I inform the House that the Examiners have now reported on the Bill and are satisfied that the Standing Orders have been complied with. It is therefore in order for the Second Reading to proceed. Mr. Speaker has selected the Instruction in the names of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) and the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann).
I beg to move, That the Bill he now read a Second time.
With the permission of the House, it might be convenient to debate the Instruction in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann) with the Bill's Second Reading.
For their part, the Government are minded to advise the House to accept the Instruction.
The Bill provides for the establishment of a new statutory authority to develop, manage and conserve the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. The landscape of the Broads is largely manmade and is unique. The Broads cover an area of about 111 square miles in the valleys of the Rivers Bure, Ant. Thurne and Yare in Norfolk and the Waveney on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. There are navigable waterways, open broads, reed, fen and carr woodlands, reclaimed grazing marshlands and some cultivated land. There are 42 broads covering slightly less than 2,000 acres and 124 miles of navigable, lock-free waterways. The true Broads were formed by peat-digging in medieval times. A rise in the sea level during the 13th century led to the general flooding of the excavated pits.
31The waterways of the Broads attract many thousands of visitors from all over Britain and abroad. There are now more than 12,000 hire and private boats on the Broads and over 250,000 people visit or holiday in the area each year. This brings great benefits to the local economy, but it is obvious that it must bring pressures and problems too.
Visitors who have been coming to the area, as many have for 25 years or more, confirm the indisputable fact that there has been a decline in that period in the natural beauty and scientific interest of the Broads. This has resulted from the cumulative effect of a set of complex and interrelated factors. They include water pollution and eutrophication, a loss of riverside reed beds and other fringing vegetation, particularly on the northern rivers, which has exposed banks to erosion from the washes and mooring of the increased number of boats. In addition, the conversion of marshland to arable land has led to the loss of some of the characteristic features of the broadland landscape.
The problem has been to find effective solutions when so wide a range of local, regional and central Government agencies are involved. The matter has been argued over for 40 years. Some suggest that a national park designation would provide the solution, but there were counter
arguments. In 1945 John Dower, for example, a great man and chairman of the committee of inquiry into national parks in England and Wales, noted:
There are many complications both of drainage and navigation…and of existing misuses and disfigurements, and the requirements differ materially from those of a regular National Park. It may prove better to deal with the area by some ad hoc scheme of combined national and local action.
On the other hand, the 1947 Hobhouse report—another great name—did not accept those reservations and recommended the creation of a Broads national park. That recommendation was not accepted by the Government of the day.
In 1965 the NCC published its "Report on Broadland", reaffirming the importance and the problems of the area. It called for a strategic approach to the problems. In response to this report, the Broadland Consortium was formed to bring together the local planning, river, and navigation authorities. In 1971 the consortium published the "Broadland Study and Plan". Although it raised the possibility of a new authority with
overall resonsibility for administering the affairs of the area",
the final recommendation adopted by the consortium on this subject was that the river authority should assume navigation powers over the rivers and Broads. The plan was adopted by the local planning authorities as the basis for development control, but its organisational recommendations were overtaken by local government reorganisation in 1974.
In 1976 the Countryside Commission reopened the question of the future management of the Broads by raising again the possibility of designation as a national park. Out of these discussions came the proposal from the local authorities in the area, particularly the district councils, for the establishment of the present voluntary local government-based, non-statutory Broads Authority.
This was established in 1978 as a joint committee under sections 101 and 102 of the Local Government Act 1972. It consists of nominated members of the two relevant county councils and six relevant district councils, with representatives from the water authority, Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners, and the Countryside Commission, which latter body has supported also the authority with grant-aid for staff and administrative costs and some project work. This voluntary authority has done good work and I pay tribute to its members and officers, and to the local authorities involved.
None the less, when, in 1983, the Countryside Commission carried out a consultation exercise on the future arrangements for managing the Broads, it found that the ecology had continued to deteriorate. In March 1984, the commission published its conclusions that a special statutory authority should be established for the area with powers to manage both land and water. The new authority it proposed should, it said, not only take over the functions of the existing Broads Authority, but also assume the navigation functions of the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners over most of the Broads rivers system. The commission saw it as critical to transfer the navigation to the new authority to enable it to exercise integrated management and control over the rivers, broads and associated land areas. Many of the problems and opportunities in the Broads area occur where land and water meet. The commission considered that divided responsibility would not permit these problems to be tackled effectively.
That was the genesis of the attempted private Bill, the principles of which the Government endorsed, which all the relevant local authorities agreed jointly to promote. Norfolk county council took the lead, and I authorised the Countryside Commission to grant-aid the cost of the Bill's preparation. There was then extensive public consultation during 1985, and by last November the local authorities were ready to introduce their Bill. They were then advised by the House authorities that it was unsuitable for introduction as a private measure. Therefore, we were all back at square one.
The Government regretted that outcome and remained convinced of the urgent need for a statutory authority of the kind proposed by the private Bill. The voluntary authority was showing signs of breaking up. In any case, it did not have the powers that it needed, since it had only what the local authorities could delegate to it. The funding was increasingly ad hoc. We agreed with all those who, since 1947, saw the need for a durable statutory basis for the management of the Broads if the continuing deterioration in the ecology of the area was to be halted and reversed. We therefore adopted the principles of Norfolk's Bill and promised to introduce our own. I apologise to the House for this long preface, but it is how we have arrived at where we are, and that is why the process has been so prolonged.
The private Bill proved to need substantial recasting to make it suitable for introduction in a form more appropriate to public legislation. Therefore, the format and structure of our Bill is different from that of the private Bill—it is, for example, much shorter with 26 clauses instead of 112 and under 50 pages instead of 80—but its substance is not radically different from that of the private Bill.
Our approach has been to establish the new authority as far as possible on the general local authority model, with the appropriate general powers and responsibilities. We have had particularly in mind the powers and duties of national park authorities, adapted as necessary to suit the special characteristics of the Broads. In particular, we have looked closely at the navigation provisions. Norfolk did not achieve consensus on this with the various interests. We have worked hard to ensure that there are proper safeguards for seagoing freight shipping on what we have described as the Norwich navigation—that is, the rivers Yare and Wensum up to the port of Norwich—which is still important for commercial cargo vessels. We have also made adjustments to the proposed membership to ensure that, on the one hand, boating interests are properly respresented, while, on the other, we have provided for one member to be appointed by the Nature Conservancy Council. These and other changes that we have made have been designed to improve the Bill in response to legitimate criticisms of detailed aspects.
Given the need to introduce legislation as soon as possible to enable the authority to assume its functions on 1 April 1988, subject to Parliament's approval of the Bill, we have not had enough time to conduct a second formal consultation about the Bill's proposals in addition to that which Norfolk conducted on its Bill. In any case, as I have said, our revised Bill is closely modelled on its predecessor. Furthermore, a number of bodies and individuals have made representations to us about the possible content of the Bill. Their points have been carefully considered and many have been reflected in drafting our Bill. Moreover, since our Bill could be examined by a Select committee, in addition to the normal Standing Committee procedure, there will be ample opportunity for those interested to make their views known. We shall be ready to discuss and explain our proposals and to consider suggestions for further detailed improvement.
The Bill is a splendid example of my hon. Friend's interest in the countryside, and we welcome it. However, there is one grave concern—that conservation interests have not been considered sufficiently and that too much regard has been paid to landscape and boating. Unless we have regard for the conservation of habitats, we shall lose much of the interest of the Broads. My hon. Friend has said that during the passage of the Bill he will listen to the views of all interests. Will he do so in relation to representations made by specific conservation bodies?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind words. The heart and origin of the Bill is to conserve the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads for ever for those who wish to enjoy them. The Bill will not achieve its purpose if it does not secure conservation in proper form. The Instruction proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells)—the Instruction tabled by the hon. Member for Newham South (Mr. Spearing) was not accepted—advises us that it is possible to satisfy those conservation interests and, at the same time, meet the legitimate interest of boat owners. In the end, those interests must be the same. Boat owners go to that area—many of them go there faithfully year after year—because of its unique nature. They and responsible boat organisations recognise that it is in their interests that the Norfolk Broads should be properly conserved. I take my hon. Friend's point. If there are further measures to discuss, we shall have time to do that in Committee.
I have said that we shall listen to the detailed recommendations, so I shall put on record one point on which the Government stand firm. We need a properly integrated authority to manage the waterways and the land together. That must be the principle on which we all stand.
I shall refer briefly to the Bill's main provision. Part I sets up the new authority and gives it its functions. Clause 2 sets out the vital balance between the interests of navigation, conservation and enjoyment by the public. All three are, in their own way, equally important and the authority is required to have regard to all three aspects in discharging its functions.
Part II provides for the authority to take over from the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners their navigation functions over most of the Broads rivers system. It requires the authority to set up a navigation committee which it must consult before exercising its specific navigation functions. It also requires the authority to maintain and develop the navigation area for navigation generally, to take special steps to safeguard the interests of sea going freight shipping in the Norwich navigation area and to appoint navigation officers to discharge certain navigation functions.
Part III deals with the financial arrangements for the authority. It empowers the authority to make charges for navigation and to levy on the eight local authorities to meet the balance of its expenditure not met by grant. It also empowers the Secretary of State to pay grant to the authority. We intend that grant should be paid at the same rate—currently 75 per cent.—as is payable to national parks. I see no reason why the total expenditure of the new authority should differ greatly from what it would have been if the old voluntary authority had continued. Expenditure was set to increase somewhat under the old voluntary authority and I have no doubt that it will do so under the new authority. I do not see why the path of increase should change much.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the size of the proposed authority, at 35 members, is too big and that it is too unwieldy and expensive? Is my hon. Friend rigid about that figure, or will there be some give and take as to size?
I share my hon. Friend's bias that an authority of this size is much bigger than one would have liked. I have used a pocket calculator in a number of ways, but have found it impossible to imagine a smaller authority on which all the differing interests are properly represented. We have kept the authority at this size partly to demonstrate to the boat owners and other interests, some of which are not mentioned in the Bill—such as anglers—that there is room to represent them. I should like the authority to be smaller, but every time I try to make it smaller the balance is upset and some vital interest is left out. Although it is likely that there will be an executive sub-committee or similar body to carry forward the management of the authority's affairs, I hope that the Select Committee and the Standing Committee will come to our conclusion that it is difficult to represent everyone on a much smaller body. I must point out that I started with exactly the same bias as my hon. Friend.
Returning to the financial arrangements, the main difference is that, as we are now recognising the national importance of the Broads, it is right that the funds for the authority, which will not increase dramatically above what they would otherwise have been, should come more from the central taxpayer and less from the local taxpayer. That seems to be a fair balance. Many of the welcome visitors to the area come from other parts of the country. One of the Bill's overall purposes is to say that, as with the national parks, central Government back their words with money. We say that we shall put in 75 per cent. of the grant rather than one third, as has been the case in recent years under the voluntary authority. Normal local authority controls will apply to the authority's borrowing.
I cannot give that assurance. It will be a matter for the local authority, balancing the interests of ratepayers. Future Secretaries of State will face the same pressures for grant. I think that the new authority's expenditure will be about the same as the expenditure planned by the voluntary authority, which has increased from about £700,000 a year to £900,000 or £1 million a year. I see no reason why there should be any increase in the overhead expenditure as opposed to the project expenditure on necessary items. Most of the people now involved in doing the work under the voluntary authority will work for the united statutory authority.
Part IV contains provisions for the necessary transfers of staff and property. The present authority has an office in Norwich, which I think it will retain, and does a lot of the work by using people who work for the local authorities, and I think that that will continue. Some staff will have to be transferred to the new authority. Depending on the exact negotiations on navigation with the Yarmouth port and haven commissioners, some staff are likely to be needed, but I see no reason for a large net increase in staff compared with present numbers. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) to some extent.
The Bill recognises the Broads' national importance and special needs. It gives them a status equivalent to that of a national park, but with wider powers. It reflects and respects the interests of boat users and commercial shippers, and that is why I see no difficulty in accepting the Instruction proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. The Bill balances those interests with the overriding need to maintain and conserve for ever the Norfolk Broads for the enjoyment not only of boat owners, but others, such as anglers and bird watchers, who want to continue to enjoy the area and to conserve and maintain its distinctive and unique character. We believe that the combination of powers, duties and a firm financial base for the new authority provided in our Bill should provide the means whereby the future of the Broads can be secured for ever.
Next year sees the beginning of the European Year of the Environment. There are few more positive offerings that this Parliament could make to that year than to secure the passage of a Bill providing permanent protection for the Broads. I commend the Bill to the House.
I think that few hon. Members would disagree with the words of the Hobhouse committee as far back as 1947 when, discussing the Broads, it said:
Here is a potential national park which seems to belong to another world, so widely does it differ from the mountains and wild moorlands of the North and west, or the rolling contours of the South Downs. Slow rivers creep between its fields and fens. Wide, shallow meres—the Broads themselves—lie along their courses, their edges merging into reedbeds or waterlogged alder carrs.
We all recognise not only those sentiments but the fact that the environment has been threatened since 1947. Unless we act quickly, there will be further damage to that unique landscape. We recognise that as a House because we have designated 16 sites of special scientific interest and three national nature reserves and other sites have already been identified as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar convention. There is no difference between the two sides of the House on the need to protect that environment.
In principle, we readily support the Bill's concept, but we have a number of reservations. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he would be open at a later stage to alternative ideas and proposals which may have a sound basis. The Labour party has a double interest in welcoming the Bill. The Bill is not only right but, perhaps more importantly, it reflects straight Labour party policy, unanimously approved by our last party conference. If we can help to improve the quality of life in Britain by bringing in a bit of sensible Socialist policy, in the midst of this sea of depression caused by the Government, we shall obviously be pleased.
As the House knows we have generally been supportive of the Government in any proposals to try to promote measures that might improve our environment. This Bill is no exception. The Bill's aims and objectives are welcome and we shall do all that we can to try to improve the Bill where we think that it is lacking.
I was interested to hear that the Minister sees this as his testament to the European Year of the Environment. I welcome his conversion. However, I wish that he had gone a little further and perhaps brought some other Bills before us. I do not know why he did not bring in a commons Bill. Such a step is already agreed by amenity bodies such as the National Farmers Union and the Country Landowners Association. Indeed, the commons are referred to in the schedule of the Bill. We doubt the Government's absolute and real commitment to conservation and environment. There are certain aspects of the Bill that reinforce our doubts. However, basically we are supportive of the Government. Obviously, there are parts of the Bill with which we are not satisfied, but we support the Government in the general aim and give the Bill a guarded welcome.
We believe that the Bill, as the Minister said, is slightly different from and more truncated than the Bill put forward by Norfolk county council. We believe that in the shortening of the Bill the Government have probably weakened it in one respect and strengthened it in another. It seems that they have strengthened it especially with reference to the navigational interests.
One of the great strengths of the Bill is that it was born out of concern by the local people. In a sense, the genesis came out of the decisions of the local county councils and district councils which, over the years, have tried to preserve the environment. That is not unique because, as the Minister pointed out, the Dower committee has considered the matter and the Hobhouse committee recommended that it should have national park status. As the Minister said, the local authorities and people of the area know the problems. They love the environment and have been concerned about the effect of the pressure of tourists, navigation and other things on the environment. It is interesting that the demand for special protection comes from the local authorities. I join the Minister in paying credit to the existing Broads authority. It has manfully tried to tackle the problems in a non-statutory way with considerable success, and it has tried to marry the often conflicting problems in the sensitive interrelation between waterscape and landscape. It deserves thanks for its endeavours.
It is interesting that the authority has recognised the problem and published its own report in 1982 about the Broadlands area. It has been very active. Indeed, it was from its endeavours that we orginally had the Bill before us in the form of a private Bill. The Bill represents the aspirations of the local councils, both district and county, and if one looks at the authority's reports, it is plain to see why. In the 1982 report and those that followed it came up with four major problems: polluted rivers, diminishing wildlife, erosions of the bank sides and the unique traditional landscape being dramatically affected. On a number of occasions we have debated the problem of the landscape, for example, when we were talking about the Halvergate marshes. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that when he replies.
I understand that the present regulations affecting agriculture support, established in 1985, were to run for three years—the summers of 1985, 1986 and 1987. If the Bill becomes law it will not become operative until April 1988. Does the Minister foresee any difficulty in the cessation of the period covered by the present agriculture regime which ends in 1987 and the new one which takes over, if the Bill becomes law, in 1988? It would be helpful if we knew. It would also be helpful to know whether he has any general comments about environmentally sensitive area status, the workings of that and how it would dovetail with the present Bill.
It is universally recognised, not only by the existing Broads authority but by everyone, that the pollution in the water of the rivers and the Broads is increasing. The authority is particularly concerned about the unchecked run-off and the effluent-rich nitrogen which is going into the water. Can the Minister tell us how he envisages that the new authority could tackle the problem of increasing nitrates? As I understand it, it would still rest with the Anglian Water authority to tackle that problem. Would the new Broads authority be allowed to require the water authority to take action to clean up and reduce the level of nitrates in the water? Similarly, on the problem of the erosion of bank sides, am I right in assuming that the new authority would have the right to impose speed limits on craft in the Broadlands area? From what I was told when in the Norfolk area it seems that the speed of vessels is one of the major causes of erosion of the bank sides. There is also the general problem of the character of the Broads landscape. As the Minister knows, 25 per cent. of the traditional landscape has been lost over the years. How can we retain the remaining 75 per cent?
We are worried by a number of things in the Bill. In a sense, what worries us most is the Bill's general tone. Obviously, various interests have to be balanced. The Minister quite rightly spelt them out to us. Those interests are reflected in clause 2 of the Bill which deals with the functions of the authority in general. Clause 2 states:
It shall be the general duty of the Authority to develop, conserve and manage the Broads for the purposes of—
In total we would not object to any of those. We accept that those are the three pressures in the Broads area. However, we are worried because navigation is at the top of the list. It seems to us that the major aim of the legislation ought not primarily to be to protect and control navigation but to preserve and enhance the natural beauty and ecological balance of the Broads.
By putting navigation up front it seems that the real conviction of the Government is tested. I cast doubts on the Government's deep commitment to the environment and that is another aspect which leaves us, and most environmentalists in the country, worrying about the Government's real motives and whether they are really committed to achieving the ecological and environmental needs of the Broads.
I am further worried by the Government's announcement today. As I understand it—I may have misunderstood—the Minister said that he was agreeable to the instruction proposed by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells). I do not object to that particular point, but it lays greater stress on the representation of boating interests. The instruction of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) puts the other side of the coin and represents the views of the Opposition which is that the emphasis should be on the preservation of fauna and flora in the environment.
It was not open to me to be agreeable to the instruction proposed by the hon. Member for Newham, South. I am not too sure where we differ on this. The hon. Member for Newham, South said that he did not object and I said that I agreed. There does not appear to be much between us.
The key point is, does the Minister agree with the points that we are not allowed to discuss this evening? That is the dilemma. I do not question your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my hon. Friend's instruction should not be called. However, the Government are placing navigation as the first general duty of the new Broads authority, yet they then state categorically that they are happy to accept the instruction tabled by the hon. Member for Maidstone.
I believe that the formal position is that we are allowed to discuss the instruction. However, because of the selection by the Chair, which, of course, we accept, we are not allowed to reach formal conclusions about its merits. That would not prevent the Minister from saying that in general, without prejudice, he would not have opposed the instruction had it been selected. That is a matter for the Minister.
It might be for the convenience of the House if I say that, in that hypothetical situation, I do not think that I would have sought to urge my hon. Friends to divide the House against the hon. Gentleman's instruction.
I think that we have made history today. That is the first time that I have heard a Minister answer a hypothetical question. I am grateful that he has done so and I accept his assurance.
It is worrying that the words fauna and flora do not appear in the Bill. That worry was compounded in a press release issued by the Department of the Environment. A careful examination of that press release reveals that the emphasis lies in the navigation aspect of the Bill. Apart from a handful of words referring to status equivalent to national parks and the point about notification of specified operations, there is nothing in the press release that suggests that the Department is concerned about the environment. That causes great concern. I am somewhat reassured by the Minister and I hope that when he replies he will give us further reassurance on that point.
The Minister mentioned that it was difficult to reduce the size of the authority and I accept his point. Some bodies must be represented. The Minister specifically referred to anglers. I have read the Bill very carefully and I can find no reference to anglers or to anyone on the authority to represent their interests. Bearing in mind that far more people will be fishing on the Broads than boating, is that not an omission? Should there not be someone on the main body—if not the navigation committee—to represent the views of anglers? We need assurance on that, because the present Administration's appointment to the national parks authorities have not been encouraging to the amenity lobbies.
As the Minister is aware, there has been much anxiety within the environmental lobbies that they have not been properly represented as they were under previous Administrations—both Labour and Conservative—so that a balance can be achieved between the various interests in national park areas. Not only should the environmental lobby be represented—probably in a non-Government capacity as well as through the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission—but we strongly believe that the tens of thousands of anglers who regularly use the Broads should also have some form of representation on the authority.
I have outlined our worry about the emphasis on navigation and some of the shortcomings of that. However, there are one or two specific points that cause us anxiety. Much depends on how the Government regard the various powers that would be permitted if the Bill reaches the statute book and how they are operated. That is especially true with regard to the management of the water space. Although clause 8 provides for the transfer of navigation powers from the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners to the new Broads authority, clause 10(10) virtually allows by agreement the full or partial delegation of those powers hack to the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners. I realise that under the following subsection the Great Yarmouth authority would have to work under the general remit of the Bill, vet it is still worrying that the Government are allowing the powers to be delegated back to the Great Yarmouth authority. It is all a question of priorities.
Clause 5 is central to conservation control. It deals with the:
Notification of certain operations within the Broads.
It is primarily concerned with potentially damaging operations. How does the Minister envisage that the orders will work? They are akin to those that operate at present in the national parks. As I read the Bill, they only have the power to delay potentially damaging operations. If someone wanted to damage irreparably parts of the Broadlands, unless a management agreement was negotiated, there is nothing that the Government or the authority could do after the 12 months to prevent that damage happening. That is one of the Bill's shortcomings.
That leads to the issue of landscape conservation orders. During the passage of the Agriculture Act 1986, the Government promised that there would be a statement on landscape conservation orders. Indeed the Minister claimed in a recent Centre for Policy Studies publication:
We have gone out to consultation on a proposal for a limited Landscape Conservation Order power, an initiative that has not had the impact it should have had. Again it represents a potential breakthrough.
I do not disagree with that. However, as far as I know, the consultative paper has not been published.
The hon. Gentleman is correct and he is right to rebuke me in that sense. I had hoped that the consultation document would have been published by now. Unfortunately it has not been published yet, but it will be out very shortly, in any case before Christmas.
We are really making progress today. Not only has the Minister answered hypothetical questions but we have had an intimation that the printing industry works more effectively and faster than he had imagined. I am very pleased that the consultative paper will appear so that we can discuss it in parallel at a later stage during consideration of the Bill. It is essential that there is some power to prevent potentially damaging operations.
We are happy to accept the Bill with the understanding from the Minister that he is prepared to listen to advice and other points of view. I hope that he will be very open in Committee.
I end as I began. On both sides of the House, we recognise the unique environment of the Broads. We recognise that it must be preserved and protected. Unless we do that, the pressures will get worse. I hope that the Government will adhere to the Minister's words and listen to us in Committee to ensure that the conservation, ecological and environmental aspects are given more—certainly at least—the same sort of status as navigation rights.
I must first declare an interest, as for many years I was joint proprietor, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), of a fairly well-known boatyard on the Broads and have subsequently maintained close contact with the Ship and Boat Builders National Federation, although I no longer have a direct financial interest in the Broads.
I very much welcome the Bill as a vast improvement on the county council's previous proposals. The whole House should know, because it is a fundamental truth, that the boat owners of the Broads were extremely perturbed by the earlier Bill. Fleets on the canals of this country have been, and are, increasing, but in the years leading up to that Bill there was disinvestment in the Broads, the number of hire boats declined and owners invested on the continent. Some hon. Members may see that as a good thing, but it is not good for Norfolk and Suffolk, because every hire boat brings in about £10,000 per year, about half going to the owner and the other half to the local community, so it is of great importance both in terms of employment and in terms of the spending money brought in by the tourists.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister has got the beginning of clause 2 the right way round. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) would have preferred it to be the other way round, but I believe that it is just right. In congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister on achieving that, I should like to take the unusual step of congratulating Mr. Walley, the civil servant substantially responsible for the negotiation and arrangement of the proposals and a gentleman of enormous ability and tact, who has done a splendid job for which the whole House should be grateful.
I, too, would have liked the main authority to be half the size. I counted the animals out of the ark two by two, and sometimes four by four, and I had hoped that we might be able to halve the number, but I entirely take my hon. Friend the Minister's point about the need to maintain a balance in the peripheral membership. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend mention anglers, but I was absolutely fascinated when the hon. Member for South Shields came like St. George to their defence. I thought that angling was a dirty word in the Labour party. I almost expected the hon. Gentleman to suggest some special representation for the South Norfolk Hunt or whatever. It was certainly an interesting about-face.
I should make it plain that the Labour party has no plans or proposals to oppose fishing or, indeed, shooting. We have said that we find hunting with dogs reprehensible and we oppose it, but I state once again without any qualification that we are not against any form of fishing or any form of shooting.
It may have been out of order, but that was a delicious admission of guilt by the hon. Gentleman.
I believe that my hon. Friend has got the Bill substantially right, but I am still anxious about one or two small points. I have pointed out the great financial input of the boating industry in providing employment, but I also understand that the boating community, in the broadest sense, will be providing more than 50 per cent. of the authority's revenue. My hon. Friend the Minister was at pains to point out that central Government would pay more than half the grant and that the local authorities would pay less than half. A great deal of financial input to the authority, however, will not be grant, and I understand that more than half will come from the boating community. I believe, therefore, that the boating community should be given a little greater strength on the navigation committee. I welcome the fact that it seems—I stress that word—to have a majority, but it is possible that people on the authority apparently with marine or boating interests might not be so directly pro-boating as one might hope. I hope that we shall have an assurance that there will be a true majority of boating interests on that committee.
Consultation of the navigation committee by the authority is most important. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, there are excellent and praiseworthy precedents for using the words
to take full account of the views of
rather than the words "to consult". There is a great deal of difference. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that. If the boating interests can have that assurance, I believe that they will be much relieved.
Clause 7 raises a slight difficulty, because when the Bill becomes law changes in its operation will be made by order. During the passage of the Bill we have the opportunity for a very full debate, for a Select Committee and a Standing Committee, and representations can be made to Members of Parliament, but once it becomes an Act Ministers will be able to alter it by order, which gives rise to some fears about lack of consultation in the future.
There is another area of anxiety. Under the Bill it seems just possible that the authority will set up its own boatyard and hire cruiser fleet. There is an extremely unhappy parallel with the British Waterways Board doing just that on the canals. I should deplore any intrusion into the trading situation by the new authority, and I seek an assurance that that cannot and will not take place.
There is also the question of temporary and permanent closure of navigations. Temporary closures will be subject to public inquiries and all the rest. That is excellent, but on my reading of the Bill it seems that a permanent closure can happen simply at the stroke of a pen. I hope that I am wrong. Clause 10 provides full scope for consultation about temporary closures, but I can find no provision that there must be consultation and a public inquiry about a permanent closure. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can reassure me about that.
Another slight fear concerns the deregistration of boats. Clearly, a boat that is clapped out, dangerous or unsuitable in some way should not be registered, or should be deregistered, but this could be a weapon in the hands of some cranky marine architect who thought that a broad stern, a narrow stern or some funny, fancy hull shape would be better for some obscure purpose, and the authority could simply deregister any boat not of that design. The registration of boats—or, worse still, the deregistration of boats already plying—must be examined very carefully.
Lest the House think that I am just a former boat-owning crank anxious to push one point of view, I should inform my hon. Friend the Minister that I was the unhappy under-bidder when the How Hill estate was gobbled up into the maw of the county council because my purse was a great deal shorter than that of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss), who, I believe, was a county councillor at that time.
Although I failed to buy How Hill, I am delighted that the county council has now had the nous to privatise it, and I commend to hon. Members in all parts of the House the How Hill Trust, which is perhaps one of the most imaginative attempts at bringing the environmental charms of the broadland area to the nation as a whole and to local people living in the great conurbation around Norwich. After all, Norwich is not simply a small town. There are large villages nearby, the residents of which are almost townspeople. It is marvellous that the charms of an area such as How Hill should now be brought to the notice of the public, and I congratulate the county council on that privatisation.
I have a final warning for the Minister of State. The late Lord Colyton, once an estimable and admirable Member of this House, when Minister of State, one day foolishly said "Never", and he was translated to the House of Lords for his foolish sin. My hon. Friend has three times said that the aim of the Bill is to preserve the Norfolk Broads "for ever", yet at the beginning of his speech he said that the thing was man-made in the first place. Lest the environmental lobby gets too big for its boots, it should be pointed out that nine tenths—even virtually ten tenths—of the landscape of lowland Britain is entirely man-made, and those who think that preserving it in aspic, as it were, follows some great preservation ideal have got it wrapped round their ears. Agriculture, forestry and the needs of the day—digging turf, as the Minister said—have created the landscape of Britain. Let it continue for another thousand years to be a man-made, altered and living thing, rather than preserved as a fossil.
Like the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells), I must declare some interest in this matter, although not a commercial or financial one. I have been visiting the area for at least 45 years and have hired boats from at least eight yards. I am a member of the Inland Waterways Association, with a particular concern for navigation, and also a member of the Royal Yachting Association, which nominates to the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners, to whom I pay annual dues as a private craft owner.
As a navigator I enjoy the total environment of the area, along with many others, although I consider navigation to be part of that environment. While the hon. Member for Maidstone is right in that this is a man-made natural environment, and while we do not want to preserve it in aspic or anything else, there is a sense of trusteeship for the totality of the British landscape and its resources that we must maintain—[Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Maidstone agrees, and I fancy that there is much more agreement on the Bill across the Floor of the House. I welcome that.
As I see it, our statutory problem is how to reconcile the many potentially conflicting interests in this lovely and important area. We now have the privilege of providing a statutory framework under which those potentially conflicting interests can work together and, we hope, provide a better total environment from which all can gain. That is almost self-evident, but in the end success will depend on the Bill's framework when it reaches Royal Assent and the good sense and willingness of the people of the area—which is an important characteristic—to operate whatever framework we provide.
That may not be easy. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) mentioned nitrates, but the quality of the water in the area will depend not solely on the quality of farming within the area itself but on the quality of farming in the total catchment area that extends far beyond the Broads.
There is also the question of optimum water levels and whether or not Halvergate will continue. There is also the control of what the Bill describes as "operations" within the area, such as the encouragement and maintenance of the traditional growing of reeds. That is something that we should all like to see continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields also referred to fishing interests. I do not know of a fisherman who wants to see boats anywhere near the area. Equally, some conservationists would say, "Let there he no power boats, just sailing or rowing boats." I would not go along with that view, although I have great sympathy with it. On one occasion when I was sailing a boat silently among the reeds thinking how marvellously ecological it was, I was confronted by an ornithological warden who shouted, "Take that boat away. Those sails will frighten the birds." Therefore, every interest has its own extremity with which we must deal.
Success of the Bill will rest on the quality of the trusteeship and the way in which these groups and interests work together within the authority once it is established. Like my hon. Friends, I very much welcome the Bill in principle.
The Minister made a kindly reference to my instruction, for which I thank him, but I was disappointed with the Bill when I read it. I did not have the privilege of looking at the various drafts, and therefore did not know what to compare it with. I felt that the Bill did not specify well enough what we are about—the maintenance, development and management of these man-made natural resources in such a way that maximum balance is obtained and maximum enjoyment, preservation and conservation is attained by all. There is nothing in the long title which suggests that. The duties spelt out in clause 2 do it to some extent when it states:
It shall be the general duty of the Authority to develop, conserve and manage the Broads for the purposes of—
But there it ends, and I am not all all sure whether that provides a sufficient, well-defined statutory base for the duties of this authority. In my opinion, those duties must go well beyond what is contained in clause 2. I concede
however, that we cannot define the powers that subsequently follow until there is a reasonable agreement about what the duties should be.
I shall return to that aspect in a moment, but I now want to refer to the navigation point and the instruction of the hon. Member for Maidstone. In passing, I ought to say that I have visited the yard in which he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) were interested. In my view, it is one of the cleanest, neatest and best-managed yards on the Broads. I even put 50p in the water box which went towards the profits of their successors.
We must pay some attention to navigation, because up to now the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners have had the specific and sole statutory responsibility for dealing with navigation. The navigation to Norwich is particularly important. It is part of our coastal shipping, and long may it remain so. That is why I make no complaint about the specific powers and duties of the navigation committee contained in clause 9, although I well understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Maidstone that due regard should be taken of what that committee says and the potential danger of outvoting by non-navigational interests.
There is some danger in that point of view because of what, in the past, has been loosely referred to as boating interests. Even the Bill provides that three members of the authority must represent boating interests. Boating interests are not necessarily united, and there are many different boating interests on the Broads.
First of all, the Broads are already very well promoted by the holiday industry, such as Blakes and Hoseasons which are almost household names. I wonder how far the promotion of the Broads would be additionally helped by the authority. Rather than promote the Broads, perhaps the Bill's common objectives or duties should be to enable the public to enjoy them.
Whereas until recently many of the boating yards were locally owned by well-known local persons who put a great deal of effort and time into these classic private enterprises, more recently the boating yards have come under the influence of what might be called the national holiday industry. Boating yards have been sold lock stock and barrel, many of them having been bought and sold pretty rapidly.
In recent years the owners of such yards have included a national motor garage proprietor and distributor, bingo hall operators, brewers, holiday camp operators and even betting shop chains. They are interested only in making the maximum return from capital invested. That is natural but, because they are not locally based in the way that the industry used to be, there has been a degree of criticism and some controversy about how the boating pressures have impinged on environmental matters and indeed upon other boat users in the area. Boating interests, other than the major boat letting firms, such as those who sail for competition in the well-organised yachting clubs, those who cruise and those who own private craft are perhaps not too keen on the way in which some of boat letting companies carry on their affairs and, in particular, the problem of wash. I mention wash not just on the banks but the turbulence caused on the shallow river beds by the high-powered diesel cruisers with their screws. Those of us who remember the Broads before the war wonder whether it is necessary to have 40 or 50 horse power diesel engines churning away inside vessels when moderately powered engines were used before. All the diesel engines do is push up the water and the vessel does not go much faster. There is little need for speed on the Boards over and above 4 or 5 mph. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Maidstone is nodding in agreement.
In the past 10 to 15 years the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners were not entirely active in dealing with these problems. Many things could have been done but were not, for instance, on speed, wash or noise. Often modern boats emit a noise that is a cross between a light aircraft and a combine harvester. Therefore, there is no one boating interest.
What about the extent of navigation? There are arguments for extending it. I would certainly like to see North Walsham canal extended up the river Ant, but should that canal be available to cruisers? I rather doubt it. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Waveney knows the river from Geldston to Ellingham. It would be a good thing if that stretch were extended for dinghies and skiffs up to Bungay or perhaps from Coltishall to Buxton. These boat lanes could be improved so that one could go in smaller craft by hand or sail as far as Aylsham. I do not think that anybody would argue with the extension of navigation of that type, but they might be against the extension of navigation for larger powered vessels.
While the interests of navigation must be of special regard because of the demise of the Yarmouth port and haven commissioners as the sole statutory authority for navigation, it must be placed within a satisfactory envelope of general duties, and that does not exist. That is why I had a shot in my instruction at putting down something of what I thought the general duties of the Broads authority might be, using what I knew of conservation, ornithology, angling, fishing, navigation, boating, and leisure interests.
Although my instruction has not been selected for debate, I hope that it could be the basis for further discussion, especially if there were petitions later. It is by no means perfect. I have suggested that when any petitions are referred to the Committee, it must satisfy itself that
the Bill will provide adequate duties and powers to the proposed Broads Authority that will enable it to:
There may be marginal encroachments on that under given conditions and given safeguards to encourage and implement the other objectives, but that must be the overriding purpose.
(a) ensure the conservation and preservation of the fauna and flora of water, land and air and their habitat;
My instruction continues:
(b) arrange for the management of the natural environment in a manner that, whilst permitting public access and maintaining rights of navigation, ensures the maintenance of the essential ecological equilibrium of the area;
Of course, there are matters beyond the area that the Broads authority does not have the power to control, but within the area the overall ecological equilibrium or, indeed, the restoration of it to the equilibrium that existed just after the war would be generally acceptable and a good objective for the management.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are real dangers in that proposition? Although it sounds very worthy as he has put it across, the Broads are very much a living area with people, housing, business and commerce all mixed in. Although one must support his general good-natured ideas, there are dangers in what he suggests.
I am not sure about the dangers—perhaps the hon. Gentleman could spell them out. If he will bear with me, I shall quote the third section of my instruction, which states:
(c) encourage the provision and management of recreational and other facilities that, without prejudice to the preceding objectives, assist the maintenance and enhancement of the natural resources and beauty of the area for the benefit of inhabitants and visitors to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.
Perhaps that could be slightly modified because
without prejudice to the preceding objectives
might be a rather tight instruction. If it read "without prejudice to the overall preceding objectives", that might be a well merited amendment. I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman nodding.
Without some more definite spelling out of the general objectives and duties of the authority, any proposals or restrictive measures, and the merits of those measures and of the management and operations within the area, cannot be adequately judged. Unless they can be adequately judged on an agreed criterion, the relationship between the different interests is likely to be less easy than if there were a commonly agreed template. Once that exists it becomes a matter of good relations—give and take—and of working towards solutions to difficult problems over time. If that template is not in place, there is a danger that different parties and interests in the authority will try to get their way by dominating the committee, having an annual general meeting or acting harshly rather than by conciliation and consolidation.
We can assist in this important objective and give the Broads authority a good send-off by providing it with more specific duties than are in the Bill. In that way we shall ensure that those who live in and visit the area can say, "Those people in Parliament have provided us with a satisfactory structure and we, as trustees, will get on with the job."
I thought that I heard the name correctly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I would have given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), had it been your wish.
Two of my hon. Friends will be unable to speak this evening. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) is, regrettably, absent because of his temporary indisposition. I pay tribute to him for his work behind the scenes, promoting this Bill and its predecessor for the good of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. The Bill is the result of his hard work. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) has lobbied assiduously behind the scenes to improve the Bill.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend, and what he says is correct. Both of our hon. Friends have played a major part. It is rash for any Minister to think to refer, let alone to refer, to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but he has also played a helpful and supportive part in the Bill. I hope that he will continue to do so in all the multifarious ways open to him.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that addition.
There cannot be many people born in East Anglia who do not have a high regard for the Broads, commonly referred to as the Norfolk Broads, which include the Suffolk Broads. Of late, the Broads have attracted people from a much wider area than East Anglia. They are now known internationally and people throughout the world hold them in high regard. When I told my mother yesterday what I would be doing today, she reminded me that my first holiday on the Broads was 40 years ago and produced a faded photograph of me on a motor cruiser. That all goes to show that in East Anglia there is great feeling for the Norfolk Broads.
The Norfolk Broads cover a wide area and spread into my constituency. Indeed, the river Yare runs into my constituency. The Broads authority headquarters, which were established in 1978, are also in my constituency. In one way or another a great many of my constituents have an interest in the Broads. They work on or for constituent parts of the Broads or they take their recreation there.
I have the honour to represent many boat owners, including pleasure boat owners who ply for hire, and many nature lovers who use and frequent the Broads. Many constituents take their recreation there and some have second homes there. That may sound strange, but they tell me that they need to relax from living in the fine city of Norwich, so they spend their weekends at their holiday homes on the Broads.
It may come as some surprise to hon. Members that the river Yare has sea-going coasters. During the miners' dispute, pickets were sent to the port of Norwich to prevent the dispute being broken by coal imports. Every year 70 ocean-going vessels come to Norwich. That may not sound many and, indeed, it is not compared with some ports, but I mention it because people do not think of Norwich as a port. Of that 70, 36 go to Cantley. That opportunity to bring business to my constituency is important and those involved need representation.
The boat hire industry brings many tangible benefits to the region. About £16 million a year is estimated to be generated by the industry and about 650 people are employed full time in boat building and another 500 in servicing boats during the high season. It has been calculated that between 5,000 and 6,000 full-time and part-time jobs depend on the various industries of the Broads. Therefore, not only do the Broads bring a great deal of pleasure to many people, but a great deal of work and income to the region. The city of Norwich and constituencies in East Anglia are trying to promote tourism. We have an ideal opportunity in the Bill to enhance the status of the Broads as a tourist attraction.
Nothing stands still and it is evident to those of us who have known the Broads for a considerable time that they are no exception. They are changing and as more people use them, unfortunately, they deteriorate. Over the years the river banks have eroded. Through a little research I found that the banks are eroding at a rate of about 3 metres in 10 years. It must be obvious to everyone that we cannot allow that to continue. The position would become impossible. The Bill's provisions will help in the work to strengthen the river banks.
Over the years the water quality has deteriorated. Naturally, farmers use fertilisers and chemicals on their lands which find their way to the rivers and the Broads. Measures need to be taken to improve the quality of the water. The bird and plant life has been affected. Those and other matters need urgent attention and can be given great attention in the Bill.
The present Broads authority is administered by eight local authorities—Norfolk and Suffolk county councils, North Norfolk, South Norfolk, Broadland and Waveney district councils, Great Yarmouth borough council and Norwich City council. Any right hon. and hon. Members who have been in local government will understand that sometimes difficulties——
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I was involved with the formation of that Broads authority. Is my hon. Friend aware that the authority now operates as a coherent whole, having had powers delegated to it by those various local authorities? The situation after the local government reorganisation of 1974 was exactly as my hon. Friend describes, but since the formation of the Broads authority there has been the most unusual animal of eight local authorities working together, having delegated powers and having financed the authority that my hon. Friend is discussing.
Of course, I recognise the work that has been done by those eight local authorities. My hon. Friend has great experience from his membership of Norfolk county council. However, any policy put forward in the past has to be considered and approved by the constituent authorities, and the resolution may not necessarily be accepted by all eight local authorities. The new authority will have functions that will enable it to go forward more positively than it has done previously.
I pay tribute to the Broads authority and hope that many of its policies will continue in future. The Broads authority has done a significant job in improving the status and use of the Broads in the past. Through Broads information centres it has brought to the attention of tourists and holiday makers messages about conservation and information as to where they can benefit from the tourist facilities. It has run a successful programme of guided walks, visits and events for the public entitled "Fun in the Broads". It has improved facilities at quays for boat-borne visitors and has also improved the quality of the moorings. Since 1978 it has performed a vital function, but its function could be improved by the authority given under the Bill.
Some hon. Members may be concerned about the staffing content that may follow the establishment of the new authority. That remains to be seen. I share the fears voiced by many hon. Members about increases in staffing. I have spoken to the Broads authority and also to the local authorities. The Broads authority currently employs 20 full-time staff on an agency basis, and also uses the staff of the various local authorities concerned. I am given to understand—and I have no reason to doubt—that a watch will be kept on the staff taken on by the new authority. However, I understand that there may be a modest expansion of four or five new staff. The achievements that can be made under the new authority will make that modest increase worthwhile.
Some people have commented that there has been inadequate consultation on the Bill. One or two of my constituents have written to me saying that there has been a great rush to get the Bill on to the statute book. I have never understood the great rush to get any Bill on to the statute book. It takes an inordinately long time to do so—rightly in many cases.
The Bill is similar to that promoted last year by the local authorities. Considerable consultations took place then, and this Bill is not very different from what was under consultation then. Three public meetings were held last year, in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and in Lowestoft, and they were well attended. Many boat owners and other interested parties have had an opportunity to make their representations known. All the local authorities concerned have discussed the matter in open council and the public have had the opportunity to lobby their councillors before they reached agreement. The matter has been public knowledge and the public have had the opportunity to lobby their Members of Parliament on the issue. When the Bill goes into Select Committee, following today's Second Reading, the public will have yet a further opportunity to make their representations known. Therefore, although I can understand some of the comments about lack of consultation, close examination of what has happened does not bear out such accusations.
There will undoubtedly be some consideration in Select Committee and at future stages. However, I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will take the view that the provisions of the Bill will be of overriding benefit to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. We should rightly discuss the nitty-gritty in Select Committee and in Standing Committee and there will also be discussions in the other place. We should keep in our minds the overriding benefit that the Bill will bring to the Norfolk Broads, and approach all our discussions with that in mind.
I hesitate to take up too many of the comments by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) in his speech, which was part travelogue and part history lesson. It could have been a maiden speech, but it was longer than most maiden speeches.
As all other right hon. and hon. Members have done, I should like to declare an interest. While I have no territorial ambitions for my constituency, I have spent most of my life in Suffolk living less than 10 miles from the southern extremity of the Suffolk Broads. Unlike the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), I do not give a guarded welcome to the Bill; I welcome it wholeheartedly. It is a splendid Bill, although like most Bills it should have come sooner, and as with most Bills one would seek to change the emphasis. However, that is the purpose of a Committee and I am delighted to learn that the Bill will go to a Select Committee. That is the ideal way of obtaining expert evidence and of correcting the emphasis.
I was disappointed by the fact that the spirit of the Prime Minister's letter to David Puttnam did not seem to be reflected in the small print of the Bill. However, I hope that this will be put right in Committee. The empasis should be more on conservation than on navigation. I have considerable sympathy for the Minister in trying to marry the interests of the navigators and the anglers, for nobody has yet found a satisfactory solution; the passing of a boat infuriates fishermen and the existence of a line creates considerable hazards for boaters. I represent a constituency with as many drains, canals and dykes as any hon. Member and, therefore, I know how difficult it is to get the two sides to accept a similar point of view.
I want to speak for a moment about the constitution of the Broads Authority, which is called a body corporate. I wish it were not so corporate. I wish that there was more leanness about that body because 35 people are almost incapable of coming to a good, proper and fast decision. I am sorry that, as the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) put it, everything seems to have been multiplied by two, which enhances the confrontational nature of district councils, and I am sorry that there seems to be no immediate access by parish councils to that authority. I hope that one of the nine members of the new authority will be nominated by the Secretary of State for the Environment to be responsible for taking the opinions of the parish councils, which tend to know more about the Broads than do the district or county councils in that they have minute and proper knowledge of them.
I have never believed that Whitehall knows better than the people on the spot, and I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the need for a mechanism under which parish councils have access to a member of the new authority. The local politics of East Anglia, which will benefit immensely from proportional representation when it comes, tend to give the impression that of two members from each district council, one will be Labour and one Conservative or one alliance and one Conservative, which better reflects the political opinion of East Anglia.
We in the alliance wish the Bill well and hope sincerely that in Committee even more thought will be given to matters such as nature conservancy. That is not specifically mentioned in the Bill. It mentions natural beauty and it might be useful to explain what the Government mean by that. Does it mean that the Broads look pretty? That does not necessarily ensure good conservation. Clause 2 outlines the duty of an authority to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Broads and that should be more specific.
I do not know how much navigation there will have to be for natural beauty to be retained, but I am sure that that will be sorted out by the experts. I simply reiterate that we wish the Bill well. We think that it is the right Bill and high time it were here. We shall hope, in the Select Committee, to make it even more environmentally conscious and perhaps give less to navigation and commerce than it does at present.
I apologise for not being here at the beginning of the debate. I thought that the debate would start later than it did.
I declare an interest, in that I used to have a commercial interest in the Broads. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has taken advantage of it in the past, and I hope that he will do so in the future.
I have lived in Broadland for longer than any of my colleagues, although I have not been such an active participant on the Broads as have a number of my colleagues in the House, so some may speak with greater authority than I can. All I know is that it is a lovely and unique part of England, and all of us recognise that something had to be done.
It has been difficult to get people to decide what should be done. Therefore, I can only say that I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for grasping this rather tricky nettle and for satisfying, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) said, most of the interests. However, he will know, or will learn from experience, that it is impossible to satisfy every interest of a Norfolk or Suffolk person. That would be asking too much, and with that there should not be too much disagreement.
I have some short points to make. The natural environment of the Broads is not as good as it was 50 or 25 years ago, but it is nothing like as bad as some would make out. Some of the reports that I have read over the past few years bear no resemblance to the Broads as I know them or as I have seen them recently. The last time that I was taken on a tour of the Broads was by the Norfolk county council. It complained to me that a lot of reed was disappearing. I happened to see a gaggle of greylag geese busy eating the reed on the side of the river, and I quickly found out that the geese had done more damage to the reed than had almost anything else. Mr. Harry Cator of Woodbastwick introduced about three pairs of geese in 1936. They have bred exceedingly well, as have Canada geese, and I like to see them.
It is pointed out to me that the ecology of the Broads does not stand still. The balance of nature changes. In some respects it has changed for the worse; for example, the quality of the water, and some of the things that have happened. Undoubtedly one welcomes the conservation measures that the new authority will be able to take, but we should not get too steamed up and think that everything has gone wrong, because it has not.
Boat owners have worries, and not all of them get on with fishermen or conservationists, as the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) said, but, on the whole, those who go on the Broads for holidays are interested in the conservation of the Broads, want to see them kept in a decent state and want the peace and quiet which the skies and flat country of Norfolk are particularly capable of giving. Therefore, I hope that the navigation people will not be neglected on the Committee and that their interests will be looked at reasonably.
I am a little worried about the bureaucracy. I agree with the points that have been made about the size of the authority, but I see ominous words at the end of the explanatory note:
A small number of new posts may be created.
I wonder how many times that has been thought at the beginning of an organisation such as this and how the number has grown afterwards. I hope that a careful check will be put on that, because I can see some busybodies busying themselves about this and I hope that they will not be allowed to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and others have pointed out that the Broads are man-made. The one thing that could easily destroy the Broads, and nearly destroyed them in 1953, is an abnormal tide flooding large parts of broadland. The same thing could easily happen again. Several of my hon. Friends and myself have made strong representations to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that more money should be allocated for coastal defence and protection. It would be useless to give the Bill its Second Reading today and subsequently to put it on the statute book if we do not give the Broads the protection from the sea that they need.
I shall give an example which may fall in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) or in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) who, as a Government Whip, is unable to take part in the debate. In 1936 there was a serious flood in Horsey. The coastal protection there is pretty poor. If the sea got in again and swept right across Horsey Mere, it could do enormous damage. As the Broads are man-made, they must be protected from time to time by man-made operations. I hope that that fact will be borne in mind because it would be little short of a national tragedy if the entire ecology of the Broads was once more disturbed by an influx of salt water and the weight of water which would result from another flood of 1953 dimensions.
I apologise to the House for not being present at the beginning of the debate. We all wish the Bill well. We hope that it will be considered properly in Committee. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for introducing the Bill and for grasping this difficult stinging nettle.
No hon. Member who has heard the comments of the right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) can help but respect his obvious love for his home area and the expertise and depth of knowledge with which he has spoken. He said that in Norfolk or Suffolk it was impossible to satisfy every interest. That characteristic applies also to Wales.
I shall demonstrate the truth of the right hon. Gentleman's words by saying that I for one am not entirely satisfied with the Bill as it has been presented to us by the Minister. The Minister has a difficult task to perform. We all recognise that everyone who is involved in the economics of land use, be he Minister, environmentalist or someone concerned with conservation, realises that it is a difficult task to reconcile the interests of, first, those who depend on the land for their living, secondly, those whose concern is the protection and furtherance of the environment and, thirdly, the genuine interests of those who seek to use land for recreation. In the Broads there is a fourth dimension—the demands of those who wish to use the Broads for navigation purposes.
The Government should be holding the reins. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that, depending on the sensitivities of a given area, those varying demands are properly met. The Government have not got the balance right. They have not given conservation its rightful priority. From the wording of the Bill, it appears that conservation is one of the lowest priorities of the Government.
That is not only my view. I have had representations made to me, and I am sure that other hon. Members have received similar representations. I received a brief from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It says on the subject of nature conservation:
Throughout the Bill there is a presumption in favour of preserving and enhancing the landscape of the Broads with insufficient regard for nature conservation.
The Council for the Protection of Rural England—it gives me great pleasure to quote this—said:
The Bill appears to CPRE to give insufficient emphasis to conservation and too much to navigation. At many points in the Bill the conservation interest is played down or absent.
The Council for National Parks, which has done sterling work in Wales, said:
But as the Bill stands it is open to very wide interpretation. It is even possible to read it as a navigation Bill, with conservation responsibilities seen as an added extra. This is upside down and would negate the value of the Bill.
Those three quotations fairly represent the breadth and strength of feeling in the conservation lobby. That is why I recounted them.
I have some specific reservations about the Bill and I shall mention them to the Minister as briefly as possible. My first reservation refers to clause 2. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) mentioned this. Clause 2 places duties on the authority. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, those duties are navigation, preserving the natural beauty of the Broads and promoting their enjoyment by the public. I am disappointed that nowhere in that clause, which lays down specific duties, is conservation mentioned. I disagree with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells), who unfairly dismissed the arguments of those who advance the cause of conservation. Under clause 2, specific provision should have been made and a specific duty should have been placed on the Government to promote those measures which protect or enhance the habitat, especially with regard to our mixed flora and fauna.
Clause 5 gives discretionary powers to the Government so that they may specify activities within the area covered by the Act.
I wish to understand clearly what the hon. Gentleman has said, so that I may reply to him. He seems to be arguing that conservation is not covered in the objectives of clause 2. Is he arguing that preserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the Broads does not cover conservation, or is he arguing that that does not go far enough or is not specific enough?
The Bill as it stands is specific. It refers to the preservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the Broads. If the Minister says that that is a comprehensive omnibus definition which places clear responsibilities for the enhancement and preservation of nature conservation and refers specifically to flora and fauna, I shall be grateful. However, the Bill does not say that. If the Government intend to make provision for that, we are perfectly entitled to ask that they make their intention clear in the Bill.
Clause 5 gives powers to the Government to vary or to specify the agricultural activities that may be carried out. I am disappointed with that, because it gives a discretionary power to Ministers. Elsewhere in the Bill the Government have made it clear where they are placing responsibilities. Clause 5 says:
Ministers may by order specify".
That does not put any requirement on Ministers. Presumably, therefore, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in its negotiations with the Department of the Environment, will say that there is no mandate or requirement for the Department of the Environment or the Ministry to ensure that agricultural policy is in tune with the overall objectives set by the Bill. I accept that we may have to consider the detailed points at great length in Committee. That series of reservations adds up to what is, in my opinion, a deficient Bill.
There is no reference in the Bill to any serious discussions between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. There is no reference to the agricultural strategy. When the Minister opened the debate he made great play of the fact that the Broads are a large agricultural area, with well-established agricultural practices, some of which have given rise to problems of pollution and degradation of the natural landscape. I am disappointed and surprised that no reference is made to the overall agricultural strategy to be carried out within the Broads area.
What is happening to our much-heralded Broads grazing scheme? The Minister made no reference to it. It is due to end in 1988, after its experimental introduction in 1985. During that period £1·7 million was allocated. How does that fit in with the new strategy? Are the Government introducing a total strategy? If I understood the intervention of the Under-Secretary of State, it would appear that the Government are concerned with the whole question of the environment. Are we to assume that the Broads grazing scheme—that welcome experiment by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—will be taken out and that agricultural provision will be separate from the provisions in the Bill? Perhaps the Minister can also say what financial provision will be made. The £1·7 million that was allocated will finish in 1988. What will happen then? Will the cost of the grazing scheme come from the additional moneys that will be made available for the overall Broads scheme?
My fourth point relates to the unfortunate overloading with navigation interests of the committees provided for in the Bill. The hon. Member for Maidstone and other hon. Members wish to protect the cause of those who regard boating as their prime pastime. That is perfectly valid. However, I disagree. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South related the anecdote of the birdwatcher who shouted at him for sailing in an area because his sails would frighten the birds. I must tell him that if he was sailing in the wrong place at the wrong time in a sensitive area, the birdwatcher was right to shout at him. There is a case for placing restrictions on boating interests. If vital and distinct environments are being destroyed by those pursuing leisure activities, we should be prepared to place restrictions on them. There is a disagreement between us, and I hope that it can be explored in Committee.
I hope that my hon. Friend is referring to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells). Although I agree with zoning and with some restrictions on sailing, I think that my hon. Friend would draw a distinction between the Broads and the navigable channels.
I think we are agreed that neither of us would frighten the birds.
It is unfortunate that there is a clear majority of boating interests on the navigation committee, because some of those interests are clearly to the detriment of the natural environment. Pollution, intrusion into areas which should be protected, noise and the effects of backwash at sensitive times, are all important. If the navigation interests control the navigation committee, they will have their way at the expense of all of us. I do not suggest that they are insensitive, but we are all politicians and we all realise that a majority is there to be used for the furtherance of an end.
There is a clear majority of navigation interests on the authority generally——
The hon. Gentleman says no, but my reading of the Bill shows a clear majority. I know that the hon. Gentleman disagrees and that he argued earlier for stronger representation, but if we assume that the representatives of the county councils and the district councils are neutral, at best, two members will be appointed by the Countryside Commission and one by the Nature Conservancy Council. Others will be appointed by the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners and the Anglian water authority. The Secretary of State will appoint nine, three of whom will represent boating interests. If we assume that the representatives of the local authorities are neutral, the authority will have a majority of boating interests.
What on earth makes the hon. Gentleman think that the representatives of the local authorities will be neutral in what he has presented as an argument, or a battle, between boating interests and conservationists? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr Prior) said, those who go on the Broads for boating holidays are equally concerned with conservation. I do not understand how the 18 local authority members will be neutral in a battle between conservationists and boat hirers. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) said, boating interests are not represented on the main authority anywhere near enough to match the significance of their industry.
The hon. Gentleman made two points, the first relating to the political complexion or leanings of the local authority representatives, and the second that those who use the Broads for recreational purposes are by their very nature unaware of their responsibilities for conservation. That was not my case. I said that the activities of those who wish to use the Broads for recreational purposes can, in some circumstances, damage the environment. I mentioned especially the problems of pollution, backwash and noise.
As for the political complexion of the local authorities, all that I can do is to examine the Members of Parliament who represent constituencies in that area and make some assumptions. If the hon. Gentleman tells me that those assumptions are wrong, I stand to be corrected. I should be grateful if the representatives from Norfolk county council, Great Yarmouth borough council, South Norfolk district council and Waveney district council would put to one side all the pressures placed on them by hon. Members here tonight, by commerce and by the tourist industry and say, "We must ensure that the habitat is protected and that restraints are placed on those who use the Broads." I doubt whether that will happen, but if it did, I would be pleased to be proved wrong.
My last point on the overloading of navigation interests is that the Bill provides a power of delegation to the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners of some or all of the functions of the Broads Authority. The Bill allows the complete delegation to the commissioners of some of the powers contained in the Bill. Does that mean that the authority can, in some circumstances, relinquish its responsibility to protect the natural beauty of the area? If we accept the explanation given by the Under-Secretary of State that the Government are responsible for nature conservation, can we assume that the authority will be given the opportunity to delegate those powers to the commissioners? That is the case as the Bill stands. It shows that the Government have got the balance wrong and that—I am loth to use the expression—they have gone overboard in favour of navigation interests.
The Minister referred to the legacy of the past 50 years and spoke with great sincerity about the damage that had been done to the Broads by man's activity, especially during the past 50 years. If he accepts the damage that has been done and that there is a case, not only economically but in terms of conservation and of preserving, enhancing and developing the Broads for recreation in its broadest sense, the Bill should have made some reference to the functions of, or the finance to be made available to, the Broads Authority to enable it to begin to right some of the wrongs that have been done. There is a clear consensus across the Chamber that many areas of the Broads have been damaged, although not irreparably, in recent years. When establishing the Broads Authority, the Government should give it specific powers, if not a duty, to start to remedy some of those ills.
The Bill will receive an easy passage this evening because there is consensus, although there may be disagreement on the emphasis which the Government have placed on boating and on conservation interests. However, the Bill will not have such an easy passage in Committee or on Third Reading unless the Government are prepared to recognise that there are valid conservation arguments. In Committee, we expect the Government to make significant moves in this direction.
I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies).
This is a memorable evening in many ways. The Government have cause to be proud of introducing the Bill. It is also a memorable evening for Norfolk county council. It worked very hard when preparing the original Bill, the forerunner of this Bill, and I pay particular tribute to Martin Shaw, the director of planning and property, who worked tirelessly for this Bill.
It is also a memorable evening because my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) is to address us. It is a rare privilege for the House to have the benefit of my hon. Friend's oratory and knowledge. However, he is to break his silence tonight. I suspect that what he has to say will be well worth listening to. He does not subscribe tonight, as he often does, to G. K. Chesterton's great dictum, that silence is the most difficult argument to refute, or, alternatively, to the dictum that silence is the most perfect expression of scorn. My hon. Friend has adopted a different course. I am therefore looking forward to hearing his speech. He knows more about the subject than any hon. Member in the House tonight, with the probable exception of my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior). I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind if I trespass on his terrain. The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads are of interest not only to Norfolk but internationally. That is why this is such an important debate.
My constituents are very concerned about progress being made on the Bill. There is monumental concern about countryside and conservation matters. By taking the Bill on board, the Government have risen to the occasion. There are problems, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney was quite right when he said that they have been exaggerated.
I have been concerned for some time about water pollution, in particular about the release of phosphate from sewage works and nitrates from agricultural run-off. The two make a particularly unpleasant concoction, with the result that the nutrient build-up encourages algae which suffocate water plants and disturb the delicate relationship between fish and plant life. The result has been a massive decline in a wide variety of plant species. Furthermore, damage has been done to the banks. That is partly related to the build-up of nitrogen. It has made the reed beds unstable and therefore more likely to be torn away by the wash from boats. When reed beds are torn away they become exposed and therefore eroded. Silting is encouraged, which leads to the need for dredging. It is a vicious circle.
Another problem that has been exaggerated is the decline in the marsh and woodland management practices that did so much to conserve the unique habitat of the Broads. Many would refer to this as the "Halvergate syndrome." The vast majority of landowners and farmers in the Broads area are as concerned as anybody about preserving the unique character of the Broads. My right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney referred to Harry Cator who introduced the grey lagged geese. His two sons, Francis and John Cator, are two of the most responsible landowners and farmers in the Broads area. It is a very small minority of farmers who have got farmers and landowners a had name.
Action has been taken in the last few years. Anglian water has made a number of major attempts to reduce phosphate levels. A big initiative was taken recently by Anglian water, the Broads Authority, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission, and quite a lot has been done about bank erosion. Since its inauguration, the Broads Authority has made numerous attempts to introduce new ways of managing recreation and sorting out the inevitable conflicts between sailing, cruising, angling and sports such as water ski-ing, to say nothing of the importance of ornithology.
I have referred to the action that has been taken to protect traditional grazing techniques. The hon. Member for Caerphilly referred to the Broads grazing marsh conservation scheme. I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister of State upon having seized the initiative over the "Halvergate" problem by introducing this imaginative scheme, and I hope that it will be continued. There is no reason why it should not be continued after the three-year trial period. Within the context of the new Broads authority that will be created by the Bill, there is a far better chance of continuing that excellent scheme.
A great deal of action has been taken over the establishment of the Broads authority. It is to have the status of a local authority joint committee, and local planning powers are to be delegated to it. It is to have close links with waterways and navigation. It has made an effective start, but insufficient progress has been made on waterways and navigation. It has been impossible to provide a comprehensive management framework. There is a case, therefore, for transferring navigational powers to the new authority.
The new authority needs to have integrated management powers in order to control the rivers, the Broads and the associated land areas. It must be given navigational responsibilities. If the new authority is not provided with those responsibilities, it will inevitably become land-based and very little different from the bodies that govern the national parks. The case for comprehensive management is overwhelming. I await with great interest what my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth has to say.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) that some navigational matters need to be sorted out. One of the problems is that the authority will be too big. When I intervened earlier, I mentioned that fact to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I think that 35 is an unwieldy number. The interests of boat owners and also the navigational interests will be diluted by the sheer size of the authority. I should like those interests to be not just consulted but listened to very carefully.
A few problems will be caused by clauses 4 and 5. Those clauses will apply sections 42 and 43 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to enclosed farmland for the first time. We are referring to traditional grazing areas. They are very different from grazing areas in national parks. They have been enclosed for many years. I am wondering whether the Bill is the right vehicle for a precedent of that nature.
I have reservations about subsections (6) and (8) of clause 5, which grants to the new Broads authority powers of entry without notice to establish whether an offence has been committed. We are referring to a minute number of farmers and landowners who have abused the responsibilities of countryside management that have been entrusted to them. Those powers could lead to unnecessary conflict and possibly to ill feeling, even to aggro, in the farming and landowning community. I urge my hon. Friend to examine carefully the great powers that are contained in those subsections.
This is a good Bill, and this is possibly our last chance effectively to save one of the unique elements of our national heritage. The Broads are a very special part of that national heritage. It is to the Government's credit that they have risen to the challenge and seized the opportunity. The Bill falls into the pattern portrayed by the Government's great concern for the countryside and conservation. I do not think that any other Government has done more for the countryside and conservation—[Interruption.] That is why the people of Norfolk and Suffolk are grateful. They are glad that a Conservative Government are in power. I do not think that a Labour Government would introduce such a Bill. The hearts of Labour Members might be in the right place, but we often hear a lot of hot air and rhetoric.
Many people in the Broads feel that some of the policies advocated by the Opposition amount to nothing less than an assault on the fabric of our rural community. Anglers in my constituency are frightened, because, although Labour Members say that angling will not be abolished, they intend to launch an attack on field sports. Many anglers enjoy hours and hours of sport, exercising their ancient freedoms in the Broads. They are fearful of what would happen under a Labour Government. They are grateful for this Conservative Government, who have shown such wisdom in introducing the Bill. I certainly wish it well.
I shall be reasonably brief. Perhaps I can reintroduce a note of harmony to our proceedings. There is a great deal of common feeling about the Bill on both sides of the House. My constituency does not quite take in the Broads, although it is close to them and I know them quite well. However, I cannot speak with the same depth of experience or feeling as some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior), who clearly knows the area jolly well.
I have an interest in conservation, sailing and in anything to do with the environment. The Broads are world famous and unique, but they are also industrial relics. We all know that they are old peat diggings, and it is interesting that former industrial workings should now be regarded as natural features that have a recreational facet to them. We get a lot of pleasure from them, but they also have implications for gravel pits and the like. With a little imagination, today's industry could well be tomorrow's recreation, provided that we put our minds to it.
As a small boy, I read Arthur Ransome's books. I do not know how many of my colleagues read them, but those children got up to various things. One of the books, "Coot Club", was all about the Broads and the efforts of those children to preserve a coot's nest so that the chicks could hatch out of the eggs and could go on to reproduce. I believe that the ogres in that book were people who owned a particularly noisy and fast motor launch, and, if my memory serves me right, they nicknamed them the "Hullabaloos". They surged up and down the Broads and the children felt that they did everything that they could to destroy the coots' nesting habits. I make that point to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), because the problems that we are wrestling with today obviously existed before the war and are not new to us. Sadly, we have not learnt much since then, and that is why the Bill has proved necessary.
The wash caused by boats travelling too quickly is very detrimental to the banks of waterways such as the Broads. Having heard the comments of hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, I can say only that if boat owners cannot be dissuaded from travelling too quickly, firm action must be taken. I care for the environment. One can stand on the river bank and watch the boats going by while realising, minute by minute, just what damage is being done. All the interests must be balanced, but if it is a choice between strict regulations on speed and causing such damage, there should be firm restrictions on the speeds at which boats can travel.
Mention has been made of the quality of our water. I do not want to go into too much detail about nitrates, heavy metals and all the long-term problems involved. Obviously, boats have a pollutant effect, too. However, I have a general point to make that also relates to the Broads. Nowadays, we tend too often to set our water quality standards at the minimum. We should bring all our modern technology and ideas to bear so that we think not of minimum standards but of dramatically improving the quality of water year by year so that future generations can see what we have done. In many ways, that involves farming and industry, but it also applies to the Broads. Sometimes we think about what we can get away with instead of how dramatically and rapidly we can get back to much purer water.
Conservation is essentially about balance. It is sad that in this day and age people still need to be controlled. But judging from what we have heard tonight, that control is still necessary. I hope that I have made it clear that if it is a choice between control and permanent damage to our environment or even loss, controls should be put in place. As a Parliament, our duty is not just to guard and preserve what we have but, as I hope that I have made clear, to use all our modern techniques to improve our surroundings for future generations.
Points have been made about the size of the authority to be established. I hope that the authority will be large enough to do the job asked of it, and that it will not expand and lose sight of its purpose. Local people and local authorities want this Bill. We must trust them to ensure that it works, and I congratulate the Minister on it.
I am happy to join my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord) in generally welcoming the Bill, and to join hon. Members in all parts of the House in their almost unanimous welcome for the general principle behind it. I am also pleased to join my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) in paying tribute to all those involved in the preparatory work on it.
I am quite fortunate to be able to join other hon. Members in having a copy of the Bill, as in Norwich there has been some difficulty in obtaining it. During the past few days my constituents tried to get it, but were unable to do so. Consequently, I found myself last night reading out clauses to constituents and trying to put at least some of their fears at rest. That, of course, also bears on the whole question of time for consultation. Although this Second Reading debate has come upon us pretty quickly, particularly for those who wanted to read the Bill in advance, there has been a lot of consultation in the past. I am sure that there is also a good deal of consultation to come while the Bill is in Committee.
My constituency is adjacent to that of Mid-Norfolk, which contains a large part of the area under discussion. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) in regretting that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) is unable to be here tonight. I join in the tribute paid to the work that he did in preparation for the Bill.
Part of the Broads authority area lies in my constituency, in Thorpe St. Andrew, alongside the river. But although most of my constituents do not live in the Broads authority area, they are actively interested in the Bill either because they have interests in boating, conservation or land use, or because they have leisure pursuits to follow at the weekend. Consequently the Bill is of great interest to my constituents.
Through the good offices of the Broads authority, I have been able to see some of the excellent scientific work that is being done in the Broads area, which is relevant to many of the matters are that is being discussed this evening. Before anyone fears that I am about to launch into a scientific discussion, I remind the House that as a physicist and an engineer I am singularly unqualified to talk about such matters. I appreciate, however, the good and relevant scientific work that is being done.
There is widespread support for the Bill, but in my constituency there is genuine concern as well, which in my brief speech I shall try to express. We want to get things right because we are talking about the future of the Broads area and of Norfolk for tourists and everyone else. There is support for the Bill because it is recognised widely that the quality of the Broads environment has been deteriorating for many years. Indeed, it can be said that that has been happening ever since my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) first visited the Broads, but I am sure that there is no connection between the two facts.
The quality of the environment of the Broads has been monitored for 40 years and it is evident that there has been a serious deterioration. Many factors can be blamed for this, but I shall make no attempt to list them or to point the finger at any one cause. The various factors have been discussed adequately on other occasions.
I shall outline briefly the areas of concern which have been expressed by my constituents over the past week. First, will the new Broads authority be as good as the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners were in the control of navigation? It is a fair question, and I am sure that it will be asked again this evening. I look forward to the answer of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport.
Another area of concern that has been referred to already this evening is the size of the new Broads authority. Will it be too large with a staff of 35? On the face of it, such a staff appears to be too large, but any attempt to reduce it would bring us up against problems of balance and conflicting interests. Possibly I am prepared to go along with a figure of 35 on the basis that it just has to be that large. I merely say that it would appear to be unwieldy.
A third area of concern that has been expressed by some of my constituents—it has been referred to already by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells)—is the navigation committee. Will the committee have enough power? As the Bill is drafted, only consultation is available to the committee. I share my hon. Friend's concern when he talks about whether consultation is sufficient, or whether full account should be taken of the committee's views. I am sure that others more expert than I will speak more about that issue as the Bill is considered further. It is important to achieve the right balance.
There is a measure of misunderstanding in Norfolk about the constitution of the navigation committee. Many of my constituents, some of whom I was speaking to on the telephone last night, think that there will be only one representative of the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners on the new authority. My reading of the Bill is that there will be more than that. I have no doubt that I shall be corrected if my understanding is wrong.
I thank my hon. Friend for his help. There is some misunderstanding and I hope that my hon. Friend will have the opportunity to set out exactly the committee's composition and that of the authority from the point of view of the commissioners. These are not matters on which I am an expert, and I can say only that there is concern in my constituency. I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has gone a long way towards increasing the representation of the boating interests. He has done the right thing and achieved about the right balance, but many will be pressing for greater representation. On the other hand, we have heard hon. Members say that in their opinion the representation of boating interests has gone too far already. Perhaps I take the middle and commonsense view that it is about right as it stands. I received today a letter from the Royal Yachting Association which states:
There has been a considerable improvement over the earlier version of the Bill and a more even balance.
It expresses, however, some concern about other matters.
There are some other areas of concern to which I shall address myself. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take seriously the real concern on Norfolk about the relationship between local authorities, the new Broads authority and the Anglian water authority and its responsibility. This issue may overlap with that raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) when he talked about flooding and coastal erosion, which are serious issues causing a great deal of concern.
There is concern about whether a pressure group, a conservation or boating group, will have its way and destroy the proper balance. It is vital that in considering the Bill we arrive at the right balance. Finally, my constituents are worried about whether toll charges might act adversely on those who have to pay them. Under the new financing arrangements there could be an element of cross-subsidisation. Those who pay tolls or other charges might find themselves paying indirectly for other activities of the authority which have nothing to do with their boating activities, for example. There is real worry about that and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will address himself to it when he replies.
The Bill is the culmination of many attempts over many years to solve a serious problem. There is support for it, but the Government and hon. Members generally have a duty to ensure that the right balance is struck between the various interests and concerns. The Bill is significant environmentally and very important. That is why we should all put our concerns to one side for a moment and welcome the Bill. As I have said, it is of great significance.
There is a danger of the Broads authority going forward in some way that will cause us to be unhappy. We do not want the Bill to result in a growth of bureaucracy. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South, in whose constituency this could occur, we do not want to see a vast building being erected at great public expense following the Bill's enactment. Provided that that does not happen, I am sure that we can put aside some of the fears that are being expressed.
We do not want the Broads area to become an overcrowded and over-busy tourist area that will destroy the natural environment. We do not want to see the area become one vast marina with boats everywhere and nothing else. We do not want to see this lively and living area deadened by the wrong sort of emphasis on conservation. I hope that no misunderstanding will arise about that because we are all in favour of conservation, but the right balance must be struck.
The new authority will have the duty to develop, manage and conserve the Broads area, and I hope that the Minister will consider carefully the issues that have been raised under clauses 1 and 9. The Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners have a fine tradition and, judging by the letters that I have received from my constituents, they are well respected for the work that they have done, and are much appreciated. I hope that their views are taken fully into account as the Bill proceeds through the House. It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill's general principles and I hope that the concerns that I have expressed, which are those of my constituents, will be debated fully and taken fully into account.
I echo many comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson). He is the first of my hon. Friends to suggest that the Minister has got it about right when it comes to the size of the authority. I underline that fact. I understand the arguments that have been put forward for a smaller authority. The present Broads authority, set up by the local authorities, has a membership of 26. In some speeches there was confusion between the membership of the authority—people appointed by local authorities—and the other interest groups, the Secretary of State and the staffing elements. I understand the points made about the size of the authority. The Minister has got it about right.
I never was and still am not much of an admirer of Government quangos. I was elected as a Conservative Member when my party, in government, was dedicated to reducing the number of quangos. It is steadily increasing them. The Countryside Commission is a quango of long standing. I was concerned about the original proposals to set up too small a body. The Countryside Commission deserves a tribute for its initiatives over several years. It was in response to its initiatives some six or seven years ago that the local authorities directly concerned set up the Broads authority. Incidentally, for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley), it does not have to have its decisions ratified by the constituent authorities. It was a remarkable move forward to get eight local authorities to give their powers to another body over which they had no control, and, moreover, give up money provided by ratepayers over which they had no control. That is a remarkable achievement in any part of the country.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) said, to achieve it in counties such as Norfolk or Suffolk is a tremendous example of our determination to recognise the importance of our Broads heritage. The Minister, with all the power he has at his disposal, must resist suggestions that the authority's membership be reduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) referred to the fact that I do not very often have the honour of addressing the House. That is because, once I get up, I cannot stop. I am aware that we have an opportunity to suspend the Ten o'clock rule. I promise not to intrude on time that the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will want.
The reason why I do not speak very often, apart from the length of time I normally want to take, is that I share a room with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West. He usually picks up my notes and makes a speech before I realise the notes have gone. He did not have my notes tonight. If he had, he would not have made those absurd comments about the importance of transferring navigation powers from the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners to the Broads authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North correctly said that his constituents, those of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), my own constituents and people from all over the country are greatly concerned about those powers.
It is not unusual for our friends in the alliance parties to attend the start of a debate, welcome what is happening and then disappear. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) was uncharitable when he referred to my hon. Friend the Minister as making too long a speech about history, giving a travelogue and, also, a maiden speech.
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. That just goes to show that I probably did think my hon. Friend the Minister for State gave hon. Members a travelogue and too much history. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for missing his opening remarks. He kindly allowed me to look through his notes. My hon. Friend made one of the best speeches that I have known him to utter. I have read my hon. Friend's speech. It was good.
This is an opportunity to refer to one of our distinguished local newspapers which referred to the scuppering of the "private Member's Bill." They are the newspaper's exact words. It was not a private Member's Bill; it was a private Bill which the newspaper says had got lost in the parliamentary mire. They are the newspaper's words, not mine. It did not get to the parliamentary mire. One does not expect someone who writes an article for a newspaper in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, South and for Norwich, North to know the difference between a private Member's Bill and a private Bill. Nothing was lost in the parliamentary mire. It was a badly drafted Bill. Some of my colleagues drew attention to the fact that this Bill is much better. To do credit to that local newspaper, it referred to it as a much sharper and shorter Bill. It went on to state:
The only safe course is for the Broads Bill to glide smoothly through the discussion channels… Anyone risking the rocks in defence of a narrow interest cannot be deemed a true friend of Norfolk.
A true friend of Norfolk will give the Bill careful and detailed scrutiny. That is a case not of losing it in the parliamentary mire, but of conducting what this honourable House and the other place were created hundreds of years ago to achieve—that the legislation that we pass takes account of all interests for which they are legislating.
I trust that the Bill will have a safe passage, but it will have a passage in which there will be a few waves. My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench may occasionally need to draw in their oars, lower their sails, or whatever. I cannot think of anyone better than my hon. Friend the Minister to pilot the Bill through the House. I look forward—if it is the wish of the House—to serving with my hon. Friend on the Standing Committee to try to achieve a better Bill than the one he presents now, though I acknowledge that the Bill is good anyway.
The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East mentioned a point that needs to be considered, certainly in Committee—parish councils. In a district council in Norfolk, whether it be Great Yarmouth, North Norfolk or Broadland district council, parish councils have the opportunity to convey their views on every planning application within their area. They do not go to the local district councillor; they have a right to submit their observations on planning applications within their areas direct. The executive area of the current Broads authority has been given planning powers by the local authorities. I want the new statutory authority to be able to ensure that parish councils have the opportunity, in respect of those matters which come within the executive area of the Broads authority, to project their views, for much the same reasons as those put forward by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West implied that I would make a terrific oration. I said at the time that he usually takes my notes, but he could not have done that this time. If he had, he would have known that the Bill is not about water quality. That still remains essentially the responsibility of Anglian water. Some of us wonder why it is necessary to transfer the navigation powers of the port and haven commissioners to the new Broads authority when it is possible to leave Anglian water and the land drainage committees with their powers intact and acknowledge that there must be some association between them.
When I was a very small child, living within 200 or 300 yards of the Broads where my grandfather fished for eels, as his great-grandfather had done before him, for Squire Lucas to sell on the London markets, I did not think that I would one day have the privilege of speaking in a debate about the setting up of a Broads authority. As my hon. Friends have said, this is an historic occasion, because the international character of our broadland heritage is being recognised.
Some of my hon. Friends have spoken of the importance of the Broads to our economy in Norfolk as a centre of tourism. Great Yarmouth, which includes a substantial part of the Broads, attracts 1 million to 2 million visitors a year. The Broads alone attract well over 250,000 visitors a year. Those visitors bring essential cash into our economy. I represent a constituency with 17 per cent. unemployment, and we certainly do not want anything to inhibit the development of tourism. For that reason, the continuation of the boat hire and building industries is vital. They employ 3,000 people. Many thousands more benefit directly from the existence of the Broads.
Hon. Members have referred to their interests. My interest is that of a descendant of many generations who have lived in and worked on the Broads. In 1966, as a new county councillor elected to represent Broads villages, I had the privilege to be one of the early members of the Broads Consortium which was set up following the Broads review report of the Nature Conservancy Council. That was 20 years ago. I have already, in an intervention, reminded the House that I had the opportunity to be a founder member of the Broads authority when I represented Great Yarmouth borough council. I have the privilege also to serve on the staffing appointments committee. I put in my vote for Aitken Clark as our chief executive.
This is my opportunity to pay tribute to the members of the the local authorities—Norfolk and Suffolk county councils and the district councils, of which Great Yarmouth is pre-eminent, although I acknowledge the other districts which are represented here. I pay tribute also to Aitken Clark for the way in which he has managed and advised the authority in the development of policies aimed at ending some of the difficulties identified in this debate. He has given eight years of distinguished service. I am sure that he will look on this debate with pride to think that the Government no less have considered the Broads important enough to warrant this measure.
I pay tribute also to the clerks of the authority, the navigation officers and the rivers inspectors of the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners who have given equally dedicated service and shown as much concern for conservation as to navigation during their 100 years of responsibility. I have yet to be convinced that there is a case for taking away their powers. I acknowledge that today we need to begin the consideration of a Bill that proposes to set up a new approach for the next 50 years at least in terms of our Broads and their environment. Therefore, there is no reason for looking back at the past.
I should like to identify clauses in the Bill that I believe will need to be the source of much discussion in Committee. I do not think that the clauses need result in the Bill being materially affected. I have had an opportunity to discuss some of the clauses with my hon. Friend the Minister, and I know that he is prepared to consider my representations along with all the others he will have to consider such as those suggested by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies).
The powers of the Broads authority will be the subject of great concern, as will the financial arrangements. Again, we have to strike a balance between the need to spend money to preserve the Broads and to encourage tourism. I have already talked about the importance of the tourist industry to Norfolk and my constituency. Its international character has been referred to by colleagues. Many people come across the North sea on the Norfolk line ferry every day in the summer time from Scheveningen, the port of The Hague, to Great Yarmouth and then go on to the Broads. My hon. Friends the Members for Norwich, North and for Norwich, South have the airport at Norwich with its frequent flights from Amsterdam to Norwich. In the summer that regularly brings continental holidaymakers who appreciate and value our broadland environment. It is important that the authority should have powers and that the Government should commit themselves to the sort of financial arrangements that are laid out in the Bill.
I acknowledge the lateness of the hour and the concern to complete the debate by 10 o'clock and I recognise that many of the details I wish to talk about should be dealt with in Committee rather than on Second Reading. However, I would like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister to a few points of concern in my constituency. I should add that for five years I served as a Norfolk county council nominee on the port and haven commission. I relinquished that position on the passage of the Great Yarmouth Outer Harbour Act 1986 at the end of the last Session.
The boundaries of navigation jurisdiction between the Broads authorities and the commissioners—clause 8(1) and clause 24 of the Bill—are one major cause for concern that will need to be carefully examined by the Select Committee and the Standing Committee.
The second major point of concern is the Broads area as defined and the overlapping powers in the area of the haven. That refers to clause 2(1) and (2).
Another concern is the definition of the navigation area with particular reference to banks—clause 8(1). I shall need to address the House on that if given the opportunity at a later date.
The next area of concern relates to the provisions for dredging in relation to the maintenance of the flow of water through to the haven. That point could take 10 minutes to explain, but I will not detain the House nor weary your patience, Mr. Speaker, by dealing with it tonight. However, it is a serious point that the House will have to consider at some stage.
The provisions relating to the transfer of staff and property give cause for concern. I am surprised that I have heard hardly a reference tonight to the lack of consultation with reference to the staff. The Bill appears rather to regard staff as so many boats to be conveyed from one owner to another. The rivers inspectorate of the Great Yarmouth port and haven commissioners are not local government staff to be transferred willy-nilly to another authority.
Much of the emphasis of the Bill lies in its character as a kind of local authority Bill. It ignores the fact that the commission is not a local authority and that its staff have much expertise and will still be needed for the navigation functions that the commissioners exercise in the haven.
Clause 10(6) relates to schedule 5. We need to have clarification of the duties and responsibilities of the harbour master of Great Yarmouth and the Broads and the Norwich navigation officers. Some people expressed anxiety about bureaucracy. There is one navigational officer now working in some loose association with the Broads authority, but there will be a different association in future. Under the Bill, there will be three officers. It has always been a fundamental principle of the Government, whom I have the privilege to support, that they should not create three jobs when one will do.
I am also concerned about the membership and remit of the navigation committee. I am in complete agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) on this point and must disagree with the hon. Member for Caerphilly. However, that is certainly a point that we can debate together in Committee. Hopefully, we shall have the privilege to serve together on the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South expressed an awareness and concern for the commercial traffic travelling to the port of Norwich from Great Yarmouth. He also referred to the importance of coastal shipping in terms of the sugar beet factory at Cantley in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk. I share his regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk is unwell and cannot be here tonight. However, I know that he would be the first to acknowledge that the major part of the Broads area that falls within his constituency was, from 1951 to 1983, part of the Great Yarmouth constituency and many people there have made representations to me as well as to my hon. Friend about navigation matters, not least because of their awareness of the importance of seagoing freight traffic on the river Yare.
I should like to draw attention to some of the letters that I have received from all over the country. The notion that the Broads is purely a Norfolk and Suffolk concern has been well and truly buried by the debate tonight. There has been wide recognition that the Broads are a national and, indeed, international heritage. The Ship and Boat Builders National Federation has entered comments that it has circulated to many hon. Members. We must pay attention to some of its concerns. One of those relates to the Broads authority being obliged to consult only the navigation committee. There is no requirement for it to follow the navigation committee's advice. To some extent, that reveals the difficulty of having a Broads navigation officer, a Norwich navigation officer and a Yarmouth harbour master responsible for navigation in the haven, when it comes to him wearing that tricorn hat and serving two masters, without clearly understanding which has the main responsibility.
Time is running short, but I shall detain the House a moment longer to draw attention to a letter from a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). Having had 30 years' intimate knowledge of the Broads, she says:
The expertise of the Commissioners in their particular field has been built up over a continuous period of more than 100 years, and, of all the authorities concerned with the Broads, I have never heard a single word of criticism levelled at them. The tolls which they collect are substantial and they regulate navigation strictly and to the very highest standards.
That lady, Mrs. Mont, has great experience of public bodies and the way in which local authorities work and is leader of East Sussex county council. That endorsement of the port and haven commissioners' work comes from right outside Yarmouth and from a person with no vested interest.
I shall not detain the House by quoting from letters to other colleagues making the same point, but I cannot refrain from drawing attention to a letter from the chairman of the planning and local affairs committee of the Yarmouth chamber of commerce, which also expresses concern about navigation provisions in the Bill that it is anxious to discuss with me and to see recorded in due time.
Whether the Bill provides for an agency, which we discussed with the port and haven commissioners, Norfolk county council and the Countryside Commission before, or whether it is a co-partnership arrangement are matters that the press has questioned and to which I shall return in later debates.
Acknowledging the general movement of opinion towards the importance of the Broads authority having navigation powers, although I am still prepared to argue about that, the principle to which I have already adverted and to which I now draw attention as being of the utmost importance is the issue of commercial traffic on the river Yare, which in my view is not adequately covered by the Bill. We have had a great deal of discussion about that, but I shall conclude by referring to a letter from the Earl of Caithness, then Under-Secretary of State for Transport. In a letter addressed to the leader of Norfolk county council, he referred to the importance of safety on the river Yare. That letter, dated November 1985, was discussed with my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who was then at the Department of the Environment but is now at the Department of Education and Science, so it was written with the knowledge of the Department of the Environment.
To illustrate the need for further discussion about the navigation clauses, I quote the following passage:
There is also a need to maintain control over the movement of commercial shipping on the Yare between Norwich and Yarmouth. Yarmouth, particularly because of the two opening bridges in Yarmouth. The Department's view is that it would be undesirable, on safety grounds, for there to be more than one authority responsible for control of navigation in the area consisting of Yarmouth harbour, the River Yare up to Norwich, the River Bure up to roughly Acle Bridge, and the River Waveney up to roughly St. Olave's Bridge. The Department would see no objection, on safety grounds, if there were a different authority responsible for navigation on the remaining part of the Broads.
I know that the Under-Secretary of State will respond to this point when he replies, but it is one on which we shall have to spend some time in Committee.
May I conclude—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Labour Members may say "Hear, hear," but this happens to be important to a constituency with 17 per cent. unemployment. Labour Members pretend that they are the only ones who care about unemployment, but I care about it as do my hon. Friends, including my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.
The navigation clauses will have an effect on the boat hire and boatbuilding industries which have an employment content and potential within the constituency of Great Yarmouth and neighbouring constituencies. Those navigation proposals will also have an impact on the port of Great Yarmouth and on the commercial traffic that goes along the river Yare, which the Department of Transport acknowledges needs to be looked after by one navigation officer. I know that the Bill allows for one navigation officer, but I remind the Government of the difficulty of a navigation officer serving more than one master.
I am sure that we shall return to these details. Accepting that they will be examined carefully, I know that the local newspaper was right when it said that the Bill would have a smooth passage. However, on the way, we shall have to change some of the arrangements inside the boat.
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) either in his argument or in the length of his speech.
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have declared an interest. It is unnecessary for me to do so, although I take the opportunity to mention my interest in water resources and in the Washington waterfowl park. I am sure that my hon. Friends will expect me to say that it is the best waterfowl park in Britain.
The Labour party is always anxious to support measures that lead to an improvement in the environment. Consequently, I wish to emphasise several important points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). We give the Bill a guarded welcome, but it contains too little on conservation. Nevertheless, I join my hon. Friend in supporting the Bill in principle.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made a valuable contribution, and I assure him that we shall support his Instruction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) made four important points. The first was the need to achieve the right balance between the interests involved. The second was the lack of conservation, and if the Government intend to talk about conservation they should say explicitly what they mean. My hon. Friend also referred to the agricultural strategy and to the Bill's apparent emphasis on navigation.
The hon. Members for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) and for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) referred to the Labour party's attitude to angling. I shall deal in a moment with the scurrilous misrepresentation of our policy and our support for angling.
The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) said that he had difficulty in obtaining copies of the Bill. That is a matter that he must take up with the Government Front Bench.
The right hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) referred to the importance of protecting this beautiful and important area from sea flooding.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, in his informed and carefully researched contribution, developed the Labour party's position on the Bill and its views on general conservation. In my short contribution this evening I wish only to raise a few questions and to underline the questions raised by my hon. Friends. I shall put them into different sections, and my first question concerns managed access. We consider that this is an important facility and amenity for the local population—this has been mentioned by many hon. Members this evening—and also for helping tourism.
Jobs are important. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth mentioned the high level of unemployment in his area. Most hon. Members on the Labour Benches represent constituencies with very high unemployment levels. If we were in government we would do something about it, and if the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth wants to reduce the level of unemployment in his constituency, he should talk to his hon. Friends about it.
Obviously, we are interested in maintaining jobs that are already in existence and also in creating new ones. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) quoted some statistics, which I noted. He said that 650 jobs in the region are concerned with boat hiring and that an additional 500 jobs are available during the high season. I am well aware that about 300,000 people come into the area during the holiday period, and most spend a considerable amount of money—somewhere in the region of £20 million. That money adds to the economy and, one hopes, will help to protect jobs.
I appreciate that the Minister will not be able to answer all our questions this evening, but I hope he will answer our questions concerning access to the area. Someone to whom I spoke today about the area said that unless one owns land or owns a boat it is difficult for many local people to get on to the Broads.
Much has been said this evening about the balance between different interest groups—the balance between farming, navigation, boating, leisure and conservation. We have argued, as have some Conservative Members, that there is too much emphasis on navigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly mentioned that the Council for the Protection of Rural England has said that
the Bill appears to give insufficient emphasis to conservation and too much emphasis to navigation. The Council for National Parks has said:
as the Bill stands it is open to very wide interpretation. It is even possible to read it as a navigation Bill.
We are concerned about the lack of conservation measures, but I shall give the Minister the opportunity to answer without any further comment.
Much concern has been expressed about the excessive speed of boats, which is causing erosion and the loss of reed beds in the northern rivers of the area. I was interested in the explanation given by the right hon. Member for Waveney about the geese. In my waterfowl park—it is perhaps rather arrogant to call it my waterfowl park—there is a tremendous collection of geese and ducks as well as other wildfowl. About 7,500 hectares of marshland have been transformed for farming purposes. That, together with the improvements in drainage on some remaining land, has impoverished the aquatic flora and fauna of much of the dyke system and left most marshes too dry to be suitable for nesting sites for red-shanked snipe and other wetland birds. We regret that.
Hon. Members have mentioned noise and speed, and I should add overcrowding to that. Overcrowding reduces the quality of the holidays and recreational experiences of people, especially those from other areas who go to the Broads to enjoy them and for a holiday. In a letter, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds stated:
it is essential that the new Authority have sufficient powers to control activities on water…the closure of any part of a navigation channel
should be a possibility. Under what circumstances do the Government envisage clause 5 being used? Is it part of a long-term strategy, or will it be used only in environmental emergencies? Perhaps the Minister could answer that question.
I am tremendously worried about the pollution of the waters caused by the addition of nitrates, phosphates and other chemicals from agricultural run-off and the domestic sewerage system. Urgent action is needed. The Council for National Parks is explicit on that and states:
The Bill permits the Broads Authority to carry out works and make grants for the purpose of improving water quality in consultation with the Anglian Water Authority. There is, however, no specific additional conservation responsibility placed on the AWA as a result of this Bill.
Perhaps the Minister can look into that.
In a discussion about land on the Broads the Nature Conservancy Council in its June 1986 topical issue stated:
the Broads are suffering from a surfeit of nitrate and phosphates, and this has had a devastating effect on the ecology of the region. All but four small Broads are now virtually devoid of waterweeds and their associated invertebrates.
Will the Minister consider carefully the problem of water pollution on the Broads?
Many hon. Members have spoken about the balance of interests and have shown concern about the emphasis on navigation. It is possible that half the committee could have an interest in navigation. The Secretary of State can select nine members. Will the Minister tell us how the Secretary of State intends to use that gift? Will he ensure that there is a balance of interest on the authority?
The RSPB emphasised the possibility of boating interests being over-represented. In a letter it stated:
It is conceivable that over half of the members of the Broads Authority may represent boating interests. This is excessive and should therefore be limited to no more than four (of eighteen) to ensure an equable representation of interest.
The hon. Members for Maidstone and for Great Yarmouth made remarks on angling about which I feel strongly. I defy either of them to find any reference in any of our documents or party manifestos——
I just need to find the right constituency. Two Conservative Members made that point. What the hon. Gentleman said does not negate my argument; it just gave him the opportunity to add to his overlong speech. I see in "Dod's" that one of the hon. Gentleman's recreations is talking, and I presume that he was using that opportunity to put that interest into practice.
I defy any Conservative Members to find any documentation which says that the Labour party will abolish angling or is even threatening to do so. I put it on the record this evening that the Labour party has no intention at the next or any other election to abolish angling. I go even further. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields and I would say that a Labour Government would ensure that the angling interest was represented on the Broads authority. I cannot be any more specific than that. If any Conservative Members want to misrepresent our policy, we now have it firmly on the record.
On this matter we speak with one voice. I am aware that Norwich city council is Labour controlled and that Norfolk county council is Tory controlled, but they agree on the need for the Bill. The Labour parliamentary candidate for Mid-Norfolk has said that the Bill is a step in the right direction and the RSPB has said that it welcomes the Bill as an important step in ensuring the conservation and enhancement of this ecologically important area.
Labour Members welcome the Bill. The Liberal and Social Democratic Benches are, as usual, empty at this time of night. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) gave the Bill his wholehearted support. All of us on the Opposition Benches have said that we will support the Bill this evening, but that we have reservations, and we hope that they will be raised in Committee and accepted by the Government.
This has been a measured and informative debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) said, we have been dealing with a matter not just of local interest but of great national concern.
Many detailed points have been raised and I sense that the House wants to bring this debate to a fairly rapid conclusion and to move on to the next business. Therefore, I apologise in advance for not dealing with many of the points raised. The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) generously said that it would be impossible to answer all the detailed questions and we shall be writing to him on some of the points that he made. Obviously, as will be apparent to many of my hon. Friends, many points will be dealt with in detail in Committee. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if I do not give way too often during the rest of the debate. I wish to answer specifically some of the points that have been made. I shall take them in chronological order because I cannot think of a better way of dealing with them.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made one or two points, some of which were repeated during the debate. I shall try to answer what I consider to be his main points. On the recurring point about pollution and the position of the Anglian water authority, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) recognised, the water authority will remain responsible for the quality of the water. There is no change in that. Nor would it be appropriate, for the reasons given during the debate, for that to change. That is only a fairly modest part of the entire water system. It must remain under the control of the water authority, although the Bill imposes a new responsibility on the authority to consult the new Broads authority. That is a new constraint vested in it. Speaking off the top of my head, I would be surprised if that was repeated with respect to many water authorities in a comparable position.
Several hon. Members asked about the important matter of the agricultural experiment and whether it would be continued. The three-year experiment in Halvergate will end on 31 March 1988. From 1 April 1988, the new arrangements under the Agriculture Act 1986 will then apply. The Broads have been designated as an environmentally sensitive area. The Government will offer incentive payments to farmers to continue traditional farming methods as implied by the experiment.
The powers to stop damage raised some complicated issues. I know that the matter is of enormous interest to the hon. Member for South Shields because he has been deeply involved in the amendments of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Section 42 of that Act is, in effect, the model upon which the Bill is based. The powers contained in section 42 are comparable to those in this Bill which require farmers and foresters to notify the national park authority before carrying out any activities which may contravene the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The penalties involved will be comparable in this Bill to those in the Act that is already on the statute book.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Sir J. Wells) asked about the percentage that the boating fraternity would have to contribute towards total costs. I have the detailed figures—their contribution will be 30 per cent. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members may wish to debate in Committee whether that contribution is too high or too low. My hon. Friend raised a rather difficult and technical, but important, point on the difference between temporary and permanent closures. The power of an authority to close a part of a navigation channel permanently is limited. It may be done for the purpose of nature conservation. It must not be used to shut off a navigation channel other than the very end of one, or to create a serious obstruction to navigation. The temporary closure powers have a much wider range of purposes. That is why an elaborate procedure with safeguards is set out.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) made a point about coastal defences. The Broads authority will have no powers in respect of those defences. They will remain with the local authorities. Nothing in the Bill will change the present position in that regard.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and others asked whether the Government have the balance right. That theme ran through the debate. The hon.
Member for Newham, South asked whether we would try to make the definitions and objectives of the authority more clear-cut. That theme ran through his speech. I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly to ask whether he could not conceive that the objective in clause 2(1)(b) would meet the point that he had made. I was pressed by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington to say a little more about this. On reflection, I should say that clause 2 confers a duty to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Broads and requires the authority to have regard to the desirability of protecting the natural resources of the Broads. That wording certainly takes into account flora, but it is arguable whether, to the same extent, it takes into account animal life or fauna. This matter may properly be the subject of further discussion in Committee. I hope that my remarks give some assurance to the hon. Member for Caerphilly and those who argued for a tighter definition of conservation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) argued that clauses 5 and 6 contained powers that were too strong, although some others argued that they were too weak. Access management and the powers associated with it will be discussed at some length in Committee.
Several hon. Members asked about the size of the authority. Some have argued that it is about right and some that it is too large. Its composition was certainly a recurring feature of the debate. I hope that the House will agree that the matter can properly be discussed in Committee. My hon. Friend the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning said that part of the problem was gathering together a wide selection of interests. A recurring problem throughout the Bill is reconciling different interests, and one way in which that has been done is through the authority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North mentioned the Royal Yachting Association letter. That is an important document for consideration by the House and by the Committee. The boating aspect has worried several of my hon. Friends, but the Royal Yachting Association says clearly that it supports the concept of a statutory Broads authority and that its representations are intended to ensure, as most hon. Members would wish, that the Bill represents everyone's best interests and that its details are properly constructed, whatever point of view one takes.
Several hon. Members were troubled by the suggestion of cross-subsidy. The accounts must be absolutely clear. The details of how they will be operated are bound to be the subject of great discussion in Committee. We shall discuss how the accounts will be treated and how we can ensure that the moneys paid by the boating interests are used for navigation purposes. There will be a great deal of detailed discussion. The principle is firmly enshrined in the Bill. Details will have to be discussed, but I hope that they can be left to the Committee stage.
I refer to two points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss). He mentioned the rights of parish councils to make direct representations. I acknowledge that that right is not included at the moment. I have briefly discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, and we agree that it would be appropriate to discuss it in Committee. The Government will listen carefully to what Committee Members have to say about it.
My hon. Friend also referred to a matter affecting navigation. That is why I am standing at the Dispatch Box. It is the Department of Transport's responsibility to ensure that navigational interests are balanced against other interests. The Department of Transport looked carefully at the Bill and had its doubts about the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth referred to the early doubts about whether it would be wise to split certain aspects of control of the waters. Having consulted widely, the Department has been persuaded that if the two authorities fully co-operate divided responsibility should provide an acceptable, safe alternative. There will be discussions in Committee about the precise nature of that co-operation. My hon. Friend has raised an important and useful point, and the Department of Transport believes that it can be worked out, if common sense prevails.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the Broads are a unique heritage. Hon. Members also agree that the Broads have deteriorated in several respects. In recent years there has been a serious risk of part of the heritage deteriorating beyond repair. The Bill aims at striking a balance between the needs of conservation and the needs of those who use the waters of the Broads for commercial and recreational purposes. The fact that each set of champions on each side of the equation is calling for more attention to be paid to its side of the argument probably means that the Government have got it about right. Therefore, I recommend the Bill to the House.
That there shall stand referred to the Select Committee—
being a Petition in which the Petitioners pray to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents.
That if no such Petition is mentioned in sub-paragraph (a) above is presented, or if all such petitions are withdrawn before the meeting of the Committee, the order for the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee shall be discharged and the Bill shall be submitted to a Standing Committee.
That any Petitioner whose Petition stands referred to the Select Committee shall, subject to the Rules and Orders of the House and to the Prayer of his Petition, be entitled to be heard by himself, his Counsel or Agents upon his Petition provided that it is prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of the House, and the Member in charge of the Bill shall be entitled to be heard by his Counsel or Agent in favour of the Bill against that Petition.
That it be an instruction to the Select Committee to which the Bill is committed to satisfy itself, having regard to any petitions referred to it, that the Bill will provide adequate representation for boating interests and will neither unduly increase the cost of, nor enable undue restraints upon, boating on the Broads.—[Sir John Wells.]