BW transfer becomes law with concession to itinerant boat dwellers

Both Houses of Parliament passed the BW Transfer Order on 27th June following debates on 25th and 26th June. In the debate in the Commons First Delegated Legislation Committee, Waterways Minister Richard Benyon announced that the Navigation Committee of the Canal and River Trust (CRT) “… will include at least one boater without a home mooring who understands and campaigns for the interests of itinerant live-aboard boaters.” However, the Navigation Committee is an advisory body with no decision making powers.

Mr Benyon also stated that “The CRT will be directly accountable to Parliament for the statutory functions conferred on it by Parliament”. It is not clear exactly how this accountability will work, but it provides some reassurance to liveaboard boaters (and others) who are concerned about the lack of accountability of a charity compared to a public body where there is clear accountability to the public through MPs. The CRT’s statutory functions include the management of the waterways, which covers all uses of the waterways by boats.

It took a lot of campaigning to gain these two concessions for liveaboard boaters. Many boat dwellers, with and without moorings; their families and friends; leisure boaters; towpath users, and organisations such as the National Bargee Travellers Association, Friends, Families and Travellers and others, have written to and met with MPs, Lords, DEFRA officials and journalists since the Public Bodies Bill started its passage through Parliament last year. It remains to be seen how far their hard work has succeeded in protecting boat dwellers without home moorings in the long term.

Mr Benyon also informed the committee that “… the Human Rights, Equalities and Freedom of Information Acts will all apply to the CRT as it carries out its statutory functions” but said that the CRT will not be required to abide by the Government’s code of practice on consultations.

He confirmed that “the CRT will not exercise its powers to remove a vessel that is thought to be someone’s home without first taking the matter to the county court and obtaining a declaration from the court that the removal is lawful”, although this is already a legal requirement by virtue of Articles 6 and 8 of the Human Rights Act. In response to a recommendation from the Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Mr Benyon said “I am also happy, on behalf of the CRT, to assure the House that the CRT will take into consideration the specific needs of all stakeholders, including itinerant boat dwellers, in the development of all future byelaws. I should also assure the Committee that it is Ministers who will approve CRT proposals for byelaws”.

MPs and Peers including Tom Harris MP, Duncan Hames MP, Baroness Parminter, Lord Knight and Lord Berkeley spoke in support of boat dwellers without home moorings in the debates. Sir Tony Baldry MP, although not a member of the Committee, spoke in the Commons debate on behalf of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), demonstrating that the IWA remains opposed to the interests of liveaboard boaters without moorings as we already know from its role in the K and A Local Mooring Strategy.

You can read the full transcripts of the debates in Hansard.

The Lords debate is here

The Commons debate is here


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