As I was saying, a vivid example was given to the Select Committee when the Bill was in another place. It concerned a 30 acre site intended for comprehensive redevelopment adjoining the Trent and Mersey canal. The developer wished to drain the whole area into the canal, which was on a steep embankment, by means of an existing outfall and claimed to be entitled to do so as a right under the enabling Acts for that canal.
British Waterways' engineers calculated that in a one in 25 year storm the available freeboard in the canal at the lowest point on that pound would have been used up within 15 minutes, leading to the immediate over-topping of the towing path by the storm water and to the failure of the embankment. A breach there would have had catastrophic results which would have affected houses, a public house, a filling station and a factory on the road below, posing serious risks to life and property.
To avoid those consequences, British Waterways calculated that an overflow pipe would need to be installed to carry the surplus water to the nearby River Trent. At a conservative estimate, it would have cost more than £85,000 for the engineering works alone, the cost of land acquisition being in addition. The only beneficiary would have been the developer himself, and no benefit whatever would have accrued from the expenditure to the waterway or its users. It is perhaps fortunate that the Japanese backers of that development decided to invest their funds elsewhere, so the problems did not materialise.
Nevertheless, such problems could arise again, either at that or many other locations on the waterways system. For that reason, and because British Waterways believes that the existence of such rights and the exercise of them in modern conditions could be actually harmful to the maintenance and integrity of the waterways, the following statement was made to the Committee when British Waterways sought to withdraw the clause :
"Clause 27 of the British Waterways Bill would have extinguished certain rights conferred on riparian owners and others by early Canal Acts passed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The rights in question included rights to construct works affecting canals, drainage and abstraction rights and also sporting and fishing rights and rights to use pleasure boats which by now are unenforceable or else incompatible with modern legislation.
The clause was included in the Bill as claims to exercise such rights could lead to severe operational and other difficulties, including the impairment of safety. It is moreover extremely difficult in modern circumstances to determine who, if anyone, is now entitled to the rights. For all these reasons the Board decided that clause 27 should extinguish the rights completely.
After a full hearing before the Opposed Committee of the House of Lords, the Committee found that the case for the clause was proved. The clause was further amended following third reading in the House of Lords but was allowed to remain in the Bill.
Following the First House Committee stage, clause 27 continued to be controversial. Petitioners and others have represented that they would be prejudiced by the clause, if it were to become law in its most recent form. Attempts to reach some form of agreement with all those who opposed the clause have in most cases been unsuccessful. All these factors have required the Board to re-examine the basis of the clause and the wider questions related to it in the light of representations made. In
Column 955these circumstances, it has been decided to seek leave of the Select Committee of the House of Commons to withdraw clause 27. In seeking to withdraw the clause, the Board are conscious that the difficulties which it was intended to remove still have to be resolved. They therefore wish to emphasis that they may have to promote legislation in the future on the subject of ancient rights, and works and activities affecting inland waterways. Any such powers will be sought following a wide consultation exercise which will enable those who have petitioned against clause 27 to express their views on any new proposals."
Clause 27 petitioners apart, when the Committee stage began on 26 June 1993 the possible maximum number of outstanding petitions was seven, of which five were lodged by individuals and two by fringe houseboat groups. I say the "possible" number because some of those concerned did not reply to correspondence and the board was unable to determine whether they were minded to continue their opposition. In the event, four individual petitioners presented themselves to speak to their petitions.
So far, the Committee--under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie)--has sat for a total of 13 whole or part days and the record of its proceedings extends to more than 800 pages of transcript. It is almost at the end of its examination of the Bill, but it is understood that the members of the Committee may rightly wish to go out on visits to see something of the canal system and to take further evidence from two of the petitioners, who are no doubt as anxious as the promoters to see the resumption and completion of the Committee's examination of it.
All concerned have invested considerable time and money in the project--a point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is a member of the Private Bill Committee and who asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for this debate.
In the form in which the Bill went into the Opposed Committee, it had the support of all British Waterways' principal user groups, including the Inland Waterways Association,, the British Marine Industries Federation, the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators, the Royal Yachting Association, the National Association of Boat Owners and the Residential Boat Owners Association, which are all completely independent of British Waterways and are rightly regarded as the representative bodies of users.
They are all frustrated and perplexed that the Bill Committee cannot be allowed to get on with and complete its job unless this motion is passed tonight. Any hon. Member who continues to have reservations about any elements of the Bill will have an opportunity to raise them at the next stage when it returns to the Floor of the House for further debate.
Quite apart from the energy that has gone into the promotion of the Bill, 1993 has been a busy and eventful year for British Waterways. The appointment of the ombudsman, which I announced in my speech in opening the Second Reading debate, was made later in the summer and took effect from 1 September. The board's choice for the appointment was Lady Ponsonby of Shulbrede, a practising barrister and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, who has considerable experience in the resolution of disputes- -even if they are not related to waterway management. Her appointment was welcomed
Column 956by the users of the board's waterways. She is accepted as entirely independent. I am told that she already has a modest case load of complaints to investigate. Unlike other organisations investigated by other ombudsmen, British Waterways has agreed to be bound by the waterways ombudsman's findings.
The year 1793 marked the height of canal mania, when 62 different canals-- more than half the canal system--were being planned or built, and dozens of private Acts authorising their construction were passed by Parliament. The construction of the canal system, Britain's first transport network, was one of the main factors leading to the industrial revolution. Many major towns and cities, such as Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, owe their existence to canals. One of the Acts was for the Grand Junction canal, now part of the Grand Union canal, which last year celebrated its bicentenary in a number of diverse ways, including cavalcades, rallies and the opening of the long-distance towpath walk from London to Birmingham. "Canals 200", as British Waterways called those year-long festivities, was devised and organised by British Waterways to celebrate that significant bicentenary. It was the largest nationwide celebration ever held on the canal system. As the Grand Union canal runs the length of my constituency, I was particularly delighted at that. There were 175 "Canals 200" festivals, open days, exhibitions and events throughout the canal system in 1993, attended by 620,000 people. British Waterways had a presence at all the events, ranging from banners and small display and information units to the major "Canals 200" exhibition. In May, major festivals were held simultaneously in Gloucester, Rickmansworth and Nottingham to launch the celebrations. In July, the Royal Mail issued the first inland waterways commemorative stamps. The "Canals 200" touring exhibition is visiting major museums. "Canals 200" has been extremely successful in raising the profile of inland waterways in the minds of the public.
The campaign has quadrupled British Waterways' national media coverage, reaching an estimated 14 million people. The promotion has been a great success, and links have been formed with local canal societies, inland waterway groups, hire boat operators, museums and others. That has encouraged British Waterways to extend the celebrations through 1994--the bicentenary year for 14 Acts of Parliament. British Waterways is currently working with volunteer groups throughout the canal system to help publicise and organise boat rallies and festivities in celebration of "Canals 200". British Waterways is also planning to extend its network of cruising waterways by applying for a ministerial order to upgrade the Sheffield and Tinsley canal from remainder to cruising status. The almost derelict canal basin, lying virtually in the centre of the city of Sheffield, is at the heart of an overall redevelopment scheme that will lead to the refurbishment of historic buildings, the dredging of the adjoining waterway and the repair of its walls, and the total regeneration of that part of the city.
The canal and basin are integral to, and a vital component of, the regeneration project, which has the active backing of the Sheffield development corporation and Sheffield city council. The reclassification of the waterway and the guarantees it holds for its future management by British Waterways will be a crucial
Column 957element in the attraction of investment for the overall redevelopment, as has been the improvement and upgrading of the waterway itself.
The year 1993 also saw the return to British Waterways of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, which published its report on 7 January this year. It found that there had been a transformation in British Waterways. The report, which was nearly 300 pages long, contained almost 50 recommendations that British Waterways hopes will help it to continue to make improvements. That is the purpose for which British Waterways embarked on the promotion of the Bill in 1990.
While the promotion has not been without its difficulties, many of us are now aware of the considerable groundswell of opinion in favour of its enactment. Many hon. Members have received letters to that effect from British Waterways' representative user groups, which generally regard the intervening years of debate and negotiation as having been well spent. From that, a much greater understanding has grown among users of the board's problems, and vice versa. It has given solid commitments to the citizens charter, a leisure and tourism strategy, and other commitments on which all users can rely. An enormous amount of progress has been made on a system that, as I said, provides a great deal of pleasure for many people, but the main considerations that underlie the Bill are ones of safety. That matter has rightly been addressed at considerable length by the Committee. It wants to complete its deliberations, which is important for the future of the canal system. I therefore have no hesitation in commending the revival measure to the House, and I hope that the House will support it.
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) : I declare an interest because I have sat on the Committee for 13 sittings encompassing more than 50 hours of careful consideration of the facts. I ask the House to continue to place faith in my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) and the hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter).
I think that it is in order to use the word "colleague" in referring to the three other people who sat on the Committee with me. I pay tribute to their painstaking conscientiousness and the courteous manner in which they dealt with a difficult private Bill. As you would expect, Madam Deputy Speaker, I do not wish to speak about the merits of the Bill, but I ask the House to give my three colleagues and me the opportunity to complete our work and to give the House the opportunity to consider whatever decision is reached by the Committee.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I understand that my hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Committee wanted to make a number of inspections as part of their work on the Bill. I understand that some difficulties arose in that regard. I find it incredible and shocking that a parliamentary Committee that wants to conduct investigations at its own cost and through its own organisation should have any impediment put in its way.
I understand that the Committee has made several attempts to organise that search for information. As British Waterways is seeking a carry-over motion, now is the time to ensure that there is maximum co-operation from every
Column 958conceivable party, or difficulties may arise over that motion. My hon. Friend could help the House by outlining the difficulties that have arisen.
Mr. Etherington : My hon. Friend has stolen some of my thunder. I agree with what he said and shall explain the matter further. I had an impression throughout the Committee that there was a sense of haste among the Clerks in the Private Bill Office. I am not aware of who decided how long the sittings on the Bill might take, but whoever it was underestimated the Bill's complexity and the work involved, with members of the Committee wanting to cross-examine and clarify every possible issue.
Mr. Redmond : My hon. Friend mentioned the Clerks in the Private Bill Office. I have always found them extremely helpful in the way that they conduct their business, especially in dealing with problems on private Bills, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is aware. Given that accord exists among members of the Committee--they have been spoken of in glowing terms--who objected to the visits? If it was British Waterways, it ought to know better. I cannot believe that the Clerks stopped hon. Members from paying visits that would help them in their deliberations.
Mr. Etherington : I must agree that the Clerks have been very helpful, but coming up with an acceptable decision or advice can sometimes be a different thing, as I am sure hon. Members are aware. A majority of hon. Members on the Committee thought that it would be necessary to pay a visit because the legislation in Scotland differs from that in England and Wales. We felt that many issues required us to see for ourselves what was experienced. Even though they might have the best imaginations in the world, no members of the Committee have had much experience of canals or canal people. The people concerned with this matter, whether they were in favour of or against the Bill, have done their very best and have been most helpful, and I praise them all. We felt that it was necessary to have a site visit. We were told categorically that visits were not allowed in respect of a private Bill. We persisted informally with that line and we were told that the Chairman of Ways and Means would not sanction such a visit. At that stage, our proposal was fairly tentative.
The Chairman of the Committee--my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie)--and I, with the permission of the two Conservative Members involved, approached the Chairman of Ways and Means. As always, he was very sympathetic, helpful and courteous. We came away with the impression that the matter would not require further clarification and that we would get satisfaction, but time rolled on and no arrangements have been made. For a variety of reasons, sometimes two or three Committee members were not available. On other occasions, we changed our hours to suit petitioners, many of whom came to the House at their own expense and at great inconvenience. We are no further ahead.
Mr. Cryer : I wonder whether I might suggest a solution. All that my hon. Friend's Committee wants to do is to travel within the United Kingdom to look at canals. There is a very big industry in fact-finding tours from this place to the far ends of the earth. My hon. Friend should apply to the Liaison Committee to go to, let us say,
Column 959Macclesfield to examine the canal there. He might be able to go there via Japan, Australia and America, financed by the Liaison Committee on a round-the-world tour, because that is the sort of facility that the Committee provides. It would be a long way around. It is staggering that my hon. Friend cannot find a way of travelling inside the United Kingdom when jumbo jets carry hon. Members all around the world.
Mr. Etherington : I enjoyed my hon. Friend's intervention. Members of the Committee have never dreamt of such a thing. I should have spoken to my hon. Friend earlier. Perhaps I have been unfortunate. My colleagues and I regard ourselves as having been appointed to the Committee by the House. We are not on the Committee for the Government or for the promoters ; we are on it for the benefit of the people whom we represent collectively--not only our constituencies but our nation. We have tried to do a thorough, proper job. I feel very strongly about the matter. It is a serious matter, although there is an amusing side to it.
If the Private Bill Committee becomes inquorate, those responsible could be brought before the House to explain themselves. I regard myself as an honourable person. I should rather explain why I shall do something than try to make excuses after it has been done. I should like to hear the rest of the evidence. There is only the case for the promoters to be summed up, after which we shall deliberate and reach a conclusion, but I am not prepared to deliberate and reach a conclusion unless we can make a site visit. That is not blackmail. I ask the House to resolve the matter so that I can carry out my duties in the way that I should.
Mr. Redmond : It is important that clarification be given, and my hon. Friend has partly done so. The Clerks in the Private Bill Office were in order in the conduct of their business, and I assume that the Chairman of Ways and Means is in order. Obviously, whoever controls the purse strings has delayed the progress of the Bill ; otherwise, we would not be debating this matter tonight. If inspections had taken place as requested, the Bill could have been dispatched. Was British Waterways requested to finance the trip or to make arrangements for it? The people involved have been most helpful to members of the Committee in letting them find out at first hand what is involved.
Mr. Etherington : I shall correct a misapprehension for my hon. Friend. The issue of the visit has not delayed the Bill's progress in any way. We would be in exactly the same position : if the visit had been allowed, we would still not have had time to deal with the matter before the end of the Session. As I have explained, we have tried to accommodate petitioners. Occasionally, the promoters' barrister was not available when we were. We have also had duties to carry out in the House. When we have two full days of business and we have other commitments in the House and our constituency work, we do not have much flexibility left for what we are required to do during the week.
I want the matter to be resolved tonight. I feel strongly about it, as do the majority of my colleagues. I hope that the House will not cause us to stand at the Bar of the House and be judged as felons--that is what it would come to
Column 960--for not carrying out our duties properly. If the procedures of the House make much a visit difficult, hon. Members have sufficient faith in the Officers of the House and in the Chairman of Ways and Means to sort out the problem fairly speedily so that there is no undue delay in our coming to a conclusion.
In no circumstances would I have dreamt of approaching the promoters to arrange for us to make visits. I am employed on the Committee by the House. The responsibility lies with the House. I am aware of the excellent advice from the Chairman of Ways and Means, who pointed out that, when sitting in judgment, we cannot be seen to be in the pockets of the promoters of private Bills. I totally agree, and that is why we must try to resolve this matter. Please give us the opportunity to complete the work on which we have spent much time, conscientiously trying to help all concerned, so that the Bill can be brought back before the House and dealt with.
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : The hon. Gentleman's remarks are very interesting. It is fairly rare for hon. Members to be appointed to that Committee. It is a wee bit ironic that it is in the nature of the House that, when dealing with such a complex matter, it actually consciously appoints hon. Members who do not know anything about it. Of course, as well as not knowing anything about it, they have no axe to grind and they have no bias. That is the good side of it.
The hon. Gentleman says that he wants to visit parts of the canal system. Is that for the purpose of seeing on the ground, or in the water, exactly how the legislation would work and what effect it would have, talking with canal users, or what? Will the hon. Gentleman give some examples?
Mr. Etherington : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. I shall try to answer in reverse while the questions are still in my mind. The Committee felt that it would like to see sites that exemplified the evidence, especially when there was some contention. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman--one of the finest principles ever expounded is that justice is blind. In many cases, those who sit in judgment know very little or nothing about a subject. For many years, experts on all sorts of subjects have made judgments, and sometimes they are not always the best, as we notice every day.
I shall refer to a matter I raised earlier. Many Bills, byelaws, amendments and statutory instruments reflect the differences between Scottish law and English law. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is well aware of those differences. The Committee felt that it should see some circumstances that were unique to Scotland. For example, if we had been able to spend a couple of hours at Paddington basin to see what we wanted, that would have been helpful. I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee will agree with me when I say that we do not want to give ourselves any extra responsibilities. My time is already curtailed somewhat. I always seem to be running round at top speed. I do not have much time to stop and think, and collect my life in many respects.
The Committee felt that visits were necessary and wanted to have a look at three specific places. We wanted to look at the Caledonian canal, which has specific local problems. We also wanted to go to Braunston lock because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the question of
Column 961houseboats is of paramount importance to this issue, and we wanted to look at certain aspects of the Grand Union canal.
Several hon. Members said that they could not understand the problem. I cannot understand it either. Throughout the sittings of the Committee, I had the impression that there was a misjudgment. There seemed to be gentle coercion to proceed with the Bill with all speed. I do not consider that I am an obstructive or awkward person, but that sort of atmosphere is not helpful. If that is a criticism of the way in which the House works, so be it. That is the way I feel. The House should hear all the details of this serious matter. I hope that the House will give us the privilege of continuing the work that we are doing and that we can resolve the matter. As I said, unless the matter is resolved, I am afraid that I might have to stand in this fine Chamber in a different position from where I am now. I do not issue threats--that is not my way of life. But being honourable, I feel that it is only right that that should be pointed out. I know that a majority of my colleagues feel exactly the same.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to catch your eye in this debate. I shall start by expressing my disturbance that we have reached this position, because the subject has been studied in enormous depth by a large number of people. Before I go any further, I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). We had a very cordial Committee, as I shall explain in a moment. My two Labour colleagues on the Committee have been helpful and constructive in every possible way.
As I said, I am sorry that we have reached this stage. The whole subject of the regulation--basically, that is what the Bill is all about--of the powers of British Waterways with regard to inland waterways has been studied in great depth. It was first studied by the Select Committee on the Environment in 1987, from which arose the idea of this Bill. It was deposited in the House of Lords in November 1990. Their Lordships had 11 very detailed sittings on the Bill. As a result--the House has heard that all of them involved a barrister leading the British Waterways case, solicitors leading for the petitioners and the petitioners themselves--a number of major improvements were made to the Bill, not least of which was the provision of a moratorium for houseboat owners who had not already applied for a licence. A number of constructive changes were made to the Bill in another place, and the detailed debate was concluded in May 1991. Thereafter, there was a Third Reading and the whole subject was given yet another airing.
As happens in the normal course of events, the Bill came to this House for First Reading--there was no debate--on 13 March 1992. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) for his actions in promoting the Bill and his work for British Waterways. In his erudite speech this evening, he proved that he is immensely knowledgeable about the subject of canals and the workings of British Waterways. He referred to the Second Reading of the Bill. Thereafter, a Committee was
Column 962appointed by the House which comprised the hon. Members for Leeds, East and for Sunderland, North, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and me.
Sitting on the Committee was no mean task, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North explained. As I look round the House, I see a number of hon. Members who have been here a long time but who do not understand how the private business procedure works.
Four of us sat on the Committee for more than 50 hours, which produced more than 800 pages of transcript. The Committee had to have a quorum of three, which meant that we could not leave the room without having a detailed discussion about who would stay. Intensive work took place in the Committee. We had to concentrate every moment because we were responsible for reporting to the House at the end of the day. Unlike other Committees, we could not leave, do some work and return. We had to be there the whole time, we had to concentrate and we had to ask pertinent questions.
This subject has been debated at enormous length and in enormous detail in the Committe. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West explained, as a result of the deliberations in another place, and the deliberations in Committee and debate in this House, the number of petitioners has been whittled down to four. Of those four, one has not appeared before the Committee. We have taken detailed evidence from three of the 44 original petitioners. The Chairman of the Committee has been immensely patient with those petitioners. At all stages of the proceedings he allowed them to cross-examine the witnesses for British Waterways and its counsel. They could not possibly have wished for a more courteous Chairman. They have had every opportunity to examine the Bill in any way they wished.
We have almost come to the end of the evidence. What took place in Committee is not a secret because it is open to the public. The proceedings were published fully in Hansard and they are fully available. It is fair to say that the petitioners feel that they received a fair hearing. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sunderland, North would agree with that.
It is important to realise where we have got to. I believe that there will be a summary from British Waterways. The Committee will then deliberate on all the evidence and the submissions, and will hopefully come to a conclusion. I understand that we are looking at about three more days of sittings. Having had 13 sittings, we have almost come to the point where we can see the end.
I should perhaps mention the subject of the requested visit, which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North spoke about at length. As he said, the four Committee members know very little about British waterways. Certainly that is true in my case, but I am not able to speak for the other Committee members. After listening to the evidence and questions in the Committee, I do not believe that the other Committee members are particularly knowledgeable about canals.
Mr. Robert B. Jones : I do not want to do my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) an injustice. He was a member of the Select Committee on the Environment when we investigated British Waterways at considerable length. The Committee produced a unanimous report, and most of the report's recommendations have been implemented. Few hon. Members can claim to be experts, because experts are people who avoid small mistakes on the road to the great fallacy. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke can be regarded as an expert.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me straight on that point. I had forgotten that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke was a member of the Committee which reported in such detail on the matter in 1987.
The Committee is within sight of finishing its deliberations. I watched this measure put on the Order Paper day after day. I was amazed that, after going through all that procedure and having deliberated the matter in such depth, there should have been objections. I have tried to discover from one or two people what it is that they are objecting to. I have talked to people who have objected and discovered which parts of the Bill they are objecting to or which of the petitioners' points they wish to be upheld. I can explain to them what has gone on in the Committee, and I have found that they have been satisfied. I find it very strange that we have to use up the House's valuable time deliberating the measure.
Mr. Robert B. Jones : The only objector, as I understand it, to the revival motion on 13 January was the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond), who has now left the Chamber. Like him, we are obviously anxious to know what lies behind the objections. British Waterways has written to him on several occasions without receiving a response, so we are in the dark as much as anybody else about why there should be objections to the Bill.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : My hon. Friend clarifies the matter. I think that it is sad that we could not have gone back into Committee. After all, the whole process involved a barrister leading for British Waterways, not to mention other senior members of the board and the staff of British Waterways. I do not know what the cost to them would be, but I should not be surprised if the procedure to date had cost British Waterways more than £100,000.
British Waterways is supported by a large number of people in this country. I understand that 9 million people are associated with the inland waterways and canals of the country. They want to see the waterways properly managed and providing a better service. I pay tribute to British Waterways in that respect. It has come a long way in the past few years, as the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report makes clear. Quite honestly, however, if it has to meet this type of expense and to take this length of time to get such a Bill through the House, I would not blame it if it started to ask whether it was worth while.
Mr. Robert B. Jones : I have certainly no brief to object to the cost of the procedure, and obviously my hon. Friend has made his own point. I am worried, not about the price in financial terms because one cannot put a price on democratic involvement, but about the price in terms of potential tragedy through safety measures which cannot be
Column 964addressed until the Bill is on the statute book. That is why it is absolutely vital to get to the end of the process as soon as possible, consistent with allowing people their say in a democratic society.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : I totally agree, but I have not yet come to the question why the Bill is desirable. Much of the time of the management of British Waterways has been invested in the process, quite apart from the monetary aspect and the other vital issues which the Bill addresses.
The inland waterways are enjoyed by a huge number of people in this country. People generally have more leisure time, and they can enjoy the waterways in a number of ways. They may walk along the towpath with their dogs, go boating on the canals either by owning their own boat or by taking a pleasant holiday, or they can live on the canals--let us not forget that a large number of people do so. A number of vital powers in the Bill require British Waterways to enhance its management. As I and my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West have explained, British Waterways has come a long way in updating its management procedures since the Select Committee reported in 1987. Many of the report's recommendations have now been implemented. On the whole, the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was complimentary to British Waterways, and particularly to its chairman, Mr. David Ingram, from whom we heard in Committee. Mr. Ingram was an impressive witness. He showed determination and he knew the business backwards, and his enthusiasm to see an improvement was clear for all to see.
I hope that Mr. Ingram's successor will enter a new era for British Waterways. I hope that when the Bill has passed all its stages he will be able to regulate the waterways with greater effect. British Waterways obtains a grant of more than £40 million a year from the Department of the Environment. It is a large organisation, covering over 2,000 miles of waterways up and down the country. The Bill applies to England, Wales and Scotland. What does the Bill do? As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has stressed, it deals with safety and the regulation of the waterways. Basically it gives British Waterways powers which all other statutory undertakers have had for years.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) asked why British Waterways needs powers to enter private land. In the canals there are hundreds of thousands of tonnes of water. If there were a breach in a canal and there were dwellings downstream, the result could be catastrophic. The last thing an area manager of British Waterways will want to do in those circumstances is to have to find an owner who may be away on holiday. If the manager cannot get the relevant powers, emergency powers are needed to deal with such an incident.
Mr. Robert B. Jones : It is a question not simply of property, but of life and limb. I recently had the opportunity to go along the Llangollen canal. One section there had broken away, sending water down to the valley below which swept away the railway line. My hon. Friend can imagine in such circumstances what would happen if there was a crowded train, perhaps in a different part of the country. Such a tragedy could occur if powers to intervene were not available when the danger became apparent.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am a little hesitant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman because I realise that, as he sat on the Committee, he has every right to pass information to the House. However, as I understand it, members of the Committee are not supposed to take part in the debates, certainly on Second Reading, or express their views until consideration of the Bill has been completed.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is in danger of straying into expressing his views on the Bill before the Committee has reported. It would be unfortunate if that happened and he had to be discharged from the Committee--he may want to escape from the Committee, I do not know--and someone else had to be appointed at this stage. What is the position on a carry-over motion about someone who is on the Committee, in a judicial role, commenting before the Committee has completed its consideration?
Mr. Clifton-Brown : Thank you for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am also grateful for the stricture placed on me by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish. I have not expressed any opinion on the clauses of the Bill. I have merely reported factually the case that has already been well made by the British Waterways Board. It is important that the House has a flavour of what the Bill contains and hears about a small amount of the evidence that was given in Committee. Otherwise, how can the House decide whether to vote for the revival motion this evening?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has made clear, it is in the interests of British Waterways and the petitioners that the democratic process of the Committee should be allowed to proceed to a conclusion. I am not saying what that conclusion will be. It is important that democracy should prevail.
Part II of the Bill deals with powers that are already granted to every other statutory undertaker. We have studied at length in the Committee how the powers have been granted to other undertakers. I know that there are doubts among certain of the petitioners about the powers given to British Waterways. We have had a large amount of evidence from British Waterways to the effect that the powers are necessary.
Part III of the Bill is particularly important. I suppose that it has given rise to more anxieties among petitioners than any other part of the Bill. It deals with the regulation and management of the inland waterways and canals of Britain. It gives powers to the British Waterways Board to license the two major types of boater on the canals--houseboat owners and pleasure boat owners.
Houseboat owners in particular are anxious about what will be their future on the waterways after the Bill is enacted. The Committee has spent a great deal of time considering their interests. It is fair to say that every aspect has been considered in detail. I believe that the petitioners would accept that they have been given a fair hearing.
The crux of the matter is where houseboat owners will moor their boats. You will understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is necessary to make proper provision for houseboat owners who live a major part of their life on the
Column 966canal. They have to comply with the various health and safety regulations and planning regulations. It is right that they should have to do so and that their safety should be ensured by British Waterways. It is right that they should not obstruct the waterways and that they should inhabit the waterways in a safe manner. I see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are looking to see whether I am outside the terms of the debate. I should be grateful--
As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, although we did not come to the Committee with much prior knowledge of waterways, we shall leave it with a great deal of knowledge. We may not have become experts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West said, but we have certainly acquired a lot of knowledge.
Part III is the critical part of the Bill and it causes most anxiety among petitioners. It deals with the business of moorings. As you can imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in certain areas such as Islington and London there is enormous pressure on the waterways and it is absolutely necessary for British Waterways to regulate the moorings and to license boat owners so that the waterways can be run efficiently and safely.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West said, part IV of the Bill imposes environmental duties on British Waterways--the same type of duties that are imposed on every other statutory undertaker. They are enshrined in the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and are regulated by the various environmental bodies. That is an important provision, because we want to make sure that the environment on the waterways is congenial and pleasant for those who want to use the waterways in one or other of the ways that I have described. I stress that the waterways are an amenity for every person in Britain. I cannnot stress that too much. The waterways are an integral part of the great historical heritage of Britain. It is vital that they are regulated in the best possible way in the interests of all who are associated with the waterways.
Part IV of the Bill deals with Scotland. We heard a lot of evidence from one petitioner who deals with Scotland--Lord Burton. I should perhaps explain what gave rise to the need for the visit about which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North spoke so eloquently and at such length.
In Scotland, the British Waterways Board needs different powers. There have been problems because Scottish law on how British Waterways can enter land and what notices it has to serve on landowners before it enters that land is different from that in England and Wales. There have been several difficulties in the past years. Those difficulties are a good example of how the Bill will help British Waterways to deal with landowners and occupiers in Scotland. It will also help the landowners and occupiers because it will clarify exactly the powers of British Waterways. It clarifies them for that part of the Caledonian canal and the four lochs on the canal that are excluded under the Bill.
Column 967Let me explain what gave rise to a request for the visit. The Committee heard some disturbing evidence about what had gone on in the past. It is all very well to hear evidence, but, when we and British Waterways had been to so much trouble, it seemed reasonable that, if members of the Committee wanted to make a visit and ascertain for themselves at first hand what was involved, they should do so. There is a great deal of difference between looking oneself at first hand and hearing evidence.
When one considers the time and trouble that had been taken, it was not an unreasonable request to visit a canal in London, a marina in the midlands-- to see the problem of dealing with moorings in a private marina--and the Caledonian canal in Scotland to see the problems in relation to Scottish law, especially as so much evidence was given on Scotland. From the evidence that we heard, it appeared to the Committee that the point was particularly poignant for that petitioner.
We have considered the issues in great detail. It is a thoroughly worthwhile Bill, which I commend to the House. The Committee clearly will have to reach a conclusion, and I do not know what it will be, but I urge hon. Members to vote for the revival motion. It is essential that, as we have considered the issues in such detail and depth, the democratic process should be allowed to proceed to a conclusion so that we can grant the Bill a Third Reading and it can then receive Royal Assent. British Waterways can then get on with the task of improving the already excellent job that it does in managing the 2,000 miles of inland waterways and canals.