[Relevant Document: Statement on behalf of the Promoters in support of consideration and approval of the Lords amendments.]
Consideration of Lords amendments
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 20.
This debate marks the end of a detailed process of parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill, which has both been welcome and led to significant changes and improvements to it. That process has been followed tenaciously by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who is in his place today and who I am sure will again give us the benefit of his thoughts on their lordships’ amendments. It must be said that the Bill is better for the scrutiny it has had in both Houses, with its Opposed Bill Committee in the other place having been chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, a former Lord Chief Justice.
Today’s debate focuses on the 20 amendments made by their lordships, resulting from the concerns raised in the Opposed Bill Committee, further to refine the Bill to ensure that its purpose is clear, that the powers it grants are proportionate and that the needs of all users of the Middle Level, including those who rely on it for drainage and for whom it is their home—that has been a particular issue of debate throughout the process—are properly considered. I have spoken at length with the promoters, and they support the Lords amendments and urge Members to accept them.
To give a brief history of the Bill for those who have perhaps not followed it quite as closely as I have had the pleasure of doing, it was originally introduced to the House in November 2016 and had its First Reading on 24 January 2017. It was debated on Second Reading on 29 March 2017, when my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I had the opportunity to debate it at some length. A motion to revive the Bill in the new Session of Parliament followed the general election and was agreed by this House on 17 October 2017, and the House of Lords agreed to the revival of the Bill on 25 October 2017. The Bill went before an Opposed Bill Committee of the House of Commons on 15 to 17 January 2018, and consideration of the Bill as amended in Committee took place in this Chamber on 28 February. On Third Reading, the Bill passed without a Division.
My gratitude goes to my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight)—sadly, he is not able to join us for this debate—who chaired the Opposed Bill Committee of this House and made some valuable contributions. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch highlighted on Third Reading how valuable it had been to hear on Report the contribution of the Chairman of the Opposed Bill Committee, as it meant that we could further explore some of the issues that had been presented there.
The passage of the Bill in the other place has been slightly quicker, as there was no intervening general election to cause an issue with its consideration. Its formal First Reading in the other place took place on 1 March this year and its formal Second Reading on Thursday 22 March. It was then considered for five days in June by an Opposed Bill Committee, chaired by the eminent jurist Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. He and the Committee brought a good level of scrutiny to it, ensuring that we have a very good Bill. I think that we can have every confidence in agreeing with their lordships today and then seeing this legislation enacted.
My understanding is that the Committee in the other place heard evidence from four of the seven petitioners against the Bill. Two of the petitioners had withdrawn their petitions and one was held not to have a right to be heard by the Committee, although I understand from speaking to the agents of the promoters that that person was still able to speak by providing evidence on behalf of one of the petitioners. To be clear, everyone has had a strong chance to put their views. Three of the petitioners had also appeared before the Opposed Bill Committee of this House.
The Middle Level Commissioners proposed amendments to the Bill in response to the concerns raised by the petitioners and members of the Committee. They also gave the Committee a number of undertakings that are not part of the Bill. However, I will turn to them in a few moments, because Members may find it helpful to know the reasons behind some of the undertakings given, as well as the reasons why they were given as formal undertakings to the Committee rather than incorporated as amendments to the Bill.
The amended Bill received formal Third Reading in the other place on 12 September this year, and we are now here to consider the Lords amendments. The promoter considers that the amendments do not extend or materially change the substance of the proposals in the Bill as earlier passed by this House, but they do provide some advantages.
Lords amendment 1 addresses a concern regarding small unpowered pleasure vessels. People may wonder what on earth that might mean. The amendment provides that vessels such as canoes and kayaks should not be included in the charging regime introduced by the Bill. However, when I speak about one of the other Lords amendments, I will explain that there may be a reasonable way—comparable with a similar system used on other waterways—to seek a contribution from those using the waterway for such purposes towards the costs of maintaining the waterway for navigation. This amendment is part of ensuring that the Bill is proportionate, and—to be blunt—to ensure that someone using a canoe or kayak does not find themselves being charged as if they were putting a pleasure boat down the waterway. It speaks to the socially inclusive nature of the use of the Middle Level; it is not just about those with large motor boats or significant amounts of money.
I am very conscious of what my hon. Friend says, and we want to encourage people to be active in their recreation. Have the commissioners considered a case whereby such vessels may be part of a commercial operation, with kayaks being rented out or training taking place? Have they recognised that the Lords would not want such cases to be covered by this provision?
I thank the Minister for her intervention. Yes, that is partly why Lords amendment 7 allows an ability to provide some charge for a more commercial operation. It could perhaps be a block charge to British Canoeing for those who are using the waterway, so that people pay a membership fee to British Canoeing before they are able to use particular waterways rather than paying individual fees to each individual operation. I see some nodding from those in the Under-Gallery. It is about trying to avoid a situation where a person with a canoe finds themselves having to register as a boat user to get on the water and pay a fee as if they were a large operation. They will not be completely barred, but they will be in a different charging regime from the standard one for the major pleasure boats and crafts using the waterway.
As the Minister will be aware, the current system of regulation means that fairly large pleasure and commercial boats can use the Middle Level with absolutely no charge at all. That is severely hindering its development and opportunities. Most worryingly of all, the current legislation does not provide for a modern system of safety regulation. This Bill does, hence why the commissioners are very keen to get it in place so that they can ensure that there is a modern and recognisable standard of boat safety on the Middle Level.
Could I be quite clear about this, because I am slightly worried? There is no question, is there, of a family taking a canoe out having to pay when they go on these waterways? That would seem excessive.
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his intervention. The Lords amendment that I have just briefly covered is designed to deal with some of those concerns. It would be quite common on other waterways to have a system whereby if someone was a member of the British Canoeing Society, that membership fee would cover the cost. The commissioners may also put in place some restrictions regarding, for example, children wearing life vests. I think most of us would feel that that would be a sensible form of regulation on the waterway.
The general intention of the Lords amendment is to recognise that the Middle Level is a key part of the local community. Many use it informally. Although we need to bring in a form of safety regulation, it is not intended to bring that into the main scheme, although, as on other waterways, there might be a requirement to be a member of a recognised organisation that then contributes to the upkeep of safety equipment and other areas. There would then not necessarily be an additional charge to go on the Middle Level.
Lords Amendments 2, 3 and 4 deal with some of the issues that were raised on the membership of the navigation advisory committee and how it would work. Lords Amendment 2 would be familiar to anyone who has served on a local authority, with the idea that one should declare any personal interest or any matters that would be relevant to one’s decisions. Some of the petitioners raised a concern that the navigation advisory committee must fairly represent the users. In essence—the promoters may not thank me for saying this—it should not be the case that, for example, the commissioners’ mates or one particular group end up finding themselves on the navigation advisory committee.
However, the promoters were happy to accept the idea that relevant interests should be declared, and that there should be clear processes for how that works. I do not think that any of us would see it as unreasonable that someone appointed to a representative body should declare to those they are representing what potential interests they may have that are relevant to their position on, in this case, the navigation advisory committee. They would not have to give a life story of their entire business affairs, but they would certainly have to declare anything that was relevant to their being on that committee—for example, what their interest is in the Middle Level, what they are doing there, and how their business might operate. Those using the waterway for navigation could then satisfy themselves that there was a broad range of people represented there.
Lords amendment 3 requires the commissioners to consult the committee on
“proposals for a protocol for the removal of vessels under section 15.”
As a consequence of the amendment, a similar consultation duty in clause 15 has been removed. The removal of boats is one of the most sensitive parts of the proposals, because some people are using the waterways as a home, and others have been using them for a long time, but I think all of us in the House accept that that power must be there. In these amendments, their lordships have struck the correct balance given the need to ensure safety, an effective navigation system, that the waterway is not blocked and that modern safety regulations are adhered to.
Amendment 4 is a very reasonable proposition from their lordships about what the dispute resolution process should be if the commissioners and the navigation advisory committee cannot agree on a matter. That process is set out in some detail, but for the purposes of time, I do not propose to go through each nuance. The fact that their lordships, and in particular the Chairman of the Opposed Bill Committee in the other place, felt that this was the right approach speaks volumes for why we should accept the amendment.
Lords amendment 5 relates to the continuity of navigation functions. A number of petitioners raised concerns in the Opposed Bill Committee in the other place that the Bill did not include specific maintenance duties for commissioners. The commissioners’ view was that such duties were already imposed by the existing legislation that applies to the Middle Level—for instance, requiring them to maintain particular water levels in particular waterways. Clearly for a waterway to be navigable there needs to be a minimum draught, to guarantee that a boat can be taken along it.
Amendment 5 provides additional reassurance to navigation users that the Bill, once it becomes an Act, will not remove the requirement for the commissioners to exercise their current navigation functions under the existing Middle Level Acts. If the Bill had not been amended in this way, my clear instruction from the promoters is that the commissioners would have looked to ensure that places were navigable. After all, if a charging system is being introduced, the waterway has to be navigable if there is to be any income. They were happy to suggest this amendment, and their lordships have made it to the Bill. Given that much of our debate, certainly on Second Reading, has been about the fact that much of the legislation affecting the Middle Level is incredibly elderly, it seems sensible to make clear in this modern piece of legislation that we still expect to see those standards followed. The amendment clarifies that point.
Lords amendment 6 clarifies a point about navigation income and how it relates to navigation expenditure. A number of petitioners raised concerns about the Bill’s potential unintended consequence of obliging the commissioners to aim to secure that navigation income met navigation costs, which could make the charges higher—for example, if there were a small number of users, the commissioners might be obliged to instantly bill them the full cost. A new provision is therefore added to clause 4 to confirm that the commissioners are not required to aim to secure that the income from charges meets the annualised navigation costs they incur.
In practice, the commissioners do not expect navigation income to be likely to meet navigation costs unless the current levels increase significantly. This reform is not just about an exciting couple of debates for me in the Chamber; the point is to make a real difference on the ground. They hope that that difference will be to see more people looking to use and navigate the waterways, but they do not necessarily want that tight constraint, which might mean that in the first instance a small number of people are suddenly hit with a large bill.
Lords amendment 7, which I briefly referred to in my response to the Minister’s intervention, provides that the use of small unpowered pleasure vessels on the waterway will not incur a charge unless it is agreed by the navigation advisory committee or a person appointed to act as an expert under the new dispute resolution process in clause 3. The amendment was made in response to concerns that users of small pleasure vessels such as canoes and kayaks should not be included in the regime introduced by the Bill—a position I fully support. As I outlined earlier, it makes eminent sense that they should not be in the standard charging regime, but, to touch on the Minister’s point, it was felt that there was still a need to recover some of the navigation expenses from those using the waterways in this manner, while allowing the public to use and enjoy them.
As I have said in response to interventions, particularly that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), the commissioners say that if they are likely to exercise the power, they will recover the charges in a block charge to British Canoeing, whose membership fee covers charges for other waterways. I have to make it clear that there would be a process of negotiation with British Canoeing, but I cannot see any reason why, in principle, there would not be a readiness on the part of the commissioners and British Canoeing to look at a way of making the Middle Level a more enjoyable place and, through providing specific facilities, a safer place for canoeing, and one that would again show that the waterway is socially inclusive.
Amendment 8 relates to clause 9 on stranded, grounded and sunken vessels and vehicles. The clause has been amended by their lordships to make it clear that the new powers to remove stranded, grounded and sunken vessels from the waterways do not prevent the commissioners from using existing powers to remove vessels from the waterways where that is more appropriate. The amendment is in response to petitioners’ concerns that vessels could be removed when moving them to a different location on the waterways would be a more appropriate solution. The new wording provides an appropriate balance between protecting the interests of the owners of stranded, grounded and sunken vessels and the commissioners’ duty to keep the waterways clear. It is also consistent with changes made by the House of Commons Opposed Private Bill Committee, which required the removal of vessels to be used as a last resort. I am conscious that there is a particular issue in relation to those who use a vessel as their residence. They will rightly want more protection than will those who have concerns about a pleasure craft that they only use for such a purpose.
Amendment 9 makes a minor change in relation to the confirmation of byelaws. I do not intend to talk about it, but I am only too happy to respond to interventions or further comments from colleagues present for this debate. The same applies to Lords amendments 10 to 12, which relate to the requirement for registration. We have debated some of these issues at length, and the amendments were included to reassure petitioners that if the commissioners refuse to register a vessel, the owner has the same opportunity to make representations and appeal against the decision as if the commissioners proposed to revoke an existing registration. That right was implicit in the Bill as previously drafted, but the amended wording makes it explicit.
The other Lords amendments are slightly more technical or set out other matters of interest. I will briefly highlight amendments Lords 14 to 16, which relate to how someone with a relevant interest in the Middle Level could, for example, challenge the accounts in the way a local government elector can in relation to their local council.
I am perplexed by the term “a relevant interest”. Will my hon. Friend elaborate on that, so that I can understand what a relevant interest might be?
I thank my hon. Friend for his interest. The amendment responds directly to concerns raised by petitioners in the Lords Committee about how the commissioners would not be sufficiently accountable to navigation interests. It gives boat owners on the Middle Level the same right to scrutinise the commissioners’ navigation accounts, and to challenge them if necessary, that local government electors have in relation to local authorities. In effect, boat owners using the Middle Level can act in the same way as a local government elector. I hope that answers my hon. Friend’s question.
Lords amendments 18 to 20 are more technical in nature, and I do not intend to talk about them unless Members have a particular query. A number of undertakings have been provided, and I can certainly make them available to Members who wish to see them in more depth. I would flag up the third undertaking given in relation to the advertisement of byelaws. In effect, an undertaking has been given to advertise byelaws in the same way as traffic orders—for example, in the local newspaper or, in this instance, in a magazine of interest to boaters. That is not in the Bill because, as many of us would accept, 40 or 50 years ago the local newspaper was the obvious place to go to for relevant news and information. If we begin to codify that in legislation, it could become out of date.
A specific undertaking is given on the registration fee for static houseboats and the publication of the removal protocol. That is a particular issue, and it will be treated as if it were a byelaw. The final issue of note is the undertaking to return to a residential mooring strategy and looking at how we could use the Middle Level to provide more opportunities for residential use, but that is an undertaking to try, rather than a statutory “must”, because ultimately the mooring facilities are determined by the local council.
The Bill has returned to the House in an excellent condition from the other place. We should accept the Lords amendments, as they strengthen the Bill and make it a measure that the whole House can accept.
Order. For the sake of clarity, it might be useful for the House to know that it is perfectly in order for Members to speak on Lords amendments 2 to 20 as well as amendment 1, as they have been grouped. There is no real need for me to say that—I merely say it for the sake of clarity. The hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) has addressed amendments 2 to 20, and clearly I would have called him to order had that not been in order. He is rarely not in order. We are now debating Lords amendment 1, together with amendments 2 to 20.
I would like to thank the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) for a full and detailed description of the Lords amendments. Although his constituency, and mine in Plymouth, are some distance from the geographical area in focus, the legislation has important consequences for that locality, so it is right that we give it due attention.
The Bill amends and updates the powers of the Middle Level Commissioners to regulate navigation on the Middle Level of the fens in Cambridgeshire and west Norfolk. The legislation that the Bill updates is over 150 years old, so the Bill brings the Middle Level into line with powers granted to the Environment Agency, the Canal & River Trust and the Broads Authority in Norfolk. The existing legislation dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, primarily the Middle Level Act 1862—who does not remember that gorgeous piece of legislation? The foreign policy mastermind, Henry John Temple, Third Viscount Palmerston, was in his second term as Prime Minister. A member of the now defunct Liberal party, he was grappling with the American civil war. Queen Victoria was on the throne. We had riots in Lancashire over the cotton recession. The new Westminster bridge opened in London, and criminal law was amended to make robbery with violence punishable by flogging. We remember that year well. Across the pond in 1862, Abraham Lincoln announced that he would issue an emancipation proclamation the following year—what a time to be alive. We had the Middle Level Act on top of that—indeed, our cup overfloweth.
Turning to the Bill, The Middle Level Commissioners provide flood defence and water level management to the Middle Level area and are the navigation authority for the Middle Level river system. I mention that, because many people will want to know what and where the Middle Level is. The Middle Level, the largest of the great levels of the fens, was reclaimed by drainage of the land in the 17th century, and consists of over 120 miles of watercourses, 100 miles of which are statutory watercourses. If it were not for the operations of the commissioners and the local internal drainage boards, much of that fenland would be under water as it is below sea level, which would have a devastating impact on the 100,000 people who live and work in the Middle Level area.
The chief executive of the Middle Level Commissioners, Iain Smith, has said that about 1,500 vessels use their locks every year and that about 100 boats are “hiding” unlicensed on the waterway, so it is important to update the laws, enabling them to have better control of the waterways that they seek to oversee and ensuring safe navigation, as the hon. Member for Torbay set out.
The amended Bill originally intended to allow the Middle Level Commissioners to charge vessels to use the waterways; fine people for staying longer than allowed at moorings; check that boats using the waterways have valid insurance; remove sunken or abandoned vessels; temporarily close sections of waterways for works, or for events; and enter into arrangements with other navigation authorities for the mutual recognition of registrations and licences—all good stuff, the House will agree. We know that the additional income for the commissioners could make a real difference to the fenlands and the waterways. The Bill will bring the legislation covering the Middle Level into the 21st century in line with other navigation authorities, as set out by the Bill’s sponsor in his remarks.
With the amendments made in the other place, I am pleased that we are now at a point where we, or, more importantly, the vast majority of the citizens directly affected, are largely happy with the Bill. I understand that the commissioners have consulted widely and thoroughly with interested parties, the substantial majority of whom were in favour of the proposed changes. I am grateful in particular to the peers in the other place for editing the Bill and tabling amendments based on the concerns of petitioners.
I know that additional concerns were raised. Some people did not feel that the Bill, as it originally stood, took into account the views of barge travellers and boat dwellers in the area, especially those on low incomes. I believe that the very real and genuine concerns of local people, especially about the impact of the proposed legislation on the poorest in the Middle Level community, have been reviewed with a sympathetic ear. The Bill is now in a much better shape. Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who was on the Committee, said:
“it’s been improved and protects boat owners who use boats as their home and don’t have much money.”
The promoters should reflect on the fact that the interests of the poorest were left out of the original text.
I am pleased that there has been due scrutiny in the other place, whose new amendments, as set out by the hon. Member for Torbay, were made to build in safeguards for boat owners who are not very well off, live on boats permanently and were worried about evictions. The challenge will be how the powers in the Bill are used by the Middle Level Commissioners. I hope the concerns of the House about the impact of the Bill on those who live on boats, especially those on low incomes, will be remembered when powers are implemented and used fully. As the concerns of the Official Opposition have been taken into account in the amended Bill, we will not be opposing it today.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate on this very important Bill. I would first like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who volunteered to take it on. It has required a lot of work and effort. I want to put on record that he has done a quite superb job, handling it with great expertise and enthusiasm. He has made really good progress with what is an important Bill. He would make a very good Minister and this is perhaps a trial run for when he takes his first Bill through Parliament.
I would also like to thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who has been very supportive. In the process, he has become very knowledgeable about the Middle Levels and, indeed, about many water courses that are so important to the Fens.
I will be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wanted to put on record those two points, but also to say that I have a constituency interest. My constituency is right at the north-eastern end of the Middle Level, but it encompasses much of the constituency of my neighbours, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) and my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay). I do have an interest and represent a significant number of constituents who enjoy using the Middle Level and associated waterways. To them, this is a way of life. It is an incredibly important part of their leisure activities, and there are many commercial activities involving boats and pleasure craft, too. The Bill is important to update the way the Middle Level in particular is controlled and managed.
I would like to put on record the excellent work done by the commissioners and the drainage boards. As the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport pointed out, without the oversight of the fens and without the management of the drainage systems in place—of which the Middle Level is obviously but one of a number—we would not have the incredibly successful farm land or all the other enterprises associated with food production and processing. As he also pointed out, a lot of houses are below sea level and simply would not continue to exist without this management in place. We should pay tribute to and salute the people who do it, very often completely free of charge on a pro bono basis. In addition, many constituents own boats and from their point of view, having a well-managed system in place with fair and reasonable charging is incredibly important.
To make one specific point, under the new regime it is important that boats that are occupied—where people live on the boats in question—are treated fairly and with a light touch. That is incredibly important, because as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport pointed out, many are on relatively low incomes. This is very often not a lifestyle choice, but a choice that has been forced on them. They have contributed a great deal over the years to the whole atmospherics of the waterways in the fens and they should be respected and looked after properly.
I have looked at the amendments very carefully. I was very supportive of the Bill in the first place, but I shared the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who is sitting behind me, that it could be improved. Well, it has been improved. All the amendments have been well thought-out. They are well crafted and well drafted. We now have a Bill that is absolutely fit for purpose and which can become an Act of Parliament that endures. It is one that my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay can be very proud of, because it will serve my constituents very well in the future. I very much look forward to seeing its success in the years to come.
Is it not good that we are having a debate about these amendments so that comments can be put on the record and people looking at the history of the Middle Level in future can say, “This is what these amendments were about.”? I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) for introducing and explaining them and putting that on the record, because otherwise this might have gone through on the nod.
Because my hon. Friend referred to the amendments in such detail, I was going to concentrate on one or two of the undertakings, because they are an equally important part of the process. The undertakings are contained in a letter dated 13 July to Lord Thomas, who was the Chair of the Opposed Bill Committee on the Middle Level Bill in the other place. I shall start with the first undertaking, which states that the commissioners undertake
“to spend at least 25% of the annual income received from charges under section 5 on providing facilities on the Nene-Ouse Navigation Link which meet the current Minimum Standards for the Provision of Facilities for Boaters as published by the Inland Waterways Association, until the standards are achieved on this route; and will maintain those facilities until the Navigation Advisory Committee agrees that they are no longer needed (or an expert appointed to determine any dispute following the procedures set out in section 3 determines that they are no longer needed)”.
As you may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that issue took up quite a lot of debate during the Bill’s earlier stages in the House, and the undertaking that has now been given is very important.
I also refer briefly to undertaking (5) on the level of the registration fee for static houseboats, which limits the charges for residential houseboats. Undertakings (7), (8), (9) and (10) relate to the residential mooring strategy, which, again, my hon. Friend referred to briefly. He was saying that it all depends on the local planning authority. I hope that it does not, because undertaking (7) says that the Middle Level Commissioners are undertaking
“to prepare and publish a strategy setting out how they intend to exercise the powers conferred by section 15 with the aim of increasing the availability of residential moorings (including transit and temporary moorings) on the waterways”.
Undertaking (8) sets out
“that the strategy will include details of the steps that the Commissioners will take to…identify potential residential mooring sites to be put to the local planning authority…facilitate applications for planning permission for residential moorings”
“provide residential mooring themselves, subject to obtaining funding and planning permission”.
In undertaking (9), they undertake
“in preparing the strategy, to consult the Navigation Advisory Committee…as well as the local planning authorities, and housing authorities”,
and in under undertaking (10), they undertake
“to keep the strategy under review, and revise…as necessary”.
Those are much more proactive undertakings than one might have thought from my hon. Friend’s summary, and they point to one of the big concerns from the outset, which was that the people using the Middle Level for the purposes of residential occupation felt they could be priced out or discriminated against. The undertakings in the letter, however, which have been incorporated into the amendments, are a significant improvement on what was there originally.
I do not need to undertake an exercise of self-justification. I am pleased to have been able to pursue this debate on behalf of the petitioners, as I can now see the beneficial results.
It is a great privilege to contribute to the later stages of the Bill.
I am conscious that the Bill has been promoted by the Middle Level Commissioners. I am sure they will recognise the importance that Parliament attaches to scrutinising draft legislation that was not part of any party’s election manifesto, and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) was absolutely right to ensure that the Bill got the level of scrutiny he gave it. There has been a good response from the other place as well.
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). In my first Parliament I took a private Member’s Bill through the House and on to the statute book. It was also on a topic affecting rivers and similar: the Wreck Removal Convention Act 2011. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was key to ensuring my Bill made good progress, and he has done the same during the various stages of this Bill.
The Bill matters because, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) pointed out, this is a really important part of the country, stretching from the area around Bedford through to north-west Norfolk. A mixture of things happen on the Middle Levels that are critical to the future prosperity of that part of the country and for which it is important that people can access our canals. They are our blue lungs, running throughout the United Kingdom, but particularly the Middle Levels. It is appropriate that the amendments, while recognising the need for future investment to ensure that these activities continue, seek to ensure that people who enjoy them do so in a measured and considered way, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay pointed out, there will be appropriate consultation on some of the changes.
I asked the question I did earlier partly to check that other users of the Middle Level would not be able to find a loophole for potential commercial activities simply on the basis of encouraging people into recreation. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay answered my question very fully, and as he said, there were nods of assent from the appropriate people in the Under Gallery—that is a habit he will have to get used to if he is ever called upon to be part of Her Majesty’s Government. As you will be aware Madam Deputy Speaker, Ministers regularly look towards the Box to check that they are saying the right thing—and of course they always are.
I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). It is right that draft legislation that is not about manifestos gets the appropriate scrutiny. I am particularly pleased that, through the amendments to clause 9, we have ensured that the new powers will not prevent any environmental impact, or indeed any navigational impact from, for instance, sunken vessels, from being dealt with immediately. As for matters such as navigation functions, I think that the House has been reassured, and I am sure that it will support the amendments—and the Bill—this evening.
Lords amendment 1 agreed to.
Lords amendments 2 to 20 agreed to.