to interpretation. However, it has an advantage because the local authority will have some discretion in interpretation when determining whether the Bill applies to a particular high hedge and where it is located. There will be guidance on what is a barrier. It will obviously have to reflect to some degree its location and mass. The decision in general will necessarily involve consideration of the extent to which the hedge in question acts as a barrier and its effect; its obstacle to light, access, visibility and so on.

The Bill as currently drafted already makes the link between the hedge as a barrier and the adverse effects in Clause 1. It says nothing about boundary hedges. Clause 1 of the Bill merely requires that the hedge should be situated on "neighbouring land". It does not state where. That is effectively shorthand to describe wherever the hedge is located. So the hedge does not have to be on a boundary or even next door to one's property. It could even be—I suppose one could argue—several gardens down the road. But so long as it obstructs light to one's property and impacts upon one's quiet enjoyment of the same, one will be able to make that complaint to the local authority. That is the beauty of the simplicity of the legislation. It also draws on the advantages that the term "barrier" is open to interpretation.

Therefore, in the classic case where one's neighbour attempts to grow another hedge well within his boundary the question of its impact will be covered by the legislation. I hope that offers the assurance that the noble Baroness seeks and that for those reasons she will feel able to withdraw Amendment No. 9.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister for that reply. That is the best news today. If we can establish that it is the impact of the hedge rather than its exact siting, that is considerable progress. I shall not press the amendment today because I think it is very important that we get our wording right. However, today's Hansard will be beneficial to those affected. For that reason, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I think this may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until after Starred Questions. Accordingly, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.33 until 3 p.m.]

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