|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 979permanent moorings, and that if they progress around the canal system and do not need a permanent mooring they will not be in difficulty.
There is also the question of insurance. I understand all the arguments for safety and that the boats have to meet certain standards. I understand why people are reluctant to insure them if they do not reach those standards, but I have heard about the problems caused by having to take a boat out of the water to get an insurance certificate. That can involve considerable costs. Although I agree with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) that it is important that the boats are safe, there is a difference between being safe and being modern. It is important that the legislation contains measures to ensure that the promoters do not demand high standards which would be desirable, but difficult for people on low incomes to achieve.
Mr. Barry Field : How might the hon. Gentleman resolve that position with one of requiring small craft not to pollute the canals and to meet the most modern standards in terms of drip trays for carburettors and engines and in respect of human waste and sinks?
Mr. Bennett : The people who are concerned about that would claim that their boats are perfectly capable of meeting those requirements. I realise that there is a difficult balance between what it is reasonable for British Waterways to propose and what is reasonable for people on low incomes to achieve. It would be very unfortunate if many of the old traditional craft were to be forced off our waterways.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : The hon. Gentleman and I share several waterways, not least the Cheshire ring and other canals in the north-west, and I respect the stand that he has taken on this matter. When deciding whether to support the revival motion, is it not important that the board should establish a balance between tradition and commercialism? I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that too often commercialism seems to take precedence over tradition. Tradition on our waterways is very important indeed.
Mr. Bennett : That is a very important point, and we must get the balance right. I understand that the board has agreed that there should be a consultative conference some time in March to try to thrash out some of those issues. Why did it not hold that consultative conference back in 1990, instead of waiting until the very end of the process?
As many of my hon. Friends wish to make contributions, I will not delay the House further at this stage.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tony Baldry) : It may be convenient for the House if I intervene at this stage on the technical motion tabled by the Chairman of Ways and Means. I do not intend to speak for long, as I am conscious that other hon. Members may wish to intervene.
On Second Reading, I said that the Government have no objections to the proposals of British Waterways, which include important measures relating to the board's powers and duties. Since the House gave the Bill a Second
Column 980Reading, it has been under detailed consideration in the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie). Two members of that Committee told us this evening of the care and diligence that they have taken in considering the Bill. The House owes the Committee a debt of gratitude for its careful work.
I hope that the House will believe that it is right that the Committee should be allowed to complete its work on the private Bill so that the House can reach a decision based on the Bill's merits. The House should also be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) who has steered the Bill through with considerable care.
The Bill has provoked and promoted considerable interest throughout the country. From representations that I have received, I am aware of the considerable concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West has devoted a considerable amount of time, energy and effort to the Bill and that is very much to the credit of the House as a whole.
As you have made clear, on several occasions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is not for us tonight to consider the detailed provisions of the Bill. As I have said, and as the House knows, that is a matter for the Committee. On Second Reading last May, I welcomed the opportunity for a debate on Britain's waterways heritage. We have had something of a debate on that this evening although, by definition, as this is a technical motion, it has been more of a technical debate. In many ways, the Bill is timely. It has coincided with the bicentenary of the canal network taking a grip in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) said, canal mania first gripped the country in 1793. In a very short space of time, Parliament passed no fewer than 24 enabling Acts for new canals. One wonders what the parliamentary timetable at that time must have been like, particularly as there is detailed reference to various ladies' pleasure gardens.
It has also been appropriate that the Bill has not only been part of the bicentenary celebrations, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West said, has had the beneficial impact of reviving in the House an interest in waterways and canals. It has been particularly good news that we have seen the revival of the parliamentary waterways group under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West.
I hope that the Committee will be able to finish its work on the Bill. I hope also that the debate has prompted continuing interest in waterways and canals. There are about 2,000 miles of waterways in Britain. They are a great part of our heritage. The Government invest nearly £50 million a year through grant in aid, and other sums are also invested in the canal network. I hope that we can maximise the contribution that the canal network can make to our nation. I hope that interest in canals will continue.
I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the many hundreds of miles of waterways. He will be aware of great concern about the Ouse north of York, in my constituency, and all the waterways to the north of Linton lock, which is in serious disrepair. Unless it is taken over by British Waterways, 50 or 60 miles of canals will effectively not be connected to the rest of the waterway network. I should
Column 981like my hon. Friend's assurance that, if the motion is agreed, the Government will seriously consider British Waterways having the resources to take responsibility for that lock.
Mr. Baldry : In fairness to other hon. Members who wish to speak, whether or not that stretch of water is subject to the British Waterways Board is a matter for statute. The board has a clear statutory definition of which stretches of canals and other waterways it is responsible for and which are remainder waterways. I will certainly check my hon. Friend's point and write to him on it. 9.42 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : The House has just heard an intervention by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who has just walked into the Chamber, whereas other folk have been waiting all night to speak.
As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I represent a part of the River Clyde which is well used by the boating fraternity--yachting, the lot. Last week, I visited the Earl's Court boat show and I was delighted to see a strong contingent of Scottish boats at that exhibition. I have a genuine interest in the matter. I welcome the developments, albeit very late, that are taking place on our canals. However, I oppose the Bill because we should start afresh. I feel great anxiety when I see how the Government are carrying on in respect of other matters.
I also regard the commercial aspect as very frightening. Will people have the right to walk along river banks? Will the environment be improved? Will there be walkers' rights? Will there be sewerage systems for boats so that people will not throw crap into canals? I want to ensure that such services are provided along waterways. I am not sure whether we are getting assurances. I have not just barged into this debate ; I have sat in the Chamber all night. I am not sailing by the skin of my teeth. We must have assurances from British Waterways about the environment.
I was fortunate the other week to watch the Sky Television Discovery channel programme about barges on our waterways. It was an absolutely fabulous programme. It showed what could be done with canals.
I hope that our canals will be improved, that they will be returned to the people and that the people will be able to use them properly. All those matters should be considered along with the Bill. These are not simply commercial considerations ; we should think of the public--although, if things are handled properly, there may be tremendous spin-offs. There may be a regeneration of the small boat industry for which Britain was once famous ; that includes Scotland, of course.
Scotland is very interested in boats. Since Windermere got rid of all its speedboat fanatics, they have come up to Scotland to have fun playing on the banks of the Clyde. We in Scotland do not mind spending a day or two on the canals. The boating community and industry are very mobile : this is one of the fastest growing leisure sports in Great Britain. I am not opposed to improving the waterways ; indeed, I strongly support the idea, and I believe that the Government should put more money into it.
Column 982few years ago by the Select Committee on Environment that the British Waterways Board should have a specific environmental duty. The hon. Gentleman, surely, will welcome that.
I am worried that, following the privatisation of the water industry, many people have not been given the right to walk on ground that is actually owned by the public. I am deeply concerned about the possibility that a similar unfairness will result in this instance. We may end up paying a fast buck to walk along a canal along which donkeys used to walk free.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) has considered the environmental issues. The environment is dear to my heart ; as a Scottish Member, I am fortunate enough to live in the countryside, and to have the opportunity to walk free and unhibited along the banks of the Clyde. There is nothing finer than to walk along the banks of the Clyde and watch the yachts and pleasure boats moving up and down. That experience is free, and I hope that it will remain so.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), and congratulate him on his sponsorship of the Bill. I believe that the carry- over motion will benefit the canals, particularly the Forth and Clyde canal, part of which is in my constituency.
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman mentioned enabling Bills passed some 200 years ago : at that time, a Mr. Lawrence Dundas, a Member of Parliament, promoted an enabling Bill involving the Forth and Clyde canal. Given our current preoccupation with the Registration of Members' Interests, it is also interesting to learn from the history of the canal that Mr. Dundas owned the Forth and Clyde Canal company, and saw no reason why he should not promote the Bill in the Commons.
The canal stretches from Dumbartonshire--a town called Bowling--to Grangemouth, in the Forth estuary. I understand that Mr. Dundas also owned a good deal of land in Grangemouth, and wanted to make it into a port.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the leisure facilities that canals can offer. It is not necessary to own a boat to enjoy such facilities.
In my constituency, many people, including myself and my family, enjoy a walk along the towpath of the canal which can stretch for many miles. Those people enjoy not only the canal itself but the wildlife which the canal nurtures. It is important in an industrial city like my own that people have little oases where they can see a part of the countryside that exists within a city centre. I know that that is a contradiction in terms, but the canal within my constituency has created a stretch of urban countryside.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned commercialisation. The Inland Waterways Board has made the Forth and Clyde canal navigable from Port Dundas in my constituency--named after the hon.
Column 983Member I just mentioned--to a stretch called Kirkintilloch. Pleasure craft can now go on to that stretch, and there is talk of a marina on the boundary of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) on a stretch called the Hamiltonhill basin. There is concern that, if that marina goes ahead, the general public may be denied access to that part of the canal. The Minister cannot reply to the debate, but I wonder whether I could put on the record the fact that it would be helpful if those involved with the canal were able to give assurances that if a marina is to be built for well-off people, the general public will not be denied access to a part of the canal which they have previously enjoyed.
The carry-over motion and the Bill will give the House the power to examine the work of British Waterways. I am sure that the Minister will give British Waterways a free hand, but the Bill will allow him to consult its board and see that it is carrying out its duties. Over and above the walking facilities that the canal can offer, many young people and their parents get out on the canal for a spot of coarse fishing. That is becoming increasingly popular in Scotland as access to some rivers and lochs becomes more difficult because of the high cost of permits. Many young people go on to the canal to fish, and I hope that the carry-over motion and the Bill allow that type of activity to be encouraged.
The general public do not realise that British Waterways not only owns the canal and the towpath, but, in some places, owns large stretches of land on each side of those towpaths. That can include acres of valuable land, which British Waterways inherited from the old canal companies. The board has recently sold some patches of land, and entrepreneurs have built pubs on the canal bank. Walkers may enjoy a refreshment there, and the boaters will do likewise when boats start going on to the canal.
I hope that any sale of the land will not deny people access to the canal. I also hope that perhaps at a later stage the Minister will give assurances that the proceeds from any of the land that is sold by the board will go back into maintaining the facilities of the canal, renewing the lock gates that have been lying in disrepair and ensuring that not only the canal banks but the towpaths are not in a dangerous condition. I hope that the Minister will not encourage the board to dispose of land, but if it does so, I hope that it will do so in such a way that whatever finance is raised goes back into the canal and does not go to the Treasury.
Mr. Redmond : May I point out that the Government's record--the Government support this private Bill--is to deny the public access to lots of public land ? I was told, "Get it in black and white. Do not leave it until after you have signed on the dotted line. Get it included in the Bill. Get it included in any agreement before you accept." My hon. Friend is making important points. Before he agrees to the Bill, he must ensure that those points become part and parcel of the Bill.
Mr. Martin : That is why the carry-over motion is important. That is what the Bill is all about. We should get things in black and white so that the general public--the people we represent--know exactly where they stand. That is important. I hope that safeguards will be given.
Column 984Let us consider the commercial aspect. When I first discovered the canals as a boy of 10, there were tenements on the banks of the canal belonging to the workers who serviced and looked after the canal. Thankfully, those tenements have gone. They were very badly maintained. In other words, they were slums. We now have some beautiful developments on the banks of the canal.
Mr. Robert B. Jones rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put :--
The House proceeded to a Division --
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) (seated and covered) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The new system used on the annunciator, which has been in operation since we came back from the Christmas recess, shows the item purely as a Division, whereas it always used to be shown as a Division on the closure. I believe that some hon. Members are mistaken over on what the House is dividing at the present time. Does not that matter need clarification, not only for tonight's business, but for future occasions?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I take the hon. Gentleman's point and it will be brought to the notice of the House's authorities. However, I understand that what is currently shown on the annunciator is perfectly all right.
The House having divided : Ayes 271, Noes 151.
Division No. 82] [10.00 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Durant, Sir Anthony
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger