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10.15 am

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Would the hon. Gentleman concede that, in fact, he would create another loophole in attempting to remove other evergreens from the list of trees which some hon. Members would like to be eliminated as hedging material? Does he accept that yews can grow to a substantial height and can form a substantial barrier and that they might possibly be an alternative to leylandii if it were banned as a hedging material?

Mr. Chope: The hon. Lady has a room very close to mine, and we often exchange pleasantries, but I find her intervention uncharacteristically authoritarian and intolerant in tone, because she seems to have it in for yew hedges. Yew hedges have been part of the English landscape for generations, and she seems to want to have a go at them and to put them in the same category as all the other problem trees.

I shall pray in aid the Government's consultation paper. In discussing leylandii and the other plants, paragraph 5.26, on page 25, states:

I have not specified leylandii in my amendments, because the problem does not exclusively relate to leylandii, but it is reasonable to concentrate on where the real mischief lies; otherwise everyone who has a yew, laurel or holly hedge that is more than 6 ft tall will be alarmed and fear they will be the victims of this rather intolerant legislation.

I recognise that there is a problem--especially with cupressus and coniferous trees, not exclusively with leylandii--and my amendments would narrow the Bill's

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scope so that it would concentrate on the real mischief. By so doing, we would ensure that any complaint made would be much more likely to be relevant and serious, so an enormous amount of local authority time would not be wasted dealing with trivial complaints. We would not alarm many garden owners and plant lovers by threatening them with criminalising their evergreen plants and trees which are not a serious problem.

I hope that the House will accept that my amendments would be in the spirit of the results of the consultation that took place and would accord with the Government's thinking on them. My message is that we must spare the evergreen and focus on a more restricted group of trees--the conifers. I anticipate that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst may find that a problem, because in substituting for the word "evergreens" the expression "conifers", I must concede that six types of conifer are not evergreen--the larix, the pseudolarix, the gingko, the glyptostrobus, the metasequoia and the taxodium. If someone were prepared to argue that it would be wrong to include non-evergreen conifers, I should be prepared to concede that my drafting of amendment No. 60 was too rigorous.

Mr. Forth: In fact, my hon. Friend may have noticed that, distressingly, he and I will be at odds on these amendments. I shall seek to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to explain why. My hon. Friend wants to narrow the Bill's scope unnecessarily and I would broaden it under my modest amendment. I do not take issue with him in the precise matter that he raises now, but I give him notice that he and I will, I am afraid, be on different sides of the argument, as he will hear if I succeed in catching Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye later.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving me notice of the position that he intends to adopt. However, I shall move on from that argument about the amendment, because other Members will have a chance to contribute to the debate on it.

I move on, as quickly as possible, to amendment No. 61, which would replace the words "two metres" with the words "twelve feet" in clause 2. There are two reasons for the amendment. The first is to move away from the ludicrous metric obsession in which I am surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull--the Bill's promoter--has indulged. Why cannot we use the old imperial measurements that everyone understands?

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): I have no personal fixation with metric measurements, but my hon. Friend may be interested to learn that, when I took A-level physics in this country under the Oxford and Cambridge examination board--I regret to say that that was 41 years ago--we used entirely metric measurements then.

Mr. Chope: I always knew that there was a good reason why I never studied physics at school; that was obviously it. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having told me about it.

Most people in this country have not had the benefit of studying physics to the high level that my hon. Friend did. They talk in feet. If one buys a Christmas tree, one is

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charged for it by the foot and not by the metre. Indeed, although the Government seem obsessed with talking in kilometres in relation to the exclusion zones for foot and mouth, they really mean miles. People understand the term "two miles", but they do not understand its equivalent in kilometres.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): If only to give the Hansard writers a little relief from our digression into "Gardeners' Question Time" and from having to reach for their Latin dictionaries, will my hon. Friend reflect on his mention of Christmas trees? He rightly wants to buy a Christmas tree measured in feet. If he were to do the environmentally friendly thing and, for two consecutive Christmases, he bought trees with roots and planted them in his garden, they might constitute a hedge.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Because I am an environmentally friendly member of the public, I make it my practice normally to buy Christmas trees with roots, so that I can replant them after Christmas. In my garden, I have two such trees--and one of them still has a bauble on it from last Christmas. If anyone wishes to visit my garden, he will be able to see successfully replanted Christmas trees. As my hon. Friend said, if over a period of two or more Christmases one plants two or more trees in the garden, one may find--before one knows it--that criminal sanctions are threatened because a coniferous or evergreen hedge has been established.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. After nearly 50 minutes of my hon. Friend's speech, we have now heard that he had an interest to declare at the outset. Should he not have done that already? Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give advice to other Members who wish to take part in the debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I do not think that there has been any breach of order in the House. It struck me that Christmas had come a little early this year, and one or two other events may have to be dealt with before then.

Mr. Chope: All I can say is that the way in which some hon. Members wish to curtail our activities means that it will not be long before one has to declare in such a debate that one has a couple of Christmas trees in the garden. The main reason for amendment No. 61 is not that it uses imperial measurements that people understand.

Mr. John M. Taylor: I rise to give my hon. Friend another opportunity to mock me on the matter of imperial and metric measurements. Although he might be more comfortable if the Bill said that the height of hedges should be limited to 6 ft 6 instead of 2 m, does he not accept that it is consistent with other legislation? He has already quite fairly prayed in aid planning legislation, and town and country planning legislation can direct that one can have a fence of up 2 m in one's rear garden without planning permission. Does he not accept, in his fair-minded way, that it is consistent to say that, if one can have a fence of 2 m, one can have a hedge of 2 m? Is there not a read-across with other legislation?

Mr. Chope: I accept that some people could make such a read-across, and my hon. Friend obviously does.

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However, I do not think that hedges are equivalent to fences. To return to a point that I made earlier, town and country planning legislation introduced the requirement that one would have to obtain planning permission to put up a fence above a particular height. However, if walls and fences above that height are already established, town and country planning law does not say that, unless one applied for permission for them, one might face sanctions because they were above the height of the fences for which one would have to seek planning permission if one wanted to erect them today.

My concern is that we are talking not just about new hedges, but about established hedges. That is why the need to obtain planning permission to put up a new fence of up to 6 ft 6 is not equivalent to the need to respond to complaints from neighbours if one already has an established hedge that is more than 6 ft 6 inches high.

Mr. Forth: Would my hon. Friend not argue--subject to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor)--that a fence is an artificial construct the height of which can be determined from the outset? It can therefore be covered by planning law. Hedges, trees, shrubs and so on are gloriously natural phenomena and restrictions on their height would be an interventionist event in itself. The comparison between hedges and fences is therefore invalid.

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