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River Holidays

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what is being done to promote river holidays in the United Kingdom.

Inland waterway holidays are marketed by the industry itself as well as the tourist boards and the British Tourist Authority overseas. I recently met the chairman of the British Waterways Board, and the chairman of the English tourist board and British Tourist Authority for a useful exchange of views on how the tourism potential of inland waterways could best be achieved.

That is welcome news indeed. Will my hon. Friend comment on what proportion of the British Waterways Board's income is derived from leisure? On the subject of water holidays, I commend to him that excellent book, "Three Men in a Boat" as an insight to the coming elections in the Labour party.

In regard to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question about "Three Men in a Boat", I am surprised that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) has not put his oar into that particular boat. No doubt there is still time. In answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, the British Waterways Board receives about 43 per cent. of its earned income, excluding grant-aid, from leisure and tourism, amounting to about £2·75 million.

As inland waterways include canals, what help is available to promote canals in and around the city of Birmingham, given that it has more canals than Venice?

Section 4 grants are available for the development of tourism projects associated with canals. Indeed, a number of section 4 grants recently have been given to similar projects; for example, the National Waterways museum in Gloucester and the Waveney river centre on the Norfolk Broads. Grants are available.

Will my hon. Friend persuade the board to restore horse-drawn canal boats, which were very scenic in my constituency on the Grand Union canal in past years and are an excellent holiday for families and friends?

My hon. Friend never misses an opportunity to bring the horse, his favourite animal, into his questions. I am sure that the point that he made will be considered by the British Waterways Board.

Will the Minister advise the House what discussions took place about mooring fees during his meeting with the chairman of the British Waterways Board? Is he aware that the increase in mooring fees has been so great that many people who use the rivers and canals are having second thoughts because they cannot afford the increase? Will the Minister prevail upon the chairman of the British Waterways Board to look at the situation and ensure that increases are not above the level of inflation?

I shall certainly draw the attention of the chairman of the British Waterways Board to the hon. Gentleman's point about mooring fees. I understand that the level of charges essentially is for the commercial judgment and decision of the board.