My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Norfolk Broads, situated in both Norfolk and Suffolk, are the UK’s most important wetland, a unique landscape with a designation equivalent to a national park. It was only in the 1950s that the origin of the shallow, reed-fringed lakes was discovered. They began as medieval peat diggings at a time when Norfolk was the economic powerhouse of the country. Subsequent flooding has given to later generations, including our own, the network of rivers and broads which so many people know and enjoy today. The local naturalist, Ted Ellis, called the Broads,
“a breathing space for the cure of souls”.
There is a spiritual quality to the Broads which a Bishop should recognise.
I ought to declare an interest that is unusual even by the standards of this House. The Bishop of Norwich continues to be the abbot of St Benet’s. St Benet’s Abbey is to be found on the river Bure, and on that site I still conduct an open air service every August. St Benet’s was the one monastery which Henry VIII commanded should continue, but it went the way of all the others eventually, and fascinating though the story is, the details are regrettably not relevant to the Bill. I ought also to declare an interest since for six years I was a non-executive board member of the Countryside Agency when it had a role in determining national park funding, the Broads Authority included.
It was as long ago as 1947 that Sir Arthur Hobhouse included the Broads in the 12 areas of England and Wales which he said should become new national parks, and it was not until 1988, with the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Act, that his vision was fulfilled. In the mean time, the Broads had come under huge pressure. Water quality had declined and the consequences of phosphate pollution from sewage treatment works, bank erosion by boats and various other factors could have destroyed the special quality of the area for good. Much has been achieved over the past 20 years and the decline has not only been arrested, but reversed.
The boundary of the Broads area is tightly drawn around the flood plains and the lower reaches of the three main rivers, the Bure, the Yare and the Waveney. It excludes all the small towns around the Broads and actually contains no single whole parish. Instead, the Broads area has parts of 93 parishes and a total resident population approaching 6,000. The navigation area is also defined in the 1988 Act. It includes all the publicly navigable stretches of the rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney, and all their tributaries.
The Broads Authority has general duties identical to those of national parks: to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area and to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the Broads by the public. But there is a third duty, and that is to protect the interests of navigation. The Broads Authority is also a harbour authority. Its responsibilities include public safety provision and the maintenance of all that assists navigation, including moorings, dredging and marking. About a third of the income of the authority comes from the 10,000 people who own a boat on the Broads, and the other two thirds comes from the national park grant through Defra.
Promoting a Private Bill has not been a course of action undertaken lightly by the authority, but after years of discussion with government officials, it became clear that this is the only way to ensure that a series of important safety matters will be addressed. Many of the proposals in this Bill reflect those already implemented by British Waterways and the Environment Agency elsewhere, and which clearly need application in the Broads as well. The main purpose of the Bill is to obtain new powers for the Broads Authority to promote boat safety. The requirements of the Port Marine Safety Code as well as some specific incidents in the Broads make additional powers necessary.
There are a number of general provisions aimed at improving safety. For example, the Bill gives power to implement the National Boat Safety Scheme which already applies in waterways under the jurisdiction of British Waterways or the Environment Agency. It also gives power to introduce compulsory third party insurance for vessels; it gives powers to regulate better water skiing and wake boarding; it provides the authority with powers to deal with overhanging vegetation that poses a hazard to navigation. These necessary powers can be introduced on the Broads only by means of a Private Bill given the particular one-off status that the Broads possess.
The Department for Transport has been consulting on a draft Marine Navigation Bill. It has not yet been allocated any parliamentary time but I mention it as it is likely to contain provisions allowing harbour authorities to make general directions. However, Defra, in its report on this Bill, states:
“There is no conflict between the provisions in the draft Bill and the Broads Authority Bill. In addition, the Broads Authority Bill contains specific provisions which would not be covered in the proposed Bill. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to await the outcome of the consideration of the draft Marine Navigation Bill”.
The major issue of principle raised by those with concerns about the Bill is that its provisions are an interference with the public right of navigation. They argue for the right to unhindered use of tidal waterways. But the public right of navigation is already qualified and legally restricted, both under common law and under legislation passed by this House. The objective of public safety is a legitimate ground for qualifying a public right, hence measures introduced for the protection of drivers and other users of public highways. Compulsory seat belts and the ability of local authorities to regulate the way in which roads are used are two examples.
The other main aim of the Bill is to update some of the provisions in the original 1988 Act. These include the removal of the necessity to have a separate navigation account dealing purely with navigation income and expenditure. This has proved administratively bureaucratic. It also cuts across the authority’s aim of having an integrated approach to the management of the Broads.
There is also some modest change in the Bill to the considerations to be taken into account with regard to the appointments made by the Secretary of State to the authority. Ten of the authority’s current 21 members are appointed by the Secretary of State. At present, three are appointed after consultation with boating interests; two after consultation with farming and land-owning interests. For the future, it is proposed that the Secretary of State must consult with conservation and land-based recreational interests as well as with the boating, farming and land-owning interests, and have regard to the desirability of ensuring an overall balance between all these interests when making such appointments. When the membership of the authority was reduced from 35 to 21 three years ago, English Nature, the Environment Agency and the Countryside Agency all lost places on the authority and so there was some reduction in the extent of the representation of such interests which this provision in the Bill will assist the Secretary of State to restore.
Since the first draft of the Bill was published in April 2006 there have been extensive consultations with all who have an interest in the Broads. This has led to many significant changes to the Bill. The national and local boating organisations—the Royal Yachting Association, the British Marine Federation, the Inland Waterways Association, the Norfolk and Suffolk Boating Association and the Broads Hire Boat Federation—are all in agreement with the range of provisions in the Bill as it now stands. It has been a great achievement to get that level of consensus.
Fourteen petitions against the Bill have been deposited in this House, of which 12 are from private toll payers—that is 12 out of 10,000 overall—and two are from organisations. The first of those organisations is a boating club concerned about the application of the Bill’s provisions to private waters that connect with public navigation. An agreement has now been reached over the outstanding issues and the authority confidently expects that that petition will be withdrawn. The other petition is from the Norfolk Association of Town and Parish Councils. It seeks to provide direct parish council representation on the authority. The Secretary of State is currently consulting nationally on this issue. The authority is not necessarily opposed to the principle of parish council representation, but the present petition would reduce the number of people the Secretary of State could appoint to the authority from the wider public and those with a primary interest in the Broads as a national asset. The authority also thinks it would be premature to make a change prior to the outcome of the Defra consultation, let alone a decision on the future of local government in Norfolk and Suffolk. These are matters which would be appropriately debated in Committee should the Bill receive a Second Reading.
The Broads Authority has got the correct balance between the rights of navigation and improved safety on the Broads for the benefit of all who use these waterways. The majority of the provisions in the Bill already apply to waterways elsewhere in the country and so, in some degree, this is a catch-up measure in relation to one of our great national assets. I commend the Bill to the House.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Lord Bishop of Norwich.)
My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich on the able way in which he has introduced consideration of the Bill. He has expressed admirably what the Broads mean to people in Norfolk and Suffolk and, of course, their national and international significance. Their management is of great importance, therefore, and their unique status, which he has also described, justifies close examination, the opportunity for which is being provided by scrutiny of the Bill.
The right reverend Prelate mentioned the opinion of the Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils, in which I declare an interest as its recently appointed president. I think that he also said—I do not want to misquote him—that there was no complete parish within the area that contains the Broads. Of course, however, the way in which they are managed affects the environment and livelihoods of people living in that part of Norfolk and Suffolk and, indeed, one might argue, in the whole of those counties.
I am aware that many useful and helpful changes have been made to the Bill since its introduction and the right reverend Prelate has described the degree of consultation that has been undertaken by the Broads Authority. One of the most useful things to come out of the consultation has been the recognition, again on all sides, that the Broads are different in the range of their interests and their economy from other national parks and thus that arrangements made for their management should, in some respects, reflect that difference.
I do not wish to impede the progress of the Bill because I know that the Broads Authority has worked hard to take account of the objections and concerns that have been raised during the consultation. However, noble Lords who have studied the fortunes of the Bill will know that from the beginning of its legislative journey real concerns have been voiced—not least in another place, where the Bill was twice blocked by objection—about the democratic deficit built into its governance arrangements. Indeed, the right reverend Prelate touched on those concerns. The Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils has consistently lobbied for the Bill to include proposals for directly elected representatives of town and parish councils in the Broads area to the board of the Broads Authority. People in Norfolk and Suffolk, I think it would be fair to say, remain unconvinced that the Bill as it stands will enhance the accountability of the authority.
It is the case, of course, that the authority’s membership includes local authority appointees. They provide an important link with the community but they do not include representatives of the first tier of local government, nor are they directly elected. In another place the attention of Members was drawn to the contrast with arrangements put in place in the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000 whereby 20 per cent of members of the national park authority were to be elected by a poll of those on the local government electoral register within the park area. I have already stated that the arrangements for the Broads are different from those for national parks pure and simple, but I question whether the difference should extend to the principle of accountability. Concerns about accountability have been raised not only in another place but by the Select Committee. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what plans he might have to rectify the democratic deficit identified in the legislative passage of the Bill so far.
Incidentally, I welcome the Minister warmly to yet another manifestation. I wish him well in it. It is a big bracket. I feel certain that he will acquit himself in this role in just as distinguished a way as he has in the others in which I have known him—and that is, already, two in three years.
In the Third Reading debate in another place, Jonathan Shaw said:
“As a number of hon. Members have said, the Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to change the constitution of the Broads Authority … I want to look at this across the piece to take account of the other national parks in England. I will therefore issue a consultation on the future of the constitution and the composition of the Broads Authority and other park authorities in England”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/5/08; col. 802.]
The department’s website indicates a closing date for that consultation on 28 November, and I would welcome the Minister’s comments. Maybe, at this stage in his post, those comments will be speculation, but any comment that he cares to make will be welcome.
I would also welcome the Minister’s comments on quite how the outcome of the consultation in Norfolk and Suffolk—and indeed elsewhere in the country—for the governance of the Broads and the national parks will be affected by the Government’s proposals for the reform of local government in the same areas. Given that citizens in this country are not being given a say in this process on what kind of local government structure they want, or indeed on whether they want it at all, the omens are not brilliant. However, I feel sure that the Minister, with his customary good cheer, will produce some comforting remarks for us all this evening.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his clear and helpful explanation of the powers of the Bill. Perhaps I should begin by saying that I have no personal interest whatsoever to declare. I live in the north of Scotland and was alerted to the Bill by a colleague who worked with me when I occasionally flew over the Broads about 25 years ago professionally.
What began to interest me most about the Bill is that it seemed when I first read it—and, on further examination of it, my mind has not changed—that it was largely unnecessary. If there is one thing that I always wish to challenge in your Lordships’ House, it is unnecessary legislation. None of us needs reminding of the already burdensome level of legislation with which we have to deal day by day.
The right reverend Prelate gave us helpful background on the nature of the Broads—the ribbon-like structure based on three rivers, rather than a single expanse of water. As he described, the traffic in earlier days was mostly commercial whereas now it is largely recreational. It is an area of outstanding beauty with a wide diversity of fauna and flora, much of it enhanced by the existence of the Broads Authority, the value of which, in terms of what has been done to enhance wildlife and flora there, has been appreciated by the yachtsmen who regularly sail there. However, the competing interests on conservation on the one hand and navigation on the other are the chief causes for concern and have caused the petitions to be put down. The Broads Authority already has the ability to enforce by-laws and issue directions and it has both the general and navigation accounts, which the right reverend Prelate referred to, to assist in this purpose.
One of the first things that puzzles me is that, if the Bill is largely about safety, the bulk of its contents seems to relate to additional controls over navigation in much the same way as would perhaps sensibly apply to commercial harbours. The Broads, however, are manifestly not a commercial harbour. I hope that when he comes to wind up, the right reverend Prelate—or perhaps the Minister—can give us clear statistics on safety issues affecting the Broads. How safe or unsafe are they, compared with other inland waterways? If they are safe, why are the additional measures necessary? Are there more accidents on the Broads than on other waterways, comparable or incomparable? What are the statistics that make the changes so necessary?
A boat safety scheme is already in place under the by-laws that can be generated by the 1998 Act. Is it really necessary to add complexity to what has apparently worked well for 20 years, with some 30-odd clauses in the Bill? To take insurance as one issue, would it not be much more sensible, and certainly much more straightforward, simply to make insurance a prerequisite of the issue of a boat licence?
The Bill seems to demand that all aspects of navigation should come under the ambit of the Broads Authority, rather than continuing to rely on the current and apparently sensible, and certainly less cumbersome, method of changes to the by-laws, which already provide a forum for public scrutiny, debate and consultation not otherwise available to Broads toll payers. That point perhaps elaborates on the arguments that my noble friend Lady Shephard put before us on democratisation issues.
The Bill, however, goes even further. Clause 6 goes into some detail about the further directions that may be given by the navigation officer, a person appointed under Section 10(7) of the 1998 Act. What are the qualifications that the navigation officer must possess? What qualification should he possess in the future? Does the person now holding that appointment have the necessary qualifications? How will the qualifications apply to any person appointed by the authority to act as deputy, or one of several deputies, to the navigation officer?
So far, in the conversations that I have had about the Bill, I have not heard any clear explanation about why it appears necessary to introduce what many regard as extreme and inappropriate powers to control—and even possibly close—navigation. For what good reason does the Bill extend the executive area to private adjacent waters? One could be forgiven for thinking that this might simply be a way of raising revenue. With regard to Clause 36, I hope that the right reverend Prelate, when he comes to wind up, will be able to explain what is so special about Breydon Water that under the Bill it is in future to form part of the navigation area.
All that the Bill proposes seems to generate substantial extra cost through administration, IT systems, extra staffing and so on, let alone the maintenance of Breydon Water and any other waters that have to be included in it, because they have to be dredged. I hope that we can hear how those costs are going to be met. Will the funds come solely from the navigation budget? If so, what impact will that have on current dredging programmes?
The right reverend Prelate referred to the navigation and general accounts. Schedule 7 to the Bill amends the 1988 Act to merge the two accounts, but I found the explanation for it by the right reverend Prelate a little thin. I hope that he might be able to elaborate on it a little. We need explanation of the virtue of such a merger. What is the attitude of Defra to it? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
I have the distinct impression that, when the Bill was first considered and drafted, there was perhaps not the fullest consultation with all those with whom it would have been wise to consult. Individual rights that have existed hitherto seem to have been turned on their heads and unprecedented levels of control over navigation are proposed. Side agreements appear to have been struck involving the Broads Authority, the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation, but the toll payers, who I understand—the right reverend Prelate confirmed it—contribute some £1.8 million to the maintenance of the Broads navigation schemes, are not to have representation in any side agreement. It is no wonder that they are concerned. The wording of the earlier drafts of the Bill seems to have been instrumental in stirring up controversy, in particular the use originally of the term “Broads National Park”.
The competing interests of encouraging visitors and protecting the environment were recognised in Lord Sandford’s review many years ago. The Broads have a third goal of protecting navigation. I hope that the Bill is not trying to create a national park through the back door. If it is a gleam in anyone’s eye that this should be the case, it needs to be closely examined.
Like my noble friend Lady Shephard, I have no desire to see a Bill fall without thorough debate. I remember piloting a Private Member’s Bill through this House some 25 years ago. That was described as a “tender plant”. A private Bill such as this seems more tender still.
While sitting up in Scotland for the past couple of months, I have reflected on the concerns about the Bill that have been brought to my attention and I am afraid that there seems to have been a substantial breakdown of trust between the Broads Authority and the toll payer constituency, leading in many cases to the petitions that have been referred to. I hope that it is not too late to embark on a thorough round of consultation and that the Broads Authority will at least consider using its existing powers, or modify the Bill in some way so as to take account of the concerns that have been raised, to make sensible progress. I fear that, if that is not done, the result is likely to be both expensive and potentially divisive.
I hope that those points can be taken on board. We all think that the Broads are a marvellous part of the world and have to be nurtured in every sensible respect, but this Bill seems to go a little too far and to have caused great anxiety.
Indeed, my Lords. I support my friend the Abbot of St Benet’s, better known to your Lordships as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, in putting forward the Bill.
My interest is not just romantic and recreational. In 1977, I was chairman of the Norfolk County Council planning and transportation committee when the then Countryside Commission suggested that the Broads be a national park. We set up a steering committee that led eventually to the 1988 Bill and the creation of the Broads Authority. Many of us hoped that this would lead to a national park—at this stage, I must declare an interest as a vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. The Broads Authority has done an excellent job, but it is time to move on and complete the job that we started.
I have some sympathy with the Norfolk County Association of Parish and Town Councils on direct election, but agree that, with the present uncertainty about the future of Norfolk and Suffolk local government, this should be debated later. Indeed, I shall bore your Lordships on the subject of unitary authorities in due course—although I am not saying which way.
This is a complex subject. I reiterate the curious area that is covered by the Broads Authority: it is only part of 92 parishes, and no complete parish is included. Only some 6,000 people live in the area. I am not totally clear, therefore, how an election could, would or should take place, but I have some sympathy with the view that some elected members should be present.
I also emphasise the importance of the boat safety aspects of the Bill, which would require boats to have what one might call an MOT and third-party insurance. Over the years, I have had personal experience of many boating tragedies and know how important these measures will be for everyone. I remember, many years ago, the staff whom my parents employed going on a Broads cruise. A child fell overboard and was drowned. At the age of 13, I was absolutely shattered; I did not believe that that sort of thing could happen.
Many of us thought that the Act that went through in 1988 was a temporary solution, but it seems to have taken 20 years to start to improve it. That may not be a very long time in relation to the medieval peat-diggings that created the Broads, but it is quite long enough. Let us get on with it.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for not putting down my name for the debate—I shall speak briefly in the gap—but I thought that I might be involved in Committee, which is why I did not. I support the Bill. Like others, I have interests to declare. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, I was involved in the early discussions that took the Broads through to something of a national park with the uniquely water-based arrangement that exists. Secondly, I have been a boat owner on the Broads for 25 years and am well aware of the dangers of the wash to the reed beds. I therefore think that I know the area as well as many.
As other noble Lords have rightly said, the Broads are an arena where conflicting interests converge and contest for space. They include boat owners, but also sailing versus motor, which is one of the reasons for the issues arising over Breydon Water, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, will appreciate. There is a problem of the holiday trade; there is a problem of fishermen, which has not been mentioned and which can lead to issues for both them and boat users; there is the problem of birdwatchers; there is the problem of farmers; there is the problem of the concerns of environmentalists. I remember being shocked as a fairly new Norwich city councillor when I was told by a farmer in the area that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was offering grants to drain the Broads and that, simultaneously, the Department of the Environment was offering grants to farmers not to take up the grants from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That suggested that joined-up government was long overdue.
The Broads are fragile. They are, as the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, said, occasionally dangerous. They need strengthened management to take us through into the next couple of decades. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard—I agree also to some extent with the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur—I am uneasy about the democratic deficit. I hope that as we move, I trust, to an agreed reform of local government, we will eventually have the head space to make good that democratic deficit to ensure that appropriate weight is given to the views and positions of all the players and interests involved. Given that one reservation, I very much support the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, apologise for not having my name down on the speakers list. I am afraid that I simply did not chase up the instructions that I gave to make sure that it was down.
As one goes through the Bill clause by clause, one finds little to disagree with in each. For all my life until comparatively recently, I was at least based part time in East Anglia—usually Norfolk. I heard on many occasions reports of things going wrong on boats. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has just said, there are competing pressures on this unique ecosystem—I admit that it was man made a long time ago—and it requires a balancing act and its own special governance.
This brings us back to the point about the democratic deficit—although it may be difficult to discuss in terms of local government, and may be something of a flexible subject, because we do not know quite what we mean by it. On a board of 21, finding a few people who are directly elected by those within it would not have been beyond the wit of man. So I would hope that that could be looked at further.
With my admittedly not totally up-to-date local knowledge, I think that a tidying-up is needed here. That is something that should be periodically looked at. The existence of competing interests has been known about locally for a long time—the pleasure cruiser against the sailing boat, and so on. Something should be down there to look at and deal with that issue. With new forms of water activity, plus agriculture and environment, there should be a specific body there, but that body should make way for some form of directly elected local input because, let us face it, if it is a unique situation, a unique outlet is probably needed.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich for introducing the Bill and presenting the background against which the Bill is brought before us. I hesitate to some extent—although only to some extent—as a Lincolnshire fen-man to talk about the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. I also hesitate to pun by saying that there appears to be broad but rather thin support for the Bill. However, I am very mindful of the comments of friends from the other place, both Mr Keith Simpson and Mr Richard Bacon, who want the Bill to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. That process has begun with the debate that we have had this evening. It has been particularly useful to have the wise speeches made by noble Lords in contributing to this debate.
We are not just dealing with a normal national park. We are dealing with a very special part of England, which needs dedicated management. The Broads Authority therefore has special responsibilities, not least the responsibility to protect the interests of navigation, which form part of its principal objectives. In many ways, it is that latter issue that presents the particular challenge. Will the Minister address particular issues before the Bill goes to Committee? If it is not possible to put answers on the record this evening, could he write to us all about these matters?
As my noble friend Lord Glenarthur pointed out, the navigation officer is mentioned as a key player in this Bill, but what is the definition of a navigation officer? On funding, is there a risk that local representation on the navigation committee will be reduced; will navigation funds, if merged with the main Broads Authority accounts, be clearly identified? Will they be ring-fenced within the authority’s accounts? The provision for “general directions” to be given by the Broads Authority enables it to have considerable powers over navigation areas. What assurance can the Minister give that all interested parties have been fully consulted on this? There appears to be some concern that they have not been. The Inland Waterways Association is broadly supportive of the intention of the Bill, but it is concerned that navigation is not being kept to the forefront. It would be useful to know whether the Minister agrees.
Noble Lords have pointed out the democratic deficit in how the authority is constituted. I trust that the Committee will examine this. Has the Minister considered ways in which directly elected representatives could be part of the authority?
We have the opportunity to improve this Bill. It is important that Parliament gets it right for all those who use the Broads for recreation or as a place to live and work, to look after and to care for.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich for his speech, together with all Members who have contributed to what I think has been an extremely interesting, informative and useful debate for when we consider the Bill at its next stage, in the special arrangements for such Bills in Committee. I cannot bring great experience of knowledge of the Broads to your Lordships' House, although the debate today has certainly prompted me to gain that experience. However, as noble Lords know, I live in Birmingham, which has extensive waterways. It has a huge canal network; there are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice. I recognised some of the points that had been raised about the tensions between different legitimate users of the waterways. That is a very important point.
While the authority has come under some criticism tonight, it would be fair to say that it can be no easy task to manage the authority and deal with those tensions in a way that commends itself to everybody.
I should explain that Defra is the sponsoring department for the national parks and the Broads Authority, which is why I stand before your Lordships tonight. Of course, although I cannot claim a great knowledge of the Broads, I well understand their significance and importance to the people of Norfolk and Suffolk as well as their national and international importance. They are a treasure that must be protected. The Government are very much behind all those who have done so much to ensure that the Broads are maintained and developed in the most appropriate way possible.
The Government remain firmly supportive of the general aims of the Broads Authority Bill. We agree it is important that the main aim of the Bill is to improve safety on the Broads through a series of measures. I noted the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, about safety. I have an extensive list and analyses of deaths and injuries on the Broads since 1993 which I will make available in the Library to all noble Lords who have spoken.
The statistics suggest, for instance, that in 2006 there were two deaths on or from boats and two deaths not from boats. I can also list out near misses for drowning and other injuries. I do not have figures comparing the Broads with other waterways, and I suspect that it is difficult to make direct comparisons. However, in the interests of scrutiny I will dig into my department’s statistics to see whether I can make any other information available, as that would no doubt be helpful to the committee in making a judgment on whether the safety measures are proportionate. The view of my department and the Government is that the safety measures are proportionate. They include, as noble Lords have said, the licensing of hire craft, compulsory third-party insurance and improvements to how the Broads Authority operates. Introduction of the boat safety scheme has ensured that vessels are properly maintained. Our understanding is that the Bill will allow that scheme to be updated effectively. That is consistent with the practice of both the British Waterways authority and the Environment Agency.
There has been considerable interest in the constitution of the authority and its membership, whether there should be directly elected members, and the position of parish council members. Those are very important matters to which I have paid a great deal of attention. We have the House of Commons’ special report and its conclusion that the Broads Authority and local people will benefit from the provision of direct elections to the authority. As noble Lords will know, in the light of that my department has launched a consultation to look not only at introducing directly elected members to all park authorities and the Broads Authority but at introducing parish council members to the Broads Authority.
I well understand the question of accountability, a very important matter, and the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, rightly mentioned the distinctive nature of the Broads Authority. Those matters will need to be carefully considered. I suppose that the current composition of the Broads Authority reflects both its national and local role. That is why we have the current 21 members. Nine of those are serving members of district or county councils in the Broads area, two are members of the navigation committee, and 10 are appointed by my department following an open competition, and in some cases following consultation with boating or farming and landowning organisations on the Broads.
My experience is that whenever I debate matters with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, she manages to get in the issue of local government reorganisation. I noted with interest her comments, and those of the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, on this matter. She will know that I was a member of Oxford City Council in the 1970s, and how grievously I felt about the loss of unitary status from the great county borough councils. I have never forgiven the noble Lord, Lord Walker, for doing that. I do not know if I am supposed to say this but—
My Lords, I will provide the Minister with the riposte that I provided him with when he previously raised exactly this point—and of course I shall continue to do so. The fact is that that reorganisation of local government was included in a party’s manifesto and that that party then had a mandate to carry on. Let us compare and contrast that with the current situation.
My Lords, manifesto or not, it was not right. We can all learn from examples of restructuring. It is important that we learn from those examples in taking forward these matters.
As regards how the work undertaken in Norfolk impacts on the consultation, the specific answer is that we are consulting on the principal directions. We will not take a view until the consultation is over. Clearly, that would not come in time for dealing with the provisions of the Bill. It would fall to further primary legislation if it were decided to make a change in the form of elections.
My Lords, I have inquired about this and am happy to provide further information. My understanding is that it would at least be possible for the appointments falling to my department to include parish council members. In terms of the direct elections and the appointment of parish council members within what is now the local government section—which in current legislation provides for county council and district council representatives—it is not.
If it were decided that it was a good idea in principle for parish council members to be appointed, and it was felt that they might be Secretary of State appointments, we would of course look into the detail. However, it would be better to await the outcome of the consultation. Given the statutory limit on the number of members, if parish council members were to be appointed under the Secretary of State appointments, that would restrict opportunities for some of the other interests which were represented. We will consider those matters, and I will certainly ensure that the officials taking this forward will be fully apprised of noble Lords’ views.
The right reverend Prelate, in his opening remarks—which seems quite some time ago—referred to the Marine Bill. I echo what he said: the Department for Transport is consulting on a draft Marine Navigation Bill. However, it has not been allocated parliamentary time during the current Session, and there is no conflict between the provisions in the draft Bill and those in this Bill.
On the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and my noble friend Lady Hollis about the tension between different users of the Broads and the Broads Authority’s specific statutory responsibility for navigation purposes, there will clearly be tensions and conflicts between those different users. Any reading of waterways magazines will reveal discussion and argument about those tensions on other waterways as well. The question is how to manage them effectively. Our view is that the Broads Authority attempts and achieves the appropriate balance. It has made an effective case for the measures it takes on navigation, including safety. My noble friend Lady Hollis make it clear that safety issues are important on the broads, and we should not underestimate that.
As far as the merging of navigational and general accounts is concerned, I think I can reassure noble Lords on this important matter. The Bill removes a technical requirement for two accounts, to reduce the bureaucracy involved. I reassure noble Lords that the navigation spend must equal the navigation income. In other words, income from navigation through tolls will be spent on navigation issues. That has always been a key principle. Secondly, I reassure noble Lords that details of navigation spend and income will be published annually. My department has made it clear that the grant that we give to the Broads Authority is not to be spent on navigation. I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that there will be complete transparency in that matter.
I understand that the Broads Authority considers it inappropriate for the Bill to set standards for the navigation officer or authorised officers, but it will ensure that the relevant postholder is suitably trained and is competent to do the job. However, if it would be helpful, I will ensure that further information is sent to noble Lords about what the authority has in mind in that regard.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that. It seems rather odd that the Bill introduces many additional navigation features, but that the qualifications of the person who will enforce them have not yet been decided. That is the point. However, I am reassured, in part at least.
My Lords, I do not think that I quite said that. I think I said that it is probably unnecessary to include great detail in the Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord pointed out a risk of having lengthy legislation. The board will ensure that suitably trained and competent people will carry out the job. However, I shall try to find more information on the authority’s intentions in that regard and circulate it to noble Lords.
I come back to the authority’s competence. I understand that the Broads Authority underwent a performance assessment in 2005 akin to the comprehensive performance assessment beloved of local authorities. It assessed nine areas of the authority’s work on a four-point scale. In two areas it was assessed as strong; in five areas it was assessed as having strengths that outweighed weaknesses; and in two areas it was assessed as having weaknesses that outweighed strengths. In no area was it assessed as weak, which shows that at that time the authority was broadly doing well but that there were areas where it needed to improve. The main point is that its performance can be judged. It produces an annual report, is subject to scrutiny by the Audit Commission, and complaints can be made about it to the local government ombudsman. An overall picture emerges of a competent authority exercising difficult responsibilities appropriately.
The Broads Authority has carried out extensive consultation with a wide range of bodies, has met a range of key stakeholders on a number of occasions and has made the Bill available on its website. Criticism has been expressed of the consultation process and of what noble Lords described as side agreements, and the committee in the other House made pertinent comments in that regard. I reassure noble Lords that we expect the authority to pay due regard to those comments, and it was helpful to have them aired.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lady Hollis, I think this is a sensible approach. I commend the assiduousness of the right reverend Prelate in bringing this matter to our attention. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing his comprehensive response to the debate.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, which illustrated the passion which the Broads elicit. I welcome the Minister’s support and am grateful to him for responding to so many points.
The points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, raise issues not simply for the Broads Authority, but more widely in relation to representation on national parks and the Broads, which is a valued member of the national parks family. The authority recognises the need for local accountability and that can be done in various ways. I hope that in Committee that issue can be looked at carefully. There is a problem, because 93 parishes are covered by the Broads Authority, but only some 6,000 people live there.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, raised issues about the balance between conservation and navigation which, again, should be properly addressed in Committee. I wish briefly to comment on two things that he said. First, on the necessity of the Bill, it would be regrettable if safety on the Broads were not as great in relation to the boats and the people there as it is on other waterways. These are not unprecedented controls; they apply on other waterways. It is also worth saying that not everything can be done by by-laws, which cannot, for example, introduce compulsory insurance, as I understand it. There is no provision in the by-law-making regime for public consultation. There is merely a public notice after the making of a by-law. The Bill’s powers to make general directions are subject to consultation requirements, and that is important in terms of overall accountability.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, so that the Committee may do its work. I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.