British Waterways in Bid to Gain New Powers

Greater Enforcement and Legislative Powers for Discussion in Parliament

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In January this year a Board meeting of British Waterways asked their Legal Director to try getting greater enforcement powers slipped into the new Public Bodies Bill. The resulting “Amendment 99A” was sufficient to alarm the House of Lords’ ”Delegated Powers & Regulatory Reform Committee”. Their Report states:

The Minister’s letter does not explain the rationale for Government amendment 99A on the revised eighth marshalled list. The amendment, expressed as a note to Schedule 5, appears to be intended as a substantive provision to the effect that, contrary to the general position under the Bill, functions of the British Waterways Board consisting of powers to make subordinate legislation, powers of forcible entry, search or seizure, powers to compel the giving of evidence and powers whose exercise will necessarily affect the liberty of an individual may all be transferred to a private sector person who does not otherwise exercise any public functions. If a transfer takes place to such a person, the Environment Agency’s powers of a similar kind may also be transferred to that person. Especially in the absence of a convincing explanation, it is not appropriate for an existing power to make subordinate legislation to be transferable to another, unidentified, body. This renders the powers in clause 5 in relation to these bodies especially inappropriate. The Committee draws the attention of the House to amendment 99A.

BW sought such powers in the 1990 British Waterways Bill and in other previous legislation. Each time, Parliament recognised such powers as draconian and entirely inappropriate infringements of the simple rights of those members of the public who wish to enjoy the waterways.

Most frighteningly perhaps, will be the “powers to make subordinate legislation” – in other words they would be enabled to make their own Statutory Instruments, which would never undergo the sort of public scrutiny that is applicable to private Bills, or Byelaws [both of which they have access to already]. Despite the fact that the Committee Report characterises these powers as “especially inappropriate” - the amendment has remained attached to the Bill for debate in the House of Commons.

The new Public Bodies Bill is to be debated in the House of Commons on 12th July, and it is absolutely vital that Amendment 99A is voted against as a dangerous infringement of public rights.

 Since the situation was made public, BW spokespeople have denied that they were seeking anything other than the transference to the new body of powers already held by BW. The Board minutes of January give the lie to that, and the emerging fact that the present management will continue their role in what had originally been intended as an entirely new charitable trust, demonstrates just why those people would be interested in such a move at this stage.  

More info can be found on websites such as -

Everyone remotely interested in waterways issues, and especially those with boating interests, should lobby Mary Macleod to vote against the amendment on July 12th.

July 5, 2011

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