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Earl Peel: I have a great deal of sympathy for my noble friend's amendment. I know how hard she has worked in the past to try to get her measure on to the statute book. However, I have one question for my noble friend. I hope that she does not regard it as frivolous as it is not intended to be in any way, shape or form. I am curious to know why she restricted high hedges to evergreens. After all, a beech hedge will hold its leaf throughout the year, albeit in a dead brown form. That, I should have thought, could be just as restrictive as a leylandii hedge. Indeed, during the summer months a high hornbeam hedge would be just as restrictive. As I say, I am curious to know why my noble friend restricted the measure to evergreens.
My noble friend Lord Peel asked an interesting question. However, I point out that although both hornbeam and beech are capable of retaining their leaves, they are usually kept trimmed when in the form of a hedge; otherwise, they look appallingly ragged. People may plant leylandii in all innocence forgetting that the wretched things will grow three or four feet a year once they are established, and will keep growing at three or four feet a year for the next 50 or 60 years by which time they constitute a huge problem. I could almost make a case for suggesting that leylandii should never be planted in urban areas at all. However, that is a separate issue. If the Government can treat the matter sympathetically, that would be for the good of many people in many places.
Lord Hylton: I suspect that the answer to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, lies in the penultimate sentence of the amendment in the word "semi-evergreen" which I take to include any tree or shrub which retains its leaf throughout the 12 months.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: It falls to me to respond to the amendment. I do so with great sympathy for the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner. As she said, I responded to her Private Member's Bill from the Government Benches. I understand why inserting suitable provisions in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill is on the face of it a very attractive proposition. This is a thoroughly anti-social problem. I believe that the noble Baroness described people who are victims of it as hedge victims. She is absolutely right about that. We recognise that some people are victims of such anti-social behaviour on the part of their neighbours. I certainly admire the vigour with which she has attempted to argue the new clause into the scope of the Bill. Very skilfully, she has found a cunning way of trying to get it into the Bill. However, I have to suggest that to fit the matter into the Bill is far from comfortable. I do not believe that the amendment proposes a long-term solution to the problem that it seeks to address. The noble Baroness expressed that herself.
In particular, the new powers would apply only to high hedges that adversely affected the general amenity of an area. Again, the noble Baroness made that point herself. Sadly, that is likely to exclude hedges that impact only on a neighbouring property, which is where the majority of problems arise. It also suggests that the offending hedges might have to be publicly visible, which would rule out a lot of hedges that are in back gardens. The amendment might, therefore, cover only a fraction of the existing cases. As she knows, the department has had many cases drawn to its attention. She said that she has often been
Additionally, it is worth pointing out that it is unlikely that a local authority would be able, under the terms of the amendment, to require the long-term maintenance of a hedge at the lower height. The only way in which a local authority could deal with that continuing problem would be to issue a new remedial notice. In the end, the amendment does not offer the lasting solution that we all seek. It falls short of its target, and of the targets that have quite properly been established through consultation undertaken by the Government and through the Private Member's Bill.
In the circumstances, we think that we would probably better serve the majority of high-hedge sufferers by waiting for a more suitable legislative opportunity. That said, and without wishing to offer too much encouragementI do not want to raise false expectations; it would be quite wrong and improper of me to do so from the Dispatch Boxthe noble Baroness's point was that there might be some skilful draftsman who could find a way through the thicket of the issue and see whether it could be brought within the scope of the Bill. There may well be. Without going too far, it would certainly be worth our having a little look at that. As Members of the Committee have said, we do not get too many legislative opportunities, and I could not give a commitment as to when the Government could find a legislative slot in the future.
We as a government want to see such legislation ultimately on the statute book. We recognise the matter for the problem that it is. We have all said in this House that it frustrates us that we have not got further than we have. I greatly regret that the Pound Bill was frustrated in the Commons by Christopher Chope and Edward Leigh on Report. It lost valuable time, otherwise it would have come to this House and we would have had the opportunity to push it through, because it had a degree of government support. As I understand it, no further time is left for consideration of that Bill. The noble Baroness has done sterling work on the issue. In the end I am sure that she will be rewarded.
We do not feel able to support the amendment as tabled, although I fully sympathise with the noble Baroness. She has done a very clever job in bringing the matter forward in the way in which she has, but I hope that, for the reasons that I have given, she will feel that she should withdraw the amendment. I reiterate that final sympathetic point again: we will have a little look to see whether there is anything that we can do, but I do not want to raise expectations in saying that.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: I thank the Minister for his reply, and thank those who have supported me on the amendment. I would like to answer the question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. He was asking why deciduous trees or trees that held their leaves that were not classified as evergreen were not included. The reason is that the Government carried out very detailed consultation. In 1999, they issued a consultative document called High hedges: possible solutions. They
Therefore, in our detailed discussions during the passage of the High Hedges Bill, it was clearly decided that no similar degree of consultation had taken place on deciduous hedges and on those which hold their leaves but are not evergreen. For that reason, it was felt that that public support was not so clearly demonstrated on this occasion. Deciduous hedges were not included but they were certainly debated at great length during the passage of the Bill.
I was interested in the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on other parts of the Bill which deal with individual cases. I shall be considering that again before the next stage. That was the ground on which the Public Bill Office said that the proposal could not be debated. However, it has proved not to be the case because individual cases are covered.
The Minister referred to the lasting solution that we are all seeking. We certainly are but we have been seeking it for too long. How much longer can we go on seeking it? He kindly said that he would have a little look at the proposal but I want him to have a great big look. I believe that this is an opportunity to include the equivalent of the High Hedges Bill in this Bill. I do not believe that there would be a problem with that in this House because we have debated the matter thoroughly over many years. We have ironed out all the problems.
If that were the case, "ultimately"the Minister said he wanted ultimately to see it on the statute bookwould not mean waiting for ever. It would mean that it was within sight. I shall not overlook the issue. I shall read Hansard and study the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Members of the Committee will be pleased to hear that at this stage and at this time of night I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment. We could talk on about it for ever because we are so used to it, but I beg leave to withdraw it.
There are many things you can do at 16we are even considering giving people the right to vote at 16but you cannot be sold an aerosol paint can. That is to be an offence. It is not to be an offence to possess a can but it will be an offence for the shopkeeper to sell you one. That is ridiculous and we have suggested that the age of 14 is more appropriate. I beg to move.
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