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7.14 p.m.

Lord McNair: My Lords, I rise once again to speak up for all those who live on, work on or derive pleasure from our waterways, both man-made and natural. In doing so I must declare an interest in that I am the vice-chairman of the All-Party Group on Inland Waterways.

My prime concerns about the Bill are in Part I. I refer to Clause 2(1) (a) (vi) and (vii) which transfer the functions of the NRA Water Resources Act 1991, Sections 2(1) (c) and 2(2) (c), to the new agency and Clause 6(1) (c) which re-enacts the NRA's duty to promote the use of all inland and coastal waters and associated land for recreational purposes. That has implications which could have strong adverse effects on the waterway leisure industry and all waterway users, including people who fish and walk along the canals and riverbanks of this country.

Inland waterways in England and Wales are administered by many navigational authorities, of which two are dominant. British Waterways is the biggest in terms of navigable mileage (2,000 miles of canal and river navigation) and is not affected by the Bill. The NRA is the next largest, with 500 miles of river navigation, with a significant mileage in East Anglia. The jewel in the crown is the non-tidal length of the Thames. Within the NRA navigation and recreational use are a relatively small part of its duties, which relate

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especially to water quality and pollution control. Of the remaining authorities, only the Broads Authority is of significant size. British Waterways, the National Rivers Authority and the Broads have been co-operating increasingly of late and it is thought that the other small authorities need to look to the big three for guidance and support. There is at present no single centre of excellence and expertise in the field of navigation.

The navigational responsibilities of the NRA were inherited from the previous water authorities. In 1989 the House of Commons Environment Select Committee recommended a review of the navigation functions of the NRA and of British Waterways,

    "with a view to creating a single authority for those navigations currently operated by British Waterways and the, then, Water Authorities".

While that remit was accepted by government, it has been overtaken by subsequent events and the current proposal is that the whole of the NRA, including its responsibility for navigation and recreational use, should pass to the new agency. A consultation letter about the review was published in 1991 and the Department of the Environment indicated that a new round of consultations is about to begin. That will provide a chance to consider the options for management of navigation more closely.

While the navigation and amenity functions of the NRA are respected by the industry and the users, it is perceived that they receive relatively low priority within the overall organisation. It is felt that in an even bigger agency navigation and recreational use will receive even less priority for policy and spending. That will undoubtedly have a detrimental effect on the independent service providers and end-users in the inland waterways leisure industry.

Waterways, their management and promotion, do not sit easily within a body whose principal function is the regulation of pollution control and land drainage. Navigation could well act as a distraction from their core tasks and inhibit the development of sound policy for their recreational use. There has been a perceived conflict of interest between conservation and navigation, but that has been much exaggerated. Waterway restorers were among the first active conservationists; a dried-up or disused navigation is of little wildlife or amenity value. With changes in working patterns, the interests of leisure users are becoming ever more important.

There have been studies in restoration and use of derelict canals which have shown the positive economic and ecological benefits for the local communities that flow from such projects. In addition, there are many as yet unquantified community environmental and amenity benefits from the maintenance of viable navigations. Our waterways need informed and vigorous public promotion. They stand as a tribute to the history of our maritime nation and should be conserved and enhanced as a key asset in our national heritage.

The present haphazard management and operation of our waterways has been a historical accident. While government have been preoccupied with other issues, no clear policy has emerged for waterways recreation. The National Rivers Authority has been preoccupied with its more pressing regulatory functions. It is of prime importance to note that the NRA and in future the

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environment agency have no statutory duty to maintain the waterways. Navigation and waterway recreation were given a very low priority, resulting in continued neglect and underdevelopment. Since their financial base is uncertain, the future of this valuable heritage is in jeopardy. The House of Commons Environment Committee has on two occasions, in 1989 and 1991, suggested that the NRA/environment agency was not the right home for navigation for this very reason.

The environment agency Bill is yet another opportunity missed by government to take stock of our waterways and to examine properly the best way forward. The government proposals have not addressed the fact that waterways, their management and promotion, do not sit easily within a body whose principal function is regulation of pollution control and land drainage. Navigation could well act as a distraction from the agency's core tasks and inhibit the development of sound policy for the recreational use of the waterways. Yet again navigation receives the lowest priority. The Government have again missed the opportunity of taking a radical look at the legislation and presenting a coherent and purposeful policy for securing the future of our waterways. Here we have a chance to pull the management of our water space together, embracing the interests not just of inland but also of coastal and estuarial waters.

There remains an inexplicable proliferation in the management and operation of our water space, with no co-ordinated policy or direction. Those concerned do not have the time to understand or influence the myriad demands of European Union directives. It is not enough simply to alter the committee structure of the proposed agency to allow interested parties to have their views taken into account. Even in this connection the Bill is inadequate because Clauses 11 to 13, which deal with advisory committees, make no provision for navigation and recreational interests.

What is needed is a dedicated waterways body which can bring together the many and often conflicting interests and promote a visionary, practical and constructive future for the benefit of all concerned. Let us promote a centre of excellence and expertise for navigation and waterway recreation. Here is the ideal opportunity to amalgamate the interests of inland estuary and coastal navigation for amenity leisure and tourism.

As I have already mentioned, a new round of consultation on navigation has been instigated by the Department of the Environment and is just about to begin. It seems a curious piece of timing. Those who are interested in the future of the waterways are seeking in the passage of the Bill an undertaking to consider and act upon the conclusions of the new round of the navigation review. If we miss this opportunity we shall be guilty by default, as the very special quality of our waterways is spoiled by negligence and lack of vision. While we are in a position to make changes, if we miss this opportunity we in this House will share the blame.

Finally, I should like to pick up on one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. He bemoaned the fact that, as far as he knew, no one had developed a method of analysing the environmental cost

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of policy options. I have great pleasure in informing him that such a method does exist. It has been developed over the past 17 years by Professor Malcolm Slesser and Dr. Jane King of the human ecology department at Edinburgh University. Professor Slesser originated the concept while he was head of systems analysis for the European Community in the late 1970s.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I understand that a system has been developed, but can the noble Lord tell me whether it has been accepted by the Accounting Standards Board, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales or for Scotland?

Lord McNair: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord that, but I believe that he will get more information as I continue with what I have to say. I have already arranged for the noble Lord to receive information which he will be able to pass on to bodies which he believes should see it. The concept was further developed by Dr. Jane King while she was working in the Department of Population and Human Resources at UNESCO during the 1970s and 1980s.

The method is known as ECCO, which is "enhancement of capital creation options". It is a decision support tool which tests, and provides information on, the medium to long-term consequences of any technical option, any environmental objective or any policy which has physical resource implications, which is pretty well all of them. It produces a holistic cost function for any proposed option and can therefore be used to identify desirable courses of action and, conversely, to avoid undesirable options.

A UK model has recently been completed. Inter alia, it has been used to quantify various indicators for identifying sustainable development paths. I have already arranged for a set of documentation, as I said, to be sent to the noble Lord. If the Minister will write to me and let me know to whom to address further copies, I will arrange that, too. But in case he wonders why the Government are not already testing out ECCO, may I urge him to identify suitable recipients in addition to the one who may first spring to mind? Full information has already been sent to this particular adviser, but as it does not coincide with his own view, the information has progressed no further.

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