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House of Lords

Thursday, 20th July 2000.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Derby): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

High Garden Hedges

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to make public their analysis of the replies to the consultation paper Higher Hedges: Possible Solutions.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government expect to publish the main results from the consultation of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on possible solutions to the problems caused by high garden hedges very, very soon. When we do so, I shall ensure that a copy of the analysis is placed in the Library of the House. The Government have always taken this issue most seriously.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I am rather encouraged by her comment of, "very, very soon". We have waited a long time; indeed, the consultation process finished on 31st January. I had a reply to my Written Question on 19th April, telling me that there had been 3,000 responses. Is the Minister aware that that was a large display of public interest in the issue? Is she also aware that matters have gone from bad to worse in the hedge world, not only as regards the information I receive through my correspondence but also because one man was recently shot dead over the issue of a garden hedge?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I, too, noticed the report about that tragedy; I read it in The Times on 7th July. I know that the noble Baroness and the House will understand that I cannot comment on that case because court action could well follow. We understand the degree of suffering that some people endure. We are talking about a small proportion of cases, but the nuisance experienced is severe. The Government wish to get right their response to the problem and hope to do so very, very soon.

Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will know that there is considerable Celtic interest in higher hedges, especially along the English Border. Can my noble friend tell us whether any policy that emerges from the Government's consultation will apply to Wales as well as to England?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, as my noble friend made absolutely clear as recently as

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yesterday, were the Government to decide to take decisions with regard to this problem in England, following the devolution settlement, we would consult the National Assembly for Wales on whether such proposals should extend to Wales. Were it to be a matter of being on the border as my noble friend implied, I am sure that we could reach an amicable resolution of the issue with the Assembly.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I note that my noble friend the Minister is hedging her bets.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, will my noble friend join with me in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, not only on her persistence in these matters but also on her patience? A measure has been introduced but its progress has been delayed so that the maximum collaboration between those who are suffering and the Government can be achieved. In the Government's consideration of the analysis, can my noble friend confirm that the major matter that will be agreed upon is that local authorities should play a more important part in the process and that, therefore, further resources will be needed? Can my noble friend say whether that aspect of the matter has been borne in mind?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his questions. Were the Government, following their analysis of the consultation, to reach a conclusion that involved local government and were that solution to involve money, I am sure that the appropriate discussions would take place at the appropriate time as regards any new responsibilities being placed upon local authorities.

Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that not all owners and tenants with high hedges have the apparatus for cutting them down--or, at any rate, reducing their height--but that every local authority has such equipment? Surely, therefore, local authorities should be called upon to help, where necessary; but, of course, be paid for so doing.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I know from my experience in local government that it is always extremely dangerous to make a comment on what local authorities ought, or ought not, to be made to do; or, indeed, "required" to do. I am sure that we could take into account the point raised by the noble Lord, especially with regard to elderly people.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that one of the problems that arises is how to manage a conciliation process and reach an agreement in situations where neighbours are in dispute over hedges? Indeed, this also applies to disputes on other matters. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether there is any code of good practice that local authorities could follow? In the course of this debate we have all learned that local authorities treat this

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matter in different ways as regards which department deals with it, and so on. Therefore, some guidance, or the establishment of good practice, would be a help in resolving such issues.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her contribution. Were the Government to reach the conclusion that further measures ought to be taken and were they to decide that local authorities should play a larger part in the process than is the case now, I am quite sure that the noble Baroness's point about the importance of good practice would be borne in mind. We know that nurserymen and horticulturists have been giving advice on good practice when they sell hedges.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister accept my thanks for the great efforts that she personally has made in the matter? I hope that she will also accept the thanks of those people who now look to her not just for an announcement on the analysis but for some promise of future action.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that comment. I also thank her for raising this issue on behalf of those people--I stress again that they comprise a small number--for whom such problems can be extremely severe.

Mental Health Review Tribunals

3.7 p.m.

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What view they take of the recommendations in the Special Report on Mental Health Review Tribunals published by the Council on Tribunals on 28th June.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the special report from the Council on Tribunals has been of particular value in helping the tribunal to improve its performance and informing the development of any new tribunal emerging from the reform of the Mental Health Act.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the press release issued by the Council on Tribunals, together with the report, referred to a number of issues of concern that arise over and over again. Will the Government ensure that those matters of concern are properly dealt with at long last? Further, will the Government pay particular attention to Recommendation 5 in the report about legal aid at mental health review tribunals? Do the Government regard it as acceptable that there are only 43 legal practices in the whole of England and Wales that currently hold franchises to represent patients before these mental health review tribunals?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as I believe my first Answer implied, we have taken the recommendations of the council most seriously. More resources have been put into servicing the mental health review tribunals and more members have been appointed. We are also recruiting more clerks in order to ensure smoother administration. As regards legal aid representation, my understanding is that that non-means tested legal aid is freely available to all patients. Less than 1 per cent of patients applying for review do so without the services of a lawyer.

As regards the question of franchises, I believe that that is a matter for my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor rather than myself. However, I shall be very happy to report the noble Lord's comments to my noble and learned friend. As I understand it, there are currently 348 providers in England and Wales who are contracted under the commission dealing with mental health.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, while I appreciate that the Government require some time to consider their response to the report, does my noble friend recognise that there is some urgency about this matter? Does he agree that what is needed is a single national service, with one judicial head, to co-ordinate matters such as training and to encourage consistency in practice? Does he appreciate that both members and administrators, who have been trying very hard for years to keep this show on the road, need some reassurance that someone cares?


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