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If the hon. Gentleman is anxious to extend the scope of the Bill, may I draw his attention to amendment No. 2, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore)? The amendment includes virtually everything and anything that has ever existed on God's green earth. If he has any worries about oak trees, I suggest that he supports that amendment, which will ensure that he and his constituents are satisfied.
I tabled three further amendments in the group. Amendment No. 40, which is a consequential amendment, involves similar reasoning to that of amendment No. 61. It would restrict the remedial reduction of the hedge's height to 12 ft. Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 would limit the scope of clause 16. They would ensure that the Secretary of State cannot amend the definition of the term "high hedge" willy-nilly. For example, they would not allow him to amend it to cover a single tree, but they would specifically allow him to extend it to cover deciduous trees, which are a big problem.
I should like to refer to one more constituency case, involving a lady whom I visited last Saturday and whose neighbour has a high leylandii hedge on one side of the garden. The loss of light that the hedge causes is nothing compared with that caused by the oak tree that stands a few feet away from her house in a neighbour's garden. The tree is listed, and from 11 o'clock onwards, its leaves mean that her garden is in almost complete darkness. The remaining light is excluded by a silver birch that is protected by a tree preservation order. In my view, such a tree is not a significant forest tree that is worthy of being subject to such an order. My constituent has no light in her garden because of the tree preservation orders that
The amendments that I have tabled all argue for a better application of the principles of good regulation. They guard against the unintended consequences of good intentions and they lift the hidden burden of the measure: worry about implications and application. That burden is not apparent in the Bill. In accordance with the principles of good governance, the amendments would also introduce certainty and predictability. I commend them to the House.
Mr. Dismore: I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) on his speech. It probably holds the record in this Parliament for a Friday speech. He finished in a little under two hours, which is probably the parliamentary equivalent of being out for 199. That is quite an achievement.
I have considerable anxiety about the hon. Gentleman's comments, however, especially his opening remarks when he spoke of the threat to gardeners. As has been said, we are considering the interests not only of those who own the hedges--the hon. Gentleman's position--but of the victims. There are 17,000 about whom we know. The threat to gardeners is a double-edged sword--or scythe. I am worried about the threat to gardeners who suffer from the shade created by high hedges--for example, those who have to replace their sun-loving plants with hostas and ferns. The hon. Gentleman has indulged in a great deal of scaremongering, which will create misplaced anxiety. A good neighbour has nothing to fear from the Bill.
The measure would be used way down the track, when all other methods of resolving a dispute had failed. The Bill makes it clear that parties should try to resolve the dispute amicably. On Second Reading, we heard much about the need for mediation. The Bill will apply to a minority of cases, when one or both sides are intransigent. The local authority's function will be mainly arbitration.
Mr. Forth: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's analysis. He began by saying that the problem was widespread and significant and affected a large number of people. He then claimed that he expects most disputes to be resolved amicably, that the Bill is almost otiose and that it will be used rarely. The hon. Gentleman cannot credibly maintain both positions. If there are many complaints, which will all be tackled amicably, is there any need for the Bill?
Mr. Dismore: The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question is straightforward. There is currently no framework or legislative background against which disputes can be tested and resolved. The Bill provides a framework, which enables people to know
I shall briefly presage the arguments that I want to advance on another group of amendments. It will help people to resolve their differences if we set out the criteria whereby local authorities judge disputes, because that will enable them to know what they should take into account.
In an earlier intervention, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made the important point that if we are too prescriptive, we run the risk of creating a formula that does not reflect the different sorts of gardens and properties in this country. The gardens in my constituency are larger than those in central London, but I suspect that, on average, they are significantly smaller than those in Christchurch. More stringent requirements should apply to smaller gardens. Amendment No. 11, which I hope to move later, deals with that point by providing for taking account of the location of the hedge in a rural, urban or suburban environment.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Will my hon. Friend cover the vexatious issue of the formula D/2 + 2, as opposed to D being proportional to the distance from the back of the window to the centre of the hedge? That is important, given that so much of the new clause depends on the equation.
Mr. Dismore: The formula is nonsensical because it does not take account of the diverse circumstances that a local authority can face. I have set out criteria in a sequence of amendments. Some of them have been endorsed by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who has also devised some criteria. They would provide a better method of testing whether a hedge should face the chop.
New clause 9 does not tackle the evil that the hon. Member for Christchurch is trying to address. I have great sympathy with his point, which is: who comes first--the hedge or the affected landowner? However, simply limiting the criteria to the construction of new property after the hedge was planted is the wrong approach. Later, I shall move amendment No. 15, which deals with the matter more constructively. It takes into account not only when the buildings were constructed but whether the complainant arrived in the property after the hedge was established. That does not necessarily mean that the person who is affected by the hedge has no rights, but that the local authority should take account of whether the hedge was there first. That constitutes a more flexible approach than new clause 9.
I shall consider my amendments that would broaden the Bill's scope. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst spoke of definitions that were too wide or too narrow and got lost in the middle of his contentions. I believe that the Bill's definition of a hedge that forms a
I want the Bill to contain a broader definition, which encompasses a single tree. I do not suggest that because of the lovely woodland oak that one sees here and there. I want the Bill to cover single trees that have been trained to form a hedge against a fence and perhaps above it. A single tree can grow upwards, sideways or both. If it is trained to grow sideways, it can form as much of a barrier as a whole line of leylandii. Limiting the definition to two or more trees is therefore the wrong approach.
Maria Eagle: I have every sympathy with the fact that the proper purpose of the Bill is to deal with the problems caused by nuisance neighbours deliberately planting these trees and shrubs, including leylandii, to create barriers. To that extent, I am sympathetic to broadening the scope of the Bill. However, I am concerned that, whenever we legislate in this place, it is perfectly possible, if we are not careful and very tight with our definitions, to create unintended consequences, in such a way that those whom the Bill does not aim to assist could very cleverly, with the aid of their lawyers, nevertheless manage to use its provisions. Is my hon. Friend convinced that amendment No. 3, in widening the scope of the Bill, does not go too far? Is he convinced that it will keep the Bill relatively narrow in scope, in the sense that it will deal with the problem with which the Bill aims to deal?