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Earl Ferrers: My Lords, or anyone else.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, if the noble Earl were in the position of the couple in the hypothetical case I just gave, he might welcome even me visiting him to help him resolve the problem.

The lives of thousands of people are being made a misery by these problems. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that Hedgeline has done much to highlight the problems. The Government take the problems seriously at the highest level. That is why we published a consultation paper in England and Wales seeking views on possible solutions.

The options considered, as the noble Baroness knows, included voluntary and statutory action. The response was overwhelming. We received over 3,000 replies. To put that into context: the department's consultations usually generate hundreds rather than thousands of replies. As might be expected, there was

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a lot of public interest in the matter; 91 per cent of the responses came from members of the public. Local authorities took the time and the opportunity to consult widely in their own localities before responding, and there were striking similarities between the views expressed by local councils and the public.

The vast majority of respondents believed that new laws were the answer to nuisance garden hedge problems. That included 95 per cent of the individual members of the public and 77 per cent of local authorities. As to what form those laws should take, a new complaints system run by local authorities was the clear favourite. That was option four in the consultation paper and was supported by 73 per cent of the public and 67 per cent of local authorities. However, local authorities were more likely to want other measures, such as mediation, to be introduced not instead of, but alongside that legislation.

The consultation showed that there is support for a tougher line to be taken on controls. We take neighbourhood problems seriously so we announced, in the summer, that we would prepare legislation to give local authorities in England powers to determine complaints about problem garden hedges. The National Assembly for Wales also decided that the new legislation should apply to Wales. We are keen to get the legislation in place quickly, but wanted to flesh out and ensure that the new rules would and could be enforced.

Today we are asked by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parkes, to give a commitment that the Bill will be included in the Government's legislative programme for the next Session. The noble Lord, Lord Luke, recognised that I cannot anticipate what might or might not be included in the Queen's Speech next month. However, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, that people are looking for legislation and a resolution of their problems sooner rather than later, and we will do our best to meet that need.

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The question was raised as to why we could not use existing legislation. But that legislation is based on Victorian laws. We believe that we need an up-to-date solution to the problem of modern living, not least because of the importance in this case of mediation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, also raised, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, why her own Bill could not be used. The proposal in that Bill would add boundary hedges to the statutory nuisances in Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act. We considered that possibility but do not believe it is appropriate to use that legislation in order to resolve this problem in the most effective way.

As ever, we have had an informative debate about problem high hedges. I am grateful for the welcome given today to our commitment to legislate on this issue. We are seized of the urgency and the need to bring that legislation forward in terms of taking action as a result of the consultation. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, asked why we could not add resolution of this problem to some of the other legislation. At certain stages late in the night I felt that the noble Baroness shared with me and other noble Lords the feeling that that Bill already contained enough material on which to consult. There have also been odd occasions when Her Majesty's Opposition spokesman in the House of Lords commented on the rather large legislative programme going through Parliament before the next Queen's Speech.

Notwithstanding that point, we are seized of the importance of taking action on this matter and I look forward to doing so.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down I should like to place on record the kindness and consideration that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, gave to this matter throughout every stage.

        House adjourned at ten minutes past one o'clock.

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