Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Viscount Ullswater: I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord McNair, will speak to Amendment No. 18A before I try to reply to him.

Lord McNair: The Minister is very kind. In fact I discussed with the Government Whips Office the possibility of speaking also to Amendments Nos. 70A, 191A and 191B. It makes sense to do so. With the leave of the Committee, that is what I shall do. I hope that the Committee will accept that it is for the greater good of the Committee. I hope too that I can resolve the confusion that I seem to have caused the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton.

Amendments Nos. 18A and 191A are complementary. Amendment No. 70A is contingent upon Amendment No. 191B, which itself is an alternative to Amendment No. 191A. I think I have made the confusion worse. I hope that matters will become clear as I proceed.

Amendment No. 18A arises from concerns about the future of navigation within the new agency, which will be primarily concerned with pollution control. It will have further functions relating to water resources management, flood defence, fisheries, navigation and water recreation and is charged with responsibility to promote and enhance the water environment. The promotional and operational navigation and recreation functions of the National Rivers Authority, which it is due to take over, are of a very different nature from its other responsibilities. They will not sit easily alongside its regulatory powers. They will represent a diversion from the agency's core tasks.

17 Jan 1995 : Column 631

Many users argue that that is already the case within the NRA. While the commitment and efforts of individual NRA staff are appreciated, it is strongly felt that navigation and recreation receive relatively low priority within NRA's overall strategy. I would not necessarily argue with the NRA's perception of its priorities. A mainly regulatory body is not well suited to the task of promoting and defending the navigational integrity of the waterways, either generally or in dialogue with central or local government. Users and the waterway leisure and tourism industry need a vigorous, proactive, single-minded navigation body both to provide that service and to offer the centre of excellence and expertise that many other small navigation authorities lack at present.

In 1989—at this point I shall speak more to Amendment No. 191A—the Environment Select Committee in another place recommended that a review of the navigation functions of the NRA, along with those of the British Waterways Board, should be carried out:


    "with a view to creating a single authority for those navigations currently operated by British Waterways Board and the (then) water authorities".

The Government accepted that remit. However, the 1991-92 navigation review was not completed. To ensure smooth progress in establishing the environment agency, the Government determined that the new agency should take over the totality of the NRA's powers and responsibilities, including those for the management and operation of its waterways for navigation and recreation. However, at a meeting of the Parliamentary Waterways Group in April 1994 concerns were expressed to the honourable Member of another place, Robert Atkins, Minister for the Environment and Countryside, about the future of the NRA navigation and recreation functions within the new agency. The Minister explained that he would be reviving the review so that the Government could take account of concerns about the future of our waterways. A consultation paper on the review is expected shortly, in response to which many knowledgeable waterways interests will argue that navigation needs to be given higher profile; that management must be made more efficient, effective and answerable to users, and that that can best be achieved initially by the creation of a single body to take on the present statutory and operational responsibilities of BWB and of the NRA.

In the light of that, it is questionable whether it is appropriate for the Bill to transfer the new responsibilities which are set out in Clause 2(1) (a) (vi), to the new agency. The amendment seeks to ensure that the future of the NRA navigation and recreation responsibilities will not be determined until after a thorough review of all the issues and of all the other options.

I should now like to speak to Amendment No. 70A, which seeks to delete Clause 6(1) (c), and refers to the duty to promote water recreation. The amendment is contingent on Amendment No. 191B, to which I shall come shortly. I have already referred to the case for a single navigation authority that will be argued in response to the expected consultation paper in the review of the navigation and recreation responsibilities

17 Jan 1995 : Column 632

of the National Rivers Authority and the British Waterways Board. The responsibility given under Clause 6(1) (c) is a potentially powerful weapon in the armoury of whatever body assumes the relevant responsibilities of the NRA. Since the thrust of my group of amendments is that this decision should not be made until the review has been completed, it would be premature for the Bill to determine where that power should lie. If the review recommends a single navigation authority separate from the environment agency, then it is that new body rather than the agency which should be given the responsibilities of Clause 6(1) (c). In fact, were the amendment to be carried, a consequential amendment would be needed on page 254, line 48, Schedule 20 of the Bill to keep Section 2(2) of the 1991 Act alive until the results of the review are known and implemented.

Amendment No. 191B seeks to delete Clause 2(1) (a) (vi) and create a national waterways conservancy, which is what this is all leading up to, to take on the NRA's navigation and recreation responsibilities. Here I must draw the attention of the Committee to the comments I voiced in relation to my first amendment; the same arguments apply. This amendment provides for a new statutory organisation to manage the majority of inland waterways, taking over the existing powers and responsibilities of the British Waterways Board and the related ones of the National Rivers Authority. The present arrangements came about through a whole succession of historical accidents resulting in a series of Acts of Parliament which do not articulate well together.

Robert Aickman, the visionary founder member of the Inland Waterways Association, was the original promoter of this solution. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, in paragraph 53 of the special report of the Select Committee of the then British Waterways Bill, said,


    "The legislation concerning the waterways has developed piecemeal over the last three decades. The Committee considers that the result is a confusing web of provisions, and it takes this opportunity to encourage the Board to put forward consolidating legislation".

In fact, this amendment asks the Government to do that because the British Waterways Bill was a Private Member's Bill.

There are a large number of navigation authorities, of which the British Waterways Board and the NRA are by far the biggest. The BWB is a single-purpose body, but that is not the case with the NRA, whose functions in relation to the promotion and protection of navigation and recreation are only a small part of its overall remit and do not fit easily with its core function of environmental regulation and protection. Of the many other navigation authorities, only the Broads Authority is of a significant size. The BWB, the NRA and the Broads Authority are already developing lines of communication and co-operation. It is essential for the smaller authorities to have a centre of excellence and expertise on which to draw. Such a centre does not exist and needs a statutory structure rather than an informal voluntary initiative.

17 Jan 1995 : Column 633

Our navigations have heritage and conservation values which need vigorous national protection as well as promotion. They offer a unique link between urban populations and the countryside. Their towing paths provide walkers with routes free of motor traffic. Inland navigation is a growing leisure industry catering for an increasing number of visitors from Britain and overseas. Angling on the waterways is well established. There is an invaluable heritage of historic buildings and engineering structures which are part of our waterways. Restoration of derelict canals has been shown in a number of studies to provide significant economic and ecological benefits. Waterways are, of course, also an essential integral part of our water supply and land drainage in this country. The whole system —and it is important to remember that it is a nation-wide system—is of inestimable value. Its stewardship could be managed much more effectively if there was some rationalisation of the controlling bodies such as is proposed by this amendment.

To transfer the relevant powers of the NRA to the new agency would be a step in exactly the wrong direction. These powers would sit even less well with the core concerns of the new body than they do at present with the NRA. The Government have here a wonderful opportunity to take positive and constructive action to secure the coherent management of our waterways that has been historically lacking and to examine properly and to develop the way forward so that we have far sighted and even visionary policies that will protect the future of the waterways for our grandchildren.

The powers and responsibilities which I am proposing should be transferred to the new conservancy by this amendment include the following: the NRA's duty under Section 2(2) of the Water Resources Act 1991, which it is proposed to re-enact in Clause 6(1) (c) of the present Bill, and various other powers which I shall not go into at the moment.

I do not propose that any other navigational authorities should be compulsorily absorbed into a new conservancy. They may wish to remain independent. If this amendment is carried there are a number of areas, such as this, on which more detailed work would need to be completed at later stages of the Bill's progress, not least the detailed funding mechanism for the new conservancy. These proposals, as I have already pointed out, are not new ideas but have been, and remain, a prime objective voiced by the Inland Waterways Association for almost half a century, and the recent observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, after studying our inland waterways legislation would seem to underline the need for rationalisation and change.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page