The National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) recently wrote to all 626 MPs urging them to vote against the British Waterways (BW) amendment to the Public Bodies Bill. The second reading of the Bill took place on 12 July in the House of Commons.
The NBTA sent MPs a comprehensive briefing explaining why the transfer of BW to a charity threatens boat dwellers with homelessness. The briefing also clarifies why BW should not be a charity at all: the NBTA believes that a charity should not have the draconian enforcement powers that BW possesses and that such powers should only be held by an accountable public body.
The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had already expressed concern about the BW amendment: “Especially in the absence of a convincing explanation [from BW], it is not appropriate for an existing power to make subordinate legislation to be transferable to another, unidentified, body”, it stated in a report on 7 March 2011.
Since 1990 BW has attempted to gain powers to criminalise people caught living on their boats without a permanent mooring. Parliament prevented this and acted to allow boat dwellers to continue living on their boats without a long-term base when it passed the 1995 British Waterways Act. In BW’s 27 January Board meeting, the Directors agreed to seek greater enforcement powers on the back of the Public Bodies Bill. Amendment 99A will finally enable BW to pass draconian new regulations without any oversight. BW appears to be already out of control, acting in excess of its existing powers by carrying out summary evictions that violate the human rights of boat dwellers. The NBTA believes that these new powers will make BW unstoppable in its efforts to oust residential boaters.
A boater who watched the second reading of the Public Bodies Bill on TV commented that “the debate didn’t even touch upon amendment 99A. BW only got two mentions during the whole 4 hours of droning on, and the only specific reference was to Evans’s salary. Labour probably got it right calling for the Bill to be refused a second hearing on the grounds that it was ill-prepared, but they were voted down. Presumably, the details remain to be hammered out, so that all is not yet lost”.
Well done to the boaters and others who wrote to their MPs alerting them to the dangers of amendment 99A. The Bill will be discussed in detail by the Public Bill Committee in the Commons between 8 September and 13 October. This will be a further chance to lobby MPs.
The NBTA also lobbied the All-Party Parliamentary Waterways Group, which has just published a report on supporting the move to charity status.
See also www.bargee-traveller.org.uk For the All-Party Group report see http://nabo.org.uk/files/Waterways%20Memorandum.pdf