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Mr. Taylor: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I agree with his analysis. I do not pretend to the House that in the initial period of backlog, which might even last for three years, the Bill would be cost neutral. There would be a cost in the early stages.
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): My constituent Mr. Michael Jones, who has campaigned for such legislation, spent more than £100,000 on legal costs in trying to deal with his problem. I expect that most people who are currently suffering from the problem will be very grateful that there may at last be a remedy that costs as little as £100.
Mr. Taylor: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I have a constituent whom the exercise cost £24,000--not as much as it did Mr. Jones, admittedly--and whose opponent had the benefit of legal aid, so that even after a successful civil action, there was no possibility of obtaining costs from the other side, so I share the hon. Lady's sentiment.
I am conscious of the fact that, according to the clock, I began to speak half an hour ago. Of course, my speech has been considerably extended by interventions, which I have been happy to take, but I shall shortly move to a conclusion.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend will know that I am concerned, as many hon. Members are, that the House should get what it wants. He will be aware of my perhaps anorakish interest in the procedure by which the House hopes to get what it wants. In view of the provisions on orders and regulations in clause 13 and my uncertainty about subsections (2) and (3) of that clause, will my hon. Friend advise me as to whether any regulations subsequently introduced by the Secretary of State to give effect to the Bill would be subject to the negative or the affirmative resolution procedure?
Mr. Taylor: I am prepared to return to my hon. Friend on that matter, but as I understand it, the regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure. In fact, this is a moment for candour. I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the affirmative and negative procedures, but I have satisfied myself that the higher hurdle will apply.
The remedial notice would be drawn up by the local authority, setting out the action that had to be taken to remedy an obstruction of light caused by the hedge. In practice, we are talking about a specific requirement to reduce the height of the hedge and, possibly, an on-going requirement to maintain the hedge to prevent any further problem from arising in future. The local authority could not require the removal of the hedge or its reduction to below 2 m in height.
Clause 7 provides rights of appeal against the local authority's decisions under the Bill. If, in dealing with a complaint, the authority issued a remedial notice requiring work on the hedge, an appeal could be made to the Secretary of State. Similarly, if the authority decided not to issue a remedial notice, the complainant could appeal. Those provisions are intended to ensure that the people affected by the Bill are guaranteed a fair and impartial hearing before the determination of their respective civil rights.
Under clause 8, the Secretary of State would be allowed to set down in regulations the procedure for dealing with such appeals. He would be required to appoint "another person" to hear and determine appeals under the Bill. I believe that the intention is to delegate all appeals to the planning inspectorate.
Clause 9 describes the Secretary of State's powers in determining appeals. He may allow or dismiss appeals, either in total or in part. He may quash or vary remedial notices. He may also issue such notices in cases where the local authority has decided not to do so. Under clause 10, failure to comply with the remedial notice would be an offence, punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding £1,000. There is also provision for daily fines if the requisite work remains outstanding following a court order. People will not be prosecuted simply for growing hedges. Those provisions would come into play only if someone refused to comply with the local authority's remedial notice.
Under clause 11, the local authority would have the power to go on to land and carry out the work specified in the remedial notice if the owner or occupier of the land failed to comply with its requirements. The authority could exercise those powers whether or not criminal proceedings were brought under clause 10. The costs of the work could then be recovered by the local authority from the owner or occupier of the land.
Under clause 16, the Secretary of State would have the power to extend the scope of complaints covered by the Bill and to alter the definition of the term "high hedge" by regulations. That is necessary in case experience shows that the Bill does not cover particular high-hedge problems.
I believe that we are addressing a genuine grievance that has brought misery to the lives of a number of our constituents. In conclusion, I should like to thank all those who have supported and encouraged me in introducing the Bill, not least my sponsors. I thank Clare Hinchliffe, the president of Hedgeline, for her help and encouragement, too. I commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): I congratulate the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) on using his discretion after being so fortunate in the ballot. The Bill is long overdue. On a number of occasions, I have tried to get a similar Bill through the House, although I take no credit away from the hon. Gentleman. I have appreciated the support of hon.
When the problem was first brought to my attention, I thought that someone was trying to set me up. I found it incredible that high hedges or high trees could create so many emotional--sometimes neighbour is set against neighbour--and practical problems. The more research I did, the more serious I found the problem to be. With the exception of one or two politicians, people had certainly not taken it particularly seriously before, and its dimensions had not been appreciated.
When I consulted the public on my Bill, I was utterly amazed to be approached by people from the Japanese embassy who wanted copies of it because, as I discovered, Japan has problems similar to those we face here. I was equally amazed to be approached by people from Germany, where a similar problem exists. When Governments were opposing the introduction of a Bill such as this, we were told that everything on the continent was all right. We found out that is was not. The more I explored it, the more I realised the importance of the problem, about which I have had thousands of letters from all over the British isles.
I certainly welcome those things in the Bill which safeguard individual freedoms; that is always the basis of things which sometimes do not seem important. There are adequate safeguards and, at any stage, the notice can be withdrawn. The Bill gives the Secretary of State a say in how it will be operated; at the end of the day, one can go to him. The Bill includes many safeguards and, in some ways, it is better than my Control of Hedgerows in Residential Areas Bill. However, there are certain similarities, such as the right of local authorities to implement the provisions, which was part of my Bill. The present Bill makes considerable effort to provide for conciliation between parties--also in my Bill. There are one or two indications that the draftsman has listened to different opinions on both sides of the House and has tried to cover various points of view. The hon. Member for Solihull touched on the big problem of the considerable costs incurred under the old planning regulations and the fact that one was never sure whether one would get justice. There have been some very expensive cases. I know of a group captain who had to mortgage his house but, at the end of the day, got no justice. He is in his 80s and has a considerable war record of which the country should be proud, yet he is going to spend the rest of his days in debt. That provides an indication of the Bill's social consequences, which, as I said, I welcome.
In my view, local authorities are the only bodies adequate to police the Bill because they are publicly accountable. If there is any threat of injustice, it would be easy for constituents to go to their local councillor and have the matter raised in the council chamber.