Our advice on fees under the high hedges legislation is in the guidance document "High Hedges Complaints: Prevention and Cure." It states that each local authority is responsible for deciding whether, and at what level, to charge for dealing with complaints about high hedges.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. She knows that I have tried to highlight the unfairness associated with the policy for some time. I cannot understand why there should be any difference between investigating a planning violation or a noisy neighbours problem and a high hedges complaint. Yet action on one is free but action on other costs more than £600 in some local authorities. Some of my elderly constituents cannot afford the £320 that it costs in the Bristol area. I have been assured by some of my hon. Friend's predecessors that the matter is kept under constant review. Does she anticipate any results from that constant scrutiny?
As my hon. Friend will remember, the subject of high hedges was tackled initially in a private Member's Bill and then taken up by the Government. Essentially, we enabled the existence of a system to deal with private matters, which concern only the individuals directly involved. That is different from antisocial behaviour such as noise nuisance. We have made it clear that local councils are in a position to determine what they should charge. If they so chose, they could charge less for people who are on low incomes or over a certain age.
No, we do not collect centrally the data on the operation of high hedges legislation, so that information is not available. To respond further to the question asked by my hon. Friend Dr. Naysmith about a review, we consider it too early to reach a conclusion on these matters. We are not receiving a great deal of complaints about how the 2003 Act is operating, so we do not believe that there are many problems with it. We will review it in due course, but not yet.