IN A debate in the House of Lords on leylandii hedges, a source of great distress to many, Earl Ferrers, a former Tory minister, said: "At the moment you have got hedgerow officers who tell you what hedges you may and may not remove. You have got tree preservation orders. You are told that you may not wear the skin of a mink on your back.

"You are told all these things and you are told now that you must not dig up primroses and that you must not have Jack Russells chasing a rabbit. If you are now going to have orders saying what height the hedge you may have - it is going too far."

The 13th in his line, and the holder of top government posts throughout most of the Thatcher-Major era, the noble Earl thus used his privileged position in the Lords to air grievances on countryside matters that have absolutely no bearing on the leylandii issue, essentially to do with house and garden. Wouldn't it be nice to be looking back nostalgically on centuries of such eccentric contributions to our "democracy" from our hereditary peers? And so we would if New Labour had lived up to its promises. Incidentally, do you think that Earl Ferrers need ever fear loss of light and amenity through a neighbour's towering leylandii hedge - at his ancestral pile, Ditchingham Hall, Bungay, Suffolk?

OUT OF the blue comes a Bill, expected to be law by the next General Election, that will scrap a ban on Anglican and Roman Catholic priests serving as MPs. No quarrel with that. But why not simultaneously sweep away the equally preposterous, and better known, ban on a Roman Catholic becoming King or Queen?

AMID THE continuing turmoil over our railways, a telling revelation by Railtrack has passed largely unnoticed. The company claims its problems stem partly from a large quantity of poor quality rails bought from Italy. From Italy! Blame for the virtual collapse of the rail network can already be laid firmly at the Tories' door. They devised the privatisation system, not adopted by any other system in the world. They starved the network of investment prior to the sell-off. The sub-contract maintenance system was designed to thwart the unions. And now it's clear that the earlier decimation of our manufacturing industry by the blessed Margaret Thatcher has also contributed to the mess. Still, the abandonment of rail travel by millions is a triumph for Maggie, who hated the railways.

MADONNA holds an "intimate" gig - before an audience of 3000! The rock world obviously doesn't know the meaning of intimate. In jazz, my music, it means the world's best, often performing before a handful of fans in an upper room in a pub, or at very best a couple of hundred in a venue like Darlington Arts Centre. And they are expected to give, and delighted to provide, a bit more value for money than the six numbers offered by Madonna.

ON GARDENERS' Question Time last week, panellist Bob Flowerdew delivered this topical tip: "Cut your berried holly, before the thrushes have time to get at it.'' Like not a few gardening experts, though not the two great Geoffreys - Smith and the much-mourned Hamilton - Flowerdew apparently sees nothing beyond his garden. Those berries might be crucial to a thrush's survival. Our homes can be made Christmassy without them. Topical tip: leave all berries for the birds.

LET US not forget that the second millennium ends this year. And what's the big news? Christmas is cancelled in - Bethlehem. "In view of the very bad situation, it, doesn't make sense that we celebrate Christmas,'' says a town official. I very much hope that readers with deeper faith than I can explain where that leaves, or puts, the 2000-year influence of Christ.