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Mr. Dismore: The answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes, particularly when considered with other amendments that I hope to speak to later, which set out a list of criteria that local authorities should take into account. Obviously, I do not wish to stray into that territory now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we set out a list of the issues that have to be considered, it will provide sufficient safeguards against that problem.
That is why it is important to consider single trees in this context. We also need to get away from the question of definitions of evergreens and conifers. There will always be arguments about whether an evergreen is an evergreen. I explored that on Second Reading when I gave examples of semi-evergreen trees. Are they caught by the Bill or not? We have heard today about the problems of deciduous trees. If we simply talked about trees forming a barrier that prevents light getting through, we would not have to worry about whether they were evergreens or not, or about calling horticultural experts to give evidence to local authorities about whether a tree was deciduous, evergreen or whatever.
Similarly, we can get over the argument about whether a shrub is a tree or a tree is a shrub. We have heard several definitions of a shrub. A good example of a shrub that can be used to form a hedge is the laurel. It is a shrub, it can significantly block the light, and it can grow extremely high. I am concerned as to whether the
We must not however create loopholes by which unscrupulous gardeners could try to find a way round the strict definitions by finding some exotic plant or tree, perhaps one that they could import from overseas, to thwart the intentions of Parliament. Simply by using the terms "trees" and "shrubs", in whatever number, we can get over the problem of definition and concentrate on what is or is not a barrier to light. That is what the Bill is really concerned about.
I am concerned also by the suggestion that six bushes should be the minimum requirement for a hedge. My London flat has a small front yard with what I consider to be a hedge along the front. That hedge comprises three small bushes. I do not think that they are trees; they are probably shrubs. They quite adequately form a hedge, albeit a rather short one, and one that certainly does not block anyone else's light. Nevertheless, it would not be considered a hedge under that definition, although everyone in the area would consider it to be one. Similarly, and for the same reasons, I am concerned about the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that three bushes would be sufficient.
The hon. Member for Christchurch went on to talk about the difference between "adjacent" and "adjoining". I have had the opportunity to study his notes, which were passed to me behind the Speaker's Chair by the hon. Gentleman's "Parliamentary Private Secretary", the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. I do not think that any difference is generated by the two terms. The words in the hon. Gentleman's notes are these:
I do not think that the question of whether we are talking about "adjoining" or "adjacent" adds a jot to the argument. I am quite happy to stick with the definition that the hon. Gentleman read out. I suppose that we are straying into the realms of that well-known panel game, "Just a Minute", in trying to avoid hesitation, deviation and repetition. By saying that "adjoining land" means "adjoining land", I shall probably get the buzzer sounded on me straight away.
We then come to the argument about metres and feet. Frankly, I am not particularly bothered about metres and feet. If one of these disputes arises and the person from the local authority gets their tape measure out, it does not really matter which unit of measurement is used. In the end, metres are probably better.
I see that, later on, we may discuss a Bill to consider the implications of withdrawal from Europe. I know that Conservative Members get very excited about Europe. In fact, the whole issue of metres goes back hundreds of years, to Napoleon Bonaparte. I think that he first introduced the metric system. I vaguely recall reading that we first considered going metric in the 1850s, when there was a report from a Select Committee suggesting that that was the way forward. The decision to go metric long pre-dates our decision to join the European Union. If Conservative Members are somehow exercised that they are giving ground to the bureaucrats of Brussels by talking
A further amendment that I have tabled, which has the endorsement of the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, covers the point at which the height of the land should be measured. That is especially important in a city environment, because one often finds that the back yards and back gardens of adjacent premises are at different levels. I gave the example on Second Reading of my London flat, where our back garden is about four feet lower than the back garden opposite us. We must be clear what we mean when we talk about the height of the land. I hope that my amendment will address that by referring to the height of the land of the complainant. If my other amendments are accepted, that will simply be a starting point, because all the other criteria will come into play. However, I hope that that one will provide a degree of certainty.
I referred briefly earlier to the formula proposed by the hon. Member for Christchurch--my hon. Friend the Minister also dealt with it--being simply an issue for consultation. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is making a grave mistake by trying to incorporate it in the Bill. We have heard today a degree of analysis and questioning of how the formula would operate, and what it would mean in practice. That is the sort of argument that should take place outside the Chamber. We should ask people who could test the formula to test it, perhaps to destruction, to see whether it worked, or whether a better one could be found. I suspect that a formula will not work in the end.
The promoter of the Bill mentioned the light meters used by cricket umpires, and perhaps that would be a better way objectively to approach the matter. This formula is not the way forward. If a formula were to be the solution, the way to achieve that might be to create a regulation-making power in the Bill, so that if and when a formula--or a series of formulae, dealing with the urban, rural and suburban environments--could be found to satisfy the criteria, the matter could be dealt with more easily by a statutory instrument. That could be amended if it needed tweaking later, in a way that primary legislation cannot.
Genuine gardeners and good neighbours have nothing to fear from the Bill. The only people who should be concerned are those who are intransigent, who are not prepared to listen to their neighbours, or who are not prepared to be good gardeners or good friends to the people who live round them. The Bill provides an excellent formula for dealing with these disputes. Some of the later amendments might improve it, but the hon. Member for Christchurch has engaged in incredibly mischievous scaremongering and his amendments simply do not hold up.
Mr. Forth: It is already obvious that the Bill, although it appears to have modest aspirations, has a wide reach indeed, and could touch the lives of many people in many different ways. The scope of the amendments in this group alone--I tabled amendments Nos. 84, 70, 85, 71, 86, 4 and 89--illustrates the fact that the Bill contains some surprisingly controversial elements. Among other matters, the amendments address the definition of flora, the
New clause 9, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), raises some important issues, with which all Members of Parliament will be familiar. Those include the relative rights of those who are already established and those who arrive on an adjacent--or adjoining, if one prefers--property. I favour new clause 9 for the simple reason that it would be odd if someone who sought to develop a property next to a long-established property which already had high hedges--as defined in the Bill--became exercised about their existence and sought to invoke the mechanisms in the Bill. That would be improper and unreasonable. It is a different matter if someone sets out to grow a high hedge, but the Bill should not provide a mechanism for people who knowingly develop a property near an already substantial growth of vegetation which then becomes a nuisance or blocks off light. For that reason, I hope that the promoter of the Bill will accept new clause 9.
I doubt whether the Bill is the correct way to deal with what is an undoubted problem. Too many hon. Members who have been made aware of a problem by constituents feel that they must support a Bill if it has a title that claims to deal with it. I dispute that logic, because we are here to judge whether a Bill is an appropriate, proper and acceptable mechanism for dealing with a problem. I doubt whether this Bill is the right way to deal with the problem of high hedges, although that opinion is of course subject to the debates that we will have on other amendments and to Third Reading, which will be an important occasion on which we can all summarise our feelings about the Bill.
When we consider some of the more detailed provisions of the Bill, it becomes immediately obvious--as the excellent, forensic analysis by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch illustrated--that they will require close attention. For example, clause 2, which is key to the Bill, sets out to define what is a high hedge. On that point, I am at odds with my hon. Friend. If one accepted the objects of the Bill and that it should be enacted to allow people to deal with the problems of the denial of light that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) so eloquently set out in his speech on Second Reading, it would be unnecessarily restrictive to limit the definition of a high hedge to evergreens. The definition should be much wider, to enable people to make proper use of the mechanism in circumstances that justify it.
My amendments seek to remove the restrictive definition of evergreen and add a much wider definition that would allow the Bill to be used in wider circumstances. That may seem paradoxical, because I have already cast doubt on whether the Bill is appropriate, but it is proper for hon. Members to try to amend a Bill so that it reaches the statute book in a form with which they are comfortable. If the Bill were to succeed, I would prefer it to have a wider scope.
I listened carefully to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and he appeared to wish to make this a Bill for the elimination of leylandii, if I may put it so crudely and inelegantly. I well understand that, but if we accept that the problem is potentially much wider--as my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull argued