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Lord McNair: moved Amendment No. 13:


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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the above amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 86, which is grouped with Amendment No. 13. In Committee, I looked forward welcomingly to the appearance of the consultation document on the future of our inland waterways. Therefore, it is logical that, now it has appeared, I should welcome it; indeed, I do so.

However, before I come to that, the effect of Amendment No. 13 would be to leave the navigation responsibilities of the NRA with the NRA and the effect

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of Amendment No. 86 would be to create a new body which I have called "the National Waterways Conservancy". The name does not matter, but what is important is that the recreational and navigational functions of both the NRA and at least the present British Waterways should be brought together into a single body that would regulate and promote the use of our inland waterways, which are now separately controlled.

It is a sad fact that boat traffic on the Thames has decreased steadily since the early 1980s. There is much that could be done to promote nationally and internationally the recreational use of our inland waterways. Holidays taken at home save the country foreign currency and holidays taken by visitors to the country obviously earn foreign currency. That is something that we should seek to exploit.

In addition, the increasing revenue would or should mean that more would be spent on the upkeep of our waterways. That can only be to the good. I feel that a separate body charged with that responsibility would do the job better and would in fact offer savings compared with the existing hotchpotch of authorities.

Perhaps I may dwell a little on the consultation document, which contains six options for future management of the waterways. I must say that I am delighted to see that the options include Option F, which establishes a statutory navigation body as suggested by Amendment No. 86. As your Lordships may imagine, it is Option F which has the most attraction for me and it is the one to which my amendments are designed to draw attention. It is stated government policy to increase private and voluntary sector involvement. The Government are also concerned to rationalise outdated regulations. Recreational interests have expressed the fear that the department intends that users should have to pay a higher proportion of costs.

The criteria adopted by the Government for consideration of the six options are: management and operational efficiency; cost; potential for local and national promotion; development of economic and environmental benefits; more effective customer representation; and improvement of co-operation and collaboration between different waterway authorities.

In my view, the key challenges are fragmented management, the standards used for charging, attitudes to users on the part of the managing authority and its approach to its navigational responsibilities. I also feel that it is most important that there should be a single centre of excellence with regard to maintenance of the physical structure and integrity and to the commercial evolution of the waterway environment. Navigation has a very low profile in the NRA, in the environment agency and nationally. That is an issue which the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, will address when moving his amendments. Of course, I wholeheartedly support him.

It appears that the government grant for essential work will continue but that they are committed to reducing it. The defence of the budget for all of the waterways is of prime importance to all concerned, as are increasing resources and broadening the base on

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which charges can be levied. New sources of funding are needed, and I am sure that they would be more easily obtained by a single navigation authority.

There is great potential for building upon the existing vigorous restoration movement, but, to develop, we need a wider public understanding of the value of waterways and their benefits which should in turn attract local authority funding. That is also more likely if waterways are represented by a single voice.

A single national navigation authority would also provide the forum for debates and discussions at national level with government bodies to promote a better future for waterways and to deal with directives emanating from Brussels. It would also be easier to create a national consumer body for waterways users.

A single national waterways authority would set out the overall framework within which all other navigation bodies could function independently but with greater co-ordination and collaboration. It would be centrally funded, locally managed but answerable to national government. It would aim to involve and encourage local authority support on behalf of the local community, and it would promote and defend navigation interests.

The Government have conceded that change is in the air but have not moved as far as I am suggesting they should. They were able to claim with some justification that there was no consensus among waterways interests at the time of the 1991-92 review, but I do feel that there is increasing convergence of views and I feel sure this will be demonstrated as the consultation process continues.

I do not wish to push too far ahead of the present majority view, and so I am simply raising this so that we can see what the Government's present thinking on the matter is. But it is something which will need to be looked at as the review process proceeds. I beg to move.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I was relieved to hear the noble Lord's concluding words, as I think they will enable me to shorten my remarks. It seemed to me that he was welcoming the publication of the consultation document and then urging that we should jump ahead of the consultation and take some action which might be detrimental and damaging. I would have had to argue against that. I am all for co-ordination. We in the NRA will be holding a meeting with a number of the interested parties on 10th March because we think that co-operation and co-ordination are of great importance. But the fact is that there are some important issues here.

The navigations have all been established under different statutes over long periods of time. There are some good reasons for transferring navigations to the environment agency where they are held by the NRA. The Thames is one of the most closely managed river systems in the world and the navigations are part of an integrated approach to that management. I am sure that when my noble friend the Minister replies he will say that the proper way to deal with this is to complete the consultation, and that the matter would require separate legislation rather than to proceed by way of an amendment at this stage. In that confident expectation I shall not pursue the matter further.

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Lord Greenway: My Lords, both noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned the navigation review. In my speech on Second Reading I said I looked forward to the Department of the Environment's review on navigation and hoped it would get under way without delay. I also mentioned the need to address the possibility of day-to-day management of navigation resting in the hands of an agency other than the NRA or the environment agency. I join with the noble Lord, Lord McNair, in welcoming the prompt issue of the consultation paper some two weeks ago because it provides a significant opportunity to clarify the concerns of all waterway interests and fully explore other options, including the issues which I have been raising and will be raising again later this afternoon concerning representation and the balance to be accorded to the needs of navigation. Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, that before embarking on a fairly major change such as the one proposed in Amendment No. 86, we should wait until the Government have had time to gather and properly assess the responses of the various boating and waterway interests to the consultation document.

The Earl of Cranbrook: My Lords, perhaps I should mention within the hotchpotch of authorities referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, my experience as a member of the Broads Authority, which is a navigation authority as well as one with environmental concerns, and my experience, through English Nature, of the Basingstoke Canal, which again has an independent authority. I emphasise that next to the control of damaging discharges, navigation is probably the one area which presents perhaps the greatest potential for conflict with environmental concerns, and is an area where compatibility between environmental concerns and the proper desire to fulfil the navigation function needs to be considered most carefully.

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has again drawn the attention of the House to his proposals for the establishment of a new national waterways conservancy. His Amendments Nos. 13 and 86 envisage the conservancy assuming all the responsibilities for the management of navigations currently operated by the National Rivers Authority and the British Waterways Board. A body of this kind is, as he has mentioned, one of the options described in the Government's recent consultation paper seeking views on the future management of navigations by these two public bodies. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Greenway and Lord McNair, for their congratulations on promoting the review.

As my noble friend Lord Cranbrook has indicated, our waterways must serve many different interests. Therefore the Government consider it is only right that, before any decisions are taken, those concerned should be given an adequate opportunity to make their views known on what they see as the best way of securing the future of our waterways. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Crickhowell for indicating how that is being taken forward. I can assure the noble Lord that we will be looking seriously at the responses, but to amend this Bill as the noble Lord suggests would pre-judge the

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proper consideration of the responses to the consultation exercise. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.


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