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Mr. Taylor: I believe that I have the support of that council. It is significant that, although the Bill places an obligation on local authorities, during the consultation procedure conducted by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, a surprising 70 per cent. of local authorities said that they wanted to have the powers that the Bill would confer, despite the fact that it would probably saddle them with obligation and some cost.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Many hon. Members will have received representations on the problem and we congratulate the hon. Gentleman on raising it in the House. However, as we are probably near the end of this Parliament, has he received assurances from the more disruptive of his colleagues that they will recognise the intense anger and frustration that is felt by so many people and will allow the Bill to make progress?
Mr. Taylor: I have neither sought nor received any reassurances. I would not demean myself by doing so. The Bill's merits stand by themselves. I, meanwhile, stand here entirely vulnerable to whatever disruptive element there may be and I am effectively defenceless against that prospect. I throw myself entirely upon the mercy of the House and the good will of Conservative colleagues and, more particularly, of Labour Members, among whom I probably have more friends.
Mr. Forth: Knowing that my hon. Friend is a student of parliamentary matters, he will have watched closely Friday proceedings on other private Member's Bills. He will know that the problem is not whether Members obstruct a Bill but whether 40 of the 660 Members of Parliament bother to turn up on a parliamentary day to express their view. That may turn out to be his main problem.
Mr. Taylor: My right hon. Friend correctly analyses the problem that has been encountered on previous Fridays by other hon. Members. However, I should tell him that in the various reaches of the Palace, I have legions in my support.
I remind the House that leyland cypress--a hybrid tree developed towards the end of the last century and, by culture, a forest tree commonly known as leylandii--has become increasingly popular as a hedging plant over the past 30 years or so. It is cheap, readily available and quickly provides a dense screen that grows well in a wide range of soil and weather conditions. It is widely used in residential locations along the boundaries of domestic gardens to provide privacy. It grows at a rate of 1 m a year. For maintenance purposes, it should be trimmed two or three times a year. If it is not, it can reach heights of more than 30 m. Other conifers such as Lawson cypress and western red cedar are also commonly used as hedges. Although they are not as fast growing as leylandii, they can also become too big if not maintained. Non-coniferous species such as laurel and privet are also used to form dense, evergreen hedges, which if left unchecked can grow to significant heights.
I am sure that we can all appreciate the benefits of a good boundary hedge as a durable provider of shelter, privacy, amenity and security for people and of shelter and food for wildlife. However, hedges in residential areas require a commitment to regular maintenance. Without maintenance, they get out of hand and begin to affect the quality of life of those living on the other side of the fence. They block out light and interfere with views, their roots deprive other plants of water and nutrients and they intrude on garden space.
It is well established that one can lawfully trim a neighbour's hedge back to the line of one's boundary, but there is no clearly defined right to reduce its height. At present, if one cannot persuade the neighbour to reduce the height, there is little that one can do. It seems that going to the civil court is simply not a practical option. The costs and uncertainty involved clearly deter people from that course of action, and they are left feeling pretty helpless.
We should make no mistake: this is a problem faced by thousands of people who are desperate for the House to provide a practical remedy. The response to the consultation paper issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was measured in thousands rather than hundreds, and included almost 3,000 from private individuals.
My Bill, which I have chosen to call, in soundbite terms, "Height and Light", will provide the remedy that is overwhelmingly called for by the vast majority of people and organisations who responded to the consultation exercise. It will give people the opportunity, when all reasonable avenues of negotiation with their neighbours have been exhausted, to refer their high hedge disputes to the local authority. It will give local authorities the power to investigate disputes and, if necessary, to order the hedge to be cut back to a reasonable height.
The Bill might run to 20 clauses, but the basic ideas behind it are simple. Clause 1 clarifies the type of complaint that we are dealing with, which is that made by the owner or occupier of a domestic property who believes that a high hedge on another person's land unreasonably obstructs light to the property, which affects reasonable enjoyment of it. The Bill can help that person if their efforts to persuade the owner of the hedge to cut it back have failed, because they will be able to complain to their local authority.
Hon. Members will have noted that the Bill is limited to complaints about obstruction of light. I have mentioned already that high hedges can be the focus of other problems, such as blocked views and worries about roots. At this stage, the Bill deliberately concentrates on the main problem, rather than trying to solve all the difficulties that people encounter.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): I assure the hon. Gentleman that he has many friends in all parties, and especially in this one. When regaling us with his litany of horrors, will he bear it in mind that the difficulties of many of my constituents and, I am sure, of his, relate not only to light, privacy and outlook? I speak as a fellow suburbanite, and I think of my constituent, Mrs. Shaw, who bought a house and chopped down a leylandii only to find that the soil was so acidic as a result of the needle droppings that she was reduced to growing camellias and rhododendrons for three or four years. That problem often occurs, and the normal suburban gardener, with whom the hon. Gentleman and I are very familiar, is at a great disadvantage.
Mr. Taylor: I accept the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the problem. In the 1983-87 Parliament, I served on the Environment Committee, which published a report on acid rain. One of its interesting conclusions was that trees are essentially alkaline and that as they grow, by contrast, they turn the ground in which they are rooted increasingly acidic. Of course, in nature, the tree eventually dies, falls to the ground and restores the alkalinity. In tree cropping, however, the alkalinity is removed when the tree is harvested and the environment becomes increasingly acidic. That is a serious problem.
I must, in all honesty, point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Bill does not address that problem. Notwithstanding the scepticism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the Bill is conceptually simple and deals with height and light; it does not deal with roots, acidity or other blights caused by high hedges, which are, in fact, screens of trees.
Mr. Forth: My hon. Friend says that the Bill is conceptually simple. That may be true, but so that the House gets a full picture of the measure, I am sure that he will be telling us, perhaps only briefly, that it contains references to fees, remedial notices, appeals to the Secretary of State, regulations, enforcement, offences and many other items. My hon. Friend is an honest chap and he will want to ensure that the House, in judging his Bill, will not be carried away by its conceptual simplicity but will want to consider the underpinnings.
Mr. Taylor: My right hon. Friend is right to say that the Bill goes on to employ the method of remedial notices. In the name of fair play that, I trust, informs our society to this day, there will be an opportunity for the person complained of to appeal against the remedial notice. I would not wish it to be otherwise. The person who has grown the high hedge has some rights.