Greater London Authority Bill

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Ms Jackson: The amendments are an attempt to reduce the mayor's right to implement his or her own transport strategy in co-operation with the boroughs. I am not clear why we should attempt to restrict the mayor in that way. We are not talking about rocket science; we are not talking about making plans that are totally foreign and unusual to boroughs. In the main, they have been expected to make such plans year on year; they will soon be expected to produce some plans that will run for much longer than that.

It is therefore possible to spot long in advance whether any or all of the proposals in a plan will be implemented satisfactorily and to time. It is vital for the success of our proposals that the mayor and the councils keep in touch on the progress of local implementation plans. If the council is clearly going to fail, we do not think it helpful or productive that the mayor be forced to wait until the council has failed before taking any action. That is a recipe for delay and unnecessary expense.

Local authorities will soon be expected to implement plans that will run for two, three or possibly four years_they will have long timetables. If the mayor has to wait until the end of a timetable of two years, for example, the proposals would of necessity be delayed by four years. This is the recipe for inefficiency. By the time the council has failed to implement some proposals, it may be too late to salvage them. An earlier intervention may have saved them.

I trust that the hon. Member for Croydon, South will ask leave to withdraw the amendment in the light of my remarks.

8.15 pm

Mr. Ottaway: Again, the Minister makes little effort to explain her Opposition to the amendments other than simply to say that she opposes them. I shall not seek to divide the Committee, but I note the Minister's opposition. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 130 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 131 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 132

Transport for London

Mr. Ottaway: I beg to move amendment No. 488, in page 69, line 14, leave out second "and".

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 489, in page 69, line 15, at end insert_

    "(d) in order to advise the Mayor generally on transport issues: and

    (e) for the purposes of promoting the use of the River Thames for the carriage of passengers and goods.".

Mr. Ottaway: We have now reached chapter II of part IV, and the constitution of Transport for London. The amendments would expand the functions of Transport for London to include a request for the mayor to be advised generally on transport issues. The proposals follow the White Paper's references to the use of the River Thames in relation to Transport for London.

I am sure that we all agree that the Thames is an under_used asset in the capital. There are many good ideas for the river, but not many of them make money and most go bust or need a subsidy. Nevertheless, the Opposition believe that the Bill should promote the river, which explains the amendment.

Mr. Brooke: I shall be extremely brief. I am conscious of the forthcoming involvement of Transport for London in matters relating to the river. Earlier today, the Minister picked up my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South for not including the river and those who work on it on a proposed list of people who need to be consulted. In so doing, he indicated the importance that the Government attach to the river.

Although my hon. Friend was somewhat discouraging about the effectiveness of people who currently use the river for tourism and for passenger traffic, such people have significant apprehensions about what the transport authority may be planning. I am conscious that regulations, instructions or ideas are to be communicated to people who operate on the river in the near future, for application from 1 April in contractual terms. I detect significant apprehension about the possibility of a public intervention in matters currently decided by private practice. Such practice has been encouraged to make substantial investment, and it now looks as if the Government may interfere with it.

I am conscious of the Government's problems in securing transport for Greenwich in the year of the dome. It would be singularly unfortunate, however, if able entrepreneurs who know a lot about the subject_I am thinking especially of the French expertise that has been brought to the river_are discouraged or deterred by the Government's actions. I mention the matter for paving purposes.

Mr. Simon Hughes: As a riverside member of Parliament, I assure the Committee that the matter is very important for hon. Members who have worked along the river and who represent riverside constituencies. I want to spend a moment or two flagging it up. I think that the amendment, which we welcome, might be our only opportunity to raise some of the river issues.

I hope that the Government can respond positively to amendment No. 489, which is the substantive amendment. It has two arms, both of which we support, but I want to focus on the second. I urge Ministers to accept at least the principle of including a provision promoting the River Thames for the carriage of passengers and goods, although I am happy for them to say that there is a better place for it in the Bill.

Following on from where the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster left off, how far have the Government got in including river transport in the integrated ticketing system? That was something to which Steve Norris was committed when he was Minister for Transport in London. He tried hard to make progress with river ticketing, but found the resistance of some of the officials very frustrating. He was not helped by the fact that those commercial ventures that started to run commuter traffic along the river in the 1990s sequentially failed. They failed for commercial reasons, not through the fault of the Government._ [Interruption .]

The Chairman: Order. Several simultaneous undercurrents of conversation are causing too much distraction.

Mr. Hughes: One company failed because of very poor marketing. It started the service but was surprised when so few people used it. The reason was poor information. The same company and another then failed because of poor reliability. If commuters are going to use such systems, it is no good them turning up on Greenland pier for the 7.50 am boat, only for it to arrive at 8.20 am.

A third reason for the failure of such schemes was_arguably_overpricing, although no one would expect a river boat service to charge Woolwich ferry_type prices; that is, to be free. Some people who work in London came to live in housing along the river because of the prospect of river transport. I could 613 614

produce prospectuses that were used to sell houses and flats in my constituency on the basis that they would be near a pier from which people could commute to Westminster, Charing Cross, Lambeth and so on.

I attribute no blame to the companies that tried and failed, but we need to learn from their experience. The Metropolitan police and the river police have learnt about the sort of craft that work, as opposed to those that did not. There has been much technological innovation. The Metropolitan police now use a very good Finnish boat which moves much more quickly and produces much less wash.

Some people have now grasped the nettle, with the support of the Government. A company in my constituency, City Cruises, owns the large passenger vessel whose service the Queen inaugurated a couple of years ago. I welcome the fact that it has been commissioned by the Government to carry out some of the services for the millennium in Greenwich. It is a great tribute to the couple whose business it is and to all those who work for it, many of whom are my constituents. There is an issue about what will happen after 2000. The company is actively concerned to continue the service_having invested in four or five large new boats, it wants them to continue in passenger use.

Although river transport will never have a mass market or be a competitor in numbers with the buses, trains and tubes, I am persuaded that it is a complementary market. Tourists are not the only potential market; those who live near the river on both sides and workers will also create a market. The key is a reliable, regular and relatively low-priced service. The other factor is the availability of information on a vessel's whereabouts. That can be done with the same technology that is now being used for buses.

My first question to the Minister_I should be grateful for the best information she can give_is where we are in committing the Government to an integrated pricing system for river tickets. If it is not there yet, what can supporters of such a system do to help it along? The sooner it comes about, the better. My vision is that before the end of the Government's first term_

Mr. John M. Taylor: Their first term?

Mr. Hughes: By the end of their first term_whether they get a second term is up to the electorate_I hope that they will have created a tube map with interchanges on the river, so that we will be able to see where it is possible to interchange between tube and water craft.

Secondly, there is certainly a strong case for the carriage of more freight and goods on the river. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has already told us that he has resisted entering the debate about whether it is better to take waste by river or by road. Other than that mention of it, I shall also resist doing that; the Minister for Transport in London rightly said that that is a controversial issue.

At present, there is little freight use of the river. Some effective freight use is that which takes waste of various sorts by barge in a relatively environmentally sound way relatively long distances relatively quickly. I am convinced that there is scope for more of that, even though the river now, sadly, has fewer points of access than it might have.

Thirdly, there are opportunities that have not yet been taken to increase passenger transport. I do not want to try to trick the Minister into an answer now, but if the site of the Greater London authority building is the site in my constituency, as I hope that it is_having been to see the design, I am persuaded that with some amendment and good will on both sides, it could be a perfectly good and valid candidate_one thing that we could do with such a site, and with other public buildings, is to give it riverboard access. When I went to see the design in Battersea and examined it carefully, I suggested a way in which a dock could be constructed so that people could unload, as it were, from the river into a dock underneath the building. Such a system does not involve the slightly more complicated option of additional piers_on which by definition there must be a numerical limit_and can create docks to take people off the river.

Finally, if we get it right, there is the potential_I say this with some care, because all members of the Committee will be aware of the sensitivity of this issue_of overcoming the historical legacy of the tragedy of the Marchioness. That incident reflected some pretty poor river practice about 10 years ago_it happened 10 years ago this August_in navigation, vessels, crewing and so on.

A capital city service on a beautiful river with beautiful buildings alongside_whether short trips or long_haul trips right up to the boundaries of London in the west or the east_presents a huge opportunity. That is the best way to see the city, other than from the air. It is absolutely the most enjoyable way to see the city. I have always subscribed to the policies of the previous Government and this Government to ensure that we continue to add along the river buildings worthy of our capital city in the sites that remain.

We cannot enjoy that view in the way that the river allows by any other means. One can be a Wordsworth and stand on Waterloo bridge, but, to be honest, that is limited in its enjoyment.

I hope that Ministers are positive about what is a worthwhile probing amendment, and I hope that we end up making absolutely clear in the Bill the Government's commitment, which is extremely welcome, that river traffic will be included as one purpose and activity of Transport for London. Indeed, that commitment should be not just written into the Bill but woven into the fabric of London transport once the Bill is enacted.

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