The New Waterways Charity – Westminster Activity Update

Issue date: 11th August 2011

There was a lot of interest in Westminster about the Government’s proposals for a New Waterways Charity before Parliament shut down for the summer recess.

IWA is regularly in contact with a number of politicians who are known waterways supporters, and much of the activity was stimulated by IWA direct or indirect lobbying. The level of interest was undoubtedly heightened by the progress of the Public Bodies Bill, which abolishes British Waterways and provides enabling powers for the new Charity to receive the British Waterways network; the Defra New Era for the Waterways consultation that closed responses at the end of June; and the All-Party Parliamentary Waterways Group being resurrected with hearings on New Waterways Charity governance and financing which led to an APPWG Memorandum on these issues being published on 18 July.

There was a flurry of Parliamentary Questions as well as interventions in debates.

A particularly pointed intervention in a debate was by Stephen Mosley MP (Con – City of Chester), when he said, in the context of the proposals for a New Waterways Charity:

“There will still need to be public financial support for our waterways, especially after the inclusion of the EA navigations that have less commercial opportunities than BW; and Defra will need to ensure that this support continues in future.”

Questions asked included:

  • How well Defra has liaised with the Charity Commission over the Government’s proposals.
  • What steps Government is taking to ensure that it can deliver on its commitment for the Environment Agency navigations to transfer to the Charity in 2015.
  • What Government is doing to ensure that the Charity will be adequately funded.

Questions are not always placed in the House of Commons. Lord Moynihan asked about the prospects for private donations for the New Waterways Charity; the Charity’s objectives; and which stakeholders would fund the charity.

The answers were not especially illuminating. However, Parliamentary Questions, as well as seeking information, can also serve to confirm on the public record the Government’s policy position on various issues. Even when the answer is entirely predictable, the need to answer reminds the Government that issues of importance to waterways stakeholders will not be allowed to quietly fade away.  

The All-Party Parliamentary Waterways Group

After two hearings on New Waterways Charity governance and financing the All-Party Parliamentary Waterways Group published a Memorandum on these issues with conclusions and recommendations on 18 July. The Rt Hon Alun Michael MP who chairs the Group, met Richard Benyon, the waterways Minister to discuss the issues, and wrote to him supplying a copy of the Memorandum. It is now for Government to reflect on these issues in the context of the Defra New Era for the Waterways consultation.

The All-Party Parliamentary Waterways Group might reconvene when the Defra response to the New Era for the Waterways consultation is published.

The response is expected to be published in the autumn. It is understood that there was a significant response with close to 400 representations from individuals and organisations.