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Baroness Barker: My Lords, what status does the Department of Health guidance have given that it was due to be either reviewed or cancelled by 28th June this year? Does the Minister agree with the conclusion of the health ombudsman's report that the current guidance is opaque and that that is one of the main reasons why strategic health authorities have been taking decisions that have led to, in her words, financial injustice for older people?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the ombudsman said in her report that, in 1999, the promise of more guidance following the Coughlan judgment,

We agree with that analysis, and that is reflected in our current position. As I said, we will review the need for further guidance after the summer.

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Earl Howe: My Lords, the health ombudsman also stated in her report that identifying patients who may have been affected by the issue would not be at all easy, and that a greater public awareness of the issue might be required. What have the Government done to ensure that there is a greater public awareness of the issue?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the issue has been aired fairly widely. We have put in place arrangements to pay for further compensation after individual assessments are made. It is down to strategic health authorities to work with people in the local area to ensure that cases come to light. It turns very much on looking at individual cases when people feel strongly about the issue. There is no evidence, I think, that people are not coming forward with individual cases.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, will the Minister tell us about the current situation and how many NHS inpatient beds were blocked last month while patients waited for continuing care to be instigated?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I do not have that information to hand, but I shall write to the noble Baroness.

High Hedges: Legislation

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce a Bill to control high hedges.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Government remain fully in support of the two high hedges Bills introduced this Session, first, by the noble Baroness, and, in another place by Stephen Pound MP. We are very disappointed that neither Bill has so far managed to complete its consideration within the time allotted for Private Members' Bills business. The Government remain committed to legislation to deal with cases that neighbours cannot resolve and will make every effort to get it on to the statute book.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that, when the consultation document, High hedges: possible solutions, was published in 1999, there were more than 3,000 replies? That is a very large response; usually the number of replies is in the hundreds. Of those, 94 per cent wanted legislation to deal with the high hedges problem. Of the 94 per cent, 77 per cent of local authorities that replied strongly supported it.

When the Minister mentions the loss of the Private Member's Bill this year, is he also aware that we lost similar Bills previously, and that the issue has continued since 1999? When does he really see something happening to deal with the problem?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, as soon as possible, I hope, because, to be honest, the public will think that this place is a joke. There is overwhelming support for legislation to deal with what is a very difficult subject. I suspect that if it were on a free vote on a Monday to Thursday in the other place, the Bill would sail through. It just falls foul of the archaic rules on Private Member's Bills in the other place. On a free vote, of course, the other place has chosen to send us the Hunting Bill instead of the High Hedges Bill.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, if this Bill is so important, why cannot the Government give it time?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend asks a very good question. It is one that I have asked myself as well as several ministerial colleagues. To take over a private Bill or give a private Bill time is a sensitive issue for the Government, because it may set a precedent. On the other hand, life is about setting precedents. Some things are good to do and some are bad. If both Bills fail this Session, the conclusion may be drawn that the Private Member's Bill route is not the correct one to take to deal with this issue. It is a thoroughly anti-social problem as far as many neighbours are concerned. There may be other routes that can be explored.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, did the Minister inadvertently make a slip of the tongue when he said, "If they don't produce a Bill people will think this place is a joke"? Did he not mean that people would think that the House of Commons is a joke?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, this place is part of Parliament: both Houses are required to pass legislation. This place has thoroughly debated the High Hedges Bill and time was made available for people to come in on a Friday to discuss this important issue. We have considered the Bill, scrutinised it properly, looked at it and sent it to another place. We have done our job and another place has let the public down.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, do the Government agree that this subject would be ideal for local mediation rather than using the relative sledgehammer of legislation?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I say with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that mediation is all right in many circumstances involving high hedges, but in several cases people's lives have been made an absolute misery and no attempt at mediation would succeed. A fortune has been spent in legal fees in those cases and the lawyers have made money out of them. Therefore, the decision was taken that we needed to change the legislation to get local government involved in the problem, so that orders could be given to reduce the height of hedges.

Something must be done. Things cannot be left as they are, so we must make every effort, as I said. The Private Member's Bill route may fail completely. At

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the end of this Session both Bills may fail. The Session ends in November so both Bills are still before Parliament.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I declare an interest as a Member of the other place who managed to secure a day of government time to get a change in the law relating to rape through both Houses. Why did a member of the same party as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, see fit to scupper the Bill?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I met the said Member on the escalator the other day and I asked him the same question. His view was that, "It went a bit too far". Therein may lie a solution.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, is the Minister's comment not a classic argument for self-regulation in this House? If he had made that comment in another place, somebody would have felt it necessary to remind the Speaker to rise to his feet and say that criticism can only be made of the other place on a substantive Motion. There is no need for that to be said here. This House takes the comment in the spirit in which it was offered. Thank God for self-regulation.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I realise I probably have gone too far, but I am speaking from experience. I know that I am new—I have only been here for two years, so I am a young one—but, as I said to two of my colleagues from the House of Commons in the Select Committee this morning, the level of scrutiny in this place is superior to the other place. That is a fact, and I will defend it whether I am here or next door.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, may I remind the Minister that, when he said that the takeover of Private Member's Bills by the Government is a sensitive issue, many years ago, I introduced a Private Member's Bill for the regulation of the osteopath profession into this House? The Government were so persuaded of the strength of the case that they took the Bill over as a government Bill.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, says. There are other examples—the original Abortion Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, was originally a Private Member's Bill that was given government time, although it was not taken over by the Government. However, we all know what happens. If a Bill is given time from Monday to Thursday, if there is a majority there are enough people for the Bill to pass. On a Friday the troops do not need to be there, but one person can shout "Object" at 2.30 p.m. and the Bill is scuppered. That is not a good way to proceed. It is fairly archaic and unfortunate when a similar Bill—in

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reality it is exactly the same Bill—has received full scrutiny in this place, for the other Bill to be objected to in the way that it was.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords—

Baroness Strange: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats and we have at least another five minutes.

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