High Hedges Bill

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Mr. John M. Taylor: The clause allows the Secretary of State to set down in regulations the procedure for dealing with appeals made under clause 7. It contains a long list of examples of provisions that the regulations might cover, from specifying the grounds of appeal to the award of costs. As with other procedural regulations under the Bill, such as those on varying or withdrawing a remedial notice, the regulations will be subject to the negative resolution procedure in Parliament. The Government intend that there should be prior consultation on draft regulations.

I particularly draw the Committee's attention to clause 8(3), which requires the Secretary of State to appoint another person to hear and determine appeals under the Bill. The intention is to delegate all appeals to the planning inspectorate, which is accustomed to considering similar neighbourhood issues such as privacy and amenity in connection with planning appeals.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Determination or withdrawal of appeals

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. John M. Taylor: Clause 9 describes the Secretary of State's powers in determining appeals. In practice, of course, those powers will be exercised by the planning inspectorate. The clause enables it to allow or dismiss appeals, either in total or in part, to quash or vary remedial notices and to issue such notices in cases in which the local authority decides not to do so.

Dr. Lynne Jones: In certain circumstances, the aggrieved party might go to appeal because of the inspectorate's decision to issue a remedial notice following the failure of the local authority to do so. As I understand it, the owner of the hedge would then have no right of appeal against that remedial notice. It is worth considering the possibility of taking a second look at that, perhaps through a referral to the parliamentary ombudsman.

Mr. John M. Taylor: I am afraid that I was somewhat distracted during the course of the hon. Lady's comments. I undertake to speak to her about any reservations that she may have—possibly this morning, if she will permit that, and certainly before the Bill makes further progress, as I am anxious to secure her continuing support.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth: I do not know whether this is helpful to the hon. Gentleman, but I remind him that the Secretary of State—or the planning inspectorate exercising powers passed to it by the Secretary of State—will have to take into account all views, including those of both parties, when deciding on an appeal against a remedial notice. Both sides will be able to put their point of view before the decision is taken. I do not know whether that is satisfactory response to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones), but I assure her that the Bill ensures that both the person who makes the complaint and the person about whom the complaint is made are able to express their point of view during the appeal process.

Mr. John M. Taylor: I conclude my occupancy of the Floor, as I suspect that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak wishes to speak again.

Dr. Jones: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to obstruct the Bill in any way and I shall support the clause, but I thought it important to make that point so that people are aware of it. Although it is likely to be a rare occurrence, the Government should bear it in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. John M. Taylor: If the Bill is to bring relief to hedge sufferers, it is essential that it has effective enforcement provisions that will exert pressure on recalcitrant owners to cut the hedge and keep it trimmed. I agree entirely with hon. Members who said that a general awareness that the provision is law will lead to a general improvement. The Bill might not make the problem go away, but it will diminish it significantly by reducing the estimated backlog of 3,000 extant grievances and establishing a heightened sense of responsibility.

Under the clause, failure to comply with a remedial notice will constitute an offence punishable on summary conviction before magistrates by a fine not exceeding £1,000. There is also provision for daily fines where the requisite work remains outstanding following a court order. In other words, defiance of the order by the offending party will be analogous with contempt and will be subject to a fine. I should point out that people will not be prosecuted simply for growing hedges. The provisions will come into play only where someone refuses to comply with the local authority's remedial notice.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11

Remedial action by relevant authority etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. John M. Taylor: The clause is another element of the enforcement package. It will give local authorities the power to go on to land and carry out work specified in the remedial notice when the owner or occupier of the land has failed to comply with the requirements. The cost of the work will then be recovered from that person by the local authority. Although the Bill does not state as much, local authorities will be able to exercise those powers whether or not criminal proceedings are brought under clause 10.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Orders and regulations

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. John M. Taylor: As we have gone through the Bill, I have identified several areas in which the Secretary of State has power to make regulations. The clause sets out the parliamentary procedures that he must follow when exercising those powers.

There are two types of regulation in the Bill. We have considered the first type, which addresses detailed procedural matters such as appeals and applications to vary remedial notices. As I said, they will be subject to negative resolution procedure and I understand that the Government will consult on them. The second type of regulation is contained in clause 16. It will allow the Secretary of State to extend the scope of the Bill by amending its provisions. I shall explain why that power is necessary when we reach clause 16. Proposals to allow primary legislation to be amended by regulation are always sensitive matters, so the Bill requires that regulations made under clause 16 must be debated in both Houses of Parliament under the affirmative resolution procedure.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 14 and 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Power to amend sections 1 and 2

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. John M. Taylor: As I said when we began to consider the Bill, it is limited to complaints about obstruction of light and certain types of high hedge. It will solve the main problem cases and I understand that consultation responses support that view. Nevertheless, experience might reveal that the Bill does not cover particular high hedge problems that we have not yet thought of, in which case people could wait years for another Bill to be introduced. The clause foreshortens matters by allowing the Secretary of State to bring other grounds of complaint within the scope of the legislation and to alter the definition of ``high hedge'' by regulation. As I said when we discussed clause 13, given the sensitivities involved, such regulations would be debated in both Houses of Parliament under affirmative resolution procedure.

Mr. Rowe: May I ask my hon. Friend whether matters such as root peril or the type of hedge involved might be included? There are types of hedges that shelter undesirable pests, or hedges that in extreme cases create terrible problems for asthmatics.

Mr. Hopkins: I am pleased that the clause is included in the Bill because it leaves open the possibility of extending the legislation. I do not want to set up a silly example, but if a beautiful view of mountains and hills from the window of a house were blocked by a neighbour's 50 ft leylandii, the amenity, the value of the property and the pleasure derived from living in the house would be damaged. In short, there are circumstances in which overall height limits might be considered as a case for future legislation. I am pleased that the clause is included because it leaves that possibility open.

Sir David Madel: I should like to add to the point about roots made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. I presume that if the roots of a hedge start to interfere with the public drainage system, immediate action could be taken without going though a lengthy procedure. I also presume that if the roots of a high hedge interfered with the drainage system serving a house, or with the electricity, gas or any essential service to the house, it would not be necessary to go through what is, understandably, an involved procedure to obtain action to get it stopped.

11.30 am

Mr. John M. Taylor: The hon. Member for Luton, North has returned to the point about overall height and welcomes the flexibility available to the Secretary of State, subject to parliamentary procedure. He is not only consistent, but his analysis is correct. This is a ground-breaking Bill. Several attempts have been made in the past to address the problem and this is the distillation of the best thinking to date—a state of the art provision, as good as we have got. However, if the Bill is enacted, we shall learn from the collective experience of local authorities, individual cases, exceptions and anomalies and we can build on the provisions in the light of that experience. We are breaking new ground, but we are not complacently presuming that we have covered everything.

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