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Lord Dixon-Smith: It is tempting to repeat much of what I have said, but I think I will at this stage welcome these amendments. They help the Bill forward and will give some reassurance to those who are concerned about the Bill, even if they do not go quite as far as one might consider totally desirable. But I am glad to see them and I thank the Government for them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 193D not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193E:


On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 193F and 193G not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193H:


    Page 44, line 26, at end insert—


""graffiti removal notice" has the meaning given by subsection (2),"

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 193J not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193K:


    Page 44, line 30, after "160(4)" insert "and (5)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 193L not moved.]

Clause 54, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193M:


    After Clause 54, insert the following new clause—


"RECOVERY OF E"PENDITURE
(1) A local authority may recover from the person on whom a graffiti removal notice was served expenditure reasonably incurred in exercise of the power under section 54(4).
(2) A local authority may not recover expenditure from a person under subsection (1) unless it has served on that person a notice which sets out the amount of, and details of, the expenditure which it proposes to recover.
(3) Section 160 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (c. 43) has effect in relation to notices under subsection (2) as if they were notices within subsection (2) of that section."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193N:


    After Clause 54, insert the following new clause—


"GUIDANCE
(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance to local authorities in England for the purposes of sections 54 and (Recovery of expenditure).
(2) The National Assembly for Wales must issue guidance to local authorities in Wales for the purposes of sections 54 and (Recovery of expenditure).
(3) A local authority must have regard to any guidance issued to it under this section."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193P:


    After Clause 54, insert the following new clause—


"APPEALS
(1) A person on whom a graffiti removal notice is served may, within the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which it is served, appeal against the notice to a magistrates' court on any of the following grounds.
(2) They are—
(a) that the defacement is neither detrimental to the amenity of the area nor offensive,
(b) that there is a material defect or error in, or in connection with, the notice,
(c) that the notice should be served on another person.
(3) Where an appeal under subsection (1) is brought, the graffiti removal notice shall be of no effect pending the final determination or withdrawal of the appeal.
(4) On the determination of such an appeal, the magistrates' court must do one of the following—
(a) quash the notice,
(b) modify the notice,
(c) dismiss the appeal.
(5) Where the court modifies the notice or dismisses the appeal, it may extend the period specified in the notice.

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(6) A person on whom a notice under section (Recovery of expenditure) (2) is served may, within the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which it is served, appeal to a magistrates' court on the grounds that the expenditure which the authority is proposing to recover is excessive.
(7) On the determination of an appeal under subsection (6), the magistrates' court must do either of the following—
(a) confirm that the amount which the authority is proposing to recover is reasonable, or
(b) substitute a lower amount as the amount which the authority are entitled to recover."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 55 [Exemption from liability in relation to graffiti removal notices]:

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 193Q:


    Page 44, line 40, after "liability" insert "to any person responsible for the relevant surface"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 193R not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendments Nos. 193S and 193T:


    Page 45, line 12, leave out paragraph (d).


    Page 45, line 15, at end insert—


"(5) Section 54(10) is to apply for the purposes of this section as it applies for the purposes of that section."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 55, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 194:


    After Clause 55, insert the following new clause—

"High hedges

REMEDIAL NOTICES
(1) This section applies where a local authority is satisfied that a high hedge is adversely affecting the amenity of the area.
(2) The authority may serve a notice (a "remedial notice") on every person who is the owner or occupier of the land on which the hedge is situated imposing the requirement mentioned in subsection (3).
(3) That requirement is a requirement to take action in relation to the hedge to remedy the adverse effect within a period specified in the notice being not less than 28 days beginning with the day on which the notice is served.
(4) If any owner or occupier of the land on whom a notice under subsection (2) was served fails to take the action required by the notice within the period specified in it for compliance with it, he shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(5) In this section "high hedge" means 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.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (5), a line of evergreens is not to be regarded as forming a barrier to light or access if the existence of gaps significantly affects its overall effect as such a barrier at heights of more than two metres above ground level.
(7) In this section "evergreen" means an evergreen tree or shrub or a semi-evergreen tree or shrub."

The noble Baroness said: The time that this Bill has taken and the interest that it has aroused makes it clear that anti-social behaviour is multi-faceted. This

7 Oct 2003 : Column 248

amendment is to Part 7, on the environment. It is unusual to include a part on the environment in a Home Office Bill. The Home Office wants to resist high hedges, but to hedge victims nothing is more anti-social than a high hedge in the wrong place.

I am pleased to see that the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has been added to mine on the amendment. In col. 499 of Hansard, on 28th February, she said in reference to amendments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting:


    "Not only do they meet points made at the previous stage, but they seem to me—I hope my interpretation is right—to indicate that the Government are firmly behind the Bill and intend to see that it becomes law. That would be a very good thing indeed".

That was the High Hedges Bill, at Report stage. My noble friend Lady Buscombe said from our Front Bench:


    "I cannot share the optimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee",

to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton responded,


    "'Oh ye of little faith'".—[Official Report, 28/2/03; cols. 499–500.]

He knew that we had been working on that legislation for four or five years.

At that stage, everyone in the Chamber was keen to see legislation controlling high hedges. The consultation had been quite remarkable. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who is present, was also involved in some stages of the Bill. However, the Bill has sadly got nowhere, which is why I am introducing this amendment.

The amendment is not comparable to the full Bill. It is really half a loaf, but I believe that half a loaf is better than none. It would be a start only, because it would not do a lot of the things that we would really like to be done about high hedges, and that the Government keep saying that they would like to be done. They have been saying for four or five years that it would happen when government time was available. The Bill that went through all stages in this House could still be picked up by the Government and put through easily in the other place, where it has not been considered at all. Similar Bills have been rejected, but my Bill is still just sitting there.

What does the amendment do? I shall not go through the detail, as it is clear enough for anyone to read, but it would give local authorities new powers to deal with evergreen hedges more than two metres high that adversely affect the amenity of the area. They would also be able to serve a notice requiring action to be taken to reverse the adverse effect; failure to comply would be an offence liable on conviction to a level 3 fine up to #1,000.

The amendment differs from the Private Members' Bills introduced by Stephen Pound and myself in that the new powers would apply only to high hedges that adversely affect the amenity of an area. It is unlikely that it would include hedges that simply impacted on a neighbour, which are perhaps the most distressing of all. However, this Bill apparently will not deal with

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individual complaints; to be admissible within the Bill, the measure must be on the basis of the general amenity.

The amendment also suggests that the offending hedges might have to be publicly visible, which would rule out all the hedges in people's back gardens. It is unlikely that a local authority would be able under the terms of my amendment to require long-term maintenance of a hedge at the lower height. The only way in which a local authority could deal with a continuing problem would be to issue a new remedial notice. That would place a heavier burden on local authorities than if we had the proper High Hedges Bill. However, I had to make some compromises in drafting the amendment to ensure that it would fit into the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, and thereby to allow further debate on whether it is the right vehicle to deal with high hedge problems.

Why do I think that the Anti-social Behaviour Bill is the right vehicle? High hedges are without doubt an anti-social problem. In growing hedges to excessive heights owners show no consideration for their neighbours, and even when told about the impact of their hedge they often refuse to take any responsibility for it. Indeed, in many cases they become quite belligerent and unpleasant about it. We all know that cases earlier this year resulted in both a murder and a suicide. So the issue really can have very dramatic effects.

Additionally, high hedges are a quality of life issue. The misery inflicted by high hedges has been discussed many times and is well known. The issue never stops impacting on those affected; it follows them into their homes. It is worse even than noise, which has to abate at some point. This morning, I received a letter from an elderly lady who is convinced that her husband died because of his worry about a high hedge. As she said, if the Government believe in the Human Rights Act—and she quotes the relevant sections although I shall not go into them—she is entitled to have a life of her own. She said that the Government keep saying they support human rights, but she comes up against a brick wall every time she approaches her local authority to say that she would like her human rights respected in regard to a hedge.

Why is this Bill the right legal vehicle? It has been suggested that the text of the High Hedges Bill cannot fit within the Anti-social Behaviour Bill because the latter deals with behaviour that affects wider society. The Bill is not concerned with behaviour that impacts on a single person or household—the neighbour who lives in the shadow of a hedge. While the majority of Part 7 of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill is about local environmental problems that affect wider society, Clause 48 amends the Noise Act 1996. The 1996 Act deals with the impact of noise emitted from one dwelling to another. It is therefore all about the detrimental effect of night noise on a single person or a household.

The processes in the Noise Act and the High Hedges Bill—receipt of a complaint, investigation to establish whether a problem exists, service of a notice requiring

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action to be taken or else an offence is committed—are also similar. Any dispute resolution procedures or attempts at conciliation take place off-stage; they are not on the face of the legislation. Apart from the need for a complaint to trigger these processes, they are the same procedures that local authorities are required to follow under Clauses 46 and 54 of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill when dealing with the closure of noisy premises or the removal of graffiti.

I am no legal expert and I do not claim that my amendment is in the absolutely right form. However, the Government have clever draftsmen who could do that. Better still, the Government could reverse themselves and make space for the whole Bill rather than just the half loaf that we have discussed. I look to the Government again to confirm their determination to ensure that there is hedge legislation. Meanwhile, I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I am happy to have been able to add my name to the amendment. I think I said on Second Reading that I would do so—which was rather rash as I had not seen what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, was going to propose. Listening to the problems she encountered with regard to whether anti-social behaviour affects society or a group of people—more than one person or one household—I looked at Part 2, on housing. Clause 13 introduces provision for an anti-social behaviour injunction. The new section applies to,


    "conduct . . . capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any . . . person".

The provisions set out what that means; it is quite clearly a person, a household.

I hope that it will be possible to review whether the constraint that the noble Baroness encountered is appropriately applied to her amendment. I should like to think that something equivalent to the whole of her Private Member's Bill, for which she fought for so long and so energetically and doughtily, if I may use that term, could be incorporated in the Bill. One does not get the relevant legislative opportunities that often. I congratulate the noble Baroness on taking advantage of this one. I hope that she is successful.


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