High hedges have been on the agenda since the Scottish Parliament started in 1999. I will begin with an illustration. Let us picture the scene. Scott Barrie decides to celebrate his arrival in Parliament by planting a leylandii. If that leylandii was planted in 1999, it would be likely to have reached the same height as the ceiling of this chamber by now. That illustrates the problem.
The concerned residents who are suffering on a daily basis from the blight of high hedges have suffered for far too long. We have had cross-party agreement here for seven years, yet nothing has been done. Campaigners throughout Scotland have lost faith in the Parliament and in Scott Barrie, who has driven the subject for seven years, because nothing has been done. Today, we have
My proposals are straightforward and would require minimum intervention from local authorities. In the initial phases, neighbours would agree to a solution. My garden has trees with which my neighbours might be unhappy. If they want to take the tops off, that does not bother me. [Laughter.]
Solutions can be achieved by local agreement. With English legislation it has been proved that problems can be solved by reaching local agreements without local authority intervention. If neighbours are not speaking to each other, the next step is mediation, which has worked in several cases. Intervention by local authorities is a last resort.
If we do not agree to amendment 146, we could face another seven years of waiting.
I know that John Home Robertson is heading for another place and that his concentration level is perhaps not that high, but what I said was straightforward: if amendment 146 is agreed to, it could end the blight of the high hedge problem. I should not have had to repeat that.
I understand that the Executive previously rejected dealing with the subject under the justice portfolio, but that that is being reconsidered—that is another delay.
I am sure that my good friend Christine Grahame will not move her amendment 147 after my amendment 146 succeeds. I say with respect to her that her amendment is too prescriptive and would place too much of a burden on local authorities, but I will probably talk about that after she has spoken.
As I said, high hedges can be dealt with in the bill. We cannot afford to wait another seven years, so I appeal to members to take the opportunity to support my amendment 146.
I move amendment 146.
As Mr Petrie said, the Minister for Justice said five years ago that the Executive had
"decided in principle that a statutory remedy of last resort is required, involving ... enforcement action in appropriate cases".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 31 January 2001; Vol 10, S1W-12936 and S1W-12171.]
Nothing has happened. Scott Barrie lodged a proposal for a bill, but nothing happened, at least until two days ago, when he reintroduced his proposal—no surprises there.
"I would hope that, between now and stage 3, the minister and the Scottish Executive could use their collective wisdom to draft an amendment that will protect the people in our constituencies."—[Official Report, Communities Committee, 13 September 2006; c 3893.]
So much for collective ministerial wisdom.
I will make brief points about Dave Petrie's amendment 146. The operation of his proposal would be triggered by nuisance or damage, but he should not try to borrow English legislative clothes—nuisance is an English concept and would not work in Scottish legislation. Damage would not deal with the real issue, which is obstruction of light, whereas a hedge that obstructed light would fall foul of the first test in my amendment 147. The process in amendment 146 would also be cumbersome. As for the definition of a high hedge in that amendment, I must claim with embarrassment copyright of the expression "wall-like", but that was a sabotage move by me—I may no longer be Mr Petrie's friend—as the definition in his amendment does not match up to the definition in my amendment.
My amendment 147 sets out a simple procedure that is triggered by two factors. I think that Mr Petrie told me that specifying 2m was too prescriptive. I would agree, if height were the only trigger, but my amendment says that a high hedge must be at least 2m high and that it must affect the reasonable enjoyment of the subjects. That covers what we are trying to get at. The other trigger in my amendment is that a high hedge must obstruct and be a barrier to light. I use the term "barrier" because such hedges are used as barriers—as a neighbour's weapon of war. The minister might have mentioned that.
As for the steps that would have to be taken, members will note that proposed new section 178A(1) in my amendment says that neighbours must have taken reasonable steps to resolve the dispute between themselves. If a complaint were lodged thereafter, an inspection would be conducted to determine whether the definition of a high hedge was applicable and whether the hedge blocked the reasonable enjoyment of the subjects who were adjacent or around. Thereafter, a notice of the complaint would have to be served with a copy of the inspection report, and the party who was complained of would have to have the
The process is not really that bad. A planning officer would just come along—officers inspect people's drains all the time—inspect the hedge, take out his tape measure and decide whether the hedge blocked the light and disturbed reasonable enjoyment. A copy of the inspection report would be sent to the neighbour. A notice of complaint would be sent by recorded delivery, so there could be no excuse about not receiving it.
If the dispute were not resolved, the owner or occupier would have to take action, but even the timescale for that is not prescriptive—it is to be done
"within 28 days, or such ... period as is ... reasonable".
If the owner or occupier did not take action, the authority would do so and would charge them for it. That is simple. I have collective wisdom all of my own.
It is interesting to see friends fall out.
On amendment 146, in the name of Dave Petrie, I say that it is not good enough just to acknowledge a problem and to lodge at stage 3 an amendment that offers no solution. I remind members that Dave Petrie's solution is that the Scottish ministers must consult within a year and produce legislation. That is not good enough.
The Parliament has not seen legislation on high hedges because, although the issue is clear to identify, the solution is not as clear. At least Christine Grahame has attempted to produce a solution in amendment 147. I congratulate her on that.
I am not entirely convinced that Christine Grahame has produced the right solution.
Members will be aware that this week I lodged an extensive consultation document that offers various solutions to the problem. It will allow people to say what they think is the best way forward. I remind members that local authorities do not wish to be the final arbiters in high-hedge disputes. It is easy for people to say that local authorities should define the problem and decide when to address trees or hedges, but they do not wish to have that power. The consultation
I am glad that many people are interested in the subject. Members might think that it is strange to introduce a consultation at this stage, but it will allow anyone—because no single person has copyright of an idea in this place—to introduce legislation early in the next parliamentary session, when we can have a proper debate.
It gives me no pleasure to follow Scott Barrie on this issue. I followed him back in 2002, when I backed his high hedges bill, which was kicked into the long grass. Scott Barrie's bill has suddenly and inconveniently emerged from the long grass when we are debating Dave Petrie's absolutely excellent amendment.
I raised the issue back in 2002 with amendment 45 at stage 2 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The relevant minister, Allan Wilson, kicked that amendment into the long grass, but at that time almost everybody in the Parliament said that they supported the principle. Taking six or seven years to address that principle is far too long.
We were told that devolution would speed up the legislative process and that we would be able to achieve commonsense objectives far more quickly. However, Westminster has achieved the objective that we have not. Perhaps we should learn from that. I plead with everybody in the chamber to follow their principles and give Dave Petrie's amendment 146 100 per cent backing.
I repeat what I said at stage 2: I do not want to minimise the significance of the nuisance that high hedges often cause. I recognise and am appalled by the capacity of people in our communities to grow such hedges and cause distress to people who live near them. We must take the issue seriously.
The powers that the proposals would introduce are similar to the powers to control high-hedge
The Executive continues to support the principle of a statutory remedy of last resort for disputes about high hedges, but we want separate legislation, such as Scott Barrie's proposed member's bill, rather than the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill to deal with the matter. It is incumbent on all members to be honest and to acknowledge that the challenge for all of us is not to identify the problem but to delineate the solutions. Scott Barrie has proposed a member's bill, but parliamentary procedures do not prevent any other member from proposing legislation. Members who are exercised by the matter could have made their own proposals. I contend that that has not happened because, although the problem is a challenge, identifying the solutions is much more difficult. That is the nub of the issue, although it does not mean that there are no solutions. We should welcome the consultation paper on Scott Barrie's proposed bill.
Christine Grahame's amendment 147 characterises the challenge that we face. She talked about a planning officer just coming along. We want an efficient system, the best use of resources and enforcement rather than a cycle in which a high hedge is assessed, cut down and another assessment is required when the hedge grows again. A difficult problem is involved, but we know what it is. Scott Barrie's consultation paper is an opportunity for all of us to consider how such matters should be addressed. Therefore, I recommend that members reject amendments 146 and 147.
Division number 19
For: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brownlee, Derek, Canavan, Dennis, Davidson, Mr David, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Johnstone, Alex, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Monteith, Mr Brian, Petrie, Dave, Scott, John, Swinburne, John, Tosh, Murray
Against: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Kane, Rosie, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Campbell, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Stone, Mr Jamie, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Mr Jim, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Sheridan, Tommy
Division number 20
For: Adam, Brian, Baird, Shiona, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Brownlee, Derek, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Frances, Fabiani, Linda, Fox, Colin, Gibson, Rob, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Hyslop, Fiona, Ingram, Mr Adam, Kane, Rosie, Leckie, Carolyn, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Martin, Campbell, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, McFee, Mr Bruce, Monteith, Mr Brian, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Robison, Shona, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scott, Eleanor, Sheridan, Tommy, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Watt, Ms Maureen, Welsh, Mr Andrew
Against: Aitken, Bill, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baker, Richard, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Davidson, Mr David, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fraser, Murdo, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Gorrie, Donald, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jackson, Gordon, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Johnstone, Alex, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McLetchie, David, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Mitchell, Margaret, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Murray, Dr Elaine, Oldfather, Irene, Peattie, Cathy, Petrie, Dave, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robson, Euan, Scott, John, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stone, Mr Jamie, Tosh, Murray, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Gallie, Phil