HC Deb 17 May 1993 vol 225 cc71-114

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the last time I spoke when you were in the Chair was during a debate on the Select Committee on the Environment's report on coastal planning and protection. I complained bitterly that, although I was very interested in the subject, my constituency could not be further from the sea and that the nearest I got to it was having the grand union canal run through my constituency. However, this evening, our time has come for a debate on the canal system, and I am delighted to sponsor the Bill.

As a past chairman of the all-party waterways group and a member of the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council for many years, I have followed matters affecting the canal system with considerable interest. The Bill tackles many of the problems that have been identified over the years by not only the user groups but the British Waterways Board and the Select Committee on the Environment in its report.

I am delighted to see here colleagues from both parties who have taken a close interest in waterways. I know that canal users and the British Waterways Board greatly welcome the interest and affection that there is in the House for our canal system. It is about 200 years since the legislation that first established the canal system was introduced, so it is not inappropriate that we are now debating a Bill that deals with some of the problems that have arisen in the intervening period.

British Waterways is responsible for 2,000 miles of inland waterways, 1,500 miles of continuous towpaths, 2,100 listed structures and monuments and 64 sites of special scientific interest. The Bill is promoted by British Waterways primarily to secure the additional safety of waterway users and the owners and occupiers of adjoining land, to create new conservation, environmental and recreational duties and to enable British Waterways to generate more income from reinvestment in the waterways.

The non-repair of waterways and associated works at times of emergency gives rise to the risk of serious danger to persons and property. The board believes that there is a need for specific provision granting the right to enter land for such purposes. The power of entry to third-party land to facilitate repair and maintenance was referred to in paragraph 3.29 of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report of May 1987. It drew attention to the fact that British Waterways has no effective statutory rights of access across private property, even in the direst emergency when life and property might be endangered. Paragraph 3.31 of the MMC report states that a general powers Bill would be the appropriate way to correct that deficiency, and that is what we are debating.

The board is unusual among statutory undertakers in having no general powers to enter land. Among the utilities, British Waterways is alone in lacking powers to deal with emergencies that threaten life and property. The National Rivers Authority can effect entry on to premises for the purpose of carrying out its water resources functions and to act without notice in an emergency. In its capacity as a navigation authority, the NRA is in a different position from British Waterways because the natural rivers for which it is mainly responsible—it has a few canals—do not present the same risks.

It is worth drawing attention to the fact that a high percentage of canals are on embankments where the real problems lie if overtopping occurs and there is erosion of the embankment or if tree roots penetrate the lining of the canal, leading ultimately to the instability and collapse of the embankment itself. That was the cause of the recent example on the Lancaster canal, which was a worst case scenario.

The breach occurred on the offside, where British Waterways usually owns no property, late on a Friday afternoon—as always seems to be the case. The canal immediately flooded the grounds of adjoining property and threatened houses, including one occupied by a lady of very advanced years. But for the willingness of the landowner to permit British Waterways entry, to fell trees and to provide vehicular access, serious property damage would have ensued. However, in the past, not all landowners have been so accommodating, with resultant risks to public safety.

Of course, the Bill provides for the payment of compensation for loss or damage caused as a result of the exercise of the powers of entry and for the payment of a sum in the nature of a rental. That matter was raised at a recent briefing for hon. Members in the House. Moreover, the board has agreed a code of practice as to how the powers should be exercised.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Why was that provision added later? If it is so important for British Waterways to have these emergency powers, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, why has it taken more than two years—probably longer, since promotion of the Bill was announced—for the provision to be added? Would it not have been good sense to concentrate on that narrow aspect, about which no one disagrees, rather than tie in with it a series of other provisions which have been controversial?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is right to believe that safety is the primary purpose behind the Bill, but many other issues are involved and I shall deal with them in due course. The hon. Gentleman is far more of an expert on private Members' Bills than I am. He will know that they proceed slowly because people take the opportunity to raise matters that are perhaps not strictly relevant to the Bill but they wish to air. That is why it has taken so long.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Is the hon. Gentleman going to state that there are five points which the Inland Waterways Association would like to be added to the Bill and which have, I believe, been agreed? I must declare an interest as I am a member of that organisation. Some people who use their craft to seek work have some reservations about the protection afforded. If such matters were covered, I am sure that the Bill would get a fairer wind.

Mr. Jones

I shall deal with that issue. I am trying to go through the Bill in order so that hon. Members can follow my points.

Environmental and recreational duties are close to my heart because they stem from the Select Committee's recommendations. Clause 23 is included to discharge an obligation, which has been accepted and supported by the Government, that British Waterways should be subject to the same general environmental and recreational duties as the NRA and the privatised water companies. The clause is directly adapted from section 8 of the Water Act 1989 and uses the same language. The Select Committee on the Environment's report on British Waterways, which was published in August 1989, recommended that a duty similar to that under section 8 should be applied to the BWB. The Government endorsed that recommendation in their response of February 1990, and it is now before the House.

Clause 23 has caused some concern among those involved with recreational interests about its precise effect. It maintains the existing equilibrium between the recreational use of waterways and their conservation and environmental value. It has been confirmed to British Waterways in advice from leading counsel that the effect of the clause is to confer additional environmental and recreational duties without diluting its maintenance obligations under the Transport Act 1968, which, in relation to commercial and cruising waterways, are of considerable importance to those with boating interests. I understand that any difficulties that the new provision would cause would in no way go beyond the normal difficulties of making a balanced judgment which many statutory bodies, including British Waterways, have to make on a daily basis.

British Waterways will be required to enhance and to conserve flora, fauna and natural features of special interest and to take equal care to protect and conserve buildings and sites of historic interest. It will also have to have regard to preserving access to towpaths for walkers and others as well as to protecting derelict waterways with potential for future recreational use. I have the Wendover arm in my constituency and I hope that it will once again come into use some time in the next 10 or 20 years.

Those duties are reflected in the new leisure and tourism strategy and environmental policy. The board recognises that towpaths are widely used for different purposes. Some are public footpaths or bridleways and will always maintain that status. The others, with no public rights of way, will continue to be available free of charge for pedestrian use. That is an unequivocal commitment which I give on behalf of British Waterways.

Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The hon. Gentleman has given a very important commitment. However, clause 23(4) states: Nothing in this section shall require recreational facilities made available by the Board to be made available free of charge. Can the hon. Gentleman give that commitment when the clause does not seem to back him up?

Mr. Jones

It is a matter of whether one looks at it from a lateral or from a linear point of view. The hon. Lady knows canals well because she represents a Birmingham constituency. She will know that some towpaths are wide and some are very narrow. There is no intention of causing any problems for those who want to walk along canals. On other parts of the canal system, such as Gloucester docks with which I am familiar, British Waterways has agreed to areas being cordoned off so that the Inland Waterways Association can have a rally for which it makes a charge. There is no problem about walking along the towpaths free of charge. However, some part of the wider areas might have to be cut off for some purpose or other. I hope that that answers the question.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

There are real concerns about charging for access to towpaths which have been accessible to the public, by and large, since the construction of the canals in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Should there not be a further provision in the Bill? If a dispute arises, not the hon. Gentleman but the Bill will be quoted. There should be a provision in the Bill to give the guarantee that the hon. Gentleman has given.

Mr. Jones

That is difficult to do. I have given a commitment that British Waterways takes as serious and categorical. From the point of view of most of us who like to use the canals for recreational purposes, that seems acceptable. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been to many rallies. He will know about the arrangements to generate funds for the Inland Waterways Association and for the restoration of canals. If the IWA could not charge for such rallies because people had the right to go all the way across a towpath, it would be difficult for it to raise funds. I should not wish that to happen and I do not think that British Waterways wishes that to happen.

Part III contains powers for the safe and effective regulation of the board's waterways in the interests of all users. Part III has aroused opposition from certain boating interests which are anxious to ensure that the new controls are not unduly onerous. As a result of such obligations, a number of amendments will be proposed in Committee, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, to provide safeguards for boat users and for others. The amendments have been agreed with the IWA, the Royal Yachting Association, the Residential Boat Owners Association, the British Marine Industries Federation and the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators.

Part III would impose new minimum fire and safety standards on boats and would prevent pollution. According to Home Office statistics, between 1983 and 1988, there were more than 500 fires on boats on inland waterways; a spectacular example featured recently on BBC television news was of a pleasure boat on the Thames which was completely burnt out. The standards include specifications for engine installations, fuel systems, fire extinguishers, liquid petroleum gas and electrical appliances, ventilation systems and fuel storage. The NRA and the Broads authorities have agreed with British Waterways that there should be a common approach to craft safety. The boat safety standards will, therefore, apply to vessels on the majority of our navigable waterways. That harmonisation is welcome.

Each boat on the waterways will be inspected, as in an MOT test, but normally every four years rather than annually. Existing licence holders would have until at least July 1994 to comply if their boats were built after 1970, or until July 1995 in the case of older vessels. A standards appeals panel is to be set up on which British Waterways will be in a minority. It will include representatives of boat users. The owners of historic and other boats using the waterways may apply for exemption from the standards. Pleasure boats of all ages must be covered by third party insurance and houseboats must have moorings with proper facilities. British Waterways estimates that already almost 90 per cent. of private pleasure boats carry third-party insurance.

At present, about 1,000 house boats are illegally moored on waterways. They, too, must have moorings with proper facilities. As a result of the current housing shortage, the board has announced a five-year moratorium on enforcement action which runs until 30 April 1996 on terms that could allow those house boats to remain until fully serviced permanent moorings were found. Following the Bill, houseboat owners will be offered three, five or seven-year agreements modelled on existing legislation for mobile homes which will replace the current annual agreement.

Mr. Bennett

The hon. Gentleman has listed a series of concessions that have been wrung out of the promoters. He began by saying that the Bill was an urgent safety measure. Why did the promoters not make those concessions in the House of Lords, or why did they not make them when the Bill first came to this House? Because it has taken so long to get the concessions, there is still a great deal of suspicion outside. There is also a belief that if we spin out the procedures, even more concessions will be given. Would it not have been far better for the promoters to meet the objectors at the beginning and do a deal then? I have no doubt that the promoters will have to make more concessions if they want the Bill to be enacted.

Mr. Jones

As I know from some of the points raised with me, it is difficult to pin down some of the objectors to saying what they dislike and what they want. It is only through the process of negotiation and consultation that these matters emerge. I appreciate that it is a lengthy process which has costs in terms of the matters about which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) cares. However, that lengthy process has resulted in a far greater awareness of the problems perceived by some of the groups who have objected. Those problems were not always terribly clear when they were first raised.

New permanent mooring sites are being identified and discussions are well advanced with local planning authorities. Some 92 residential moorings, both British Waterways and private, have been granted planning permission and are in various stages of development and occupation. More planning applications are expected shortly. A planning application will be made shortly for a site in Birmingham for 42 boats. Those registered are being allowed to remain on temporary moorings while the permanent sites are being developed, and most stay where they are.

I emphasise that nothing in the Bill alters the general rule that boats are free to moor against a towpath in any one place for up to 14 days except where that would cause a navigational hazard. Restrictions are necessary in the interests of securing safety and preventing congestion. They will apply only at permanent mooring sites, at water points and at certain popular sites which have special conditions, such as time limits to be fair to all users. Those will be clearly signposted.

Part IV contains provisions to extinguish unexercisable fishing rights, and rights found in old canal Acts to construct works and to provide facilities which have not been exercised since the Acts were passed up to 200 years or more ago. The rights include rights to construct roads, railways, branch canals and other works, as well as fishing, sporting and boating rights. Those rights were created to compensate those whose land was severed and to facilitate the commercial exploitation of the canals by freight traffic.

Any modern claims to exercise those rights are for wholly different purposes and are inappropriate in modern conditions. The rights concerned are, by definition, obsolete, and attempts to exercise them can cause the board genuine difficulty in efficiently managing its operation. It is important to emphasise that the Bill provides for compensation to be paid to the owner of an extinguished right. If there is any dispute about compensation, the Lands Tribunal will arbitrate.

Quite a number of those who petitioned against the Bill made a point about bridges and the opportunity to join two pieces of land separated by a canal. I can understand that point, and British Waterways has agreed to drop the word "bridges" from the Bill to overcome that difficulty. However, as they are heritage structures, I hope that any bridges built over a canal will be in keeping with the heritage structures and that those who wish to take advantage of the opportunity will not in any way diminish our heritage.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

My hon. Friend will be aware that some people challenge the contention that the rights are extinguished; indeed, they may be challenged in court. My main concern was about bridging and I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for the concession that he has announced and the amendment which will presumably be tabled in Committee. However, rights do not just have to be exercised over canals. In some cases—for example in relation to drainage—pipes may be required to go under a canal. On the same terms, will my hon. Friend make the same concession and therefore satisfy my lingering and remaining doubts about the Bill?

Mr. Jones

I do not see any problems with that, provided that whatever went under a canal in terms of drainage did not interfere with the canal itself—for example, by causing fracturing. Otherwise, my hon. Friend's point would not cause any difficulties, and I am happy to give him the assurance that he seeks.

The majority of the 44 petitions deposited in the House were concerned about the proposals embodied in clause 27. Extensive discussions have taken place and a number have been withdrawn. Perhaps more will be withdrawn as a result of my comments this evening. On behalf of British Waterways, I invite the outstanding petitioners to submit their cases to the Committee where the issues can be debated and deliberated on.

The Bill will also give British Waterways powers for the acquisition by agreement in relation to the development of land. That should generate income over and above the grants payable by central Government and help to develop the network for leisure activities and enjoyment.

At earlier briefing meetings with British Waterways, some hon. Members voiced concern at what they described as the hidden agenda behind these powers. There seems to be a fear that the powers are a precursor to privatisation and will facilitate the sale of the most lucrative British Waterways assets before privatisation. That is untrue, as the Government have made clear on many occasions, including, to my knowledge, before the Select Committee on the Environment when we considered the matter.

For the foreseeable future, our canals and waterways will depend on considerable Exchequer support. However, that does not mean that there is no potential for British Waterways to raise additional resources from disposing of redundant assets. It is worth emphasising that, over the past five years, the selective sale of properties with no operational use and not required to protect the environment or heritage, has yielded £27.4 million. Reinvestment on the waterways over the same period totalled £28.4 million.

British Waterways is committed to ensuring that the disposal of any land or buildings surplus to requirements results in developments that will complement and enhance the waterways. Clause 23 effectively imposes such requirements on British Waterways. There are many examples around the country of new developments alongside our waterways, such as Gloucester docks, which positively enhance and encourage the use of our waterways. I do not know whether the gas street basin is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short), but I visited it when the Select Committee considered the subject, and I was very impressed by the obvious recreational pleasure derived by the local residents there.

Finally, British Waterways has recently been through a period of major change, with management being devolved from the centre to its regions and waterways. Considerable effort has been expended by British Waterways throughout the promotion of the Bill to reassure its users that those changes were for the better and much has been achieved through the publication of statements of intent about British Waterways' future polices and commitment to consultation. In particular, in January 1992, British Waterways published in the form of a customer charter, a document entitled "Caring for our Customers" which explained what the public could expect in terms of the spread and quality of services.

The charter included an internal complaints procedure involving successively the waterway and regional managers and then the board's chief executive. It committed British Waterways to the principle of an independent external review in appropriate cases where complaints have not been satisfactorily resolved through the internal machinery.

Mr. Cryer

I hope that the charter is a help. However, we are unfortunately dealing with legislation. The hon. Gentleman said "finally" as though he were approaching the end of his speech. Will he consider clause 13 which, in relation to houseboats, gives the board absolute power to provide such further general terms as they think fit, in addition to or in substitution for those set out in the said Schedule I"? A charter may be all very well, but it has absolutely no statutory force. In effect, we are giving British Waterways the power to produce statutory terms and conditions. However, such powers were clearly defined in the Transport and Works Act 1992 in terms of delegated powers to Ministers. As I recall, every aspect of that Act is subject to statutory instruments under the negative or affirmative procedures. Should there not be that kind of parliamentary accountability when many thousands of houseboat owners are affected and not this absolute power which is being given to British Waterways?

Mr. Jones

I was explaining about the code of practice. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured by my comments about an ombudsman and his powers. British Waterways has developed proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment to establish a non-statutory waterways ombudsman to investigate complaints of maladministration by the board, which will be bound by his or her recommendations. That is more than can be said in local government or in relation to the reports of other ombudsmen. I am pleased to say that the appointment of the waterways ombudsman, which will be endorsed by the Secretary of State, will be announced shortly and will thereafter take immediate effect.

We all have a great affection for the canal system, and I hope that the Bill will enhance it for many years to come.

7.26 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry)

It may be convenient for the House if I intervene at this stage to give the Government's view of the Bill. First, I should say how much I welcome the opportunity to have a debate on our inland waterways. They are part of the glory of our islands and we are committed to their fullest possible development, for the widest possible range of leisure and recreation activities, as a precious environmental and heritage asset. That commitment is demonstrated by the continuing payment of Government grant to British Waterways totalling £50 million a year and by the record level of investment in waterways maintenance in recent years.

Most objective observers would agree that the waterway network is now in a better condition than it has been for many years. Indeed, this month sees the publication of the 250th issue of that excellent journal, Waterways World, in which the editor, Hugh Potter, reflects on the 21 years during which Waterways World has been published. Looking at the achievements of the past 21 years, he says: In 1972, the restoration of the Kennet and Avon was just a dream; the Huddersfield and Rochdale canals were impossibilities. We now have the Kennet and Avon open and the trans-Pennine canals well on their way to full restoration. The Caldon and Basingstoke canals, the Great Ouse and the Upper Avon have all been reopened. How many boaters navigating those waterways today have the slightest idea how fortunate they are? They are experiencing 200 years of history, but if it had not been for the remarkable events of the last 21 years then boaters might not have had those waterways to give them such pleasure today. Much has been achieved in recent times. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) has said, 1993 is a particularly joyous year for canals in Great Britain as it marks the 200th anniversary of the passing of the first enabling Acts allowing for canal construction in this country.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

The Minister rightly quotes from Waterways World the achievements of those canal restoration schemes. However, all those schemes, like the Barnsley canal restoration scheme in my area, have received no support from the Government. The restoration schemes were left to small groups of volunteers who fought hard over many years to bring into being the idea of restoring some of the famous waterways, so it is wrong for the Minister implicitly to claim credit on behalf of the Government for the achievements mentioned in that magazine.

Mr. Baldry

Over the years, the Government have made considerable sums of money available to the British Waterways Board, and we continue to do that. As I said, we have given £50 million in grant aid. I readily pay tribute to the thousands of volunteers up and down the country who have helped to restore our canals and waterways. The Kennet and Avon and many other canals and waterways that have come back into use have done so as a result of the considerable work done by those volunteers. I hope that that interest will continue because their involvement in the waterways is much appreciated and much valued by the British Waterways Board and by hon. Members.

The British Waterways Board is at the forefront of the events celebrating two centuries of canal life, especially the weekend of "Canals 200" festivities across the country next weekend when a large number of organisations will take part. The Royal Mail is also celebrating our canal heritage by issuing a set of commemorative stamps in July. Looking around the Chamber today, I think that most hon. Members have a waterway or canal interest in their constituency, including the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston): the Oxford canal runs through my constituency.

We have considered the contents of this private Member's Bill and, in principle, have no objections to its proposals. They are consistent with the board's existing statutory responsibilities. The powers that the board is seeking are designed to improve the safety of its waterways and allow BW to manage its assets more effectively and efficiently. The proposals are aligned to British Waterways' integrated business strategy, which was endorsed by the Government and, indeed, welcomed by the Select Committee on the Environment in 1989.

The strategy provides for the development of the board's property assets in partnership with the private sector as an integral part of BW's waterway management. Increased income from property development can be ploughed into waterway improvements to the benefit of all waterway users. The strategy has allowed BW to reinvest some £28 million in the waterways over the past five years. Sixty per cent. of BW's operating and maintenance costs are currently paid for by the taxpayer through Government grants totalling some £50 million a year. British Waterways' boating customers directly contribute less than 12 per cent. of those costs. Against that background, we are encouraging British Waterways to broaden its customer base and increase revenues from those who benefit from the waterways. Given the level of taxpayer support invested in British Waterways, we are also pressing the board to improve its efficiency and cut running costs.

The board's proposals in the Bill—to be given powers of emergency access over third party land, as discussed in the 1987 report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and improve the management of its assets—are consistent with a drive for greater efficiency. If enacted, the Bill will generally speaking leave the board in a similar position to other statutory undertakers.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I thank the Minister for giving way op that point. Recently, there were two breaches on the Lancashire stretch of the Leeds to Liverpool canal and there was considerable difficulty with access. The matter of access is urgent because, obviously, breaches cannot be dealt with quickly if people do not have access. That part of the Bill must be welcomed so that BW can deal with such problems speedily.

Mr. Baldry

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point—I am sure that it will be supported by all hon. Members who take a common sense approach to the Bill.

I understand that concern has been expressed about the Bill representing some sort of hidden agenda for privatising British Waterways. I must make this absolutely clear: I assure the House that the Government have no plans to privatise the British Waterways Board, nor are there proposals to phase out Government subsidy. We recognise that the heritage, educational and environmental value of waterways merits continuing substantial support from the taxpayer.

Ms Clare Short

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Baldry

I shall give way in a moment.

I know that other concerns about the Bill in the past have been raised by the Inland Waterways Association and other organisations. It is for the Bill's promoter, British Waterways, to satisfy the House that the powers that the BW board proposes to take are justified. Recently, it has made considerable efforts to meet objectives and respond to objections. It is not without significance that there is not one mention of the Bill in the current issue of Waterways World. If there had been continuing concern from boat owners, boat operators and others with interests, I would expect that concern to be reflected in current publications relating to waterway interests.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I assure the Minister that people are still writing in with a great deal of concern. A lot of concern has been expressed in publications relating to waterways in the past 18 months. I should like an undertaking from the Minister that the Government will keep their promise and not privatise the whole waterways network. If they encourage Inland Waterways to sell a particular section which might be profitable or too expensive to keep in terms of a canal, that would break up either the existing network or the potential for the future of the network. Can we have an assurance that there is no intention to fragment the waterways by selling parts of them?

Mr. Baldry

I readily give that undertaking. British Waterways has a statutory definition as to what is a waterway and we have no intention of reconsidering that definition. As I said, we are committed to British Waterways and to maintaining the waterways network in the United Kingdom.

Ms Short

Many peope are concerned about the danger that the Government may privatise British Waterways. I listened carefully to what the Minister said. He said that the Government have no plans so to do. Before the election, the Government told us that they had no plans to increase value added tax, but we know what has happened in relation to domestic fuel. We know that the Government are planning to privatise the forests and railways in Britain, so I am sorry to say that I am a little suspicious about what the Minister said. Will he give us an absolute commitment that in the lifetime of this Government there will be no move whatever to privatise any part of British Waterways?

Mr. Baldry

The proposal to privatise or take powers with regard to British Rail, British Coal and other industries was a clear manifesto commitment which the Government are properly honouring. All that I am saying is that the Government have no intention, in this Parliament or any subsequent Parliament—so far as I am aware—of privatising any part or the whole of British Waterways.

I should mention the proposals in clause 23 on the board's general environmental and recreational duties. That clause has the Government's full approval as it fulfills our commitment to the Select Committee on the Environment to extend to BW the environmental and recreational duties for water companies and the National Rivers Authority in section 8 of the Water Act 1989. As a public body, BW is already under a general duty to have regard to the desirability of conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside. Clause 23 clarifies that duty in accordance with the wishes of the Select Committee and is framed along the same lines as the provision in the Water Act 1989. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) stressed that the clause does not undermine the board's maintenance obligations under the Transport Act 1968.

While the Government believe that generally the Bill contains a sensible set of proposals, I recognise that not all of them are non-controversial. The Bill received extensive consideration in another place in the last Parliament, and I understand that negotiations on outstanding concerns have continued. That has been evidenced today by a number of the concessions that my hon. Friend has made.

Mr. Cryer

The Minister referred to the general principle of the Bill. The powers in the Bill enable the British Waterways Board to delete the whole of schedule 1 and substitute its own terms and conditions. If the Bill is passed in its present form, we shall be allowing the British Waterways Board to legislate. We shall be allowing it to alter the terms of primary legislation passed by the House. Surely the Minister cannot agree to that sort of thing. The House takes a keen interest when Ministers seek what are known as Henry VIII clauses. Surely we should not allow outside bodies to have such powers.

Mr. Baldry

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Bill is one that I would share. It must be for the House to decide whether the powers that the promoters of the Bill seek to take are justified. My concern and that of the Government in relation to a private Bill is to ensure that nothing in the Bill conflicts with the general principles of Government policy or public policy, and there is no such conflict in this case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West mentioned some amendments to part III of the Bill which have been agreed with a consortium of boating organisations, including the Inland Waterways Association and the British Marine Industries Federation. As a member of the IWA, I welcome that agreement, both in itself and as a sign of a co-operative spirit between the boating organisations and the British Waterways Board. I have already touched on the need to increase public awareness of the value of our inland waterways and to broaden the customer base of BW's waterways in order to secure its long-term future. That is a challenge for both BW and its customer organisations. A constructive dialogue between the two is to be welcomed.

I know that in the past concerns have been expressed about the way in which British Waterways liaises with its customers. It is for BW management to ensure that adequate arrangements are in place for consulting waterway users and dealing with complaints. It has already put a great deal of effort into improving customer relations and has recently examined how complaints could be more effectively handled. Early in 1992, the board introduced a formal complaints procedure and gave a commitment to the appointment of an independent ombudsman. His or her role would be to look into cases of complaints against BW and decide whether they were dealt with fairly and reasonably.

I am delighted today to welcome the creation of that post, which will come into effect as soon as possible. I see that positive development as yet another successful example of the principles of the citizens charter in action, building on the Government's determination to improve quality of service in the public sector.

It must, of course, be for BW as the Bill's promoter, to persuade the House that the powers that it proposes to take are justified. The Committee which will consider the Bill will be in a better position than we are in this debate to consider points of detail—it is clear that there are several points of detail to be dealt with—and to hear expert evidence on them. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be given a Second Reading and allowed to proceed to Committee for more detailed consideration.

7.42 pm
Ms Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

People throughout Britain are increasingly conscious of the enormous value to their quality of life of Britain's canal system. Until not so many years ago, people read about the importance of the canals in the development of the industrial revolution. They often saw them as dirty old waterways somewhere in the middle of their city. Although boat and barge owners always treasured the canals, in the general popular consciousness the canals were perhaps not as valued as they might have been.

That position is changing remarkably. Certainly in my city, people are beginning to see the enormous value of canals in cities that do not have many rivers. They realise the value of waterways and walkways and the possibility of having pleasure in boats, by walking or cycling along the canal, and so on. There has been a great shift in the value attached to the canal system. People realise that it improves the quality of life in our cities, especially where there is no other access to water. That is the context in which we should consider the Bill.

We should regard our waterways as national treasures to be nurtured and cared for so that they can give pleasure to the present generation and future generations. Given the costs of transportation, perhaps we shall look to the canal system to transport heavy goods again; we now pollute our countryside by trundling massive lorries up and down our motorways. I should not be surprised if in future years the canals were used increasingly for transportation as well as for pleasure.

I am sure that many hon. Members share my experience of the Bill. My first real knowledge of it came from increasing numbers of letters from people who know and care for the waterways. They were desperately worried about the detailed provisions of the Bill. People who lived, worked and played on the canal were worried that their rights would be undermined by the Bill.

As I read those letters, I shared the anxiety expressed in them. I thought that many of the objections were reasonable. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said, the Bill was first introduced in our second Chamber, as I like to call it. The second Chamber has done an excellent job on the Bill. If I may digress, Madam Deputy Speaker, in a system such as ours, in which power is so concentrated in the Executive, there is a strong case for a second Chamber. That has been demonstrated in the work that it has done on the Bill. It is just a pity that it is not elected.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said, enormous concessions and changes have been made as a result of the work put in by the second Chamber. It is a great pity that the Bill was introduced in such an unacceptable form. All sorts of fears and reasonable alarms were created. The Bill has been massively modified. British Waterways would have been better advised to consult more broadly before it introduced the Bill.

I am sure that everyone present has read the proceedings of the Select Committee of the House of Lords. It is impressive to see in our democracy ordinary citizens petitioning and making objections and the promoters of the Bill making major concessions because those objections are reasonable. I should like to think that the Government, who so nakedly fail to listen to any objection, however reasonable, might learn a little from the reasonable nature of that process.

The Bill that we are considering is much better and much less objectionable than the original Bill. The Labour party had three major fears about the original Bill which were summarised in a briefing prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and circulated to all Labour Members. I can do no better than to quote the paragraph that summarised our concerns. It said: Labour has three prime concerns about the Bill: first, that the British Waterways Board may cease being custodians of part of our national heritage and instead become more a property selling and developing agency; second, that the Bill contains a number of impositions on boat owners, some legitimate but some fairly arbitrary; and third, that the Bill might allow the Board to charge for recreation and access to the canal system. Major concessions have been made on all three points.

With regard to our fear that the Bill might turn the British Waterways Board into a property development agency, we are reassured that the environmental duties imposed on the board have been strengthened. The board has dropped subsection (5) of clause 23, which made it clear that the strengthened environmental duties were unenforceable, so the Bill is much more acceptable and stronger in terms of environmental protection, which would come before any commercial motive. Therefore, that provides real reassurance on that important matter.

I am grateful to the Minister for what he said about any possibility of privatising the waterways. The terms in which he summarised the position the second time were unequivocal. He made it clear that he had no plans to seek to privatise any part of the British waterways in the lifetime of this Parliament. We are all grateful for that, because the fears were real.

It is clear that the environmental duties laid out in clause 25 restrict the board in any proposals that it might have to act as a property developer. The amendment promised in paragraph 45 of the House of Lords Select Committee report on remaining waterways that might have potential use strengthens that undertaking even further, so waterways that are not in use now but might be brought into use are also protected by that general environmental undertaking. That is good.

I mentioned another subject in an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones). Clause 23(4) states: Nothing in this section shall require recreational facilities made available by the Board to be made available free of charge. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said on behalf of British Waterways. He gave an unequivocal undertaking that there will be no charge for using towpaths, to which people now have access. I understood his undertaking, which was quite clear.

The hon. Gentleman also said that there might well be developments alongside waterways and canals, from which it may be possible to raise funds to be used to clean up pollution. No one is opposed to that. I am worried that the presure being applied by the Government on British Waterways might cause BW to have to raise funds to meet more and more of the costs. The Minister said that more of the costs of waterways should be raised in funds.

I do not think that British Waterways would be self motivated, but, despite the undertakings given by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West, I believe that over the years there may be increasing pressure on British Waterways, especially as the Government may reduce the money allocated to support the waterways. British Waterways will be under growing pressure to charge for the use of waterways. I understand the undertaking given by the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure made it sincerely on behalf of British Waterways. However. given the Government's attitude to obtaining commercial returns from the waterways and given what the Minister said earlier, I am still not satisfied that unreasonable charges will not be imposed on people who now take their use of the waterways for granted.

Mr. Baldry

It may be helpful if I clarify how the Government understand that part of the Bill. As I suspect the hon. Lady may know, for more than 30 years British Waterways has had the ability under section 43 of the Transport Act 1962 to charge for any recreational facilities that it provides, but it has not charged for access to towpaths. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) made clear on behalf of British Waterways—he gave an undertaking to the House —it has no intention of doing so.

The Bill is not designed to increase British Waterways' commercial assets. It does nothing and adds nothing to the powers of charging which the board already has. It merely clarifies that any facilities that BW provides under the clause need not be free of charge. If the board incurs costs in providing facilities for organised sports events on land, it should be able to recover a contribution from those who benefit. It is very much in that context that the Government understand that part of the Bill.

Ms Short

I hear what the Minister says. We all agree that it is wholly reasonable to charge for some activities that take place on the waterways in order to raise funds and use the money to clean up pollution and carry out necessary work. However, I remain concerned, and I think that the matter must be discussed in Committee and further undertakings must be sought from BW. I am worried that the pressure exerted by the Government on BW to cover more and more of its costs will inevitably lead to charging people for walking on towpaths that they have used throughout history. I understand the undertakings, but they have not been made in the Bill, and I remain concerned about that.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The hon. Lady mentioned cycling, and the pleasure affforded to those using the canal towpaths. British Waterways recently stopped charging for permits. If BW were under the sort of pressure described by the hon. Lady, the reverse would be the case. British Waterways has first to consider the practical aspects. There is no way that a system for charging for the use of towpaths for walking could be introduced. It benefits the canal system if many people use the towpaths. Many of the reports of damage and potential danger come from members of the public, as I know because I have a long length of the Grand Union canal in my constituency.

Ms Short

The hon. Gentleman pooh-poohs my fears, but I heard what the Minister said. As I recall it, he said that the Government gave a subsidy or allocation of about £50 million a year to the waterways. I also recall that he said that about 10 per cent. of the costs of boat users were raised in fees—

Mr. Baldry

Boat users contribute 12 per cent. of the costs of British Waterways.

Ms Short

I am grateful to the Minister—the figure is 12 per cent. I am worried by those two figures. The Minister also said—and I think that it is in the framework of law —that British Waterways is required to make a commercial return as often as it can. The logic of that is that it will seek to make more and more charges. We all agree that charges for some additional services would be reasonable, but I remain worried that that might lead to charging for basic uses of the waterways. I hope that more undertakings will be given in Committee.

Mr. Bennett

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that a charge is no longer made for a general bicycle permit. Many people, certainly those on the canals around Greater Manchester, are concerned that there is competition between walkers, horse riders —riding horses on towpaths is a traditional activity—and cyclists—who have been using the towpaths for at least 70 years. Earlier this century, cycling was an important means of getting from the locks. There is considerable wear and tear on the towpaths. It has been suggested that one way to ration the use of towpaths would be to insist on permits for cyclists and horse riders and, possibly, on a charge for walkers. I realise that it is difficult to maintain towpaths for those three activities. I hope that my hon. Friend will seek assurances that there is no intention to circumvent that rationing or sharing policy by imposing charges.

Ms. Short

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who elaborates the general worries that I am trying to describe. I am sure that he will seek his own assurances. I am not certain that we shall obtain any more assurances today than those we have been given by the Minister and the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West. The Committee that discusses the Bill should return to the subject and table amendments to protect people's right to enjoy the canals.

I said that there were three reasons why the Labour party originally had doubts about the Bill. The first related to the drive to privatise or make commercial development the Bill's overwhelming purpose. Protection against those moves is afforded by the strength of clause 23 and relevant amendments. We have discussed the possibility of charges; I have stated that I do not believe there is strang enough protection and I hope that the Committee will return to the subject. The third reason for our doubts involves the impositions on boat owners.

There is absolutely no doubt that major concessions and changes have been made to the Bill due to the very reasonable objections and petitions of boat owners and those who live in boats. Those fears have been considered in our second Chamber. However, I have a letter from the Residential Boat Owners Association which was passed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. I noticed that he was honorary president of the association, so I thought that I should take the letter seriously.

It seems to summarise the remaining concerns of residential boat owners. We all know that they have been very concerned, and that many negotiations have taken place and many concessions have been made. The letter summarises the association's three remaining concerns. It states that its first concern relates to clause 13(1) and schedule 1. The letter states that the provisions lay down that the Board would have the right to terminate a houseboat certificate if 'the houseboat or any equipment is having a detrimental effect on the amenities of the locality on the site.' This clause is the same as in the Mobile Homes Act, and in the Mobile Homes Survey (1992) published by the Department of the Environment it was shown that this provision is open to subjective judgment and therefore to abuse. It would be better to write any regulations about the condition of a residential boat and its mooring into the local mooring agreement rather than fix it in statute. I hope that we will get an answer to that point from the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West.

The association's second anxiety has to do with clause 15, which is about penalties. The association suggests that the board already has enough penalty-making powers and does not need more. It suggests consolidation of existing legislation. The same point was made in the House of Lords Select Committee report. We hope for an answer from the Bill's sponsor.

The third concern of the association is that it would like to amend section 8 of the British Waterways Act 1983 to permit the owners of boats seized by the board to have immediate access to their possessions on the boats. I understand that that provision had been removed or softened, but I hope that the sponsor will be able to give me an assurance on that—

Mr. Robert B. Jones

To respond to the hon. Lady's point about dangerous or deleterious houseboats: I understand that the Department of the Environment is reviewing the relevant part of the mobile homes legislation because it has not worked terribly well in practice. I am happy to add that the BWB is looking into that and is in negotiation with the association whose concerns the hon. Lady has read out to try to resolve the matter amicably.

Ms Short

I am grateful for that. It still leaves the two other points. Perhaps if I give the hon. Gentleman a copy of the association's letter he may be able to help us further. For people who live on boats, this is a serious matter because all their property can be seized. I had understood that the danger had now diminished, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman can fill us in on that later.

My final point is to be found in paragraph 54 of the Select Committee's report. It has to do with the relationship between the BWB and those who live on and enjoy boats. The report says that that relationship has been poor, and that consultation and complaints procedures have been poor. I am glad of the progress represented by the commitment to an ombudsman. If he or she is to have the power to make binding arbitration, he or she will be much more powerful than, say, the local government ombudsman. I know of a frustrating case in which the latter ruled against a local councillor, but there has been a refusal to implement the ruling.

We expect more problems in this area, even with the best will in the world. There are 20,000 boats on our canal system, 2,000 of them with no moorings. We want people to enjoy their boats, but the chances are that more and more of them will want to mess around in boats. More and more people in our estuaries have nowhere to moor their boats, and they are beginning to interfere with the wildlife. Given that increasing ownership, there will have to be some regulation to protect the quality of our canals. Similarly, although there are 169 authorised houseboats, we know that there are another 1,000 that are unauthorized—a serious problem. Clearly, we need permanent, good moorings for people who want to live in their boats.

The BWB has made some major concessions to allow those with no authorised moorings a longer time in which to acquire authorised moorings. I am still worried that the BWB may not give undertakings to all who register in the hope of getting moorings that they will be certain of acquiring them. Under the Bill, it remains possible that some people who have lived in boats for a long time will not be offered permanent moorings after the transitional period. There is certainly no absolute assurance of that.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

May I offer the hon. Lady a personal observation? I have dealt with the BWB throughout the 10 years I have been in the House. At first, I thought that it was awful and unresponsive. It is still not perfect—none of us is—but the improvement over the years has been immense. I am happy to pay tribute to the local staff of the BWB for their responsiveness now.

Ms Short

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; what he says is good. When I first came to the House 10 years ago —it sometimes feels longer—I used to receive a lot of letters about trivial matters that troubled people living on boats—disputes that should have been resolvable without involving a Member of Parliament. There has indeed been a considerable improvement. I maintain, however, that the possibilities for conflict, if everyone is not guaranteed a mooring, are great. We need fair consultative procedures so that boat users can agree certain standards. Then, if certain irresponsible owners will not comply, they will know that the standards have been reasonably arrived at.

John Stuart Mill said in his lovely little book "On Liberty" that we will truly know that we live in a free society when there are plenty of eccentrics living in it.

During the past 15 years or so, perhaps we have got rid of some of our eccentrics—but some of them remain, living on, caring for and loving their boats. It is important that each of them has the right to complain and to be protected. British Waterways will find that it can deal with some of the awkward customers more easily if it has first consulted the majority of boat users and implemented standards with their support.

Many of our initial concerns have been met. I have outlined the remaining ones, which I hope will be satisfied by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West and in Committee.

8.6 pm

Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)

I claim to be one of the eccentrics who takes an active interest in boats, who owns a boat and who spends a lot of time with them.

I speak for the Inland Waterways Association in this debate, and I am chairman of the parliamentary waterways group, which position I took over from my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones). The IWA has negotiated with the BWB for many months; there has been a great deal of toing and froing between the two bodies. The IWA has also fully consulted its members.

The IWA supports in principle three items in the Bill: the emergency powers of entry, the standards of construction and insurance, and houseboat regulation. It agrees with these items for safety reasons.

Some people who live along the edge of canals are still worried, however, about the emergency powers of entry. I hope that the BWB will use them only in extremis, when banks have burst and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) has asked me particularly to mention this matter, as some of his constituents who live right on the canals are worried about the powers being used too arbitrarily. I hope that the board will bear that in mind.

The IWA has received a number of commitments from the board, and they are on record, but the association is worried that they might not necessarily be incorporated in the Bill. So I am here to make sure that they are put on record in the debate.

Five points are material: first, the powers to prevent mooring and to refuse to license boats on the grounds that a mooring is unsuitable—this refers to clauses 17, 18 and 20 in part III. There have been some negotiations on this, and I hope that the promises that have been made will be honoured. The Wooden Canal Craft Trust, another boating organisation, is particularly worried on this score.

I understand that clause 25, which deals with powers to dispose of property and subsidiaries, is to be deleted. I welcome that, but seek reassurance that it is to be deleted. The omission of the Inland Waterways Association from the boat standards appeal panel is causing concern. That panel will examine boat standards, and it is right that there should be a meeting of minds of those who run the waterways, those who use them and boat owners so that some principles are established for boat standards.

Those who enforce standards can be stroppy and difficult, and that is a deterrent to some boat owners whose vessels, although beautiful, are old. They were built at a time when the rules were not as stringent as they are now, and it is as well to bear that in mind when examining boat standards. The IWA would like to be on the panel and explain those anxieties.

Clauses 28, 29 and 30 deal with the power to reduce the rights of commercial shipping in docks. We have been given promises about those clauses and want to see them amended. There are to be powers to limit the opening hours of locks on the Severn. It is odd that British Waterways is moving in that direction, when the authority for the Thames is trying to find ways to keep the locks open longer. It is considering electronic equipment, so that a licensed boat owner can insert a card in a slot to switch on the electricity and work the lock. Shorter opening hours will deter boating, and I am concerned about that.

Clause 32 will delete from the Severn Navigation Act 1842 the rights on the opening of locks. The clause that seems to be causing most concern is clause 27. Much time was spent on that in the House of Lords, especially debating the rights of those who have ownership rights along a canal. In the Act that created the grand junction canal 200 years ago this year, great consideration was given to the rights of people who lived anywhere near it. It stated: Canal may be made through Mrs. Seare's Pleasure Grounds under certain Restrictions. No Lock to be erected within a Mile of Mrs. Seare's Land at Bulbourne without her Consent. No Injury to be done to the Mills of the Hon. Mrs. Leigh. That Act of 1793 in the reign of George III took great care over people's rights, and I am concerned that clause 27 will work against such rights. The Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union have now agreed with British Waterways about examining clause 27 but the IWA is still concerned about rights.

One of the purposes of the clause is to raise more revenue for the BWB. That has been mentioned in the debate, and it is in line with the plan produced by the Department of the Environment in 1989. Perhaps the clause should not be in a Private Member's Bill; if people's rights are to be rescinded, that should be done in a public Bill.

As I have said, the IWA is concerned about some parts of the Bill. Many concerns have been allayed because the Bill's promoter and the BWB have been helpful in every respect. I know that their intentions are honourable and that they are trying to improve the system and to assist those who use the waterways and those who live alongside them. I hope that the concerns I have mentioned will be considered by the BWB before it makes its final decision.

8.13 pm
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

In this debate, I speak as a constituency Member and not as a party representative. My involvement in the issue arises from being the Member of Parliament for the Caledonian canal, which connects the lochs forming the basic part of the Great Glen which gashes across Scotland. The major loch, Loch Ness, contains my well-known constituent, the monster. I hope that there are no suggestions that the monster should be in any way licensed because that would be resisted, not least by the gentleman himself.

Ms Short

Is the hon. Gentleman sure that it is not a she?

Sir Russell Johnston

Although the monster has been seen, it has never been heard, and therefore it cannot be female. I say that with due deference to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Ms Short

That is uncharacteristically ungracious of the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps he might like to reconsider his remarks. I invite him to do so.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am sorry if I offended the hon. Lady. I had no intention of offending anybody.

The most remarkable thing about the exercise that has brought the Bill to the House is the amount of mistrust among many waterway users of the good will of the board. That has been most noticeable. It is significant that not one of the hundreds of letters that I receive every week has argued that I should vote for the Bill—apart from letters from the BWB. I am speaking not just about last week but about the time since the exercise started. That was not always so and I am not clear about how the change came about.

The hon. Members for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) said that things have got a bit better than they were 10 years ago. When I entered the House nearly 30 years ago, things were quite good. The last time that I had substantial dealings with the board was in the early 1970s when the Laggan locks on the Caledonian canal gave way, leading to the canal becoming blocked. We had much help from the then Minister, now Lord Howell, and there was general good will.

Some hon. Members may recollect Sir Frank Price, who was a chippie sort of chap. He was the chairman of the board and engaged in many consultations. I am not sure how much account he took of those consultations, but he was often to be seen. Over the next decade, there was silence, which I mistakenly assumed to be benign. No one wrote to me to say that the BWB was behaving badly, so I presumed that it was not and followed the generally sound political principle of letting sleeping dogs lie.

However, perhaps it was also germane that the BWB, which until then had maintained regular contact by way of meetings at least annually, also reduced its level of contact. Whatever the reasons and in the case of the Caledonian canal—I cannot speak for the rest of the system—part of the reduction must have arisen from managerial centralisation, which removed decisive, responsible people. One such person was Brian Davenport, a rather fiery chap who was in charge of the Caledonian canal when I entered Parliament. One could contact him quickly and easily. However, control passed to Glasgow; although Glasgow was not far away in one sense, in another it was quite a distance, and I do not mean simply in terms of miles.

Whatever the reason, the relationship declined and quietly and insidiously soured. I am sure that the present chairman, David Engman, whom I have met three times, is seeking to repair the situation that he has inherited, but I fear that that which is desired has yet entirely to be achieved. Mistrust certainly runs deep, and although much progress has been made in alleviating concerns, many remain.

To put it in a nutshell, British Waterways portrays the Bill as being about safety and environmental improvement and many of the punters think that it is about more money for the board and more impositions on them. That fear may or may not be justified.

The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West, who made a fair speech when he introduced the Bill, dwelt for some time on the problems of access. I do not deny that there can be problems, but I do not think that there is a significant general cause for concern. An interesting, almost amusing, exchange of letters passed across my desk —at the end of last month, so it is quite up to date. It was about a long dispute that one of my constituents, Mr. David Stevenson, has been having with British Waterways about land ownership in Gairlochy, which is at one end of the Caledonian canal.

It would be inappropriate to go into too much detail, but I shall quote a letter from British Waterways' solicitor who says, inter alia—all lawyers say that, and this chap certainly writes a good lawyer's letter— it seems that the dispute has been escalated by his"— that is Mr. Stevenson's— removing and replacing of the padlock on the gate to a roadway which he and the Board use for access purposes and which runs across the land which is the subject of the dispute. Previously, each of the parties had held keys to the padlock, which is a position we wish to revert to pending the outcome of investigation. In his letter, Mr. Stevenson says: Mr. Duffy states the dispute has been escalated by me…This is simply not true. One of their customers smashed the gate and despite being pressed by letter on numerous occasions British Waterways declined or refused to have it repaired. Highland Regional Council…insisted that the gate be kept shut and supervised in the interest of safety. Therefore I had no alternative but to repair the gate and provide a lock. One of the Waterways supervisors has been provided with a key". There we have two contradictory statements on a relatively minor matter. The hon. Member for Ladywood said that when she first became a Member of Parliament she received quite a number of letters dealing with smallish matters that should not have reached a Member of Parliament. However, that was an interesting exchange.

I know Mr. Stevenson well and he is an honest man. I do not believe that he would write lies. There is a general lack of confidence in what the board does. The Minister has been categorical, in response to points made by the hon. Member for Ladywood, in denying that there was any hidden agenda on privatisation. However, many people think there is a hidden agenda only if it is one of more regulations and more cost being laid upon them. They are not sure of the board.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) made the good point that many of the advantages listed by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West were slowly extracted from the board over a long time, and not all in the House of Lords. From my first involvement in this exercise, I found that difficult to understand.

The hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), who is chairman of the parliamentary group, went through the views of the Inland Waterways Association. Its most recent letter refers to the ombudsman. I am not sure what powers this man—or woman: I beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Ladywood—this person may have, or the terms of reference under which he will operate. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West implied that that would be done, and soon. That is to be welcomed.

There is some division between at least one of the houseboat organisations and the IWA. Many people live in houseboats, of which I think that there are 6,000 or 7,000. Some, as the hon. Member for Reading, West said, are not new vessels. Inevitably, those who live on them fear that they may be subject to regulations that do not bear directly on safety.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that I raised with the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones). Clause 13(2) gives absolute powers to British Waterways to produce further general terms as they think fit to apply to houseboat certificates. It is a matter of concern that it can simply wave to one side a whole schedule and substitute its own. That worries houseboat owners.

Sir Russell Johnston

The hon. Gentleman is quite right and that bears directly on the trust that I mentioned earlier. One may be prepared to give many powers to someone on whom one can rely to exercise them in a reasonable, fair and trustworthy manner. I am not saying that British Waterways is not, but there is no doubt that many people are suspicious.

The original Bill did not recognise the existence of a separate Scottish legal system, which reflected rather badly on British Waterways. I gather that such changes as it is introducing have now been sent off for approval by the Scottish Office. However, I am not clear as to what powers British Waterways is claiming in respect of lochs. The Caledonian canal is a linking, not a continous, canal, which joins the different lochs. I do not know whether the board wants to impose licensing within lochs and has been told that section 43 of the Transport Act 1962, to which the Minister referred, would enable that to happen. I should like to be assured on that matter.

Time is not on our side. I do not wish to detain the House for long. I have expressed my major concerns and I am still not convinced of the urgency of the Bill. I accept that there has been progress and improvements have been made. It was significant that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West praised the improvements more than anything in the original proposition. I remain of the opinion that the Bill can be improved by further discussion. It would also have been better if the Bill could be introduced in a better atmosphere. Many of the things that have been said about what the board is doing concern only what the board has done since last year. They are not embedded in the structure. Therefore, I am still minded to vote against the Bill.

8.27 pm
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

I speak for two principal reasons. The first and foremost is that my constituency lies at the intersection of two major waterways—the River Severn and the Worcester and Birmingham canal. That canal is the only thing that links me with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). It is right that I pay tribute to what British Waterways has done recently on that canal. There was major expenditure—perhaps overdue—on a project to dredge a section of the canal at Lowesmoor, and some important repair works at Diglis.

The river and the canal are important as resources for tourism, sporting facilities and recreational activities. As a major narrowboat operator uses the canal, I feel that it is right to welcome the support that the board has given to a new promotional campaign to encourage the use of narrowboats for holidays. I also look forward with excitement to the time when the board's important plans to develop the Diglis canal basin come to fruition, providing a major fillip to the regeneration of my constituency.

The second reason why I support the Bill—here I have one eye on the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), although I have no pecuniary interest to declare —is that I have long taken an interest in marine issues, and have worked close with the British Marine Industries Federation. I want to inform the House of the federation's welcome for the general terms of the Bill, but also to express its single reservation.

I can now say that if it comes to the vote I shall support Second Reading. The federation is generally happy with the balance that the Bill now strikes, although there still needs to be careful scrutiny in Committee. Of its four parts, 39 clauses and three schedules, clause 27 still causes real concern. It is important to remember that boating interests have always supported the concept of the Bill, but they have had serious worries about some of the additional issues raised by the inclusion, without consultation, of certain provisions in the Bill.

I agree with many hon. Members who have spoken that, sadly, British Waterways does not always enjoy a reputation for a sympathetic approach to uts users. I suspect that that stems from the fact that it is not just a navigational authority, but a landlord. It has a monopoly position when negotiating with existing clubs and trade operators. It probably needs to make much more effort to foster a relationship of trust with those users, in the interests of our inland waterways system.

The Bill, although good and important in many ways, originally raised a number of concerns, but all those have now been satisfactorily dealt with bar one. We did not always think that that would be the case; it has been achieved by a process of hard negotiation. It has resulted in a happier position and a better Bill. We now have the undertakings and the statement of intent that we have always sought.

The users never set out to be petty or unreasonable in the concessions that they sought. They have always been aware of the costs involved and have been anxious not to cause undue expense to British Waterways, and therefore the taxpayer. We can only wish that there had been consultation before certain objectionable measures were included in the Bill. However, as I have said, there now remains only one outstanding concern, and that is clause 27.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) said, the history of canal construction is complex. Each required a canal Act to enable it to be constructed, which meant different concessions for each landowner. My hon. Friend cited some of those The clause would cancel those historic rights—such as the right to construct wharves, slipways, cuts and moorings for boats. The problem has been exacerbated by the lack of trust felt by many small entrepreneurs on the canal system towards British Waterways. It has to be said—and I understand it—that the British Waterways estates department justifiably has a remit to maximise profit, but that often leads to feelings of intimidation among small operators.

It is not surprising that there is still concern about the clause because it will affect not only the majority of freehold canal operators but all future ones. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) that it is profoundly un-Tory to cancel the rights of lords of the manor in such a cavalier way. Those rights permitted canalside landowners to establish their businesses by constructing facilities and using the canal in the course of their business. That ensured that the canal owner could not operate as a monopoly. Again, I look at the hon. Member for Bradford, South and see in clause 27 the shades of railway privatisation debates to come.

In recent times, ignorance of those rights, coupled with British Waterways' erosion of them, has resulted in exactly the unreasonable and coercive behaviour that the rights —some 200 years old—were designed to prevent. It is important to realise that, unlike British Waterways lessees, freehold businesses have no legal protection, such as is provided by the Landlord and Tenant Act or by arbitration.

We have heard tonight that an ombudsman will be established for the British Waterways board and its customers. That is a welcome development. In Committee, we may decide that the establishment of an ombudsman will provide sufficient reassurance about the extinguishment of the rights contained in clause 27. I hope that that proves to be so.

However, at present no ombudsman exists for the canal operator who feels that he is under duress from British Waterways. His rights under the enabling Acts offer the only security upon which he can rely. British Waterways is now seeking to extinguish even those rights. Until some alternative legislation or ombudsman is in place, those rights should not only remain but should be revitalised and given greater recognition through the Bill.

Modern-day businesses do not object to paying their way and contributing to British Waterways, providing that that contribution is fair and reasonable. British Waterways offered evidence to the Select Committee in another place on its reasons for wishing to extinguish those rights. Amendments will probably be tabled in Committee to satisfy those concerns while also giving comfort to the freehold businesses that they will be allowed to operate on the canals. I support most of the Bill's provisions. I hope that my concerns about clause 27 will be dealt with in Committee, perhaps through the establishment of an ombudsman or by some other method. I urge the House to support Second Reading.

8.36 pm
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

I speak as an inland Waterways enthusiast and someone who has fallen into the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Foulridge and also in the River Calder, and it is not a particularly pleasant experience.

I declare an interest as a riparian owner. That sounds very posh, but as anyone who has seen my back garden can testify—such as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney)—that is not the case. I live at the side of the River Calder and I want the river to be fostered, developed and improved—as I believe it can be. There is tremendous potential on our rivers and inland waterways, both in west Yorkshire and elsewhere.

I am a founder member of the West Riding Narrowboat Co-operative, which celebrated 10 years of existence only a few weeks ago. It is a tremendous example of collectivism in action. The co-operative has gone from strength to strength in owning boats and operating them on the inland waterways of both England and Wales. Therefore, I have been both a user and an enthusiastic supporter of inland waterways for many years and can take a user's perspective of the Bill.

I have supported the efforts in West Yorkshire to restore particular canals, such as the Barnsley canal which is partly in my constituency. I commend the efforts made in West Yorkshire and elsewhere. As the Minister said when he quoted from Waterways World, great strides have been made to restore neglected and abandoned waterways.

I am aware that initially there was strong opposition to some of the Bill's provisions. In particular, there was concern about the implications for various users not just of the waterways, but of facilities in the general vicinity such as towpaths. Cyclists, walkers and those who enjoy fishing have been concerned about the probable effects of clause 27. Many of those concerns were expressed in another place and Members from all parties have received numerous letters of concern. In particular, boat owners are concerned about the increased cost implications of insurance, safety and standards of boats that will be required under the Bill.

I would not argue against improving safety or environmental standards—I have seen pollution. I spent a holiday on a hired boat in the constituency of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), and I was appalled to see a hire base pumping raw sewage from hire boats directly into the canal that connects the two locks. I hope that that practice has long since ended. I raised that matter when the water privatisation Bill was passing through the House.

Many boat owners are concerned about the way in which, over the last eight years in particular, the cost of renting land and water has dramatically spiralled. In my constituency, owning a boat is not necessarily the preserve of the better-off. A number of my constituents are pensioners who are not particularly wealthy, but who spent many years' savings purchasing a small narrowboat or motor cruiser. They find that the cost of continuing a hobby to which they look forward in their retirement is excessive.

Many community groups also use the waterways. The West Riding Narrowboat Co-operative was originally formed by purchasing a boat owned by a group that offered intermediate treatment to youngsters on the edge of offending. There are many examples in West Yorkshire and elsewhere of people from deprived backgrounds, the physically handicapped, and others with different problems gaining tremendous personal benefit from holidays, weekends or even day trips on the inland waterways. We should not forget the important role played by such groups when considering legislation such as the Bill.

My constituents advise me that the cost of a cruising licence for the,Aire and Calder can be anything between £300 and £350 per year, per vessel. Mooring costs can be anything between £350 and £600 depending on the length of the craft. It is possible for boat owners and users on the Aire and Calder to pay £1,000 annually before they set foot on the water—I mean, set out on a journey in their boat.

My constituents emphasise that they are receiving fewer and fewer services for that increased cost. They do not see that additional income being reinvested in improving the waterways in that area. The contrary is true. More and more work is being put out to private tender, with the involvement of non-experts in the highly skilled work of maintaining inland waterways.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend refers to a fear that has been expressed to me by canal users—that the old lengthman is disappearing. He was a skilled man who knew the canal and was able to take remedial action before anything drastic occurred. That occupation is dying out. There is now extensive use of private contractors who often do not have the expertise and background to do the work. They do a pretty poor job, and then more money must be spent later to remedy defects. Many canal users are expressing concern about the deterioration in maintenance standards, yet the Bill gives the British Waterways Board the power to prevent moorings at points that it considers unsuitable, perhaps because of that very lack of maintenance.

Mr. Hinchliffe

My hon. Friend is right. There are many examples in West Yorkshire of the deskilling of the waterways. I know a number of people who have worked on the inland waterways for many years. The skills, expertise and experience that they have acquired are such that they can anticipate problems—they do not have to be told what the problems will be. When we lose those people, they will be gone for ever. Private contractors are no substitute if they do not have the background to do a proper job.

I concede that a number of the original objections to the Bill have been met by the board during the Bill's progress through another place. Nevertheless, I emphasise that a number of serious concerns remain, and they have been raised today by hon. Members in all parts of the House. They must be addressed today or when the Bill goes into Committee.

Clause 23 states that the board shall have regard to the desirability of preserving for the public any freedom of access to towing paths and open land and especially to places of natural beauty". The Bill does not clearly state that fees for access to towpaths will not be permitted by the legislation. Although the Minister and the promoter have given reassurances, it is unsatisfactory that they are not written into the Bill at this late stage.

There are real fears that access will be restricted. We saw that happen with the water privatisation legislation, which restricts access to areas of open country, including in Yorkshire, where the public were once free to walk, exercise and enjoy the fresh air of the countryside. We are seeing also the re-emergence of battles over access to open moorland that I thought had been won in the 1930s.

Private owners are increasingly restricting ramblers from free access to areas that walkers have used for generations. The area between my home and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), on the other side of the Pennines, is at the centre of one such argument. The Derbyshire border has been the subject of campaigns over many years. It worries me that, at some future date, the public will have to pay for the basic right to walk along inland waterways towpaths.

As to clause 25, I listened carefully to the Minister's remarks concerning privatisation, but having seen what has happened to the waterways over the past decade or so, I believe that commercial obligations on the BWB will increasingly take precedence over its waterways responsibilities. We have seen already the pressure from the Exchequer to reduce the money that the board receives from central funding, which led to huge increases in the costs to users of the waterways. That has also placed pressure on the BWB to consider new ways of raising money, other than by doing the job that it was established to do.

Despite the Minister's categorical assurance today, I believe that privatisation will be the next step and that the Bill is a thinly disguised paving measure. I hope that I am wrong, but given the Government's record, and the direction of almost every measure that they have introduced, I see no reason to believe that privatisation will not be the end result. I suspect that I shall be proved right.

It is clearly the Government's intention to commercialise the BWB even further, to enable it to pull out even more from state funding of the inland waterways system. That saddens me, but it comes as no surprise. Even more worrying is the fact that the Government have no coherent political strategy for the use of our inland waterways, and the immense potential offered by our rivers and canals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) referred to the transport potential; in my part of West Yorkshire, that potential is immense —or would be, if people would take the trouble to sit down and think it out. Of course, the process is slower, but there is not necessarily any need to rush: different cargoes require different time scales. I am saddened by the increasing movement of goods from rail, canal and river to road, which is merely building up a huge environmental problem for the future.

There is also an economic potential. Tourism, for instance, has hardly been mentioned. My area, like others, was an industrial area until the Government came to office. We used to have coal mines, but we no longer see coal being transported on the canals; thanks to the Government, we now have industrial museums. All the same, waterways tourism has huge potential in such areas as west Yorkshire, if only the Government would recognise it. I am thinking of the restoration of canals such as the Huddersfield narrow, the Rochdale and the Barnsley.

A few years ago, the Inland Waterways Association carried out research into how much people spend when travelling through areas such as mine on boats. It found that they spend money in shops, supermarkets, restaurants and public houses. People help such areas by investing in them. I believe that I shall live to see the real achievement of the Pennine ring in the next 10 or 20 years—the achievement of a ring of waterways that will enable people to spend a fortnight travelling through the south and the north Pennines. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is the finest part of Britain. It is about time more people had the privilege of viewing it from the local waterways.

British waterways have an immense amount to offer. It saddens me that the Bill does not address the real political challenge.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Many of the actions to which the hon. Gentleman refers happen all the time, without requiring the powers in the Bill. For instance, the money that has gone into the Aire and Calder in Leeds—a splendid development, in my view—was invested as a result of the "corridor studies" that the British Waterways Board has promoted precisely because it recognises the leisure potential involved. I am keen on such investment in my constituency: the Grand Union canal has a good deal of leisure potential, and there has been considerable co-operation between the BWB and local authorities.

Mr. Hinchliffe

I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said earlier. Although I should like to be able to support the Bill, I am afraid that I cannot do so, for the simple reason that I have grave suspicions. I fear that the hidden agenda will prove profoundly unhealthy from the point of view of those who believe deeply in the potential of the waterways.

8.53 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). He implied that his constituents occasionally tried to walk on water; he also confessed that, on occasion, he had got rather closer to our inland waterways than he had intended.

I, too, am keen to protect the interests of those who live, work and take their leisure on the waterways. When I served on a London borough council in a riparian area, I sought to protect the interests of houseboat owners on the Thames; I find that the same issues crop up now that I represent a different riparian borough. I was pleased to hear some of the points raised today, including the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Minister. As hon. Members have pointed out, the British Waterways Board has made a number of concessions—both while the Bill was in another place, and while the House of Commons was consulting.

Like others, I especially welcome the steps towards greater safety, environmental improvements and the river-worthiness of vessels. Ultimately, lives are at stake —both those of boat owners and those of the people with whom they may come into contact—and I am thankful for the requirement for third party insurance.

I hope that the Minister can confirm my understanding of the position, which has gone a long way towards resolving the problem that led me to put my name to the blocking motion. I feel that, broadly speaking, the inclusion of that requirement in the Bill should be sufficient. My hon. Friend suggested that 90 per cent. of boat owners now have insurance, and I do not think that any hon. Member would think it unreasonable for the other 10 per cent. to acquire it. After all, if an accident occurs, there must be a cost to others, including the boat owners themselves; if a boat sinks, there will be the cost of clearing it.

Why have such people not already taken out insurance? Perhaps they have not thought about it; perhaps they considered it unnecessary, because they have not been required to insure so far. Perhaps they had difficulty in obtaining insurance. There's the rub; such difficulties can arise for a number of reasons. Perhaps boat owners have had problems in shopping around; that is the suggestion of the British Waterways Board.

Perhaps the boat in question is not deemed a good insurance risk—that is where I start to have my worries —or perhaps the owner is not considered a fit and proper person by the underwriters, who are therefore reluctant to insure the boat under that ownership.

Sir Russell Johnston

There is another, more straightforward, reason: the owners may consider it too expensive in relation to what they perceive as a low risk.

Mr. Bowis

That may well be the reason why they have not taken out insurance in the past, but I suggest that it is right that they should be required to do so in future. What must concern us is the extent to which British Waterways should involve itself in the search for or the provision of that insurance underwriting.

I have raised the subject because I am concerned that British Waterways should not interfere or involve itself with the insurance market, given that there are already enough brokers and underwriters to provide insurance for anybody who should be on the waterways. Of course, someone who should not be on the waterways will not be able to obtain insurance, and the obtainability of insurance will to some extent provide a guide to whether a craft and its owner are right and proper users of the waterways and constitute no risk to others.

In response to my concerns and those of my constituents, British Waterways has done its best to reassure me on the subject. It has clearly said that its concern is only with the older boats, which might be driven off the waterways if they could not obtain insurance. I do not think that that is right. Older boats may cost more to insure, but insurance will be available if the risk is reasonable. Older boats in respect of which insurance is not available should perhaps be kept as museum pieces and taken off the water so as not to place those using them, or other people, at risk.

I do not believe that most older boats will come into that category. I know of houseboats on the Thames dating back to the Dunkirk crossing which are perfectly adequately maintained and insured. It should be possible to obtain insurance for most boats of whatever age.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman is placing a great deal of faith in the insurance companies' ability to make an assessment. He is referring largely to narrowboats on canals. I know of a case in an area of activity much more important than that, in which an insurance inspector did not know the difference between steel and cast iron, and overlooked very important risks as a result. The idea that insurance companies are absolute assurers of risk is often not borne out in practice.

Mr. Bowis

From time to time, new risks may arise, and it may be difficult to find an expert who can give the right insurance advice. But that is not an issue under the Bill.

My only question concerns the extent to which British Waterways should be involved in insurance. I am anxious that, wherever possible, it should leave such matters to the experts and should neither set up an insurance scheme of its own nor make recommendations as between different insurers. British Waterways has told me clearly: we have no ambitions whatsoever to enter the insurance market". No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) will be able to confirm that that is the case. As I understand it, British Waterways merely seeks to compile a list of underwriters—and I hope brokers, because brokers often have schemes; I am glad to see my hon. Friend nodding at this point—who offer third party insurance policies, and to make it available on request.

That is much more reasonable than what was originally implied, which was that there might be a scheme—a proposal about which many in the insurance world were concerned. If someone is having difficulty finding insurance, he should first be asked, "Have you looked in the boating and canal publications?", as those publications contain many advertisements for insurance. If people have tried that and still cannot obtain insurance, perhaps a list could be sent to them as a last resort.

I wanted to put on record British Waterways' assurance that it is not interested in entering the insurance market with its own scheme or in pushing one policy as opposed to another—in other words, that it does not have plans to interfere with the insurance market. That assurance having been given—again, my hon. Friend has been nodding as I have listed the requirements—

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I can make it clear that the board's intention is to provide information, which I think is only reasonable. I do not think that anyone has put up a case against compulsory third party insurance, for obvious reasons, but not everyone knows who precisely offers such cover, and to that extent the provision will be advantageous.

Mr. Bowis

That basic information makes for a meeting of minds.

I am very much in favour of the insurance requirement, which is to the benefit of everyone operating on our waterways. On the basis of that and the assurances I have been given, I am prepared to withdraw my objection to the progress of the Bill, and to support its advance into Committee.

9.4 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I should like to give a little history lesson to the House about my constituency. Ellesmere Port was named after the town of Ellesmere in Shropshire as a result of the canal links that joined the two towns. The canals, of course, then joined the network in the midlands, going through Wolverhampton—which still has a link with my constituency through the name of one of my wards—to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short). The network is extensive. At the confluence of the narrow canal, where it meets the Mersey ship canal, is the Ellesmere Port boat museum, which I hope that many hon. Members will take the trouble to visit. I believe that the Minister has already visited it, although I am not sure whether he paid his full entry fee. I will collect it from him on the way out if he did not.

The museum is a centre of national excellence, where pieces of Britain's heritage have been put together to form an important collection of vessels, which, had British Waterways had its way at an earlier stage, would have run the risk of being destroyed and lost to our museum. The collection includes vessels that were horse-drawn, steel and wooden, as well as sailing vessels connected with the Mersey, and steam vessels from both the canal and river network. It also includes an important complex of buildings, which have been preserved by the efforts of a large voluntary network of organisations, without whom Britain would have lost a great deal.

Paragraphs 18 and 19 of the special report of the House of Lords mentions the proposed panel, to which reference has been made. Paragraph 19 starts: Fifth, petitioners expressed concern about historic craft. I want to concentrate specifically on historic craft.

It has been put to me by organisations such as the Wooden Canal Craft Trust—to which the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) referred—that there are probably a further 200-plus vessels of potential historic importance located on the sides of canals, which, if not taken into account by a proper amendment to the Bill, could be lost to our heritage. Often, those vessels appear to the uninitiated like a pile of planks, old wooden hulks, but often such pieces of timber reflect important parts of our heritage.

It always strikes me when I see the crowds of people walking across the flagstones in Westminster Hall, and looking at the places where various people were laid in state, that the wonderful craftsmanship in the hall is often forgotten, particularly that of the ceiling where great carpentry skills are exhibited.

Many of the hulks are lying by the waterside and are submerged. The fact that they are submerged actually preserves them. The idea of somebody getting a crane and hoiking them out of the water, and leaving them on the canalside or towing them away, is sacrilege. They need to be carefully preserved.

In the 1970s, when I lived on the south coast, I watched with great interest the work to raise the Mary Rose from the seabed of the Solent. That task took immense skill, great chemical knowledge and knowledge of preservation techniques, many of which are still in development. It would be wrong to allow such craft to be lost to our heritage by raising them and then leaving them at the canal side.

Reference has been made to boats that may not meet standards laid down by regulation. As an experienced boat user, I would argue strongly for improved standards of maintenance and stricter controls for environmental and safety reasons in the construction and use of vessels, whether on canals, rivers or the open sea. Recently, there have been serious accidents when the maintenance of the vessels involved was not taken into account. We should adopt the principles that were applied when the MOT certificate for cars was first introduced. It is important that vessels built before a predetermined date should not be subject to any of the proposed changes. The final sentence of paragraph 19 of the House of Lords report states: One petitioner responded by saying that historic craft should be exempted as of right, and not at the Board's discretion. I whole-heartedly agree, because the board is riot the proper determining body for matters of national heritage.

It has been said that insurance should be a criterion. A number of Conservative Members who are experts in these matters could perhaps advise us, but I suspect that it would be extremely difficult to obtain a fire risk policy on this building, and the same could be said of many vessels, certainly those built before the turn of the century. I understand the.argument that vessels which are in use need third party liability cover but one can take the issue to ridiculous extremes. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) said that vessels which did not meet certain standards should be removed from the canals and placed in a museum. That reflects badly on his views on the place of historic vessels.

Mr. Bowis

We are talking about third party insurance, not insurance to preserve or protect ancient craft. We would not allow a veteran or vintage car to travel on the roads without such insurance, so it is reasonable to require vessels of whatever age to have the same cover because there is a risk to other people.

Mr. Miller

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and, of course, such matters must be taken into account. I hope that he will extend his expertise and ensure that every member of the Wooden Canal Craft Trust can receive proper insurance cover through his expert knowledge. I am sure that they would be glad to do so at a proper, not inflated, price. However, I take the hon Gentleman's point.

The central issue is whether British Waterways should decide matters of national heritage. We have heard that vessels that were built without an after-rail would fall foul of the regulations.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The intention is not that the B'WB decides the definition of a historic boat, but that the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council should do so. It comprises people who represent different interests and it is widely acknowledged to be an extremely skilful and expert body on inland waterways which should draw up the criteria. That may meet with the hon. Gentleman's approval. I remember attending an enjoyable meeting of the IWAAC in his constituency.

Mr. Miller

I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman has visited my constituency—

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

Was he canvassing?

Mr. Miller

—as long as he was not canvassing. My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has beaten me to it.

The hon. Gentleman's point is set out in paragraph 18. The panel does not comprise only the board. However, the paragraph does not spell out precisely the make up of the panel. It says of the board: It proposed that the panel should consist of two Board appointees plus representatives of IWAAC, the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Industries Federation. Some petitioners argued that the panel should include representatives of houseboat owners and persons with practical experience of wooden craft.

Mr. Robert B. Jones


Mr. Miller

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is about to tell me that such people would be in a majority.

Mr. Jones

There are two different points. One is about the criteria for historic boats and the other is about appeals when boat standards are not up to scratch. I made it clear that the BWB would be in a minority on the panel for the latter. There are two different points.

Mr. Miller

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. However, paragraph 19 says: Applications for exemptions will be subject to the appeals procedure described in paragraph 18. That brings us back to the panel. I accept that the BWB would potentially be a minority on the panel, but I am not satisfied that the Bill contains a requirement for a necessary level of expertise and historical knowledge about old vessels to be incorporated into the panel.

It would be wrong not to ensure that every effort is made to keep such vessels not only in good condition, but in good working order and in use on the canals. The boats could help to preserve parts of the canal network through the nature of their use—a different type of use from the use of modern boats and of the pleasure craft currently in vogue. Old craft are an important part of our heritage. My single reservation is that the board has not gone far enough and that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) has not gone far enough. The panel does not go far enough in ensuring that the need to protect our national heritage of boats is met.

9.18 pm
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for missing the initial debate on sport. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) suggested that I was in a tired and emotional state. I was in a tired and emotional state, but that was not why I missed the debate on sport. I had to deal with a pressing family matter involving someone who was seriously ill. I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the victory yesterday of your home team, Featherstone. I hope that next year, we can welcome you to Central Park, after which you will leave in a tired and emotional state.

In the last Parliament, I was one of those involved in the blocking motion in respect of the initial attempt that British Waterways made to introduce the Bill. Once one becomes involved in a blocking motion, it is rather like a parliamentary squeeze of the goolies. Once one is involved in such a motion, discussions take place and, by a hard press or a tweak of the blocking motion, there can at least be a closing of minds in respect of some of the issues on which there were previously disagreements in relation to the Bill's sponsors or the organisation involved.

From the outset, when I was involved in the blocking motion, I made it clear to anyone who wished to listen that I was a strong supporter of British Waterways, and have been so for historical and political reasons. For most of my childhood, I lived 25 yards from the towpath of the Forth and Clyde canal. Indeed, I spent much of my formative years in that canal and was usually dragged out by my mother. I spent my holidays on the towpath of the Monklands canal, which unfortunately has been filled in and is now the M8 which divides Glasgow north and south, east and west.

I represent Makerfield, through the centre of which runs the Leeds and Liverpool canal. I was a member of the development committee for the Wigan pier development which involved British Waterways, the local authority and other organisations. They brought together resources and talents to deal with a once derelict site which, three years ago, became the European tourist attraction of the year.

I want to have a close working relationship with British Waterways and to understand the reasons for the Bill. Perhaps tonight we should have been debating a Government Bill on how we can best develop—and not simply protect—British Waterways, both the organisation itself and what it stands for.

British Waterways is one of the nation's greatest heritages and tributes. The waterways are one of the most wonderful opportunities which the nation gives up at its peril. For decades, we have failed as a nation to invest appropriately in our waterways or to give the resources to the British Waterways Board to enhance the development of our waterways.

Over the past 10 years, the Government have increasingly put pressure on British Waterways to find the meagre resources that it already gets from the Government from other sources. British Waterways is between a stone and hard surface. On the one hand, it must, and quite rightly so, enhance the waterways for the reasons that have been outlined, but on the other, it does not have the financial resources to do that.

I blocked the Bill in the previous Parliament for several major reasons, one of which related to the environment and a need for British Waterways and the legislation to set out clearly a concept for wildlife and heritage and a plan that would protect, enhance and develop the wildlife and heritage associated with the waterways. The 2,000 miles of British waterways should be part of a linear national park.

The inappropriate sale of assets that took place a number of years ago—some of those sales were highly controversial—took place when the original Bill was introduced. For that reason, many hon. Members believed that the Bill then was no more than a fig leaf to cover the introduction of privatisation. The British Waterways Board handled that situation appallingly badly in relation to the timing and political explanations.

The board, in its panic to get rid of some of its priceless assets, undermined its credibility in the House and with the users of the inland waterways. Many of the board's efforts since then, both inside and outside this place, have been directed at repairing that damage. It has gone a long way towards achieving that. However, let us be frank about it: much of the pressure for the changes which have occurred resulted from blocking motions supported by hon. Members working with groups outside the House.

Funding is important. If we accept the concept that British Waterways should develop the wildlife, the heritage, the tourism, the transportation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield referred and the employment opportunities for those who work in BW—there is an opportunity for BW to open derelict and unused buildings and land for alternative uses to develop employment in constituencies such as mind—we must examine funding and resources for that development. It was not clear that the previous Bill was simply at attempt to milk the users of canals for the short-term underfunding by the Department of the Environment, with no resources available for the long-term development of the canal system. Therefore, we look forward to receiving assurances that additional resources will be part and parcel of the development of the canal system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield raised the matter of unemployment. Unemployment is important for two reasons—the need to protect employment opportunities for those who work for British Waterways and the need to ensure that responsibility for the core skilled work force remains part and parcel of its overall duties. When the original Bill was introduced, some of us were deeply worried that many of the skilled work force would continue to be replaced through compulsory competitive tendering.

I am not opposed to ensuring that British Waterways gets value for money from its staff—just as the unions are not. However, we want to ensure that the Bill is not used as a trojan horse—a vehicle for removing large parts of the core skilled work force. Perhaps the sponsors of the Bill can tell the House whether the agreements reached some months ago between management and the trade unions on employment rights and the nature of the core skilled work force will remain in force if the Bill goes on the statute book.

I am concerned that British Waterways does not have a true conception of what is required to be done in co-operation with local authorities, other groups in the private sector and the voluntary sector to bring into use derelict land and buildings for a whole series of employment and tourist initiatives, and the need to have added value for its work.

Many vested interests oppose the Bill, such as marina development companies and people with an interest in maintaining a low income from their activities. I do not support those vested interests because I sincerely believe that, if British Waterways is to flourish and develop the sort of strategy that I have outlined, we need to ensure that BW gets part of the added-value income from the development of a canal system. It would be an outrage if we were to force on BW a development strategy involving the use of derelict land and buildings and if the profits from that exercise went to organisations outside BW. To make up the shortfall, British Waterways would attack in financial terms many of the people to which my hon. Friends the Member for Wakefield and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) referred.

We are looking for a partnership on the Bill There must be an arrangement whereby everyone involved, except those vested interests to which I referred, clearly knows that the resources that are taken from the use of the canal system are pumped back into its development, providing employment opportunities, improving the environment and protecting the wildlife and heritage along the 2,000 miles of system as it stands at present.

I am sure that the Bill will be given its Second Reading tonight, but in getting its Second Reading, I hope that its supporters do not underestimate those of us who have objected to it but have some concessions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood said, we want significant improvements to be made when it goes into Committee. We want British Waterways to make genuine attempts to deal with outstanding issues which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House this evening.

We also want British Waterways to give some commitments about the sale of assets and to say exactly how they understand it. What are its proposals for its portfolio of land, buildings and other assets? Does it intend each of its regions to draw up a transparent business and development plan? Such a plan should be a public document into which organisations in each region can have an input. I do not suggest that British Waterways should have to give away all its business intentions, but it must give a commitment to public accountability in the development of its core business activities and its strategy to deal with under-utilised land and buildings.

The communities in each region must be involved in developing plans in the same way as local people are involved in the development of local authorities' heritage and wildlife proposals and unitary development plans. It is the same concept. It is well understood by the public. If British Waterways integrated such a concept into its development and business plans, many of the doubts that people express about its intentions would disappear because people would be part and parcel of the development of British Waterways as both a business and a protector of the nation's 2,000 linear miles of inland waterway and canal.

Employment opportunities are vital to Members of Parliament who represent constituencies through which canals pass that have large under-utilised hinterlands attached to them. In my constituency, large areas within the confines of the Leeds and Liverpool canal system could be used to create employment, enhance the activities along the canal and renovate derelict land. The activities of British Waterways, local authorities and private sector developers could be married up to ensure that many of the areas that I represent have a development plan for the next few years so that people can see the way ahead to creating new employment opportunities associated with businesses along the canal corridor.

British Waterways should also be involved in activities in the local community. Appropriate derelict sites could be made available for housing developments. Far too often in the past, developments on the waterside have been at the behest of those with the financial resources to use the environment as part of their back garden. I do not include my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield in that—I have been in his back garden.

I utter a word of caution. In the sale of assets that will surely follow enactment of the Bill, I do not want to see in my constituency developments of housing in areas that are outwith the reach of my constituents, whether it is private or voluntary sector housing. British Waterways should link with local authorities and housing associations to ensure that housing developments provide low-cost housing so that the local community has access to it. It should not merely provide added value for yuppies with weekend condominiums in my constituency, who use their postal vote to vote against me in elections and have no concern for the rest of the community outside the holiday period. I want some clear commitments from British Waterways on such issues.

In the discussions that I have had with British Waterways at regional and national level, its representatives have been nothing other than honest and above board in their dealings. I have no reason to believe that they have ever made any commitments that they do not intend to keep. However, I want to ensure that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) gives a commitment that the Bill benefits not just the British Waterways Board, but its employees.

9.36 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I have no complaint about the fact that we are debating inland waterways today, but I believe that it is probably a futile debate. I do not see how the Bill can proceed further through the House. The first requirement of the Standing Committee that will examine the Bill will be to satisfy itself that the Bill's objectives cannot be achieved in any other way. Since the last Parliament passed the legislation on transport and works, the Bill could now proceed in a different way.

I know that the understanding was that private Bills before the House before that piece of legislation was introduced should be allowed to continue their passage, but the British Waterways Bill has been lying around for a long time and should not be allowed to proceed. I hope that the Committee's first action will be vigorously to examine the Bill. I hope that it will conclude that the Bill must be thrown out because it falls outwith the Standing Orders of the House, in that it can be promoted through legislation other than a private Bill.

If we are to proceed with it, the House must insist that the concessions given today and in writing by the board are contained in the Bill. I was always told that I should never trust a statement by a Minister when debating a Bill, as Ministers could come and go, and if I wanted to be safe I should ensure that commitments were written into the legislation.

On the subject of private legislation, I was told that an undertaking given by a promoter was as good as an amendment to the Bill. However, I have had a bitter experience, as an undertaking given during the passage of the Bill to set up the Manchester metro—that my constituents would not suffer a fares increase—was not observed. When challenged, those representing Manchester metro argued that they had not given the undertaking, which was given by the original promoter, and that the two were separate organisations. When the Committee studies the Bill, it is important that any concessions should be written into it.

Why is the Bill necessary? We are told that there are two vital safety matters—one involving people at the side of the canal and one involving boats. I find that suggestion amazing. From 1947, when inland waterways were nationalised, until the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report, no one appears to have encountered the problem of not being able to carry out necessary work in the event of possible flooding. We were given the example of the recent flooding of the Lancaster canal, but we were not told of any problems in obtaining access. The landowner sensibly allowed workmen on to the land to carry out the remedial work to protect the property.

As I understand it, there is not one example of people being denied access. It is important to ensure that access is available for people to make the canal safe and to stop further flooding, but that has not posed a practical problem. If it had, why was a narrow Bill not introduced as soon as that problem occurred in order to solve it? That argument is an excuse for the Bill's other provisions.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I am not sure about access being refused, but I certainly know of examples of people having to pay through the nose because some rather greedy landowners saw an emergency as an opportunity to extract large sums of money. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is not satisfactory.

Mr. Bennett

I accept that people should not extract greedy sums, but not everyone agrees about what "greedy" means. Changing the law is not necessarily the best way to deal with the problem.

Then there is the question of the safety of boats, and especially of third party insurance. We have heard no real horror stories to suggest why that needed to be dealt with urgently. It has certainly not been established by the leisurely fashion in which negotiations on the relevant part of the Bill have taken place.

I want to concentrate on the problems of towpaths and the rights of way along them. Unfortunately, there is a hotch-potch of provision. When they came to register footpaths and bridleways, some local authorities took the view that there was no need to include towpaths along canals in the definitive maps, because they were part of the national heritage so there was no need to record them. Other local authorities did record them. The results often depended on voluntary bodies. In any event, some towpaths and bridleways, and the public rights of way along them, have been recorded, and others have not.

People outside are worried that they may lose the right to go along towpaths. I know that certain undertakings have been given—that there will be no charging or restriction of access along towpaths, although this may not apply in certain dockland areas. I should like that written into the Bill.

A conflict of interests is involved. Fishermen use canal towpaths near my constituency; other people walk along the towpaths; boating communities, some of whose members use bikes to travel along towpaths, are also involved; others again need to use towpaths to get their boats through locks. The interests of horse riders and mountain bikers must also be taken into consideration. Balancing all these interests is difficult, and I should like to be sure that rationing towpath use as between the various groups will be done without introducing charges. I hope that words to that effect will be included in the legislation before it goes any further.

Several hon. Members have referred to historic boats, and two of my constituents are very worried about this aspect. In negotiations, it took a long time to extract any undertakings, and the Bill's promoters could go further to reassure these people.

I was pleased to hear the Minister's categorical assurance that the Government will not push privatisation, but I remain a little worried that the BWB might sell off bits of its land, particularly on sections of the canal that are closed.

The old Stockport branch of the Ashton canal goes through my constituency. It was handed over to the city of Manchester and to Stockport in the early 1970s, before I represented Stockport, North. Manchester decided to keep it as a right of way, but filled in the canal. Stockport filled in the canal and broke the right of way. A group is trying to reopen the canal and has a good chance of re-establishing the section through Manchester, but it will find when it reaches the Stockport boundary that the canal has been built across, and it will be virtually impossible to reopen it. That is sad, because it would have been an amenity for the area.

At Ashton, on the edge of the constituency, is the Portland basin. It has been nicely restored; the local authority and British Waterways have put in a great deal of work to make it attractive. The Huddersfield canal goes up the valley, but a section of it has been filled in and turned into a car park, and then partly built over.

All this breaks down our route heritage into small sections and destroys the unity of the longer routes. I hope that we will be given undertakings that there will be no such piecemeal selling off of canal sections.

I welcome the appointment of an ombudsman, but I am concerned about the proliferation of ombudsmen. There is a danger of overlapping responsibilities; people are often confused about which ombudsman they should consult about problems. We should consider new legislation, so that all the roles could be incorporated in a national ombudsman. That would be better than setting up new ombudsmen for particular areas.

Sir Anthony Durant

I am a member of the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and the Health Service Commissioner, which is looking at this matter. We are examining all aspects of the ombudsman's role.

Mr. Bennett

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. The Committee should not allow ad hoc ombudsmen to be set up. Part of the argument for not setting one up for housing associations is the legislation that is required to do it. There is a strong case for a private Member's Bill to allow the national ombudsmen to extend their powers by agreement to other areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is keen to take part in the debate, so I shall conclude on the issue of crime. I am worried that more is not being done to stop crime along the canals. There have been some rather sad incidents, especially in the north-west, and some rather nasty vandalism. Such happenings cause great distress to boat owners and destroy part of our historic past. We must examine ways to improve security along the canals.

The Bill is unnecessary and many people who are keen to use the canals to best effect would be happy if it progressed no further. Perhaps we should consider simpler legislation or regulations.

9.46 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) for his speed and precision, which enables me to speak about the Bill. He mentioned the Transport and Works Act 1992 as an alternative route to regulate the operation and use of canals. Earlier in the debate, I spoke about the enormous powers that the Bill gives British Waterways. Section 3(1) of the 1992 Act states: The Secretary of State may make an order relating to, or to matters ancillary to—

  1. (a) the construction or operation of an inland waterway in England and Wales;".
Scotland is clearly excluded. The Secretary of State can therefore instigate mooring regulations and access to canals. Section 3(1) (b) of the 1992 Act specifically gives power to make orders for the carrying out of works that intefere with rights of navigation in waters within or adjacent to England and Wales, up to the seaward limits of the territorial sea". The comprehensive powers were deliberately incor-porated in the Transport and Works Act to simplify a complicated pattern of primary legislation contained in Acts that were passed over the past couple of hundred years. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish and I were on the Committee that examined the Transport and Works Bill nd we knew that the present Bill was going through the Lords. In Committee, the overlapping of the two Bills was mentioned. The 1992 legislation has only just come into operation. We have not seen how effective it will be and a private Bill in parallel with the operation of that Act is entirely unnecessary.

Clause 13(2) deals with houseboats and is an example of the powers that the Bill will confer on the BWB. At least 12,000 people—probably a good many more—live on houseboats, so we are dnot dealing with a tiny section of the population. If things go wrong, and the BWB uses its powers badly, those 12,000 people could be in peril. When the Bill leaves this place, having gone through all its stages, it is out of our control. It has gone.

People may ask what the sponsor said, but the BWB could say that, while he may have given promises in good faith, it has the powers laid down in what will by then be an Act. Although they gave their assurances in good faith, the chairman and the managing director of the board may have retired by then, and different people will be in charge. All that will be left will be the Act of Parliament, so people will turn to it. When houseboat owners complain that their conditions have been changed, the BWB will be entitled to say that it has the power to do that, because, as clause 13(2) says: The Board may from time to time following consultations with the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council and such organisations as appear to the Board to represent a substantial number of such owners of houseboats as may be affected by the proposed further general terms prescribe such further general terms as they think fit, in addition to or in substitution for those set out in the said Schedule 1, and any houseboat certificate issued or renewed after that date shall be on such terms.

That means that the House of Commons—apparently it has been agreed down the Corridor—is giving the BWB power to alter all of schedule 1, which is a considerable part of the Bill running over two and a half pages of close text. The BWB, a quango, can remove from primary legislation all that text because the House of Commons will have given it that power. I do not accept that proposal.

I do not accept that Ministers, who are at least accountable to some degree in that they come here and answer questions and occasionally drift across to take part in debates—

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I would not go that far.

Mr. Cryer

My hon. Friend is raising qualifications and reservations. I have plenty of those, but Ministers are, to some extent, accountable to the House.

I can recall when a rumour went round that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was to announce an increase in council rents. Hon. Members exercised a mediaeval right to declare when Parliament should be closed and blocked the Bar of the House. Many said that that was a terrible thing to do, but the left, the right and the centre of the Labour party—the broad church in operation—stood there, preventing Black Rod from getting through. Lo and behold, after a lot of consultation and a lot of raised eyebrows, the right hon. Member for Henley made his statement about council rents. That was accountability. That was democracy in action. It might have been a bit rough and tumble, but it worked.

I would not give Ministers the right to change primary legislation. All too often, the Government introduce what are called Henry VIII clauses because he cut off the heads of his wives and Ministers are given the opportunity to cut off parts of Acts.

I do not think that such powers should be handed to Ministers, so I certainly do not think that an outside body should be given the power to remove sections of legislation that this House has considered and which imposes conditions that we think are reasonable. If we decide to pass legislation on a vote, we should not put in the hands of an outside body the power to remove sections of it.

I am in favour of public bodies, but the truth is that canal users mistrust British Waterways. I have a letter that has been passed to me by another hon. Member. It comes from a canal enthusiast and is dated 9 November 1992. It states: As I write to you on Monday 9th November 1992, we record the closure of the upper reaches of the Ridgeacre Canal in the West Bromwich part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations to which our local canal belongs. This is a particularly sad day for the waterways enthusiasts and acts as a good example of the neglect of our canals and the lack of foresight shown by British Waterways making a complete mockery of their Waterways Charter. I have other examples. I was recently told about the problems of a public house which is reached by a footbridge over the Llangollen canal. British Waterways, no doubt under pressure from the Government's failure to provide sufficient money to maintain a centuries-old system of waterways, decided that the annual charge for access to that public house over the canal should be increased from about £150 to £10,000. I now understand that, because of publicity, the charge has been reduced. However, when such a charge is made arbitrarily, it induces confusion and concern.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman with some attention. Will he consider the contrary case, which is that the Government have just made available part of the derelect land grant for the reopening of canals? Does not that in some way balance the examples that he is giving?

Mr. Cryer

No. We are not talking about what the Government have done. If they are making available some derelict land clearance grant, that is all well and good. Of course, they are cutting a wide range of grants to local authorities. My point is that the Government are accountable to the House. If we give powers to a body such as British Waterways, which acts entirely as an authority on its own account, that accountability is then out of our reach. We can argue and ask questions about derelict land clearance grant; we cannot ask questions of the chairman of British Waterways—

Mr. Robert B. Jones

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put: The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 30.

Division No. 272] [9.58 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Amess, David Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Arbuthnot, James Burns, Simon
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Burt, Alistair
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Butler, Peter
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Carrington, Matthew
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Carttiss, Michael
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Chapman, Sydney
Baldry, Tony Clappison, James
Bates, Michael Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Blackburn, Dr John Q. Coe, Sebastian
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Booth, Hartley Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Boswell, Tim Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Day, Stephen
Bowis, John Deva, Nirj Joseph
Brandreth, Gyles Devlin, Tim
Bright, Graham Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Dover, Den
Dykes, Hugh Monro, Sir Hector
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Neubert, Sir Michael
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Nicholls, Patrick
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Norris, Steve
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Page, Richard
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Patnick, Irvine
Freeman, Roger Porter, David (Waveney)
Gallie, Phil Richards, Rod
Gillan, Cheryl Riddick, Graham
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Grylls, Sir Michael Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Hague, William Shaw, David (Dover)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hanley, Jeremy Spink, Dr Robert
Hannam, Sir John Spring, Richard
Harris, David Sproat, Iain
Heald, Oliver Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Stephen, Michael
Hendry, Charles Streeter, Gary
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Sweeney, Walter
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Thomason, Roy
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
King, Rt Hon Tom Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Kirkhope, Timothy Thurnham, Peter
Knapman, Roger Tredinnick, David
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Trend, Michael
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Twinn, Dr Ian
Legg, Barry Walden, George
Leigh, Edward Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Lidington, David Waller, Gary
Lightbown, David Waterson, Nigel
Luff, Peter Whittingdale, John
MacKay, Andrew Widdecombe, Ann
Maclean, David Willetts, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Wood, Timothy
Maitland, Lady Olga Yeo, Tim
Mans, Keith
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mates, Michael Sir Anthony Durant and Mr. Alan Duncan.
Merchant, Piers
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Ainger, Nick Lynne, Ms Liz
Bennett, Andrew F. McCartney, Ian
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Dixon, Don Meale, Alan
Etherington, Bill Michael, Alun
Fatchett, Derek Miller, Andrew
Flynn, Paul Morgan, Rhodri
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Godman, Dr Norman A. Pike, Peter L.
Hanson, David Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Harvey, Nick Rowlands, Ted
Hinchliffe, David Skinner, Dennis
Johnston, Sir Russell Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Tellers for the Noes:
Kilfoyle, Peter Mr. Bob Cryer and Mr. Harry Barnes.
Lewis, Terry

Question accordingly agreed to. Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 126, Noes 27.

Division No. 273] [10.10 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Amess, David Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Ancram, Michael Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Arbuthnot, James Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Baldry, Tony
Bates, Michael Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Hanley, Jeremy
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Harris, David
Booth, Hartley Heald, Oliver
Boswell, Tim Heathcoat-Amory, David
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Hendry, Charles
Bowis, John Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Brandreth, Gyles Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Brazier, Julian Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Bright, Graham Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter King, Rt Hon Tom
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Kirkhope, Timothy
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Knapman, Roger
Burns, Simon Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Burt, Alistair Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Carrington, Matthew Legg, Barry
Chapman, Sydney Leigh, Edward
Clappison, James Lidington, David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Lightbown, David
Coe, Sebastian Luff, Peter
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) MacKay, Andrew
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Maclean, David
Davis, David (Boothferry) McLoughlin, Patrick
Day, Stephen Maitland, Lady Olga
Deva, Nirj Joseph Mans, Keith
Devlin, Tim Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Dorrell, Stephen Mates, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Merchant, Piers
Dover, Den Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Dykes, Hugh Neubert, Sir Michael
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Nicholls, Patrick
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Norris, Steve
Fenner, Dame Peggy Page, Richard
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Patnick, Irvine
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Pike, Peter L.
Freeman, Roger Porter, David (Waveney)
Gallie, Phil Richards, Rod
Gillan, Cheryl Riddick, Graham
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Grylls, Sir Michael Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Hague, William Shaw, David (Dover)
Skeet, Sir Trevor Trend, Michael
Spink, Dr Robert Twinn, Dr Ian
Spring, Richard Walden, George
Sproat, Iain Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Waller, Gary
Stephen, Michael Waterson, Nigel
Streeter, Gary Whittingdale, John
Sweeney, Walter Widdecombe, Ann
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Willefts, David
Thomason, Roy Wood, Timothy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Yeo, Tim
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thurnham, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
Townend, John (Bridlington) Sir Anthony Durant and Mr. Alan Duncan.
Tredinnick, David
Ainger, Nick Kilfoyle, Peter
Bennett, Andrew F. Lewis, Terry
Blunkett, David Lynne, Ms Liz
Cryer, Bob Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Meale, Alan
Dixon, Don Michael, Alun
Etherington, Bill Morgan, Rhodri
Flynn, Paul Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Rowlands, Ted
Godman, Dr Norman A. Skinner, Dennis
Hanson, David Spearing, Nigel
Harvey, Nick
Hinchliffe, David Tellers for the Noes:
Johnston, Sir Russell Mr. Harry Barnes, and Mr. Andrew Miller.
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed.

Back to