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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would permit me to introduce my amendment so that he knows what lies behind it before he tries to answer it. I know that he is fairly psychic, but I might help the House to make progress. Amendment No. 119 arises because—

A noble Lord: My Lords, the noble Lord can interrupt the Minister, but he cannot make a speech.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, for the convenience of the House, I was trying to deal with the noble Lord's amendment in my comments because I want us to move on as swiftly as possible. The problem with the amendment is that it would disapply from the scheme of regulation any evergreen hedge that affords shelter to horticultural or agricultural land. In effect, it would mean that a home owner would not be able to lodge a complaint with the local authority about any hedge which was adversely affecting his or her reasonable enjoyment of property.

We all agree that hedges have many benefits, particularly in horticulture and agriculture. Even the maligned Leyland cypress can provide admirable shelter for crops. However, the number of complaints arising under the Bill about horticultural and agricultural hedges is unlikely to be significant. Traditional countryside hedgerows tend not to comprise evergreen species and so are unlikely to be caught by the Bill at all. As regards hedges that are predominantly evergreen, government Amendment No. 118 makes clear that a complaint under the Bill must relate to hedges that are having an adverse effect

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on domestic property. That does not completely rule out complaints about hedges on horticultural or agricultural land which adjoin residential land, but the overall number of complaints is likely to be low.

Where valid complaints about horticultural or agricultural hedges are made under the Bill, it does not follow that the local authority will order a reduction in the hedge's height, even if it finds that the hedge is having an adverse effect on the complainant's property. In determining complaints, local authorities will take account of all relevant factors, including points raised by both parties. The local authority's decision will be based on a balanced assessment of the merits of each case, having regard to individual circumstances.

The ODPM will issue guidance to local authorities on how to administer the scheme of regulation. Rights of appeal against local authority decisions have been drawn into the Bill. Obviously, I shall hear what the noble Lord has to say, but we think that we have got the balance about right. We understand that cases may arise for which the noble Lord would like to seek protection, but we can best deal with that in guidance. It would be unfortunate to begin a system of exemptions, such as that proposed in the noble Lord's amendment.

I think that we have a measure on which we have common agreement; there has been endless consultation. We have had too many Bills. The Stephen Pound Bill, which we are putting into the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, is fit for the purpose. It will serve and protect our citizens in the way in which its movers and all those who have supported it in the past seek. I beg to move.

Lord Dixon-Smith moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 118, Amendment No. 119:

    Line 26, at end insert—

"( ) This Part does not apply to any such evergreens which afford shelter to land used for the purposes of agriculture or horticulture."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Minister has done very well: he has nearly answered the point that I wanted answered. In fact, I support the amendment. All I seek from the Government is a little assurance, which I think that the noble Lord will be able to give. He might have been able to give it in rather fewer words than he actually did if I had been given the chance to introduce the amendment before he replied to it.

The noble Lord knows at least as well as I the fact that development pressures are very high in the South East and a scenario comes to mind that has not been adequately dealt with. The first is where a high hedge divides two large properties. I can think of two or three places where there are what used to be beautiful streets with lovely houses, each standing in three or four acres, often separated by high evergreen hedges. That was fine, but the pressures for development are such that the sites of those houses were worth considerably more than the properties themselves.

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Over time, the owner of one such property will decide that he cannot afford to live on the site any longer. He then applies for planning permission and, since the land designation is residential, his five-acre site will accommodate 15 to 20 new houses—I have seen that for myself. The site will be developed right up to the hedge, but that does not matter. People move into the new house, having bought it knowing of the disadvantage of having a high hedge perhaps only 20 feet away. However, when subsequently those people sell the house, the next owner does not see the matter in that light. The new owner will seek to have the hedge removed, even though that hedge is protecting the rights of the person still enjoying the large site next door.

It was to deal with that kind of situation that I sought a little more assurance from the Government. One tends to think of hedges inappropriately planted and growing away as the problem, but there is no question that the circumstance I have described is also a problem: it is a fact that, in the south-east of England, houses sometimes grow up to hedges rather than the other way round. That is the situation to which I particularly want the Minister to respond. I beg to move.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, earlier this evening the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, referred to an element of this anti-social behaviour legislation as a bus that one could hop on to. I am not very good at hopping on to buses, but on this occasion I have managed to do so because so many people have helped me to catch the bus. We waited a long time for this bus, but eventually it came along.

The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, responded to my first Private Member's Bill. Following that, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and I had a meeting with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who was briefly in charge of this area. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has asked me to say how sorry he is that he has been unable to stay tonight. He also reminded me that I must thank the Minister in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I am sure that is true, but I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who put forward some marvellous suggestions when we had our exchange at Question Time.

There are so many people to thank. I mention the noble Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Evans of Temple Guiting—which is a terribly difficult name to pronounce—who both dealt with the Bill earlier this year. I must also mention the late Lord Williams of Mostyn who suggested that I speak to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, about this matter. He was very supportive of my proposals. Indeed, many noble Lords from the Government and all sides of the House have offered their support. I thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, whose name is attached to my amendment. Without her brilliant suggestion for how to get the Public Bill Office to go along with this proposal, we might not have had the amendment before the House tonight. I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for her help.

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I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Monson, who is not with us this evening. The noble Lord sits on the Cross Benches and took a very active part in the Bill at an earlier stage. All noble Lords have supported this measure. Further, honourable Members from the other place, John Taylor and Stephen Pound, whose Bill is incorporated in the amendment before us, have been supportive. Stephen Pound and I agreed that, whichever Bill succeeded, one of us would steer it through the other House if we could.

Over the years, almost every aspect of this subject has been debated and appropriate amendments have been incorporated into what is the new clause before us. I thank also those in the ODPM who have worked so patiently and thoroughly on this subject and, more recently, staff in the Home Office and the Public Bill Office. I am sure that it is only because of those combined efforts that this amendment has been tabled.

The proposed new high hedges clause provides a way for hedge victims to seek fair treatment through this Bill. As there seems to be considerable misinformation on a particular point, one further comment is necessary. I must place on record that the amendment does not mean that all hedges throughout the country will be restricted to a height of two metres, as so many people who write in the papers believe. Only yesterday an article appeared stating that the Government are introducing legislation to reduce all hedges to two metres. People are quite ill informed on this subject and it is important for them to realise that that is not the situation. A complaint will be necessary to start the process. After that, each case will be considered individually, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, clearly explained. Cases will not be considered en masse but individually. I hope that cases such as those suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will also receive fair consideration.

I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is in his place. He, too, has encouraged me to press on with the amendment. I agreed that the one thing I would not do was hold up the bus when it arrived. I shall not say anything more except to thank the Government for bringing forward the amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I am a bit player in this drama. I do not wish to repeat all the congratulations; perhaps they can be taken as read. For myself, the greatest joy was hearing those in the Public Bill Office say not "We have spoken to parliamentary counsel and he disagrees with you so go away" but "We have spoken to parliamentary counsel and he agrees with you". I do not suppose that will happen often in my parliamentary career.

Perhaps I may make a couple of points in regard to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I was rather confused by the way in which he introduced it. He spoke of growing houses rather than growing crops but his amendment refers to agriculture and horticulture. I do not know whether this is the beginning of a great cross-party alliance and he is trying to solve the ODPM's sustainable communities programme.

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I am not sure whether his amendment is intended to apply only to commercial agriculture and horticulture or how high a hedge needs to be to afford shelter. It does not specify that it has to be for the purpose of providing shelter, nor does it refer to the crops which may require to be sheltered.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, may have answered my next query—probably in the negative—but I am not sure whether what he suggested goes in any way to the reasonableness of the enjoyment of domestic property of those on the other side of the hedge. I believe he said that this is not relevant to whether or not a complaint is reasonable.

I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, intends to press his amendment and so I shall not continue with my questions. I hope that he does not.

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