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Lord Walker of Doncaster: My Lords, I did not refer to hedges or trees which are the subject of a preservation order, but to the universal application of the Bill within a conservation area.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that correction, which I am sure my noble friend has noted. I do not have anything else to add, other than that I support the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lady Gardner. I congratulate her again on carrying it through. Many people other than me will think that this has been a job well done once the Bill is on the statute book, which I very much hope it will be at the whim—no, the will, of the House of Commons, in due course.

6.34 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords who have kindly welcomed me to this new position. In particular I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, for introducing her Bill and for stimulating such an interesting discussion. I join with my noble friend Lord Graham in acknowledging her persistence, perseverance and energy in getting the Bill renewed and to this stage. My noble friend Lord Graham rather bizarrely wondered whether I would be a firm twig. I can say to him that this twig is not for snapping.

I should like to start by celebrating trees and hedges. Hedges and trees have been an inspiration for many people and for many great poets including Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney. My favourite poem—a short one—about hedges is called, The Hedge, by E.J. Scovell, which I shall read:

Rounding this garden like the wedding ring That names as mine the woman who is mine

    Hedge, keeping out with your intricacies

The daytime-drowsy thief, welcoming all Nest-building birds and grazing swarms of bees;

    "Hedge I repaired and strengthened like a wall

As still the household grew—re-planted part, Every day happier, richer not at all;

    Of hawthorn, tamarisk and pomegranate

With honeysuckle scent flowing between: Through you I am rich and lord of my estate,

    Hedge of my holding, city-wall of green".

We have heard a lot today about the problems of high hedges, and we recognise that those problems loom large for the people affected. But, as has been said, we should not lose sight of the fact that the right hedge in the right place can make a significant difference to the quality of the local environment. For instance, a hedge is a useful weather and dust filter; it is inexpensive to create and long lasting. It can encourage wildlife and can be a feature of beauty and interest in its own right. It also offers privacy and security.

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I would not want people who are following our debate to think that a hedge is nothing but trouble. Our towns, cities and villages would be a poor sight if they comprised nothing but a sea of panel fencing. Many of us will remember the despoliation of the East Anglia countryside in the 1970s when hedges were grubbed out to make for larger fields.

For anyone thinking of planting a new hedge I commend our leaflet, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, entitled, The Right Hedge for You. It has practical advice for gardeners on how to choose the right hedge for their circumstances, taking account of how much time they are prepared to put into its upkeep.

I want there to be no doubt that we as a government are pro-hedge, pro-tree and even pro-leylandii, provided they are in the right place and properly cared for. However, people encounter huge problems with overgrown hedges. We all know the cliche that an Englishman's home is his castle, but across the country vast fortifications of fast-growing and dense evergreen hedges have appeared. Unchecked and poorly-maintained hedges can cause misery to some people and a breakdown in relations with neighbours. Light is reduced in homes and gardens, and once-cherished views, perhaps of countryside or coast, are blocked. There are huge difficulties in growing many plants near hedges. All those things lead to a sense of oppression and of being hemmed in. People feel they are unable to enjoy their own garden.

I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is always best if those matters can be settled by negotiation amicably. A quiet word with the hedge owner may be all that is needed. I am pleased that the Bill introduced by the noble Baroness recognises that and requires people to try to negotiate a solution before involving the local authority.

To help neighbours settle high hedge disputes amicably, we published last month another leaflet, aptly entitled, Over the Garden Hedge. It takes people through all stages of the process from making the first move and talking to their neighbour to finding the right answer and putting it into practice.

As the leaflet acknowledges, negotiations do not always work. If the first approach is rebuffed, then trouble may start, resulting in serious and sometimes costly neighbour disputes. That is why in August 2000, the Government committed themselves to legislate in order to help solve these problems. We were supported by the results of our consultation, which showed overwhelmingly that new laws were needed to tackle the issue. That came not just from people affected by hedges, but from local authorities that were powerless to help. A standalone complaints system, such as that proposed in the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, was favoured by most of the consultation respondents.

Problems caused by high hedges will not go away until there is a statutory solution. The Government remain keen, therefore, that legislation on high hedges should reach the statute book.

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There is no difference between the aims of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, in bringing forward the Bill and the Government's objectives. We both want to see fair and workable legislation that will provide relief to thousands of people who suffer from these problems.

We supported the Private Member's Bill that was introduced by John Taylor in another place in 2001. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, acknowledged, her Bill owes a good deal to the work that John Taylor did previously.

In all those circumstances, the Government are pleased to support the principle of the Bill introduced by the noble Baroness today. I do not know whether the matters that she wants on the face of the Bill are covered in regulations. I shall write to her as soon as I have been advised on our proposals.

Like the noble Baroness, we shall note carefully the views expressed during this debate and take them into account as the matter progresses. I am very pleased that the first Bill that I am involved with will make a direct and significant difference to the lives of many people in our country.

6.42 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I had not appreciated that this is the first Bill the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has dealt with from the Front Bench. I join other noble Lords in welcoming him to that role. I am delighted to see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has come into the Chamber. In the middle of this year I had a very helpful and constructive meeting with the noble and learned Lord and his staff from the department at that time. The helpful leaflet that has been mentioned was in the process of being written at that time. We were very pleased that various points that were raised were taken into account in that publication.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was first to raise a number of points. I am glad that she thinks that the grounds of complaint need to be wider. It would be very desirable to have consultation or meetings with the Minister and perhaps with the noble Baroness and anyone else who is interested, and for this House to try to get the correct wording for the widening of that complaint procedure. I am convinced that anything that we can decide on in this House must be of benefit to Stephen Pound in the other place when he brings forward his Bill. As it will be published so much later, he will be able to incorporate into its text anything that we had already thought was a great improvement. I would put that point to the department, in order for it to be thought about before we go much further on the matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that local authorities need to be objective. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The Bill will enable them to be objective. For that reason, I do not go along with her suggestion that local authorities should be a first port for appeal. That might reduce their objective position. If local authorities make only the original decision and then the appeal goes elsewhere, that is more of a

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parallel to planning procedures. There is merit in that because local authorities should have had ample time to consider every aspect of the case at an earlier stage. I hope that the noble Baroness will not press that point.

The noble Baroness is quite right that single trees are not covered in this legislation. There have been interesting court cases. I have mentioned the case of Delaware Mansions v Westminster City Council, which involved a single tree that cost the council over 1 million. Single trees are fairly well covered now in terms of damage to property. I suppose that it is considered that it would be an exceptionally large single tree that would really take away all one's light and local amenity.

As to material changes, I am not able to give the noble Baroness exact examples. One might be where there had been a storm and the hedge had been half-blown down. That might be quite a material change.

The noble Lord, Lord Walker of Doncaster, raised some interesting points. He asked about a conservation area. That is a disadvantage. It is a worry as to exactly how that would be dealt with. At my meeting with Michael Meacher in September 2000, we discussed that issue. I asked him about the position in a conservation area and how we could ensure that people would get permission. One has certainly to apply for permission in a conservation area. But in the instance that the noble Lord, Lord Walker, referred to, where if the hedge was cut, it might not be cut enough or cut to a point where it was within control. I think that once permission was given to reduce the height, it could be that the local authority would be willing to agree a height at which it would be possible for it to be controlled and maintained afterwards. I would hope that that would be the case. But certainly there is a degree of conflict between conservation areas and the legislation.

The noble Lord mentioned mature trees. The Westminster City Council case has made quite a difference to councils' attitudes. If the person owning the mature tree applies to the council either to lop it or to remove it and the council refuses, the council is then entirely liable for the bill, due to the damage the tree has done. That has changed local authorities' attitudes very much on the issue of mature trees.

I was delighted that the Minister started off with a poem. Of course that was very appropriate with his literary background. I am glad that it will be printed in Hansard, so we shall all have the benefit of enjoying it again. The noble Lord referred to hedges being a lovely place to encourage birds and so on. In a way that is true about garden hedges, but more so about a hedgerow. The ones in East Anglia that he referred to which were taken out to make fields bigger were hedgerows.

That draws my attention to the fact that possibly that matter may not be clear enough in my Bill. I should like those commenting on the Bill to decide whether they think that the term "domestic property" is the right phrase or whether the Bill should refer to residential property. We are talking about houses in occupancy. We are not talking about whether a hedge affects one's barn, which is used to house hay or

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whatever. We must be clear on that point. My previous Bill referred to residential areas whereas the Bill before us today does not specify only residential areas. That may be a significant difference that we should perhaps consider .

There is no need to say more, other than that we should have the opportunity now for more consultation with the department. I found the officers in the department most helpful. I am sure that they will continue to be so. I do believe that any proceedings in this House must add to the effect of Stephen Pound's Bill in the other place.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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