HC Deb 19 January 1994 vol 235 cc950-90

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Promoters of the British Waterways Bill [Lords] may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with; That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private 13ill Office a declaration signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session; That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed to have been read for the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed); That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the last Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the present session; That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the last Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business; That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)" were omitted; That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the last Session.—[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

7.30 pm
Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

I recall that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair when we debated the Second Reading of the Bill. We therefore seem destined to be bound together by British Waterways. It is not a bad thing to bind us together. It is an admirable organisation and I am delighted to be associated with the Bill.

British Waterways does a great deal of good work. The canal system is close to the hearts of many people in Great Britain because it is the oldest canal system in existence and because many people derive a great deal of recreational enjoyment from it.

Since Second Reading, two significant events have occurred. The first is the report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. The second is the retirement of the then chairman of the British Waterways Board, Mr. David Ingman. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all his work as chairman of the board. He has been a doughty champion of the waterways and there is no doubt that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's conclusions are a reflection of his contribution.

The conclusions of the MMC report found that there had been a transformation in British Waterways since its 1987 report. The MMC finds that British Waterways has made good progress in the development of business planning, the introduction of waterway standards, the revision of project control guidelines and the introduction of a new computerised accounting and reporting system. It has changed from a centralised organisation orientated towards administering a grant to one developing a strong commercial outlook. The MMC commends British Waterways and its staff for their work and I, too, commend them.

I said on Second Reading that the Bill was about safety. The key to the revival motion is that those issues are just as important as they were then, if not more so. Therefore, as the Committee has spent so long considering the various issues, there are strong arguments for it to complete its work and let the House decide.

Technically, it is not the function of the House to debate the merits of a Bill on a revival motion. As in all cases, they were examined in some detail on 17 May 1993. Hon. Members drew attention to several elements which were causing them or their constituents problems, and I will explain in due course what British Waterways has done to help resolve them.

British Waterways is responsible for maintaining the fabric of our 200-year-old inland waterway system and its inheritance from the original canal proprietors included 2,000 miles of waterways, 1,500 miles of continuous towpaths, more than 4,700 bridges, 450 tunnels and aqueducts as well as 2,100 listed structures and monuments and 64 sites of special scientific interest.

The Bill is about securing the future of that inheritance and of the availability of the waterways for public use. It is promoted by British Waterways primarily to safeguard waterway users and the owners and occupiers of adjoining land to create new conservation, environmental and recreational duties and to enable British Waterways to manage the waterways more effectively and to generate more income for reinvestment in them.

The House will appreciate that the timely repair of waterways and associated works is essential in the interests of public safety, particularly in emergencies which give rise to the risk of serious dangers to persons and property. It is generally accepted that there is a need for specific powers granting those authorised by the board the right to enter land for such purposes. Landowners' and farmers' representative bodies such as the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union agreed a code of practice as to how entry should be effected in such circumstances.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Everyone accepts that there is a need for that power. I wonder whether there are any instances where the power is not being granted in practice. Some of the first canal Acts go back to about 1730. It seems puzzling if in all the time since then that power was never needed. No one has ever been able to quote to me an example where the lack of that power resulted in difficulties.

Mr. Jones

There have been some close-run incidents. It is necessary to take the appropriate level of risk assessment and it is therefore important to have those powers.

Hon. Members will recall that the subject was referred to in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report of May 1987 which drew attention to the fact that British Waterways has no effective statutory rights of access over private land, even in the direst emergency when life and property might be endangered. In that respect, the board is unusual among statutory undertakers in having no general powers to enter land even to deal with such emergencies.

In contrast, the National Rivers Authority can effect entry on to premises for the purpose of carrying out its water resources function and to act without notice in an emergency. Is its capacity as a navigation authority, the NRA is in a different position from that of British Waterways because the natural rivers for which it is mainly responsible—it has only a few canals—do not present the same risks.

Of particular concern is the stability of canal embankments where serious difficulties can occur if there is over-topping and erosion of the embankment, or if tree roots penetrate the lining of the canal, leading ultimately to instability and collapse of the embankment. In my speech on Second Reading I mentioned the example of the breach on the Lancaster canal caused by tree root penetration.

Since that debate, it has come to my attention that Scottish National Heritage, which was formed in 1991 by the amalgamation of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland, was given express powers of entry to land in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991, even for such apparently mundane activities as surveying land and estimating its value. The Act also conferred similar powers on river purification authorities and others for the purposes of discharging their functions, including entry on to land in emergencies.

Given the volatility and destructive power of the water in the canals, it has to be equally or more important for British Waterways to have the same powers and that the obstruction of their exercise should be deterred, as proposed in the Bill, by the risk of prosecution as in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991.

Part III of the Bill would impose new minimum fire and safety standards on boats and prevent pollution of the waterways. Home Office statistics show that between 1983 and 1988 there were more than 500 fires on boats on inland waterways.

I referred to a particular spectacular example in my speech on Second Reading. It occurred on the River Thames at Radcott in the April 1993, when a cabin cruiser caught fire and was completely gutted. The fire endangered other craft moored at the site and the owners of the vessel suffered burns. It was only due to the heroic efforts of an off-duty ambulanceman who got into the water and pulled the flaming boat away that a much more serious incident was averted.

The cause of the fire is believed to have been the escape of excess fuel from an ill-fitting carburettor. The fuel was ignited by the ignition spark of the engine. If the vessel had complied with the boat safety standards, the electrical system in the engine space would have been ignition protected and the excess fuel would have not ignited.

The boat safety standards will require all hire and pleasure boats on British Waterways' system to meet minimum safety requirements before they are permitted to come on or stay on the waterways. They are now referred to as harmonised standards as they have been adopted by the National Rivers Authority and the Broads Authority as well as a number of other navigational authorities.

There have been other incidents since the boat safety standards were last debated in the House. On the Aire and Calder navigation at Stanley Ferry in August 1993, a 35 ft long narrow boat exploded, blowing off a 15 to 20 ft section from the back of the boat. The explosion blew a transom across the canal. It was fortunate that the boat was not moored facing in the opposite direction as the transom would then have blown into the pub adjacent to which the boat was moored.

It is believed that the explosion was caused by a leak of liquid petroleum gas from a gas bottle. The gas locker in which the bottles were stored was not gas-tight and therefore did not vent the leaking gas overboard as will be required by the boat safety standards scheme. As a result, the gas leaked into the body of the vessel and was ignited by the pilot light of the gas refrigerator on board. That explosion would not have occurred had the vessel complied with the board's safety standards scheme.

Another incident involving a leaking gas bottle occurred on the Bridgwater canal at Agden wharf in December 1993. Here again, the boat safety standards scheme would have required overboard venting as in the case of the Stanley Ferry incident. There was no such venting and an explosion and fire destroyed a 70 ft narrow boat.

Fortunately, no one was hurt in either of those explosions. The Manchester Ship Canal Company which operates that waterway has for several years been following the lead of British Waterways in implementing the boat safety standards scheme, which is clearly desirable in the interests of all the users of waterways, whether or not they are on vessels.

Environmental and recreational duties are close to my heart. Clause 23 will 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 and sewerage companies. The clause is directly adapted from section 8 of the Water Act 1989 and it uses the same language.

The report on British Waterways by the Select Committee on the Environment, which was published in August 1989, recommended that a duty similar to that under section 8 of the Water Act 1989 should be applied to the British Waterways Board. The Government endorsed that recommendation in their response in February 1990 and it is now before the House.

Following Second Reading, British Waterways had further discussions with those who at the time still had outstanding petitions. The majority were concerned about proposals embodied in clause 27 for the extinguishment of a variety of unexercised rights which had been conferred on landowners and others at the time of the original canal enabling Acts passed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The extinguishment of those rights was designed to create certainty where there was none and to permit the board to make the best possible use of its property-assets. Those provisions in clause 27 were often, the only remaining barriers to the withdrawal of a considerable number of petitions, including several on which the parties had otherwise reached agreement. Therefore, the board decided after careful consideration to propose to the Select Committee the deletion of clause 27 in its entirety. Having given the petitioners concerned assurances to that effect, virtually all the outstanding petitions were withdrawn immediately after the Committee proceedings opened.

It would be idle to assume that the withdrawal of clause 27 has solved any difficulties other than those encountered in the promotion of the Bill. The problems which the actual or theoretical existence of the ancient unexercised rights created for British Waterways will not go away. A vivid example of that was given to the Select Committee when the Bill was in the other place.

Mr. Martin Redmond (Don Valley)

The hon. Gentleman said that the vast majority of petitioners have now withdrawn their objections. Are some petitioners still objecting and, if so, why?

Mr. Jones

I will address those points in due course.

As I was saying, a vivid example was given to the Select Committee when the Bill was in another place. It concerned a 30 acre site intended for comprehensive redevelopment adjoining the Trent and Mersey canal. The developer wished to drain the whole area into the canal, which was on a steep embankment, by means of an existing outfall and claimed to be entitled to do so as a right under the enabling Acts for that canal.

British Waterways' engineers calculated that in a one in 25 year storm the available freeboard in the canal at the lowest point on that pound would have been used up within 15 minutes, leading to the immediate over-topping of the towing path by the storm water and to the failure of the embankment. A breach there would have had catastrophic results which would have affected houses, a public house, a filling station and a factory on the road below, posing serious risks to life and property.

To avoid those consequences, British Waterways calculated that an overflow pipe would need to be installed to carry the surplus water to the nearby River Trent. At a conservative estimate, it would have cost more than £85,000 for the engineering works alone, the cost of land acquisition being in addition. The only beneficiary would have been the developer himself, and no benefit whatever would have accrued from the expenditure to the waterway or its users. It is perhaps fortunate that the Japanese backers of that development decided to invest their funds elsewhere, so the problems did not materialise.

Nevertheless, such problems could arise again, either at that or many other locations on the waterways system. For that reason, and because British Waterways believes that the existence of such rights and the exercise of them in modern conditions could be actually harmful to the maintenance and integrity of the waterways, the following statement was made to the Committee when British Waterways sought to withdraw the clause: Clause 27 of the British Waterways Bill would have extinguished certain rights conferred on riparian owners and others by early Canal Acts passed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The rights in question included rights to construct works affecting canals, drainage and abstraction rights and also sporting and fishing rights and rights to use pleasure boats which by now are unenforceable or else incompatible with modern legislation. The clause was included in the Bill as claims to exercise such rights could lead to severe operational and other difficulties, including the impairment of safety. It is moreover extremely difficult in modern circumstances to determine who, if anyone, is now entitled to the rights. For all these reasons the Board decided that clause 27 should extinguish the rights completely. After a full hearing before the Opposed Committee of the House of Lords, the Committee found that the case for the clause was proved. The clause was further amended following third reading in the House of Lords but was allowed to remain in the Bill. Following the First House Committee stage, clause 27 continued to be controversial. Petitioners and others have represented that they would be prejudiced by the clause, if it were to become law in its most recent form. Attempts to reach some form of agreement with all those who opposed the clause have in most cases been unsuccessful. All these factors have required the Board to re-examine the basis of the clause and the wider questions related to it in the light of representations made. In these circumstances, it has been decided to seek leave of the Select Committee of the House of Commons to withdraw clause 27. In seeking to withdraw the clause, the Board are conscious that the difficulties which it was intended to remove still have to be resolved. They therefore wish to emphasis that they may have to promote legislation in the future on the subject of ancient rights, and works and activities affecting inland waterways. Any such powers will be sought following a wide consultation exercise which will enable those who have petitioned against clause 27 to express their views on any new proposals. Clause 27 petitioners apart, when the Committee stage began on 26 June 1993 the possible maximum number of outstanding petitions was seven, of which five were lodged by individuals and two by fringe houseboat groups. I say the "possible" number because some of those concerned did not reply to correspondence and the board was unable to determine whether they were minded to continue their opposition. In the event, four individual petitioners presented themselves to speak to their petitions.

So far, the Committee—under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie)—has sat for a total of 13 whole or part days and the record of its proceedings extends to more than 800 pages of transcript. It is almost at the end of its examination of the Bill, but it is understood that the members of the Committee may rightly wish to go out on visits to see something of the canal system and to take further evidence from two of the petitioners, who are no doubt as anxious as the promoters to see the resumption and completion of the Committee's examination of it.

All concerned have invested considerable time and money in the project—a point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is a member of the Private Bill Committee and who asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for this debate.

In the form in which the Bill went into the Opposed Committee, it had the support of all British Waterways' principal user groups, including the Inland Waterways Association" the British Marine Industries Federation, the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators, the Royal Yachting Association, the National Association of Boat Owners and the Residential Boat Owners Association, which are all completely independent of British Waterways and are rightly regarded as the representative bodies of users.

They are all frustrated and perplexed that the Bill Committee cannot be allowed to get on with and complete its job unless this motion is passed tonight. Any hon. Member who continues to have reservations about any elements of the Bill will have an opportunity to raise them at the next stage when it returns to the Floor of the House for further debate.

Quite apart from the energy that has gone into the promotion of the Bill, 1993 has been a busy and eventful year for British Waterways. The appointment of the ombudsman, which I announced in my speech in opening the Second Reading debate, was made later in the summer and took effect from 1 September. The board's choice for the appointment was Lady Ponsonby of Shulbrede, a practising barrister and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, who has considerable experience in the resolution of disputes—even if they are not related to waterway management. Her appointment was welcomed by the users of the board's waterways. She is accepted as entirely independent. I am told that she already has a modest case load of complaints to investigate. Unlike other organisations investigated by other ombudsmen, British Waterways has agreed to be bound by the waterways ombudsman's findings.

The year 1793 marked the height of canal mania, when 62 different canals—more than half the canal system—were being planned or built, and dozens of private Acts authorising their construction were passed by Parliament. The construction of the canal system, Britain's first transport network, was one of the main factors leading to the industrial revolution. Many major towns and cities, such as Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, owe their existence to canals.

One of the Acts was for the Grand Junction canal, now part of the Grand Union canal, which last year celebrated its bicentenary in a number of diverse ways, including cavalcades, rallies and the opening of the long-distance towpath walk from London to Birmingham. "Canals 200", as British Waterways called those year-long festivities, was devised and organised by British Waterways to celebrate that significant bicentenary. It was the largest nationwide celebration ever held on the canal system. As the Grand Union canal runs the length of my constituency, I was particularly delighted at that.

There were 175 "Canals 200" festivals, open days, exhibitions and events throughout the canal system in 1993, attended by 620,000 people. British Waterways had a presence at all the events, ranging from banners and small display and information units to the major "Canals 200" exhibition. In May, major festivals were held simultaneously in Gloucester, Rickmansworth and Nottingham to launch the celebrations. In July, the Royal Mail issued the first inland waterways commemorative stamps. The "Canals 200" touring exhibition is visiting major museums. "Canals 200" has been extremely successful in raising the profile of inland waterways in the minds of the public.

The campaign has quadrupled British Waterways' national media coverage, reaching an estimated 14 million people. The promotion has been a great success, and links have been formed with local canal societies, inland waterway groups, hire boat operators, museums and others. That has encouraged British Waterways to extend the celebrations through 1994—the bicentenary year for 14 Acts of Parliament. British Waterways is currently working with volunteer groups throughout the canal system to help publicise and organise boat rallies and festivities in celebration of "Canals 200".

British Waterways is also planning to extend its network of cruising waterways by applying for a ministerial order to upgrade the Sheffield and Tinsley canal from remainder to cruising status. The almost derelict canal basin, lying virtually in the centre of the city of Sheffield, is at the heart of an overall redevelopment scheme that will lead to the refurbishment of historic buildings, the dredging of the adjoining waterway and the repair of its walls, and the total regeneration of that part of the city.

The canal and basin are integral to, and a vital component of, the regeneration project, which has the active backing of the Sheffield development corporation and Sheffield city council. The reclassification of the waterway and the guarantees it holds for its future management by British Waterways will be a crucial element in the attraction of investment for the overall redevelopment, as has been the improvement and upgrading of the waterway itself.

The year 1993 also saw the return to British Waterways of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which published its report on 7 January this year. It found that there had been a transformation in British Waterways. The report, which was nearly 300 pages long, contained almost 50 recommendations that British Waterways hopes will help it to continue to make improvements. That is the purpose for which British Waterways embarked on the promotion of the Bill in 1990.

While the promotion has not been without its difficulties, many of us are now aware of the considerable groundswell of opinion in favour of its enactment. Many hon. Members have received letters to that effect from British Waterways' representative user groups, which generally regard the intervening years of debate and negotiation as having been well spent. From that, a much greater understanding has grown among users of the board's problems, and vice versa. It has given solid commitments to the citizens charter, a leisure and tourism strategy, and other commitments on which all users can rely.

An enormous amount of progress has been made on a system that, as I said, provides a great deal of pleasure for many people, but the main considerations that underlie the Bill are ones of safety. That matter has rightly been addressed at considerable length by the Committee. It wants to complete its deliberations, which is important for the future of the canal system. I therefore have no hesitation in commending the revival measure i.o the House, and I hope that the House will support it.

7.54 pm
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North)

I declare an interest because I have sat on the Committee for 13 sittings encompassing more than 50 hours of careful consideration of the facts. I ask the House to continue to place faith in my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) and the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter).

I think that it is in order to use the word "colleague" in referring to the three other people who sat on the Committee with me. I pay tribute to their painstaking conscientiousness and the courteous manner in which they dealt with a difficult private Bill. As you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not wish to speak about the merits of the Bill, but I ask the House to give my three colleagues and me the opportunity to complete our work and to give the House the opportunity to consider whatever decision is reached by the Committee.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I understand that my hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Committee wanted to make a number of inspections as part of their work on the Bill. I understand that some difficulties arose in that regard. I find it incredible and shocking that a parliamentary Committee that wants to conduct investigations at its own cost and through its own organisation should have any impediment put in its way.

I understand that the Committee has made several attempts to organise that search for information. As British Waterways is seeking a carry-over motion, now is the time to ensure that there is maximum co-operation from every conceivable party, or difficulties may arise over that motion. My hon. Friend could help the House by outlining the difficulties that have arisen.

Mr. Etherington

My hon. Friend has stolen some of my thunder. I agree with what he said and shall explain the matter further. I had an impression throughout the Committee that there was a sense of haste among the Clerks in the Private Bill Office. I am not aware of who decided how long the sittings on the Bill might take, but whoever it was underestimated the Bill's complexity and the work involved, with members of the Committee wanting to cross-examine and clarify every possible issue.

Mr. Redmond

My hon. Friend mentioned the Clerks in the Private Bill Office. I have always found them extremely helpful in the way that they conduct their business, especially in dealing with problems on private Bills, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is aware. Given that accord exists among members of the Committee—they have been spoken of in glowing terms—who objected to the visits? If it was British Waterways, it ought to know better. I cannot believe that the Clerks stopped hon. Members from paying visits that would help them in their deliberations.

Mr. Etherington

I must agree that the Clerks have been very helpful, but coming up with an acceptable decision or advice can sometimes be a different thing, as I am sure hon. Members are aware.

A majority of hon. Members on the Committee thought that it would be necessary to pay a visit because the legislation in Scotland differs from that in England and Wales. We felt that many issues required us to see for ourselves what was experienced. Even though they might have the best imaginations in the world, no members of the Committee have had much experience of canals or canal people.

The people concerned with this matter, whether they were in favour of or against the Bill, have done their very best and have been most helpful, and I praise them all. We felt that it was necessary to have a site visit. We were told categorically that visits were not allowed in respect of a private Bill. We persisted informally with that line and we were told that the Chairman of Ways and Means would not sanction such a visit. At that stage, our proposal was fairly tentative.

The Chairman of the Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie)—and I, with the permission of the two Conservative Members involved, approached the Chairman of Ways and Means. As always, he was very sympathetic, helpful and courteous. We came away with the impression that the matter would not require further clarification and that we would get satisfaction, but time rolled on and no arrangements have been made. For a variety of reasons, sometimes two or three Committee members were not available. On other occasions, we changed our hours to suit petitioners, many of whom came to the House at their own expense and at great inconvenience. We are no further ahead.

Mr. Cryer

I wonder whether I might suggest a solution. All that my hon. Friend's Committee wants to do is to travel within the United Kingdom to look at canals. There is a very big industry in fact-finding tours from this place to the far ends of the earth. My hon. Friend should apply to the Liaison Committee to go to, let us say, Macclesfield to examine the canal there. He might be able to go there via Japan, Australia and America, financed by the Liaison Committee on a round-the-world tour, because that is the sort of facility that the Committee provides. It would be a long way around. It is staggering that my hon. Friend cannot find a way of travelling inside the United Kingdom when jumbo jets carry hon. Members all around the world.

Mr. Etherington

I enjoyed my hon. Friend's intervention. Members of the Committee have never dreamt of such a thing. I should have spoken to my hon. Friend earlier. Perhaps I have been unfortunate.

My colleagues and I regard ourselves as having been appointed to the Committee by the House. We are not on the Committee for the Government or for the promoters; we are on it for the benefit of the people whom we represent collectively—not only our constituencies but our nation. We have tried to do a thorough, proper job. I feel very strongly about the matter. It is a serious matter, although there is an amusing side to it.

If the Private Bill Committee becomes inquorate, those responsible could be brought before the House to explain themselves. I regard myself as an honourable person. I should rather explain why I shall do something than try to make excuses after it has been done. I should like to hear the rest of the evidence. There is only the case for the promoters to be summed up, after which we shall deliberate and reach a conclusion, but I am not prepared to deliberate and reach a conclusion unless we can make a site visit. That is not blackmail. I ask the House to resolve the matter so that I can carry out my duties in the way that I should.

Mr. Redmond

It is important that clarification be given, and my hon. Friend has partly done so. The Clerks in the Private Bill Office were in order in the conduct of their business, and I assume that the Chairman of Ways and Means is in order. Obviously, whoever controls the purse strings has delayed the progress of the Bill; otherwise, we would not be debating this matter tonight. If inspections had taken place as requested, the Bill could have been dispatched.

Was British Waterways requested to finance the trip or to make arrangements for it? The people involved have been most helpful to members of the Committee in letting them find out at first hand what is involved.

Mr. Etherington

I shall correct a misapprehension for my hon. Friend. The issue of the visit has not delayed the Bill's progress in any way. We would be in exactly the same position: if the visit had been allowed, we would still not have had time to deal with the matter before the end of the Session. As I have explained, we have tried to accommodate petitioners. Occasionally, the promoters' barrister was not available when we were. We have also had duties to carry out in the House. When we have two full days of business and we have other commitments in the House and our constituency work, we do not have much flexibility left for what we are required to do during the week.

I want the matter to be resolved tonight. I feel strongly about it, as do the majority of my colleagues. I hope that the House will not cause us to stand at the Bar of the House and be judged as felons—that is what it would come to —for not carrying out our duties properly. If the procedures of the House make much a visit difficult, hon. Members have sufficient faith in the Officers of the House and in the Chairman of Ways and Means to sort out the problem fairly speedily so that there is no undue delay in our coming to a conclusion.

In no circumstances would I have dreamt of approaching the promoters to arrange for us to make visits. I am employed on the Committee by the House. The responsibility lies with the House. I am aware of the excellent advice from the Chairman of Ways and Means, who pointed out that, when sitting in judgment, we cannot be seen to be in the pockets of the promoters of private Bills. I totally agree, and that is why we must try to resolve this matter. Please give us the opportunity to complete the work on which we have spent much time, conscientiously trying to help all concerned, so that the Bill can be brought back before the House and dealt with.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

The hon. Gentleman's remarks are very interesting. It is fairly rare for hon. Members to be appointed to that Committee. It is a wee bit ironic that it is in the nature of the House that, when dealing with such a complex matter, it actually consciously appoints hon. Members who do not know anything about it. Of course, as well as not knowing anything about it, they have no axe to grind and they have no bias. That is the good side of it.

The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to visit parts of the canal system. Is that for the purpose of seeing on the ground, or in the water, exactly how the legislation would work and what effect it would have, talking with canal users, or what? Will the hon. Gentleman give some examples?

Mr. Etherington

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. I shall try to answer in reverse while the questions are still in my mind. The Committee felt that it would like to see sites that exemplified the evidence, especially when there was some contention. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman—one of the finest principles ever expounded is that justice is blind. In many cases, those who sit in judgment know very little or nothing about a subject. For many years, experts on all sorts of subjects have made judgments, and sometimes they are not always the best, as we notice every day.

I shall refer to a matter I raised earlier. Many Bills, byelaws, amendments and statutory instruments reflect the differences between Scottish law and English law. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is well aware of those differences. The Committee felt that it should see some circumstances that were unique to Scotland. For example, if we had been able to spend a couple of hours at Paddington basin to see what we wanted, that would have been helpful. I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee will agree with me when I say that we do not want to give ourselves any extra responsibilities. My time is already curtailed somewhat. I always seem to be running round at top speed. I do not have much time to stop and think, and collect my life in many respects.

The Committee felt that visits were necessary and wanted to have a look at three specific places. We wanted to look at the Caledonian canal, which has specific local problems. We also wanted to go to Braunston lock because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the question of houseboats is of paramount importance to this issue, and we wanted to look at certain aspects of the Grand Union canal.

Several hon. Members said that they could not understand the problem. I cannot understand it either. Throughout the sittings of the Committee, I had the impression that there was a misjudgment. There seemed to be gentle coercion to proceed with the Bill with all speed. I do not consider that I am an obstructive or awkward person, but that sort of atmosphere is not helpful. If that is a criticism of the way in which the House works, so be it. That is the way I feel. The House should hear all the details of this serious matter.

I hope that the House will give us the privilege of continuing the work that we are doing and that we can resolve the matter. As I said, unless the matter is resolved, I am afraid that I might have to stand in this fine Chamber in a different position from where I am now. I do not issue threats—that is not my way of life. But being honourable, I feel that it is only right that that should be pointed out. I know that a majority of my colleagues feel exactly the same.

8.12 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to catch your eye in this debate. I shall start by expressing my disturbance that we have reached this position, because the subject has been studied in enormous depth by a large number of people. Before I go any further, I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). We had a very cordial Committee, as I shall explain in a moment. My two Labour colleagues on the Committee have been helpful and constructive in every possible way.

As I said, I am sorry that we have reached this stage. The whole subject of the regulation—basically, that is what the Bill is all about—of the powers of British Waterways with regard to inland waterways has been studied in great depth. It was first studied by the Select Committee on the Environment in 1987, from which arose the idea of this Bill. It was deposited in the House of Lords in November 1990. Their Lordships had 11 very detailed sittings on the Bill.

As a result—the House has heard that all of them involved a barrister leading the British Waterways case, solicitors leading for the petitioners and the petitioners themselves—a number of major improvements were made to the Bill, not least of which was the provision of a moratorium for houseboat owners who had not already applied for a licence. A number of constructive changes were made to the Bill in another place, and the detailed debate was concluded in May 1991. Thereafter, there was a Third Reading and the whole subject was given yet another airing.

As happens in the normal course of events, the Bill came to this House for First Reading—there was no debate —on 13 March 1992. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) for his actions in promoting the Bill and his work for British Waterways. In his erudite speech this evening, he proved that he is immensely knowledgeable about the subject of canals and the workings of British Waterways. He referred to the Second Reading of the Bill. Thereafter, a Committee was appointed by the House which comprised the hon. Members for Leeds, East and for Sunderland, North, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and me.

Sitting on the Committee was no mean task, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North explained. As I look round the House, I see a number of hon. Members who have been here a long time but who do not understand how the private business procedure works.

Four of us sat on the Committee for more than 50 hours, which produced more than 800 pages of transcript. The Committee had to have a quorum of three, which meant that we could not leave the room without having a detailed discussion about who would stay. Intensive work took place in the Committee. We had to concentrate every moment because we were responsible for reporting to the House at the end of the day. Unlike other Committees, we could not leave, do some work and return. We had to be there the whole time, we had to concentrate and we had to ask pertinent questions.

This subject has been debated at enormous length and in enormous detail in the Committe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West explained, as a result of the deliberations in another place, and the deliberations in Committee and debate in this House, the number of petitioners has been whittled down to four. Of those four, one has not appeared before the Committee. We have taken detailed evidence from three of the 44 original petitioners. The Chairman of the Committee has been immensely patient with those petitioners. At all stages of the proceedings he allowed them to cross-examine the witnesses for British Waterways and its counsel. They could not possibly have wished for a more courteous Chairman. They have had every opportunity to examine the Bill in any way they wished.

We have almost come to the end of the evidence. What took place in Committee is not a secret because it is open to the public. The proceedings were published fully in Hansard and they are fully available. It is fair to say that the petitioners feel that they received a fair hearing. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sunderland, North would agree with that.

Mr. Etherington

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful for that helpful and constructive intervention, which merely shows that I am giving a fully factual account to the House.

It is important to realise where we have got to. I believe that there will be a summary from British Waterways. The Committee will then deliberate on all the evidence and the submissions, and will hopefully come to a conclusion. I understand that we are looking at about three more days of sittings. Having had 13 sittings, we have almost come to the point where we can see the end.

I should perhaps mention the subject of the requested visit, which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North spoke about at length. As he said, the four Committee members know very little about British waterways. Certainly that is true in my case, but I am not able to speak for the other Committee members. After listening to the evidence and questions in the Committee, I do not believe that the other Committee members are particularly knowledgeable about canals.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I do not want to do my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) an injustice. He was a member of the Select Committee on the Environment when we investigated British Waterways at considerable length. The Committee produced a unanimous report, and most of the report's recommendations have been implemented. Few hon. Members can claim to be experts, because experts are people who avoid small mistakes on the road to the great fallacy. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke can be regarded as an expert.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me straight on that point. I had forgotten that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke was a member of the Committee which reported in such detail on the matter in 1987.

The Committee is within sight of finishing its deliberations. I watched this measure put on the Order Paper day after day. I was amazed that, after going through all that procedure and having deliberated the matter in such depth, there should have been objections. I have tried to discover from one or two people what it is that they are objecting to. I have talked to people who have objected and discovered which parts of the Bill they are objecting to or which of the petitioners' points they wish to be upheld. I can explain to them what has gone on in the Committee, and I have found that they have been satisfied. I find it very strange that we have to use up the House's valuable time deliberating the measure.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The only objector, as I understand it, to the revival motion on 13 January was the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), who has now left the Chamber. Like him, we are obviously anxious to know what lies behind the objections. British Waterways has written to him on several occasions without receiving a response, so we are in the dark as much as anybody else about why there should be objections to the Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

My hon. Friend clarifies the matter. I think that it is sad that we could not have gone back into Committee. After all, the whole process involved a barrister leading for British Waterways, not to mention other senior members of the board and the staff of British Waterways. I do not know what the cost to them would be, but I should not be surprised if the procedure to date had cost British Waterways more than £100,000.

British Waterways is supported by a large number of people in this country. I understand that 9 million people are associated with the inland waterways and canals of the country. They want to see the waterways properly managed and providing a better service. I pay tribute to British Waterways in that respect. It has come a long way in the past few years, as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report makes clear. Quite honestly, however, if it has to meet this type of expense and to take this length of time to get such a Bill through the House, I would not blame it if it started to ask whether it was worth while.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I have certainly no brief to object to the cost of the procedure, and obviously my hon. Friend has made his own point. I am worried, not about the price in financial terms because one cannot put a price on democratic involvement, but about the price in terms of potential tragedy through safety measures which cannot be addressed until the Bill is on the statute book. That is why it is absolutely vital to get to the end of the process as soon as possible, consistent with allowing people their say in a democratic society.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I totally agree, but I have not yet come to the question why the Bill is desirable. Much of the time of the management of British Waterways has been invested in the process, quite apart from the monetary aspect and the other vital issues which the Bill addresses.

The inland waterways are enjoyed by a huge number of people in this country. People generally have more leisure time, and they can enjoy the waterways in a number of ways. They may walk along the towpath with their dogs, go boating on the canals either by owning their own boat or by taking a pleasant holiday, or they can live on the canals—let us not forget that a large number of people do so.

A number of vital powers in the Bill require British Waterways to enhance its management. As I and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West have explained, British Waterways has come a long way in updating its management procedures since the Select Committee reported in 1987. Many of the report's recommendations have now been implemented. On the whole, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was complimentary to British Waterways, and particularly to its chairman, Mr. David Ingram, from whom we heard in Committee. Mr. Ingram was an impressive witness. He showed determination and he knew the business backwards, and his enthusiasm to see an improvement was clear for all to see.

I hope that Mr. Ingram's successor will enter a new era for British Waterways. I hope that when the Bill has passed all its stages he will be able to regulate the waterways with greater effect.

British Waterways obtains a grant of more than £40 million a year from the Department of the Environment. It is a large organisation, covering over 2,000 miles of waterways up and down the country. The Bill applies to England, Wales and Scotland. What does the Bill do? As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has stressed, it deals with safety and the regulation of the waterways. Basically it gives British Waterways powers which all other statutory undertakers have had for years.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked why British Waterways needs powers to enter private land. In the canals there are hundreds of thousands of tonnes of water. If there were a breach in a canal and there were dwellings downstream, the result could be catastrophic. The last thing an area manager of British Waterways will want to do in those circumstances is to have to find an owner who may be away on holiday. If the manager cannot get the relevant powers, emergency powers are needed to deal with such an incident.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

It is a question not simply of property, but of life and limb. I recently had the opportunity to go along the Llangollen canal. One section there had broken away, sending water down to the valley below which swept away the railway line. My hon. Friend can imagine in such circumstances what would happen if there was a crowded train, perhaps in a different part of the country. Such a tragedy could occur if powers to intervene were not available when the danger became apparent.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The Committee was shown photographs of one or two instances where there had been breaches of canals.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am a little hesitant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman because I realise that, as he sat on the Committee, he has every right to pass information to the House. However, as I understand it, members of the Committee are not supposed to take part in the debates, certainly on Second Reading, or express their views until consideration of the Bill has been completed.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is in danger of straying into expressing his views on the Bill before the Committee has reported. It would be unfortunate if that happened and he had to be discharged from the Committee —he may want to escape from the Committee, I do not know—and someone else had to be appointed at this stage. What is the position on a carry-over motion about someone who is on the Committee, in a judicial role, commenting before the Committee has completed its consideration?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

That is a matter for the hon. Member who has the floor. It will be a different Committee.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Thank you for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am also grateful for the stricture placed on me by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. I have not expressed any opinion on the clauses of the Bill. I have merely reported factually the case that has already been well made by the British Waterways Board. It is important that the House has a flavour of what the Bill contains and hears about a small amount of the evidence that was given in Committee. Otherwise, how can the House decide whether to vote for the revival motion this evening?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has made clear, it is in the interests of British Waterways and the petitioners that the democratic process of the Committee should be allowed to proceed to a conclusion. I am not saying what that conclusion will be. It is important that democracy should prevail.

Part II of the Bill deals with powers that are already granted to every other statutory undertaker. We have studied at length in the Committee how the powers have been granted to other undertakers. I know that there are doubts among certain of the petitioners about the powers given to British Waterways. We have had a large amount of evidence from British Waterways to the effect that the powers are necessary.

Part III of the Bill is particularly important. I suppose that it has given rise to more anxieties among petitioners than any other part of the Bill. It deals with the regulation and management of the inland waterways and canals of Britain. It gives powers to the British Waterways Board to license the two major types of boater on the canals—houseboat owners and pleasure boat owners.

Houseboat owners in particular are anxious about what will be their future on the waterways after the Bill is enacted. The Committee has spent a great deal of time considering their interests. It is fair to say that every aspect has been considered in detail. I believe that the petitioners would accept that they have been given a fair hearing.

The crux of the matter is where houseboat owners will moor their boats. You will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is necessary to make proper provision for houseboat owners who live a major part of their life on the canal. They have to comply with the various health and safety regulations and planning regulations. It is right that they should have to do so and that their safety should be ensured by British Waterways. It is right that they should not obstruct the waterways and that they should inhabit the waterways in a safe manner.

I see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are looking to see whether I am outside the terms of the debate. I should be grateful—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman would be mistaken if he thought that.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have no doubt that you will advise me if I stray outside the terms of the motion.

As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, although we did not come to the Committee with much prior knowledge of waterways, we shall leave it with a great deal of knowledge. We may not have become experts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West said, but we have certainly acquired a lot of knowledge.

Part III is the critical part of the Bill and it causes most anxiety among petitioners. It deals with the business of moorings. As you can imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in certain areas such as Islington and London there is enormous pressure on the waterways and it is absolutely necessary for British Waterways to regulate the moorings and to license boat owners so that the waterways can be run efficiently and safely.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West said, part IV of the Bill imposes environmental duties on British Waterways—the same type of duties that are imposed on every other statutory undertaker. They are enshrined in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and are regulated by the various environmental bodies.

That is an important provision, because we want to make sure that the environment on the waterways is congenial and pleasant for those who want to use the waterways in one or other of the ways that I have described. I stress that the waterways are an amenity for every person in Britain. I cannnot stress that too much. The waterways are an integral part of the great historical heritage of Britain. It is vital that they are regulated in the best possible way in the interests of all who are associated with the waterways.

Part IV of the Bill deals with Scotland. We heard a lot of evidence from one petitioner who deals with Scotland —Lord Burton. I should perhaps explain what gave rise to the need for the visit about which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North spoke so eloquently and at such length.

In Scotland, the British Waterways Board needs different powers. There have been problems because Scottish law on how British Waterways can enter land and what notices it has to serve on landowners before it enters that land is different from that in England and Wales. There have been several difficulties in the past years. Those difficulties are a good example of how the Bill will help British Waterways to deal with landowners and occupiers in Scotland. It will also help the landowners and occupiers because it will clarify exactly the powers of British Waterways. It clarifies them for that part of the Caledonian canal and the four lochs on the canal that are excluded under the Bill.

Let me explain what gave rise to a request for the visit. The Committee heard some disturbing evidence about what had gone on in the past. It is all very well to hear evidence, but, when we and British Waterways had been to so much trouble, it seemed reasonable that, if members of the Committee wanted to make a visit and ascertain for themselves at first hand what was involved, they should do so. There is a great deal of difference between looking oneself at first hand and hearing evidence.

When one considers the time and trouble that had been taken, it was not an unreasonable request to visit a canal in London, a marina in the midlands—to see the problem of dealing with moorings in a private marina—and the Caledonian canal in Scotland to see the problems in relation to Scottish law, especially as so much evidence was given on Scotland. From the evidence that we heard, it appeared to the Committee that the point was particularly poignant for that petitioner.

We have considered the issues in great detail. It is a thoroughly worthwhile Bill, which I commend to the House. The Committee clearly will have to reach a conclusion, and I do not know what it will be, but I urge hon. Members to vote for the revival motion. It is essential that, as we have considered the issues in such detail and depth, the democratic process should be allowed to proceed to a conclusion so that we can grant the Bill a Third Reading and it can then receive Royal Assent. British Waterways can then get on with the task of improving the already excellent job that it does in managing the 2,000 miles of inland waterways and canals.

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

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) on the diligence with which he has pursued the legislation. I also congratulate the hon. Members who have given their time and energy to serve on the Committee that examined the Bill. We have, indeed, just heard from two of them. They gave us an interesting glimpse into a not terribly well-known aspect of the House's activities. As has been made clear, they carried out their duties most thoroughly and enabled people who had objections to the Bill to air them fully. I shall be brief, because I do not want to detain the House too long.

The request to be able to make visits—to visualise the law, as it were—sounds perfectly reasonable. It does not seem excessive to demand to visit three areas where there have been special problems. I do not entirely understand the difficulties, but I suspect that there are some regulations that preclude such visits. This might be a good opportunity for the usual channels to display their capacity to allow common sense to flow back and forth, even if that is not the norm at the moment. I should have thought that the case for such visits was strong.

The hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Hertfordshire, West fretted about the delay caused by people objecting. I was one of the people who objected, although, as the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West said, I did not do so on 13 January. Those of us who have objected have done so largely to put pressure on the British Waterways Board. That is not unreasonable, and it is not often that we in the House have the opportunity to put pressure on anyone. I am not quite prepared to let British Waterways off the hook.

The procedure has been drawn out because there was a failure by the board, especially at the beginning, to consult effectively. People felt that certain things were being imposed on them. That was perhaps especially true in Scotland although Lord Burton, who was a constituent of mine, is not someone on whom anything can be easily imposed—quite the contrary. Nevertheless, some people felt that Scotland hardly needed to be covered in the Bill because Scotland does not have a true inland waterways system. We have "through" waterways; the waterways are not confined but are routes to the sea.

It seems that whenever I speak about this subject, including the occasions when I speak to Lord Burton—although it is sometimes he who speaks to me—I find that some confusion remains about clause 39 which was added following the objections raised by the Highland regional council. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that the Bill will not extend to the lochs —Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour —but that the British Waterways Board does have powers in respect of passage through the lochs and that those powers are derived not from the Bill but from the Transport Act 1962. Therefore, even without the addition of clause 39, the Bill had no effect on the lochs, although the clause makes that clear beyond peraventure, as lawyers are wont to say. I hope that I am right; if I am not, perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to correct me.

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

We are discussing a revival motion for a private Bill and I am not conducting the Bill through the House. In fairness, the hon. Gentleman's request should therefore be directed to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) who is its sponsor and is responsible for its conduct. I am sure that, in due course, my hon. Friend will be able to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

Sir Russell Johnston

With respect, I thought that, although the Minister is not conducting the Bill, he is here to be a fount of information, knowledge and guidance to help us in our travail.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am not going to deal with the hon. Gentleman's legal point, but I said that the four lochs were excluded from the terms of the Bill. However, the Committee heard a great deal of evidence to the effect that it was the locks that were causing problems.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall not pursue that issue as I do not wish to detain the House.

I agree that the British Waterways Board has learnt from the experience of dealing with the Bill and that the process has had a considerable effect on the board. I willingly associate myself with the tribute paid by the hon. Members for Hertfordshire, West and for Cirencester and Tewkesbury to Sir David Inman, who was until recently the chairman, and to Jeremy Duffy, who is the secretary, both of whom have gone out of their way to be helpful, to hear and discuss my constituents' objections.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

It might be convenient if I confirm at this stage that the hon. Gentleman's understanding was correct. The board's licensing powers stem from the Transport Act 1962 and the Bill confers no additional powers. I hope that that is helpful.

Sir Russell Johnston

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

The board has learnt that it needs to consult regularly and to have devolved and responsible management which is accessible to users and can make decisions without continually referring to some distant place. It has learnt from the experience of going through this long and complicated legislation.

A group of my constituents raised legal arguments about who owns what at Gairlochy at one end of the Caledonian canal, but I am satisfied that a procedure has been found that can establish the veracity or otherwise of the claims being made. I am confident that the difficulties will be resolved satisfactorily.

Reference has been made to the board's stronger commercial outlook. I do not argue that such an outlook is not necessary but it is a little ironic that a publicly owned enterprise, such as the British Waterways Board, may be compelled by law to behave in a harder, more rigorous and, perhaps, more profiteering way than a private landlord, who has the discretion to be generous if he wishes. It is rather contradictory and I do not know what can be done about it, but there is no doubt that it contributed to the general unease that followed the introduction of the Bill.

Much of the unease was related to the fear that the Bill might ultimately result in perhaps expensive regulation and that the cost of rents or licenses would increase considerably. It is in the scope and powers of British Waterways to act in a reasonable fashion in regard to those questions and that is something it is aware of, and I am sure that it will do so.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

If the right people are on the board.

Sir Russell Johnston

Yes, it is all a question of the right people, as the hon. Gentleman perspicaciously remarks. I think that he would probably define himself as one of them. [Laughter.]

I have expressed my concerns and will not delay the House much longer. It is common cause among us that the system should develop and prosper and above all that it be safe and, as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said, agreeable to the users.

8.50 pm
Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West)

I rise to, speak on the Bill as the chairman of the parliamentary waterways group. One function of the Bill has been to revive that group, because all the petitioners hurriedly came to see us when we had meetings in Committee Rooms and other parts of the House, because they were concerned about the Bill in its early stages. We had some lively and interesting meetings of the group, which is not always that active. I have had some interesting times as chairman of the parliamentary waterways group.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) in the motion that the Bill should proceed. I wish to speak on behalf of two bodies to reassure the House that those bodies that had reservations have now withdrawn them.

The British Marine Industries Federation, a trade association representing more than 1,100 firms in the recreational boat industry, was initially concerned by several aspects of the Bill, but, after constructive discussions, British Waterways agreed to propose amendments to the Bill and provide various assurances to the BMIF and other bodies representing navigational interests.

As a result, the BMIF withdrew its petition against the Bill, as did the Royal Yachting Association, the Inland Waterways Association, which I wish to mention in a moment, and other groups representing waterways users. The BMW's view, which is shared by many other navigational interests, is that the enactment of the Bill, with the amendments and subject to assurances, would be positively beneficial to waterway users.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has said, some of the matters that caused concern included the rights of those in houseboats, with which the parliamentary group had meetings.

The Inland Waterways Association negotiated with British Waterways for many months. The association consulted its members, as it represents all the people who use the waterways, and it supported three items of the Bill in principle: emergency powers of entry, of which we have heard discussion, standards of construction and insurance, and houseboat regulation.

The safety aspect, which has been mentioned, is absolutely vital. I have a boat in my constituency on the River Thames. I was down in the hold doing a bit of work when there was a most enormous explosion and a tremendous bang shook all the boats around. I rushed out from my boat and on to the jetty to see that a boat had blown up, it had flames coming from it and people had been flung into the water. It was a very dangerous incident. The boat had broken down in navigating the Thames, had been towed in by a narrow boat, had tried to come alongside, the rope that had been thrown had been missed and the man who held the boat turned the engine and there was an explosion because the hold was full of petrol fumes. Luckily, because there was free access, the fire brigade was able to arrive quickly, the ambulance was there in no time and the owners of the marina were on the spot to help.

It was a nasty incident and a lot of the people who were travelling in the boat were badly burnt. We managed to get them out of the water and the fire was put out as the boat sank. There were no fatalities. There was a little dog on board, but he headed straight for the shore of his own initiative and got away as fast as he could. That incident illustrates the need in a leisure pursuit which has dangerous elements for access enabling people to get to the waterway as quickly as possible.

One of the reasons why problems have arisen with British Waterways is that when the original Acts were made, creating waterways was a new departure. It occurred before railways existed and everybody's interest had to be safeguarded. An original waterways Bill of 1793 states: Canal may be made through Mrs. Seare's Pleasure Grounds under certain Restrictions. No lock to be erected within in a Mile of Mrs. Seare's at Bulboume without her consent. No Injury to be done to the Mills of the Honourable Mrs. Leigh. All such instructions used to enter the Acts on an enormous scale, which restricted the owners of the canal in what they could do and their access to it. British Waterways is trying to regularise that position so that it can get access to the waterways for safety when boats get into difficulty and when banks burst—a point made by other hon. Members.

The association has a plain commitment from British Waterways on a number of other points in the Bill, which are on the record. The association also considered other aspects of concern, such as powers to prevent mooring, to refuse a boat a licence because its moorings are not suitable —which was dealt with—and powers to dispose of property and subsidiaries which could lead to loss of heritage and continuity in the waterways system, which were considered and agreed. Powers to limit opening of locks on the River Severn and powers to permit the association of the boats standards appeal panel were also examined.

The number of boat users on the system is growing at a great pace. It is a great leisure pursuit, which is usually enjoyed by families who go out for weekends or for the day, often going up and down the same stretch and getting great pleasure from it. It may seem boring to other people. When I come out of my marina, I have the opportunity to turn left or right. I have a choice, but that is the only choice I get on one beautiful stretch of the River Thames. I enjoy it, I relax and there are thousands of people who do the same every weekend.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I am delighted that he is contributing to the debate. Would he advise the House of the view of the people who have constructed and operate marinas that feed in to our inland waterways system, because, in the past, they have expressed criticism that they have been expected to make excessive contributions to British Waterways?

Sir Anthony Durant

My hon. Friend is correct. There were discussions of access to the navigation from marinas, but that has now been dealt with satisfactorily and most of those who run marinas are well satisfied that they get a reasonable deal from British Waterways. I believe that that is working perfectly satisfactorily. I have no recent evidence that it has caused any difficulty. My hon. Friend is right to say that, for a period, those who run marinas were greatly concerned about access to the waterway, but I think that that matter has now been satisfactorily settled.

The British Marine Industries Federation, the Inland Waterways Association and many houseboat owners now feel that the Bill should proceed. There will be opportunities to have another look at the Bill in Committee and when it comes back to the House. I am sure that, if we pass the motion, we can proceed and give the British Waterways Board, which has battled with the Bill for a long time at considerable cost and difficulty to itself, the opportunity to achieve a Bill that will safeguard and regularise the waterways and at least improve them for the benefit of those who use them. I support the motion.

9 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)

I shall be brief, as I am aware that two or possibly three of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate. I shall make two quick points and then advise the House of the official Opposition's position.

It is fairly evident from the debate so far that at the beginning of this process the British Waterways Board would have been well advised perhaps to hold more vigorous consultations before trying to promote the Bill. One of the petitioners against the Bill, Janice Christianson of Helensborough in Scotland, made that very point in her petition. She states: The preamble of the Bill states at part 3 'It is expedient that further provisions should be made for the regulation and management by the Board of the Inland Waterways owned or managed by them'. Your Petitioner requests that this be amended by adding 'on behalf of the people of Great Britain.' The preamble of the Bill continues 'and that certain statutory provisions relating to the Board or their undertaking should be amended or repealed.' Your Petitioner requests that the words 'after due consultation with concerned and interested parties' be added. That might have been a better way to proceed and perhaps would have saved time and prevented many of the problems that have cropped up, but that is with the benefit of hindsight.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). I am mindful of the fact that the Committee sat for 50 hours and, indeed, I tried to go through the 800 pages or so of evidence that it produced, although I do not claim to have done so exhaustively. I am persuaded also by the sponsor of the Bill that it would not be proper at this stage for the Opposition to oppose the Bill. My recommendation is that we should not oppose the revival motion. That is not an official position and I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will take a contrary view, as they are free to do. At this point, I just want to make it clear that I do not recommend that my hon. Friends oppose the motion, although they are free to do so if they wish.

9.1 pm

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Hon. Members may wonder why, representing the Isle of Wight, I should speak in the debate this evening.

Once, I chartered a small vessel on the River Thames with my brother and father to go and watch the proceedings at Henley. I was was unused to piloting a craft without a compass. When we left the marina, we had rather a heated debate whether to turn left or right. From the Isle of Wight that is quite simple, because one reaches either Holland or America. We could not decide, but eventually we turned left and came to an idyllic lock with cows munching the grass nearby. We went into the lock, and coming down in the opposite direction was a delightful chap in a punt with a pretty young lady who carried a parasol. We bade him good morning. He asked where we were going, and when we said, "Henley," he said, "So am I and I am going in the opposite direction." We realised that we were going in the wrong direction so we turned around, went back and had a jolly time.

The other reason why I am taking part in the debate is that, every month, somebody from the Inland Waterways Association sends me Waterways. I do not know whether he thinks that the Solent has been redesignated or that it is narrower than it is, but I always read its news with great interest. In a previous incarnation, I was in the Territorial Army. It had a strong connection with inland water transport. In the last war, the Royal Engineers had one of the largest units under command in the whole of the British Army and that was the inland water transport group. I had the good fortune to join it, sadly just after it ceased to be the Royal Engineers and became the Royal Corps of Transport—sadly, no more. Unusually for the British Army, I was commissioned into my own troop.

As a result of that, I got the territorial decoration, of which I am very proud. I also became a Thames lighterman and waterman, and became a member of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen Company, which I also enjoy, because it took not one but two Acts of Parliament to subdue them, as they were such an unruly lot.

I am commodore of the House of Commons yacht club. Something of an earthquake was caused when it discovered that I had a yacht. That is almost against the rules of the club and it almost had to change them just for me. I think that we all agree that, although in aquatic terms the club house is slightly underused, it is certainly the best yacht club in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) referrred to the British Marine Industries Federation and the excellent work that it and the Royal Yachting Association have done in shaping the Bill.

I suppose that the real reason why I am speaking in the debate is that my claim to fame is that I hold the record, I believe, in Parliament for chairing the highest number of Committee on private Bills. I shall make that claim and, as always in this place, leave it to others to try to knock me off my pinnacle. I have volunteered on many occasions to chair Committees and am rather sad that, in this Parliament, the tradition whereby a Member who volunteers to chair a Committee can do so out of turn with the co-operation of the Opposition seems to have gone out of the window.

I volunteered to chair the Committee on the Bill but, as often happens, it fell to the Opposition to appoint a chairman on that occasion. So far, the turn and turn about rule has continued throughout this Parliament. That is sad because, as we know, Committees on private Bills are fairly onerous things to chair and to be involved in and we always thought that one volunteer was worth 10 pressed men. I am pleased to say that I chaired the Committee on the first private Bill of this Parliament that came before us, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) was on it, as was the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). I am pleased to be able to tell the House that they said the most delightful things about my chairmanship of it.

Some hon. Members may remember—

Sir Anthony Durant

I am following closely my hon. Friend's comments about presiding over Committees on private Bills. Is there another private Bill on the horizon for which he is making a bid?

Mr. Field

It is funny that my hon. Friend should say that, because I have already put in a bid for the Poole Ferry Bill, which is before the House, but whether it will fall to our turn remains to be seen.

The danger of volunteering is that one ends up with one of those horrid Bills that sits for ever and that one does not get the Bill that one hoped for. Time will tell. Hon. Members may remember—I know that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) will remember the period well, because, like me, he takes an interest in that murky area of the Commons and its procedures—the Bill to amend the Isle of Wight Act which was introduced by my illustrious predecessor, Mark Woodnutt—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is all very interesting, but I have been trying for the past few seconds to ascertain what it has to do with the debate. It will be helpful to the debate if the hon. Gentleman would get back to the debate on the revival motion.

Mr. Field

I was just coming to that point. The purpose of the Isle of Wight (Amendment) Bill was to control pop festivals on the island and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish was blocking private Bills, as was his prerogative. At that time, The Times accused me of wrecking the Paddington-Heathrow Link Bill. It subsequently published an apology, because that was quite unfair.

As a result of the arrangement that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish was making at the time, I did eventually wreck every single Bill that came before the House. I did that because Opposition Members would not pass the amendment to the Isle of Wight Act. That matter relates to the revival motion, because, as a result of my action, I received an amazing quantity of correspondence from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. I am sure that you would agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are here to debate not the contents of the Bill but the revival motion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is my view.

Mr. Field

I received correspondence from fellow Conservative Members the like of which the Opposition could hardly imagine. I was threatened with being hanged, drawn and quartered, because I was putting at risk Bills connected with the Star and Garter home, redundant lighthouses and even a delightful little estate somewhere—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I would welcome it if the hon. Gentleman now spoke about the British Waterways Bill.

Mr. Field

My point is that I found that hon. Members did not know anything about the way in which private legislation is dealt with. They were quite unaware that there is what is colloquially known as a Lazarus motion, or, as it appears on the Order Paper, a revival motion. It is given that colloquial term because it does exactly what that name implies—it brings a Bill back from the dead.

When a new Parliament is opened with the Gracious Speech, the private Bill procedure must fall. There is no mechanism to initiate that procedure in the new Parliament unless it is subject to the revival motion. Private Bills cost the promoters, and sometimes the petitioners, a great deal of money.

Mr. Bennett

How often does it happen that promoters are so slow to negotiate with the objectors that we have more than one revival motion, which may carry a Bill not just from one Session to the next but, as in one case, through three Sessions?

Mr. Field

I had intended to mention that fact, with your patience and forbearance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is clear from the correspondence that I have received that hon. Members were unaware of the revival motion. The Bills with which they were involved were connected with their constituencies. I remember one that related to a town in the Medway area and involved a bridge over a river. Those hon. Members were all unaware, however, that it was possible to table revival motions to bring all the Bills back. They did not know that they did not have to start the whole process all over again. It is not possible to do that, however, when a general election intervenes and Parliament is dissolved; then, sadly, as I know to my cost, Bills fall and the process must start all over again.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish asked how many times a Bill can be and has been revived. The answer lies in part with Lord Howe, who, when Leader of the House, did away with a large proportion of Back Benchers' rights when he piloted the Transport and Works Bill through the House.

Mr. Bennett

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead the House. The Bill before us proves that a Bill can be revived after a general election, because it was originally introduced in 1990. We have, of course, had a general election since then.

Mr. Field

I stand corrected. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find, however, that the Bill had not progressed far before the general election and that its reintroduction in the new Parliament was not prejudiced. If it had been considered in Committee and then fell because of the general election, its legislative process would have had to start all over again. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that absolutely clear.

The Transport and Works Act 1992 impinges on the revival motion, because it took away a vast chunk of the private Bill procedure from the House. I told Sir Geoffrey Howe that his belief that such Bills should, in future, be subject to a public inquiry as opposed to the private Bill procedure was untenable. Anyone familiar with public inquiries will know that they are not a way of resolving expeditiously the many problems encompassed by the British Waterways Bill. Such a Bill is an expeditious, if expensive, way of sorting out many knotty legal problems that cannot be solved by the courts, and of establishing ownership rights.

The reason that that procedure was denied to the House was that there was once a whole raft of private Bills, and some of them had dragged on—such as the Felixstowe Docks and Harbour Bill, which detained the House late at night. I told the Leader of the House at the time that there would be fewer such Bills in future because there had been a plethora of them as the economy improved—as had happened in Victorian Parliaments—but that if we bided our time, their numbers would fall. The Private Bill Office says that they have. The situation would have resolved itself, and right hon. and hon. Members would not have found themselves so inconvenienced.

It is sad that a huge tranche of rights was taken from Back Benchers. Having served as Chairman during the passage of private Bills, I know that they provide the only opportunity for a Member of Parliament to make a decision that will affect the lives of the citizens of this nation.

Sir Anthony Durant

I remind my hon. Friend that the Select Committee that examined the private Bill procedure —in which the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) had some involvement—recommended that it be changed. That is why the then Leader of the House took the matter up.

Mr. Field

My hon. Friend is right, but modernization of the procedure was needed, not its almost total abolition.

You rightly reprimanded me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for straying from the revival motion. I want to be particularly helpful because I know of a particular problem that arose in visiting various sites. I will tell the House of my experience when I chaired the Committee considering a Bill concerning Tees and Hartlepool. Such legislation falls into two categories—works Bills, which the Transport and Works Act 1992 abolished, and powers Bills or measures. The British Waterways Bill is a powers Bill.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

My hon. Friend deploys an extremely interesting argument, but a number of us on this side of the House, and probably the House as a whole, seek to ascertain whether he supports the revival motion. I am listening to his arguments with care as a member of both the Standing Orders Committee—which has some interest in the matter—and the Chairmen's Panel. I respect my hon. Friend for making it clear that the establishment reduced the powers and authority of the House. However, I am interested to know whether or not my hon. Friend favours the Bill's revival, because that is the purpose of this debate.

Mr. Field

My hon. Friend will have to maintain his keen anticipation a moment longer.

I want to tell the House about my experience in respect of visits, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) referred.

Two members of the Committee asked whether we could visit. We were advised by the Clerk in the Private Bill Office that, because this was a powers Bill, not a works Bill, that was not possible—there was no tradition of, or authority for, going on such visits—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This is all very interesting, but it does not take us far towards finding out whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that the Bill should be revived.

Mr. Field

You have been very patient with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during my tour of private Bill legislation. You have a reputation for patience, and it does you great credit.

I was going on to say that a slight frisson was felt by the Committee because of those visits. Had it not been for that, the Bill might already have been out of Committee and this motion would not have been necessary. I had intended to read the motion out to the House, but I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule that unnecessary—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Necessary or not, the fact is that the motion is before the House, and I invite the hon. Gentleman to get back to it.

Mr. Field

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact remains that we have a revival motion owing to the problems that occurred in the Committee. The solution that we found showed that it was quite possible for hon. Members to make visits while considering a powers Bill. So that was done, eventually the hon. Members concerned rejoined the Committee, and the Bill went on its way.

I share these thoughts with the House because this aspect of our procedures is shrouded in cobwebs—not everyone understands these things. I hope to have added to the sum of human knowledge this evening by what I have had to say. Curiously, however, the Bill in question was suddenly dropped, and the trust ports legislation was taken up by the Government and became an Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has asked me whether I am in favour of the motion: I most certainly am. It is a worthwhile Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) says, our inland waterways give great pleasure to many thousands of people. As old Ratty said in "The Wind in the Willows", there is nothing—but nothing—like messing about in boats.

9.22 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Donton and Reddish)

I have a somewhat ambiguous view of this motion, because it seems to me that the promoters of the Bill have not piloted it through the House efficiently. I spoke to them back in 1991 and pointed out that some of my constituents were unhappy about the powers contained in the legislation. I advised them strongly to hold rapid negotiations with the people who were objecting to the Bill, suggesting that if they did not, the danger was that as the Bill proceeded through the House it would get caught up in all sorts of other problems.

Interestingly, because the promoters did not enter into those negotiations at an early stage, they have run into many difficulties during the passage of the Bill. One other hon. Member and I have been objecting to this motion for some weeks now. Last week we were persuaded not to object but, of course, the Bill has now run into other problems. That is the reason for the debate. People who promote such Bills should start by trying to negotiate objections out of the way. That is the message that the debate should send to such people.

Mr. Redmond

My hon. Friend makes an important point. If a private Bill is supported by the Government they will obviously do everything in their power to push it through. The arrogance of Conservative Members who promote Bills shows that they are not interested in democracy. They have shoved every private Bill through. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is important to speak to people who will be affected by such Bills so that the provisions can be altered before they come to the Hosue. Conservatives should bear that in mind before they start preaching about democracy.

Mr. Bennett

I accept my hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I sympathise with the general point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), but I was rather shocked by the intervention of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond). In many ways the board has done a great deal to try to find out people's worries. I asked about the position of the hon. Member for Don Valley and I was told: He did not respond to correspondence from the Agents for the Bill in both 1992 and 1993 seeking a meeting to discuss his concerns and has at no time been in any other firm communications with the promoters… No record can be found, either at Headquarters or Regional office levels, of correspondence from Mr. Redmond with complaints or criticism of the way in which those waterways are managed by the Board. I am still baffled as to what the hon. Gentleman's objections are. It is obvious that he is not taking up the consultation opportunities that are available to him.

Mr. Bennett

I do not want to go along that path because I know that some of my hon. Friends want to take part in the debate and I should like to make some substantive comments.

As I have said, anyone considering the promotion of a private Bill should start negotiations at the earliest possible stage and not wait until the Bill has been delayed in the House. I hope that this is the last debate on this matter and that it will be possible for the Committee, if it resumes, to come to a speedy conclusion. I hope that it will amend the Bill to meet the criticisms of the remaining objectors, so that, when it emerges from Committee, everybody will be satisfied on Report and Third Reading.

I would be unhappy if I had to table amendments and take up more time. Many of my constituents feel that it would be more appropriate for the House to debate matters such as the Child Support Agency or Yugoslavia than to engage in another debate on inland waterwar. The board should have met objectors at an early stage to thrash out amendments to meet their concerns.

It is clear that the board has moved so slowly in this matter that it has created a chain reaction among people who are interested in boating. One or two still write expressing concern about difficulties in the Bill that were resolved six months ago or more. I have a funny postbag at the moment because some people write about current worries while others express concern about issues that have been resolved. I make a plea that people should get such issues out of the way at the earliest stage.

One specific issue concerns my constituents on part of the Ashton canal. The Wooden Canal Boat Trust has done important work trying to preserve the old wooden canal boats. Those boats have an interesting tradition. One of the best remaining folk crafts in Britain is preserved in the boats, in terms of the carving and traditional painting of the barges. They are interesting craft. I am not certain where they originate, but there is a great deal of artistry in the designs on those old wooden boats, and it is important that they are preserved.

Back in April, the board eventually decided that it would have to meet the objections of one of the petitioners on behalf of the Wooden Canal Boat Trust and agreed to set up a new body to work out a mechanism by which any old canal barges or parts of barges which were found sunk on the canals and had any prospect of being re-used, either in whole or in part, could be notified.

The procedure was supposed to have been set up, but I understand that six months later at least two old barges have been broken up. One was because the trust did not act, although it had been told about it in time, and the other because the Inland Waterways Board acted precipitously in dredging or some other activity which resulted in the boat becoming beyond repair.

I had hoped that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) would give an undertaking on behalf of the board that the negotiating machinery and consultation process would ensure that what remains of those historic boats would be preserved in future and that there would be all speed in getting the process into operation.

My second point concerns people with houseboats on the canals and the problems that exist, particularly for people on low incomes. There is a substantial difference between people in the south of England, who generally have a reasonable income, and people who live on canals in the north and are on extremely low incomes. They enjoy owning boats and travelling around the canals more slowly than people having a fortnight's holiday and wanting to travel a substantial distance.

Those people like to travel for a few months around the canal network and then stop and find employment for a few months. They feel under pressure because of the sensible concerns about safety. I hope that when the Committee considers the issue we will be assured that people on low incomes will not be penalised if they do not have permanent moorings, and that if they progress around the canal system and do not need a permanent mooring they will not be in difficulty.

There is also the question of insurance. I understand all the arguments for safety and that the boats have to meet certain standards. I understand why people are reluctant to insure them if they do not reach those standards, but I have heard about the problems caused by having to take a boat out of the water to get an insurance certificate. That can involve considerable costs.

Although I agree with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) that it is important that the boats are safe, there is a difference between being safe and being modern. It is important that the legislation contains measures to ensure that the promoters do not demand high standards which would be desirable, but difficult for people on low incomes to achieve.

Mr. Barry Field

How might the hon. Gentleman resolve that position with one of requiring small craft not to pollute the canals and to meet the most modern standards in terms of drip trays for carburettors and engines and in respect of human waste and sinks?

Mr. Bennett

The people who are concerned about that would claim that their boats are perfectly capable of meeting those requirements. I realise that there is a difficult balance between what it is reasonable for British Waterways to propose and what is reasonable for people on low incomes to achieve. It would be very unfortunate if many of the old traditional craft were to be forced off our waterways.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The hon. Gentleman and I share several waterways, not least the Cheshire ring and other canals in the north-west, and I respect the stand that he has taken on this matter. When deciding whether to support the revival motion, is it not important that the board should establish a balance between tradition and commercialism? I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that too often commercialism seems to take precedence over tradition. Tradition on our waterways is very important indeed.

Mr. Bennett

That is a very important point, and we must get the balance right. I understand that the board has agreed that there should be a consultative conference some time in March to try to thrash out some of those issues. Why did it not hold that consultative conference back in 1990, instead of waiting until the very end of the process?

As many of my hon. Friends wish to make contributions, I will not delay the House further at this stage.

9.36 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 on the technical motion tabled by the Chairman of Ways and Means. I do not intend to speak for long, as I am conscious that other hon. Members may wish to intervene.

On Second Reading, I said that the Government have no objections to the proposals of British Waterways, which include important measures relating to the board's powers and duties. Since the House gave the Bill a Second Reading, it has been under detailed consideration in the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). Two members of that Committee told us this evening of the care and diligence that they have taken in considering the Bill. The House owes the Committee a debt of gratitude for its careful work.

I hope that the House will believe that it is right that the Committee should be allowed to complete its work on the private Bill so that the House can reach a decision based on the Bill's merits. The House should also be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) who has steered the Bill through with considerable care.

The Bill has provoked and promoted considerable interest throughout the country. From representations that I have received, I am aware of the considerable concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has devoted a considerable amount of time, energy and effort to the Bill and that is very much to the credit of the House as a whole.

As you have made clear, on several occasions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is not for us tonight to consider the detailed provisions of the Bill. As I have said, and as the House knows, that is a matter for the Committee. On Second Reading last May, I welcomed the opportunity for a debate on Britain's waterways heritage. We have had something of a debate on that this evening although, by definition, as this is a technical motion, it has been more of a technical debate.

In many ways, the Bill is timely. It has coincided with the bicentenary of the canal network taking a grip in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) said, canal mania first gripped the country in 1793. In a very short space of time, Parliament passed no fewer than 24 enabling Acts for new canals. One wonders what the parliamentary timetable at that time must have been like, particularly as there is detailed reference to various ladies' pleasure gardens.

It has also been appropriate that the Bill has not only been part of the bicentenary celebrations, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West said, has had the beneficial impact of reviving in the House an interest in waterways and canals. It has been particularly good news that we have seen the revival of the parliamentary waterways group under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West.

I hope that the Committee will be able to finish its work on the Bill. I hope also that the debate has prompted continuing interest in waterways and canals. There are about 2,000 miles of waterways in Britain. They are a great part of our heritage. The Government invest nearly £50 million a year through grant in aid, and other sums are also invested in the canal network. I hope that we can maximise the contribution that the canal network can make to our nation. I hope that interest in canals will continue.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I apologise for not having been able to be present throughout the debate, but I had other duties in the House to attend to.

I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the many hundreds of miles of waterways. He will be aware of great concern about the Ouse north of York, in my constituency, and all the waterways to the north of Linton lock, which is in serious disrepair. Unless it is taken over by British Waterways, 50 or 60 miles of canals will effectively not be connected to the rest of the waterway network. I should like my hon. Friend's assurance that, if the motion is agreed, the Government will seriously consider British Waterways having the resources to take responsibility for that lock.

Mr. Baldry

In fairness to other hon. Members who wish to speak, whether or not that stretch of water is subject to the British Waterways Board is a matter for statute. The board has a clear statutory definition of which stretches of canals and other waterways it is responsible for and which are remainder waterways. I will certainly check my hon. Friend's point and write to him on it.

9.42 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

The House has just heard an intervention by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who has just walked into the Chamber, whereas other folk have been waiting all night to speak.

As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I represent a part of the River Clyde which is well used by the boating fraternity—yachting, the lot. Last week, I visited the Earl's Court boat show and I was delighted to see a strong contingent of Scottish boats at that exhibition. I have a genuine interest in the matter. I welcome the developments, albeit very late, that are taking place on our canals. However, I oppose the Bill because we should start afresh. I feel great anxiety when I see how the Government are carrying on in respect of other matters.

I also regard the commercial aspect as very frightening. Will people have the right to walk along river banks? Will the environment be improved? Will there be walkers' rights? Will there be sewerage systems for boats so that people will not throw crap into canals? I want to ensure that such services are provided along waterways. I am not sure whether we are getting assurances. I have not just barged into this debate; I have sat in the Chamber all night. I am not sailing by the skin of my teeth. We must have assurances from British Waterways about the environment.

I was fortunate the other week to watch the Sky Television Discovery channel programme about barges on our waterways. It was an absolutely fabulous programme. It showed what could be done with canals.

I hope that our canals will be improved, that they will be returned to the people and that the people will be able to use them properly. All those matters should be considered along with the Bill. These are not simply commercial considerations; we should think of the public —although, if things are handled properly, there may be tremendous spin-offs. There may be a regeneration of the small boat industry for which Britain was once famous; that includes Scotland, of course.

Scotland is very interested in boats. Since Windermere got rid of all its speedboat fanatics, they have come up to Scotland to have fun playing on the banks of the Clyde. We in Scotland do not mind spending a day or two on the canals. The boating community and industry are very mobile: this is one of the fastest growing leisure sports in Great Britain. I am not opposed to improving the waterways; indeed, I strongly support the idea, and I believe that the Government should put more money into it.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The hon. Gentleman is clearly concerned about environmental issues. One of the 13ill's purposes is to enshrine in law the recommendation made a few years ago by the Select Committee on Environment that the British Waterways Board should have a specific environmental duty. The hon. Gentleman, surely, will welcome that.

Mr. Graham

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention.

I am worried that, following the privatisation of the water industry, many people have not been given the right to walk on ground that is actually owned by the public. I am deeply concerned about the possibility that a similar unfairness will result in this instance. We may end up paying a fast buck to walk along a canal along which donkeys used to walk free.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) has considered the environmental issues. The environment is dear to my heart; as a Scottish Member, I am fortunate enough to live in the countryside, and to have the opportunity to walk free and unhibited along the banks of the Clyde. There is nothing finer than to walk along the banks of the Clyde and watch the yachts and pleasure boats moving up and down. That experience is free, and I hope that it will remain so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is Scottish, but, as far as I know, the Clyde is not a canal.

9.47 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

It is very difficult to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham).

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), and congratulate him on his sponsorship of the Bill. I believe that the carry-over motion will benefit the canals, particularly the Forth and Clyde canal, part of which is in my constituency.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman mentioned enabling Bills passed some 200 years ago: at that time, a Mr. Lawrence Dundas, a Member of Parliament, promoted an enabling Bill involving the Forth and Clyde canal. Given our current preoccupation with the Registration of Members' Interests, it is also interesting to learn from the history of the canal that Mr. Dundas owned the Forth arid Clyde Canal company, and saw no reason why he should not promote the Bill in the Commons.

The canal stretches from Dumbartonshire—a town called Bowling—to Grangemouth, in the Forth estuary. I understand that Mr: Dundas also owned a good deal of land in Grangemouth, and wanted to make it into a port.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the leisure facilities that canals can offer. It is not necessary to own a boat to enjoy such facilities.

In my constituency, many people, including myself and my family, enjoy a walk along the towpath of the canal which can stretch for many miles. Those people enjoy not only the canal itself but the wildlife which the canal nurtures. It is important in an industrial city like my own that people have little oases where they can see a part of the countryside that exists within a city centre. I know that that is a contradiction in terms, but the canal within my constituency has created a stretch of urban countryside.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned commercialisation. The Inland Waterways Board has made the Forth and Clyde canal navigable from Port Dundas in my constituency—named after the hon. Member I just mentioned—to a stretch called Kirkintilloch. Pleasure craft can now go on to that stretch, and there is talk of a marina on the boundary of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) on a stretch called the Hamiltonhill basin. There is concern that, if that marina goes ahead, the general public may be denied access to that part of the canal.

The Minister cannot reply to the debate, but I wonder whether I could put on the record the fact that it would be helpful if those involved with the canal were able to give assurances that if a marina is to be built for well-off people, the general public will not be denied access to a part of the canal which they have previously enjoyed.

The carry-over motion and the Bill will give the House the power to examine the work of British Waterways. I am sure that the Minister will give British Waterways a free hand, but the Bill will allow him to consult its board and see that it is carrying out its duties.

Over and above the walking facilities that the canal can offer, many young people and their parents get out on the canal for a spot of coarse fishing. That is becoming increasingly popular in Scotland as access to some rivers and lochs becomes more difficult because of the high cost of permits. Many young people go on to the canal to fish, and I hope that the carry-over motion and the Bill allow that type of activity to be encouraged.

The general public do not realise that British Waterways not only owns the canal and the towpath, but, in some places, owns large stretches of land on each side of those towpaths. That can include acres of valuable land, which British Waterways inherited-from the old canal companies. The board has recently sold some patches of land, and entrepreneurs have built pubs on the canal bank. Walkers may enjoy a refreshment there, and the boaters will do likewise when boats start going on to the canal.

I hope that any sale of the land will not deny people access to the canal. I also hope that perhaps at a later stage the Minister will give assurances that the proceeds from any of the land that is sold by the board will go back into maintaining the facilities of the canal, renewing the lock gates that have been lying in disrepair and ensuring that not only the canal banks but the towpaths are not in a dangerous condition. I hope that the Minister will not encourage the board to dispose of land, but if it does so, I hope that it will do so in such a way that whatever finance is raised goes back into the canal and does not go to the Treasury.

Mr. Redmond

May I point out that the Government's record—the Government support this private Bill—is to deny the public access to lots of public land? I was told, "Get it in black and white. Do not leave it until after you have signed on the dotted line. Get it included in the Bill. Get it included in any agreement before you accept." My hon. Friend is making important points. Before he agrees to the Bill, he must ensure that those points become part and parcel of the Bill.

Mr. Martin

That is why the carry-over motion is important. That is what the Bill is all about. We should get things in black and white so that the general public—the people we represent—know exactly where they stand. That is important. I hope that safeguards will be given.

Let us consider the commercial aspect. When I first discovered the canals as a boy of 10, there were tenements on the banks of the canal belonging to the workers who serviced and looked after the canal. Thankfully, those tenements have gone. They were very badly maintained. In other words, they were slums. We now have some beautiful developments on the banks of the canal.

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 proceeded to a Division

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) (seated and covered)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The new system used on the annunciator, which has been in operation since we came back from the Christmas recess, shows the item purely as a Division, whereas it always used to be shown as a Division on the closure. I believe that some hon. Members are mistaken over on what the House is dividing at the present time. Does not that matter need clarification, not only for tonight's business, but for future occasions?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I take the hon. Gentleman's point and it will be brought to the notice of the House's authorities. However, I understand that what is currently shown on the annunciator is perfectly all right.

The House having divided: Ayes 271, Noes 151.

Division No. 83 [10.12 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Aitken, Jonathan Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Alexander, Richard Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Allen, Graham Day, Stephen
Alton, David Deva, Nirj Joseph
Amess, David Devlin, Tim
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Dewar, Donald
Arbuthnot, James Dicks, Terry
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dorrell, Stephen
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Ashby, David Dover, Den
Atkins, Robert Duncan-Smith, Iain
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E) Dunn, Bob
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Durant, Sir Anthony
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Dykes, Hugh
Baldry, Tony Eagle, Ms Angela
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Enright, Derek
Bates, Michael Etherington, Bill
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Bennett, Andrew F. Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Beresford, Sir Paul Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Evennett, David
Blackburn, Dr John G. Faber, David
Booth, Hartley Fabricant, Michael
Boswell, Tim Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Bowden, Andrew Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bowis, John Fishburn, Dudley
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Flynn, Paul
Brandreth, Gyles Forman, Nigel
Bright, Graham Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Forth, Eric
Browning, Mrs. Angela Foster, Don (Bath)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Burns, Simon Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Butcher, John French, Douglas
Butterfill, John Fry, Sir Peter
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gale, Roger
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry) Gallie, Phil
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gardiner, Sir George
Carrington, Matthew Garnier, Edward
Chapman, Sydney Garrett, John
Clappison, James Gillan, Cheryl
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif) Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Coe, Sebastian Gorst, John
Colvin, Michael Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Congdon, David Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Conway, Derek Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Grylls, Sir Michael
Cormack, Patrick Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Couchman, James Hague, William
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Neubert, Sir Michael
Hampson, Dr Keith Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hardy, Peter Nicholls, Patrick
Harris, David O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Harvey, Nick Olner, William
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hawkins, Nick Ottaway, Richard
Hayes, Jerry Page, Richard
Heald, Oliver Paice, James
Heathcoat-Amory, David Patnick, Irvine
Hendry, Charles Patten, Rt Hon John
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence L. Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hinchliffe, David Pawsey, James
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Pickles, Eric
Home Robertson, John Pike, Peter L.
Horam, John Pope, Greg
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Powell, William (Corby)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Rathbone, Tim
Hunter, Andrew Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jack, Michael Rendel, David
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Richards, Rod
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Riddick, Graham
Jenkin, Bernard Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm
Jessel, Toby Robathan, Andrew
Johnston, Sir Russell Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rooker, Jeff
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Kennedy, Charles (Ross.C&S) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Key, Robert Sackville, Tom
Kilfedder, Sir James Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Kirkwood, Archy Shaw, David (Dover)
Knapman, Roger Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shersby, Michael
Knox, Sir David Sims, Roger
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Soames, Nicholas
Legg, Barry Speed, Sir Keith
Lidington, David Spencer, Sir Derek
Lightbown, David Spink, Dr Robert
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham) Spring, Richard
Luff, Peter Sproat, Iain
Lynne, Ms Liz Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McCartney, Ian Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
McCrea, Rev William Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Steinberg, Gerry
MacKay, Andrew Stephen, Michael
Maclean, David Stevenson, George
Maddock, Mrs Diana Stewart, Allan
Mahon, Alice Streeter, Gary
Maitland, Lady Olga Sweeney, Walter
Malone, Gerald Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Marland, Paul Taylor, Rt Hon John D. (Strgfd)
Marlow, Tony Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Temple-Morris, Peter
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Thomason, Roy
Martlew, Eric Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Mates, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Merchant, Piers Townend, John (Bridlington)
Milligan, Stephen Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Mills, Iain Tracey, Richard
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Trend, Michael
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW) Trotter, Neville
Monro, Sir Hector Turner, Dennis
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Twinn, Dr Ian
Morley, Elliot Tyler, Paul
Mudie, George Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Needham, Richard Viggers, Peter
Nelson, Anthony Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Walden, George Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waller, Gary Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Ward, John Wise, Audrey
Waterson, Nigel Wood, Timothy
Watts, John Worthington, Tony
Wells, Bowen Yeo, Tim
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Ann Tellers for the Ayes:
Wiggin, Sir Jerry Mr. Barry Field and Mr. Alan Duncan.
Willetts, David
Wilshire. David
Abbott, Ms Diane Faulds, Andrew
Ainger, Nick Foulkes, George
Austin-Walker, John Fraser, John
Barnes, Harry George, Bruce
Battle, John Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bayley, Hugh Godsiff, Roger
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Gordon, Mildred
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Graham, Thomas
Benton, Joe Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bermingham, Gerald Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Betts, Clive Gunnell, John
Blair, Tony Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Boateng, Paul Hood, Jimmy
Boyes, Roland Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Bradley, Keith Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hutton, John
Burden, Richard Illsley, Eric
Callaghan, Jim Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Janner, Greville
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cann, Jamie Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Clapham, Michael Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Khabra, Piara S.
Coffey, Ann Kilfoyle, Peter
Cohen, Harry Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Corbett, Robin Litherland, Robert
Corbyn, Jeremy Livingstone, Ken
Cousins, Jim Llwyd, Elfyn
Cox, Tom Macdonald, Calum
Cummings, John McFall, John
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE) Mackinlay, Andrew
Dafis, Cynog McMaster, Gordon
Davidson, Ian McWilliam, John
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dixon, Don Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Meacher, Michael
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Meale, Alan
Eastham, Ken Michael, Alun
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Sedgemore, Brian
Milbum, Alan Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Miller, Andrew Short, Clare
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Simpson, Alan
Mowlam, Marjorie Skinner, Dennis
Mullin, Chris Spellar, John
O'Hara, Edward Tipping, Paddy
Parry, Robert Watson, Mike
Patchett, Terry Wigley, Dafydd
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wray, Jimmy
Redmond, Martin Young, David (Bolton SE)
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Roche, Mrs. Barbara Tellers for the Noes:
Rooney, Terry Mr. Bob Cryer and Mr. Terry Lewis.
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes297,Noes 104.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Promoters of the British Waterways Bill [Lords] may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with; That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session; That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed to have been read for the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed); That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the last Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the present session; That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the last Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business; That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)" were omitted; That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the last Session.

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