HC Deb 17 November 2003 vol 413 cc501-12

Queen's recommendation having been signified

4.25 pm
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears)

I beg to move,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Anti-social Behaviour Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the payment of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act.

The motion relates to some welcome Lords amendments to the Bill that would create a new procedure for dealing with complaints about high hedges. The motion is necessary to plug a gap in the original money resolution relating to the Bill, which was agreed by the House on 8 April. The costs associated with the high hedges provisions were fully debated on 7 April, when the House considered and agreed the money resolution relating to the High Hedges (No. 2) Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). We are delighted to have found a suitable vehicle to introduce those measures, which enjoy strong support across the House, but as the issues relating to the money resolution have been debated on a number of occasions, I shall not detain the House any further. I commend the motion to the House.

4.26 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

That is all very well, but it does not cover the potential consequences of the money resolution. Since we never see the details of money resolutions, the Minister is asking us to sign a blank cheque, which is what such resolutions always amount to, so it is worth pausing to explore the implications of where we are and where we might be going.

One oddity of the procedure that has always puzzled me is that we are being asked to approve a motion stating That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Anti-social Behaviour Bill"— let us note that it refers to any Act rather than to a specific one— it is expedient to authorise the payment of money … of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State". That is asking rather a lot of the House. At this stage in the proceedings, we, the supposed custodians of taxpayer's money, are being asked to say, "Yes, we will sign up to that form of words," relating to any Act and any expenses, and without any knowledge of what they may be.

Although the Minister has highlighted a particular part of the Bill, which I will deal with in a moment, I have quickly perused the Lords amendments that we are about to consider. I make that point because one of our difficulties is that we do not really know—the Minister did not tell us—whether the money resolution purports to cover the assumed expenditure under the previous working of the Bill or whether the Government have attempted to take into account the financial implications of the Lords amendments, which have yet to be considered and agreed by the House. That puts us in a rather odd position. We do not know whether the House will agree to the substantive and substantial Lords amendments that follow this motion on the Order Paper.

Here is the position: we are being asked to sign up to a motion authorising the expenditure of unspecified moneys, and the Minister has told us in her charming way that it is all to do with high hedges, but I wonder whether that is the whole story. I have glanced through the Lords amendments, and I think I have picked up considerable implications for the courts, local authorities, the Secretary of State, the police, waste authorities and something called the appeal authority, which I may return to in a moment.

The array of potential costs is substantial, and this question arises immediately: are we being asked to assume that all those different institutions will absorb into their existing financial structures the undoubted additional costs that the Lords amendments would impose if we approved them, or will the Secretary of State give more money to each of those institutions in order to offset the additional costs that may or may not be incurred if we agree to the amendments?

We can already see that an awful lot of conditionality is involved here. Nothing is certain—nothing has been clearly laid before the House—so we are being asked collectively, as the custodians of taxpayers' money, to sign up to a whole series of conditional propositions to which we know none of the answers. I might even go so far as to say that it would have been better had we considered the money resolution after the Lords amendments, because we might have had a rather clearer idea of what we are supposed to be financing.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Did the right hon. Gentleman make any of those proposals when he was shadow Leader of the House?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman perceptively puts his finger on the fact that now, as I glory in the freedom of the Back Benches, I am able more thoroughly to explore what is put before the House. When I was constrained by my responsibilities as shadow Leader of the House and by collective responsibility, I left that to others. If the hon. Gentleman did not do it, he should explain why not; but I do not have to explain myself. I invite the hon. Gentleman to participate in these proceedings as a good parliamentarian: he may seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I have completed my analysis, which has barely started. I look forward to his contribution. He is obviously very keen to participate in matters relating to money resolutions: I welcome that. Perhaps he and I can form an informal partnership—linking arms, as it were, across the Chamber to hold the Government to account on money resolutions and many other matters.

As I was saying before the hon. Gentleman enabled me to make those remarks, let us look at one or two of the provisions that have the potential to affect the money resolution in ways as yet unspecified by the Minister. Amendment No. 1 to clause 13 suggests replacing the words "residing in" with with a right (of whatever description) to reside in or occupy". To my mind, that immediately hints at a considerable broadening of the scope of the clause. That continues in amendment No. 2, which refers to a person with a right (of whatever description) to reside in or occupy other housing accommodation". Such a broadening of the provisions has a potential impact on court costs. It is self-evident that introducing the potential for more cases to be brought before the courts must have cost implications. The money resolution does not tell us whether the courts will be expected to bear those costs from within their own budgets or whether there are implications for the Secretary of State's budget. One way or another, of course, it all comes back to the taxpayer. Sadly, that is a given in this place—it is always the hapless taxpayer who picks up the bill. Our concern should be to dig underneath that to try to identify whether the additional tax burden falls on the taxpayer through the court budget, per se—which implies that another part of courts' activities will have to suffer—or through the Secretary of State's coming forward to give more money to the courts to recompense them for their additional responsibilities as a result of the amendment, were we to agree to it.

I do not apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the degree of conditionality in my remarks. I think that it is legitimate for me to link the money resolution, which is before us without detail or specification, and the following business—our consideration of the Lords amendments—because the amendments have cost impacts—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman will be out of order if he goes into those: he must address his remarks to the money resolution.

Mr. Forth

In that case, Madam Deputy Speaker, I remind hon. Members that the money resolution says that for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Anti-social Behaviour Bill … it is expedient to authorise the payment of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State". I am trying to tease out the extent to which the Secretary of State will have to provide those expenses and the way in which he or she will be obliged to do so. I am unclear as to the exact link between the Secretary of State, who is specifically referred to in the money resolution, and the institutions that are inevitably drawn in by the Bill and the amendments. Local authority costs frequently occur. There is a direct implication of costs in references to guidance by the Secretary of State. One could argue that a Secretary of State can issue guidance cost free because the gigantic bureaucracy of any Department can produce and distribute guidance without additional cost. I query that because I have always believed that simply assuming that bureaucracy can costlessly provide an additional product, in this case guidance, implies either sleight of hand and even dishonesty or poor management. Nothing in life and certainly nothing in Government should be cost free. One should be able to account for everything, even something as apparently simple as issuing guidance. If that cannot happen in a money resolution, where can it occur?

Clause 61 has clear implications for police costs. Again, an additional responsibility has been placed on—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the original money resolution to the Bill was agreed after Second Reading on 8 April.

Mr. Forth

I am aware of that, Madam Deputy Speaker, but may I invite you to follow my logic? Surely the Lords amendments that we are about to consider may materially affect the Bill. If you can tell me that if we agree the Lords amendments, the Government will have to introduce a further money resolution to take account of them, that part of my case will be satisfactorily laid to rest.

Madam Deputy Speaker

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's point, the money resolution relates only to the high hedges provisions, and nothing else in the amendments.

Mr. Forth

That is an interesting ruling, which I accept, but it does not answer my other question. If a previous money resolution gave effect to the original Bill and if we subsequently agreed Lords amendments that would materially affect the contents, at what stage would the House of Commons be invited to agree a further money resolution to take account of the alterations?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I can clarify the position. The money resolution that we are currently debating relates merely to the provision for appeals to the Secretary of State against enforcement notices on high hedges.

Mr. Forth

With respect, that does not answer my question, which I hope you will accept as legitimate, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have given an assurance that a prior money resolution related to the previous form of the Bill. You now tell us that the money resolution simply reflects the potential cost implications of the part of the measure that deals with high hedges, with which I shall deal in a moment. However, that leaves unanswered an interesting question. Were we later to agree to several Lords amendments, which, in my view have clear cost implications, would not that necessitate a further money resolution? That puzzles me, and I am happy to see that you are about to help me.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Again, if it will assist the right hon. Gentleman, I make it clear that if what he outlines had been the case, further money resolutions would have been tabled to cover the point.

Mr. Forth

The helpful implication is therefore that the Government want to argue that the Lords amendments have no money implications. I shall ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee to take full account of that. If it turns out that any additional burdens on the taxpayer arise from the Lords amendments, I hope that the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office will want to examine that closely.

If, as appears to be the case, we are being told, by implication if not explicitly, that the Government have not seen fit to table a further supplementary money resolution to allow for the possible cost implications of the Lords amendments, I shall rest content with that for the moment. I simply flag up for the Minister the fact that she had better be very careful about the expenditures in her Department—and, perhaps, in other Departments and institutions—because we are apparently being reassured that there will be no cost implications for the courts, the police, the waste authorities or any of the others that I listed earlier. I am rather reassured by that, but frankly, I shall believe it when I see it.

Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

Are we not caught between the clarity of Madam Deputy Speaker's ruling and the ambiguity of money resolution No. 2, which simply refers to "any Act resulting from" the Bill? Surely it was incumbent on the Minister to have drafted her money resolution better, so as to express the interpretation that Madam Deputy Speaker has given to it—that it is limited to that articular part of the Bill?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a distinguished member of the Treasury Committee—to whose attention I think I should also draw this matter. I am happy that he is in his place. He is right: the Minister cannot expect both to present vague drafting of that kind yet also to say, in her very brief introductory remarks, that it applies only to the additional costs resulting from the insertion, in this Bill at this stage, of an entirely new Bill, in the form of new clauses. We have to have one thing or the other. The Minister said that what she was asking us to approve related only to the high hedges provisions—and what I am now saying to the House, to the Treasury Committee and to the Public Accounts Committee is that we shall watch carefully to see whether that is the case.

One of the values of this little debate is that we may have teased out a lacuna in our procedures. Even after several centuries of practice, perhaps we can still occasionally drop a ball here or there—who knows? In the context of what we have just found out, we may want to re-examine the relevance of money resolutions—but that debate is for another day.

You have helpfully guided me in the direction of the high hedges provisions, Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, the Minister identified those as the sole reason for the money resolution before us. That is interesting because I, and one or two of my hon. Friends, took issue with those ideas when they were part of a private Member's Bill—a badly drafted one, we thought, and full of anomalies. Many questions were asked about it when it was laid before the House, and I am happy to say that it expired, partly because its promoter failed to answer any of the questions that he was asked at the time.

Sadly, the Bill's subject matter has now re-emerged in the guise of an enormous series of amendments to a different Bill, and will therefore receive no further effective scrutiny in this House, because of the absurdity of the timetable that is about to be imposed on us.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

Has it occurred to my right hon. Friend that it is an outrage that a Bill that was so unsatisfactory that the House did not bother to give it even the slightest of fair winds should now be reintroduced in a way that gives the House no chance whatever of discussing it? This is a constitutional disgrace, and the Government should be ashamed.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman's feelings are, we are discussing the merits of the money resolution, not of the Bill.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and although I completely agree with my right hon. Friend, I am unable to say so, because you have denied me that opportunity—but if I am lucky, my words might just get into Hansard.

Mr. Gummer

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that Mr. Speaker is aware of precisely what this means: we cannot talk about the subject under the money resolution, and we shall not be able to talk about it under the rules that the Government are imposing. It remains—although I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not wish to comment on this—a parliamentary disgrace.

Mr. Forth

Let us look, so far as we are allowed to, at the implications of the insertion in the Bill of an entire controversial, complicated Bill involving enormous bureaucracy at local authority level and potential infringements of property and—dare I say it?—civil rights. All those things have many money implications. It has been argued that a large number of people are concerned about what have loosely come to be known as high hedges. However, if bureaucracy has to be provided in local government as a result of the money resolution, we do not know with any clarity whether the mechanism will allow local authorities to ask for additional funding from the Secretary of State to recompense them for the additional costs. We do not know any of the details at all.

We know that the Government have a regrettably long record of imposing additional responsibilities on local authorities and not giving them the funding to reflect that. We could find ourselves in the ridiculous position where a highly controversial measure is introduced by this back-door method and a huge bureaucracy has to be developed in local authorities to give effect to it, without the compensating finance being given to local authorities.

Mr. Fallon

My hon. Friend is, perhaps, suggesting some addition to the local government settlement in respect of the bureaucracy and appeals arising from the Bill. Would not those shires or districts with lower hedges have to subsidise those with higher hedges?

Mr. Forth

Of course, that is one of the possible implications—but we do not know. My hon. Friend and I, and the House, are left guessing about that. Sadly and typically, the Minister did not do us the courtesy of giving us any details at all. She thought that she could get away with a charming smile at the Dispatch Box and a few words of introduction, in the hope that this would all float through. The days of money resolutions floating through are over, as of now. There will now be some attempt to scrutinise them—I give my modest personal guarantee on that. I should be grateful if the Minister could pass that on to her colleagues.

I see that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is gasping to get into the debate and add his little contribution—it is true to say that he would be thought a lesser parliamentarian if he were not. However, let me not digress, because I am very focused on this part of the Bill and I want to tease out as much of the detail as possible.

The Minister mentioned that the money resolution was supposed or intended to provide additional funding for the appeals mechanism. Indeed, you helpfully mentioned that, Madam Deputy Speaker, having singled it out on the advice of your experts. I wonder, however, whether it goes further than that. Are we supposed to assume that the other provisions contained in this enormous additional Bill which is being sneaked into the Bill at this late stage, without any potential for real amendment or scrutiny, are cost free? I never thought that, when I was here on Fridays participating in the scrutiny of what was then a private Member's Bill. The promoter of that Bill, my good Friend the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), is with us because of his long-standing, passionate interest in this matter. He is smiling because he knows that the Government will do his work for him. I congratulate him on that. He has got what he wanted and argued passionately for at the time. He and I managed to be on different sides of this hedge and not fall out, which I value greatly.

My hon. Friend will agree that this is not a satisfactory way for us to examine the cost implications of this large addition to the Bill, even if it were assumed that it could be related only to the appeals mechanism, to which you referred some little time ago, Madam Deputy Speaker. The truth is that these complex provisions, which occupy pages, must surely involve additional costs to local authorities throughout the land. Even though some provisions are supposedly for the recovery of those costs, I do not think that anyone in the House would be prepared to believe that there would ever be a full recovery of all the costs involved in a measure such as this to the satisfaction of the taxpayer. After all, should not this stage of the proceedings begin and end with the taxpayer? We are in the House on behalf of the taxpayer, and it is on their behalf that we should be considering the matter and speaking this afternoon.

I am very unhappy about how this has been brought about. I have a request to the Government and to the Minister in this particular case: I would wish that when we have money resolutions brought before us, the wording were much more precise so that the House is given an opportunity properly to weigh the validity of the request being made. The words we have before us are effectively a blank cheque. Although the Minister said that the matter involves simply the amendments on high hedges, you, Madam Deputy Speaker, helpfully referred more specifically to the appeals mechanism. We are considering either the whole provision or part of it, but we are not sure about that.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster)

The proposed new clause 45 refers to a fee, which a complainant under this new legislation must submit to the "relevant authority". Does my right hon. Friend anticipate that the size of the fee will have to be calculated to cover the costs of a local authority in dealing with a complaint from one of its residents?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because that is exactly the point. What we do not know, because the Minister has not told us, is whether the Secretary of State will give local authorities a sum sufficient to cover all the costs of the additional bureaucracy, the initial applications, the complaints mechanism, the appeals mechanism and the enforcement mechanism—all those are in this Bill within a Bill. Alternatively, will an estimate, or an attempt to estimate, be made as to recovering some of those costs by way of fees, or indeed land charges, which are also referred to in the Bill? We simply do not know.

We are thus in the absurd position of having a money resolution before us that seeks at a very late stage to give effect to a large addition to the Bill of which we know no details at all, although they will be of crucial interest to us as council tax payers and as taxpayers at large. We have no idea what the relationship will be between the Secretary of State and local authorities and no idea what the relative impact is likely to be on rural authorities on the one hand and urban authorities on the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull, who represents a suburban seat, was the last Member but one to attempt to take such a Bill through the House. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) made the subsequent attempt. I know that a lot of my hon. Friends who represent rural seats were concerned about the implications of such provisions for rural areas. They might well be, because even supposing that the implications are to be restricted to the appeals mechanism—s you so helpfully told us a few moments ago, Madam Deputy Speaker—we still do not know what the relative impact is likely to be on hard-pressed authorities, be they urban, suburban, or indeed rural. That is a range of random thoughts that I had on glancing at the proposals.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull)

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is making his point with great force and he referred to me with considerable chivalry. It is true that we were on opposite sides of the argument but have remained honourable friends—in his case, right honourable. I invite him to share my view and analysis that the problem is primarily suburban. Although he is making his very powerful—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. There have been points at which I have made it clear that the resolution under discussion is a money resolution relating to that part of the Bill that relates to appeals rather than anything else.

Mr. Taylor

Thank you so much for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. On that very point, I put it to my right hon. Friend that inasmuch as there may be a cost to local authorities, there could be a saving in the law courts.

Mr. Forth

That is a typically incisive comment from my hon. Friend, who is not only effectively the author of the series of amendments that relates directly to the money resolution, but a distinguished lawyer—a lawyer who has practised in a community with exactly these problems. So in this case I defer to him and accept what he is saying, which the Minister would not dream of telling us, probably because she does not know about these things and is not going to help us at all. There may be an offset in the cost between, for example, fees and court costs or police and other costs.

Mr. Fallon

My right hon. Friend should be a little wary of a lawyer telling us that something is good news. He may well mean that there may be a reduction in private expenditure by those pursuing their cases through the courts, with a consequent increase in public expenditure through extra levies raised on council tax payers or taxpayers generally.

Mr. Forth

I hope that the Treasury and Public Accounts Committees will be watching such matters like a hawk, lest either you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or even—who knows?—the Minister has been misinformed.

In this short debate, we have managed to pin down one fact very precisely on the taxpayer's behalf: the fact that the only additional costs arising from the motion relate to the appeals part of the Bill that is being smuggled into the overall Bill.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) rightly said that the measure might save many people a lot of money in their own pockets, but public expenditure is involved in running the law courts. That is the point that I was making earlier.

Mr. Forth

Of course. Law courts, local authorities and waste authorities all have the potential to become involved, but that, it appears, is a matter for another day.

For every citizen who is agitated about the height of a hedge, there is a proud owner on the other side of the hedge. Those who imagine that this is a vote-winner ought to think a little more carefully. My point is that, ultimately, all these people are taxpayers. I am not going to stand on one side of the hedge or the other; we ourselves are all taxpayers, and we are supposed to be representing taxpayers here. I am not sure that we have been given the best opportunity to do so today.

4.56 pm
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks)

I apologise for missing the beginning of the debate and am sorry that I did not hear the Minister offer some explanation for the motion.

When I heard your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, I felt rather troubled. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) pointed out, the motion neither refers to the appeals mechanism—although you informed us that it did—nor confines itself to the new part A of the Bill that will constitute the high hedges legislation.

You kindly informed us, Madam Deputy Speaker, that this expenditure would be dedicated to the appeals mechanism. I always wonder at the wisdom of the Chair, but in this instance I am bound to wonder how you acquired information that has not been laid before the rest of us. Surely if the motion is to apply only to a specific section—the appeals mechanism—of a specific and discrete part of the Bill, there is no reason why it should not say so. You therefore need not have been troubled, Madam Deputy Speaker, to explain the motion that the Minister has been championing.

Mr. Forth

Before my hon. Friend continues with his analysis, let me worry him a little more. As he will know, Lords amendment No. 45(1)(b) refers to such fee (if any) as the authority may determine". Subsection (7), however, states that the fee determined … must not exceed the amount prescribed in regulations made … by the Secretary of State". First the amendment implies that the local authority can set the fee; then, almost immediately, it says that the Secretary of State can place limits on that fee. Does that not have cost implications for the authority, let alone the appeals mechanism?

Mr. Fallon

It certainly does. It is a shame that the Financial Secretary is not here to move her own motion and explain it properly. I well recall that, under past Governments, the Treasury Minister who had tabled a motion appeared and did her, or his, best to explain it. That would have been helpful in this case—not least because, as my right hon. Friend has said, it is obvious from the tabling of the motion, and the clarification offered from the Chair, that someone somewhere has made an estimate. Somebody, somewhere has realised that quite considerable additional expenditure could be involved, and someone at the heart of Government has already started to wrestle with the much more interesting question of which group of taxpayers should fund it. Should it be the generality of taxpayers, which is why the measure is being brought before us? Should it be council tax payers, who are of course being cross-subsidised in any case by the grant from central Government, or should it be only a section of council tax payers, which was the import of my earlier intervention, with those shires with only a small number of high hedges, or those shire districts with smaller numbers of high hedges, being called upon to cross-subsidise to deal with all the fees, appeals, rulings and bureaucracy involved in high hedges in urban areas?

We are told that we all have to help fight crime and deal with antisocial behaviour, but I am not sure that all my constituents in Sevenoaks realise that the measure may involve some cross-subsidising of the high hedges of Solihull. There might be no objection to that. The council tax payers or the national taxpayers of Solihull might be quite happy to chip in to the fees and expenditure incurred in dealing with high hedges in Sevenoaks—and we do have some high hedges in Sevenoaks—but if this is to be a new line of public expenditure and a new element of council taxation, Ministers must be a little more forthcoming about the scale of the expenditure involved and exactly how they see it falling vis-à-vis council tax payers and taxpayers generally. We are owed a little more explanation.

5.1 pm

Ms Blears

I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) now has, in his own words, the glory of the freedom of the Back Benches and is able to range across these issues. Perhaps I can put his mind at rest—I hope so.

I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. There are two main issues, the first of which is whether the original money resolution covered the costs arising from the Bill and the amendments to it, including amendments tabled in the Lords. The original money resolution covered all the provisions of the original Bill, amendments made in the Commons and amendments on those subjects in the Lords—it covered any Act arising out of the original areas of the Bill. This resolution is necessary because the provisions on high hedges were added in the Lords; the Commons was not in a position, at that point, to approve expenditure on high hedges.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the Minister for coming back to us, with her usual graciousness and courtesy, with her explanation, but can she tell me what the difference is in substance between what is being added to the Bill by way of the High Hedges (No. 2) Bill, which was smuggled in, and the substantive additional elements that have been added by their lordships? There may be differences in scale and scope, but what is the difference in substance? How can an open-ended money resolution that we passed previously cover some but not all? Can she make the distinction?

Ms Blears

Yes. I thought I had done so in my earlier remarks, but the right hon. Gentleman clearly did not quite understand it, so I will repeat it. The difference is that the original money resolution applied to all the areas that were under consideration in the original Bill. It therefore included amendments to the Bill in the Commons and amendments in the Lords on any of those matters falling outside the original subject areas. The proposals on high hedges did not form part of the subject matter of the original Bill, so we need to plug the gap in the money resolution.

The proposals on high hedges are new, whereas the subject matter of the Lords amendments—raves, travellers, parenting orders and housing injunctions—formed substantive parts of the original Bill and were therefore covered by the original money resolution. The proposals were not smuggled in but were welcomed by many people and enjoyed cross-party support in the House, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept, in the spirit of the debates on the Bill, that there is good logic and intellectual coherence in our introducing a new resolution.

Mr. Fallon

I am very grateful to the Minister for explaining that. I fully understand why the first resolution should necessarily be general, but I do not understand why the second resolution is not more specific. Why does it not specifically refer either to the appeals mechanism or to the part of the Bill that has been introduced?

Ms Blears

I was about to deal with the second issue that has been raised: the extent of the money resolution and, indeed, how the appeals mechanism fits with other provisions on administering the system for high hedges. Hon. Members will know that we intend to consult local government on how the administration of the system should proceed, what the appropriate fees should be, and whether the fees should be calculated on a full cost recovery basis or whether any additional expenditure is needed to deal with the appeals process. It is right to consider those matters with local government during the consultation on the regulations, which will determine the procedure for dealing with these important and welcome measures. On that basis, I commend the money resolution to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Anti-social Behaviour Bill ("the Act"), it is expedient to authorise the payment of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of the Act.