HC Deb 29 March 1972 vol 834 cc427-9
35. Mr. Fox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he is taking to denationalise British Water ways; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peyton

As already announced, the Government propose that responsibility for the British Waterways Board's waterways should be taken over by the new regional water authorities. Within this framework consultations are proceeding with the board as to the best form of management of the waterways.

Mr. Fox

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but my concern is for the 600 or so miles of direct waterway which is useless for the carriage of freight and which up to now has been lost as an amenity. Will my right hon. Friend accept that possibly the best way to bring these stretches back into use is to hive them off to organisations such as the Inland Waterways Association which want them for recreational purposes?

Mr. Peyton

All the purposes which my hon. Friend has in mind can well fall to be considered during the present discussions on the matter.

Mr. Denis Howell

How do the Government intend to ensure the maintenance of the canal system for recreational and other purposes and the spending of the necessary finance if they denationalise the system as the Question suggests? Is the Minister aware that hardly any organisation involved in the canal system supports the Government's proposal?

Mr. Peyton

I will not say that has been because of malice, but there have been some processes of obscuring the Government's intentions rather than shedding light upon them. The Government intend to set up regional water authorities and this will result in a great deal more money and larger resources being made available for the waterways.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that there is one common thread running through this Question, the Question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Redmond) and the Question on land drainage—namely, deep concern about the democratic position and proper representation under the proposed regional water authorities? Can we have an assurance that my right hon. Friend's mind is not closed to the possibility of an intermediate authority under the regional water authority?

Mr. Peyton

The Government's mind is not closed on this matter. Our aim, which I am sure is the aim of my hon. Friend, is to reach a sensible solution within the ambit of the policy which the Government have announced.

Dr. Marshall

With the denationalisation of the British Waterways Board, do the Government intend to hive off the commercial freight services?

Mr. Peyton

That is a possibility, but the future of the ancillary activities has not yet been decided.