HL Deb 20 July 1982 vol 433 cc749-50
Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what help and encouragement they are giving or intend to give to the British Waterways Board in its plans for the River Severn over the next 15 to 20 years with a view to increasing the draught of ships reaching Gloucester and Worcester—as reported in the British Waterways Board Annual Report 1981, page 6, paragraph 45.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the British Waterways Board's report for 1980 mentioned, in paragraph 39, that a study commissioned by the board in 1979 reported favourably on the prospects for commercial traffic on the River Severn. However, no report or proposals for improving the Severn have been submitted to my right honourable friend.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that reply. Are the Government aware of the growing interest of people of all opinions in the importance of these inland waterways, particularly the Severn area, which is in a river basin at the corner of a great industrial area of Britain? Secondly, are the Government cognisant of the fact that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries commented in 1978 on the hauteur and indifferent manner in which the Government appear to see the Waterways Board's analysis of its balance sheets, social benefit not being taken into account? Finally, would he agree that the co-ordination of this river work is of great importance, and that the social benefit would help to create employment and lessen some of the overcrowding on our roads? Once again, we should then see happy little ships trudging up and down the historic River Severn.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am entirely sympathetic with the noble Lord and with the charming picture that he paints. We are looking at a development on the Sheffield and South Yorkshire navigation improvement scheme, which is going ahead at present. I believe that this will be an important factor in assessing the demand for waterborne freight in the future.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether, in regard to Sheffield and South Yorkshire waterway, there is full trade union co-operation with the Waterways Board? There was a scheme some years ago for what are called BACAT ships, which could have gone across the North Sea to join the European waterways system, and this was frustrated by trade union opposition at the time.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am not aware of any opposition of that kind. But if my noble friend can give me any evidence I will, of course, follow it up.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, are the Government aware that there is a strong interest among commercial undertakers, who are wishing to use the River Severn? In supporting my noble friend, may I ask whether the Government would agree that it is highly desirable that the commercial interests plying the waterways should be encouraged, especially in regard to the River Severn?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. In the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred the words are as follows: The Board will co-operate with the riparian local authorities, commercial and other bodies to grasp opportunities as they arise".

Lord Northfield

My Lords, would the noble Lord look to see how much further up the Severn this could be pressed? Would it not be a good thing, with all the interest in industrial archaeology and the origins of the industrial revolution at Ironbridge, and with all the traffic that went downriver from Ironbridge to Bristol and to the rest of the world, to see whether the Severn could be improved right up to the original places at Ironbridge, where all this happened?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I should not like with a map to illustrate this to the House. But the report says: With a view to ships of 2,000 tons deadweight reaching Gloucester, and vessels up to 1,500 tons reaching Worcester", which is halfway there.

Lord Hawke

My Lords, is the picture which the noble Lord painted consistent with the building of a Severn barrage or not?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, we are going upriver. I think that that is downstream.

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