HC Deb 19 March 1970 vol 798 cc683-709

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

I have not selected the six-months Amendment which appears on the Order Paper, but its non-selection will not affect the debate in any way.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

My reason for speaking on the Bill tonight is to try to explain the Bill and some of its provisions. I think I should, perhaps, explain first why some of my hon. Friends and I put down the six-months Amendment. It was simply that we felt it essential that the Bill should be debated in the House and not go through on the nod. This is the first British Waterways Bill that we have had under the new Act, and we feel that it is important that it should be considered in the House. My reason for seeking to explain the Bill and tell the House why, in my view, we should give it a Second Reading is that the hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) and I are the two political members, if I may call us that, of the Inland Waterways Advisory Council, and, for reasons best known to the two of us, it seems to have fallen to me to do this.

This is a general purposes Bill seeking powers to make provision for regulating the use of pleasure boats and houseboats on certain of the inland waterways which are controlled by the British Waterways Board, and to prescribe charges, and for various small, miscellaneous purposes. Until tonight the rivers the Bill will create charges upon have, in the jargon of the Inland Waterways community, been called free rivers, a name which, I think. will disappear after tonight, but it is important to say at this early stage that virtually no canals except for the Foss dyke are involved in the main provisions of the Bill. The Grantham Canal, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend here, is among the minor provisions of the Bill—but the main provisions of the Bill deal entirely with the free rivers.

The board considers that the increase of leisure activity resulting in the use of pleasure craft on these navigable free rivers such as the Severn and Trent whose navigation it controls necessitates making greater the possibilities, far from those who use them, of contributions to the works and services which the board provides on its rivers, and to achieve this the board wants to introduce a registration scheme for pleasure craft navigating on such rivers. It has taken as the essence of its scheme schemes already in existence under the Thames Conservancy since the Act of 1966 and on the Norfolk Broads since the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Act, 1963.

The board has insufficient powers to introduce such a scheme without Parliamentary approval. None of the ancient public rights of navigation existing on the board's free rivers was affected by nationalisation or the subsequent Section 105 of the Transport Act, 1968, which abolished, in so far as they may have existed, the free rights of navigation on its artificial canals.

The proposed registration scheme contained in the Bill would enable the board to raise from users of pleasure craft income which would not otherwise be available to it. It is estimated that, when fully effective, the scheme will augment the board's revenue by a sum of about £20,000 per year. I am well aware that this is a very small sum, but we should realise that the ependiture by the board on the so-called free rivers in the current year is likely to be £623,000. Commercial craft will pay about £200,000 towards that £623,000. There will be a deficit at the present time of about £319,000, which would fall upon the general body of taxpayers, and it is, therefore, not unreasonable that the people who use the rivers should pay something towards them.

It has been asked: are the users really going to get any value for money? This is a most important point. The Chairman of the British Waterways Board very courteously came along to a meeting held in a Committee Room here earlier in the month and gave answers to various questions by hon. Members of this House and noble Lords from another place, but the answers which he gave seemed to some to suggest that there would be but rather slender value for money. It is reasonable to point out that there must be increased patrolling, increased sanitary facilities, increased water facilities—fresh drinking-water facilities, I mean—and increased lock facilities. I mean not that there will be more locks but that the locks should be open for longer hours. These are extra services for which people will be asked to pay, and it seems to us—to me, anyway—that this is not unreasonable.

The proposed scheme is also of importance to the board in that it will enable the board to achieve a measure of control and management of craft using its waterways, as the craft will then be identifiable. The recent increase in recreational use is making it very difficult for the board to control speed limits, particularly in areas where water-skiing is carried on. Genterally speaking, the speed limits are quite low. I understand that it is quite impossible to get up on one's skis unless one is doing 12 miles an hour as an absolute minimum, and even then it is extremely difficult. Therefore, it is essential that the board should have some degree of control, because there are so many diverse bodies of people using the canals and rivers, and, also, the interests of anglers and houseboat owners must be considered. Therefore it is not unreasonable that the board should decree that certain areas should be available for water-skiing and other areas should not.

There was a wide consultation with interested parties before the Bill was proposed. The board has been considering it for some five years. In May of last year a consultation memorandum was sent to nearly 100 local authorities and river authorities and 166 pleasure craft operators, clubs, associations, boatyards, and other people. There were many public meetings or semi-public meetings help up and down the country, and at those meetings representatives of those bodies could make their representations. Unfortunately, as is, perhaps, inevitable in a consultation like this, one or two small clubs were omitted, but the board has gone out of its way to try to be helpful to those who were worried.

There are certain bodies which are still very worried. The Boy Scouts and Girl Guides seem to think that the charges will be exorbitant, but I think it is only fair to point out that the board has made the point to the objectors about the charges that the charges set out in the Bill are maximum charges and that concessionary rates will, of course, be negotiated with youth clubs or any body such as the Boy Scouts or the Girl Guides, and the board is very willing to meet these people.

There are two other major petitioners against the Bill, the Association of River Authorities and the Royal Yachting Association. One of the main points of the river authorities is that they consider that the charges are fiscal in character and must fetter the public right of navigation and offer no tangible benefits in return for registration. I think I have already dealt with the tangible benefits, which, I freely admit, are not very great, but neither are the charges very great, nor is the revenue going to be very great, and if there is to be speed control and patrolling, then registration must come about and there must be some charge.

The Association of River Authorities also called attention to the need for the control of pollution, but we must bear in mind that under the 1951 and 1961 Acts the river authorities are the antipollution authorities. I therefore hope that they will put their house in order and will realise that the board is doing what it can by providing new sanitary facilities along the banks and will continue to improve facilities. I am told that the Association of River Authorities has suggested that the board might pay something to it out of the charges. If that were done, there would be nothing left for the board.

The petition of the Royal Yachting Association alleges that the board's proposals would weaken the rights hitherto enjoyed. It states that the river waterways have hitherto been open as free rivers as of right to people desiring to navigate upon their lawful occasions. That may be true. This is where we come up against the houseboat provisions of the Bill. The unlawful or undersirable mooring of houseboats has caused considerable risks to navigation and danger to passing craft of all sorts, particularly commercial craft, the owners of which are still paying the lion's share of the expenditure on the so-called free rivers. If the Royal Yachting Association wants open navigation, there must he some degree of control of the moorings.

It may not be realised by people outside that, generally speaking, the riparian rights in artificial canals are vested in the British Waterways Board, whereas on these so-called free rivers the common law riparian owners still have their rights and the British Waterways Board does not own the bank. Therefore, many houseboat moorers are trespassing on the rights of the riparian owners. It is extremely difficult for the British Waterways Board to take action in the county court against people committing a trespass against somebody else. Therefore, the board wants these powers to enable it to remove sunken and dangerous houseboats, and it wants powers of registration.

The Royal Yachting Association complains that the board's registration proposals conflict with the requirements of registration under the Merchant Shipping Acts. This has to do with marine mortgages. I must here declare an interest as a director of a company which issues marine mortgages. It would seem to me from personal assurances that I have had from the board that this is not a good point and that for purposes of marine mortgages the Merchant Shipping Acts will still apply and that registration is completely irrelevant.

Part I of the Bill is obviously preliminary. Part II deals with pleasure boats. Clause 4 in Part II applies the scheme to the main navigable channel of each of the river waterways specified in the Schedule. I hope that I have made clear that these are the so-called free rivers and, therefore, there should be no misunderstanding about the provisions applying to canals. Clause 5 deals with restrictions on pleasure boats, which must be sensible if we are to have registration and control. Clause 6 deals with registration.

Clause 7 sets out the maximum charges—and I underline the word "maximum" to give comfort to the Boy Scouts and anybody else concerned. Clause 8 offers short-period registration. It may seem high to some, but it is desirable. Clause 9 deals with marking. Clause 10 gives the board power to sub-divide the classification. Clause 11 deals with the production of pleasure boat certificates. My hon. Friend the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) was anxious about this point at the private meeting which we had with the chairman of the board. I understand that he is now more satisfied about the production of certificates and that this requirement is not unreasonable.

Part III deals with houseboats. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) has fought a doughty battle on Clause 12, and I leave it to him to explain his victory over the board. Part V deals with the miscellaneous and general provisions. I will leave my right hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) to deal with that matter.

The board is perfectly fair in asking the House for these powers. Some who felt that the powers appeared at first sight to be a bit draconian have been slightly reassured by being told that most of the Clauses were taken as model clauses, as it were, from the Thames Conservancy legislation. My noble Friend, Lord Nugent of Guildford, who is Chairman of the Thames Conservancy, pointed out to me that the Thames Conservancy had been operating for many years and gave very good value for the many facilities it offered. It appears from the private assurances which we have had from the chairman of the board that it will seek to improve its facilities year by year.

For the boating community, the most important first step forward is that the locks will be open longer than at the weekend. I have referred to the block bookings and the concessionary rights for boating clubs. For the anglers, who are a most important section of inland waterway users, the fact that, as they hope, speed will at last be controlled should be a great boon to them. The walking public who use the towpath and the bulk of the taxpayers who will foot the major part of the bill will know that there will be more patrols about, which will make the towpath a safer and pleasanter place to walk along.

I hope that hon. Members will support the Second Reading of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

This is a non-party debate. It will help the Chair to ensure a balanced debate if those who are opposed to the Bill will let the Chair know. We have five or six debates ahead of us tonight. Reasonably brief speeches will help.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Carol Johnson (Lewisham, South)

I am particularly glad to follow in the debate the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells). As he pointed out, he and I have laboured together for many years in the cause of the country's waterways and we have perhaps played a small part in awakening public interest in them and encouraging their full use for amenity purposes.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House share this interest. Those who served, as I did, on the Transport Bill in 1962 must have felt considerable satisfaction at the way in which the British Waterways Board has carried out the statutory obligations which were then imposed on it. Particular tribute should he paid to its present chairman, Sir Frank Price, for his energy and enthusiasm and, as the hon. Member for Maidstone said, for his readiness to meet in the House or outside groups of people interested in waterway affairs and to discuss a common interest with them. The broad has a very good public relations record.

I believe that this is the first Measure promoted by the board which will have a Second Reading. As it is a general powers Bill, it affords an opportunity for interested hon. Members to raise matters of general interest about the administration of the waterways. I am sure that the board would welcome any constructive criticisms about its activities. I do not want to speak at length or in detail about the Bill because it has been so fully explained and justified by the hon. Member for Maidstone. I merely want to underline one or two of the points which he made.

It seems clear that the establishment of a registration scheme for pleasure craft on the rivers and waterways and for houseboats wherever they may be has been proved necessary by the Board's experience and that this should not long be delayed. The Bill will enable the board for the first time to impose conditions on the suitability of craft as houseboats and also to deal with those houseboats moored in places which present a hazard to other craft. Without this new provision, it seems that the board will not have an adequate form of control and will not be able to provide efficient management. Nor can it collect the necessary charges which it already has the power to collect but which, for practical reasons, it finds it difficult to collect.

The question of charges has caused some concern but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the charges set out in Schedule 3 are maxima, and he and I and others concerned have received firm assurances that special cases, particularly voluntary associations and bodies, will be met with concessionary fares. In any event, I think that the small additional income which will arise as a result of the Bill will go towards meeting the cost of improving the facilities and amenities of the waterways, particularly in the way of extending patrolling and the lengthening of the hours in which locks are open.

The board cannot be said to have brought the Bill forward in great haste or without careful forethought. It has been cogitating its contents for many years. But the Measure has become more and more urgent because of the enormous increase in the use of waterways by pleasure craft, which has shown that there is need for improved forms of control and management. Unless the board is granted these new powers, there is a risk of the situation worsening quite intolerably in the next few years, particularly in respect of pollution—and pollution is a matter which is attracting considerable public attention.

The House will be reassured to know that there is nothing very new or revolutionary in the contents of the Bill, for it is based in the main on the registration scheme at present in existence on the River Thames. I believe the Bill to be in the broad public interest. I understand that it has the complete support of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, and I hope that the House will give it an unopposed Second Reading.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. J. B. Godber (Grantham)

It is some years since I had the pleasure of addressing the House about a private Bill. I want to intervene briefly, first, to give my general support to the purposes of the Bill and, secondly, to deal with a specific constituency issue which arises on Clause 19.

I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells), for he conjured up in my mind interesting pictures, particularly when he talked about water skiers, who seem to be getting entangled with anglers, landing on top of houseboats. He made clear the need for some scheme whereby the activities of these mutually antagonistic sports could be practised in separate parts of our rivers. I have spent many hours of enjoyment on our rivers, and I hope that the Bill will assist those who wish to continue so to engage in very healthy and enjoyable outdoor activities.

In Schedule 1, there is reference to the River Witham, in which I have a particular interest because it almost completely encircles my constituency. Arising to the south, it runs through Lincoln and down the eastern side of my constituency. I see a great deal of the activities on the river, and I hope that the provisions relating to it will be helpful to my constituents and to those who come from far and wide to enjoy the fishing in the stretch covered by the Schedule. But that is not the aspect I wish particularly to bring to the attention of the House.

I want to refer to Clause 19, which is the first Clause in Part V of the Bill. It refers specifically to the Grantham Canal and the Nottingham Canal and to the maintenance of a depth of water of at least 2 feet in those canals. When the Bill first appeared, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) and I were approached by constituents concerned that, if the Clause went through as it was, it would lead to the draining of large portions of these two canals, with detrimental effect to our constituents. My hon. Friend was particularly concerned about some of the farming aspects of his constituency bordering the canal. I had the same problem, but I also received a large number of representations from amenity organisations in my constituency, including the Grantham Angling Association, the Grantham Rambling Association, the Lincolnshire Trust for Nature Conservation and a whole list of others.

In particular, it was the anglers, the conservationists and those who wish to make use of the Grantham Canal for amenity purposes generally, including the Grantham Canal Society, who played a prominent part in seeking to ensure that the provision for a depth of 2 feet of water was retained. The Lincolnshire River Authority also expressed concern, as did a large industrial organisation which is at present entitled to draw water from the canal. A large body of opinion in my constituency was concerned at the possible results of Clause 19 if it were allowed to go forward in the form it then took.

As a result, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton had discussions with the British Waterways Board, which agreed to delete the reference to the Grantham Canal in this regard. Subsequently—although perhaps it is not strictly true to say "subsequently", because it was almost at the same time—I received representations from Grantham Town Council, which pointed out to me that there was a stretch of the canal right at the end which should properly be closed. This view was reinforced by another industrial firm. I have had discussions with the board about this in the last week or two, and I want to pay public tribute to its ready response in seeking to understand the needs of one's constituents and to the immense trouble it has taken to help. I am grateful to it.

As a result, we now have the situation in which undertakings have been given by the board that all the different interests concerned can be satisfied in one way or another. The amenity organisations will be helped by the undertaking to maintain the depth of water over the greater part of the canal; following an understanding I reached with the Board this week, it has given an assurance that it will include in the Bill a specific provision to enable a short section at the end of the canal, which has become derelict and an eyesore and could be a danger to children, to be closed.

In a letter which I received from the board yesterday I was assured that it could see no difficulty in making such a provision, so amending Clause 19 in a way which will enable this section of between a quarter and half-a-mile to be closed and drained and, therefore, utilised for amenity purposes of another kind, thus ensuring that any danger which could exist now on a length of the canal which is not properly maintained can be removed.

It seems, therefore, that, as a result of the ready co-operation of the Board, the end section of the canal can be closed, drained and filled in and made of use in other ways, whereas the rest of the canal, despite the provisions written into Clause 19, will be maintained and will be of help to the various amenity bodies, the industrial firm to which I have referred, and to the farmers.

This is a happy compromise. I commend the British Waterways Board for the help which it has given in finding a solution which benefits all the interests concerned. I wish publicly to pay my tribute to it, and I know that all my constituents will be grateful that a solution of this kind has been found.

I hope that the Bill will go forward rapidly and will complete its various stages so that it can be utilised for the various wider issues to which attention has been drawn, as well as looking after the constituents of Grantham, which I am sure it will be realised is probably the most important constituency in the United Kingdom.

7.31 p.m.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

The Bill does have virtues. The British Waterways Board must have powers, and pleasure boats must pay their whack. Indeed, the proposed charges for powered craft are extremely moderate. Moreover, the Bill actually recognises houseboats. Houseboat dwellers also have virtues. I think the House will agree that in Amsterdam, for example, houseboats are among the best things in the city, as they used to be on the River Thames.

But the Bill takes a high autocratic line. It creates eight new offences, punishable by fines, and multiplies by five times the maximum fine which the Board can already impose under its existing byelaws. I believe that the objects of the Bill could be achieved in a less savage manner. Therefore, I hope that the Select Committee will examine this aspect carefully.

Inland waterways have always been places of freedom, privacy and pleasure, but I wonder what they will be after the passing of the Bill. The Bill is concerned with the licensing, registering and, indeed, the numbering of pleasure. After reading this Bill about boating, I am reminded of Sir Noel Coward's song about the post-war Labour Government: When they've cleared all the decks There will only be sex That they can't nationalise. I should like to illustrate this with a few points of detail from the Bill.

First, dealing with pleasure boats, there is to be a fine for having a boat on a waterway without a licence. It seems to me that the presence of a boat on a waterway without a licence is merely trespass and could be dealt with in the same way that other owners of land deal with people who leave unwelcome objects on their land.

There is a process for recovering unpaid licence fees "summarily as a civil debt". Surely it would be more sensible to proceed as local authorities do when licensing cars. Unless they receive the money they do not issue the licence. This provision is repeated three times in the Bill.

The master of a pleasure boat must produce his pleasure boat certificate within three days of being asked for it. That is reasonable in the case of a car. But the master of a pleasure boat may be many miles from his home. Happily, the pace at which it is possible to travel on a waterway is infinitely less than on a road. For example, it is possible to reach Oxford from Aylesbury comfortably in a week. Therefore, a man who may have set out in his boat without his licence may be obliged to abandon his holiday. If he does not provide the certificate within three days he is liable to a fine of 40s.

Registration of a pleasure boat for less than a year is at the discretion of the board. I cannot see why this should be so. No such discretion is given to local authorities concerning the licensing of a car for a short period.

No provision is made for a reduced charge, or for a free passage—or even the right for passage at all unless one goes through the whole rigmarole of registering a boat and paying a year's licence fee—for boats in transit from one un-nationalised waterway to another—for example, from the Thames to the river Avon via the Grand Union Canal and the Stratford Canal or from the Nene to the Bridgwater Canal. I think that the Thames Conservancy recognises this principle of passage from one waterway to another over its water.

In my view, there is an insufficient differential between the charges for private pleasure boats and for hire pleasure boats. If a private individual wants to license his ordinary boat of, say, 20 feet length for a year, it will cost £6, or £3 if he does it for only a month, whereas a hire boat licence, which will be in use for an immensely greater part of a year, costs only £1, one-sixth, more to license for the whole year.

My last point about pleasure boats concerns Clause 9, which states: Every powered pleasure boat … shall have its name or number conspicuously painted … in letters of such colour, character and size and upon a ground of such colour as the Board may prescribe upon each side of the bow and also upon the stern. This raises a considerable point of taste. Times may have changed, but in the past British Waterways, under the Transport Commission, fastened on a particularly noxious combination of colours—a most unpleasant yellow and a most unpleasant blue. The board is now to have the power to have large numbers and, indeed, names painted in any way that it chooses to dictate on all boats. I do not think that this is entirely bad. For example, trawlers gain considerable character from having numbers painted on them. Many boats on the waterways have no character of any kind, except a faintly disagreeable one, and they would be greatly improved by having names and numbers painted on them. But I believe that this Clause could be misused in a way which none of us would like. And every time an individual uses his boat improperly numbered he is liable to a fine of £20.

I turn to houseboats. We are dealing here with people's homes so that we must address ourselves seriously to this matter. First, the board can charge a houseboat owner what it likes, that is to say there is to be no form of rent control for this type of home. Furthermore, there is no security of tenure, even when houseboat owners have local authority approval. The Bill merely says that the board "may" issue a certificate. If a houseboat owner sells his boat, the board will have power to refuse to grant a licence to the buyer, and this will introduce a grave risk of abuse. I suggest that the licence should be attached in some way to the boat, its position and condition, and not to the individual who happens to own it.

One must give notice of the sale of a houseboat "forthwith" or one is liable to a fine of £10. I do not see why this fine is necessary, for there is a Clause which says that until the board does receive notice the original owner is deemed still to be the owner; and all that the board is concerned with is having some person to go for if some aspect of the houseboat displeases it.

The board will have power to serve a notice to remove or demolish a houseboat simply by nailing the notice on to the houseboat specifying the period within which it must be removed; and if it is not removed within that period, the board may demolish it or sell it, and charge the owner for doing so. However, in the Bill the period of notice which must be served is not specified, and this may give rise to abuse. It is not reasonable to expect the owner of a houseboat to be continually popping back and forth to ensure that a notice has not been nailed to his vessel; and there is also a fine of £20 for failing to observe the notice.

The houseboat dweller must produce his certificate, his licence to exist, on demand and there is a fine of £2 per offence for not doing so. I thought that we had got away from this sort of thing in Britain. He must keep the certificate on his person, like an identity card. He may, for example, call at a waterways office to transact other business and, while there, he may be asked for his certificate. If he does not have it with him, he is liable to be fined. This provision should be tempered.

I come to a general point which applies to both pleasure boats and houseboats, under Clause 17. Anybody can inspect the register of all boats; anyone can, having seen a boat, find out to whom it belongs. I am not sure that this is a good plan. The community has decided not to accept this principle in respect of motor cars. I am inclined to think that it should not accept it in respect of boats.

Part V of the Bill is different from the rest and should be carefully considered by the Select Committee. Clause 20 cancels any rights a former owner had to canal land when it ceases to be used as a canal. This is the wrong time, in the present climate of opinion, to alter the law relating to the rights of former owners whose land was acquired by Act of Parliament for a purpose which has now ceased.

Without wishing to trot out the much-worn name of Crichel Down, it seems that this is a provision of the same class. We should not in any case, take people's rights and property away in a Bill the Preamble to which states that it is a Measure for regulating pleasure boats. It is true that, in its recently circulated statement about the Bill, the board said that it was for "general purposes" but, as I say, the Preamble says that it is for regulating pleasure boats.

Further, I understand that some time ago the board undertook not to seek reductions in public amenity by the Private Bill procedure. This is, therefore, an important point which was nought to do with waterways but with the rights of the citizen. This is not the right sort of matter to include in a Bill relating to another purpose, and the Select Committee should consider the matter.

While regulating pleasure boats and houseboats, the Bill does nothing about effluent and pollution. At present if one drops so much as a tea leaf into the River Thames one is in trouble. However, on the Oxford Canal, which for part of its length passes through the River Windrush, which flows into the Thames, one can throw overboard anything one pleases. If pleasure boats and houseboats are to be regulated this subject should be dealt with at the same time.

While I would not wish to oppose the Bill at this stage, these are points which I hope the Select Committee will consider.

7.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Albert Murray)

I was somewhat disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminister (Mr. John Smith) because at the outset he quoted Noel Coward's remark about the non-nationalisation possibilities of sex. The hon. Gentleman said that he would give us an illustration of that. In the event, however, he did not do so, to the disappointment of the whole House, especially on a Thursday evening.

It may assist the House if I intervene at this stage to offer some general guidance about the Bill, which is, of course, being promoted by the British Waterways Board with the formal consent of my right hon. Friend.

I propose to deal only with those aspects of the Bill which impinge on Government policy and, in particular, with those provisions which embody the main purpose of the Bill, which is to empower the British Waterways Board to establish registration schemes for pleasure craft on the 250 miles of natural rivers for which the board is the navigation authority, and for houseboats on all the board's inland waterways in England and Wales.

The policy background against which these proposals should be seen is that of the new charter for the nationalised inland waterways proclaimed in the 1967 White Paper "British Waterways: Recreation and Amenity"—Cmnd. 3401 —for which the waterways provisions of the Transport Act, 1968, have established a statutory framework as a basis for the use of the Waterways Board's waterways, not only for commercial purposes, but also for amenity uses connected with cruising, fishing and other recreational purposes. These provisions include a requirement that the board should maintain its 1,400 miles of commercial and cruising waterways, including the natural rivers, to certain defined standards.

The Transport Act, 1962, empowers the board to make charges for its services and facilities and to make the use of those services and facilities subject to such terms and conditions at it thinks fit. In the exercise of these powers, the board operates a licensing scheme for pleasure craft on its artificial waterways. On the river waterways, in the absence of such a scheme, the board finds it impracticable to charge the owners or users of pleasure craft for the services which it provides, unless such owners or users navigate their craft through locks controlled by the board.

Boat owners using only the considerable stretches of river between the locks may do so without making any payment notwithstanding that their enjoyment of the amenity depends on the maintenance of the navigation by the board. The board's estimates for 1970, as the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) pointed out, show expenditure on the river waterways of £623,000, against which revenue from lock passes is expected to be £3,800. The revenue from freight-carrying commercial craft—estimated at £200,000—is declining, so that this year's deficit of £319,000 is likely to be exceeded in future years.

The proposed registration scheme, by enabling the board to raise from users of pleasure craft income which otherwise would not be available to it, would do a little to counteract this trend. The board estimates that when fully effective the scheme is likely to bring in additional revenue of £15,000 to £20,000 a year.

Another very important factor is the growing need for effective regulation of the use of the rivers by pleasure craft, particularly by the enforcement of speed limits and other rules made in the common interest of all users. The board has made bye-laws covering such matters but has found it difficult to enforce them in the absence of a system for the registration and identification of pleasure craft.

One petitioner against the Bill has alleged that the board's proposals constitute a major derogation from the rights hitherto enjoyed by the users of the river waterways who have hitherto had to pay only for the use of the works which the board provides and through which craft pass in passage. But, as a I have said, the board possesses a statutory right to charge for the services and facilities which it provides and on the river waterways it provides other services besides the maintenance of locks. If it did not maintain the weirs holding up the pounds between the locks an adequate depth of water for navigational purposes could not be maintained. If it did not dredge the rivers between the weirs or in the tidal stretches shoals would form and navigation would become impossible. To make charges for such services is, in the board's opinion, impracticable except by means of the registration of pleasure craft. In adopting this solution it is following the precedent already established for the Norfolk Broads and the River Thames.

Some of the rowing, canoe and sailing clubs whom the board consulted before depositing the Bill have, I understand, opposed the scheme on the grounds that the charges were too high and the same point has been made by the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Associations in petitioning against the Bill. As the hon. Member for Maidstone said, the board is prepared to negotiate concessionary rates in special cases. I am sure that any representations made to the board as a result of the passing of this Bill will be considered.

The provisions in the Bill with regard to houseboats, which are to apply to all the board's waterways, are designed primarily to deal with circumstances in which houseboats are moored so as to constitute a hazard to navigation or are allowed to become dilapidated and insanitary. The board's present remedy in trespass or for breach of byelaws, which exists only in respect of the artificial waterways, is unsatisfactory and often unenforceable.

I understand that an hon. Member—the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster—has criticised these provisions as being too drastic in certain respects. It has been agreed in discussions between the board and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who, I am sure, will pay tribute to it, that the board will seek leave to introduce during the Committee stage an Amendment providing for any notice served by the board of removal or demolition of a houseboat to stipulate compliance with 28 days.

I do not think there is much that I can comment on the miscellaneous provisions. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Godber) felt satisfied about the representations he has made. Like him, I pay tribute to the board and to Sir Frank P[...]ice. The board is anxious at all times to consider any representations made by hon. Members about the canals and waterways problem.

I hope that the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

7.57 p.m.

Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)

I do not know what obscure penalty awaits me for having the extraordinary luck of catching Mr. Speaker's eye on three occasions in the last three days. I may have to pay for it afterwards, but I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Most instructive experiences happen by accident. I have now forgotten the reason why this Bill was brought to my attention, but I am glad that it was because, once it was drawn to my attention, I was struck by the provisions in Clause 12.

Having been inspired by those words, of which I do not think Draco would have been ashamed, I am able to confirm what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, that a concession has been wrung from the promoters of the Bill. When I wrote to them asking if they could explain why the board needs power to destroy property without advice to the owner and within time limits which are completely undefined, they wrote back: We are instructed that, if this met your objection, the Board, would be willing to include in the Bill amendments providing for twenty-eight days' notice to be given to the person having control of the houseboat and for the provisions of subsection (3) to be stated in or endorsed on every notice served in pursuance of subsection (2). It seems that this is approximately half the notice required in connection with an areoplane. As the Bill stood there was no need for any notice to be served. That was wholly objectionable and the Bill will be much improved when the Amendment has been made.

Others have been attracted by my opposition to make other representations. I will mention a couple of them. The first I can best state by reading a letter from the divisional representative of the Amateur Rowing Association in the East Midlands, who makes certain points which I think would come well into the category of a special case mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary. I cannot put the point better than Mr. Brandon-Bravo does in his letter. He says: Unlike the Upper Thames, canoeists and racing craft in the Midlands do not require the use of the locks, and therefore the argument that registration gives free use of such locks has no validity. Both sports are completely amateur and a levy on every boat would be an unreasonable burden. These craft, unlike major powered craft, do not in any way cause erosion of banks or river beds. Any regattas held on rivers where registration applies would create untold administrative difficulty for all visiting crews would have to take out registration for the day. In the case of canoeists who tend to practise wherever a stretch of water can be found, they may find themselves unwittingly breaking the law by not being registered for that particular stretch of water. He ends his letter by saying—and this possibly is the most important point: It is essential under modern competitive conditions to conduct rowing from a small launch and if an arbitrary speed limit was imposed without the right to obtain special licences for rowing there would be a total undermining of all the work that has been done in recent years to bring British rowing up to Continental standards. That has the makings of a strong special case which no doubt the Select Committee would like to consider.

Mr. Godber

May I recall for my hon. Friend the fact that in my youth we used to row faster than any launch?

Mr. Onslow

I do not know whether people row slower now or launches are faster than when my right hon. Friend was a young man. I do not even know when that was, but I was most interested in his intervention and I will not press him for details on the latter point. I have another letter here from a Mr. Chapman in Nottingham, who argues a powerful case for excluding the River Trent altogether from the provisions of the Bill. That seems to be something which could be put to the Select Committee for consideration.

I endorse the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), particularly as to Clause 20 and how objectionable it is in its present form. It seems a pity that a Private Bill comes before us without an Explanatory Memorandum. There is apparently a Consultation Memorandum sent to people thought likely to be interested, but the list of addresses is not necessarily complete.

All hon. Members know that the customary statement on behalf of the promoters usually arrives in one's mail on the day after the Bill has been debated, if it is debated at all. I should like to leave the thought with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as Chairman of Ways and Means, that it might be possible to update our procedure in respect of Private Bills so that we knew a little more about what is in them and have a little more time to study them as well as more opportunity to oppose them, although I do not wish to entrench further on the time which the House would like to devote to other purposes by going any further into this matter.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

I am sure that I carry the Parliamentary Secretary with me when I say that it is pleasant to move from the rather more turbulent waters which surround the ports of this country, metaphorically speaking, into the more tranquil waters further inland. I signed the Motion asking that this Bill be read a Second time in six months not for the purpose of delaying it, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells), so that we could discuss this important little Measure.

This is the first time that we have had a chance to discuss inland waterways as such since the 1968 Transport Act. At that time the parts of the Act dealing with this were already guillotined by the time they came to be discussed in Committee or on Report. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone for the way in which he has helpfully explained the Bill, and I would like to join with him and my other hon. Friends in paying a tribute to Sir Frank Price and his colleagues on the Inland Waterways Board for the work that they are doing on waterways development, not least in London, where they have done a great job in the Regents Park area.

There is nothing wrong with the principle established in the Bill of paying for the use of the water in these waterways as well as the locks. After all, it is the locks which help to keep the water up to the right level. It is only right that the principle should apply to the rivers and not to areas near the sea, where the water level is completely natural.

I am a litle concerned about the definition of "houseboat" in Clause 3. It seems to go rather a long way. The word "structure" particularly gives me cause for concern. Perhaps in Committee those who are concerned with it may wonder whether it does not go further than is intended. What we mean by a houseboat is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) said, a place where people live, and it should, I believe, have a more worthy description. I am also concerned about Clause 5 dealing with temporary visits by boats. I wonder whether there is a need for a licence for these. I would have thought that a certificate could have been waived for a short period. In Clause 6 we have this register, and I wonder where the books will be kept. It says that the board will: register such pleasure boats in a book to be kept by them at any office which they shall designate for that purpose … It is rather a vague phrase.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster in his remarks about the names of boats, dealt with in Clause 9. I agree that it seems a lot to say that these boats should have their names displayed in three different places.

Mr. John Smith

And the numbers.

Mr. Berry

Yes, and the numbers. Subsection (3) of that Clause says that every tender should not only have the name but also the words "Tender to" as well as the number. Since many of these boats are extremely attractive, this could easily spoil the effect. The owners of such boats ought to be consulted as to the best way in which these details should be shown. I agree with my hon. Friend about the point he made concerning the three days.

Mr. John Wells

I do not think that my two hon. Friends are really on a very good point here, with the greatest respect to them. The three-day rule applies only to the pleasure boats, and if my hon. Friends look at Schedule 1 it will be seen that no one can really go very far in the boats to which these licences will apply. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) made the point about taking a week to go slowly from Aylesbury to Oxford, but the licences that we are discussing are for very much shorter routes.

Mr. Berry

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that comment. What happens if the master has been asked to send his certificate and two or three days later is asked again for it? He would not get it back and send it again within three days. Therefore, I feel that it is too short a time, although I appreciate my hon. Friend's point.

To return to the definition of houseboat, Clause 12 reinforces my argument that that definition is not quite what it might be. It is not quite clear in Clause 20 what happens if the waterway is abandoned. I would like to know whether the dry land vests in the riparian owners.

Turning to Clause 21, my hon. Friend referred to water-skiing, and I agree with him and what he said about the difficulty of getting up any speed. The British Transport Commission Act, 1954, from which this follows, speaks of "preventing" or "regulating" bathing in the canal and then there follows the sentence about prohibiting or controlling water skiing. There are two points here.

I am all for the encouragement of water skiing, which is a comparatively new sport in this country. Young people should be able to do it as much as possible. On the other hand, it has great dangers, and quite apart from consideration of harm and inconvenience to people in boats nearby, or living close by, it is essential that water skiing should be carried out in a place quite separate from any bathing areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maid-stone spoke about the Transport Act, 1968, having abolished the rights of navigation in so far as they existed. My interpretation of that Act was that those rights did exist, and I hope very much that the time will come when they will be restored. However, I do not want to go into that matter tonight. It is nice to have this debate now, because as we get near Easter summer cannot be all that far away, and as we think about the waterways that is a happy thought.

8.10 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This is an important Bill, and it is right that the House should have the opportunity for a Second Reading debate on it. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) for having put his name to an Amendment which obliged us to debate it, to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) for his explanation of the contents, and to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his advice.

It is a Bill for the registration of pleasure boats using river waterways and houseboats using the inland waterways or the river waterways. There is the distinction that there is an effort to regulate houseboats on inland waterways as well as the river waterways where they are not yet controlled. I want to address my remarks mainly to the subject of the pleasure boats in the river waterways, because that is the subject which seems to have been troubling most speakers in the debate.

There are three criticisms of the Bill as it stands. First, it takes away a freedom which has existed up to the present to sail on these river waterways. If it were disciplining that freedom so that it did not stifle itself, there could be no objection. But I wonder whether the Bill is effective in giving the sort of discipline that will increase pleasurable navigation on these waterways.

Secondly, the schemes set out in the Bill seem in practice very difficult to apply and police. The administrative difficulties and the rather impractical points about the scheme have been listed by my hon. Friends the Members for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) and Woking. I hope that they will have very serious consideration if the Bill goes to a Committee.

Thirdly, the Bill gives no power to refuse registration of pleasure boats. Therefore, it is not a regulating scheme that is set out in the Bill; it is merely a revenue-collecting scheme. The hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. Carol Johnson) talked about the need for control and management of craft in the river waterways and about the control and the suitability of craft, but I do not find these matters in the Bill. The board cannot refuse registration of pleasure boats; it can merely take the registration fees.

Even as a revenue-collecting scheme, it does not seem very efficient. We were told by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone that possibly £20,000 a year would be collected, against a total expenditure on these river waterways by the British Waterways Board of £623,000, to which commercial craft contribute about £200,000. That £20,000 does not seem sufficient to provide any great amenities such as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone detailed. I did not quite follow his point about walkers on the tow path having improved facilities, as that matter does not seem to come into the Bill anywhere as I read it.

Those are the three criticisms of the Bill, and they may well be corrected at later stages of the Bill's passage through Parliament. Perhaps the most important point we should consider is that the Bill comes before the House at a time when we have not had the benefit of any report from the Central Advisory Water Committee, which was recently reappointed by the Minister of Housing and Local Government. Its terms of reference were: To consider in the light of the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England and of technological and other developments how the functions relating to water conservation, management of water resources, water supply, sewerage, sewage disposal and the prevention of pollution now exercised by river authorities, public water undertakings, and sewerage and sewage disposal authorities can best be organised; and to make recommendations. I am sure that the Committee will have something to say about the use of the Board's river waterways. But there is nothing in the Bill to deal with any pollution that may arise from their overcrowding. Ministers talk a great deal about pollution. It is a fashionable subject. But that Committee has been reappointed only recently to advise on the use of water resources.

It may well be that it is not necessary to do anything about keeping the river waterways from being polluted, but we must look at the question very seriously. I believe that it is necessary to deal with it, and to do so quickly. I am sure that the Central Advisory Water Committee will advise necessary action to be taken in that respect. Is simple-revenue collection the right way to discipline the use of the river waterways, keep them navigable and prevent their pollution?

I am sorry that we do not have the advice of the Committee before embarking in the Bill on a very substantial change in the law, a change which does not necessarily, on the face of it, bring any recognisable benefit to the public. I am sure that the Bill can be greatly improved in Committee. It is a pity that we do not have better advice before us, and that the Committee will not have the full advice of the body set up by the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

With those criticisms of the Bill, I can only hope that it will return to the House on Report with some of those very important points incorporated and perhaps a better scheme, a scheme of more discipline for the river waterways than is now set out.

8.19 p.m.

Mr. John Wells

If I may sneak again with the leave of the House, I should like briefly to answer two or three points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith). He may be on a slightly bad point concerning the issue of licence discs before the payment of cash. He said that car registration authorities do not issue discs before payment. I understand that the board is seeking to issue them in exceptional circumstances in response to a telephone call to help the boat-user. Therefore, it is also seeking powers to pursue a man who fails to pay when he has had the licence. It would be pursuing a first-class rascal, so that is not unreasonable.

Mr. John Smith

How does one send a disc by telephone?

Mr. Wells

When someone rings in to the Central Office for a disc it is sent to him by post although the money may not have arrived, because it was a telephonic request.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the Chair.

Mr. Wells

My hon. Friend was implying that houseboats are parallel or on all fours with residences, and rather implied that rent control ought to apply; and he spoke about rents. It is not a rent for a dwelling but rent for the mooring facility, which is entirely different, with respect to him. After all, one cannot move one's house, but if a houseboat is sound it ought to be movable. A rent, therefore, is not quite a parallel example. Again, he made certain rather emotive suggestions about people's homes. Many of these homes are aquatic slums and many more are places where people go off with other people's wives for weekends. They are nobody's homes. I accept that some are people's homes but we do not want to get too emotive about the parallel.

My hon. Friend repeated the point about pollution, but, as I pointed out in my opening remarks, the board is not the anti-pollution authority. That authority is the river authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) rightly referred to the activities of the Central Advisory Water Committee, but until we see whether their terms of reference are to be widened still further it would be very difficult to go into that in great depth. Finally, my hon. Friend spoke, to use his own "shorthand", of "the Crichel Down sentiment" in complaining that the original rights of the original owners were being eroded. In a great majority of cases it would be extremely difficult to find who were the original owners except when they were great landed estates; and it would be difficult even to find their immediate successors in title at this late stage.

Mr. Onslow

My hon. Friend will see from Clause 20 that there certainly seems to be some erosion of rights since it refers to owners for the time being of adjacent land, which is very relevant. This has nothing to do with the ownership of the land when the waterway was originally constructed.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.