Duncan Hames, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chippenham, whose constituency includes the Kennet and Avon canal between Dundas and Hilperton, was contacted recently by a number of boaters concerned that the transfer of BW to charity status would put them at increased risk of homelessness. As a result, Mr Hames asked this question in the House of Commons on their behalf:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) what assessment she has made of the compatibility of the provisions of the Public Bodies Bill in relation to the convention rights of itinerant live-aboard boaters under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights”.
Richard Benyon, the DEFRA Under Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries (ie the Waterways Minister) replied in a written answer on 11 July that:
“The Minister for the Cabinet Office made the statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998, that in his view the provisions of the Public Bodies Bill are compatible with the convention rights. There is nothing in the powers contained in the Bill to prevent them being exercised in a way which is fully compatible with the convention.
The Public Bodies Bill is an enabling Bill and therefore the Bill itself will not effect any changes to the British Waterways Board. Subject to parliamentary approval and any necessary consultation, the Public Bodies Bill will provide the necessary enabling powers to allow an Order to be made transferring the powers and duties of the British Waterways Board in England and Wales to the proposed New Waterways Charity (NWC).
The Government recognise the importance of the rights of those who live on and use the inland waterways which will transfer to the NWC. Ultimately, it would be for a court to determine the application of, and compliance with, the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to any action taken by the NWC.
Further public consultation on the NWC, in the context of the transfer order, will take place in the autumn.” Mr Benyon, who is the Conservative MP for Newbury, owns and farms land on the banks of the canal.
The Public Bodies Bill will be considered in detail by the House of Commons Public Bill Select Committee between 8 September and 13 October. If you have any concerns about the effect of transfer of BW to charity status on the security of your home, write to your MP and ask him/her to raise the issue with the Public Bill Committee.
You will need to enter a postcode. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t currently registered to vote. If you have a postal address, contact the MP for that postcode area. Otherwise just contact the MP for the place you are currently moored, using the address and postcode of a nearby Post Office or pub, and say you live on a boat with no fixed address.