My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Broads Authority Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
My Lords, I declare a non-financial interest as a past boat owner for 30 years. Noble Lords who were here for Second Reading may be surprised to see that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, who so eloquently moved the Motion at Second Reading, is not here today. I am sorry, but he is tied up with other episcopal duties. I am sure that he would want to say that he wishes the Bill godspeed.
The Bill’s main purpose is to obtain new powers for the authority to improve safety for those boating on the Broads. The need for additional powers has been highlighted by the requirements of the port marine safety code and specific incidents, including a tragic drowning in the Broads. The Broads are safe but, even so, two or sometimes three deaths occur on average a year on its 120 miles of waterway, compared with six or so on the 2,200 miles of canals. The Bill therefore includes licensing pleasure boats, compulsory third-party insurance and inspections to avoid fire and explosions.
The responsibility for Breydon Water, the closed inland estuary of Great Yarmouth and the most dangerous stretch of water, with 50 or so groundings a year, will transfer with mutual agreement from the Great Yarmouth Port Company to the Broads Authority, which currently patrols it. The Bill contains sensible provisions that regulate waterskiing and wakeboarding. It also contains some constitutional and administrative provisions that are intended to enhance the authority’s effective operation.
The Bill has been subject to detailed scrutiny in both Houses, most recently in Select Committee proceedings so ably chaired by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. I am sorry that he cannot be here today—he sends his apologies to me and to the House—but I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, in his place, and I understand that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, may speak in the gap.
The petitions of 12 members of the public and one organisation, the Norfolk Association of Local Councils, were closely examined by the committee. Having heard all the evidence, the committee concluded that the Bill should proceed, subject to the insertion of the words “reasonable” or “reasonably” at appropriate places, mainly with reference to fees.
The committee made a few additional comments. It suggested that the authority might look at introducing an equivalent to SORN—the statutory off-road notification for cars—for boats, so that boats under repair on application would not be liable to pay a toll. Officers of the authority support this idea in principle, and a report examining appropriate criteria will be presented to the authority for its members in the near future.
The committee asked the authority to consider the relationship between the Broads Authority, as duty holder under the port marine safety code, and the head of waterways, strategy and safety as the designated person. This should clarify lines of responsibility. The authority’s safety management system has been modified to make the relationship clearer, and the authority’s navigation committee has been consulted on the revised document. The same report will go before the next meeting of the Broads Authority at the end of this month.
Finally, the committee welcomed the statement on behalf of the authority that the information about the depth of water on the Broads will be published on its website. Work is under way to achieve this. This is highly desirable, given the silt that pours into the Broads and the constant dredging that is needed to ensure navigation.
The Broads Authority has garnered wide support for the Bill, including from the Government. No local authority and no boating, angling or amenity bodies have petitioned against it. The authority reached agreement with the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club, the one boating organisation to petition about Wroxham Broad, such that the club withdrew its petition before the Lords committee started.
The petitioners who came to the committee were for the most part—the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, can speak on this better than I can—experienced sailors who felt that the safety provisions in the Bill, particularly general directions, had the potential to hamper their sailing. The Bill provides checks and balances, including a thorough consultation process prior to the implementation of a general direction, which have satisfied the national boating organisations. Compulsory third-party insurance and better management of activities such as waterskiing are a benefit even for the experienced sailor. But the Bill will help to improve the safety above all for the thousands of inexperienced visitors enjoying the Broads for the first time and, importantly, introduces the licensing of hired craft across the whole of the Broads. My noble friend Lord Davies will doubtless confirm this.
The authority’s local accountability has been extensively debated during the Bill’s progress through both Houses. Whatever the merits of introducing institutional reform, this is not a matter for the Bill, but I should like to say a word or two on the subject. There are two strands to the debate. Some people are arguing for direct elections to the authority. It is worth noting that at the moment nine of the authority’s 21 members are elected to the eight constituent county and district local authorities, so there is that degree of local accountability, although that is indirect.
The vice-chair of the Broads Authority and its chair of planning are also elected local councillors. The Government have consulted on the principle of direct elections to the national park authorities and the Broads Authority. Their response is expected before the Summer Recess, but I understand from a Written Answer to Norman Lamb MP—my noble friend may be in a better position to confirm this—that there is no immediate intention to proceed with direct elections.
The Government have also consulted on whether the Broads Authority’s membership should include parish councillors. Some respondents have argued that parish councils should send directly elected members to the Broads Authority. Others have argued that they should be two of the Secretary of State’s 10 nominees. The noble Baroness, Lady Shephard of Northwold, eloquently argued for the need to address the issues associated with the perceived democratic deficit. Two difficulties present themselves: first, the other interests would clearly be unhappy to see their representation reduced; and, secondly, of the 93 parishes that have part of their territory within the Broads, not one parish, I understand, is wholly contained within the Broads. There might therefore be a perfectly proper debate about who would represent whom, given the very localness, which is their virtue, of parish councils. Several respondents suggested that local government reorganisation may enable parish members to be incorporated without increasing the size of the authority.
However, there is another option. Behind the Broads Authority stands the Broads Forum. It has 25 members and, much more than the authority, it embodies local Norfolk interests, such as the Broads Reed and Sedge Cutters Association, the How Hill Trust, the Norfolk Windmills Trust and the Norfolk Wherry Trust. Its chairman attends the Broads Authority and reports on the forum’s views on key issues. Among its 25 members, the forum includes two members who represent the northern and the southern local councils; that is, the parish councils. from Norfolk and Suffolk.
I sympathise with some of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, at Second Reading, about the democratic deficit at its most local level. I suggest—and I gather that this might be acceptable—that the two members on the Broads Forum should be beefed up to four members, so that they would become the largest group on the forum, along with the boating groups. The chair of the forum is independent, is appointed by the Broads Authority and sits on that authority. I see no reason why a future chair should not be appointed with this consideration also in mind. However, that would be a matter for future discussion with the Broads Authority and with the forum.
If the minutes of the forum, along with the views of members of the strengthened parish councils, were both received by the Broads Authority and, if necessary, spoken to by the forum’s chair, this might be an appropriate way forward. It may not go as far as the noble Baroness would like, but she might regard it as a useful compromise between differing views.
The Boundary Committee is due in July to make its next announcements on the recommendations on the future shape of local government in Norfolk and Suffolk. The authority is of the view that further formal consideration of its membership, apart from the forum, should await the outcome of that process. However, the authority is keen to look at ways of improving engagement with local interests. I am happy to report that, at the beginning of this week, the chief executive of the Broads Authority met the Minister and representatives of the national park authorities to examine what examples of best practice it might adopt in engaging with local authorities. We shall have to see how this progresses.
Finally, I refer to concerns that the Bill is not necessary, that the level of consultation prior to its deposit was inadequate and that the costs of administration will be considerable. These matters were all aired before both the Commons committee and the Lords committee, and the Broads Authority was able to demonstrate that the provisions of the Bill are necessary and are conducive to safety, remembering that most Broads users are inexperienced. It was also able to show that widespread consultation took place before the Bill was deposited—I have looked at that, and there seems to have been heaps of consultation—and that its implementation will not lead to a large increase in administrative overheads. It is also clear that the Bill is necessary, because the powers that it has identified could not be provided wholly by by-laws or by harbour revision orders.
This is an important Bill for all those who use and enjoy the wonderful Broads—and many devotees are in the House this evening—which are one of the most important assets of Norfolk and Suffolk. I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on the competent, able and persuasive way in which she has introduced the debate. As she says, the Broads mean a great deal to people in Norfolk and Suffolk, and of course are of national and international significance. Parliament, in another place and in this House, has recognised that significance by the care and attention that has been paid on the Floor of both Chambers and by Select Committee scrutiny in both Houses to the detail of the Bill. Useful and helpful changes have been made during that scrutiny and the Broads Authority has worked hard to take account of the objections and concerns that have been raised during the Bill’s legislative journey.
However, from the beginning of the journey, real anxiety has been expressed, not least in another place, where the Bill was twice blocked by objections about the democratic deficit built into its governance arrangements. This has not been put right in the Bill before us today and, while I would not wish to impede the progress of the Bill, I should like again to rehearse those anxieties in the hope that the Minister may be able to give some comfort, in particular to the 93 parish councils, parts of whose territories in Norfolk and Suffolk are touched by the Broads Authority. I declare an interest as President of the Norfolk Association of Local Councils.
Part of the Broads Authority’s argument against, for example, directly elected parish council representatives, or a statutory parish council presence of some sort on the authority, has been that it is somehow impractical to arrange for the representation of 93 councils. Of course, if one took that argument to its logical conclusion, it would preclude parliamentary representation of the UK’s 60 million citizens, which we would not wish to pursue. The simple fact that no fewer than 93 parish councils are affected by the jurisdiction of the Broads Authority makes it more, not less, important somehow to arrange that their voice be meaningfully heard.
The Select Committee in your Lordships’ House considered this point, because one group of petitioners was the National Association of Local Councils. Although others will speak with more authority on this than me, the committee decided that that it was beyond the scope of this Bill for such representation to be required. It was also mindful of the fact that the Government were, while it was deliberating, consulting on whether there should be directly elected local government representation on English national parks authorities. In that way, the democratic deficit on the Broads Authority might have been rectified.
I was under the impression that the Government had now decided that there should not be directly elected local government representation on national parks authorities in England, which I hope the Minister will be able to clear up. But one is driven to wonder whether, if the Select Committee of this House had known that that was to be the outcome of the separate consultation, it would have taken a different view with regard to the Broads Authority.
But we are where we are; that is, at the final stage of the passage of this Bill. I take this last opportunity to remind the Minister of his own Government’s commitment, repeated again with great force yesterday in the Prime Minister’s Statement, to re-engage with the people. He said:
“Democratic reform … must principally be led by our engagement with the public. It cannot be top-down … The public want to be, and should be, part of the solution, so we must build a process that engages citizens themselves”.—[Official Report, 10/6/09; col. 641.]
That is quite so. That principle should most certainly be applied to the way in which the Broads Authority is run.
The membership of the Broads Authority has been set at 21. When the chief executive of the Broads Authority was asked in the Select Committee why this figure had been chosen, he said—and I quote from memory—that it was “a nice number”. Well, it is; we all wish that it applied to us, no doubt. But will the Minister explain to the House why 21 is that chosen number? Why is it not 23 or 25 as in the guidelines for national parks set out by the Secretary of State? Why should district and county councils be given representation and not the lowest tier of local government? Are there any national parks authorities that have parish council representation? And why, given the emphasis that the Government rightly place on the importance of democratic accountability, reaffirmed, as I said, just yesterday by the Prime Minister, should places be given to interest groups at the expense of the communities affected at grass-roots level by decisions taken by the authority, decisions which cannot be challenged because the authority’s very constitution means that it is not accountable?
I have put these points to the Broads Authority. The chief executive, Dr Packman, explained in a letter—the noble Baroness has confirmed it today—that there are two parish councillors, one from Norfolk and one from Suffolk, on the Broads Forum, a body that he described as having no powers. The views of the forum on various issues are reported to the authority, but given that there are 25 members with a wide variety of interests, I think that at this stage—I shall come to the noble Baroness’s suggestions at the end of my speech—we can assume that the forum and the way that it works at the moment do not represent any kind of democratic process and accountability which we in this House would recognise.
The concern felt by the town and parish councils is particularly keen when it comes to planning decisions. In April this year, a planning decision taken by the Broads Authority was, according to the local press, referred to the Standards Board on the grounds that relevant parish councils had not been notified in accordance with the required procedure and that authority members had not declared relevant interests before participating in the planning decision. A letter I received from a local resident, Mr Gary Simons, on 21 April, on the issue states that,
“the bigger question is whether the Broads Authority is fit for its planning functions. A quorum of four of the planning Committee’s thirteen members suffices, and all four might be Secretary of State nominees with no electoral mandate or accountability to local people. That with poorly understood and disregarded standards gives no assurance of due process or right outcomes”.
I accept that at this stage of the Bill’s journey it may not be possible to do much to make the Broads Authority more accountable in the sense that all of us would recognise. Nor would I want the points I have made to detract from the excellent work that has been put into improving the Bill or from the good work of the Broads Authority itself. However, I would be particularly interested to hear the Minister’s reaction to the ideas put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Would there be anything to prevent the Broads Authority increasing parish council representation from two to four? If that made the parish councils the biggest block on the Broads Forum, would that mean that it was possible for an elected parish councillor to become the chairman of the Broads Forum? I expect that the Minister will be able to comment on that point, but it would be helpful if he felt able to be positive today.
I should like to emphasise to the Minister that I recognise that the Bill is not the vehicle with which to change the Broads Authority constitution. In any case, it may have to change if there is local government reorganisation later on this year. However, we do not know whether there will be such reorganisation or not. It seems to me that there is no reason to delay considering and putting into practice the ideas suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. If that were the case, the Bill, while it cannot be the vehicle with which to change the Broads Authority constitution, it could be the vehicle through which a more accountable management might be achieved.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on opening this debate with such clarity. I pay tribute to the meticulous work carried out by the committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Ever since my East Anglian childhood more than 50 years ago, I have prized the broads at close quarters. No one who read Arthur Ransome in their youth could forget his glorious descriptions of the broads in the Coot Club. When later, 25 years ago, I was fortunate enough to represent the broads in the other place, it became clear, partly due to a threat to the existence of the Halvergate marshes, that primary legislation was essential to preserve this special landscape for the future. Consequently, I managed to persuade the Government—it was not a difficult task after the usual shadow boxing—to legislate in their own time. Indeed, the Broads Bill received a specific mention in the 1987 gracious Speech. As a member of the Government I had the privilege not only of being a representative of the broads but of piloting the Bill through the other place.
The original 1998 Act succeeded in meeting its principal objectives and has stood up well to the test of time. Nevertheless, loose ends needed to be tidied up, hence the Bill before us today. It was important to strike the right balances in the Bill. I share the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that these aims have been achieved. On safety, for example, there is a balance between the rights of individuals and the need to regulate for public protection. When it comes to the composition of the authority, we should remember that national parks and the broads are national assets. So I defend the appointments of some members by the Secretary of State and, of course, communities in Norfolk and Suffolk are well represented by eight elected members of local authorities, who all supported the Bill. At the end of the process, there were no outstanding petitions from boating, angling and amenity interests. Securing consensus with most of the boating fraternity marks a major success, yet we all know that the authority must continue—as I know it will—to improve engagement with local interests by matching best practices in national parks and national park authorities.
I have no hesitation in praising successive chairmen and chief executives of the authority as well as their boards and officials. Norfolk and Suffolk are fortunate to be served by people with such dedication and skills. It gives me huge personal pleasure to support this Bill in the sure knowledge that future generations of residents and visitors will be able to enjoy the unique beauty of the broads thanks to the measures taken during the past quarter of a century in our two Houses of Parliament.
I end with one tiny plea. The finest views of the broads can be seen from the summit of the tower of Ranworth church, the so-called parish church of the broads. Let not the potentates of health and safety prohibit future generations from observing this marvellous, protected landscape on the tower, while perhaps reading passages from Arthur Ransome and Ted Ellis, two wonderful bards of the broads. From the top of Ranworth church, you can now continue to gaze at beauty in all its silent eloquence. The legislation has worked; let us be grateful for its successes over the past 20 years.
My Lords, I cannot follow my noble friend in his eloquence about the view from anywhere from the Norfolk Broads. As I live in Aberdeenshire, it is far too far away to see. However, I have visited them in the past—and I reflected that when I spoke at Second Reading.
Like my noble friend, I can be fairly brief. I acknowledge the degree of movement and the degree of scrutiny that the movement came from during the Committee on this Bill. It reflected a number of the concerns registered at Second Reading; the Committee process was very thorough and fully debated, and I am grateful to those who played such a full part in it.
One or two issues still remain, which have been touched on this afternoon. The first, as my noble friend Lady Shephard said, is that there remains a very large number of people closely associated with the broads, in Norfolk, Suffolk and no doubt elsewhere, who continue to believe in more democracy in national park authority bodies or, indeed, the Broads Authority body. We cannot escape the fact that, whatever its title, there is a very close similarity between this Bill and legislation on the national parks. In all but name, you could say that the broads will become a national park. I am given to understand that a similar majority is wary of giving further powers to the Broads Authority. The fact is that the Broads Society has made the position of certain objectors plain; there are many in favour of more elected members. Whatever the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, says about the Broads Forum, which I shall certainly read and try to digest, I am not sure that it goes far enough fully to address the democratic deficit. That was very much the burden of the remarks of my noble friend Lady Shephard. This is at a time when the Government are expected shortly to report on further democratisation of the national park authority boards.
Those who promote the Bill cannot really hide behind the fact that, technically, the Broads will not become a national park. Yet it will in almost every sense—and may not be subject to any changes that might derive from any review of democracy in the national parks authorities. One could well say, at least, that the Bill is premature, however long it has taken to get to this stage. I hope that the Minister will be able to say when that report on the national parks authorities’ democratisation is to be published. Or, indeed, is one tempted to believe from the process of the Bill that what is to be decided is already pre-ordained and understood by those who promote it?
The other matter I must return to is that of safety. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred to that just now and I, indeed, raised a number of such concerns at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, made a number of points about it to me then, suggesting that there had been “two deaths”, for example, “in 2006”, and that he could have read out a list of,
“near misses for drowning and other injuries”.—[Official Report, 8/10/08; col. 311.]
He sent me a great deal of information about that, but I have read the Broads Authority’s report from its own website, dated 28 May, headed:
“Broads Authority’s safety record praised”.
It goes on to say:
“For the second year running there were no boat related deaths … There were only four boat fires, half that of the previous year, and a fifth of the number in 2006. One of the four was caused by arson, and only one of the boats had a Boat Safety Certificate”.
I cannot understand why the noble Baroness so clearly says that this cannot be dealt with by by-laws. The report continues:
“Last year six out of 11 injuries needing hospital treatment on the Broads were caused”
by people when “embarking or disembarking”, and goes on to talk about various other elements in a new safety campaign called look before you leap. Do we really need further legislation to enforce common sense? We may do, but we may also have concerns about health and safety legislation. It seems to me that the Broads Authority is achieving what it needs to without the need for reinforcing it with legislation for common sense.
Even if the sponsors of the Bill are well meaning—and I have every reason to believe that they are—I have great concerns that it is unnecessary. The Broads Authority works as it is; the facts about safety, which I quoted, show that it is already addressing the issues that the Bill is now trying to enforce. At the least, it should wait until the Government’s view on democracy in national parks is published and debated. Frankly, I deplore the need for further legislation at this stage.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a boat owner; one, indeed, whose boat’s safety certificate is due for renewal within the next year. As noble Lords mentioned earlier, I was on the Committee and found it an interesting experience. It is the first time that I had served on an Opposed Private Bill Committee, so it rounds out my parliamentary experience in that respect. It is also the case, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has said, that the objectors were largely experienced sailors and that the objections from boating interests had been withdrawn, which is a significant fact.
However, listening to the objections from those experienced sailors, I was impressed by their commitment to the Broads and their desire to maintain the special characteristics of that waterway. I also felt that their objections were not so much to the substance of the Bill as reflecting a concern about how the new powers and procedures would operate. That concern came back to how the Broads Authority might operate, and so on. That is why there has been a focus on accountability and on trying to increase the number of elected representatives; particularly, to bring them in from parish council level.
While, as has been mentioned, the Committee did not inquire or take a position on this—the matter was out for consultation and the question of electing parish councillors was outside the scope of the Bill, so that any further comments I make are personal and in no way reflect the Committee as a whole—had this issue come before the Committee, I would have felt very sympathetic to it. That is worth reflecting on further because, if there were greater accountability, particularly of local representatives, that would go a long way to allay any concerns that people might have about how the new regime will operate in practice.
I noted that in the discussion of parish councils, there were the usual arguments about there being 93, none of which was wholly within the area of the authority. I am not inclined to attach much weight to that argument because the Broads are significant to the wider community beyond the narrow boundaries of the authority itself. When one looks at that wider community, the geographic area argument does not carry weight.
I noted also the positive proposals made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, with regard to the Broads Forum and increasing the number of parish councillors there. It may be worth pursuing that further, but I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to find ways of increasing the elected representation on the authority itself. Something that goes through the forum and is then reflected on to the authority will not be as effective in building public confidence as an increase of representation, particularly of those who are from the most local level. It is a matter of assuring confidence in a situation where the legal regime is changing significantly.
From my perspective, as one whose boat is moored within the purview of British Waterways, the changes do not seem to be so dramatic because much of the change is bringing the authority into line with the provisions that apply both for British Waterways and the Environment Agency. But it is a significant change for people who are in the Broads area. Looking sympathetically at ways of building public confidence is something that I hope will be pursued.
My Lords, at Second Reading I explained that I was chairman of the planning and transportation committee at Norfolk County Council when there were the first indications that a Broads Authority of some sort ought to exist. When I arrived in this House, some 10 years later, the Bill had just gone through.
I must thank those people who have been so good at bringing this Bill as far as they have, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for introducing the debate this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for chairing the committee, and my Bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich—who is not here either—for introducing the Bill in the first place.
I still like the Broads enormously. They are still the place where I go when I want to rest. On our last holiday—we had a week off a fortnight ago—my wife and I took a boat on the Broads and it was so nice for a whole day not to have any interference from anyone who wanted to get hold of us. It was wonderful; it was a real Lord’s holiday.
It would be churlish of me not to welcome the completion of the Bill. I welcome it. I realise that there are a few odd ends that must be tied up later, but for heaven’s sake let us get this bit through and do the other bits later. Thank you.
My Lords, I do not think that I can be quite as brief as the noble Lord, Lord Walpole, but I do not have much to add because most of the discussion has been with those who have engaged in this very thoroughly. I believe, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, that we need to ensure that there is a regulatory basis to enforce basic safety requirements and to try to get the balance right for those who wish to use these wonderful waterways.
The Broads are not natural; they are dug out of gravel pits. As an East Anglian, I remember somebody saying something about them being a wonderful natural environment. They were accused, if I can use the Norfolk expression, of talking a lot of old squit about them, because they are not. They are something that has become a part of Norfolk and East Anglia. They are felt to belong to the people who live in that part of the world.
Making sure that the Broads are operated safely so that everyone can have full enjoyment of them is very important. It is also probably necessary because of the different stresses on any amount of open water now. Sailing opposed to motor-powered boating is always going to have a degree of conflict. Something that addresses this in certain ways, as this Bill seems to, is probably necessary and must be kept under review.
For someone who is not great with heights, the idea suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ryder, of observing anything from a church steeple with a book in one hand filled me with dread. My romantic vision and his will have to differ on this one.
The main area of concern to many local people is that they are not well enough represented. Those who have tangled across the Dispatch Box with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, are familiar with her skill in presenting a case. She said that there are ways round this and that you can do this and that. Yet the shortest distance between two points is usually a straight line, or at least as straight as you can make it. I feel that we could have done something better. The Bill should bring in at least some form of more directly elected officials into the committees and things that regulate. Yet I have heard no serious objection to this Bill becoming an Act, so I have no intention of further delaying the House.
My Lords, it is satisfying to see the Bill return from the committee. I thank all the distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House who have spent time evaluating and examining the Bill in a detail that we were unable to provide at Second Reading. Thanks to the Printed Paper Office, I have a record of the proceedings, which, as noble Lords might expect, were thorough and show the diligence with which this House deals with such matters.
As I said at Second Reading, someone from Lincolnshire is wary of intervening in a subject that is Norfolk and Suffolk business. Yet we all have an interest in the effective management of the Broads area. It is a leisure destination for the whole nation and a unique environment that adds greatly to the biodiversity of our country. My noble friend Lord Ryder pointed out the degree to which it is a special place, perhaps unique in the British Isles.
This has been a useful debate and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, for bringing the Bill to Third Reading in the absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. It is a shame not to have the Abbot of St Benet’s here today, but the noble Baroness is a distinguished Member of the House and well qualified, as a Broads boat owner of some 30 years, to move the Motion at Third Reading. She had to disabuse me of my impression that she was from Potter Heigham, the bridge of which is one of the more prominent landmarks on the Broads. That in no way reduces the authority with which she speaks on this and other subjects.
My own experience of the Broads is more limited, if lifelong. My visits on a modest, hired-for-the-day launch dropped off when my mastery of the vessel was challenged by younger but up-and-coming members of the crew. I am a less frequent visitor than I used to be.
This Bill is primarily about the running of the authority, in particular the relationships between navigation and leisure, and other aspects of the running of the Broads. As we have discovered in debate, this is by no means straightforward. The authority’s navigation officer has to reconcile the interests of highly skilled yachtsmen and sailors with protecting the occasional leisure user and keeping them safe. I include myself in that latter category. I expressed concern at Second Reading about possible conflicts, and the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, indicated that he still has his concerns about the Bill. Many noble Lords speaking have done so.
It is important that the authority listens to this criticism. I am pleased to have received a briefing from Dr John Packman, the chief executive of the Broads Authority. It is good to know that there is a continuing dialogue with government on how the Broads Authority—and, for that matter, national parks—connect with local authorities and communities. My noble friend Lady Shephard is right to emphasise this and to question the Government’s commitment to it. I hope that the Minister, an astute operator at the Dispatch Box, can respond positively to the cries from all speakers that local accountability and involvement are important.
That must be the key. It is important that the authority is seen as a facilitator by local people and not an imposition. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has today talked of changes to the Broads Forum. It is important that, if this is to address the issues that matter and be a real force in the governance of the Broads and not a talking shop, it should be truly representative of the local community and speak with the authority that comes from the mandate of local and community interests. However, it is no substitute for the direct involvement of the local community in the administration of the authority.
Once again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the Bill forward, all other Peers for their contributions and my noble friends for their knowledgeable and wise contributions to the debate.
My Lords, I congratulate all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, but particularly my noble friend Lady Hollis on taking on the responsibility of introducing the Bill at this time. I also pay tribute to all those who have contributed to the development of the Bill from its origins. I am all too well aware of the immense amount of work that goes into Private Bills, unheralded and largely unseen, with extensive hours. I recall close parliamentary colleagues of mine being buried for months on end in Bills such as the then Channel Tunnel Bill, which was a Private Bill and seemingly went on for ever. It would withdraw parliamentary colleagues from any other form of parliamentary activity for months, if not years, on end. I am therefore a great respecter of all those who contribute to the development of a Private Bill. There never was a Private Bill that did not generate some degree of controversy and challenge, and this Bill has likewise done so.
If the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, from Lincolnshire, is slightly hesitant in commenting upon the Broads, I am not quite sure, with my geographical background, that I should be standing here at all. However, I remind the House that I cut my political teeth in the dim and distant past by fighting a general election in Norfolk against the late Sir Ian Gilmore, Lord Gilmore of Craigmillar, who was a more than redoubtable opponent. Part of the constituency was North Walsham, so I got the delights of the Broads in January and February 1966. It was a particularly bitter winter and I therefore have a vigorous recollection of the Broads and their beauty at that time, even in sub-Arctic conditions.
I agree with the point of the noble Lord, Lord Ryder. He surely put it in more graphic terms than I could do, but we are all aware that we must watch carefully any changes to our most protected and beautiful landscapes. The Broads are special in these terms, with a particular beauty. I am therefore glad that the Bill has been subject to intensive scrutiny. I remind the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, did, that the main aim of the Bill is to improve safety on the Broads through a series of measures, including licensing of hired craft, compulsory third-party insurance and improvements to how the Broads Authority operates. The introduction of the boat safety scheme is already ensuring that vessels are properly maintained. The Bill will allow that scheme to be updated effectively and enable the Broads to, in a sense, catch up. As has already been reflected in the debate, the British Waterways Association and the Environment Agency already successfully operate a boat safety scheme, so I am glad that the Broads Authority is taking measures to bring the Broads into line with other major navigation authorities.
I also want to comment on the distinctive points that have been raised regarding the controversies over the Bill, which I think are mainly centred on the comparison between the Broads Authority and park authorities and the desirability of increasing direct elections to authorities. Let me answer the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who asked when the formal response would be made to the Government consultation. We expect to do that in the late summer. The consultation has been extensive.
Of course, it would be surprising if a Bill which had such significance for local authorities, including the 93 parish councils referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, did not occasion some considerable interest and a wholly healthy response from those authorities as to what say they would have in future developments. I thoroughly understand the calls for direct elections to be included in the Bill.
The demands may be there, but that is different from saying that the Bill is a proper vehicle for considering whether these proposals should be included. We consider in government terms that this particular issue is somewhat outside the scope of the Bill because we are looking at the whole question of representation and this Bill has got a narrower remit than that. We are also mindful of the point which my noble friend Lady Hollis made about the question of how the democratic deficit might be dealt with. She made an interesting point in her opening remarks about a compromise solution on this. I merely say that as far as the forum is concerned, that is a matter for the authority, not for the Government, and it is for the authority to reach its decisions on that point.
On the more general point, it will be noted that at this stage we are not attracted to direct elections. As I have indicated, we are going to respond fairly soon on the ways that we intend to ensure that all national parks continue to be responsive to local and national needs. Of course the fact that the Broads comprise parts of such an extensive number of parish authorities is an important one. We are not in favour of introducing parish council members to the Broads Authority, but of course it is open for them to express their concern for representation by applying for one of the national appointments. My noble friend made the point that in fact democratic expression may come through the forum rather than actual appointments to the boards.
I very much respected the points which the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, made on these issues. She made them with all the authority of the role that she plays now and has played for a long time in our democratic counsels as a Member of Parliament at the other end before she came to this House, and we all respect her views. I hope that she will appreciate the fact that the Government are in favour of good governance for the national parks and for the Broads Authority. The Broads are a little different from the national parks; that is why they have that crucial extra dimension with regard to navigation and why we are considering today the importance of the authority in relation to safety.
I was questioned, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, about safety. Although from time to time it is contended that the nanny state—a concept which I hope noble Lords opposite realise some of us on this side of the House have a little difficulty in grasping as we are not too sure that we have ever experienced “nannydom”—might overconcern itself with safety, it is the duty of all of us to ensure safety on the waters, and the Broads Authority shares that responsibility. After all, we are all too well aware of the fact that even one tragedy is one tragedy too many.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for indicating that challenges are present whenever one is involved in boating. No one suggests that every conceivable risk should be removed from the joys of boating and sailing; that would be absurd and would completely reduce the enjoyment involved in it. However, we certainly want to ensure proper safety standards. I am glad about the way in which the British Waterways Authority and others have blazed a trail and that the Bill will enable the Broads Authority to participate in that.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, asked, “Why do we need this legislation? Why can we not have by-laws?” Legislation gives a structure permanence whereas by-laws are fixed and rigid in their terms. If you want flexibility or change, you will have to pass another by-law. The issue here is to ensure that the authority has the necessary flexibility to revise over time the standards required. That element of flexibility is important.
I realise that I have not been able to assuage the anxieties of all those who have contributed to the passage of the Bill and the criticisms of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, referred to the role of the chairman of the authority. We believe that there should be a degree of independence and we see no reason why the chair should not be a parish councillor; it is for the forum to decide on that. Certainly it would ill behove any statement from the Dispatch Box by the Government on how such issues should be resolved. I would welcome discussions between the Broads Authority and the forum in the future about these factors because when people express, within the framework of a Bill such as this, anxieties about representation and their voice being heard, they need to be taken seriously.
The Bill has now been considered by committees in both Houses and both committees have found the case for the Bill proven. Although I know my noble friend will do an even more thorough job than I have in responding to the debate, I hope that at the end of it she gets a fair wind and that the Bill does duly pass.
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I thank my noble friend. I was slightly alarmed when the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, teased me about the “Heigham” in the title. I can assure him that if it had been Potter Heigham I would probably have had a non-financial interest to declare, as opposed to the fact that it is the title of a ward that I represented in my city for some 20 or 25 years.
Two points of substance have come out. The first is on the democratic deficit. The second is on the safety issues and therefore whether a Bill as such was necessary. I know that Bill does not go as far on the democratic deficit as many members of your Lordships’ House would like. However, today we have found a way forward, as possibly an interim measure, to beef up the voice of local interests and to make sure they are adequately, thoroughly and properly heard by the Broads Authority. We now send this back to the Broads Authority with the clear views of the House expressed on that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, raised the issue of safety. He suggested that this could be done by by-laws and, if so, the Bill would not be necessary and therefore a lot of time and expense had been wasted. I do not believe that to be the case. Compulsory third-party insurance for boats, water skiing management, hire boat licensing, to take just three items which are essential for the safety of inexperienced users of the Broads, cannot be done by by-laws. They have to be done by this Bill. That seems to be an unanswerable argument.
Like my noble friend, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in proceedings on the Bill—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, who is sadly missed today, and the members of the Private Bill Committee, represented here by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, and whose proceedings I have read with admiration as they patiently interrogated and cross-questioned and made sure they understood with perfect clarity the points being raised. I should like also to thank the speakers today, many of whom—I think at least four of us—were personally involved in developing the Broads Authority in the 1980s. I think we are delighted to see what has happened since then. Finally, I say to the Broads Authority and its members and officers that they know as well as anyone in this House that they have a precious landscape in trust. I am confident that it is not only safe in their hands, but with the strength of this Bill behind it, they will continue to enhance it for the enjoyment of us all.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.