HL Deb 27 June 1950 vol 167 cc1035-40

2.36 p.m.

LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to move, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be referred to consider the advisability of including upon the Conservancy Board a representative of associations of persons owning boats for private use on the River Thames. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not in any way wish to delay the interesting debate that is to follow—namely, that on the Liberties of the Subject Bill, and I know that it is rather unusual to put down a Motion with regard to a Private Bill. But this Private Bill does refer to the River Thames, once described by the late John Burns as "liquid history"—though when one looks at the sometimes muddy constitution of the river perhaps the phrase does not seem quite so happy as was intended.

The object of this Private Bill promoted by Thames Conservancy is to increase charges. We have no objection to that; in these days all charges are increasing. It also enables them to increase their charges a second time without going to Parliament. We understand in these days that that is a necessary form of machinery, otherwise we should continually be having Private Bills of this sort. To-day, I am speaking as the representative of private boat owners, who sent a deputation to see whether the Thames Conservancy would be agreeable to having on their Board a representative of private boat owners. They received us very courteously, but said that although the constitution of the Conservancy was recited in the Bill they did not want it in any way disturbed, because if it was disturbed by ourselves other people would also be trying to get representation. That was a very cogent reason. I now understand, however, that the status quo is not to be maintained, and that other people and other interests are asking for a change in representation. That being so, the whole thing being in the melting pot, I am submitting this Motion to ask that the Committee shall consider the particular claim from the point of view of private boat owners. If the land drainage contribution is eliminated, boat owners at present contribute no less than 12 per cent. to the funds, and even if land drainage comes in it is over 5 per cent. Consequently, the boat owners are quite an important body.

This Motion is not an instrument of a very rigid type. It is very mild, and says: …to consider the advisability of including upon the Conservancy Board a representative of associations of persons owning boats for private use on the River Thames. I assure your Lordships that nobody has a greater affection for or would be more helpful to the Thames Conservancy than private owners. This Motion is not moved in any spirit of animosity—far from it; all we want is to see whether we can get the justice that we think is our due. I beg to move.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill may be referred, to consider the advisability of including upon the Conservancy Board a representative of associations of persons owning boats for private use on the River Thames.—(Lord Brabazon of Tara.)

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is particularly fitting that the noble Lord should bring up his Motion at this moment, because next week at Henley-on-Thames there takes place the greatest annual gathering of another fraternity of boating enthusiasts. I think the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, had particularly in mind the owners of mechanically propelled craft, but I refer, of course, to the owners of those craft who spurn his mechanical aids to propulsion and use their own brute force. As a rowing enthusiast myself, I would ask your Lordships to agree that that fraternity, if on account of its numbers alone, which are growing every day, is also entitled to a considerable representation on the Thames Conservancy. I believe I am right in saying that the Amateur Rowing Association, to whom belong the great majority of rowing clubs on the River Thames, are in fact well content with their present relations with the Thames Conservancy, and that they are given every possible assistance in the holding of such events as Henley Regatta and the other lesser regattas on the river. I do not think they would willingly seek for any alteration in these relations, but I should like to suggest that if any consideration is given to actual representation for the owners of private boats on the river, then that representation should include a voice from the rowing fraternity.

There is only one thing that struck me as slightly strange, in the clause in the Bill referring to such representation. Clause 3 says that one of the members to be appointed by the Minister of Transport shall be appointed after consultation with the associations of persons having recreational interest in the use of the river. I must say that it never occurred to me, when bathing in or boating on the River Thames, that I was doing so under the ægis of the Minister of Transport and of his colleague on the Bench opposite. I should have thought that if those recreations were to be subject to ministerial supervision of any sort, that supervision might more aptly have come from the Minister of Health. However, we are probably in safer hands as we are, so I raise no objection on that score.

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships in all parts of the House have listened with great interest to the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Brabazon and Lord Polwarth. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has excited in your Lordships a great deal of sympathy for the case he has put forward—that there should be representation upon the Thames Conservancy Board of associations of persons owning boats for private use on the River Thames. On behalf of His Majesty's Government, I support the plea which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara has made—and I do so for these reasons. First of all, it is a matter of great satisfaction to His Majesty's Government—a satisfaction which, I am sure, will be shared by all your Lordships—that this great national waterway, the Thames, is being increasingly used by the citizens for recreational purposes in their own private craft. The number of private registered boats of all sorts—including not only motor-boats but sailing boats, dinghies and rowing boats generally—is over 8,500. Secondly, since those who ply their trade for commercial purposes upon the Thames—those having barge and transport irterests, boat-building interests and boat-letting interests—are all directly represented upon the Thames Conservancy Board, we think it proper that representation should be given to the private boat owner. Thirdly, although appointments to the Thames Conservancy Board are not necessarily related to revenue, the Board at the present time obtain front the private boat owners a revenue of about £25,000 a year, and, as Lord Brabazon of Tara has intimated, under this Bill that will be increased to £30,000 a year.

I feel certain that the reasons which I have given to your Lordships are very pertinent. That is why His Majesty's Government support the plea of the noble Lord. In asking your Lordships to approve the Motion I think you will appreciate that there are many practical difficulties in the way of the associations of private boat owners appointing an extra conservator on their own initiative. I would suggest—and I hope that your Lordships will agree—that the best way of implementing the intention of Lord Brabazon is to empower my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport to appoint an additional conservator after consultation with such associations of owners of boats used for private purposes as he may think fit. My right honourable friend already has power under the Bill to appoint three conservators.

If I may, I would now reply to the point which was made by Lord Polwarth. I can tell him that under Clause 6 of the Bill my right honourable friend appoints three conservators. It is provided that one of these shall be appointed after consultations with persons and associations concerned in the use of the Thames for recreational purposes. I can only consider rowing as including in such purposes because, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has rightly said, that involves the expenditure of (to use the noble Lord's own language) a certain amount of brute force. The persons and associations to be consulted by my right honourable friend in that appointment are five bodies re- presenting fishing interests, two representing rowing interests, and one concerned with the preservation of open spaces. So it will be seen that, while rowing interests are represented, at present boat owners in a private capacity are not. As my right honourable friend has this right of appointment after consultation, precedent will be followed if the Select Committee to whom this Bill will be referred follow the same procedure in the appointment of this extra conservator. I suggest that that is the best way of achieving what is desired.

I think it right to point out to your Lordships that if this Bill were amended as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, desires, and in the manner I have proposed, the Bill as drafted would not allow this extra conservator to take up his duties until 1952. I feel certain, however, that the Select Committee will give very careful consideration to the advisability of allowing the extra conservator, if appointed, to take up his duties at an earlier date than 1952. Perhaps I should add that the main object of the Bill, as Lord Brabazon of Tara has said, is to enable the Thames Conservancy Board to obtain more revenue. In this it has the full support of His Majesty's Government. It is, I think, obvious that this important body, with its great responsibilities, should have the revenue which it needs for the conservation of the river. The state of the Board's finances has been very carefully investigated by the various Government Departments concerned, and the need for additional income has been fully demonstrated. There is just one other point. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has indicated, the Bill as drafted did not set out to amend the constitution of the Board, but I think the case made for representation of private boat owners is so strong that I trust your Lordships' House will approve the Motion, and that the Select Committee will give sympathetic consideration to the instruction which it contains.


My Lords, as a humble member of the Opposition, I find it is not often, when one moves a Motion, that one has it accepted by the Government. I am therefore very agreeably astonished at the sympathetic way in which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has received my suggestion. I agree with the noble Lord, even though I did not think ahead with him as to the difficulties about the date and other matters which might ensue. His suggestion about the appointment of this additional conservator is entirely agreeable to us, and I thank the noble Lord for his kindness in this matter.

On Question, Motion agreed to and ordered accordingly.

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