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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can he assure the House that the Law Society will be included among those consulted on the guidance? I think that it may have specific points to make on matters such as enforcement and the burden running with the land.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: Yes, my Lords, I can confirm that the Law Society, and as many other interested parties as we can think of, will be consulted.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 4:

"(1A) This Act does not apply to complaints about the effect of the roots of a high hedge." Page 2, line 2, leave out from "be" to end of line 3 and insert "adversely affected by the height of a high hedge situated on land owned or occupied by another person,"

    Page 2, line 6, leave out from "to" to end of line 9 and insert "the effect of the height of a high hedge on the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of any domestic property shall be read as a reference to the effect that it would have on the reasonable enjoyment of the property by a prospective occupier"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 2 [High hedges]:

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 2, line 11, leave out from "means" to end of line 13 and insert "so much of a barrier to light or access as—

(a) is formed wholly or predominantly by a line of two or more evergreens; and
(b) rises to a height of more than two metres above ground level."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 5, I also speak to Amendments Nos. 8 and 9. The definition of what constitutes a high hedge is central to the Bill, yet, as debate in Committee

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revealed, many people find the existing wording unclear. The term "barrier" seemed to cause particular difficulties. Amendments Nos. 5, 8 and 9, therefore, offer a number of improvements. It would probably be most helpful if I ran through the amendments individually and then said more about how we envisage that the definition, as a whole, will work.

Amendment No. 5 goes to the heart of the matter. It defines a high hedge as so much of a barrier to light or access as is formed, wholly or predominantly, by a line of two or more evergreens and that rises to a height of more than two metres above ground level. The first point to note is that the use of the term "barrier" has been refined. The Bill now refers to a barrier to light or access. That makes it clear that we are dealing not just with features that restrict physical access, which was of concern to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. The qualification that the hedge must be formed wholly or predominantly of two or more evergreens is also significant. This brings mixed hedges within the scope of the Bill, including the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, of a leylandii hedge containing a single lime tree. The two metre height limit remains unchanged.

Amendment No. 8 makes it clear that references to evergreen trees or shrubs include semi-evergreen species such as privet, which loses some or all of its leaves in winter the further north one goes.

Finally, Amendment No. 9 introduces the concept that it is only gaps above two metres that are important in determining whether a hedge is a barrier to light or access. That should go some way to meeting the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about cases in which the lower branches of an established hedge have simply dropped off or, indeed, been removed.

Taking the definition as a whole, we envisage that local authorities would ask themselves the following series of questions when considering a complaint under this legislation. First, they would look at the hedge that is the subject of the complaint and ask whether it acts, to some degree, as a barrier to light or access, even though it might have gaps in it. Secondly, are there two or more trees or shrubs in it, and are they roughly in line? Thirdly, is the hedge comprised wholly or predominantly of evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs? Finally, is it over two metres high?

If the answer to those questions was "yes", the local authority would go on to consider the effect of the hedge on the complainant's reasonable enjoyment of his property, in accordance with Clause 1 of the Bill. That is the basic approach that we would expect local authorities and others to adopt in determining whether a particular hedge is one to which the Bill applies. I beg to move.

Lord Methuen moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 5, Amendment No. 6:

    Line 4, leave out "evergreens" and insert "trees or shrubs"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we discussed a similar amendment to Amendment No. 6 and my Amendment No. 7 at Committee stage. Both the noble

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Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and I have had letters concerning the adverse impact of hedges or barriers composed of deciduous trees. Interestingly, the letters refer not only to adverse effects such as loss of light, but also to the large amount of leaves and other debris such as seeds which may be deposited in the neighbour's garden. It is not my wish to curtail well-kept domestic or agricultural hedges by these amendments.

I am glad to note that the Minister has moved somewhat in my direction in his Amendment No. 8. I looked up the definition of "semi-evergreen" in the Royal Horticultural Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants. "Semi-evergreen" is defined as follows:

    "Describes a plant that retains most or some of its foliage throughout the year".

Although that definition will cover plants such as privet, I understand that the Minister's officials consider it to include only live foliage and not dead foliage such as may remain on beech hedges over winter. The definition would exclude beech. I should prefer to define out-right the inclusion of both evergreen and deciduous species within the Bill.

I hope that the Minister is able to accept my amendments, which I do not think significantly alter the tone of the Bill. However, I note that under Clause 16, as amended by his Amendment No. 20, he will be enabled to include deciduous hedges within the scope of the legislation should it prove necessary at a later date. For the record, I seek his confirmation that that is so. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is extremely helpful. I was beginning to think that I was going mad trying to define "barrier" the last time around. Can the Minister confirm that describing a hedge as a barrier to access does not preclude a situation in which access would not be permitted as a matter of law because it is not on the property of the complainant? In other words, one would need the permission of the owner of the barrier to get access to the property. I think that must be the case, but perhaps the Minister can give me that assurance.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Methuen. It is well known that beech hedges can be very dense and retain much of their foliage throughout the year. That can also be the case with oak hedges. Above and beyond that, hawthorn and blackthorn hedges with briar, bramble and ivy growing up through them can provide a completely dense barrier. I have them on a bit of my land, and they are at least as obstructive of light as leylandii.

Vis-a-vis the question of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, does "access" include of air and access of view?

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am sure the Minister will deal adequately and sympathetically with the points that have been raised. But I was struck by the cogency with which he set out exactly what we are about. No doubt his advisers are listening and I hope

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that some way or other that particular stanza would be well received throughout the body of people that I speak to regarding how we are able to define the hurt which is suffered by neighbours and the manner in which this problem will be dealt with.

It is helpful to try to get the legislation right at this stage, but we have also to get through the consultation process on the guidance and the Bill's stages in another place. Normally on Report we can virtually see the light at the end of the tunnel, but with this particular issue, given the timing and the opportunities, we are some way away from that. The Minister has given us his definition of what the Bill is about, the basis of complaints and the guidance that local authorities will have. That has been very helpful.

11.45 a.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 would include in the Bill hedges formed as deciduous trees or shrubs as well as evergreens. The Government continue to have considerable reservations about extending the scope of the Bill in this way. There is no doubt that hedges formed as deciduous trees or shrubs can sometimes cause problems, but for every letter we receive about such matters, we get hundreds of complaints about evergreen hedges right across the country. Complaints about deciduous hedges are, therefore, isolated, although those who are affected by them are active in their protests.

There is no evidence of a widespread problem that would justify intervention through legislation. This tends to be borne out by the experience of Hedgeline members. We understand that the vast majority of their problem cases are with evergreens. Cases involving deciduous hedges are rare. In addition, consultation supported focusing legislation on evergreen hedges, at least initially. We consider, therefore, that the case has not yet been made for extending the legislation to all hedges.

I remind noble Lords that the Government's commitment is to legislation to give local authorities powers to intervene in neighbourhood quarrels about overgrown garden hedges. It was not to provide the answer to all tree-related problems. Nor was the objective to protect domestic properties from being unreasonably deprived of the light and warmth of direct sunlight.

Having said that, I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, that Clause 16 allows us to amend the definition of a high hedge—for example, to include those formed of deciduous trees or shrubs—through regulations. This means we can reopen the issue without having to wait for further primary legislation if there is evidence that such hedges are a much wider cause for concern than we appreciate at present. With the assurance that we will return to the matter if experience shows it to be necessary, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

On the questions put by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I confirm that the barrier to access relates to

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effect, including access to air and view. It is not a question of whether we have legal access to land. Incidentally, I strongly disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, about beech hedges. I planted a beech hedge about four years ago, and it grows at about a quarter or half an inch a year. When the hedge becomes a problem, my great-grandchildren will probably have to deal with it. This is not the case with evergreen leylandii. To mention beech hedges and leylandii in the same breath does not reflect well on that most beautiful shrub, the beech.

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