HC Deb 17 November 2003 vol 413 cc550-61

Lords amendment:No. 42, after clause 65, to insert the following new clause—High hedges.

Yvette Cooper

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr.Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss Lords amendment Nos. 43 to 61, 63 and 66 to 71.

Yvette Cooper

The amendments give local authorities the power to deal with complaints about high garden hedges that cannot be settled by negotiation and to take action if necessary. They import into the Bill the action if necessary. They import into the Bill the provisions so ably championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) in his private Member's Bill, the High Hedges (No. 2) Bill. The Government are extremely pleased to incorporate those measures in this Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing so much to pursue the cause and to raise the concerns of people who are troubled by high hedge disputes.

There have been seven private Members' Bills on the subject. Most received broad support, certainly from Labour Members. Opposition Members also wrote to the Government on behalf of their constituents. The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) introduced one of those Bills. Baroness Gardner of Parkes recently introduced two Bills on the subject and we have responded to the concerns that she raised in the House of Lords. The Government backed the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and looked for other ways to pursue it when it was talked out by a small number of Conservative Back Benchers. We have also responded to Members of both Houses who asked whether the measures could be incorporated into this Bill, which we decided was the right thing to do.

Unreasonably high hedges can block out light from neighbours' houses and gardens. Hedgeline estimates that there are 10,000 cases across the country of neighbours who are in dispute over the height of a hedge. We are all aware of problems such as bungalows crowded out by towering leylandii. We know that that makes neighbours' lives a misery, especially if the hedge owner refuses to respond. It is unfair on those who are suffering from the problem to leave them with no mechanism for appeal or adjudication.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

On fairness, my reading of the new clauses is that they would also apply to a case in which a new property is built on a plot of land next to an existing high hedge. Why should the owner of a high hedge have to cut it back because of a property that is subsequently built next door? Would it not be more reasonable to exempt those cases that arise when the house comes after the hedge?

Yvette Cooper

We hope that neighbours will resolve such problems themselves. Local authorities can take a wide range of considerations into account when addressing such disputes. They have discretion to respond to the nature of the circumstances involved and to direct remedial action. They may, however, decide that although a hedge has an impact on a house, remedial action is not appropriate in the circumstances. We will consult further on the guidance and the implementation of the measures.

The problems involve disputes between neighbours that we hope they will resolve. If they do not, the fundamental principle is that it is right to have a dispute resolution mechanism and some way of sorting out the problem. In truth, to those who suffer the most extreme forms of the problem, it can be just as antisocial as graffiti or noisy neighbours. We should not accept the stereotype that antisocial behaviour is only about teenagers on low-income estates. People face a wide range of antisocial behaviour and it is right that we can address problems relating to high hedges in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill.

Mr. John Horam (Orpington)

Following on from the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), I think it important that in this respect we keep the Bill as simple as possible. I strongly support and greatly appreciate the efforts made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) to bring the issue to the attention of the House through his private Member's Bill, and I am delighted that the measure has all-party support. However, we need to keep things simple and rely as far as possible on common sense and neighbours sorting the problem out between themselves. If we make the provision too complicated, with too many exemptions, we will land ourselves in serious trouble.

Yvette Cooper

The hon. Gentleman is right. Furthermore, we should allow local authorities to take the most appropriate decision in the circumstances, because every case will be different. It would not be appropriate to try to prescribe in legislation the types of hedges that people should have, nor to set down blanket provisions. The approach taken should be one of dispute resolution—finding a way to solve the problem.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South)

I agree with my hon. Friend. These are human situations in which emotions are involved, and there has to be some form of resolution. That should be achieved primarily through conciliation, but if that does not work, something has to be done.

Yvette Cooper

My hon. Friend is right, and I pay tribute to him as one who piloted two of the Bills on high hedges through this House. He has championed the cause strongly in the past few years. We in this House have had many hours of debate on these issues—

Mr. Pound


Yvette Cooper

As my hon. Friend reminds me, we have had 21 hours of debate during the passage of the many private Members' Bills on the issue. We know that hon. Members receive huge numbers of letters about high hedges from their constituents, and we at the Department have received many as well. The Government are keen to get the measures on to the statute book as rapidly as possible, and I am pleased that the Anti-social Behaviour Bill has provided a mechanism by which to achieve that.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

The Opposition called for a provision to deal with high hedges in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. Will the Minister say what the regulations, which I understand are not yet published, will contain? Will they be based on the current Building Research Establishment guidelines? Will she say something about costs? How much of an extra burden will be placed on local authorities?

Yvette Cooper

That is the purpose of the consultation. We aim to have regulations published and out for consultation as rapidly as possible. We will consult over the course of next year, with the aim of having the measures fully implemented toward the end of 2004 if possible. Fees and the guidance that is to be issued are precisely the type of thing on which we shall consult. I do not think that they are appropriate matters to deal with in the Bill—we should consult on and deal properly with such details through regulation.

Mr. Paice

As the Minister rightly says, high hedges have taken a great deal of the House's time throughout the years that I have been a Member. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who is present on the Treasury Bench, and I entered the House at the same time, I think, and we have witnessed most of the innumerable debates that the Minister described. The hon. Lady is right to say that the issue is one that has featured in every MP's postbag—except perhaps that of the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. MacDonald), because there are not many hedges in his constituency.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)

Or in the City of London.

7.45 pm
Mr. Paice

The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary is being wholly improper in speaking in the Chamber, given that her Minister is in charge of this issue.

High hedges are of huge concern to many people, but although the fact that they can be a problem is indisputable, views vary on the best way to tackle it. Several attempts have been made to deal with the problem in private Members' Bills—not all of which were the same—but the most recent and, if the measure is passed tonight, the most significant attempt was that of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound).

When scrutiny of the Anti-social Behaviour Bill started many months ago, few of us realised just what a Christmas tree it would become. In Standing Committee, my hon. Friends and I and the Liberal Democrats thought that we were pushing our luck in trying to introduce measures to deal with animal rights activists, travellers and raves, but all those things are now well and truly in the Bill, and I am delighted about that. The Government's decision that high hedges constitute an antisocial activity and therefore come within the compass of the Bill was a surprising, albeit worthwhile, piece of initiative on their part.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said, the Opposition have supported measures to deal with problems of high hedges, and we shall not oppose this provision tonight. The Government have taken an opportunity to address the problem—I was going to press my luck by saying "Once and for all", but rarely does any piece of legislation solve any problem once and for all. However, for a period, the Bill will address the problem of high hedges and the Government are right to have acted.

I do not want to sound churlish, but I should sound a note of caution. Picking up a private Member's Bill and adding its provisions to a major public Bill is not an idea that I want to be taken up often, because it is not necessarily the right way to legislate. Despite the number of hours spent discussing this issue, most people accept in their heart of hearts that scrutiny of private Members' Bills is not always as robust as scrutiny of public Bills, simply because of the number of right hon. and hon. Members present on the days when private Members' Bills are discussed.

None the less, the subject has had a great deal of time devoted to it, and the Government have taken the opportunity to do something about a problem that besets all our constituents—or at least constituents of us all—and have done so in a way that I hope will deal with the problem without being over-burdensome and over-intrusive.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am sorry to detain my hon. Friend, who is making a cogent case, but will he press the Government on one point? Hedgeline informs us that there are 10,000 outstanding cases which, if they all come to be conciliated immediately after the Bill is passed, will place a significant burden on local authorities. Local authorities up and down the land should have some form of commitment from Ministers that the Government will provide the extra resources required to resolve those cases.

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend has been a Member of Parliament almost as long as I have and he knows as well as I do that Governments of all persuasions are remarkably good at giving local authorities extra jobs without giving them the resources to do them. I am conscious that even if the Government say that they will provide the extra resources, it only means that they will take the money from some other area in which they were supporting local authorities. None the less, my hon. Friend is right to point out that the measure carries a potential initial cost impact, because of the large number of outstanding cases. I have no doubt that that impact will be felt; then, as the legislation gradually settles in, use of it will decrease.

I hope that local authorities will use the powers cautiously and deal with real problems, but not enter into too much vexatious activity. I am not suggesting that they are likely to do the latter, but the power should be used sparingly, to address a problem when all else has failed. Having encountered several such cases in my constituency, I know that they can often be resolved by non-statutory means—obviously, statutory means have not been available until now. I hope that the legislative provision will be used relatively rarely, but I am glad that it will be there if all other means of resolving a case fail.

As I said, the Opposition do not oppose the Government on this matter. Indeed, we welcome the opportunity that the Government are taking to use the Bill to introduce these measures. We hope that they will fulfil the objective and reduce the postbag of most right hon. and hon. Members.

Mr. Pound

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) referred to gloating in connection with another group of Lords amendments. With some difficulty, I will resist the opportunity to gloat until the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) assumes his place.

In a typically wise, generous and positive contribution, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire referred to the Christmas tree effect. In fact, Christmas has come early, not only for me but for the 10,000 hedge victims, who can now face the autumn shades closing in and the prospect of winter stretching before them with the knowledge that, when spring comes, daylight will be allowed to break through to gardens that for too long have been shrouded in darkness at noon, in the perpetual twilight of the garden blighted by the loathsome leylandii. We have the prospect of bringing succour, relief and daylight to those people.

If I achieve nothing else in my short time in the House, which is entirely likely, the fact that I have been associated with this piece of legislation will not only be a source of immense pride for me but an opportunity that I will use to bore the pants off my neighbours, children and grandchildren in times to come.

The mood in the Chamber tonight is very different from the mood experienced earlier. These provisions were described—I rather think that the words are carved on my heart—by the hon. Member for Christchurch as representing a threat to this green and pleasant land far greater than the effects of the great storm of 1987, of Dutch elm disease and of the depredations of the Luftwaffe. The fact that we have moved beyond that to realise that before us is sensible legislation that will bring great relief to many people is a tribute to the House, and something for which I could not possibly take any credit personally.

Where credit is to be given, I remind the House of the sterling efforts of Baroness Gardner of Parkes and Baroness Hamwee, who have exhibited deft footwork in the other place. They struggled constantly to ensure that these sensible provisions are placed on the statute book, and they must be congratulated. While I am dishing out early Christmas presents—I hope that it is entirely appropriate to do so—I thank my hon. Friend the Minister in the most obsequious and generous terms for her contribution and her dedication. She has taken up the ball that was put down reluctantly by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). That is an immense tribute to her. She has taken it so close to success—I was about to say fruition but that may be an inappropriate metaphor in this context—and that is a great credit to her.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) has been mentioned. I think that the House was aware that, if all else failed, he had a Bill on the stocks ready to be wheeled out. That prospect concentrated the mind of the House wonderfully. It has encouraged us in the glorious warmth and amity that we are experiencing this evening.

We should pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), who introduced a Bill similar to mine. I pillaged many of his ideas with no acknowledgement whatsoever, but I am glad to acknowledge him tonight. I do not say that because he is sitting behind me.

I must also refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones). I particularly regret that the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) has other urgent business this evening. He and I are occasionally confused with each other. How two tonsorially challenged right wingers can possibly be confused in that way is beyond me. However, I consider that I am blessed by the comparison with the hon. Gentleman. He introduced an excellent Bill and allowed me to steal from it in the same way that I pillaged the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South. The devotion and dedication of the hon. Member for Solihull to this legislation is much to his credit. I remember his speeches when his Bill came before the House on one of those benighted Friday mornings of tender memory. They persuaded many people of the efficacy and strength of the Bill. I hope that I have included most hon. Members in the Christmas card list.

I shall take up the point raised by the hon. Member who I think represents Cotswold. Is it all of the Cotswolds?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Most of it.

Mr. Pound

I refer to the Member who represents most of the Cotswolds, the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who talked about the burden on local authorities. Burdens on local authorities are a subject close to my heart. During my 16 years on Ealing council, I was acutely aware that I frequently added to those burdens. However, in the absence of any legislation, there is a huge burden on local authorities. When people have a dispute with their neighbours about hedges, there is no way in which the local authority can help. At the same time, the average member of the public does not believe that the local authority can help. As a result, hours and hours of officer time are spent telling people, "We can't help you." In many instances officers cannot provide that piece of information. They then have to provide reasons and justifications. There may well be a backlog. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire was entirely right and typically generous and far-sighted in his assumption that that peak will pass and that we will drift down into the sunlit uplands of a world without leylandii disputes.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

Down to the uplands?

Mr. Pound

I am sorry. Drift up to the downlands. We may either drift down to the uplands or up to the downlands as we choose.

I wish to underscore the point that was made with great clarity by my hon. Friend the Minister. She referred to the provisions as an essential adjunct to the Bill. If there be criticism of this modest piece of legislation tonight—if there is, I have yet to hear it—it may come from those who cavil at the way in which this section of the Bill has been brought to the Floor of the House. They may say that it is not directly applicable to antisocial behaviour. I remind the House, if it needs reminding, that two people are dead as a result of fighting and feuding over hedges. There has been one murder and one suicide. The issue is that serious.

In addition, 4,000 members of Hedgeline and 10,000 people who have reported their problems to Hedgeline are in dispute with their neighbours. I profoundly hope that, once the Bill has passed through the consultation period outside the House and starts to firm up in people's minds as imminent legislation, many sensible people will say, "Let's not wait for the Bill. Let's get together, talk and sort it out." There will always be an irreducible minimum. Some people will always use high hedges as a weapon of war in a neighbour dispute. Some people will use these missile-shaped trees as missiles against their neighbour. I accept that that will happen, but it also happens in boundary disputes and disputes about parking access, for example. We are familiar with all the neighbourhood problems that we read about in our postbags.

Call me naive or call me innocent, but I hope that when people realise that Parliament takes this matter sufficiently seriously to add to the 21 long hours that we have already spent discussing it by bringing it to the House in the form in which it is being considered, they will realise also that the issue is one of great seriousness. I profoundly hope that we will end these appalling disputes over the bizarre invention of Dr. Leyland in 1882. I frequently travel outside my constituency, usually at the request of my constituents, but in doing so I have discovered that a large number of local authorities are already setting in train the mechanism to implement the Bill. There are even companies such as Haygate Engineering, one of our most entrepreneurial engineering companies, that already offer safety platforms to enable local authorities to undertake the work. Councils up and down the country are welcoming the chance, not because they wish to act like some local government gauleiter and dictate how things should or should not be done, but because they have an immense problem and have not been willed the tools to address it.

8 pm

This group of amendments will will the tools. We have shown in the House that we want to resolve the issue once and for all. I am delighted that, finally, after all this effort, we are almost on the last lap, and are approaching the prospect that legislation will be made. I do not propose, unless the House insists, to go through every semi-colon and comma of the Lords amendments, which probably constitute the most scrutinised piece of legislation in many a long year. However, for the sake of the House and people outside, who may include my children but not many others, may I stress that the Bill's key aim is not to slice down leylandii? The whirr of the chainsaws will not be heard on every suburban street corner or even most of the Cotswolds. If enacted, the Bill will apply only where there is a problem. People can still have leylandii arching up to the heavens, but if the trees constitute a problem to their neighbours, they will at last have legal recourse to solve the problem.

The amendments will not mean the end of leylandii, although some of us would be pleased to see the end of that growth. However, where there is a problem, there will be a possible solution. People can still have leylandii and, if they wish, a screen at the end of the garden, but finally there will be a way of dealing with the worst aspects of the problem, such as the soil turning acid from the trees and gardens being in permanent shade. Overall, in the absence of any comments to the contrary, I hope that we accept that the House has taken a problem, addressed concerns, and proposed a resolution.

In conclusion, I pay particular tribute to the officials who have produced at great personal cost, particularly given the time that they spent in my office, which is not the healthiest environment, a terse, exact, precise, effective and workable piece of legislation. The provision may appear to be a modest piece of legislation, and may not be one of the great moments in legislative history or one of the high points of the parliamentary record, but it will make an enormous difference for the better for a large number of people. Can we ask more than that, when we come to the House, we do not do harm but good for some people? Tonight, we have the opportunity to bring relief to many who have suffered for too long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I usually hear the cry of "sit down" from my own side, but tonight it has come from the Opposition. I strongly support this group of Lords amendments and again thank the officials, other hon. Members who have tackled this issue and, in particular, the Minister.

Mrs. Brooke

I pay tribute to the many Members who have been involved in bringing this piece of legislation to the point where, we hope, it will be passed. I congratulate in particular the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). I was a bit surprised that, on Report, such a charming and eloquent Member had not gathered enough friends to ensure the smooth progress of his proposals. Indeed, I began to wonder where his friends were. However, the fact that those proposals are now attached to the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill means that he must have gained their support after all, or perhaps he has friends in higher places. It is difficult to match his eloquence, but the Bill has the potential to improve many people's quality of life greatly.

There may be lots of jokes about high hedges, but they are a serious problem for many of our constituents. We must, however, put the problem into perspective; we must not sound anti-hedge, as hedges are an extremely important part of our urban and suburban environment. On Report, it was suggested that the hon. Member for Ealing, North wanted to cut down every hedge in the country, which is obviously nonsense. We are talking about hedges that affect people's quality of life. Conflicts can arise, as some people want privacy, but achieving it may result in the loss of light for others and a detrimental effect on their environment. It is therefore right to have a statutory framework in which to address the conflict, which, I hope, can be resolved through mediation.

Mr. Heath

Does my hon. Friend agree that the measure is a helpful addition to our legislative armoury? However, the greatest benefit will come after the first rash of mediation or enforcement, when people will realise that that there is legislation on the statute book and will have sensible regard for the needs of their neighbours as well as themselves.

Mrs. Brooke

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. If I have any concerns, they are about the enormous amount of work that will have to be undertaken in the first year or two. It will take a number of cases before clear precedents are set, because it is generally true of planning applications that it takes time to look back at other cases. Once we have reached that point, however, it should be much easier to deal with the problem, and people will be much more respectful of their neighbours' needs in the first place. However, it is important to stress that people have the right to privacy, so we must always look at both sides of the argument. On Report, we discussed at great length an amendment that would have excluded schools, but that would have had the effect of preventing the worst case in my constituency, involving a private school with a rapidly growing high hedge, from being tackled. The owners contend that it protects neighbouring properties from balls and other intrusions from the school. In fact, it impacts on a large number of people, so it is important that some of the proposed amendments did not get very far.

I share hon. Members' concerns about the resources needed to implement the provisions, particularly in the first few years, and the burden on local authorities. There is a council in my constituency that does not have any rate support grant, so funding should be targeted so that the costs are picked up. However, the majority of people will be prepared to pay a few pence more so that the problem is addressed.

I think of the elderly people whom I have known who have had to live most of their lives in a downstairs room with an electric light on all day long. That is a tragedy when people are coming to the end of their lives and may not be able to go out much. I am delighted that we are dealing with the measure tonight. I give it my wholehearted support, as do my hon. Friends, who did their best to support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Ealing, North.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

I think I can claim to be the first in the House to suggest that antisocial behaviour legislation should be used to deal with the nuisance caused by giant hedges. That was during consideration of a previous Bill under a previous Home Secretary. The response that I received and the perplexed look that I was given signalled to me that, unfortunately, the time was not yet ripe for such legislation. Since then, as we have heard, private Members' Bills have been introduced by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound).

During that period, a massive amount of lobbying and the effective group Hedgeline, which was founded by my constituent, Michael Jones, have made their mark. A matter which, I am sorry to say, was considered rather a joke eventually came to be taken seriously by the majority of hon. Members, so I am delighted that the Minister, or Ministers, whoever they were, took the decision to incorporate my hon. Friend's Bill into the antisocial behaviour legislation. They were spurred on by the excellent work of Baroness Gardner, who tabled her own less effective amendment, which was subsequently subsumed into the Government's proposals. I congratulate all those responsible, who worked so hard to bring about the legislation.

I share the hopes expressed by other Members that the prospect of the Bill coming into force will focus the minds of neighbours who are in dispute about high hedges, and that they will come to some amicable arrangement for dealing with the problems. Finally, it is now possible for me to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the meeting that I had requested, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) and Baroness Gardner had also requested, is no longer necessary, so we can withdraw the request.

Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton)

I am pleased that we will not go through every one of the amendments. At 16 pages, the measure is considerably more complicated than I remember it when I served on the Standing Committee and we rather rushed through the private Member's Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound). I am pleased that after many years the Bill will be enacted and finally has Government support. With reference to the Minister's comments earlier, I note that since August 2000 the Government have said that a new law would be introduced as soon as there was space in the parliamentary timetable.

Mr. Pound

I am extremely reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in his flow, but the amendments before us are, in the words of parliamentary counsel, to all intents and purposes almost identical with the Bill that was introduced in my name, so I can assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing else has been smuggled in in the shadow of the cypress leylandii.

8.15 pm
Mr. Flook

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was referring to the fact that his name will be associated not with a private Member's Bill, but with a Bill on antisocial behaviour. With his predilection for smoking, he would know something about that.

The problem of high hedges is not as gripping an issue in the Taunton constituency as it is in the leafy suburbs of Ealing, but it is nevertheless an issue, judging by the number of letters that I have received. Mr. Bernard Routley of Priorswood has been troubled enough to get in touch with me several times in the two and a half years that I have been a Member of Parliament. No doubt he will be particularly pleased by amendment No. 46 allowing him to seek a remedial notice. I am sure that that will reduce the burden on Taunton Deane borough council, which has had to keep replying to members of the public such as Mr. Routley, who feel constrained by the lack of legislation on the matter.

Even in the rural parts of my constituency such as Bishopswood, which is nowhere near Priorswood, where the houses are sparsely situated along either side of a declining road and which is at the most southerly tip of Taunton Deane, people are worried about the problems caused by high hedges. A gentleman whose house I visited there will be pleased that hedges that are affecting him from non-domestic properties are not ruled out, as I understand it.

I support the amendments, but I have some reservations. After all the work put in by Baroness Gardner of Parkes in another place, by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham), by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and of course by the hon. Member for Ealing, North, we still await the objective tests from the Building Research Establishment, although I acknowledge that the Minister said she would bring them in as rapidly as possible. I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North will make sure that that guidance about the objective tests is forthcoming as soon as possible.

I am particularly concerned for my local council, Taunton Deane, that the fees that it may be able to charge should compensate for some of the costs that it will no doubt incur. We wait to see the Government guidance on that. I should be grateful if, in the time remaining, the Minister would explain how the planning inspectorate will deal with the great rush of appeals that will no doubt materialise once the legislation is passed, as I am sure it will be.

Yvette Cooper

I shall reply briefly to the points that have been raised. The hon. Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and for Taunton (Mr. Flook) expressed concern about the financial position. They will be aware that that was one of the issues picked up in the debate about the money resolution. Fees can be levied, although consultation is still to take place about the level of those fees and whether they should be set at full cost recovery. If there is a shortfall, we will follow the established procedure for recompensing local authorities for new burdens. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole suggested that that was a concern because of the revenue support grant. In fact, since the reforms were introduced, all authorities receive a positive amount of revenue support grant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) is right. She and many others have raised the issue of high hedges over a considerable time. I am glad that we have managed to resolve it so publicly before the meeting that she asked for. I pay tribute to her constituent and to Hedgeline for the work that they have done on the matter.

Although the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) welcomed the measures in the amendments, he said that he was not entirely happy with the mechanism and the fact that a private Member's Bill had been incorporated into a Government Bill in this way. All of us would have preferred the Bill to have passed through the private Member's Bill procedure, and many of us backed it through that procedure. We would not have done so, had it not been quite such an excellent private Member's Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North.

We should conclude the debate where we started—by congratulating my hon. Friend, not just on his private Member's Bill, but on his speech, which entertained us and reminded us why we need the amendments. He pointed out that the measures had been debated for a total of 21 hours and 15 minutes. I can now say that, at the end of a total of 22 hours and 20 minutes, I hope that the House will support the Lords amendments and allow us to get the measures finally on to the statute book.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 43 to 74 agreed to [Some with Special Entry].