HL Deb 27 January 1992 vol 534 cc1125-34

7.10 p.m.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

I think I owe it to your Lordships to make my intentions this evening quite clear. It is not my intention to take the amendments or to move the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I take that course because of pressure of time. Tonight I shall only move the Third Reading of the Bill. It has become clear to me and to others that in the space of an hour or so we cannot possibly give the Bill and the various amendments to it—they have come in thick and fast and some on a rather late wind—the careful and considered examination which they deserve. Some of the amendments deal with substantive points; for example, Scotland, which is no light matter. Others deal with the extinguishment of rights, which is another significant matter. They deserve more consideration than time permits.

It would be wrong and unworthy of the House to try unduly to compress our discussion of those amendments in the short time at our disposal. The fact that we shall not come back to the Bill until the Ides of March will allow the promoters and interested parties and organisations time to discuss and, I hope, to reach agreement on a number of the issues outstanding at the present time. I trust, however, that noble Lords will state frankly, albeit briefly, what they feel about the Bill as it is now drafted. I shall try to be brief. Later there will be a full debate on all the amendments then before the House on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, probably, as I have already suggested, in early March. In case there is any doubt on this score I should make it clear that in giving the Bill a Third Reading this evening your Lordships will in no sense be denying yourselves the right to move amendments (if by then there are still matters unresolved) when we come back to the Bill in March and before the Motion that the Bill do now pass is put.

That said, I should like to add a few words about the Bill itself as it is a long time since we gave it a Second Reading. Since then a lot of water has flowed down the canals of the British Waterways Board. The Bill has been given careful consideration by a distinguished Select Committee under the experienced chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. I understand that the committee heard evidence and submissions on no fewer than 11 days and that the written record of its proceedings extends to more than 600 pages. That is indicative of the thoroughness with which noble Lords who were members of the committee investigated the arguments then put for and against the provisions of the Bill. They deserve our congratulations. It is also worth noting that, with one or two exceptions, its recommendations —its recommendations are unanimous so far as concerns the committee —were those proposed by British Waterways. The clear message from the Select Committee was that the Bill should go forward subject to those amendments and that the case for the promoters had been substantiated in evidence.

I should like to draw three particular points to the attention of the House as they all came up at Second Reading. The first concerns the Instruction given by the House at Second Reading regarding residual waterways. It is now proposed in Clause 21(2) (d) that effect be given to that special Instruction. The Select Committee expressed satisfaction in its report that the board's proposed amendment met the concerns raised at Second Reading. Concern was also expressed at Second Reading that the Bill should provide for a greater degree of consultation with users before the board implemented some of the new powers it was seeking. That requirement has now been given statutory force in the Bill so that organisations like the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council should be consulted.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if the noble Earl will permit me, it is quite clear that there is concern in many parts of the House about the procedure we are adopting. I am sure that the noble Earl is being as clear as possible, but can it be made absolutely explicit that, although the Third Reading of the Bill has been moved, when we return to the Bill in March there will be an opportunity to consider the amendments before us and any other amendments and, indeed, that there will be an opportunity if the House wishes to vote down the Bill, presumably on the Motion that the Bill do now pass? I want to be clear that we all understand that to be the situation.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, that is most certainly the situation. I apologise if I did not make it crystal clear. I hope very much that the House will not decide to vote down the Bill as it is my hope and understanding that the difficulties which have still to be resolved will be resolved between now and March. That is one of the reasons why I think it useful that we should adopt this procedure.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to intervene? I take it that what he is formally doing is asking all those who have tabled amendments not to move them. In that case and in the light of what he said I would be perfectly prepared not to move my amendment. However, I take it that all noble Lords who have amendments down have a right to move them.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, we are not going to take amendments at this stage. We cannot possibly do so in the time that is available to us. However, it is open to noble Lords to express any views that they would like to express on the Bill. The procedure we are adopting—I have taken the counsel of the experts—is that we should have the Third Reading now and then in March, on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, take the amendments. If the House wishes then to reject the Bill—I hope that that will not be the case—it will be perfectly entitled to do so. That is my understanding of the position.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House, but I am a little unhappy. I did not put down my name to speak on Third Reading because I was under the impression that the amendments would come up for debate. They were of more interest to me than speaking generally about the Bill. As I understand it, my great opportunity will come in March. In the meantime I am bound to silence. I am not sure that this is the best way of proceeding.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, there was considerable discussion through the usual channels this afternoon when it became apparent that owing to public Bill pressure and other considerations it would have been impossible at this stage to give the amendments the careful consideration which they deserve. We are not in ideal circumstances at the moment but it seemed to me —and I think to those noble Lords who have tabled important amendments—that this was the preferred course. I think I am right in saying that. I hope that the noble Lord will feel free to speak now on Third Reading if he is so inclined, but most certainly we would wish to hear what he has to say when the amendments are taken in March.

As I have already taken up 10 minutes of your Lordships' valuable time I shall just say this in conclusion. Judging by the remarks made by those who spoke at Second Reading the Bill received then a general welcome, albeit certain noble Lords expressed qualifications and reservations on certain specific points. I believe that many of those points have now been covered, and the objections met, in the Bill which is now before the House. However, there are still many outstanding questions and some noble Lords have undoubtedly tabled significant amendments.

It is possible that the Bill requires further amendment and improvement. I hope that the time available between now and the next stage in March will allow plenty of opportunity for consultation and, I trust, agreement between the organisations and individuals involved. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time.—(Earl Jellicoe.)

7.20 p.m.

Lord Burton

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. I am sure that his proposal to adjourn this debate is the right one. It will give the objectors—and there are many of them—who for one reason or another did not come before the Select Committee, an opportunity of having constructive discussion. Moreover, it is to be hoped that it will allow the British Waterways Board time to come forward to your Lordships with agreed amendments to provide for a better Bill. If that is the case, perhaps we can look forward to a debate in a few weeks' time which will be largely formal.

To take amendments to a Select Committee is a very expensive procedure. It is to be hoped that the postponement will allow people, who could well find other ways of spending their money, the opportunity to secure adjustments to the Bill through discussions with the British Waterways Board before it comes back to the House.

There are many points in the current Bill upon which various bodies and persons are unhappy. Out of all the amendments that I have tabled—some 12 in all —only two were substantive; the remainder were consequential. The aim of the first amendment was to remove Scotland from the Bill. The British Waterways Board has agreed that the Caledonian canal (60-odd miles long) is a special case. The Highland region and the two district councils concerned had come to unanimous decisions—and I think that that must be unique— to object to the Bill. If that is the case, there must be things which are far wrong with the Bill. I am much relieved that I do not have to detail some of them to your Lordships tonight and that the lawyers of Highland Regional Council will discuss the situation with the British Waterways Board. Had the Bill proceeded, there would have been very considerable legal confusion over the law on the four lochs which comprise about three quarters of the length of the Caledonian canal; indeed, well over half of the length of the operative canals in Scotland.

There are various other rights to which the British Waterways Board has very dubious claims in Scotland. I had been promised access to an early draft of the Bill in which Scotland was not even mentioned. But now that it has been tacked on, various problems and drafting errors have arisen. Amendment No. 5 on the Marshalled List, and one which would have been moved by my noble friend, was drawn to the attention of the British Waterways Board by Mr. Forbes Rennie, one of the lawyers of Highland Regional Council, at a meeting which took place as recently as 9th January.

At a meeting at Spean Bridge, British Waterways Board's manager for Scotland stated that the Bill would have little effect in Scotland, and that as a result, and on account of the hostility to the legislation there, it seemed wise for Scotland to be excluded from the Bill. The British Waterways Board would lose little and a great deal of hassle would be avoided. Indeed, by withdrawing Scotland from the Bill, the British Waterways Board would gain considerable kudos.

The other substantive amendment that I tabled seeks to remove the section which refers to having a care for the environment. That may have confused your Lordships. The amendment was put forward for two reasons. The first was to voice the worries of some boating organisations that the British Waterways Board might use the clause as an excuse not to carry out various operations which were desirable, such as dredging, in certain circumstances. The second was to point out that the section had no teeth. There was a worry that the British Waterways Board might just carry on in an environmentally unfriendly way and that there would be no method of enforcing the instruction in Clause 21.

Perhaps I may give your Lordships a few examples of environmental problems: 80 per cent. of the boats using the Caledonian canal have no inboard storage for sewage and so discharge crude sewage into the waterways. The district council is being put to considerable expense every year in clearing rubbish thrown overboard which eventually gets washed up on the north end of Loch Ness. The shore on the north end of Loch Ness, which could be a nice beach even if the water is cold—I should say that I once sampled it at 2 a.m. on one New Year's morning; but that is another story!—is now very dangerous as it is strewn with broken glass which has come mainly from bottles that have been thrown overboard. Finally, I should point out that there are no pump-ashore facilities for bilge water.

In conclusion, I should like, once more, to thank my noble friend. I hope that we shall see happier days with the British Waterways Board when the Bill returns to the House.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I am in considerable sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe. We should not attempt to complete the Bill's course through the House tonight. In allocating a dinner break for discussion of the Bill, the powers-that-be clearly under-estimated the strength of concern and interest in the matter. However, that is understandable as some of the amendments were not tabled until very late in the day. The amendment that I have tabled is purely a drafting matter and I lay no great store upon it. But, frankly, I am concerned that we should have what I would call a pseudo-debate tonight on amendments that are not to be moved until March.

Apart from conveying our gratitude to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and his colleagues for the work that they have put into the matter, which was outstanding and very much appreciated, I can see no point in having a pseudo-debate at this stage when we are told that nothing definitive can be dealt with and that we shall have a further opportunity some time in March, and at greater length, to move our amendments and to make any comments that we might have on the Bill.

I, for one, should very much like to discuss the proposed position and potential changes in IWAAC which could have a considerable effect on the running of the waterways. However, I do not propose to embark on that today. I am nevertheless rather concerned about our having a pseudo-debate this evening in place of a proper debate and acceptance with good grace—I am sure that most of us have been consulted—of the fact that we cannot have that full debate tonight.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Harvington

My Lords, I speak on behalf of many thousands of canal users and the Inland Waterways Association in general. I should first of all apologise to my noble friend Lord Halifax, because I gave him some incorrect information earlier this afternoon. Events have not turned out exactly as I told him they would. However, he has been most sporting about the fact that he has not known too much about what was to happen.

I believe that we are right to accept what my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said. I know that he has received the best possible advice on the matter. There is no question of worry as regards whether we can move any amendments we like—that is, either those before the House or others—when we come to the debate at a later stage on the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

It is most unusual in this House to have a debate and amendments on that particular Motion when the Question is put. But I am given to understand that the House will probably not object too much as we have done much to convenience its passage by taking the matter in this way tonight. I have much pleasure in supporting the noble Earl.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, if we are having a pseudo-debate, does that mean that we are totally abandoning the speakers' list? What are we actually doing? Perhaps the noble Earl can tell me what we are supposed to be doing.

7.30 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, perhaps it may be of assistance if I intervene. As my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said, the fact that many amendments were tabled for Third Reading shows that there are still some issues to be addressed both by him and the promoters of the Bill. Therefore, perhaps this is a valuable opportunity for some noble Lords who may like to point out various issues that they wish to discuss in the future—that is, between now and March —with the promoters of the Bill. We hope that any differences will be resolved. I do not think that it is necessary at this stage to discuss the nitty-gritty of those differences; nor, indeed, to debate the Motion that the Bill do now pass. We shall have an opportunity to do so in the future. I hope that that is a satisfactory explanation.

The Select Committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, dealt with many of the issues. There are obviously more issues to discuss and there will be an opportunity to do so. As my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said, he hopes to be able to discuss the anxieties of noble Lords who have tabled amendments and sort them out in some way.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, as the Minister has spoken I hope that I am not prevented from speaking.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, certainly not.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I am worried about this procedure. We shall be establishing a precedent if we accept a situation where we discuss amendments on Third Reading and move them on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. I can see all kinds of difficulties arising in the future if that can happen. If it cannot happen, I am not sure what we are doing. The neatest, most sensible and coherent way to proceed would be to postpone the whole matter until the beginning of March, otherwise we shall hear from noble Lords the excellent arguments advanced in support of their amendments and we shall either forget them before the beginning of March or have to listen to them again. It does not seem to be a useful exercise to do either of those things.

I ask the Minister to explain clearly and simply why we cannot abandon the whole procedure now and start it afresh at the beginning of March.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am in your Lordships' hands. I hope that I made it clear that I did not feel that it was necessary to go into the details of the amendments or to discuss them. I said that if any noble Lord wished to make a point which he wanted my noble friend Lord Jellicoe to consider between now and March, he could make that point. If your Lordships do not wish to do that, it is a matter entirely for your Lordships' House.

7.32 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not wish to contribute to a substantive discussion of the amendments or the Bill as a whole. I received from the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the assurance that I sought —that we would have the opportunity to table amendments— and that satisfied me. Under those circumstances, I do not wish to express an opinion on the amendments or the effect that they have on the Bill without hearing the arguments for and against them.

I am intrigued by the procedural complications. I must confess that my inclination would have been to suggest that we move that consideration on Third Reading be now adjourned rather than have amendments at an unspecified time after Third Reading or on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. That is not a normal procedure. I am also intrigued by the suggestion that it will be the noble Earl who will discuss with the proposers of amendments what should be done next. Presumably the Select Committee has wound up its proceedings. I wonder whether there should be a Motion to reconvene the Select Committee to consider new evidence, if there is new evidence. So long as we are assured, as we are, by the Clerks at the Table that this is a proper procedure, I believe that we should leave it at that.

7.34 p.m.

Lord Cornwallis

My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl's decision to bring the Bill back in March. We requested that last week and were turned down. We believe that many of the outstanding matters can be agreed between us. I hope that the noble Earl will assure us that those matters will be brought forward by him as amendments when the Bill returns to the House in March. We have been close to agreement on a number of points. It seems wrong that we should debate matters on the Floor of the House that we believe can be brought back, by agreement, at a later date. I welcome the decision.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have one last point for the noble Earl. He started by mentioning the Ides of March, which I understand to be 14th March. He then said early in March.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, the Ides of March have become a little flexible. I believe that it will be early March.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have no idea where we have reached on the speakers' list, and in any case I am not on it. If this is the gap, I should like to speak. If it it not, I shall wait.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I must confess that I remain confused about what I should now do. I have prepared a speech which is perhaps a little longer than is appropriate at this juncture. We have now taken 35 minutes to get started. I should like to start, but if I hear groans I shall stop.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, would be well advised not to raise substantive issues arising from the Bill. We have all refrained from doing that. I believe that he would make a more effective speech in March rather than now.

Lord McNair

My Lords, am I right in believing that we shall have an opportunity to make speeches in March?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, the noble Lord will have an ample opportunity to make all his points in March either when amendments are tabled or on the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Brightman

My Lords, perhaps I may say how much I appreciate the kind remarks made by noble Lords about the work of the committee which I had the honour to chair. I do not intend to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments. I only wish to say that I support the suggestion that the Third Reading of the Bill be postponed. The amendments raise some important points which, in my opinion, should be debated fully. It would be a great pity if they had to be rushed through under a time constraint. Furthermore, there is, I understand, a real possibility that some of the amendments may be accommodated through discussions with the board even though they are not accepted in full. I hope that your Lordships will agree to the proposed adjournment. I intend to say nothing about the proposed amendments, but to hold my fire until the Bill is debated fully.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, this is the gap. I shall be exceedingly brief. I wish to make only two points. The first is to apologise for the lateness with which the amendment I put down arrived on the Marshalled List. The Bill's progress was only brought to my attention on Thursday afternoon. It took me until Friday to draft an amendment to meet the anxieties about the environment which are addressed by it. I hope that that was not the straw that broke the camel's back in this spectacular fashion. If it was, I apologise.

My other point concerns an observation of my noble friend Lord Burton and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman —I join with others in congratulating the noble and learned Lord on the conduct of his committee—who both referred to an adjournment of Third Reading. That is not what I believe is in process of being agreed. What is being agreed is that Third Reading be agreed now, and that amendments be tabled for a debate on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, which is less revolutionary than I thought it was when it was drawn to my attention that Third Reading takes place at the beginning of the debate before the amendments are moved. We have had no rights withdrawn from us as a result of being asked not to move amendments on this occasion. It is on that basis that I happily support the move made by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe.

7 38 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

My Lords, I too support my noble friend Lord Jellicoe. There seems little point in taking the debate further. I look forward to hearing the discussion in March.

7.39 p.m.

Earl Jellicoe

My Lords, I believe that I have the right to reply, and I also believe that it would be wrong for me to detain your Lordships much longer. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I apologise again for this sudden change of plan but it only became evident during the afternoon that we were not giving ourselves time at this stage for a proper consideration of a number of serious and important amendments.

I should like to add—I have the permission of the British Waterways Board to say this—that it is the board's intention to enter into serious discussions between now and March with those noble Lords who have tabled substantive amendments with a view to reaching, if possible, agreed proposals or agreed amendments to the Bill. In the circumstances, I believe that this is the right way to proceed. It would be a pity if such a Bill left this House with too many areas not agreed to and in dispute before it goes on its voyage to another place. That lies behind the procedure, plus the pressure on parliamentary time in this House at present. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a third time.

Viscount Long

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.41 to 8.10 p.m.]