Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) on the diligence with which he has pursued the legislation. I also congratulate the hon. Members who have given their time and energy to serve on the Committee that examined the Bill. We have, indeed, just heard from two of them. They gave us an interesting glimpse into a not terribly well-known aspect of the House's activities. As has been made clear, they carried out their duties most thoroughly and enabled people who had objections to the Bill to air them fully. I shall be brief, because I do not want to detain the House too long. The request to be able to make visits--to visualise the law, as it were--sounds perfectly reasonable. It does not seem excessive to demand to visit three areas where there have been special problems. I do not entirely understand the difficulties, but I suspect that there are some regulations that preclude such visits. This might be a good opportunity for the usual channels to display their capacity to allow common sense to flow back and forth, even if that is not the norm at the moment. I should have thought that the case for such visits was strong.
The hon. Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Hertfordshire, West fretted about the delay caused by people objecting. I was one of the people who objected, although, as the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West said, I did not do so on 13 January. Those of us who have objected have done so largely to put pressure on the British Waterways Board. That is not
Column 968unreasonable, and it is not often that we in the House have the opportunity to put pressure on anyone. I am not quite prepared to let British Waterways off the hook.
The procedure has been drawn out because there was a failure by the board, especially at the beginning, to consult effectively. People felt that certain things were being imposed on them. That was perhaps especially true in Scotland although Lord Burton, who was a constituent of mine, is not someone on whom anything can be easily imposed--quite the contrary. Nevertheless, some people felt that Scotland hardly needed to be covered in the Bill because Scotland does not have a true inland waterways system. We have "through" waterways ; the waterways are not confined but are routes to the sea.
It seems that whenever I speak about this subject, including the occasions when I speak to Lord Burton--although it is sometimes he who speaks to me-- I find that some confusion remains about clause 39 which was added following the objections raised by the Highland regional council. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong but my understanding is that the Bill will not extend to the lochs--Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour--but that the British Waterways Board does have powers in respect of passage through the lochs and that those powers are derived not from the Bill but from the Transport Act 1962. Therefore, even without the addition of clause 39, the Bill had no effect on the lochs, although the clause makes that clear beyond peraventure, as lawyers are wont to say. I hope that I am right ; if I am not, perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to correct me.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : We are discussing a revival motion for a private Billand I am not conducting the Bill through the House. In fairness, the hon. Gentleman's request should therefore be directed to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) who is its sponsor and is responsible for its conduct. I am sure that, in due course, my hon. Friend will be able to answer the hon. Gentleman's question.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : I am not going to deal with the hon. Gentleman's legal point, but I said that the four lochs were excluded from the terms of the Bill. However, the Committee heard a great deal of evidence to the effect that it was the locks that were causing problems.
Sir Russell Johnston : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I shall not pursue that issue as I do not wish to detain the House. I agree that the British Waterways Board has learnt from the experience of dealing with the Bill and that the process has had a considerable effect on the board. I willingly associate myself with the tribute paid by the hon. Members for Hertfordshire, West and for Cirencester and Tewkesbury to Sir David Inman, who was until recently the chairman, and to Jeremy Duffy, who is the secretary, both of whom have gone out of their way to be helpful, to hear and discuss my constituents' objections.
Column 969understanding was correct. The board's licensing powers stem from the Transport Act 1962 and the Bill confers no additional powers. I hope that that is helpful.
Sir Russell Johnston : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The board has learnt that it needs to consult regularly and to have devolved and responsible management which is accessible to users and can make decisions without continually referring to some distant place. It has learnt from the experience of going through this long and complicated legislation.
A group of my constituents raised legal arguments about who owns what at Gairlochy at one end of the Caledonian canal, but I am satisfied that a procedure has been found that can establish the veracity or otherwise of the claims being made. I am confident that the difficulties will be resolved satisfactorily.
Reference has been made to the board's stronger commercial outlook. I do not argue that such an outlook is not necessary but it is a little ironic that a publicly owned enterprise, such as the British Waterways Board, may be compelled by law to behave in a harder, more rigorous and, perhaps, more profiteering way than a private landlord, who has the discretion to be generous if he wishes. It is rather contradictory and I do not know what can be done about it, but there is no doubt that it contributed to the general unease that followed the introduction of the Bill.
Much of the unease was related to the fear that the Bill might ultimately result in perhaps expensive regulation and that the cost of rents or licenses would increase considerably. It is in the scope and powers of British Waterways to act in a reasonable fashion in regard to those questions and that is something it is aware of, and I am sure that it will do so.
Sir Russell Johnston : Yes, it is all a question of the right people, as the hon. Gentleman perspicaciously remarks. I think that he would probably define himself as one of them. [Laughter.] I have expressed my concerns and will not delay the House much longer. It is common cause among us that the system should develop and prosper and above all that it be safe and, as the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury said, agreeable to the users.
Sir Anthony Durant (Reading, West) : I rise to speak on the Bill as the chairman of the parliamentary waterways group. One function of the Bill has been to revive that group, because all the petitioners hurriedly came to see us when we had meetings in Committee Rooms and other parts of the House, because they were concerned about the Bill in its early stages. We had some lively and interesting meetings of the group, which is not always that active. I have had some interesting times as chairman of the parliamentary waterways group. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) in the motion that the Bill should proceed. I wish to speak on behalf of two bodies to reassure the House that those bodies that had reservations have now withdrawn them.
The British Marine Industries Federation, a trade association representing more than 1,100 firms in the
Column 970recreational boat industry, was initially concerned by several aspects of the Bill, but, after constructive discussions, British Waterways agreed to propose amendments to the Bill and provide various assurances to the BMIF and other bodies representing navigational interests.
As a result, the BMIF withdrew its petition against the Bill, as did the Royal Yachting Association, the Inland Waterways Association, which I wish to mention in a moment, and other groups representing waterways users. The BMIF's view, which is shared by many other navigational interests, is that the enactment of the Bill, with the amendments and subject to assurances, would be positively beneficial to waterway users.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has said, some of the matters that caused concern included the rights of those in houseboats, with which the parliamentary group had meetings. The Inland Waterways Association negotiated with British Waterways for many months. The association consulted its members, as it represents all the people who use the waterways, and it supported three items of the Bill in principle : emergency powers of entry, of which we have heard discussion, standards of construction and insurance, and houseboat regulation.
The safety aspect, which has been mentioned, is absolutely vital. I have a boat in my constituency on the River Thames. I was down in the hold doing a bit of work when there was a most enormous explosion and a tremendous bang shook all the boats around. I rushed out from my boat and on to the jetty to see that a boat had blown up, it had flames coming from it and people had been flung into the water. It was a very dangerous incident. The boat had broken down in navigating the Thames, had been towed in by a narrow boat, had tried to come alongside, the rope that had been thrown had been missed and the man who held the boat turned the engine and there was an explosion because the hold was full of petrol fumes. Luckily, because there was free access, the fire brigade was able to arrive quickly, the ambulance was there in no time and the owners of the marina were on the spot to help.
It was a nasty incident and a lot of the people who were travelling in the boat were badly burnt. We managed to get them out of the water and the fire was put out as the boat sank. There were no fatalities. There was a little dog on board, but he headed straight for the shore of his own initiative and got away as fast as he could. That incident illustrates the need in a leisure pursuit which has dangerous elements for access enabling people to get to the waterway as quickly as possible.
One of the reasons why problems have arisen with British Waterways is that when the original Acts were made, creating waterways was a new departure. It occurred before railways existed and everybody's interest had to be safeguarded. An original waterways Bill of 1793 states :
"Canal may be made through Mrs. Seare's Pleasure Grounds under certain Restrictions. No lock to be erected within in a Mile of Mrs. Seare's at Bulbourne without her consent. No Injury to be done to the Mills of the Honourable Mrs. Leigh."
All such instructions used to enter the Acts on an enormous scale, which restricted the owners of the canal in what they could do and their access to it. British Waterways is trying to regularise that position so that it can get access to the waterways for safety when boats get into difficulty and when banks burst--a point made by other hon. Members.
Column 971The association has a plain commitment from British Waterways on a number of other points in the Bill, which are on the record. The association also considered other aspects of concern, such as powers to prevent mooring, to refuse a boat a licence because its moorings are not suitable--which was dealt with--and powers to dispose of property and subsidiaries which could lead to loss of heritage and continuity in the waterways system, which were considered and agreed. Powers to limit opening of locks on the River Severn and powers to permit the association of the boats standards appeal panel were also examined.
The number of boat users on the system is growing at a great pace. It is a great leisure pursuit, which is usually enjoyed by families who go out for weekends or for the day, often going up and down the same stretch and getting great pleasure from it. It may seem boring to other people. When I come out of my marina, I have the opportunity to turn left or right. I have a choice, but that is the only choice I get on one beautiful stretch of the River Thames. I enjoy it, I relax and there are thousands of people who do the same every weekend.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I am delighted that he is contributing to the debate. Would he advise the House of the view of the people who have constructed and operate marinas that feed in to our inland waterways system, because, in the past, they have expressed criticism that they have been expected to make excessive contributions to British Waterways?
Sir Anthony Durant : My hon. Friend is correct. There were discussions of access to the navigation from marinas, but that has now been dealt with satisfactorily and most of those who run marinas are well satisfied that they get a reasonable deal from British Waterways. I believe that that is working perfectly satisfactorily. I have no recent evidence that it has caused any difficulty. My hon. Friend is right to say that, for a period, those who run marinas were greatly concerned about access to the waterway, but I think that that matter has now been satisfactorily settled.
The British Marine Industries Federation, the Inland Waterways Association and many houseboat owners now feel that the Bill should proceed. There will be opportunities to have another look at the Bill in Committee and when it comes back to the House. I am sure that, if we pass the motion, we can proceed and give the British Waterways Board, which has battled with the Bill for a long time at considerable cost and difficulty to itself, the opportunity to achieve a Bill that will safeguard and regularise the waterways and at least improve them for the benefit of those who use them. I support the motion.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I shall be brief, as I am aware that two or possibly three of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate. I shall make two quick points and then advise the House of the official Opposition's position.
It is fairly evident from the debate so far that at the beginning of this process the British Waterways Board would have been well advised perhaps to hold more vigorous consultations before trying to promote the Bill.
Column 972One of the petitioners against the Bill, Janice Christianson of Helensborough in Scotland, made that very point in her petition. She states :
"The preamble of the Bill states at part 3 It is expedient that further provisions should be made for the regulation and management by the Board of the Inland Waterways owned or managed by them'. Your Petitioner requests that this be amended by adding on behalf of the people of Great Britain.' The preamble of the Bill continues and that certain statutory provisions relating to the Board or their undertaking should be amended or repealed.' Your Petitioner requests that the words after due consultation with concerned and interested parties' be added."
That might have been a better way to proceed and perhaps would have saved time and prevented many of the problems that have cropped up, but that is with the benefit of hindsight.
I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). I am mindful of the fact that the Committee sat for 50 hours and, indeed, I tried to go through the 800 pages or so of evidence that it produced, although I do not claim to have done so exhaustively. I am persuaded also by the sponsor of the Bill that it would not be proper at this stage for the Opposition to oppose the Bill. My recommendation is that we should not oppose the revival motion. That is not an official position and I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will take a contrary view, as they are free to do. At this point, I just want to make it clear that I do not recommend that my hon. Friends oppose the motion, although they are free to do so if they wish.
Once, I chartered a small vessel on the River Thames with my brother and father to go and watch the proceedings at Henley. I was was unused to piloting a craft without a compass. When we left the marina, we had rather a heated debate whether to turn left or right. From the Isle of Wight that is quite simple, because one reaches either Holland or America. We could not decide, but eventually we turned left and came to an idyllic lock with cows munching the grass nearby. We went into the lock, and coming down in the opposite direction was a delightful chap in a punt with a pretty young lady who carried a parasol. We bade him good morning. He asked where we were going, and when we said, "Henley," he said, "So am I and I am going in the opposite direction." We realised that we were going in the wrong direction so we turned around, went back and had a jolly time.
The other reason why I am taking part in the debate is that, every month, somebody from the Inland Waterways Association sends me Waterways . I do not know whether he thinks that the Solent has been redesignated or that it is narrower than it is, but I always read its news with great interest. In a previous incarnation, I was in the Territorial Army. It had a strong connection with inland water transport. In the last war, the Royal Engineers had one of the largest units under command in the whole of the British Army and that was the inland water transport group. I had the good fortune to join it, sadly just after it ceased to be the Royal Engineers and became the Royal Corps of Transport--sadly, no more. Unusually for the British Army, I was commissioned into my own troop.
Column 973As a result of that, I got the territorial decoration, of which I am very proud. I also became a Thames lighterman and waterman, and became a member of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen Company, which I also enjoy, because it took not one but two Acts of Parliament to subdue them, as they were such an unruly lot.
I am commodore of the House of Commons yacht club. Something of an earthquake was caused when it discovered that I had a yacht. That is almost against the rules of the club and it almost had to change them just for me. I think that we all agree that, although in aquatic terms the club house is slightly underused, it is certainly the best yacht club in the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) referrred to the British Marine Industries Federation and the excellent work that it and the Royal Yachting Association have done in shaping the Bill.
I suppose that the real reason why I am speaking in the debate is that my claim to fame is that I hold the record, I believe, in Parliament for chairing the highest number of Committee on private Bills. I shall make that claim and, as always in this place, leave it to others to try to knock me off my pinnacle. I have volunteered on many occasions to chair Committees and am rather sad that, in this Parliament, the tradition whereby a Member who volunteers to chair a Committee can do so out of turn with the co-operation of the Opposition seems to have gone out of the window.
I volunteered to chair the Committee on the Bill but, as often happens, it fell to the Opposition to appoint a chairman on that occasion. So far, the turn and turn about rule has continued throughout this Parliament. That is sad because, as we know, Committees on private Bills are fairly onerous things to chair and to be involved in and we always thought that one volunteer was worth 10 pressed men. I am pleased to say that I chaired the Committee on the first private Bill of this Parliament that came before us, and my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton- Brown) was on it, as was the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). I am pleased to be able to tell the House that they said the most delightful things about my chairmanship of it.
Some hon. Members may remember--
Mr. Field : It is funny that my hon. Friend should say that, because I have already put in a bid for the Poole Ferry Bill, which is before the House, but whether it will fall to our turn remains to be seen.
The danger of volunteering is that one ends up with one of those horrid Bills that sits for ever and that one does not get the Bill that one hoped for. Time will tell. Hon. Members may remember--I know that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) will remember the period well, because, like me, he takes an interest in that murky area of the Commons and its procedures--the Bill to amend the Isle of Wight Act which was introduced by my illustrious predecessor, Mark Woodnutt--
Column 974to ascertain what it has to do with the debate. It will be helpful to the debate if the hon. Gentleman would get back to the debate on the revival motion.
Mr. Field : I was just coming to that point. The purpose of the Isle of Wight (Amendment) Bill was to control pop festivals on the island and the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish was blocking private Bills, as was his prerogative. At that time, The Times accused me of wrecking the Paddington-Heathrow Link Bill. It subsequently published an apology, because that was quite unfair. As a result of the arrangement that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish was making at the time, I did eventually wreck every single Bill that came before the House. I did that because Opposition Members would not pass the amendment to the Isle of Wight Act. That matter relates to the revival motion, because, as a result of my action, I received an amazing quantity of correspondence from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. I am sure that you would agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are here to debate not the contents of the Bill but the revival motion.
Mr. Field : I received correspondence from fellow Conservative Members the like of which the Opposition could hardly imagine. I was threatened with being hanged, drawn and quartered, because I was putting at risk Bills connected with the Star and Garter home, redundant lighthouses and even a delightful little estate somewhere
Mr. Field : My point is that I found that hon. Members did not know anything about the way in which private legislation is dealt with. They were quite unaware that there is what is colloquially known as a Lazarus motion, or, as it appears on the Order Paper, a revival motion. It is given that colloquial term because it does exactly what that name implies--it brings a Bill back from the dead.
When a new Parliament is opened with the Gracious Speech, the private Bill procedure must fall. There is no mechanism to initiate that procedure in the new Parliament unless it is subject to the revival motion. Private Bills cost the promoters, and sometimes the petitioners, a great deal of money.
Mr. Bennett : How often does it happen that promoters are so slow to negotiate with the objectors that we have more than one revival motion, which may carry a Bill not just from one Session to the next but, as in one case, through three Sessions?
It is clear from the correspondence that I have received that hon. Members were unaware of the revival motion. The Bills with which they were involved were connected with their constituencies. I remember one that related to a town in the Medway area and involved a bridge over a river. Those hon. Members were all unaware, however, that it was possible to table revival motions to bring all the Bills back. They did not know that they did not have to start the whole process all over again. It is not possible to
Column 975do that, however, when a general election intervenes and Parliament is dissolved ; then, sadly, as I know to my cost, Bills fall and the process must start all over again.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish asked how many times a Bill can be and has been revived. The answer lies in part with Lord Howe, who, when Leader of the House, did away with a large proportion of Back Benchers' rights when he piloted the Transport and Works Bill through the House.
Mr. Bennett : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead the House. The Bill before us proves that a Bill can be revived after a general election, because it was originally introduced in 1990. We have, of course, had a general election since then.
Mr. Field : I stand corrected. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find, however, that the Bill had not progressed far before the general election and that its reintroduction in the new Parliament was not prejudiced. If it had been considered in Committee and then fell because of the general election, its legislative process would have had to start all over again. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to make that absolutely clear.
The Transport and Works Act 1992 impinges on the revival motion, because it took away a vast chunk of the private Bill procedure from the House. I told Sir Geoffrey Howe that his belief that such Bills should, in future, be subject to a public inquiry as opposed to the private Bill procedure was untenable. Anyone familiar with public inquiries will know that they are not a way of resolving expeditiously the many problems encompassed by the British Waterways Bill. Such a Bill is an expeditious, if expensive, way of sorting out many knotty legal problems that cannot be solved by the courts, and of establishing ownership rights.
The reason that that procedure was denied to the House was that there was once a whole raft of private Bills, and some of them had dragged on--such as the Felixstowe Docks and Harbour Bill, which detained the House late at night. I told the Leader of the House at the time that there would be fewer such Bills in future because there had been a plethora of them as the economy improved--as had happened in Victorian Parliaments--but that if we bided our time, their numbers would fall. The Private Bill Office says that they have. The situation would have resolved itself, and right hon. and hon. Members would not have found themselves so inconvenienced.
It is sad that a huge tranche of rights was taken from Back Benchers. Having served as Chairman during the passage of private Bills, I know that they provide the only opportunity for a Member of Parliament to make a decision that will affect the lives of the citizens of this nation.
involvement--recommended that it be changed. That is why the then Leader of the House took the matter up.
You rightly reprimanded me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for straying from the revival motion. I want to be particularly
Column 976helpful because I know of a particular problem that arose in visiting various sites. I will tell the House of my experience when I chaired the Committee considering a Bill concerning Tees and Hartlepool. Such legislation falls into two categories--works Bills, which the Transport and Works Act 1992 abolished, and powers Bills or measures. The British Waterways Bill is a powers Bill.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : My hon. Friend deploys an extremely interesting argument, but a number of us on this side of the House, and probably the House as a whole, seek to ascertain whether he supports the revival motion. I am listening to his arguments with care as a member of both the Standing Orders Committee--which has some interest in the matter-- and the Chairmen's Panel. I respect my hon. Friend for making it clear that the establishment reduced the powers and authority of the House. However, I am interested to know whether or not my hon. Friend favours the Bill's revival, because that is the purpose of this debate.
I want to tell the House about my experience in respect of visits, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton- Brown) referred.
Two members of the Committee asked whether we could visit. We were advised by the Clerk in the Private Bill Office that, because this was a powers Bill, not a works Bill, that was not possible--there was no tradition of, or authority for, going on such visits--
I was going on to say that a slight frisson was felt by the Committee because of those visits. Had it not been for that, the Bill might already have been out of Committee and this motion would not have been necessary. I had intended to read the motion out to the House, but I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule that unnecessary
Mr. Field : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact remains that we have a revival motion owing to the problems that occurred in the Committee. The solution that we found showed that it was quite possible for hon. Members to make visits while considering a powers Bill. So that was done, eventually the hon. Members concerned rejoined the Committee, and the Bill went on its way.
I share these thoughts with the House because this aspect of our procedures is shrouded in cobwebs--not everyone understands these things. I hope to have added to the sum of human knowledge this evening by what I have had to say. Curiously, however, the Bill in question was suddenly dropped, and the trust ports legislation was taken up by the Government and became an Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has asked me whether I am in favour of the motion : I most certainly am. It is a worthwhile Bill. As my
Column 977hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) says, our inland waterways give great pleasure to many thousands of people. As old Ratty said in "The Wind in the Willows", there is nothing--but nothing--like messing about in boats.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Donton and Reddish) : I have a somewhat ambiguous view of this motion, because it seems to me that the promoters of the Bill have not piloted it through the House efficiently. I spoke to them back in 1991 and pointed out that some of my constituents were unhappy about the powers contained in the legislation. I advised them strongly to hold rapid negotiations with the people who were objecting to the Bill, suggesting that if they did not, the danger was that as the Bill proceeded through the House it would get caught up in all sorts of other problems.
Interestingly, because the promoters did not enter into those negotiations at an early stage, they have run into many difficulties during the passage of the Bill. One other hon. Member and I have been objecting to this motion for some weeks now. Last week we were persuaded not to object but, of course, the Bill has now run into other problems. That is the reason for the debate. People who promote such Bills should start by trying to negotiate objections out of the way. That is the message that the debate should send to such people.
Mr. Redmond : My hon. Friend makes an important point. If a private Bill is supported by the Government they will obviously do everything in their power to push it through. The arrogance of Conservative Members who promote Bills shows that they are not interested in democracy. They have shoved every private Bill through. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that it is important to speak to people who will be affected by such Bills so that the provisions can be altered before they come to the Hosue. Conservatives should bear that in mind before they start preaching about democracy.
Mr. Robert B. Jones : I sympathise with the general point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), but I was rather shocked by the intervention of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond). In many ways the board has done a great deal to try to find out people's worries. I asked about the position of the hon. Member for Don Valley and I was told :
"He did not respond to correspondence from the Agents for the Bill in both 1992 and 1993 seeking a meeting to discuss his concerns and has at no time been in any other firm communications with the promoters No record can be found, either at Headquarters or Regional office levels, of correspondence from Mr. Redmond with complaints or criticism of the way in which those waterways are managed by the Board."
I am still baffled as to what the hon. Gentleman's objections are. It is obvious that he is not taking up the consultation opportunities that are available to him.
As I have said, anyone considering the promotion of a private Bill should start negotiations at the earliest possible stage and not wait until the Bill has been delayed in the House. I hope that this is the last debate on this matter and
Column 978that it will be possible for the Committee, if it resumes, to come to a speedy conclusion. I hope that it will amend the Bill to meet the criticisms of the remaining objectors, so that, when it emerges from Committee, everybody will be satisfied on Report and Third Reading.
I would be unhappy if I had to table amendments and take up more time. Many of my constituents feel that it would be more appropriate for the House to debate matters such as the Child Support Agency or Yugoslavia than to engage in another debate on inland waterways. The board should have met objectors at an early stage to thrash out amendments to meet their concerns.
It is clear that the board has moved so slowly in this matter that it has created a chain reaction among people who are interested in boating. One or two still write expressing concern about difficulties in the Bill that were resolved six months ago or more. I have a funny postbag at the moment because some people write about current worries while others express concern about issues that have been resolved. I make a plea that people should get such issues out of the way at the earliest stage.
One specific issue concerns my constituents on part of the Ashton canal. The Wooden Canal Boat Trust has done important work trying to preserve the old wooden canal boats. Those boats have an interesting tradition. One of the best remaining folk crafts in Britain is preserved in the boats, in terms of the carving and traditional painting of the barges. They are interesting craft. I am not certain where they originate, but there is a great deal of artistry in the designs on those old wooden boats, and it is important that they are preserved.
Back in April, the board eventually decided that it would have to meet the objections of one of the petitioners on behalf of the Wooden Canal Boat Trust and agreed to set up a new body to work out a mechanism by which any old canal barges or parts of barges which were found sunk on the canals and had any prospect of being re-used, either in whole or in part, could be notified.
The procedure was supposed to have been set up, but I understand that six months later at least two old barges have been broken up. One was because the trust did not act, although it had been told about it in time, and the other because the Inland Waterways Board acted precipitously in dredging or some other activity which resulted in the boat becoming beyond repair.
I had hoped that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) would give an undertaking on behalf of the board that the negotiating machinery and consultation process would ensure that what remains of those historic boats would be preserved in future and that there would be all speed in getting the process into operation. My second point concerns people with houseboats on the canals and the problems that exist, particularly for people on low incomes. There is a substantial difference between people in the south of England, who generally have a reasonable income, and people who live on canals in the north and are on extremely low incomes. They enjoy owning boats and travelling around the canals more slowly than people having a fortnight's holiday and wanting to travel a substantial distance.
Those people like to travel for a few months around the canal network and then stop and find employment for a few months. They feel under pressure because of the sensible concerns about safety. I hope that when the Committee considers the issue we will be assured that people on low incomes will not be penalised if they do not have