Orders of the Day — Water Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:25 pm on 20th January 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath 7:25 pm, 20th January 1981

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. I was saying—[Interruption.] I can tell the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) that, although he may have forgotten what I said, the canal users of this country—who are dedicated and devoted people and a strong lobby—will want answers to these questions.

Paragraph 61 of our White Paper stated: the Government remain convinced of the desirability of bringing the management of the waterways into the water industry and creating a national navigation authority. It is … necessary to establish the best permanent arrangements for waterways, and in particular the way they should be financed. In other words, we lave said that the whole future of the canal system could be safeguarded, particularly financially, only if it were directly linked with the water industry as a whole, which is so much larger. That is a solution that the Waterways Board did not like. I notice that on 15 November 1977, in paragraph 293 of his evidence to the Select Committee, the chairman forthrightly supported the line for total independence of the board.

I remember making many speeches both in the country and this House at that time to the effect that, unless the canal system and the British Waterways Board were brought into a close relationship—indeed, were brought within the water industry—every time there was a financial crisis, they would be the first to suffer. I said that they would positively be at the mercy of the Treasury and departmental Ministers who had to make savings and that they would be the first to be cut.

From the figures that I have already given, I regret to say that those prophecies have proved only too true. I return to what we said in the White Paper. Those of us who believe that the canal system is part of our national heritage and ought to be maintained because of its industrial area, archaeological history as well as its potential for leisure and recreation must ask how it is to be financed. It must be financed either by relying upon the water industry as a whole to maintain it as an integral part of the water industry, or by grant in aid. Now that they understand the cuts that have been announced and the deteriorating financial future that the BWB appears to face, those who were sceptical about the merits of my White Paper proposal in this respect may be more convinced about the logic of the proposals.