A Letter from Simon Greer in this month’s NABO News give some insights into the workings of the committee reviewed BWs proposals for the 1995 Waterways Act
I wish to make a contribution to the meaning of ‘Bone Fide’ navigating as used in the British Waterways Act 1995. I was a formal petitioner and a direct contributor to the House of Commons Select Committee Hearings which scrutinised the Bill in 1994. The Chairman was George Mudie, MP for Leeds East, who remains an MP today. He is a helpful man who I am confident can bring some original insight to the issue, if invited. During the course or the summer of 1994 I attended all the weekly meetings in the House of Commons. As a first-hand witness I can testify that the committee was generally dismayed at the seeming aggression BW displayed towards its boating customers, particularly to those who lived on their boats. As a consequence, the committee knowingly and deliberately introduced a certain vagueness into the law such that the boater had something by way of legal protection
should BW attempt to legally challenge what others would see as reasonable behaviour. The 14-day rule was one such example: BW wanted and argued for a strict 14-day rule. Mitigation was not in their vocabulary. As a petitioner I argued robustly against the rule suggestion it was
far too prescriptive as we might never see another boat for weeks in winter. I reminded the com-mittee that we were not trying to control parking on the motorway. My argument won the day and the 14-day limit was softened by the addition of the phrase ‘or such longer additional time (unspeciied*) as is reasonable (unspeciied*) in the circumstances (unspecified*)’. This is now the letter of the law (I have added the (unspecified*) for emphasis but it is reflective of the style and mood of the Committee).
The point at issue was the Select Committee understood clearly that much of what was proposed in the BW Bill was seemingly draconian, and it set about mitigating and ‘softening’ the Law they were charged with making. he moratorium against prosecution for liveaboard boaters was another example of boaters’ protection. As a witness to the hearings I can advise the meaning of ‘Bone Fide’ navigating was understood to be sufficiently ‘open’ to allow boaters the latitude to enjoy the waterways in a generally unfettered way. I recall Mr Mudie allegorically putting himself at the helm of a boat and asking what would he see as reasonable?
It should be remembered that when the canal system was predominantly a working system, coal was often carried between a mine and a factory by boat over no more than a couple of miles…. backwards and forwards endlessly for the working life of the boat. If this was undoubtedly ‘Bone Fide’ navigating then, a similar journey of a short distance must by inference be ‘Bone Fide’ navigating today. The new interpretation by Bristol Deputy Judge O’Malley flies in the face of this simple logic and must therefore be an unsafe conclusion. It will need to be challenged and reviewed. I believe it would be helpful if Mr Mudie was invited to recall what he remembers of BW’s submissions and what he thought of them. I think it will put a more generous, less prescriptive spin on the intended meaning of ‘Bone Fide Navigating’.
Simon Greer, NB Arabia, Macclesfield