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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe: "O ye of little faith". I honestly believe that preparation for eventual legislation has been undertaken by the Minister and his department to a better extent than I can recall on many a Private Member's Bill in the past. Government spokesmen have consistently adopted a neutral attitude to Private Members' Bills and have not involved themselves in reshaping such Bills.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and I have pursued this matter for four or five yearsor longerpartly as a result of our direct involvement in certain concerns but, in general, taking up the cudgels on behalf of thousands of people in this country who have been so frightened and terrorised by nasty neighbours that they want someone else to take the matter up.
The Government's approach has been a revelation to me. They were convinced, following a survey about three years ago, that this is the route that the public want; namely, the involvement of local authorities. Since those days, not only have they been a listening Government; they have been an actively listening Government. I can see in my mind's eye, over the past period, a gradual acceptance that the issue will not go away but must be tackled. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, has carried that burden the most. Given that at one time there was no legislation on this matter, and that now we have this Bill and a respective comparable Bill in the name of Stephen Pound in the Commons, I
The Minister and his advisers have decided to put the Bill in the best shape they can. The beauty of it is that that is not the end of the story. When the Bill goes to another place and is read alongside Stephen Pound's Bill, there will be the opportunity to synthesise the best in both Bills. That is why I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, "O ye of little faith".
I was heartened by what he said in confirmation of what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said at a previous stage. He said that among the bodies to be consulted would be Hedgeline, which is the major, voluntary, consumer-driven body dealing with this matter. It has said all along that the substance for real progress would be seen in the guidelines issued as a guide to local authorities and their officers. I can tell the Hedgeline people that they have got what they wanted; they may not have the legislation that they want, but they will have an opportunity to influence the legislation. The Minister's advisers are reasonable, sensible and responsible people; if the people from Hedgeline sit around a table with them, and present a good case, the Minister's advisers will take it on board. I am grateful to the Minister and his advisers, and wish them well.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I apologise for not contributing to this Bill earlier, which I was prevented from doing. In 26 years as the legal eagle on the "Jimmy Young Show", there was no more persistent cause of complaint than the matter dealt with in this Bill. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, on introducing it.
I shall make two points. First, my noble friend Lady Hamwee commented on tenants and occupiers under licences. At the least, a provision should be inserted into tenancy and licence agreementsperhaps only into shorthold agreementsthat the landlord could require consent before a tenant or licensee utilised the powers of complaint under the Bill. A shorthold occupation sometimes takes place while the owner is away temporarily. That is quite often the case. There is no more important matter for the owner of a house than good relations with a neighbour. It could be extremely destructive of good relationships if a tenant, out of what a landlord might think was an excess of zeal, was to start a complaint action. That could be extremely deleterious to the relationship between the landlord and the neighbouring occupier.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I place on record my thanks to the Minister and to the very able staff in his department for the time they have given to considering the real problems of so many people
Time has been made available for detailed discussions and full consideration of the exact wording required to make the Bill effective. I have been able to air fully not only my own views but those of the many who have written to me about the Bill. It is for that reason that I welcome these amendments.
It is essential that the guidance for the Bill, when published, makes clear that the grounds for complaint are now greatly widened. Although the BRE guidelines are still left as a factor to be considered, they are just one of many factors to be considered. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, stated in Committee:
We have now reached a moment of hope for many hedge sufferers, but I give a word of warning. There is still a long way to go. Even when a Bill becomes law, regulations and guidance need to be drawn up. I welcome the Minister's comment that consultation will take place at that point. It is important to get the details right, so people will still need to be patient for the time that will take.
It does not matter whether it is my Bill, or the similar one that Stephen Pound is presenting to the Commonswhich I hope will incorporate our improvementsthat reaches the statute book. Legislation on the subject is needed. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred to the "eventual" legislation; I hope that one of the two Bills makes the statute book this year, which would prove our doubtful view on these Benches to be wrong.
I shall leave it for the Minister to comment on the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. With regard to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, I am involved in many tenancy agreements myself, and it should not be difficult for a landlord to put a clause into an agreement. I do not believe that the Bill should put an obligation on the landlord. I leave the legalities of that point to be considered by the Minister.
This group of amendments is about the grounds for complaint, the complaints procedure and remedial notices. Amendment No. 1 is a cheering amendment. It is so much better to be dealing with the adverse effect than the much narrower wording, "obstruction of light". The new wording has the power to improve people's lives.
Amendment No. 2 clarifies the root issue, and I accept that. Amendment No. 3 is similar to Amendment No. 1, and helps to clarify that it is the impact of the hedge that matters, not where it is. Amendment No. 4 is another point of clarification, and I welcome it.
Amendment No. 10 makes it clear that activities such as gardening and sitting in the garden are to be considered. The wording covers the point that I raised in Committee, in making it clear that the Bill deals with "domestic" property.
Amendment No. 11 is much more important than it might seem at first glance. It means that the authority will need to consider that a hedge has two sides and a top and can grow back almost as quickly as one can cut it. The maintenance referred to as "preventing its recurrence" is as valuable as the "remedying" part.
Amendment No. 20 is a most important part of the Bill and of particular value to those who presently feel that the Bill does not go far enough. The words in the new text are a great improvement on the words in the Bill. Any extension beyond domestic property would need to be carefully assessed. The aim of the Bill is to help people to enjoy their own homes. Getting the precise definition of a hedge right is far from easy, and only time will test the present definition. I shall say more on the subject of deciduous hedges when we deal with the next group of amendments, but paragraph (b) of Amendment No. 20 may prove very helpful, as it gives power to amend the definition of a hedge.
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I should like to add to the compliments that have been thrown around the Chamber by congratulating the Bill's originator, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on her wonderful work. Many noble Lords also mentioned the way in which the Bill team has approached the matterby talking to everyone who had a view on it. Through sensitive consultation, the team has reached an outcome with which I think we are all rather happy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether the Government are behind the Bill. The Government are enthusiastically behind it. I do not wish to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, who is a good deal more experienced than I, but I think that, with such great support, there is no real reason why the Bill should not go through another place and become law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is concerned about short-term occupiers and whether the burden of complying with remedial notices will fall on short-term occupiers, especially if it requires major renovation of a neglected hedge. Under the Bill, the remedial notice is not served on or addressed to a particular person; it runs with the land in question and is binding on whoever owns or occupies it. Who out of the owner or occupier, assuming they are different people, is responsible for complying with the terms of the notice will depend on the contractual arrangements between them. However, general provisions in the Public Health Act 1936 relating to powers of the courts to
Where the requirements of a remedial notice are breached, any person who is then the owner or occupier of the land where the hedge is situated is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine. Where there is both an owner and an occupier, guidance would advise local authorities to direct enforcement action at the person who has the responsibility for the hedge; otherwise it is likely to fail. I hope that that explanation is helpful to the noble Baroness, although it may not provide all the assurances that she seeks.
This has been an interesting debate. I am particularly grateful for the great support from my noble friend Lord Graham and for all his comments.
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