HC Deb 31 July 1978 vol 955 cc97-144

Lords amendment: No. 11, in page 11, line 16. at end insert new clause C— ("C. It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to promote a national policy for the use of inland waterways for commercial transport.")—Read a Second time.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

With this amendment we are to take the following:

The amendment thereto in the names of the hon. Members for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), at end add: 'and to lay a report on such policy before both Houses of Parliament on or before 1st January 1980.'

Lords amendment: No. 28: the titles in line ', after ("parking") insert: (",and about inland waterway transport")

Hon., Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Onslow

Unaccustomed as I am to such an enthusiastic reception, I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the House if I were simply to move my amendment to the Lords amendment and then seek leave to speak to the amendment in the course of a wider debate. If that is in order, I am sure that it would be for the convenience of the House that we should hear from the two Front Benches, and then I can make the remarks that I wish to make in the light of what they have had to say.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the best way, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to do that, is for him to move his amendment formally now.

Mr. Onslow

That is what I was hoping to do. Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Amendment proposed to Lords amend-no. 11: at end add: and to lay a report on such policy before both Houses of Parliament on or before 1st January 1980.'—[Mr. Onslow.]

Mr. Marks

I am surprised that an hon. Member who has tabled an amendment to an amendment is able to move it formally and not state his reasons for moving the amendment, in the hope that perhaps it will go through "on the nod". This is a completely new procedure to me.

I wish to speak to the Lords amendment. It falls to me, in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, to speak, since I am advised that the main duty embodied in the amendment would be on the Secretary of State for the Environment. This is, of course because inland waterways are among the many responsibilities of the DOE. Also, the House will recall the Government's recent response to the report on the British Waterways Board by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. In this we reaffirmed our view that ministerial responsibility for the BWB, which owns or manages most of the inland waterways carrying, or capable of carrying, freight, should remain with DOE. That is the formal position. In practice, the DOE does, of course, cooperate closely with the Department of Transport on matters of mutual interest including freight transport on waterways.

6.45 p.m.

I think that the hon. Gentleman's amendment, like the substantive amendment, though well-intentioned, is misconceived and unlikely to assist the Government in their dealings with the British Waterways Board, which has statutory responsibility for traffic on the waterways.

Perhaps I may remind the House of what that responsibility involves. Section 10 of the Transport Act 1962 states: It shall be the duty of the British Waterways Board … to provide to such extent as they may think expedient—

  1. (a) services and facilities on the inland waterways owned or managed by them, and
  2. (b) ports facilities of any harbour owned or managed by them,
and to have due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operations as respects the services and facilities provided by them. The same section goes on to empower the Board to carry goods and passengers by inland waterway, to provide facilities for traffic and transport services by road in connection with the carriage of goods by waterways, to operate harbours owned or managed by it, and so on.

I would particularly emphasise the importance of the words "as they"—that is the Board—"may think expedient" in section 2 of the Act. The tenor of the passage is clearly to place on the British Waterways Board the responsibility for evolving a policy for the waterways, including especially the commercial waterways. Of course, this must be within the framework of Government policy as a whole.

The Government's national policy for freight transport was set out as part of the White Paper on transport policy of June 1977, and we have set out a national policy for the waterways in our White Paper on the water industry of July 1977. Not everyone may agree with that policy, but it was a proper function of the Government to consult on it and then set it out. The subsequent amendment which is before the House, in contrast, seeks to place a unique, specific, statutory duty on the Government in respect of one mode and one function of transport, and appears to ignore the statutory role and responsibility of the British Waterways Board and even to reflect adversely on it. The fact that there is no national system of inland waterways which is usable for commercial transport, and that inland waterways handle only 0.1 per cent. of freight movement emphasises the inappropriateness of the substantive amendment.

It is not a proper duty for my Secretary of State to formulate a national policy for only one use of inland waterways, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport would regard it as quite as objectionable to be required to promote a separate national policy for road, freight, rail freight, road passengers, rail passengers and so on.

Overall transport policy as set out in the transport policy White Paper is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. For my part, I am bound to point out that my Department's White Paper of July 1977 proposed the setting up of a national inland navigation authority, in conjunction with the amalgamation of the British Waterways Board with the water industry, and the introduction of legislation as soon as opportunity permitted.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I intervene at this stage in order perhaps to save time later. Is not my hon. Friend confusing two distinct matters—the statutory responsibility of the British Waterways Board in its present and possible future manifestation, which is the responsibility of his Department, and transport on water in general, which goes well beyond, and in many cases considerably beyond, the responsibilities of that particular publicly owned authority? If he agrees with that, does he not agree that perhaps the amendment is not so much of the ball as he suggests?

Mr. Marks

I am coming to that, and I shall say what my eventual conclusion on the matter will be. The inland waterways which are owned by the BWB are not the sole source of inland water transport in this country: indeed, they are only a very small part of it.

The preparation of that legislation would involve further extensive consultation which will cover the commercial activities of the waterways and, in particular, whether the role of inland waterways for freight should be hived off from the other and increasingly important recreational and amenity aspects. In the Government's view, it would be premature to attempt to deal in a piecemeal fashion with the important issues involved hereby reallocating, on the basis of an amendment from another place, the responsibility for the development of one particular use of our waterways, whatever it might be.

The waterways have a role in freight, in land drainage and in water supply. They are far more important for amenity and recreation—new uses which are already predominant on the vast majority of our waterways and are steadily increasing in importance. All these uses ought to be considered as the Government have proposed in the context of a detailed and comprehensive review with appropriate supporting studies.

Another important point which makes the main amendment unsatisfactory is that there is a lack of universally accepted definition of the term "inland waterways". I think that it would be misleading to understand by that phrase everything from the estuarial reaches of large rivers such as the Thames and the Mersey —most of which are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport—through the inland waterways leading, say, to the Humber, which account for 80 per cent. of commercial transport on inland waterways as normally understood, to the waterways controlled by regional water authorities or other navigation authorities and the narrow canals of the British Waterways Board, which could be made suitable for commercial traffic only by investment on a scale which no Government in recent years have thought to be called for.

Our approach to the waterways of the British Waterways Board at the level of national policy is one which takes account of the canals' traditional role in freight carrying, water supply and land drainage and their role in amenity and recreation. As for their commercial use, we have recognised that water traffic is an efficient user of energy for freight movement, although the facts constrain us to say that the scope for transfer of freight to the waterways is limited.

But we have acknowledged that inland waterways remain useful on a local scale and we have said that the Government will examine proposals for investment on their merits. The Government's faith in the future of the waterways system is indicated by the fact that we have allocated £5 million in the current year 1978–79 and earmarked a similar amount for 1979–80 foe urgent arrears of maintenance with implications for public safety.

We have carefully considered revised proposals for the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation. On this we have made clear that, particularly in view of local support—including financial support —we are by no means unsympathetic to an important local scheme of this kind, with its various potentials, although there have been matters of policy and further information which the Departments of Transport and the Environment are, with the Treasury, necessarily having to probe.

This particular case is of crucial importance for the future of the commercial waterways. Indeed, I think it is generally recognised that the decision on the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation scheme and its outcome if it is approved will be of great significance in determining whether there is a future for commercial transport on the waterways of the British Waterways Board.

For this reason, and for the other reasons which I have given, the Government have serious reservations, as I have said, about the Lords amendment, and the further amendment to it tabled by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant), would add considerably to our difficulty in accepting it. We think that it would be undesirable to attempt to frame a policy for the commercial waterways of the British Waterways Board in isolation from the other important aspects of the waterways network which call for consideration as proposed in the White Paper. We therefore consider that the setting of a date for that purpose would be inappropriate.

However, despite the reservations which I have expressed, the Government are prepared not to offer any objection to the inclusion of the main Lords amendment to the Bill in order to show that we share the deep interest which the House has in the realistic development of inland waterways—and, if I may say so, in the interests of parliamentary progress. I hope that the hon. Gentlemen will be prepared to accept my assurance that we shall certainly be considering the whole question in the wider context of the legislation needed to implement the 1977 waterways White Paper proposals, and I trust that they will not press their amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I should make clear beyond peradventure the way in which we are proceeding in this matter. We are discussing a group of amendments which comprises Lords amendment no. 11, the amendment thereto in the name of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and Lords amendment no. 28. They will be debated as a group and then at the appropriate time the Question will he put, "That the amendment to the Lords amendment be made "When that has been dealt with, we shall come to the Question" That this House doth agree"—or disagree, as the ease may be—"with the Lords in the said amendment", namely, amendment no. 11, as amended or not, again as the case may be.

I thought that I had better give that full explanation so that the House will understand the position.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

I had hoped that, in accepting the Lords amendment, the Government would show a little more encouragement and enthusiasm for our canal system and, in particular, for the British Waterways Board. Moreover, in view of the importance of this industry, I think that the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment might have found it in his heart to delay his journey to Canada for what I do not feel is the most important of purposes and find time to come here to explain to the House of Commons why he is so determined that the British Waterways Board should cease to exist and explain at the same time his attitude to the report of the Select Committee on the British Waterways Board, which produced no fewer than seven separate recommendations which, if embodied within it, would have made the speech from the Dispatch Box more effective than the one we have heard.

However, even if we have not heard from the Minister of State, I mean no disrespect to the Under-Secretary of State when I say that what he told us was very much what the Minister of State told the Select Committee. The House will perhaps understand, therefore, if I refer to the Select Committee's report on the British Waterways Board, since I was a member of Sub-Committee A which did much of the work to produce that report.

It may be remembered that the report was published in February of this year. I think that all of us who took part in the inquiry into the British Waterways Board felt that we were helping to clarify some of the present doubt and confusion about how our inland waterways and canals should be properly developed. In the words of the amendment, we were helping to promote a national policy for the use of inland waterways". To that extent, the seven recommendations in our report are, in our view, constructive and will be helpful as we look to the future of our canals.

Perhaps I should declare yet another interest, for it is not only the Select Committee which has brought me in touch with our canals. I am fortunate enough to have the Kennet and Avon canal flowing through the length of my constituency, and were I to try to ignore its existence my amenity society, perhaps the most enthusiastic in west Berkshire, would rapidly remind me of all that it has achieved and of how much it has enhanced the countryside in west Berkshire.

I look forward, as does that amenity society, to the day when it will have completed its work and it will be possible to get in a boat at Reading and sail via the canal through Newbury, Hungerford, Devizes and Bath to Bristol, for then we shall once again see that canal as it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was one of the commercial waterways of Britain. The canal is now one of our amenities. It is a place for pleasure boating and fishing, for horse-drawn barge trips and for what we call in my constituency the "crafty craft" race.

Our canal lost its commercial business to the railways, as they have lost so much of theirs to road transport. But I think that the Under-Secretary is wrong when he implies that canals today exist only for amenity and pleasure. That may be true of 80 per cent. of the network, but he must be aware that there is about 1,000 miles of commercial waterway in our country—quite enough track, I suggest, on which to base a national policy for the use of inland waterways.

7.0 p.m.

Although the Minister suggested that the British Waterways Board had the majority under its control, again he is wrong. It has control only of 350 miles. Six hundred miles are under the control of what might be described as non-nationalised institutions.

Taken together, the commercial waterways carry a quarter of the total tonnage of freight carried by rail but on only one-twelfth of the track, and they are in everyday use. The latest figures, which I received only this afternoon, show that the amount of freight being carried has risen in 1978 compared with 1976 by no less than 20 per cent. In other words, the commercial waterways are playing not only a useful but an increasing role. To dismiss them lightly as a side issue in the whole question of the future use of our canals seems to me to miss the point and to give little credit, if any credit at all, to the board. It has played a magnificent role in trying to make them effective.

The board has control of not only 350 miles of commercial waterways but of the Sharpness Dock, which I saw with the Select Committee, and extensive warehousing facilities throughout the country. With that background and the background of the other docks that it owns, we should look at the amendment in terms of what the Government have achieved and, more important, whether we have given the board adequate finance to enable it to carry out its specific duties, not those laid down in the 1962 Act, to which the Minister referred, but those in the Transport Act 1968, which gave it the following duties:

  1. "(a) to maintain the commercial waterways in a suitable condition for use by commercial freight-carrying vessels; and
  2. (b) to maintain the cruising waterways in a suitable condition for use by cruising craft".
Clearly, if the board cannot maintain the waterways, no amount of talk about the future of our canals will have much meaning or substance.

Having presented those duties, we have, as is alas too often the case with Parliament, denied the board the finance it needs to be able to carry out those duties and thus to make the best use of our canals. Indeed, the board told the Select Committee just that. It said that the finance sought by the board to fulfil the responsibilities placed on it by the 1968 Act had been constantly denied. That is a point to which I wish to return, because it is the one that the Government must answer if they are to prove to the House that they are serious in their intentions for the future of our canals.

Having made this point about the lack of finance, I should like to point out that the board has been financed by grants in aid stretching from £l½ million in 1968 to the current figure of £12 million, adding up to a total of about £30 million. That may sound a large sum, but, as the Minister of State has described the system as antiquated and with considerable maintenance implications, the Under-Secretary will recognise the truth of what I am about to say, that those grants in aid have enabled the board only to keep its head above water. They have never given it the finance with which to meet the costs of the maintenance without which our canal system cannot be developed.

As long ago as 1973 the board estimated that £21.8 million would be required to meet that maintenance backlog. As a result of the board's pleas—I can think of no better word—to the Department of the Environment, the Department was finally persuaded to set up an inquiry into this need for expenditure, an inquiry which was headed by Peter Fraenkel and his associates. They started work in 1974 and produced their report in 1976. That is the moment when things started to go wrong, for in the setting up of the Fraenkel inquiry the board might have thought that all that it had said about the need for cash had at long last been recognised. It must have wondered why, after the report came into the Department's hands in 1976, the Government maintained an absolute silence about what the report said and the sums of money it claimed would be needed if the backlog of work on the canals was to be done.

That silence extended for 22 months until 1977, until a few days before the Minister of State came before the Select Committee to explain his attitude to the board. If I say that I see it as no coincidence that the report was published just before the Minister of State appeared before the Committee, I do so because I think that he probably had a guilty conscience about what was in the report and the fact that he had never let it see the light of day. Well he might have a guilty conscince, because Fraenkel said that £37.6 million should be spent on the canals. That was at 1974 prices. At today's prices it would be £60 million.

The position was worse than that, because there was a recommendation—that £3 million should be spent immediately on the purely public safety aspect of the canals. That was in the report, but the Government hid it from the House and the country for 22 months. Even if one is being charitable, it is a massive condemnation of ministerial unwillingness to heed the board's request for more financial support for the canals. It was a vindication of the board's concern and, I am sorry to say, an indictment of the willingness of those with responsibility at the Department of the Environment to take chances with the canal system, which, if it is not maintained, presents a high public safety risk.

I am sure that the report made unattractive reading to those in the Department, but its non-publication for nearly two years is almost unbelievable, just as it is almost unbelievable that since its publication nothing has been done. The Under-Secretary said that £5 million had been made available for 1978–79, but he will know as well as I do that the board has not so far received one penny of that money to spend. The immediate maintenance work that must be done, as Fraenkel recognised, remains to be done. Weeks and months come and go, and nothing is done because of the technical arguments between the Department and the board. The object seems to be to deny the board the money it vitally needs.

Mr. Marks

The hon. Gentleman will agree, first, that the matter involves considerable expenditure and that the Opposition have been telling us not to go in for public expenditure of this kind or many other kinds. Secondly, with £5 million available, it is up to the board to decide its spending priorities. The Government have not learnt what they are.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I spoke to the board today. I was told that it has drawn up a works programme and staffing needs and that it put the document into the Department on 2nd February 1978. It is waiting for departmental clearance. So far, all that it can do is purchase the materials for the maintenance work, but. while the staffing problem remains, apparently the Department considers that that is reason enough to do nothing and to provide no cash.

I do not think that the Government want the British Waterways Board to be successful or to continue to do the job that it has been doing since 1968. That is why, I believe, the Fraenkel report was not published. I think that the Minister of State's mind has not been on the canals since 1976. He has been thinking of water and the water industry and of the canals only in terms of carrying water. Thus, in his view, any encouragement to the British Waterways Board was an encouragement that carried him in a direction exactly opposite to the one in which he wanted to go.

To some extent, the Minister of State has already shared his thoughts with us—first in the Green Paper "The Review of the Water Industry in England and Wales", published in March 1976, two months after Fraenkel was delivered to the Department; and more recently in the White Paper "The Water Industry in England and Wales: the Next Steps", published in July 1977, four months before Fraenkel was published.

In the White Paper, the Government made clear that in their view the board should be merged in a national water authority: The Government propose that this further work shall be undertaken on the basis that responsibility for the British Waterways Board will be transferred to the National Water Authority when it is set up, and that the water industry will be required to assume the major financial responsibility in view of the substantial benefits they derive from the waterways. There is the Minister of State's policy for us all to read, and that policy and Fraenkel do not live side by side.

Thus, the board can be left to guess why the Government choose not to publish the report which vindicates it, while the Government and their officials go about their task of preparing plans to abolish the board, to centralise the water industry under a single, monolithic authority.

Yet when we challenged the Minister of State, when he came before the Select committee, over his non-action over Fraenkel was that the explanation he gave us? Not a bit of it. He defended his refusal to publish the report for nearly two years by casting aspersions on the professional ability of the British Waterways Board. I quote from his evidence on page 124. Answering a question about why the report had not been published, he said: It was partly delayed because we took the view, rightly or wrongly—I did—that it was not much good publishing the Fraenkel Report, which showed that there was now a £60 million backlog of maintenance to be done, unless at the same time I could announce the Government's view on what we should do with it and also announce whether we were able to produce additional resources, which is exactly what happened. But in our discussions with the British Waterways Board I said, ' We have got £60 million of arrears estimated by the Fraenkel Committee. Can you kindly tell me what the priorities are? How much money needs to be spent this year because of the serious state of the canal system, how much money needs to be spent the following year and for the next five years and the next ten years? All I have is a report which says that there is £60 million worth of arrears. I have no hope of going to my colleagues in the Government and asking them for £60 million. I must therefore have the evidence to buttress my case, breaking that £60 million down into programmes.' I was astonished to be told that that information could not he provided and that it was impossible for the Board to provide the information. They had not surveyed their system. They had not the staff to survey their system in sufficient detail to give me the necessary breakdown. 7.15 p.m.

If that statement is true, one must wonder why the Fraenkel Committee was ever set up. Was it the Department that was worried about these arrears? Did it hear no word from Sir Frank Price up to 1974, when he himself said that £21.8 million had to be spent? If it did hear word, how can the Minister of State possibly say that the BWB did not know what required to be done?

If the Minister really expects hon. Members to believe that statement, is he not saying in effect that he has no confidence in Sir Frank Price and the board? Surely it would be up to him, as the responsible Minister, to ask Sir Frank to leave the chairmanship. In fact, that has not happened. He just casts his aspersions, he undermines the confidence in the leadership of the board, but he leaves Sir Frank Price in the hopeless position of wondering what possible future the board and its staff and all the hard work that they have put in can have in the eyes of this Government.

As we know, the Minister of State has his own view of what the canal structure should be and that is within a national water authority. Sir Frank Price does not see eye to eye with him, and rather than let himself be won over by the experts the Minister chooses to browbeat the board by denying it the essential finance with which to do its job.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I have been listening attentively and sympathetically to the hon. Member and much of what he says has a good deal of my support. However, when he talks about £60 million worth of work which needs to be done, he does not mention that previous Governments were responsible for neglecting our canals and waterways. I hope that this Government will do something about them urgently, but it is not just the present Government who are to blame.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

That is a fair point, which I concede immediately, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that I said that, from 1968, when these duties were laid down, the board has been denied the finance that it required—and in that, of course, I embrace all the Governments who have had responsibility I do not want to shirk what the hon. Gentleman has said, but the Fraenkel report was started in 1974 and delivered to this Government in 1976. It was sat on for two years without a word being allowed to be published anywhere. That is an extraordinary state of affairs.

We on the Select Committee looked at the circumstances as we found them. None of us had any preconceived ideas or any bias. We just went out to discover what the British Waterways Board was at and to learn something about the canals and inland waterways. We took evidence from many organisations and heard many witnesses, and at the end of the day, as so often happens with the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, we produced a unanimous report with seven recommendations.

As is usual, the Government have sent us their observations on our report. That some obdurate unwillingness to recognise that the board is the right authority to look after our canals comes through this document, page after page, but never more so than in the summary of the Government's answer to our recommendations. I shall quote just three of their observations.

On the question of finance, the Government do not accept the Committee's recommendations insofar as they refer to the future financing of the canals; it considers it would be wrong to commit the provision of large-scale finance for a period of twelve to fifteen years on the basis of the Fraenkel Report; On the question of the merger, the Government do not accept the Committee's recommendation that the Government should immediately abandon its proposal to merge the British Waterways Board into a National Navigation Authority; On the question of ministerial responsibility—on which I have not so far touched—the Government do not accept the Committee's recommendation that Ministerial responsibility should be transferred from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Transport. Although we are in a debate exclusively taken by the Department of Transport, we are having to go off at a tangent in order to allow a Minister from the Department of the Environment to answer an amendment relating to inland commercial waterways.

No wonder Sir Frank Price, in his answer to the Government's observations, said: I am sure that my board and for that matter the general public will be disturbed that the Government have turned down the findings of their own Consultants' Report on the state of the Waterways and what must be done to protect them. Rather than read the whole statement, I will merely quote the last two points Sir Frank made. He said, first, that his board is disturbed that the Government were continuing their policy which keeps the future of the waterways in doubt with all that that means for staff morale and recruitment, and investment by the private sector. He concluded: The Board no doubt will consider their position in the light of the Government's statement. So there we have it. The Minister of State has set his heart against the future existence of the British Waterways Board and apparently, despite all the evidence he has received from so many expert bodies that he is making a mistake, he will not change. He appears to have little or no belief in the commercial transport possibilities of the canals, and, indeed, in his White Paper, he refers to waterways commercial transport only once in a one-word reference on page 13.

Thus, while our competitors in western Europe experiment with new approaches to commercial waterways transport, our Government let time run through their fingers as though every decision can be put off for as long as they choose. Our Select Committee recommendation that an investment should be made in the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation was simply noted amongst the Government's observations. Yet they could seek an EEC grant tomorrow, they have Parliament's consent, but for eight years they have dithered and dallied, and the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation remains untouched in terms of what its potential could be.

Mr. Marks

The hon. Gentleman is speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. Can I presume that he is giving the Opposition's view that there should be massive spending on the waterways to improve them for commercial reasons? About £60 million is involved. Is this something that the Conservative Party has advocated throughout these eight years that the hon. Gentleman has talked about?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Perhaps I can answer by saying that any Government who can leave that vital maintenance work still undone despite a report that they received in 1976, which said that £3 million should be spent immediately, are clearly prepared to take risks with public safety. I hope that the Conservative Party would never put itself in that position. I accept that the overall expenditure of £60 million is a huge sum of money, but we have to recognise that it is to be spent over a period of 10 to 15 years, and any of us who wants to see the commercial waterways developed as I believe they could be must decide how much we are prepared to spend.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, irrespective of the Fraenkel report, the opportunities for carrying out this work were there throughout the lifetime of the last Conservative Government, and that not only did they refuse to carry out the general work we are talking about but would not agree the money for the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation improvement? Does he not accept that the one possibility we have of getting this development now is under the present Government?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am talking as a member of that Select Committee and of Sub-Committee A. I do not see present any other hon. Member who served with me on Sub-Committee A. I am talking about the recommendations that we reached and our belief that that work should go ahead. But perhaps I may press the point further.

The Under-Secretary of State, like the Minister of State, seems convinced that canal systems are a recreation and leisure area and not commercial at all. He will find in our report dozens of suggestions from interested organisations about possible commercial initiatives—for example, a proposed waterway linking the Severn and the Wash, and enlargement of the Trent and the Grand Union Canal in London to take bigger vessels.

The hon. Gentleman will know that other EEC countries are carrying out studies on how to maximise their waterways. He will be conscious of that remarkable piece of engineering the Rhine-Main-Danube link; he will know that there are many innovations in the type of craft being used—the barge-aboard catamaran, the development of dual-purpose sea and inland waterway craft, seagoing barges, barge-carrying ships, push-tow strings of barges. There are plenty of ideas and plenty of scope for increasing the use of inland waterways transport and the trade passing through our smaller ports. The hon. Gentleman will also know that many people see our rivers as providing uncluttered waterways to western Europe.

A Government who really intended to encourage the use of our canals as commercial waterways would have little difficulty, if they chose to put their heart into the matter, in encouraging all these initiatives. I quite agree with the point about financial struceure. It is a thorny problem, but it gets no less thorny by being put off, or being put under wraps while the Government are busy thinking how best they can divest themselves of their responsibility.

Therefore, I congratulate Lord O'Hagan on introducing his amendment in the other place. I give one out of three cheers to the Under-Secretary of State who accepted it, albeit without much grace. But more than that, I believe, as did all the other members of the Select Committee, that the British Waterways Board has done a remarkable job. Anyone who sees its staff in the field, let alone meets them at its headquarters, recognises how much professional expertise and enthusiasm there is among those people.

I do not believe that canals are part of the water industry; I believe that they are something else. I am equally convinced that to sink the BWB within a national water authority would mean that the commercial waterways, as suggested in the amendment, would never fulfil the possibilities that exist for them. For that matter, also happen to believe that the Select Committee's recommendation that British waterways and, indeed, the canal system should be removed from the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and given to the Depart- ment of Transport is probably the only way of breaking the bias and the prejudice against the BWB and the only way of making this amendment, when it becomes a provision in the 'Transport Act, a reality and something that will give a new breath of life to our canal system.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I declare an interest as a member of the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, set up by the Government to advise them on the affairs of the British Waterways Board. We on that committee have tried to look at the question of inland waterways transport and the canal system as a whole. I agree with many, but not all, of the recommendations of the Select Committee.

We on that committee also take the view that it is bad to have the waterways system divided between Ministries and that it should be under the Department of Transport. We believe that the British Waterways Board should be widened to become the national navigation body, responsible for all inland waterways, including estuarial waterways. We do not want the British Waterways Board made powerless. We want it made larger, more powerful and more influential. In that case it should come under the Department of Transport. We agree it is very important that all amenity services—angling, boating and so on—should not be interferred with.

The present system neglects the whole question of freight on water. The figures put out by the Government always indicate the freight carried only by the British Waterways Board. They should include the freight carried on inland waterways all over the country, including estuarial waterways and big rivers. Taking that figure as a whole, one would have a very important contribution to the country's total transport services. That relieves transport on the road, and the more that this can be developed, the better.

We also take the view that, with the development of waterways on the Continent, we need some more links with Continental waterways. Ship after ship comes into Rotterdam or Hamburg and unloads into lorries. The lorries come over here and roll off at Felixstowe and Dover and then travel on our roads. Much of that stuff could come over in smaller boats or large barges, then go up the rivers and waterways and unload there. We do not take the view that it is a practical proposition to turn the whole of the canals into inland waterways carrying freight of that kind. We accept that most of the canals were built for a different kind of traffic in the past and will be used mainly for amenity purposes in the future.

The Sheffield and South Yorkshire canal, for example, is a test case. It must go ahead and go ahead soon. It has been argued about for a long time. One of the arguments used against it by the Treasury is that we must be able to guarantee what traffic will go on it before the capital goes into it. That is not what is done when a motorway is built. The transport authorities assume that there will be a certain amount of traffic carried on the motorways and that traffic will build up once the motorway is there. Therefore, if we put the capital into making that waterway an effective working transport system, the traffic will use it.

There could then be other extensions of that test case. We would like to see, for example, an extension from Brentford up to Watford. An extension of that kind would bring traffic into the country, as would an extension to take traffic from Liverpool inland. After all, a previous generation built the Manchester Ship Canal, which is that kind of waterway, and surely we can do the same thing today.

Mr. Michael Ward (Peterborough)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the greatest potential lies on the east coast, which faces Europe? /t is developments like the Yorkshire one which he has described and the possibility of the River Nene being developed from Wisbech to Peterborough which offer the greatest chance. This could be done for the cost of about two or three miles of motorway.

Mr. Parker

I agree absolutely. Certainly the east coast should be developed for the trade from Europe. That is irrespective of whether we remain in the EEC. Freight from Europe should come in as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible.

The present arrangement is very unsatisfactory. It would be much better to have the whole of the inland waterway system and the docks under one Ministry —preferably the Department of Transport. Therefore, I hope that this amendment introduced by the House of Lords, with which I fully agree, will be a little jerk to press the Government forward in the direction of this kind of policy. We must get a move on with our waterways policy in order to make the most of them, from the freight point of view as well as from the amenity point of view.

I am not in any way detracting from the importance of amenity, which will be increasingly valuable in future. Neither do I detract from the way in which parts of our waterways are being handed over for nature conservancy, which also is very valuable. But it is vital also that whichever body is responsible for running our waterways should have freight as part of its job and include in this the whole of the waterways—inland and estuarial—of this country.

Mr. Onslow

I hope it will have proved useful to the House to have deferred to this stage my few remarks on the amendment. However, I must tell the Minister that I am sorry for him. As he read his speech, it occurred to me that it would have been increasingly appropriate if it had been delivered by the Minister of State, who, unhappily, has found a pressing engagement overseas which makes it impossible for him to come and take this debate. Many of us believe that he should have done so. I am sorry for the Under-Secretary, and I hope he will not take personally the remarks I am about to make about the speech that should have been made by someone else.

Mr. Marks

My speech was a reply to a motion on an amendment for which no reasons had been given.

Mr. Onslow

No doubt, if the Under-Secretary has something better to say, it will be written out for him and he will be able to read it when he replies at the end of the debate. No doubt there are a lot of people around who will start putting pen to paper once I have explained.

The House knows the background to the present situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) in his admirable speech reminded us that the Government have rejected practically every piece of advice that has been given on this matter. They have rejected the advice of the British Waterways Board. The Minister cannot deny that. They rejected the advice of the consultancy that was appointed, and they rejected the opinion of the Select Committee of this House. I hope that the Minister will not deny that. In other words, the steady line coming through rock solid from the Department is "Harvey Smith to the lot of you". That will not do.

When I see what the Select Committee said, I am vindicated in the amendment that I have put down. Paragraph 14 of the preamble to the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries says: Your committee find that the Board's charge that they have been denied the finance with which to carry out the statutory obligations laid upon them by Parliament is justified. Successive Governments must take full responsibility for not allowing a nationalised industry to carry out its functions; it is for Parliament to ensure that those responsible are not allowed to let this happen again. I accept that successive Governments have responsibility. My calculations make it six years of responsibility for Labour, compared with four years of Conservative responsibility. Nevertheless, we shall take it as share and share alike. Now it is up to Parliament to ensure that this does not happen again.

In another place, Lord O'Hagan very prudently saw an opportunity to put down an amendment to the Bill which would enable Parliament to go some way towards seeing that this nonsense did not happen again. When I saw the noble Lord's amendment—with which I agree —I thought that he had not gone far enough. Members of another place may not see day to day the full ability of members of the Treasury Bench to wriggle. Although Lord O'Hagan tabled a useful amendment, I would point out that my amendment to his amendment is not so much a probing one but is to be described in the terms of the implement one takes to eels—namely, a pronging amendment. This is a prong, and I want to prong the Minister on it.

It was clear from what the Minister said that he accepted Lord O'Hagan's amendment on two grounds. First, he wished to demonstrate that the Government share the deep interest of most people in the country in canals, and, secondly, he supported the proposals in the interest of parliamentary progress. If that is to become a common ground for accepting amendments, I can think of a great number of amendments which have been moved from time to time which should have been accepted by the Government of the day in the interest of parliamentary progress. However, I do not suppose that that will become a predecent.

We are left with the feeling that this is a demonstration, a token of the Government's deep interest in the matter. Although such tokens are correspondingly worthless, I would point out that canal tokens at least have a collector's value. What do the Government intend to do to show tangible evidence of their deep interest? I believe that they will show nothing at all, because they need to do nothing.

I tabled my amendment to provoke the Government to take action and to put the prong through the eel. No matter what policy the Government think it right to promote, I am asking that they should report by a given date. It may be an unusual idea that the House should insist that the Government whatever Government it might be, should set a date to say what they intend to do. This example might be emulated elsewhere in other legislation. I do not regard it as an undesirable precedent. It does not seem to me to matter which Government it is aimed at. Even if my amendment were accepted, I do not suppose that it would fall to a Labour Government to honour it. Therefore, the Minister need not worry too much about it.

To show his appreciation of political reality and also to speed parliamentary progress, I believe that the Minister has a further reason to let the amendment pass. Since it will not affect the Labour Government; and it will not affect the Minister of State who has gone off to Canada enjoying himself, why should he not let the amendment pass? He could have a word with the Whips, and I am sure that there would be no trouble and that the provision could be agreed.

We cannot let Parliament be abused in this way. The Government are answerable to this House. It is a good thing that from time to time they should be reminded of this fact. Select Committees seek to remind them, but Governments tend to ignore the views of such Committees. Now that the House has this chance, I very much hope that it will take it. If I do not receive a sympathetic response from the Minister, I may be compelled to divide the House—and that will not speed parliamentary progress at all.

Mr. Spearing

The problem is that we are faced with four debates rather than two. We have a debate about the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, in which I sympathise with my south Yorkshire colleagues. We have a debate on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), which calls for a report to be submitted to this House. We have a debate on the Select Committee report on inland waterways and the future role of the British Waterways Board. Finally, but most important of all, we have the amendment tabled in the other place by Lord O'Hagan which provides: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to promote a national policy for the use of inland waterways for commercial transport". That is the matter to which I wish to devote my speech. I do not think that so far we have heard any speech dealing with that subject.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Woking, who wishes to put prongs into Lord O'Hagan's amendment. However, I am not sure that legislation is the best way by which to achieve that end. However, if the Minister accepts the Lords amendment, I hope that the hon. Member for Woking will reconsider his suggested course of action.

7.45 p.m.

The heart of the matter lies in a giant misunderstanding, which was instanced in the Minister's opening speech and was echoed in my somewhat impatient intervention. The Department of the Environment and the Government as a whole keep on confusing transport on water—whether rivers, canals or river navigation, which are three separate things—with the British Waterways Board. That happens time after time. It is disgraceful. The Minister's speech yet again showed that to be so.

I understand that of the commercial navigations a total of 500 miles are out- side the responsibility of the British Waterways Board, whereas 336 miles are inside its responsibility. Although I found the speech of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) interesting, thought that many of his arguments, although valid in another context, were not relevant in the consideration of the matters which I hope the Minister will be thinking about within the next few minutes.

It is the inability to distinguish between the activity of the British Waterways Board and the water track—whether that track be the Thames, an estuary, the Manchester Ship Canal or an improved navigation—which has foxed the whole issue. We are concerned with the function of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. I suggest that my right hon. Friend, particularly as a member of a Labour Government committed to the integration of transport, should have some duty in regard to transport, whatever the mode, whether railway, roadway or waterway. Those three modes go together.

Statutory Instrument 1775/76 set up the office of the Secretary of State for Transport. and that document provides in paragraph 1(3): In this order 'transport functions of the Secretary of State' means such functions of the Secretary of State relating to highways, road traffic, road and rail transport, ports, docks and harbours, and other matters". It goes on to cite certain orders, but does not mention water transport as such.

Reaching from our ports, docks and harbours into the internal parts of the United Kingdom, we have some excellent waterways, but they are not always the responsibility of the British Waterways Board. Let me take as example the River Thames. As long ago as 3rd March 1972 I had an Adjournment debate on the future of the waterways in which the then Minister totally misunderstood the situation and did not reply to the debate. It was clear that in 1969 3 million tons of goods floated past this House on water transport, none of it to do with the British Waterways Board. In 1976 there was a debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) on the South Yorkshire Navigation. In May 1975 we had yet another debate on inland waterways dealing with the report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. That Committee issued recommendations on canals and waterways, which recommendations were not carried out.

The Government have been misdirected on the matter of statistics. Mr. Mark Baldwin, in evidence to the Select Committee, made this clear on page 194 of the Select Committee's report. He produced a learned paper showing that statistics used by the Department on inland waterways were out of date and wrong. I presume that they are the statistics quoted by the Minister earlier in this discussion. I emphasise that we are not concerned with the British Waterways Board alone. We are dealing with the policy for transport on water. It is extraordinary to think that the Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom has no responsibility for any aspect of co-ordinating water transport with other modes. It is clear that other countries of the EEC, some of which are landlocked, work their systems differently. We have our coastline and to some extent the seas around our coast are our off-the-coast waterways, but that is no reason for the Secretary of State not having a responsibility laid upon him.

Let us consider the future of the Royal group of docks. The Secretary of State has made a statement in the House today and has concentrated on the question of productivity, severance and viability, but he does not think of the docks as part of the inland water transport system of this country. Only a few years ago grain was moved from my constituency almost into that of the hon. Member for Woking—to the Cox's Lock Mill at Weybridge, using the highway of the Thames. Alas, it does not now. I wish that it did. It is probably still as cheap and it would certainly reduce road traffic and congestion if those barges were still used. Mr. Stevens of Guildford was a great public benefactor in that respect.

The Secretary of State for Transport cannot look at that problem. If I said that we should encourage greater activity in the Royal group of docks by using the Thames in that way, the Secretary of State would say that it was nothing to do with him. What a ridiculous situation! The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment spoke about the responsibility of various Ministries, and this is where I disagree with some of my hon. Friends. The British Waterways Board, in whatever form, and the historic canal system probably ought to remain as the prime responsibility of the Department of the Environment, if only because water is certainly an environmental feature. It is not man made, although it is man controlled. Many of the natural waterways of this country are an inherent part of the environment. We improve them and sometimes make them ourselves. We should therefore keep them within the Department of the Environment, though that does not mean to say that the use of some of these waterways should not be the responsibility of another Minister, particularly when he is responsible for transport generally.

Waterways, in their environment, are integrated with flood control, land drainage, town drainage, town sewerage, raw water supply for pure water, non-potable water supply, power station cooling, irrigation, hydro-electric power, pumped electric storage, commercial fisheries, sporting fisheries and water recreation. Any waterway has, potentially, some of those functions, but it also has a transport function.

I suggest that it should be a duty of the Secretary of State for Transport and his Department to ask in what respect one function of waterways, whether natural, man-made or man-modified, can be integrated into an integrated system of transport. That is all that the Lords amendment asks us to do—to fill a gap in the terms of reference.

How far and on what basis the Secretary of State may take his responsibilities—he may say we should run the future capital for canals rather like a turnpike trust, which seems to be the current Government thinking—it should be a matter that the Department of Transport, as well as the Department of the Environment, should consider. There surely must be a duty laid upon the Secretary of State for Transport, particularly in respect of integration—movement from rail to water, from water to land and the responsibility he has already for our docks and harbours.

The arguments and differences about capital for waterways, about the recent Select Committee report, the Fraenkel report or the future of the British Waterways Board, interesting though they may be, are not the main questions for us to decide. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider carefully that, as the amendment was accepted by a Minister in another place—rightly, in my opinion —he should do likewise. It imposes a broad responsibility on him for looking at these matters. Whether the amendment of the hon. Member for Woking is accepted is another matter, but I suggest that, in logic, the Secretary of State should have a responsibility, and that is all that the amendment seeks.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

It is a particular pleasure for me to follow in debate the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). His knowledge and authority in these matters is well known and widely recognised. I had the great pleasure of sailing with him down the Regents canal and he was able to describe to me the developments that had taken place on either side of the canal and what lay beyond what we could see. It was an extraordinarily interesting occasion for me and I always listen to the hon. Gentleman with great care and interest, knowing that he speaks with wide knowledge and is a sound thinker in these matters.

However, I am not sure that I go all the way with him in this debate. I think that he is guilty of a certain amount of illogicality in the conclusions he draws from the case that he made so well, but perhaps our differences will emerge during my speech.

I support the Lords amendment. The Government were sensible to accept it in another place, and I hope that the Minister will also accept the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). We should be looking for an identity for the British Waterways Board. It is essentially and properly interested in its freight-carrying role. This came out clearly in the evidence that Sir Frank Price and his colleagues gave to the Select Committee. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) elaborate the case and completely justify the Select Committee's recommendations. I am as critical as he was of the reply received from the Government.

In recognition of the fact that the board's task is essentially that of a freight carrier, it is to this end that all its efforts and ambitions should be directed. The board's other responsibilities are peripheral and secondary and detract from what should be its main objective.

It has already been mentioned that currently under the board's jurisdiction are 2,000 miles of waterways, only about one-sixth of which—350 miles—relate to commercial carrying. Outside the board's control are more than 600 miles of non-nationalised, commercially used waterways, so the board cannot say that it has sole responsibility for all those waterways used for commercial purposes.

The other uses of the canal system for which the board is responsible are of growing importance. Use of the canal system by pleasure boats rose from 11,573 in 1968 to 20,821 in 1974 and produced an income for the board in 1977 of about £1,260,000. I understand that 25,000 angling licences are issued for the inland waterways for which the BWB is responsible. The board also has wide responsibilities as a water carrier and provides important drainage facilities which produce an income of about £1½ million a year. It is involved in water conservation, flood control, agricultural water supply and agricultural and urban drainage. A list of other responsibilities was recited by the hon. Member for Newham, South.

I welcome the statement made in evidence to the Select Committee by the chairman of the board, Sir Frank Price. I refer to question no. 278 at page 109. Sir Frank said: Co-operation goes on between the regional water authority operators, and some of our people sit on various committees up and down the country that are run by the RWAs, so that there is co-operation at that level. In answer to question no. 279 Sir Frank is reported to have said: These conflicts of interest would be settled between the staff of the RWAs and the staff of the BWB because the conflicts as such are minor ones. I believe that I am right in drawing the conclusion that there is a happy working arrangement between the regional authorities and the board.

8.0 p.m.

In my view—I do not think that I shall carrry many hon. Members on either side with me—the board should have a future secured upon its role as an independent transport undertaking together with associated activities such as warehousing and storage. There is a need for its role and purpose to be identified and pursued. The undoubted experience and expertise of its employees need to be concentrated on the single objective for the use of inland waterways for commercial transport. I am emphatically against the board's amalgamation and loss of identity by placing it with the National Water Authority, as the Government propose. I am strongly against the Government's proposals for a national water authority. The regional water authorities are sensibly sized administrative units based on river catchment areas. We hear little criticism of RWAs from either side of the House or in the industry generally. There may be criticism about the level of their charges. That is essentially where the criticism I am talking about the organisational arrangements, which I think are working effectively.

Under my proposals the board would retain its docks, warehouses, offices and other facilities and become a user of inland waterways in a similar relationship to vehicular transport on our road system. That would be, perhaps, on some sort of licensing and fee arrangement. I see an analogy between the provision of highways and vehicular transport but it would not be analogous to rail traffic, for which there is no contiguous use for the permanent way.

That is where I part company with those who say that if we have such an arrangement it will be similar to the railway system. It would not be similar because with the waterways we have a whole host of other users. That does not apply to the railway system. It is the recreational purpose to which the canal and inland waterways system is increasingly put. That points purposefully to the arrangement that I outlined. The board would be relieved of its other responsibilities, which I consider should be passed to the RWAs with appropriate financial provision, especially the vast arrears of maintenance which are estimated at £60 million. The Select Committee drew special attention to that issue.

My suggestion would have the effect of placing all inland waterways, canals and rivers alike under RWAs and would harmonise their existing responsibilities for recreation and other use. In other words, the whole of the inland waterways and the river systems would be the responsibility of the regional water authorities.

I hope that that would meet the point made by Lord O'Hagan in a debate in another place on 11th July. When referring to inland waterways the noble Lord said: Inland waterways have no friends in Government circles, to the extent that they do not fit in. They are neither transport nor environment.".—(Official Report, House of Lords, 11th July 1978; Vol. 394, c. 1537.] That has been said repeatedly during the debate. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is in difficulty in that respect. In this instance I support the advocacy of the hon. Member for Newham, South. We need identity in terms of ministerial responsibility, and I think that that is logically extended from what I feel should be the identity for the British Waterways Board, namely, its freight responsibility.

Mr. Spearing

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a historical accident that the board was responsible for some of the track and the vessels as well? Does he agree that the analogy that he draws is not good because with inland water transport the ownership of the vessel is as on the roads and not on the railways, and not necessarily of the same ownership as the track itself?

Mr. Jones

Ownership of rail wagons is not limited to British Rail. Many concerns have their own wagon systems. I depart again from what the hon. Gentleman says.

The skilled labour force responsible for canal repair and management would be transferred. Wider career opportunities would exist for the labour force and there would be a more extensive application of their experience and knowledge. It should be recognised that expertise does not lie with the board as an identity but with those who practise it.

These suggestions are made in the hope that they may make a contribution to the fulfilment of the objectives of the amendment.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I apologise if my contribution seems like a carry-over from the debates on the Scotland Bill. The House might have seen that measure pass from the House with hearty relief. I had better confess immediately that I have Consolidated Fund Bill debate no. 4 on the future policy of inland waterways in England, Scotland and Wales.

I shall use two or three minutes to bring to the attention of the Government matters that I believe are strictly relevant to the debate and the future of the Board. If anyone on the Opposition Front Bench asks "Why on earth did you not take the opportunity to discuss these matters during the debates on the Scotland Bill?", the truth is that, like many other issues, they were wholly undiscussed during the passage of that Bill.

I put my contribution in question form. I should say, first, that the secretary of the Board has confirmed in writing that the memorandum from which I quote is still the Board's current and considered view. I should also say to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that I have had discussions with the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, which takes exactly the same view as does the Board. The third paragraph of the memorandum states: The Board are concerned that, should the proposals contained in the Bill affecting their undertaking become law, the integrated system which they now control will become fragmented. The funds required for maintenance of the inland waterways and for capital investments will he derived from three sources with the probability that the principles applied in the allocation of such funds will not be consistent. The next paragraph states: It will no longer be possible for the Board to allocate their scarce resources of money and manpower in the best interests of the waterways. For a moment I digress from the quotations. For those of us who have had a long interest in the waterways in Scotland, it is common knowledge that there is one engineer who has to be replaced by staff from Leeds whenever he goes on holiday, or perhaps when he is ill. He depends entirely on Leeds for expertise. It is a highly expert job. We cannot pick up water engineers from anywhere to cope with the problems. It is complete nonsense from an engineering point of view, after all these years of relative success, to split up the British Waterways Board, against its considered views, into not two but three divisions. In the discussions which took place on 18th April on the Wales Bill, I and others raised the issue of the Llangollen and Montgomery canals.

The memorandum goes on: The proposals will enable the Scottish Assembly to alter the Board's statutory duties and responsibilities. A separate organisation could be created for the Scottish waterways which, in the view of the Board, would inevitably be much more costly and dissipate staff effort. The existing career opportunities for staff would be prejudiced. The staff are not all keen on the proposals in the Scotland Bill.

The memorandum continues: The Board have managed the inland waterways since the 1st January, 1963. They remain of the opinion that these can be administered intelligently and economically only as a unified system. This was acknowledged when the Water Act 1973 became law and reaffirmed in Paragraph 27 of the Green Paper about the future of the Water Industry. These are not the so-called anti-devolutionists grinding any old axe. These are serious people who have put in writing their professional opinion, to which at no time in the last four years has there been any answer from the Government Front Bench.

Paragraph 7 states: The Board consider that Clause 84 should be left out of the Bill. They would, however. welcome the proposal for the appointment of Members to the Board representing Scottish and Welsh interests. This would enable these Bodies to keep themselves informed and to comment on the inland waterways in Scotland and Wales, without the untenable financial demarcations proposed in the Bill. As is known, the Welsh have two representatives—Lady White and her colleague—not because they are Welsh, but because they have certain expertise in this area.

I do not want to bore the House. I feel like an intruder, but I should like to read three more paragraphs. Paragraph 13 states: The Board have statutory obligations and are apprehensive that if inland waterways in Scotland and Wales were to be financed from funds provided by the Scottish Executive or the Welsh Assembly their standards may differ. This may not be in the public interest since the block grants allocated to the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly may be used for many other pressing purposes. With my recent experience of Scottish politics, I believe that, if the inland waterways interests think that they will get the favourable allocations to which they have been used in the past, they can think again. The truth of the matter is that the block grant is finite.

The nature of politics in Scotland is such that maintenance money and work on waterways will somehow drift away to other and what may seem to be—wrongly in my view—more pressing requirements. Therefore, I think that the waterways interests have every right to be concerned about the block grant, remembering that the whole paraphernalia and superstructure of the Assembly will have to be paid for out of the block grant.

Paragraph 15 states: The Board note that theirs is the only nationalised industry created by the Transport Act 1962 to be affected by devolution. The British Transport Docks Board, for example, have harbours at Ayr and Troon and in South Wales which are managed locally. The functions of the British Railways Board in Scotland and Wales are not affected. I can tell the House why they are not affected. It is because the National Union of Railwaymen, in the shape of Sid Weighell and Dave Bowman, told the Government not to be so silly as to do anything to break up the railways system. There was a powerful trade union which rightly made its objection known pretty early on in the whole argument.

Paragraph 17 states: The Board administer the waterways economically and carry out the statutory duties imposed upon them by the Transport Acts 1962 and 1968. They apprehend that under other arrangements the administration of the waterways will be less economic; less efficient overall; not provide an adequate career structure for professional and other staff and put navigation on the inland waterways at risk. The words at risk "are not of my choosing. They are the printed words, the considered opinion of Mr. Luckett and his colleagues and, indeed, Sir Frank Price, with whom I have had an interview on these matters.

8.15 p.m.

I shall not intrude any further on time. I do not think that it is entirely reasonable to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tonight to give answers. I shall acquit him of that. Of course, in my own defence, I should say that on Tuesday of last week, as soon as Mr. Speaker announced the subjects for the Consolidated Fund Bill debate so that we could put in our names before it came into print, I telephoned the office of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of the Environment warning him of the precise subject that I was going to raise.

I end by saying that if there is no answer tonight, at least tomorrow night, or in the early hours of Wednesday morning, as I am sure it will be after all the Londoners have had their say, I shall expect a detailed answer, because it will be the first time in four years, if there is a detailed answer, that any kind of answer has been attempted. I thank my right hon. Friend in advance for favours at 4 o'clock on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on his campaign on this subject. I know that he has waged hard and long on behalf of inland waterways. The hon. Gentleman touched on the question of Scotland, but the Welsh situation is more ludicrous. Where the waterways cross the border, we have two authorities dealing with two stretches of often quite short waterways. That is equally nonsensical. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and wish him luck tomorrow night, at whatever the hour may be. Unfortunately, I cannot speak in his debate as I have one of my own later. However, I shall listen to what he says.

This is a very important debate. It is good that the House has had this opportunity to discuss the subject. Many people are concerned about the future of our waterways. An increasing number of organisations and societies are taking an interest. Therefore, it is right that we should debate the matter.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said that we were confused because we were debating many different things. He said that really we were talking about the commercial aspect of estuaries and so on. However, the amendment mentions inland waterways. Therefore, we are at liberty to talk about the British Waterways Board and its ramifications. I know that the hon. Gentleman, with his connections in London, has a special interest in estuaries and so on and has great experience. I do not challenge his experience in this matter.

One of the keys to the question of inland waterways has been the difficulty of having two Departments taking an interest in the subject. I am sure that they play one off against the other and, therefore, we do not get any decisions. I favour the Department of Transport taking on this responsibility. In that respect I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). My hesitation about the water authorities stems from the fact that I have not recently had the good experience of my hon. Friend. As far as I can tell from looking at their accounts, they seem to have lost £200,000 on farming in the last year. Therefore, if they venture into waterways, I believe that we might get a loss there as well. For that reason if no other, I prefer the Department of Transport.

It is a pity that the Minister of State, Department of the Environment is not present. The Under-Secretary of State has been put in a difficulty in replying to the debate. The Minister of State has been positive about what he feels regarding inland waterways. He rejected the Select Committee's report. He has been pretty tough in his own White Paper. Therefore, it is a pity that he is not here. Part of the problem was that, when he was made Minister of drought, he decided that there was some water in the canals and that it looked as though it might be useful. Therefore, when he made his great speech about building canals to ship water from west to east, which seemed to be one of our problems as a nation, he thought "This is a good idea. I am on to something here. We shall shift the whole thing to the water authorities because we are interested in the liquid rather than the freight or the leisure."

I am sure that that was the thinking in the Department during the crisis when there was a shortage of rain. The rain began on the day that the Minister was appointed to take responsibility for the drought. I am sure that that is how the matter began. The Government are taking an unwise step by abolishing the British Waterways Board. There have been a Green Paper and a White Paper on this subject. We have not had a debate, although I have pressed for one. It is an important subject, and uncertainty has been created because of the lack of a debate on the future of the water industry.

The British Waterways Board has a good record. It has a deficit but, com- pared with that of some other nationalised industries, it is a modest deficit. Many good commercial companies have grown out of deficits of that nature to become prosperous concerns. We are not talking about large sums of money in Government terms.

The Board can be proud of itself. It has done a good job in difficult conditions. Each Government have mucked it about. I am not arguing about who is responsible. The only credit that can go to my side of the House is that the Conservatives set up the Board. Apart from that, neither side of the House can claim much credit. We should give the Board a certain amount of credit for what it has done.

Water authorities would be too arbitrary and interested only in the water. They would not be interested in navigation, which is a key factor. One must safeguard navigation if one is to make the waterways commercial.

One of the problems is that the wrong decision was taken in the early days of canals. We went for the narrow lock while the Continent went for the wide lock. The early builders of canals made wide locks. It is a pity that that policy was not continued. The narrow lock has caused many difficulties.

We have heard about the South Yorkshire scheme. It is an imaginative one. We should get on with it. It is no good saying that we do not know its commercial viability. No motorway has been built which is known to be commercially viable. One never knows how many vehicles will travel on a motorway or how much freight will use it. There has to be a certain amount of faith. There is sufficient support from industry in South Yorkshire to support the scheme. We should get on with it.

We have problems with the dockers in Hull. This problem can be cleared up. It is not as serious a problem as it was before. Sense has prevailed. We could achieve a good working relationship. We can put down as history the unhappy saga of the BACAT dockers. I was a parliamentary candidate in South Yorkshire and I know something about the matter. I am keen on the Navigation. It would help to revitalise South Yorkshire.

The hon. Member for Newham, South mentioned London. We should not forget the Brentford and Enfield docks and the Grand Union canal. That is a prosperous unit. If we could get the hon. Member's suggested scheme for London going, there is no reason why there should not be viability. They are prosperous docks which are well constructed, and imaginative people run them. We should not spurn this scheme, because it would help to revitalise the area. That is why I welcome the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). It would bring positive results. That is what is needed. The people concerned have been mucked about. They want something positive.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) is chairman of the organisation that is keen on revitalising freight in the Thames estuary. There is scope in that direction. We have seen an increase in the number of pleasure craft on the Thames. We need an imaginative, driving plan so that people know what is to happen.

There is also scope for the development of inland ports. The inland ports are all reasonably successful. A cheap form of transport is involved, particularly for bulk traffic. The Secretary of State has talked about the problems involved in the maintenance and repair of motorways which are badly treated by heavy loads.

I deplore the Government's reaction to the Select Committee's report. If we are to have Select Committees, the Government should take notice of them. It is time that Back Benchers began to tell Governments, of all complexions, that there is no point in having a Select Committee procedure if Governments say that they do not agree with them. That is a complete waste of hon. Members' time. It takes away the rights of Back Benchers. Such rights are important because we represent the electorate. The Minister should have given a more constructive reply to the report. It was a good report. Much work went into it and it was widely appreciated by those concerned.

The figures in the White Paper that followed the report are misleading. The Committee for Environmental Conservation issued a Press release this morning which challenged the figures. It said that they are heavily biased in one direction and that only the freight element is taken into account. As hon. Members have said, the scope is wider than that of the British Waterways Board.

If the Government need more evidence, there is a report called "Barges or Juggernauts" published in 1974 which was produced by the inland shipping group of the Inland Waterways Association. The chairman was Frederic Doerflinger. The then Minister welcomed the report. He said that it was useful, that the Government were to study it and that it contained ideas for the development of the commercial side of our canals. But it has sunk without trace. It is a pity that this valuable document should not have been looked at more closely by the Government.

On 29th August 1974 the then Minister for Transport said: I can say at once that the Government is at one with the Association in wishing to see as much freight as possible transferred from roads on to rail or waterway wherever it is economically, socially and environmentally sensible to do so. I would certainly welcome any waterway development scheme which can he justified in this way. Since then we have had more reports on inland waterways, and nothing has happened. That is why I attack the Government in general about this subject.

When the Under-Secretary says "There has been £5 million allocated and is not that grand?", we must remember that this £5 million is only to shore up banks for safety. It will do nothing but keep the water in the canals and help to reduce the number of drowning accidents. It really cannot be put down as a great credit. It is a lifeline which is just doing some remedial work which is essential. One cannot immediately claim that as a great success—far from it. It is simply a useful thing that the Government have put forward.

However, I understand that work has not actually started. The Minister said that this was because the British Waterways Board had not yet put its proposals forward. I understand that that is not true. The hold-up now seems to be in relation to taking on more staff, and it is all to do with pay policy. When we are talking about safety, that is not the way in which to carry on. A sum of money has been awarded. The British Waterways Board is anxious to get oh with the job. Why should it not be done'' I do not want to use bad phrases in the House, but I really believe that the Government should do something with their fingers and get on with it.

8.30 p.m.

The next important thing to take on board on this subject is the environment point. As a society, we now have to look at the difficulties of our environment and the increasing amount of heavy road transport, which is causing difficulties in many of our communities. Water transport could do a very useful job here in taking off the main roads things such as aggregates. One could get a chain-belt system of barges flowing along, unloading at one end and loading at the other, with two on their way. This is the sort of raw material for which there is no hurry. This would be economic and useful, and it is something that could be done.

What I think people in the inland waterways world want is confidence in the future. They want to be able to plan. The trouble is that they cannot plan. They keep believing that this scheme or that scheme will happen, and then nothing happens. All that we get is more reports, more debates and more arguments, but nothing is actually done.

Therefore, I support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking. I support the Lords amendment, to which I understand the Government will be giving way anyway. Let us have a little action on this front so that those who feel strongly on this subject can play a part in our society in improving the environment, our economy and the way of life of many people and in making a worthwhile and useful contribution to our society.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

I shall speak for only a few moments. We Members belonging to the South Yorkshire area have been pressing for the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation improvement scheme for many years. We have had discussions with the Secretary of State for the Environment. We think we have made a good deal of progress.

However, when we compare our canal waterways in this country with those abroad, we find that, in spite of the fact that there may be better facilities abroad, we are certainly not taking advantage of what we could do with our waterways. For instance, the South Yorkshire Navigation scheme can bring 400-ton barges up to Doncaster, but only 90-ton barges from Doncaster to Rotherham. For a long time a scheme has been in the Department of the Environment to make it possible for 700-ton barges to come right through to Rotherham.

We hope that we have made a good deal of headway. We are expecting at any moment that the Secretary of State for the Environment will give an answer in our favour. Therefore, it is with some reluctance that I enter the debate even briefly, because I do not want to cause any friction between the two Departments concerned. However, hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will use his good influence with the Secretary of State to try to help to make certain that this scheme comes into operation.

The cost of the scheme is about £8 million to £9 million. We estimate that we can get some help from the EEC, if the Government will only give the scheme their blessing. The South Yorkshire county council has promised up to £1 million in help. There is a good deal of support in the districts through which the waterway will run its course. I am certain that when it comes to the freightage, it will certainly not be what has been said on many occasions by people who are opposed to the scheme—that it will not be a viable proposition.

The other point that matters is that in South Yorkshire, especially in my constituency, some beautiful parks could be made alongside the canal. People would enjoy the amenity of walking there. Boating amenities could be provided. I am certain that it would be a great advantage to the area to try to uplift it in places where its present condition is chaotic and the outlook is deplorable, because it is really an old mining area and the colliery tips are still there.

Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will use his good offices, very kindly, gently and persuasively, with the Secretary of State for the Environment, because the South Yorkshire Members have been working so hard to get this scheme through that we do not want to say or do anything that will retard the progress that we have made. Therefore, I have today been trying only to persuade my hon. Friend, without giving the details of the scheme that I could give. We have put our case so well that there is little more we can say, and it is now time that a decision was made.

We must look forward. Looking back will lead to further deterioration and a maintenance cost of £2 million to keep the waterway in its present condition. If we rebuilt the sides and the locks, the upkeep would be much less and we should have a good waterway.

Water is the cheapest form of transport. Nations will make better use of waterways to conserve energy in the future. We could certainly do so. Posterity will then be grateful. If we do not, posterity will say that we have neglected our duties to them because we have not improved the waterways and their environment.

Mr. Lee

This debate is full of ironies. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who spoke for the Opposition and made a good case, spent a good deal of time arguing for increased Government expenditure—not in this instance on defence and only to a limited extent in his constituency. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) and others argued, at least by implication, for a co-ordinated transport policy—something that we or our predecessors have been seeking for 30 years.

The House of Lords has passed an admirable amendment, which is not the least of the ironies. I was twitted good-naturedly a little while ago by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) for being a less than unstinted admirer of the other place, but it seems to have done a good job on this amendment. To complete the irony, I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), because I am tempted to vote for it if it is put to the vote.

I support this approach for three reasons. First, I am conscious of the value and importance of canals. The city of Birmingham, part of which I still represent, is one of the few large cities in the world, let alone in this country, which, having neither a riverfront nor a seafront, has as its only unifying water environment the confluence of an important and historic canal system and one which can easily be seen to have been neglected over the years. That goes for the potential of its environment and its commercial potential.

I am not often in agreement with the hon. Member for Woking, but I think that it is high time that a time limit was stipulated for a report on this matter. The hon. Member for Newbury took the Minister to task, not wholly fairly, about the long delay. All Governments bear responsibility, but whoever is responsible the story is a deplorable one of neglect and procrastination. It is about time that it was ended. Eighteen months from now, which is the date in the amendment, is adequate time for a definitive report. This not unreasonable request should be acceded to.

My third reason for taking this line is this. Tremendous sums of money are spent on developing means of fast transport. Staggering sums have been spent on developing new aircraft—on Concorde in particular—to transport people from one place to another. By contrast we spend a modest sum on the matters under discussion tonight.

Certain articles which it is sought to transport from one place to another are not required in a hurry. This is where the canals can be particularly valuable. The canal system is a form of floating storage. Many bulk goods can be moved with great speed by road or rail, albeit in the case of roads to the obvious detriment of the environment and to the added hazard of other road users, because they are conveyed in large containers. At the end of their journey they are decanted at a spot where they are not needed for a considerable time. It is surprising that the canals have not been used to a much greater extent to carry goods in bulk, the order for which can be placed a considerable time ahead and for which delivery is not needed in a hurry.

That is the most important reason why I suggest that it is desirable that the Secretary of State for Transport should prepare a report upon the use of canals for commercial purposes as stipulated in the amendment. I hope that the Minister will go further and say that he is prepared to accept the amendment and will put some time limit on the production of the report. It is right that it should he the Department of Transport. However pleasant the environmental aspects of canal usage may have become in the past few years, it must not be forgotten that it is the commercial aspect which is the most important. I hope that my hon. Friend will now surprise us all, particularly the hon. Member for Woking, by accepting the amendment.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

I shall be very brief because excellent speeches have been made in support of the concept of our inland waterways being maintained and developed. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) was right to argue that the Department of Transport should be responsible for inland waterways, especially for freight aspects. To hand inland waterways over to the water authority would be to supervise their death. One is driven to the conclusion that someone wants to pass the buck and let our waterways die. It seems to me that the authority most likely to do that would be the water authority, because it has no interest in transport whatever.

8.45 p.m.

It is significant that at the very time when we are talking about the conservation of energy we are allowing to die from neglect the one form of transport which is exceedingly economical in the use of energy. It is significant also that in the least few months there has been increase in freight carrying on inland waterways, and I hope that this is the beginning of a trend which will develop as energy and petrol, in particular, become increasingly in short supply.

Surely this is the time to make sure that our canals shall survive and, in order that they shall survive, that they are better maintained and developed. The one case which calls for priority has already been referred to, namely, the inland waterways system of South Yorkshire. These waterways are the most likely to show a return on freight carriage. Indeed, they are our best freight waterways.

It seems to me that now is the time to use, for example, part of the profits we get from North Sea oil in an undertaking of this kind. It would be a job creation scheme on a vast scale. We could be profitably using capital, British labour and British materials to improve a national asset.

It would be a disaster if responsibility for inland waterways were moved to the water authority. The Government have said that they will accept the Lords amendment, but we hope that that will mean that they will do more than just say that they support the development of inland waterways.

I conclude by congratulating the hon. Member for Reading, North, who said all that needs to be said about the maintenance of our inland waterways. It was a great speech on the efficacy of Socialist planning in transport. None of us on these Benches could have made a better speech, and I sincerely congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I hope that what he said can be taken as signalling the beginning of the end of the partisan attitude to transport problems in general.

Mr. Marks

When the Government come to implement the new clause which has come to us in the form of this Lords amendment, which I shall shortly ask the House to accept, we shall not be able to say that we have had any lack of advice or lack of variety in the advice put to us.

Some hon. Members have suggested that responsibility for inland waterways should move from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Transport. It has been suggested that waterways should be handed over to the regional water authorities. There has been great enthusiasm for certain projects, and I shall come to some of them in a moment. We have had the views of the canal enthusiasts and of hon. Members with constituency interests. But we have not had an indication of the view of the official Opposition—certainly not on the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Lee) who suggested that he might vote for the hon. Gentleman's amendment said that both that and the Lords amendment were for a co-ordinated transport policy. I was Under-Secretary of State for Transport for some time, and over and over again I heard the phrases "co-ordinated transport system" and "integrated transport system". In fact, the amendment to the Lords amendment would do exactly the opposite of what my hon. Friend suggested. It would take one part of transport—inland waterways—and then take one part of inland waterways—freight transport—and ask for a specific policy on that apart from all the others.

Mr. Onslow

My amendment would be out of order if it did anything different.

Mr. Marks

I do not follow that.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) spoke at length. I had thought that, as the hon. Member for Woking suggested, the hon. Gentleman would give the views of the Opposition Front Bench on the hon. Member for Woking's amendment, but in the whole of his speech he did not once refer to that amendment. Even now, I do not know whether the Opposition Front Bench supports or rejects it, but I do not think that that is all that important.

Various suggestions have been made, particularly by Conservative Members, for increased public expenditure—I presume, for a certain amount of interference with the various independent trusts which at present run the waterways which are not run by the British Waterways Board. We are talking about public expenditure. What the Select Committee said, and what the House has largely been saying, is that more should have been spent on inland waterways over the past eight or 12 years, and certainly in the past two years, at a time when the Opposition were crying "Cut public expenditure even more than you have cut it already."

The question of the Fraenkel report was raised. The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) hit the nail on the head when he said that the delay on the question of the Board's programme with the money available was not on the programme but on the question of the staff pay that would have resulted had the Board's suggestions been accepted. That would have broken the incomes policy, and we were not going to do that in any circumstances.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Would the Minister care to be a little more specific? Am I not right in saying that the £5 million will require an increase in the Board's staff? I do not see how that in itself breaches the pay code in any way.

Mr. Marks

It would have breached the pay code if officers of the board had had increases of more than 10 per cent. That was what the programme suggested. The argument was that they had added responsibilities, and there were many other reasons. However, that is not a point with which I have been dealing. I shall try to inform the hon. Gentleman about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) referred to the various schemes which have been put forward. I referred in my opening speech to the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, saying that the Secretary of State was examining it extremely closely and that we hoped to have something to say fairly soon. But that is the only scheme that the Board has submitted to this Government. I do not know whether it submitted any to other Governments. If it did, they were not accepted.

Both Governments initially rejected the scheme. Now that local authorities are saying that they, too, are prepared to put more finance into it, now that there is the possibility of EEC support and there have been noises from some of the industries, we must, of course, look at the matter again. This is a key scheme for British waterways. None of the others, including the Nene, the Brentford scheme and the Grand Union canal in London, has been submitted to the Government by the Board, and it is the Board's job to do so.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said about the Sheffield and South Yorkshire canal system. But, to be fair to the British Waterways Board, it knows full well that it is limited in what kind of scheme it can put forward and what the Government can accept. I am certain that it has put the scheme forward because it is the most viable of the lot. That does not mean that there are no other schemes that the Board would like to bring into operation. It has pressed for this scheme because it feels that it should go before the others.

Mr. Marks

Then perhaps we shall see the others at a later date.

I accept the tremendous interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). He would have gone much further than most other people in almost bringing the question of coastal waterways in with the whole question of the inland waterways. We have to examine this carefully. There is a difference between inland waterway traffic and seagoing traffic.

The statistics which we provided, and which have led to our being accused of deliberately misleading the House and the public, were supplied by the British Waterways Board. As far as we know, there are no others available—in lighterage, for instance. The reply to the report of the Select Committee dealt with the figures from the British Waterways Board. It might be helpful if I were to give them for the first five or six years. In 1972 the amount was 91.42 million ton kilometres; in 1973, 89.78; in 1974, 73.05; in 1975, 73.67; in 1976, 71.95; and in 1977, 72.88. The figures for 1977 were not received until the report had gone to the printers. There was no question of any deliberate misleading. I welcome the news given to a Back Bencher by way of a Written Answer that the figures from the Board for the first six months of this year show an increase. On balance, there has been a considerable reduction over the years, particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Mr. Durant

The point I was trying to make, and which other hon. Members made, arose under item 20 of the Board's report, which was dealing with commercial traffic on the waterways. That related to BWB waterways. We have to take account of the other waterways. Consequently, this is a misleading statement.

Mr. Spearing

There is Manchester.

Mr. Marks

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South mentions Manchester. Is he serious? We are talking about one of the largest ports in the country, and a profitable one at that. It handles seagoing transport and is quite different from the normal inland waterways about which we are talking.

Mr. Spearing

Surely the Manchester Ship Canal is an inland waterway. It is man-made. It allows ships which have crossed the Atlantic from, say, Chicago to come into Manchester, which is not a coastal port. We are talking about the development of waterways. Does not my hon. Friend agree, whatever the merits of the case, that it is a waterway in just the same way as the Thames, which brings in petrol and oil from the estuary to the depots at west London?

Mr. Marks

I accept that, but in practice the Manchester Ship Canal has been regarded as part of the sea. What the founders of the canal said—and I say this as a Member for a Manchester constituency—was "We have brought the sea to Manchester." In the Government's reply we were dealing with a report from the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. The British Waterways Board is a nationalised industry. The statistics used by the Select Committee and the Government were provided by the Board.

I promise my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that I shall be replying to his points. I doubt whether I would be in order in replying to all of them since there was a point in our debate when we were interrupted by the announcement of Royal Assent to the Scotland and Wales Bills. I should be in difficulties if I were to go too far along those lines. However, I promise that when I have finished the debates that I have coming—one on Festivals at Stonehenge, one on lead pollution and one on the staff at Buckingham Palace—I shall reply to him as well.

9.0 p.m.

There is no question of our not continuing our support for the inland waterways. This Government have done far more than the Conservative Government in support of the waterways. We shall continue to do so. We shall listen to the demands of the Opposition to subsidise with public expenditure commercial freight and the cruising waterways, and we shall continue to do just that.

Mr. Onslow

As I am confident that this debate has had the desired effect of concentrating the minds of those who will have to administer the Bill when it becomes an Act, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment to Lords amendment no. 11.

Amendment to the Lords amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lords amendment no. 11 agreed to.

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