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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed reply. I am delighted to hear that the Government will update the regulations and that possibly the exemptions will be clarified. It is important for people to know where they stand. I hope that when the guidance is issued, it—or an explanatory note—will refer to the matter. I am most grateful to the Minister for his clear explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting moved Amendment No. 16:

(1) Where, under this Act, a complaint has been made or a remedial notice has been issued, a person authorised by the relevant authority may enter the neighbouring land in order to obtain information required by the relevant authority for the purpose of determining—
(a) whether this Act applies to the complaint;
(b) whether to issue or withdraw a remedial notice;
(c) whether to vary a requirement of a remedial notice;
(d) whether a requirement of a remedial notice has been complied with.

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(2) Where an appeal has been made under section 7, a person authorised—
(a) by the Secretary of State, or
(b) by a person appointed to determine appeals on his behalf,
may enter the neighbouring land in order to obtain information required by the Secretary of State, or by the person so appointed, for the purpose of determining an appeal under this Act.
(3) A person shall not enter land in the exercise of a power conferred by this section unless at least 24 hours' notice of the intended entry has been given to every occupier of the land.
(4) A person authorised under this section to enter land—
(a) shall, if so required, produce evidence of his authority before entering; and
(b) shall produce such evidence if required to do so at any time while he remains on the land.
(5) A person who enters land in the exercise of a power conferred by this section may—
(a) take with him such other persons as may be necessary;
(b) take with him equipment and materials needed in order to obtain the information required;
(c) take samples of any trees or shrubs that appear to him to form part of a high hedge.
(6) If, in the exercise of a power conferred by this section, a person enters land which is unoccupied or from which all of the persons occupying the land are temporarily absent, he must on his departure leave it as effectively secured against unauthorised entry as he found it.
(7) A person who intentionally obstructs a person acting in the exercise of the powers under this section is guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 16, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19.

The Bill as currently drafted gives local authority officers powers to enter the land where the hedge is situated only to carry out the works specified in a remedial notice, as part of enforcement action. Otherwise, it relies on the occupier of the land in question permitting local authority officers—or inspectors considering appeals—to enter his land in order to carry out their functions under the Bill.

Such permission might not be forthcoming in all cases and it will not always be feasible for officers to work solely from the complainant's side of the hedge. We propose, therefore, that powers to enter the land where the hedge is situated should be available for officers to use where necessary.

Amendment No. 16 would allow local authority officers to enter the land where the hedge is situated in order to obtain information that will help them decide, first, whether the complaint is one that can be considered under the legislation; secondly, whether to issue or withdraw a remedial notice, or to vary its requirements; or, finally, to determine whether a notice has been breached. At least 24 hours' notice of the intended entry must be given to all occupiers of the land. The local authority might, in particular, need to gain quick access in order to establish whether the requirements of a remedial notice had been met. Those might relate not only to the works that must be carried out to the hedge, but to the timescale within which the action must be taken. Timing of a site visit could, therefore, be critical.

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Local authority officers entering land under the powers would be able to take with them other people, equipment or materials as necessary. They might, for example, need someone to help them to measure a hedge. In extreme cases, they might need to be accompanied by the police. The officers would also be able to take samples of a hedge to assist, for instance, in species identification.

Besides giving prior notice of their intentions, officers would have to meet other conditions when exercising the powers. In particular, they would, if asked, have to produce evidence of their authority to enter the land in question. Unoccupied land must be left as effectively secured as they found it. Those powers of entry would also be available to inspectors considering appeals under the legislation. Intentionally obstructing any person exercising the powers would be an offence punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. That is currently up to £1,000.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 19 give local authority officers similar powers when entering land in order to carry out the works specified in a remedial notice, in default of the hedge owner. The key difference is the longer notice period—at least seven days. That gives the person responsible for the hedge a last chance to cut it without the local authority having to intervene.

Entry to land is always a sensitive issue, especially when it involves access to someone's home or, as in this case, garden. We would therefore expect the powers to be used sparingly, and for local authorities and appeals inspectors to proceed by agreement wherever possible. Where the voluntary approach does not work, we believe that the powers provide a vital fallback, helping to ensure that the legislation works fairly and effectively. I beg to move.


Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said. We are probably dealing with the trickiest part of the aftermath of the legislation, which is how to ensure that the oppressed person with the council and the law on his side gets justice.

Does the department recognise that there will need to be deep consultation with local authorities on the additional costs that may fall? It would not be good enough simply to say, "Here is an additional liability, responsibility or power. Get on with it". Many local authorities are likely to say that they are already stretched, have already cut and re-adapted, and need specialist enforcement officers. I can well imagine that in the early days there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of requests to the authority for consultation. There will be a considerable burden on the existing arboriculturists, environmentalists and tree people in an authority.

We take such matters one step at a time. We are not talking about sufficient people being in place from the due date. However, when I was involved in Enfield council, we had very good enforcement officers whose job was to investigate complaints about rubbish, burnt-out cars and people and shops that were doing

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things they should not do. We employed ex-police officers who were beefy and, if not overpowering, could at least stand their ground. I hope that such matters will be given consideration as they are with budgets and grants. In order to get things off the ground, we do not want local authorities at first to cry that they have not got the money or the men.

I welcome what the Minister said. The provision is a marvellous step in the right direction, but we do not want it to fall because the resources that may be needed have not been thought about. I am not talking about every penny being available from the first day, but about understanding and consideration. Besides the person suffering the hurt and the neighbours, other people to consider are the council and councillors.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I would not like it to be thought simply because I did not speak that I was not supporting the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I made a similar point on Second Reading, although I do not think that I argued for ex-police officers, beefy or otherwise. The issue of resources for local authorities is very real; it has been mentioned to me by the Local Government Association.

Many local planning authorities have been shedding staff over quite a long period. One can understand why. The needs of social services and education are so important that planning may have taken a back seat. I know how few enforcement officers local planning authorities now have. Tree officers are almost a disappearing species. The London Borough of Hillingdon, the boundaries of which contain Heathrow airport, has only two enforcement officers. When one thinks how much planning enforcement there must be around issues relating to Heathrow, that shows the scale of the problem. I support the point that the noble Lord made.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I welcome the new clause proposed in the amendment for two reasons. The first is that it shows that the Government are very serious about putting the tools to do the job into the Bill. The other is that it is absolutely essential that the rights of entry are clarified.

I want to mention to the Minister—it has come to mind only since listening to the debate—a case brought to my attention in which people wanted to cut their own hedge. It did not require an enforcement officer. The next door neighbour did not want the hedge cut, and said, "If you in any way enter my land—even your axe or your saw—that is trespass".

I do not expect an answer on the subject today as it is rather complicated, Perhaps it can be covered in regulations. Some years ago, we passed a Bill that involved rights of access to neighbouring lands to carry out repairs to buildings, so treatment of one's own tree might come under existing laws. It may be rare for someone wanting to to work on their own hedge to be prevented from doing so by the neighbour. In that case, could they still call in the local council

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under the complaints procedure? Perhaps at a later stage I can have an answer. Meanwhile, I welcome the amendment.

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