Middle Level Bill
Thank you for your enquiry regarding the Middle Level Bill 2016-17 to 2017-19. David has asked me to look into the Bill and its real implications.
The area it impacts as you may be well aware, is the Middle Level of the Fens, or Fenlands in East Midland region of the UK. This consists of over 120 miles of watercourses, with 100 miles of them being statutory. After some research and having read the manuscripts of the Bill’s second reading, there seems to be two main streams of thought; the first in favour of the bill argues it will introduce further regulations and the toll will provide funds to keep the water clean and to clear out sunken boats and rubbish. The arguments made by those in favour of the Bill often point to the fact that the current laws used in the Fens, Middle Level were put into effect in the 18th Century. The Bill has been introduced to ultimately give the Middle Level Commissioners more authority.
The opposition however, argues that the Bill goes against the human rights legislation, ‘because if we are curtailing the right to a family life under article 8 by removing the capacity of people to enjoy what is their home—a barge, for instance, or a pleasure cruiser—that is a wider legal issue’. Additionally, the toll goes against legislation established in 1753 by the Earl of Bedford, allowing for citizens to use that part of the Fens free of charge. The main argument in opposition is that not only is the body of water not a ‘canal or river’ but rather an artificial body of water used for the benefit of agriculture in that part of the UK. Stewart Jackson MP, Peterborough argues that the Bill is particularly out of touch as there are no facilities, toilets and basic amenities found along the waterway that you would otherwise find along canals throughout the UK.
A final point is that the petition period in the House of Commons was less than a week which began on 24 January 2017, and ended at 5pm on Monday 30 January 2017. This seems to be an inadequate amount of time for any petition to get momentum.
Overall the Bill looks as though it has faced scrutiny, particularly from local MPs Peterborough (Mr Jackson), Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton) and Christchurch (Mr Chope). It seems as though a main point that will be considered before the Bill goes further will be as follows:
The key issue that has caused concern is not just the basic issue of charges, as covered in clause 3 and, potentially, clause 9, which deals with byelaws. I accept that the petitioners are in the minority, but they contend that their public rights of navigation—not exactly ancient rights, but very well-established historical rights, bestowed on them in the latter part of the 17th century by the Duke of Bedford, who was a major landowner to the east of Peterborough and in the fens as a whole—are being curtailed and reduced. Indeed, they contend, in their petition and in further papers, that those rights go back much further, beyond even Magna Carta in 1215: as far back as the 4th century. That is a major issue. Stewart Jackson MP, Peterborough.
I hope this helps with laying out the key points found surrounding the bill. Please let me know if there is any more information you may need.