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Rivers and Waterways

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 26 April 2012

We are making excellent progress with our plan to transfer British Waterways’ navigations in England and Wales to the Canal and River Trust: funding has been agreed, the charity has been registered, the board of trustees is in place, the charity’s council has had its first meeting, and recruitment of members of the waterways partnerships is well under way. Subject to parliamentary approval, we plan to transfer the waterways in July, ensuring the network’s long-term future. Much is also being done to improve the quality of our rivers and their surrounding catchments.

The River Avon runs through the bottom of my constituency. Alongside it runs the River Avon trail, a great example of how scenic waterways can be opened up for local people and visitors alike. Will the Minister accept an invitation to come to see at first hand the great work that has been done by those involved in this success?

I would certainly like to visit the trail, because I think that it is a wonderful example of how local people and riparian owners, working together, can really improve the quality of people’s lives and of the river. We recently launched our Love Your Rivers campaign, which I extol to Members on both sides of the House, because it is an opportunity to connect local people with their waterways and ensure that they understand that the water we rely on comes from the natural environment and how we can all be responsible for looking after it.

Having chaired the all-party group on waterways for the past couple of years, I welcome the Minister’s willingness to engage with those who care for the waterways and with parliamentarians on these issues and the steps he has just described. Will he ensure that in future Ministers and officials fully respect the independence of the new Canal and River Trust and its trustees, as that is an essential part of the new structures he is putting in place?

May I put on the record my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman—I thank other Members too, but him particularly—for his work in supporting what we have been trying to do? He is a long-standing supporter of the waterways. I absolutely assure him that the governance model we have introduced will create an independent organisation that cannot be tampered with by Ministers in future, and certainly not by this Minister, who passionately wants the charity to succeed.

Currently boats are allowed to discharge effluent into rivers and watercourses. I recognise the difficulties with some locations, which are very remote from any practical answer to the problem, but what measures is the Minister taking to call a complete halt to this practice so that the quality of beach bathing water, particularly in the west country, is kept to the very highest standards?

Water quality is an absolute fundamental, and releasing pollutants into waterways can affect our ability to comply with the directives that we have signed up to, such as the water framework directive, so it is an absolute priority as well. We have allocated funding to improve water quality. I will certainly look at any regulations, and if the new charity comes forward with suggestions that require legislation on any level, we will certainly consider that.