HC Deb 19 July 1974 vol 877 cc979-82
Mr. Rossi

I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 64, line 25, at end insert: '(3) Registration of a vessel by any water authority in accordance with byelaws made by that authority under subsection (1) of this section, or (pursuant to any other enactment) by any other body which may be prescribed, shall be deemed to consitutc registration also of that vessel by any (or, as the case may be, by any other) water authority in accordance with any such byelaws which are so made by that authority'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may also discuss Amendment No. 43, in page 64, line 25, at end insert: '(3) Byelaws made by a water authority under subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to any stream in relation to which functions are exercisable by a navigation authority. In this subsection "navigation authority" means a person or body of persons (whether corporate or incorporate but not being a water authority) having a duty or power imposed or conferred by or under an enactment to manage or maintain a canal whether navigable or not, or to manage or maintain an inland navigation other than a canal, whether natural or artificial and whether tidal or not'.

Mr. Rossi

This is a matter that we discussed in Committee by way of a discussion on the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill. The Amendments have been tabled at the request of the British Waterways Board. It is concerned about the power being given to the water authorities to make byelaws concerning vessels on streams and rivers. The British Waterways Board is responsible for about 2,000 miles of inland waterways in England, Scotland and Wales under the British Waterways Act 1971. It considers that the introduction of a registration system by water authorities for vessels on the board's waterways is likely to cause chaos and confusion for those using the system.

In conjunction with the board's bye-laws, the board is able to control the navigational use of its waterways. The board says that it is not prohibiting boats coming on to its river navigations as it has always been conscious that ancient common law rights of navigation may exist on such rivers. As the board has statutory duties to maintain all navigable waterways, it cannot countenance any system which may lead to the prohibition of the use of such waterways.

This is a difficult matter in that it seems to suggest that a conflict may exist between two separate authorities, and, within the conflict, there is the question of licensing fees upon which the board relies very heavily for maintaining the operations under its control.

I understand that since Committee discussions have been taking place between the British Waterways Board and the Minister to try to resolve the problem, and that, although suggestions have been made, the board is not completely happy with the way in which matters have progressed. It is still conscious of the conflict and of the possibility of loss of revenue.

The amendments are proposed so that we may hear from the Minister whether he has any solution to suggest other than the one which the Department has suggested.

Mr. Denis Howell

These amendments are alternatives.

As the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has said, I have been in touch with the British Waterways Board. I am anxious to formulate a common registration scheme. It is much more important to approach this matter from the point of view of the rights of boat owners rather than from the point of view of statutory authorities, important though those authorities are. That is the difficulty.

Amendment No. 25 would exclude streams on which the functions are exercisable by the navigation authority other than a water authority. That is totally unacceptable because such streams are subject to control of pollution by water authorities. The registration provisions are a further weapon in the armoury of control and should not be excluded.

Amendment No. 43 looks superficially more attractive. It would prevent a water authority from requiring separate registration of a boat already registered with another water authority or another prescribed authority.

I have met the representatives of the British Waterways Board since the Committee stage. The board is the largest navigation authority in the country and it has a great deal of experience in the commercial use of waterways and in pioneering their use for recreation. I agree that registration fees constitute an important part of the board's income, and it is not my purpose to undermine its income in that respect.

The amendment would make it possible to ensure that no BWB-registered boat had to be registered by a water authority. It would protect the board's interests, but we also have the duty to protect boat owners' interests.

I cannot recommend the House to accept either amendment, thereby pre- empting the discussions which are taking place. My concern is to have one registration scheme. I want to prevent boat owners from having to go through the bureaucracy of registering their boats twice if they go on waters controlled by two separate public authorities. I am sure that I carry hon. Members with me in saying that. However, I wish to safe- guard the British Waterways Board's income. I shall continue to discuss with the board, and will implement as soon as possible, the necessary administrative way of achieving those two desirable objectives.

I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for Hornsey, as I think I have satisfied the British Waterways Board, that I have the interests of the board at heart. I shall meet those interests as far as I can, but I must also look after the interests of the boat owners.

Mr. Rossi

On the basis of the Minister's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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