HC Deb 08 March 1972 vol 832 cc1424-6
10. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what his plans are for the improvement of Great Britain's inland waterways.

Mr. Peter Walker

The proposed reorganisation of the inland waterways will contribute considerably to the desired improvement.

Mr. Whitehead

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the proposed break-up of the British Waterways Board will make it far more difficult to have a regional policy for the renovation and maintenance of our canals? Will he give an assurance to the House that we shall preserve the present route network of the canals? Will he not announce urgent plans for advancing public funds for the renovation of canals in, for example, Derbyshire where we have both derelict canals and high unemployment?

Mr. Walker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that under the new proposals more money will be spent on new canals than before. [Interruption.] I do not know what would happen under any other government, but I assure hon. Members opposite that under the present Government more money will be spent on this matter. In regard to the maintenance of navigability in the existing canal system, regional water authorities will have precisely the same legal obligations as the British Waterways Board to keep commercial and cruising canals navigable. We intend to see that in the Statute concerned proper obligations will be put on all involved to maintain a proper navigable system.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

May I assure my right hon. Friend that his reply will give great satisfaction to many people who have been worried about the amenity aspect, particularly boat users and anglers. Boat users number scores of thousands and there are probably over 1 million anglers who are concerned about this problem. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend will go even further and do something to assist those areas which are now derelict.

Mr. Walker

I accept the tenor of my right hon. Friend's remarks. The proposals which we are suggesting will give better facilities all the way round. It is a recognition of the immense amenity value of the canal system.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that the real test is whether he is prepared to give urgency to the repair of the Bridgwater Canal which has been out of action for a very long time? This has meant that it cannot be used by local people. Would not the right hon. Gentleman also agree that, because of delay in repairing this canal, the possibility of earning foreign currency is denied?

Mr. Walker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for illustrating that the present system is not perfect.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the press- ing needs is for transferring water from west to east? Cannot the canal system be used for this purpose?

Mr. Walker

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his proposals for the breaking-up of the canal system are being universally condemned by every organisation and of the disgraceful fact that the proposals were introduced without any consultation? Is he also aware that at the conference the other day which was chaired by his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State there was complete hostility to the Government's proposals, except from two representatives from the river boards who are likely to be beneficiaries? Why is the Secretary of State at this late stage, again without consulting the British Waterways Board, appointing what his Under-Secretary is pleased to call a canal adviser? Is the Secretary of State—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is enough. We cannot have a debate.

Mr. Walker

The document I published was a consultative document. Secondly, I am convinced that the results of our measures will do a great deal to maintain our canal facilities. I am willing to be judged on results and not on false propaganda which has been put about on this subject.

37. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will seek powers to create a statutory right of navigation on British waterways.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

This will be considered in the light of present consultations about the Government's proposals for water and sewerage reorganisation.

Mr. Montgomery

Is my hon. Friend aware that before the General Election we gave a firm pledge on this issue? For the sake of the people who are interested in using the canals, may I ask when this pledge will be implemented?

Mr. Griffiths

The Government have this matter in mind. So far there is no evidence of waterways users suffering practical difficulties because of the changes in the 1968 Act.