The NBTA submitted a Petition to Parliament opposing the Middle Level Bill on January 24th. Five other Petitions against the Bill have been submitted; four by individual boaters and one by the March Cruising Club.
The Bill, promoted by the Middle Level Commissioners, proposes to introduce charges and terms and conditions for the first time. At the moment, navigation by non-commercial boats is free of charge. The Middle Levels are funded by drainage charges of £3 million annually from land owners, whose land would otherwise be swamp.
The introduction of charges would extinguish the rights given to local people in the seventeenth century to use boats non-commercially without payment. The Bill also proposes draconian new byelaw powers and powers to seize boats. At present the Middle Levels are an option for boat dwellers who cannot pay the licence fees or keep to the terms and conditions demanded by other navigation authorities such as CRT.
This is a Private Bill and anyone who will be affected by the proposals can petition directly to Parliament to have the Bill dropped or for amendment of certain clauses. This has to be done according to a specific Parliamentary procedure. The NBTA has been working with boaters in the Middle Levels who are affected by this Bill.
At the very least, the Middle Level Commissioners have to negotiate with the Petitioners and there is a greater chance that we can stop the worst of these proposals becoming law in the first place – just like boaters did with the Bill that became the British Waterways Act 1995.
There are specific times when petitions can be presented. The petitioning period in the House of Commons began on 24 January 2017, and ended at 5pm on Monday 30 January 2017. There will be a further, short petitioning period in the House of Lords if the Bill successfully passes through the House of Commons.
This Bill received a formal First Reading in the House of Commons on 24th January 2017. The second reading of the Bill was opposed on 2nd February 2017. A blocking motion has been tabled by Christopher Chope MP which will prevent the bill receiving a second reading until a debate is held; the debate is likely to take place in March 2017.
The Middle Level Bill can be found here http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/middlelevel.html
The Petitions are online here http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/middlelevel/documents.html