HL Deb 20 February 1975 vol 357 cc410-60

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In doing so, I am gratified to see that the Second Reading debate has attracted quite a number of speakers who are obviously interested in this subject. The achievements of this Bill start very early on; it is unusual to start to make achievements at Second Reading with what is a Private Member's Bill. However, we have already produced achievements this afternoon, in that I see that the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, will be making his maiden speech. That is a considerable achievement to which I personally shall look forward very much. The noble Lord knows a great deal about inland waterways, and I am quite certain that his contribution will be of enormous use to the debate.

The purpose of this Bill is to confer power upon the Ministers, defined in the Bill as, in England, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, acting jointly, to make, by Statutory Instrument, provision in appropriate cases for the management of the public interest of particular waterways. The Bill also makes provision for enabling the Minister to authorise bodies which are managing waterways to make reasonable charges for the use of them in cases where at present they either have no power to make charges or are precluded, as the law now stands, from making charges in respect of certain matters.

The main development with which this Bill is concerned is the reconstruction and reopening of public navigation on waterways which have been allowed to become derelict. It is also concerned with enabling the proper management of navigation upon those waterways which are at present navigable, but which, for one reason or another, are not controlled by navigation authorities with powers appropriate to the management of navigation. I hope that I can establish this afternoon that there is a need for a Bill of this kind. The problems of navigation are complex and in the past they have tended to be dealt with in legislation in a rather unsatisfactory way. For example, during the Committee stage in this House of the Water Act 1973, the noble Lord, Lord De Ramsey, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, both introduced Amendments concerned with navigation. Indeed, the principle of the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull on that occasion is followed in the Waterways Bill which I have introduced this afternoon and which we are discussing today.

The point about those navigation Amendments in Committee on the Water Act 1973 which I wish to make is this. Both Amendments were withdrawn in consideration of a Statement by the Government of the day, to the effect that an Amendment to the Bill dealing with navigation was desirable, and that the Government would look to the drafting of a suitable Amendment to deal with the situation which they would then introduce at Report stage. Unfortunately, such an Amendment was not produced at Report stage. However, the fact remains that the Government of the day agreed that something further should be done with regard to navigation.

A similar situation occurred at the time of the Transport Act in 1968, when there was general agreement that something further was needed with regard to navigation. There was a vague suggestion that a short Bill to deal with the matter might be introduced by the Government. Of course we are still waiting for such a Bill after seven years. Alas! the problems of our navigable waterways have always seemed to be the poor relations of some large and complicated Act of Parliament dealing either with transport or with water; never, it seems, are we to have what is really required, and that is a new Act to deal with water transport.

I can hardly claim that my Bill deals with all the problems of the navigable waterways. Indeed, one could hardly envisage that an individual could introduce into Parliament a Bill which could attempt such a task. However, I believe the Bill simplifies the position with regard to navigation in an area where perhaps a new initiative is most needed, and where that initiative can be created by a relatively simple measure of a non-Party political and non-controversial nature, or as nearly so as can be achieved. What is needed is a piece of Government-inspired legislation to tackle the whole question of water transport for both commercial and amenity usages in a constructive way. That, my Lords, is what is needed. One day, perhaps, we shall see such an event, but we are not going to see it in this Session. I doubt very much whether we shall see it within at least the next two years, and we shall be lucky to see it in five years.

I will tell your Lordships why that is so. A major piece of legislation with a constructive approach towards the use of inland waterways will require a substantial increase in public finance in this sector. I need hardly go into the difficulties which confront the many worthy claims upon the public purse at this time —difficulties which I do not see being resolved within the immediate future. In connection with this point may I say that I believe the Ministers involved are faced with a particular difficulty in respect of the waterways. It is simply this: to my knowledge there does not exist within the Civil Service a strong enough inter-departmental or departmental group of civil servants whose chief concern should be the problems of water transport in all its manifestations. I do not believe that the Ministers involved will make much headway in the crucial area of greater public finance of the waterways until their case is strengthened in Whitehall. I say this quite irrespective of the composition of Ministers' hearts in this matter. As a simple Cross-Bench hereditary backwoodsman I believe, possibly naïvely, that the hearts of all Ministers of every shape and persuasion are at least paved with gold even if they are not of solid through and through construction of that precious metal.

There is another reason why we shall not sec the major problems tackled in the foreseeable future. We have recently seen the reorganisation of the water industry. We have a situation now where there are new organisations—the Regional Water Authorities—and undoubtedly they will wish to interest themselves in navigation. They are encouraged to do so by the Water Act. We have a situation where the Ministers have to advise a number of organisations concerned with the use of water space. There is the British Waterways Board; there is the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Committee, and there is the Water Space Amenity Commission. The last named organisation is new and is concerned by and large with those waterways not under the control of the British Waterways Board. It will take a little time to formulate its policy, and indeed it must be given a chance to do so. It is a big job and some little time will be needed. I may be wrong, but I suggest that no Minister will tackle the major issues of the waterways until this admirable new body has had the time to formulate the advice which it has been set up to give him.

One way and another, I submit that we should be looking at the situation through rose coloured spectacles if we were to take the view that the difficulties of navigation on our inland waterways are going to be resolved soon by the production of some great masterpiece. On the other hand, I submit most earnestly that the Waterways Bill which I have introduced could produce an initiative where it is most needed, namely, in respect of those waterways which are navigated by the public or which at one time have been navigated by the public, but where there are not in existence the competent navigation authorities to restore (where derelict) and manage those waterways for navigation.

I am quite prepared to admit that there are areas in my Bill which are too widely drawn. I believe a closer definition is required with regard to the waterways with which it is concerned. I believe that the powers that are required for the navigation authority should be more clearly specified, and I believe that the Waterways Management and Waterways Charges Orders should be made upon the application to the Minister of suitable bodies, and these, too, could be specified. I want to make it quite clear that I do not seek to enable the Minister to empower navigation authorities with any sinister new rights of compulsory purchase of private property. At the moment I think perhaps there may be some ambiguity in the Bill on that point.

There arc one or two other matters which I will not dwell upon at this stage. Suffice it to say that I recognise certain areas of the Bill which need improvement and which I will seek to amend. The objective of this Bill is to simplify the procedure by which navigation authorities may be created where they do not at present exist. There are a great many cases where they should, but do not at the moment, exist.

Let us be quite clear about the importance of a navigation authority. It is this: there is in this country a great upsurge of interest in our navigable waterways; there exists a great fund of voluntary endeavour aimed at the restoration and maintenance of navigation upon those waterways. It is in the interests of all those who are concerned with the amenity use of water space, whether as walkers or boaters or fishermen, whether as riparian owners or as water authorities or as local authorities, that the amenity use of our Water space should be properly regulated and managed. I recommend to all these people who are interested in our waterways that they should look at those waterways which have competent navigation authorities. I think they will find that those waterways provide by far the greatest benefits to the public and that those are the waterways which, because they are properly maintained and well regulated, present fewer hazards to the public.

There is a surprisingly large number of navigable, or formerly navigable, waterways where the situation is unsatisfactory. For instance, there are a number of tidal waterways—such as the River Deben and the Rivers Alde and Ore in East Anglia and the River Adur in Sussex—which are navigable and which are indeed extensively navigated for some way inland (for 30 or 40 miles in the case of the Alde and the Ore) but which do not have navigation authorities and which might well benefit from having them. There is the situation in Northern Ireland—a Province which noble Lords are doubtless aware is made up as to one-eighth of navigable waterway and where, I am advised, my Bill would be of considerable assistance.

There is the most important area of all, in the case of those navigations which have become derelict, often as a result of not having a proper navigation authority and where there are high hopes of restoration. I am thinking particularly of the River Derwent in Yorkshire and of the Basingstoke Canal. These are areas in which the volunteers, the water authorities, the local authorities, the Regional Sports Councils and so on are getting together to explore the possibilities of restoration. I am told that there are over a thousand volunteers from all over England standing by to "get cracking" on the Derwent. They cannot do so until some form of competent navigation authority has been formed.

At present in order to form a statutory navigation authority it is necessary to bring a Private Bill before Parliament. It is an expensive procedure. The last time it was done, a few years ago, the Upper Avon Navigation Trust took an unopposed Private Bill through Parliament. It cost them in excess of £5,000 at that time; today the cost of such an endeavour would no doubt be greater. Their Bill, let us remember, was un-opposed; nevertheless, they had to "fork out" £5,000. That money would have been better employed in the restoration of the canal. We cannot afford to waste money in this idiotic fashion. I submit that this procedure is holding back the onward development of our inland waterways. There are a number of cases where tidying up could be done, and where it seems ludicrous that public money should be spent on bringing in a Private Bill.

Let us take the situation on the Great Ouse, an admirable navigation which has recently been taken over for navigation by the Anglian Water Authority. There does not exist there a statutory navigation authority. Furthermore, there might be a lot to be said for bringing the Little Ouse and the Great Ouse together under one statutory navigation authority. In this case, that might well be the Anglian Water Authority. I cannot believe that if the Anglian Water Authority were to apply for an order under the procedure in my Bill their application would be opposed. On the other hand, I cannot see the water authority feeling that they should expend considerable sums of public money on the Private Bill procedure to make these small but desirable adjustments. I think it is ludicrous—and I believe that most people concerned in this sphere agree with me—to envisage a continuing situation where we have to undertake the Private Bill procedure upon virtually every navigable waterway where there is no statutory navigation authority, and where we desire to improve or maintain the navigation for the benefit of the public.

My Lords, the main object of this Bill is to enable statutory navigation authorities to be created on application to the Minister by Order where necessary. Perhaps I should say something about the Order-making procedure. I am not one of those who believe in taking powers out of Parliament and placing them in the hands of Ministers; I regard any manouevre in that direction with the utmost suspicion. The procedure in my Bill is known as the Negative Bill procedure: that is to say, any Order made under this Bill would lie upon the Table in Parliament for a period of days. If anybody in Parliament has objection to the Order, it is possible for him to object during the time that the Order is on the Table. In such a case, the matter covered by the Order can revert to the Public Bill procedure. In other words, if Parliament objects to a particular Order then the Public Bill procedure can be used. That is my first point.

My second point is concerned with the working of the Order-making procedure. This is a very important matter because, of course, it is no use giving a Minister powers if he cannot make use of them as they are in some way unworkable. There is considerable room for improvement in the Bill, and I have already drafted Amendments concerned with the closer definition of the waterways involved, the kind of bodies which can apply for an Order to be made, and so on. With the kind of improvements to the Bill which I have in mind, and with the advice of his two statutory bodies—the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council and the Water Space Amenity Commission—I cannot but believe that the Minister will be better advised on the making of these Orders covering the waterways, than on the making of Orders on virtually anything else in his Department.

Finally, in relation to the making of Orders, may I say that the procedure in my Bill is very similar to that produced by Government draftsmen in Section 112 of the Transport Act 1968, which enables the Minister to extinguish statutory rights and obligations of navigation by Order. It may well be necessary for the Minister to have such powers, but I must confess that to those of us concerned with the navigation of the waterways these are powers of a rather destructive nature. We are bound to ourselves: if the Minister can destroy navigation by Order, then why can he not open up waterways by Order?

My Lords, I have been agreeably surprised at the support which I have received in the last week or two from a wide variety of organisations outside Parliament which are interested in the area with which my Bill deals. I have received support from the IWA in this endeavour; I have seen representatives from many of the other organisations in the field; I have been encouraged by the Chairman of the British Waterways Board, and I have been affably received by Mr. John Humphries, the Chairman of the WSAC. I have received words of support from a number of local authorities, and I have been told that the Sports Council sees some merit in this Bill. I have received great encouragement from a number of voluntary organisations concerned with the waterways. This has been of special importance, because I believe that the great fund of voluntary effort in this area is one of the most valuable assets we have on the waterways.

The achievements of this voluntary effort are startling, especially when set against the official failures in this sphere. Let us recall "Operation Ashtae", the restoration of the Ashton and Lower Peak Forest canals, when, in the space of one March weekend in 1972 over 1,000 volunteers from all over the country shifted out of the canal 3,000 tons of rubbish at a cost of about £1,800, against the official valuation of over £20,000. This must be the one area of our national life in which one can experience the joys of voluntary hard labour to the extent to which, so we are told to believe, it can be enjoyed in the People's Republic of China! Let us recall the situation during the restoration of the Upper Avon, when a number of prisoners assisted in the work and became so captivated by the enthusiasm of the occasion that a number of them declined remission in order to remain in the working party, so that they could be with their mates when the Queen Mother came to open the navigation.

My Lords, I submit that there is a need for this Bill. I suggest that its enactment would facilitate the onward development of our inland waterways for amenity use. It would facilitate the position of all those bodies, statutory or otherwise, which desire progress in this sphere. It would do so without in any way jeopardising or delaying any longer-term or more far-reaching scheme to deal with the major problems of the waterways. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Feversham.)

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, and I very much appreciate the opportunity he has given us to discuss a fundamentally important argument about a fascinating aspect of recreation and amenity. Subjects like this generate great passion and very strong views, which can only benefit from enthusiastic ventilation. It is a compliment to the noble Lord and to the civilised appeal of waterways to see the number of distinguished speakers on the list today. It is a great pleasure for me to welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harvington. May I congratulate him in advance, as I will not have the opportunity of doing so afterwards. I look forward to hearing his speech, and to listening to the other speakers. I think it right that I should rise early in this debate to outline the attitude of the Government not only towards the generally accepted motives behind this Bill, on which I think there will be a vast body of agreement, but also on its substance.

My Lords, on land, a crowded population largely lives, works and plays in an atmosphere of high density and tension which is stifling and suffocating. Our communications systems grow in sophistication, which throws us inevitably and uncomfortably closer together. We fill the airways, we crunch on to the motorways, we crush into the tubes. On the other hand, nothing is more compulsively relaxing and superbly satisfying than to gaze at a softly changing water scene. There is a seductive fascination about simple stretches of waterway. Thousands find a myriad of uses and derive immense pleasure from them, including myself. The noble Lord referred to the hearts of Ministers; but whatever the shape, size or persuasion—I do not know whether one's heart is equal to the size of the clothes one takes; I will not comment on shapes—my persuasion he knows. It is a splendid answer to the dreary defeatists who seize every opportunity to pinpoint the decay of the British way of life, that increasingly, in spite of our quixotic climate, more families and young people are taking to the rivers and their tributaries. My officials, naturally armed with vast statistics, not only support my impression but give it arithmetic authority.

I think I should say that the noble Lord was a little unfair on the question of the Government's interest in waterways, because a whole directorate of my really enormous Department is concerned with water. There is a Minister of State in the other place and one of the larger functions with which he is concerned is the whole question of water. A recent publication of the British Waterways Board adds weight to the growing recreational use of their own waterways. I certainly was very impressed with the figures.

Pleasure boats counted on the English and Welsh waterway system totalled 21,000 in 1974, compared with 11,000 in 1967. Angling counts fluctuate, but on the count day for 1974 there were nearly 25,000 anglers. In a situation of rising demand it is not only functional expediency but good social sense to make the fullest use of the water available. Certainly on this point there is no difference of opinion between the noble Lord and myself. Your Lordships will recall that last year a Select Committee of this House drew authoritative attention to this boom situation in their Report on Sport and Leisure.

Where the amount of water space available can be increased, this is where navigation enthusiasts play an essential role. They beaver away to realise the exciting potential of rivers. They have remade canals which had in some cases virtually disappeared. But they have not only benefited themselves, they have opened up the water (if you can do that!) to anglers, other sportsmen, naturalists, walkers and to the waterbird watchers. Nor should their dedicated contribution to the safety of derelict waterways be overlooked. I did not mean walking across the water, I meant walking beside the water. I am sure all noble Lords will join me in applauding their efforts. Those efforts have already brought significant results.

In the past year there have been remarkable successes. They are almost classic. Many of them have been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham. There is the Warwickshire Avon. The restored Upper Avon has become familiar. And it was heartening to see the completion of the Lower Avon in the summer. Another high water mark was the restoration of the Ashton and Lower Peak Forest Canals, a significant development towards the completion of the Cheshire Ring and a great uplift to canal enthusiasts in the North. There are, I am well aware, difficulties here, but I am sure noble Lords will be delighted if I do not go into them, since it will only extend my talking time.

Those who dream of navigating all the way from London to Bristol watch, I imagine, with pleasure, the continuing saga of the Kennet and Avon. I know this project is one of the personal favourites of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and he has given his strong support to the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust. The Trust's dogged perseverance over the years has been an inspiration to many other bodies and individuals. The canal is now open as far West as Hungerford.

The stalwarts in the Waterway Recovery Group and its sister organisations certainly deserve a special mention. It is not everyone's idea of fun to spend the weekend digging out the filth Mark I accumulated at the bottom of a disused canal, yet these mudlarks do it, frankly, as though they enjoy it. Schoolchildren, members of the Forces, as well as trusted prisoners and borstal boys, all come in on this particular scene. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Greenwood—as President of the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers—welcomes the role which young people are playing.

I have said enough to have made my point that a great deal has been done and is being done, although I am the first to agree that there is still more to be done. Over a period of time, the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, has spoken eloquently about the Yorkshire Derwent. No doubt his deep commitment to that river goes some way to explain why he has promoted this Bill. He will forgive me if I do not stop to reflect on his favourite scheme, because I in my turn want to take some credit for another scheme whose prospects for full restoration to navigation have been greatly improved following my right honourable friend's recent decision to confirm the compulsory purchase orders made by the Hampshire and Surrey County Councils. I quote this because it emphasises a point that I really cannot over emphasise: the fate of navigations does not depend simply on a joint decision between volunteers and Government. It depends also on the local authorities. The future of the Basingstoke Canal, about which, quite rightly, the noble Lord was very enthusiastic, would indeed have been bleak without the willingness of the county councils to use their statutory powers, and to use these powers with imagination. The restoration of the Ashton and Lower Peak Forest Canals owes a great deal to the generosity of Manchester Corporation and eight other local authorities in the area.

The British Waterways Board, too, have a very important role to play. The Ashton and Lower Peak Forest Canals are among their remainder waterways. So is the Kennet and Avon. Neither project could have got very far without their help and encouragement. The noble Lord mentioned the support expressed by the British Waterways Board for the Bill. I know that the Board see it as a potential tool leading towards their aim of establishing a national navigation authority. The Government share the Board's view that such an authority is desirable, and my honourable friend the Minister of State in another place is discussing with them how it might be achieved. But I must say, frankly, that that objective could not be achieved through the order-making machinery proposed in this Bill. I know that the noble Lord's ambitions are much more modest, as is expressed in the Bill and as he made clear, though in his speech he referred to the need for a national body.

Finally, I must mention the extensive recreational responsibilities of the new regional water authorities. They control vast areas of water space, and the Water Act 1973 which set them up lays a statutory duty on them to take such steps as are necessary to secure the use of water, and land associated with water, for the purposes of recreation. Since they came into existence only last April, their real activity and test must lie mainly in the future.

To sum up, navigational needs are best served by firm co-operation between statutory bodies, volunteer groups—who also act as powerful pressure groups—and Central Government. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, in describing the objectives of this Bill, has used the phrase, on previous occasions and in writing to me and officials of the Department—and it is a very good phrase —that it would enable the Minister to "orchestrate the onward development" of navigation on a number of waterways where at present there are difficulties. The trouble with this very attractive phrase is that it may suggest to your Lordships a plausible and persuasive analysis. But, as I pointed out earlier, there are many grave defects in the Bill. I know that the noble Lord has had a number of discussions with officials of my Department and a frank meeting with me yesterday. Following these friendly land-based conversations, he has indicated this afternoon his intention to seek to amend his Bill, if the House decides to give it a Second Reading. Therefore, I must deal first with a fundamental point.

The Bill would give the Minister very wide order-making powers, as the noble Lord appreciates. An Order made under these provisions could be far-reaching in its effects on private interests and could be extremely controversial. For example, the enthusiasm of the navigators for opening up old and disused waterways may not be, and often is not, shared by those who use them for angling, for instance, angling clubs who have paid for the fishing rights; the riparian owners may well have their own reservations. We have in this country now an upswing in water-skiing, and this is very unpopular with people on boats who see the waterways as mainly for navigation. And there are the water authorities who use them for water supply or land drainage; they may have valid technical objections. The point I am making is that this is not only one interest; there are a great variety of interests involved in anything of this kind. The interests which are involved hold very strong views as to their own rights whenever any of these questions are discussed.

Clause 1 of the Bill would enable the Minister to make a Waterway Management Order for the purpose of "preserving, restoring or improving navigable water or making available any waterway for public navigation." I draw the attention of the House particularly to the implications of those last seven words: they could certainly be taken to include anything from a major lake or reservoir to the small stream which crosses a farmer's field. I must emphasise the point to illustrate one of the basic difficulties which the Government see in this Bill. Although the noble Lord has said that he will be prepared to define this in Committee, it will not be as easy as he appears to think. We are this afternoon faced with, and considering, the Bill as it is.

There are other similar defects; defects which all stem mainly from the extremely wide nature of the order-making powers it would introduce. Clause 1(4) says that a Waterway Managament Order may provide for the body named—which could apparently be any body— to have all the powers … and be subject to all the duties … as shall, in the opinion of the Minister, be expedient. In purely practical terms, I put it strongly to the noble Lord that these powers are so wide that they would in fact be unworkable. They are also, in my opinion, undesirable. Remember we are talking of the type of order-making power which the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, speaking from the Benches opposite, taxed me with during the Committee stage of the Housing Rents and Subsidies Bill. "Legislation by order" he called it, and deprecated it.

We know that the administration of any modern State—and particularly our State —is today so complex (with such huge wedges of legislation) that whichever Party is in power that Government must plead the case for routine Statutory Instruments for the conduct of public business. But where the public interest is not at stake, the established Private Bill procedure by which power remains in the hands of Parliament still seems to me, and the Government, the right way to resolve conflicts of private interest—not the Negative Resolution procedure which was argued so ably and persuasively by the noble Lord. I would say that we should hesitate, and hesitate again, before we even consider allowing private interests to circumnavigate Parliamentary procedures.

The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, made clear that the main purpose of the Bill is to enable the waterway restoration societies to avoid the need to promote a Private Bill conveying the necessary powers in each individual case.


My Lords, I apologise for intervening, but I wonder whether I could clear up a point. I did not say that the object of the Bill was to enable voluntary organisations to apply for the Order. What I said was that any organisation concerned with the development of waterways could apply for the Order, and that would include organisations such as regional water authorities.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, with respect, that is not in contradiction to what I said. I read out that it said "any body ", and my argument was that the Government consider that these powers are too wide and also undesirable. It is a complete difference of opinion about the wisdom of this. Although I appreciate that the noble Lord has his own view, I am expressing the view of the Government on this Bill.

I sympathise with the noble Lord's wish to save as much money as possible for actual restoration work. This obviously makes good sense and is equitable if it is workable. However, in practice the cost of promoting a Private Bill is largely related to the degree of controversy over its provisions. Here I am quite aware that the noble Lord made the point about the initial legal costs, but I think on the other hand that he is underestimating the costs of promoting an Order. If it were controversial—and the chances are of it being controversial so long as people's interest in it is very great—the Order itself would be opposed and become the subject of what could be a very expensive public inquiry procedure. And if they do not know about it then we may have government on private interests by the Negative Resolution procedure going through un-noticed. I beg the noble Lord not to underestimate what I think is an extremely important point. He, of all people, know how passionate and tenacious people become about their recreational interests.

Now I shall refer briefly to other features of the Bill. Clause 1(3) provides for the transfer of the "right title and interest" of a waterway authority or any other person. Clause 2 provides for compensation for the loss of such interests. The noble Lord made clear that he did not envisage an Order granting rights of compulsory purchase of property. I am very glad to hear this, but I think that the Bill should be much more explicit on this important point.

Quite apart from this important question of compulsory purchase, the Bill's provisions for compensation and for the protection of the interests of those likely to be affected are too restrictive. Clause 3 would enable the Minister to make a Waterway Charges Order expressly for the purpose of imposing charges on people who at present enjoy a free right of navigation. Yet there is no provision for compensation for taking away such rights. Does the noble Lord intend that there should be none? Clause 4 specifies the order-making procedure to be used, But the model which the noble Lord cited from the Transport Act 1963 relates to the extinguishment of the right of navigation. That model does not relate to the creation of new rights, and is quite inappropriate.

I have drawn attention to the main defects in the present Bill as the Government see them. The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, has, in fact, already acknowledged the force of most of these points and has indicated his intention to try to improve the Bill to meet them. In that case this Bill would require very substantial and difficult amendment. I strongly suspect that, like altering a dress by first cutting off the sleeves, then recutting the bodice and lengthening the skirt to meet the new look, the finished garment would have no relationship to the original. So the Bill, surgically engineered to overcome the Government's objections —even if that were possible—would have little relation to the one before us today.

I conclude by stressing once again the Government's appreciation of the enormous voluntary effort which is at present going into the restoration of our old and disused waterways, and our recognition of the benefits to recreation and amenity which that kind of effort can bring. The Government recognise, too, the noble Lord's environmental and human objectives in putting forward his Bill today to help mobilise that effort, and I am sure that most noble Lords who are to speak after me will be, in different ways, and from different points of view, emphasising and underlining this motivation. I fear, however, that the defects of the Bill as drafted are so grave that I cannot offer the Government's support for it. Nor can the Government as, indeed, I told the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, offer the time of a Parliamentary draftsman to cope with what we see as really a monumental piece of redrafting. As noble Lords will appreciate, the legislative demands are already too great. Perhaps the noble Lord will think again during the rest of this debate and seek to withdraw his Bill, having stimulated what will obviously be an important and absorbing debate, and which will also surely pinpoint effectively the need for action, although not in this particular form.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence on this the first occasion on which I have had the opportunity to address your Lordships. I was in and out of membership of another place for the best part of 40 years. During that time I think that no one could ever say that I spoke rather more than I ought to have done. I did not speak very much, and it is rather a paradox that when I was Chairman of Ways and Means during the last Conservative Government I took up more columns in Hansard than in all the 20-odd years previously when I had been a Backbencher. As I was not supposed to speak at all, from the chair, if I could possibly avoid it, it is somewhat of a paradox, but not quite such a paradox as it might seem when one considers that at least I was presiding over the Committee stages of the Industrial Relations Bill, and of the EEC Bill, both of which created a certain amount of warmth and interest in another place and, indeed, as your Lordships will recollect, here.

My Lords, it is my pleasure to speak on a subject which has been my great interest during the last 25 years or so, and I was rather disappointed that the noble Baroness did not altogether appear to like the Bill proposed by the noble Earl. Having regard to what she said it does not look as though that Bill will meet with the approbation of your Lordships. Even if it does not, I hope that the principles which the noble Earl is trying to put forward and the possibility of achieving the main objective of the Bill, will not be lost on Her Majesty's Government, and that it will be possible to speed up and develop waterways, the ownership of which is not clearly defined.

This story of the waterways has been in a way a quiet revolution which has gone on over the last 20 years. In the 1950s we were having a battle royal in another place, and the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who I see in his place, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, who was here a moment ago, were in the forefront of the fight here. Eventually we got it firmly into the mind of Her Majesty's Government that the waterways ought to be preserved, and when Mr. Marples came to break up the British Transport Commission he did a very wise thing. I am not seeking to be Party controversial, nor am I saying that he did a wise thing about the Transport Commission, though I have my own views about that. But he was wise in putting the waterways under a separate Waterways Authority. He might have put them into the holding company when they could have been lost for ever. He appointed Sir John Horton, a most enlightened civil servant, who had risen to the top of his profession, to be the Chairman. He has been succeeded and his good work is carried on today by Sir Frank Price, though under ever-increasing financial difficulties.

The 1962 Bill set up the Waterways Authority, and the first thing they did was to produce a most important document called Facts About Waterways. There it was shown categorically, and for the first time, that it could be cheaper and better for the country to keep waterways open for navigation rather than to try to close them. That policy was adopted by the Government, and let me say now that the country owes a great deal to the right honourable lady Mrs. Castle who, as Minister of Transport, took a great interest in this and appointed her right honourable friend Mr. John Morris, who caught the bug of interest in waterways. They produced a policy which laid down that the waterways were good, that 2,000 miles of them should be kept open to navigation, and another section below that was left somewhat "in the mud" as it were. It is with that section that this Bill is designed to deal.

I think we all want to see that this asset, this wonderful National Park which occupies no room—is a straight line as it were—is kept for everybody to enjoy, and that it is extended and improved as much as possible. This Bill would help enormously in reopening that magnificent and glorious waterway between the Severn and the Thames at Lechlade, and again between the Wey and the Aran, so that yachts could be taken from these wonderful developing harbours in London down through England without getting in the way of shipping, which anyhow gets in its own way too much. The main point of this Bill, if it were enacted, would do just that.

As noble Lords have heard already, prisoners and amateurs have been working on these derelict canals. I have served on Government Committees which have examined canals, and I have seen canals which have been condemned as being impossible of revival, and yet today they are revived. Manchester took a long time to see the light of day on this matter, but finally they did, and the Ashton Canal, which when I first saw it was a receptacle for old bedsteads, pots and pans and every kind of plastic horror, a stinking ditch of the worst sort, is now restored and is part of the glorious Cheshire ring to which the noble Baroness has referred.

It is in order to continue that work and to marshall this wonderful effort of amateur people who want to see these jobs done that the noble Lord has brought forward this Bill. If, as seems probable, this Bill is withdrawn, I appeal to Her Majesty's Government to adopt the underlying point which is fundamentally good so that this priceless asset which we have may become more glorious than ever.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, on a charming maiden speech. I liked his delightful reminiscence of the length of time he had spoken during his long time in another place, and hope he will produce some more interesting statistics which will show us that he has spoken even longer in your Lordships' House by the time he leaves it. It is interesting too how we all congratulate each other on our maiden speeches. The noble Lord was congratulated by the mover of the Bill, was congratulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and will be congratulated I know (because he deserves it) by every other speaker in the debate. I have looked up and found that when my father made his maiden speech no one congratulated him, nor did anyone congratulate either of my two grandfathers when they made their maiden speeches.

I want to follow the noble Lord in saying that I hope the theme of the Bill will not be lost sight of. I cannot follow him in the hope that it might go so far as to help the Severn and Thames at Lechlade or the Wey and the Arun, because after listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, it is clear that it will not do so. I am sure that part of the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, is un-answerable. He has shown that under existing provisions, legislation, and other-wise, it is very difficult to do what he wants to do, and that the proper management of these rivers where there is either no navigation authority or where the navigation authority has fallen down is very difficult. He points out how expensive Private Bill procedure is, and he would like, in the words quoted by the noble Baroness, "To orchestrate by means of Order instead of by Private Bill", and indeed make a complete statutory code to enable it to be done easily and expressly.

There are already some 500 Private Bill enactments dealing with this problem and no comprehensive survey of them whatever, so obviously it is a difficult problem. As the noble Baroness says, it is being considered under the new Water Act which has been in force for only a year, and any attempt to institute legislation which under that Act would take it away from the new water authorities would, I believe, be retrograde. We must leave it within that framework for a certain time until we see how it will work. If your Lordships look at the noble Lord's proposals you will see that he is recommending powers to transfer functions and property either between public bodies or between public bodies and private bodies, is making powers to create new powers, power in effect, as I said before, to create a new statutory code. In some measure that may be necessary, but the whole process which the noble Lord proposes seems to me to be constitutionally very doubtful indeed.

The anomalies and difficulties which the Bill raises are such that in these circumstances a Committee stage is an impossibility in your Lordships' House. It is not something that could be corrected by Committee, and here I must agree with the noble Baroness: it is something that would take us weeks to do, at the end of which we would have a very different Bill from that of today. Indeed, we might produce legislation which did not help the situation at all. We should leave this matter, possibly to a Departmental inquiry under the National Water Council or the water authorities themselves, to see what kind of legislation is required.

The noble Baroness mentioned some of the Committee-point difficulties. I could add one or two more. I am certain that these charging powers would arouse great controversy and would take weeks to resolve. I think to interpret "waterway" as in Clause 5 would bring all the landed interests down on one's head in trying to sort it out; there would be those who were fond of language advocating for "conservancy" in the Long Title when, I presume, the noble Lord means "conservation". I think the constitutional and the drafting difficulties, by which here I mean the question of definitions and charging powers, are such that they are impossible to sort out in this Bill.

I hope that the noble Lord will with-draw the Bill because I am sure that it would not be possible to deal with it within any Parliamentary framework of time. But in saying that, I heartily congratulate the noble Lord on the effort which he has devoted to something which we must seriously consider. He made his case very well. It is now up to the National Water Council—I say "the National Water Council" because it is the body over the water authorities. That kind of central strength I want to see left with the National Water Council. It is to be hoped that it will go into this matter most carefully under the noble Baroness's strong Department within the DOE.

I do not in any way regard this Second Reading debate as a waste of your Lordships' time, although I believe a Committee stage would be so. I regard the debate as a valuable means of bringing forward this subject for proper discussion, and I hope that what the noble Lord has done will go a long way towards achieving a satisfactory conclusion.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, most sincerely for having introduced this important and, I believe, timely Bill. I should also like to join the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, a very old friend and colleague of mine, who made an absolutely perfect maiden speech. I certainly join in the very warm congratulations to him. I should like also to thank my noble friend Lady Birk for her kind reference to the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. I can assure her, even though I wish she had been able to be more forthcoming than she has been this afternoon, that if I touch later on the Government's policy on this matter I shall not be criticising the Government or her Department, for whose officials I have the greatest possible respect. But I am bound to say that I had hoped that the last sentence in the Explanatory Memorandum, which says, The Bill involves no expenditure of public funds would at least have commended itself to Her Majesty's Government in this time of economic stress.

On Easter Saturday I shall have the privilege of re-opening Flatford Lock which must be known to millions of people throughout the world through the paintings of John Constable. That Lock has been restored entirely through the efforts of the River Stour Trust. Like other noble Lords, I have marvelled at the persistence and the dedication of unpaid volunteers who have slaved every weekend in mud, slime, rain and cold in order to restore something which they believe to be of importance. Higher up the River Stour, near Sudbury, other volunteers are restoring a barge which had been sunk for many years, and volunteers have been building landing stages from Sudbury down to Flatford.

The River Stour became a navigation as long ago as 1705. But the last barge worked there in 1938. In its heyday the navigation carried every year no less than 100,000 tons of cargo. That is a remarkable figure. But in 1936 the navigation company was dissolved; it was removed from the companies register and the decline of the river began. Passage was obstructed by drainage works, cuts were not dredged, the river bed silted up, and the growth of weeds prevented the use of the locks. Now, with the invaluable backing of the Inland Waterways Association, the River Stour Trust is seeking to repair half a century of neglect. I have high hopes that the Anglia Water Authority under the chairmanship of Mr. Skinner will be able to help in the restoration of this exquisite river.

So we are winning the battle for the River Stour and the same is true of many other waterways. I am glad that the noble Lord referred to the Thames and Severn Canal, because there the progress has been really staggering. It is only two years ago that, inspired by Mr. Humphries, the Stroud Water Canal Society was formed, and since then it has done the most wonderful work. I think this would be an appropriate point for me to congratulate Mr. Humphries and the Water Space Amenity Commission of which he is Chairman, on what it has done, and to say how reassuring it is that the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, should be the Chairman of the National Water Council. Those of us who valued his work as Chairman of the Thames Conservancy feel greatly reassured to know that he is now in overall charge of the National Water Council.

But, nevertheless, although we are making so much progress the situation is very unsatisfactory in many parts of the country. It is time that we really sorted out the kind of confusions and filled the sort of gaps to which the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, referred. I believe that the noble Lord's Bill would help in that direction. I hope that we shall not lose sight of the fact that this is an enabling Bill. The powers that it gives to the Secretary of State are powers to use his discretion, and I cannot get terribly worried at the prospect that a Secretary of State would so abuse those powers as to bring about consequences that would be detrimental to the operation of our waterways system. It is for the discretion of the Secretary of State. There is no obligation on him to make these Orders. It simply means that any body referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham can apply to the Secretary of State, who will then use his best judgment to decide what ought to be done.

May I take three examples which are sparked off by the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, to the Yorkshire Dement? There the River Trust is restoring the river, but there is no official navigation authority so the Trust has no power whatsoever. It is drawing up a Private Bill, which will go through the expensive process to which noble Lords have referred and will take up the time of a number of your Lordships, who will have to sit on the Private Bill Committee to consider it. The second example is the Driffield Navigation, which was controlled by commissioners. There were 98 of them and all have died. There is no power to appoint new commissioners, so at present nothing can be done with the Driffield Navigation. The third example is the Linton Lock Navigation. That has commissioners, but they are not empowered to make any charge for pleasure craft, and there is no commercial traffic on the river. Ergo, there is no income for the commissioners. So, once again, nothing can be done.

This is an absurd and foolish situation, and in all three cases would it not be sensible for the Minister to use his discretionary power to rectify the situation, and do it in what I believe is the cheapest way—by Order, rather than by a Private Bill? A suitable body would have to be approved by him as the navigation authority, and that navigation authority would have the obligation to compensate anyone who suffered financial damage. It would have the responsibility to manage the waterway, and it would be competent to make charges to cover its expenses. How that will damage anybody, I can not for the life of me see. And, of course, all those three cases to which I have referred could be consolidated under the control of one navigation authority, which could be the Regional Water Authority, or it might be the British Waterways Board. Indeed, I would hope that in most cases the navigation authorities would fall into one of those two categories.

But the Minister would need to be satisfied that a change was needed. He would need to be satisfied that the proposed new navigation authority was a competent authority, and clearly the British Waterways Board, under the chairmanship of Sir Frank Price, would be eligible to qualify for the new powers that are proposed. And we must not forget, my Lords, that Parliament would be able to annul the Order, and that every Order would be debatable in both Houses of Parliament.

May I, my Lords, make one point as President of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, because in the view of many metropolitan councils the place of canals in our transportation system should be looked at again. They believe, as I do, that we cannot afford to neglect the contribution which the inland waterways can make to the carriage of heavy freight, and canals which carried a great deal of commercial traffic in the past are now carrying nothing at all. That is a most regrettable state of affairs, and I believe that if this Bill were passed in one form or another it could make a relevant contribution to our transportation system. Certainly, it is time that we really looked in depth at the role that our inland waterways can play.

Finally, my Lords, I am bound to say, speaking with a fairly long experience— and here, once again, I join arms, if I may put it like that, with my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State—that I realise that this Bill is very far from being a perfect instrument, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to speak later in the debate, with the permission of the House, in order to refer to some of the points that have been made. There are obvious weaknesses in the Bill. The definition of "waterways", for example, is much too wide. On the other hand, the noble Lord who introduced the Bill has expressed his willingness to accept Amendments. I am afraid that those Amendments would have to be both radical and extensive, but one would hope that, with the aid of Government draftsmen, they might be made in a form which could be generally accepted. But, if that cannot be done, and if the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, decides to withdraw the Bill, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to assure us that this matter is receiving the urgent attention of the Government, because it is a matter to which we must find a solution very soon, unless we are to lose an irreplaceable part of our national heritage.

Baroness BIRK

Before the noble Lord sits down, there is one point. I want to avoid speaking again, so as not to take up the time of the House. I have said all I need to say, and this is the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Feversham. My noble friend Lord Greenwood said that he hoped there would be aid from the Government draftsmen. I made it clear, both privately to the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, and openly in the House today—and I must be frank about it again—that I am afraid there is no prospect of any help on this Bill from Government draftsmen.

4.36 p.m.

Viscount ST. DAVIDS

My Lords, I should first like to say how very pleased I am to see my old friend Lord Harvington here, and to hear his maiden speech in this House. I am delighted not only to see him here, in view of the amount of time we have spent together on the affairs of England's waterways but also to hear his maiden speech. The only thing I am a little sorry about is that I understand his title of "Harvington" does not come from that Harvington which is the power house and centre of the Upper and Lower Avon Navigation, which in the circumstances would have been extremely appropriate. I do not know whether it is possible for him to have the Lordship of both Harvingtons, but if so it would be extremely appropriate.

My Lords, I do not think there is anybody in this House who does not know that I am a water enthusiast. Some of your Lordships may be a little surprised that I was not the mover of this Second Reading, but I may say that if the Bill goes to a Division, I shall vote for it. I was offered the Bill and asked whether I would move it but I declined, because in my belief it went much too wide. I agree very much with everything that the noble Baroness said on the matter. I happen to know enough about this subject to agree very much with what she said. But the trouble is that there is great confusion between five or six totally different cases on the waterways.

The first case is the very simple one, which was rather well illustrated by the sort of case which my noble friend Lord Greenwood has been telling us about. I refer to the waterways which in the past were happily navigated by local barges. There was an Act of Parliament, or some other legal enactment, which appointed a body of commissioners and throughout the years they kept up the locks, the weirs, the wharves and so on. They charged fees for passing traffic, and this enabled them to carry out their work. They had a regular number of meetings every year. Their clerk was a local solicitor. They had a slap up dinner once a year and when a member of their body fell by the wayside they simply appointed another. That was splendid. But the years went by and the barges ceased to come through. The revenue fell. It became impossible to keep up the works with the money that was coming in, which finally fell to zero, or nearly zero. It became impossible even to hold the annual dinner, and they ceased to appoint Commissioners. Finally, when the last Commissioner was gone, all that remained of the navigation authority was a dusty box in a solicitor's office. That has happened on a great many waterways.

However, there are now craft to navigate those waterways again. On such waterways there is practically none of the difficulties which the noble Baroness has been talking about. The reason is that the navigation rights and the rights of riparian owners and others are already provided for by an Act of Parliament or by a local enactment of some kind passed when the; original Commissioners took up their position. In those cases, it is perfectly simple. There are now the boats to navigate. There are the enthusiasts, like myself, who will put their hands into their pockets for a certain amount of money and there are others who will roll up their sleeves and do the work so that we can get the navigation going again. The only difficulty is that since the last Commissioner is now dead, there is no way of restarting the legal machinery. If we could press a button to reappoint the Commissioners, the whole thing would start off again. In those cases, the present Bill is very necessary and would do a splendid job of work.

There are a very large number of such cases. Let us take a waterway which has been mentioned, the Basingstoke Canal. That canal is in an extraordinary position because, when its revenue died, the company went bankrupt, was wound up and, apparently, nobody realised that it was a statutory waterway. Thus, the rights of navigation remain in the hands of a ghost and can therefore not be enforced. Again, all the rights exist under the Act of Parliament and everybody knows what they are. There is no difficulty and it requires only the appointment of the necessary body and the operation can begin again without any trouble. Where trouble arises is when one leaves this category and goes on to the next category; that is, the category in which the rights of navigation and the local circumstances have altered a great deal. For instance, there may now be low level bridges across the waterway, or the water level may have sunk and farmers may have drained their fields into the new low level, so that if one raised the water level again one would flood the fields and the whole drainage system of the area would have to be rebuilt. There can be many difficulties like this where new rights have appeared in the course of time, because the old navigation authority has been gone for so long and because navigation has not taken place for so long. One is then in a much more difficult position.

My Lords, I could go on and on, but your Lordships will not expect me to recount all the various cases. However, from that point onwards there are deeper and deeper difficulties all the way down, until we reach the case of what one might call the "imaginary" waterway. One can imagine some field drain which it might be attractive to turn into a waterway—I have a number of juicy thoughts about places which I should like to dig out and make navigable—and, in such cases, one would have to go very carefully into rights of every kind before one would dare to bring a navigation authority into existence.

My Lords, I did not take this Bill because, though I recognised clearly enough the first situation which I have outlined and though I can see a number of juicy possibilities further on, I think that, before it arrived in this House, the Bill ought to have been reduced to a simpler version which I believe the noble Baroness would have had very little difficulty in accepting. However, that job was not done and the Bill is before us unaltered. I am not saying that this is a case of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. That would be a gross insult to the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, and it would be totally wrong. The fact of the matter is that the angels did not get to work on the Bill early enough and that it is a Bill which needs a great deal of angelic work. I am prepared to be on the side of the angels in doing it.

My Lords, it may be that, if we pass the Bill on Second Reading and have a go at it on Committee stage, we may find that we still have something that ought not to go on to the Statute Book. But there are stages beyond the Committee stage at which we could admit that we had not done well enough, so let us go through with this. It is a necessary job which has not so far been done as it should have been, and it would be extremely valuable if we could have the advice and expertise available in this House and outside which will help us make this a better Bill at Committee stage.

We shall, I am afraid, lose large hunks of the Bill. I shall shed no great tears over that, provided the noble Baroness, as I am sure she will, says that the Government will take on the more difficult stages of the task in a different manner and at a different time. But I think that the simple type of case which I have described to your Lordships is so common in this country that it would be worth trying to put the Bill on to the Statute Book, with drastic surgery and the cutting out of what is not necessary. At any rate, let us have a go at the Bill. I do not think that we ought to give up. These people, who are spending their weekends, their money and their energies in digging out the waterways, really deserve a certain amount of digging work on our part. If your Lordships have sympathy with them, as I am sure you all have, let us dig canals, too.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am happy to join in this debate today and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Feversham for introducing the Bill. I have listened with attention and interest to his explanation of the Bill and have found it lucid and helpful. There is very great interest in the Bill throughout the country and especially in North Yorkshire where I live. There is an especial concentration of interest in the River Derwent area. The Yorkshire Derwent Trust Limited, which was formed quite recently, has the enthusiastic support of more than a thousand people, who are not only ready to contribute money for the restora- tion of navigation on the River Derwent but also give their labour for nothing. They are not all local people: some come from great distances to help. Their objects are not confined to reopening the waterway for navigation. They find from experience that the use of the river by pleasure craft results in many other benefits. The restoration of navigation and bank clearance can bring an appreciation of the amenity value of a water-way and the clearing of tow paths brings new opportunities for ramblers who gain access to fresh and unspoiled stretches of countryside, where, mercifully, there are no roads.

There is also an attraction at Malton for the industrial archaelogist of many old buildings on a river front which has been in continuous use since Roman times. Just beyond Malton, at Rillington is one of the largest malt factories, not merely in Europe, but in the world. Here there is a chance for a real commercial waterways redevelopment. The Trust does not desire these advantages in any selfish manner; it is because it desires a properly controlled navigation that it desires this Bill. It is anxious that there should be no over-development. The Trust does not want the beauty of the river—and it is among the the most beautiful small rivers in Europe—destroyed. The Trust wants properly planned moorings, with proper provision for visiting craft as may be necessary, and not any untidy mess. One lock—Sutton Lock—has already been reopened, and, though he has been too modest to mention it, it was my noble friend Lord Feversham himself who re-opened it.

If to the Trust the amenity advantages might seem primary, to my mind the commercial advantages are no less important. It is not only the Yorkshire Derwent Trust Limited that is interested, our North Yorkshire County Council is in general support of the objects of the Bill, especially if it would facilitate recreational provision. There is of course already navigation on parts of the river, but it is not possible to navigate all of it at present without portage, because not all of the locks are in repair. I gather that there is some opposition to this Bill on the part of the Yorkshire Water Authority, but I understand that none of that Authority's facilities would be diminished by the Bill. There is not any likelihood that water could be further polluted as a result of any Orders that the Minister might conceivably make.

The object of the Bill is to give the Minister power to make orders to reopen navigations as he sees fit, and to take advantage of so much enthusiasm for voluntary effort. Ryedal District Council is also interested, and likewise the Yorkshire Tourist Board. In 1974 a popular water festival was held in Malton. I was sorry that I could not be there because I was abroad at the time, but by all accounts it was a great success, and commanded a great deal of general support. It is right not only that we should make the best use of our tourist resources, but should also encourage local trade. I understand that if there were a general re-opening of waterways in England, no less than some 3,000 miles of waterways would be available both to tourism and to trade.

My Lords, we are all sick to death of juggernaut lorries. Near where I live huge lorries have invaded even the lanes. The Derwent used to carry coal one way and corn the other. Is there any reason why this traffic should not be restored? If 3,000 miles of waterway could be properly used for freight, this would surely relieve the roads. As my cousin, Gerald Morgan Grenville said in his book Holiday Cruising in France, the French inland waterways fleet carries loads that would require some 20 million lorry journeys to transport. Why do we continue to neglect a resource that is at hand? We need to wake up to the idea of waterway redevelopment. At the moment it seems that the reopening of waterways is attainable only by Private Bills which are costly in both money and Parliamentary time.

I welcome this Bill because, by giving the Minister reasonable powers, it enables him, shall I say?, to kill all the birds with one stone. It enables him to direct into proper channels an immense amount of enthusiasm, and to prevent the destruction of the beauty of our waterways. It also enables the Minister to bring relief to our overcrowded roads. One anxiety of the Yorkshire Derwent Trust is that delays may cause the present volunteers to turn their interests elsewhere. For us in North Yorkshire that would be a tragedy.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, first I wish to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, for having walked out when, apparently, the noble Lord rose to make his maiden speech. That was no indication of my not being prepared to listen. I had a little family problem that I had to settle with my secretary, and after I walked between the Queen's Beasts into the corner there, I could, like the porter in Macbeth, hear the soliloquy of the noble Lord, with its wit and constructive wisdom. I hope that we shall many times in this House have the pleasure, as we did when he occupied the Chair in another place, of listening to him giving his judgment to this House. I listened also to all the other speakers. I listened with care to my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rosendale, who made a knowledgeable speech and spent a lot of time thinking constructively and concretely on the problems involved. I agree with almost everything that I heard from my noble friend, and I support the line of his approach. I support him, too, in the appeal to the Minister. I hope he will go to places that we know exist to ask for a dynamic approach to this matter.

That leaves me in this speech of five minutes or so to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, for once again having brought this vital problem to the notice of this House. Our noble heritage are the canals and, my heavens; I do not want them "Beechingised". We made a fundamental mistake with the railways, and I do not want this mistake to be made with the 3,000 miles of heritage that should belong to the people. I believe in public ownership, not for the sake of public ownership, but I regard this project as so great that the powers of Parliament need to be retained, as well as the powers of people, and if any approaches are made, then the formula, or formulae—and I will not repeat it —made by my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale should be taken into account in the House.

I want to give an example from my experience of why I say this. The Bill says that an authority can be given powers of management where it appears to the Minister to be desirable, but sometimes the Minister may not know whether it is desirable. I had the honour and privilege to serve for two or three years on the Mining Subsidence Commission, and I travelled to every mining subsidence area in the United Kingdom. Let me give a concrete example from the Potteries city of Stoke-on-Trent, where the canal and the railway, in one area, meet one another. This was a derelict canal near the great pottery works of the great Josiah Wedgwood and at a beautifully named place—that is not so beautiful to look at—Etruria. It cost the local authorities about £17,000 a year to maintain that canal and the bridges and transport over it. A stretch of canal may be granted to some nebulous body, with private powers. Unknowingly, because they do not read maps very well, or because they may not have travelled over the area, or because they are in the part of life when they would rather sit in a swivel chair than a long boat, the Members of that body may not know that 30 miles away that canal is going through a mining area, for instance, Nantwich, where the salt mines are, or Stoke-on-Trent, or parts of the Brecon Canal—one of the loveliest in Britain— in South Wales. As a child I romped in, swam in, and fished illegally in that canal. Parts of the canal, of which they may know little, run through a mining subsidence area and could cost money that would be beyond their purse. If that be neglected, as was rightly pointed out by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, the entire drainage system of a farming area could be upset.

We had an example with the Kennet and Avon Canal, in about the 1948–49 period. If a canal is neglected the drainage area of perhaps thousands of acres of farm land becomes—" derelict "would be too strong a word—incompetently used. I support the apepal of my noble friend who spoke from the Front Bench and who, to the best of her ability, will support any constructive approach to this matter.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, has had a victory in highlighting this problem. I would have loved to go into the Lobby with him, but I could not constructively do so, knowing these problems. I hope that he does not press the Bill, but that we find another occasion to raise this matter, and that before then we find the attitude to this question of whatever Government may be in power—I hope that our Government will be in power for a long time—so that we may make not one great jump, but a piecemeal, yet constructive, approach in the difficult areas of canal transport.

My Lords, I will mention mining and geology and one other thing and then I shall sit down. I want the Minister to listen to this, because there are some Welsh fishermen who have been ruined on the waterways—and they are the coracle fishermen on the River Teifi. We had a little riparian property and we had rights to put a rod in for salmon on the River Teifi. Those dear old coracle fishermen who were on a lovely river where they were able to enjoy the oases of peace and beauty, are being swept off by some arid act of Parliament of 1930. We are losing our quality of life because we are following this dry asdust god of commercialism. A little less national growth and a little higher quality of life is what we need, and a constructive approach to these lovely canals so that they can be used by people to find peace and quiet would make a contribution to limiting the neurotic state of a commercial nation more than anything else. I think that the therapeutic value of these canals is greater than any crock of gold. I hope that as a result of the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, something constructive will be done in this direction.

5.2 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, I should like to see this Bill get its Second Reading today, although I realise that it is far from perfect and will certainly need amending. There seems to me to be a need for the consolidation of certain independent navigations, possibly with the British Waterways Board's system, leading ultimately to the establishment of a national inland navigation authority. No extension of the British Waterways Board's system has taken place since its establishment on 1st January 1948. The amalgamation of other waterways with the Waterways Board's system would lead to economy in the use of resources and would provide opportunity for further development for recreational purposes of certain waterways and for the commercial development of others.

The areas where consolidation might be appropriate are Yorkshire (the Yorkshire Ouse Navigation, at present the responsibility of the City of York); Linton Lock (vested in the Linton Lock Commissioners); the River Ure Navigation (the responsibility of the British Waterways Board), the River Derwent Navigation and the Driffield Canal. The British Waterways Board would be well placed to undertake the management of these waterways, as they already have an engineering organisation with its associated mining service, covering the Ripon Canal, the River Ure Navigation and the Pocklington Canal. They are also responsible for the important commercial waterways leading to the Humber Estuary, the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Calder and Hebble Navigation and the River Trent Navigation.

The Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation has already been the subject of Parliamentary consideration when the Board promoted the Bill leading to the British Waterways Act 1974. This provides for a large scale improvement of the navigation so that barges of 350-tons carrying capacity can reach Rotherham. The development of the BACAT system, which consists of a mother ship carrying barges across the North Sea which then navigate the River Humber and associated waterways from the Port of Hull, presents encouraging prospects for the development and use of the Waterways Board's System.

I was able to see this new system in operation on its first trip to London and was most impressed. There are also further possibilities in other parts of the country. To give one example, in the North-West, where the Waterways Board have encouraged local authorities and received from them valuable financial assistance, they have recently restored the Ashton and Lower Peak Forest Canals to navigation by cruising craft. These canals are "remainder canals" for which the Waterways Board have duties as described in Section 107 of the Transport Act 1968. They have to be treated by the Board in the most economical fashion possible consistent with public health, safety and amenity. Under the provisions of Section 114 of the Transport Act 1968, the local authority have power to assist: … any other person (whether financially, by the provision of services or facilities, or other- wise) in maintaining or improving for amenity or recreational purposes, including fishing or inland waterways in their areas.

There are many more waterways which could be grouped together to greater advantage, and engineering organisations owned by the British Waterways Board which could be used to maintain these waterways. I have always felt that our waterways have a much greater potential than had been realised until recently, many having been allowed to fall into disuse. Much more could be done and if this Bill can do anything to help and encourage those concerned I, for one, will fully support it.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships an apology for intervening in this debate, because, as will obviously appear, I am the first Member of your Lordships' House who speaks in almost complete ignorance on what is a fascinating and most important subject. I venture to intervene for only one reason; that is, that the British Waterways Board were so good as to place before me certain material and suggested to me that it might be of help, in forming views on the Bill at present under consideration, if your Lordships had before you the feelings and reactions of the Waterways Board to the proposals contained in this Bill. Of course, we speak here entirely as Members of your Lordships' House on our own responsibility; but it seems to me that it is of very great importance that your Lordships should be aware of the feelings of the British Waterways Board on the broad objective encompassed by the Bill at present under consideration.

Before proceeding to expound them, may I say two things? One, is that I warmly join in the gratitude which we should all feel to the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, for having taken the initiative in bringing before the House this matter which so directly appertains to our valuable national heritage—an expression already used but one which, I think, cannot be over-used in this context. The second thing I should like to say is that one of the great privileges and joys of being a Member of Your Lordships' House is the opportunity which one has from time to time to listen to maiden speeches such as we heard today: so well informed, so sincere, so balanced and in a voice which I have often listened to and enjoyed earlier, in circumstances in which I could properly be described—I hope that I could properly be so described— in the phrase which the noble Lord who delivered that speech accidentally used, as his "honourable Friend". Perhaps I should be described as the "honourable Gentleman ". I hope that if he refers to me again he will strike out the word "honourable" and just refer to me as his friend, as I think of him as a friend of mine. I enjoyed his speech, as did we all, and we look forward to hearing from him over and over again and to enjoying it just as much on each occasion.

My Lords, the noble Baroness who last spoke said a number of the things which I had wished to say on behalf of the Board. It would be relevant, I think, to remind the House that the British Waterways Board was, by the Transport Act 1962, set up as a separate division, a separate board, originally having been part of the Transport Commission set up by the Act of 1947. The Board administers a very vast network of inland waterways: some 2,000 miles in length. Reference has been made to the Act which we associate with the name of Mrs. Castle, the Transport Act 1968, which went much further, formulated precisely what the powers and responsibilties of the Board were with regard to its inland waterways, sub-divided them into commercial and cruising waterways and the remainder; and set out in a Schedule, Schedule 12 to the 1968 Act, the main such waterways other than the waterways coming within the third heading, the remainder. So one starts off with the fact that we have a gigantic organisation already in charge, and having been in charge for many years, of this great complex of inland waterways.

In a sense, the waterways which the Board inherited from the Transport Commission found their origin in an historical accident On 1st January 1948 the Transport Commission received into its care and charge the inland waterways that had been during the war and thereafter in the charge of the Minister responsible, and also a number of other waterways which had belonged primarily and principally to the old railway companies of that time. So it was a kind of accident which set out those two sets of waterways which were to go first to the Transport Commission and then in 1962 from the Transport Commission to the British Waterways Board. The result is, of course, that the Board have assembled over the years a great deal of expertise in these matters. They have got together a highly experienced staff, including engineers, inspectors and all the others who have to be brought in to help in the administration of these 2,000 miles of inland waterways.

In these circumstances the Board tell me that their broad view is this. They as a public authority, with all that experience and with all those resources at their disposal feel, as it were as a matter of public duty, that they ought to indicate that they are perfectly ready to take over any further responsibility of the kind envisaged in this Bill—the various inland waterways belonging to various authorities administered over the years by commissioners. They are, therefore, perfectly ready to undertake that extra responsibility, and they would feel in a sense under a moral duty to be ready to do so, and to intimate that they are now ready.

I now have to use the ugly word "money". They think it right that it should be pointed out that to undertake this additional responsibility would almost inevitably mean that their staff would have to be enlarged; they would have to under-take other forms of supervision and development for which their present staff is not adequately equipped. They think it right to say at this stage that, while they would be glad to undertake this responsibility, it would unfortunately mean that some further financial provision from central sources would have to be made available for this purpose. That is their general attitude.

I sum it up by saying, as my noble friend Lady Birk said, that there should be a national navigation authority extending over the whole country. They now are responsible for inland waterways in Scotland, England and Wales, and they feel as such a national authority that they ought to be prepared to undertake any additional responsibility of the kind which is contemplated in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Feversham. I hope I have expressed their general attitude accurately and that your Lordships will feel that that expression of their attitude may be of some assistance to your Lordships in deciding on this Bill. I do not know whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Feversliam, will accept the advice which has been tendered to him to withdraw the Bill. Whether or not he does so, it is felt that your Lordships should be fully aware of the views of this great public enterprise, the British Waterways Board.

Having said that, I would say just one or two words on the form of the Bill. It has in some ways been unfavourably criticised. I do not want to repeat criticisms that have already been made about it, but two things I should like to say are these. The Bill provides for Orders setting up new authorities. The Board fee! that it might well be of advantage in preparing the scope of the Bill if the Board itself were named as one of the potential authorities. It is not so named at the moment. The Board also feel that a Bill of this kind will perhaps be improved if it contains a provision that the Orders which the Minister may make should not include Orders taking away from the Board inland waterways which are already vested in the Board. It would like to see such a provision in any Bill which finally goes on to the Statute Book.

I should now like to speak shortly of the major problem which has been referred to in the preparation of the Bill; that is, the powers conferred upon the Minister by Clause 1(4). I fully understand the difficulty which those who prepared the Bill found they had to meet. As I understand it, there have been over the years and decades, going right back into the 18th century, a number of authorities set up which had the custody and management of individual waterways at the moment not within the scope of the 2,000 miles managed by the Board. They were often conducted by commissions, and, as I think my noble friend Lord St. Davids said, in a number of cases the commissioners have died. It may be found up and down the country, if one looks back into the history of the matter, that there is reference in the records to an authority and that the last commissioner who administered it died 50, 60 or 100 years ago. In analysing the records, one can find the statutory or other powers which the authority may have had under local Acts. Therefore, when my noble friend Lord Feversham addressed himself to the preparation of this Bill, I can well understand the difficulty he felt in deciding how to deal with a situation of that kind. If I analyse this Bill correctly, the solution which he adopted was this: in the first place, to transfer all those powers through a Minister's Order to the new body. In the second place, recognising as of course he did at once that that might vest in the new body quite inadequate powers for his purposes, he sought to amplify those powers by conferring on the Minister who made the Order the extremely wide powers set out in Clause 1(4). The relevant words of this subsection are: … all the powers or additional powers and be subject to all the duties and liabilities of a navigation authority as shall, in the opinion of the Minister, be expedient. Those are words of very wide import.

Although the Order would be subject to Negative Resolution procedure, I feel that there might be—as, indeed, has already been voiced in your Lordships' House—objection to conferring upon a Minister powers so ample and so imprecise. I listened with great interest, as I always do, to the speech of my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale. He was not quite so pessimistic, and I must confess that I come rather nearer to his views than I do to the views of my noble friend Lady Birk, who so roundly condemned the drafting of the Bill. If one took Clause 1(4) and defined in that subsection far more narrowly and precisely the powers which the Minister may exercise when application is made to him for that purpose, one could come much nearer to achieving the objective of the Bill in a form which would be acceptable constitutionally to Parliament. When my noble friend Lord Feversham decides what he will do, perhaps he will give some thought to that possibility.

That brings me to the close of what I wish to say in addressing your Lordships' House this afternoon. May I add a personal note of the warmest sympathy to the purposes behind this Bill. May I say how much I enjoyed listening to the personal experiences of so many of your Lordships in the handling of this admirable portion of the national heritage. I have handled it in a much more superficial form by riding upon it and enjoying its amenities. I hope, even at my age, to go on doing so for some little time, but that is in the Jap of the gods.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debate this afternoon because I had anticipated that some other noble Lord would have made the points which I wish to make. Having done so, however, may I join my predecessors in the debate in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Harvington, on his maiden speech. I hope that we shall hear him again on many occasions.

I do not wish to introduce a note of controversy, because I find myself, if not in complete agreement with every noble Lord who has spoken, in agreement with the general principle that our waterways should be used for the greatest benefit of the people of this country. Inevitably, that principle implies that the greater length of our waterways must be used by people who want to go there in boats, or walk along the banks, and the like. However, may I remind your Lordships that some lengths of waterway, which one noble Lord referred to as being grossly overgrown with water lilies, are not only exquisitely beautiful—with water lilies, frogbit, bladderwort and willows over-hanging a clear, limpid stream which is inevitably stirred up by boats whose bottoms get very near to the mud at the bed of the river—but they also often contain aquatic flora and fauna of the very greatest interest. I think that some of these lengths can be preserved. I have seen places such as appendices along lengths which are throughways; or the final length of some canal—where there is not a throughway—which, with a little care and forethought, could be preserved as a place of beauty where one would hear the plop of a water rat instead of the "chug-chug" of an engine. These are places to which naturalists would go. Some 2 per cent. of the population would, I am sure, prefer to do that instead of going along in a boat. I should have thought that the number involved who wish to study the flora and fauna would be 2 per cent. or less.

I am bound to say in passing that in opening Flatford Mill the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, may have done something which we shall come to regret in future years. He is to allow boats through to a small stretch at the end of the River Stour which is now blocked up at the sea end by a barrage. I think that this small stretch of river might have made an admirable nature reserve if it was not about to be disturbed by boats.

If the noble Lord does not withdraw his Bill and keeps it and tries to improve it—or even if he withdraws it and tries to bring in another Bill—I hope that he will make it necessary to consult the Nature Conservancy on the places to which I have referred, so that at least some lengths of our canals can be preserved for their natural history interest and, also, as places of very quiet recreation for a very small number of people.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, as other noble Lords have declared their interests, I must also begin by declaring an interest, in that I am a canal enthusiast and a member of the Inland Waterways Association, the Kennet and Avon Trust and the Basingstoke Canal Trust, although I do not speak with a brief from any of those bodies. I greatly enjoyed, as did other noble Lords, the speech of my noble friend Lord Harvington, and I hope that we shall hear him speak here more often than, apparently, his colleagues heard him speak in another place.

There is no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, has already achieved a useful discussion and has raised an important issue; namely the revival of these defunct navigation powers. I think he has shown that, to use the motto of the Water Space Amenity Commission, it would be valuable to revive those powers in order to make more water more available to more people more easily.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, found that it was necessary to end on such a bleak note. However, she certainly began in fine lyrical style. In fact, at one moment I thought that she was going to break either into verse or into song. Certainly she roused the Bishops when she began talking about "walking on the waters" as one of the recreational possibilities. I am sorry that she has decided not to speak again, because, as she raised the question of the remainder waterways, I was hoping that in this debate she would be able to say what progress she and her honourable friend Mr. Howell had made on the Report that was rendered to them last August by the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council on 145 miles out of the 600 miles of remainder waterways, with a view to upgrading that mileage. However, I have not given her notice of that question, and if the noble Baroness does not wish to interrupt me now. may I ask her to be kind enough to drop me a line and say how they are getting on.

If I may put myself in the shoes of the noble Baroness, I think that she ought to be aware of the Parliamentary difficulty—so far, at any rate—of sending the Inland Waterways lobby away empty-handed once they have started on a cause. It is a very formidable lobby in both Houses of Parliament, and I am very glad of that. I am not convinced that it is so difficult to make anything useful out of this Bill. Even it were, I should like to hear rather more from Her Majesty's Government about how they are to deal with the matter which the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, has raised before us this afternoon.

However, with the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, I do not believe that there is now much serious inter-Departmental or organisational difficulty, or handicaps or hindrances to making fuller use of waterspace on either the British Waterways network or the networks administered by the regional water authorities. Indeed as the noble Baroness has said, there is a whole water directorate, well staffed and even better advised, on how to male the best recreational use of waterspace of every kind. Mr. John Humphries is the chairman of the Water Space Amenity Commission and Mr. John Barratt is the chairman of the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, which I have just mentioned. I certainly agree that it should be a statutory duty for the Secretary of State under this Bill to consult at least these bodies, and maybe the Nature Conservancy Council, as my noble friend Lord Cranbrook has just mentioned, before exercising any powers such as those provided for under the Bill.

Incidentally, now that I have mentioned the British Waterways Board, I should like to congratulate them on their choice of counsel to espouse their cause in this debate; namely, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill. I was stunned when he spoke of the large reserves held by the British Waterways Board who, as I think we all know, are in a state of chronic bankruptcy, and then I saw that he ingeniously turned this occasion into a plea for more cash for the British Waterways Board. Well, if they get it, so much the better. Certainly progress should be made to make it possible to put the defunct navigation powers to more positive use where they would be valuable, either on the regional water authority's water courses or on the BWB network or in assisting in a few cases, private bodies like the Hants and Surrey or the Basingstoke Canal Trust.

I agree that this Bill, suitably amended and suitably limited, could facilitate the bringing into fuller public enjoyment of stretches of abandoned and derelict waterways and water courses that at present lack proper navigation powers.I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, that it ought to be possible to make use of the frame-work of this Bill, whatever technical defects it may have. I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that many local, private and public interests may be involved in the making of these orders and many of those interests might wish to object. The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has just indicated one such —the lovers of the flora and the fauna. But surely provision could be made for these objections to be heard at a public local inquiry; that would be nothing new, it would be quite straightforward and all the procedures are available.

However, I agree with noble Lords— and the first to mention it was the noble Lord, Lord Henley—that the scope of the Bill as it stands is too wide. One aspect of dealing with this would be to include a Schedule which could catalogue what the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, called the "easy cases"; the more obvious defunct navigation authorities whose powers it would be useful to have, and to schedule them and to show where those powers might be assigned, leaving it to the Minister to decide when to make the transfer, in precisely what form they should be made and if necessary to have a public local inquiry before exercising those powers, and to consult with the various authorities. A comprehensive Schedule of all the defunct navigation authorities could then be added later when a full study of them had been completed by the Department of the Environment.

But in that it is the intention of the Bill to save regional water authorities, the British Waterways Board and individual private bodies like the Canal Trusts the cost and the trouble of promoting Private Bills, it is indeed a welcome measure. But I am afraid I have to end by saying that it is not yet in a form in which I, at least, would be happy to see it on the Statute Book. With the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and others, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, will agree to amend this Bill, to make it more limited in scope, more precise in its content and more constitutional in not giving quite such wide powers to the Secretary of State.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will permit me to intervene for a moment, from what he has just said I am not clear whether he is advising the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, to withdraw when he uses the word "amend" Does he intend the Bill to be amended in Committee or to be amended and brought back in another form?


My Lords, if the noble Lord will just allow me to conclude I will give the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, the benefit of my advice, although I do not think it will be quite as unambiguous as that. What I would say to him is that if I were in his shoes I would consider carefully whether it might not be best to make a more modest, well-considered step now—or later—and to succeed, rather than attempt a great reckless leap now and almost certainly fail.

5.37 p.m.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, since there have been one or two invitations from my noble friend Lord Greenwood and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for me to make a few points on behalf of the Government, I thought I should not resist. It is unusual to be asked to speak again—or indeed to be asked to speak at all! As I had expected, this has been a fascinating debate, and when the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, contrasted what I said at the beginning with what he called the bleak ending, it is quite true that I feel an affinity with water and waterways. I love going on boats, although I have not so far actually walked on the water! I see there is one Bishop still present. My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek, who waxes beautifully lyrical, also had the same feeling but came to the same conclusion, as indeed interestingly enough did the noble Lord, Lord Henley, the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill (for different reasons), the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and in fact the noble Lord, Lord Sandford. Perhaps I may sum up my impressions of the feelings of noble Lords. It seemed to me that they all wanted the end product that had been so admirably argued by the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, but for different reasons they were concerned about the means and whether indeed this particular Bill—and I must stress again that it is this Bill we are considering today; not a different version, not this Bill as amended—was the right vehicle and, if it were, whether it could be amended.

There is one point which perhaps I should clear up as it was rather stressed by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, who did not think that there would be much opposition to orders if this legislation came into effect and that most of the situations would be uncontroversial. This is not so, and I think the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, epitomised this most admirably in his speech when he pointed out the interesting aspect of flora and fauna and in fact showed us quite precisely how different interests, each valid and sincere in its own right, can conflict.

So far as the Yorkshire Derwent Trust proposals are concerned, they would be opposed by the water authority—and we have information that they would be strongly opposed—and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, made the point clear about the general opposition of the water industry to this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Feversham, mentioned the support for this case from the British Waterways Board. I thought the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stow Hill, was particularly interesting. He made it clear that he was putting forward information that he thought it was important for the House to have on the views expressed to him by the British Waterways Board. The Board have expressed their willingness to take over some of the navigations, subject to the availability of funds. But the point is that to maintain the Board's existing system requires a substantial and increasing Exchequer grant. I am sure noble Lords from all sides of the House appreciate that there can be no question of a substantial increase in public expenditure in the present economic situation.

My Lords, I am sorry to have to strike a bleak note, but I always feel it is not only unfair to the House but unfair to the mover of a Bill of this sort to encourage in him any false optimism, which it is quite impossible for me to do speaking on behalf of the Government. Perhaps the noble Lord will think himself well advised not to follow my advice, as he may feel that I have a vested interest as a member of the Government and that he should take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, should produce an entirely different Bill. To take another analogy similar to my earlier one about cutting up the dress until it became a different garment, there is the analogy of Washington's axe. By the time you have had three new handles and three new heads you have an entirely new axe.

The same argument applies to this Bill; and, of course, in between there would be the very hard work of the Committee stage. I believe that, by the end of the day. the surgery which would have to go into this would still not produce something acceptable, not just to the Government but even to those noble Lords who have such a tremendous knowledge, interest and expertise in the subject. Naturally, it is up to the noble Lord, Lord Feversham, but all I would say is that he should take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, and withdraw the Bill, but with the thanks of us all for giving us the opportunity for this debate.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by saying how much I enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harvington. More than anyone else, he went into the history of the situation with regard to the inland waterways. Probably there are few people in the House, with the possible exception of the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who are so well equipped to go into the history of the situation.

A number of points have been made this afternoon to the effect that the Bill is drawn too wide, that more definition is needed and so on. I have the impression that perhaps one has gone too far in outlining the difficulties. We start off from a position where we have a very short Bill and one can cut out only four clauses. In my opinion the descriptions of the difficulties involved do not apply too much. In fact, I already have some Amendments. One or two are rather long, but the others are not too long, and they will probably cover all the points raised this afternoon. But that does not mean to say that I will proceed with this Bill to the point where those Amendments may be introduced in Committee. That may not necessarily be the case.

My Lords, what I found utterly depressing about this afternoon's debate was the fact that we have had no indication at all from the Government of the fact that there is a problem here. As the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, started off in tremendous form in a lyrical vein, and practically burst into song on the desirability of the waterways. But the noble Baroness did not actually say that there are any problems, or say what is the Government policy, or whether, indeed, they have any policy. We have had no indication at all, and I find this extremely depressing. We have heard from one or two places—and, indeed, the noble Baroness herself mentioned the fact earlier—that there might be a possibility of a national navigation authority at some time in the future. That may be so. But I do not think that necessarily means that there are any problems which could not be resolved now, or which could not be dealt with quickly. I do not think we necessarily have to wait a number of years—which I think it would be bound to take—before we have a resolution as to whether we should have a national navigation authority, or some other form of management of our navigations. Nearly every noble Lord who has spoken this afternoon has said that there is a problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, was one of those who suggested that, on balance, it would be better to withdraw the Bill, and he was rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, in that he started his speech in fine form, but rather petered out at the end. He said that one part of my Bill could not really be argued against; there were no arguments against it. He then retreated somewhat and said later on that he felt the Bill should be withdrawn. In many respects, I felt he produced the most hopeful note that we have had from anybody this afternoon, in that he felt the National Water Council should look at the problems which exist. At least, he said that someone should look at the problems which exist, which is not what we have heard from the Government.

My Lords, on balance, I do not agree that it would be impossible to amend this Bill to produce the sort of measure which would solve the existing problem and might well be acceptable. I do not go along with the argument that, for instance, the inquiry procedure could be just as expensive as the Public Bill procedure. The fact is that a lot of applications for Orders would not be contested. The Upper Avon Private Bill was not contested, and it cost over £5,000. In the Private Bill situation, one is paying money whether or not the Bill is opposed, which is not necessarily so with the Order-making procedure. Even in the situation of the Bill being opposed, I do not believe that the cost of an inquiry would be anything like the cost involved in the Public Bill procedure.

I also agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, when he dealt with the difficulties of the Order procedure compared with the Public Bill procedure. I thought the noble Lord made the point much better than I could have done, that Ministers will not misuse their powers, for every Order can be annulled by Parliament and can be debated in both Houses. They were very persuasive arguments, even more so coining from the Government Benches. They were more persuasive than if they were coming from the Cross-Benches.

My Lords, on balance, I think the best thing for me to do is to withdraw this Bill at this point. There are different ways in which one can do that. One can withdraw a Bill with grace, one can with-draw it without grace, or one can with-draw it with positive disgrace. I have hit upon a new method which I hope will appeal to the noble Baroness and the Government, and also to other Members of your Lordships' House. In withdrawing my Bill I intend to hand it, together with the Amendments that I have in my brief-case to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who has already expressed a desire to help out in this situation, who has said that he would like the Bill to be a little less widely drawn than is the one that I have introduced. I have every hope that within the next week or two we may see being introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill which deals with this matter in a slightly narrower way. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.