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Noble Lords: Yes!

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: Someone was laying out substantial nets and rather overdoing it. That is a little different from just slinging out a line and hoping for the best. That is enough anecdotal evidence.

The corporation has tried extremely hard to make the riverside attractive to people. In that context we have provided whole stretches of landscaped riverside paths for pedestrians and cyclists. Where possible in new developments we have tried to create a strategic Thames path. On the planning committee we are meticulous in that where permission is applied for we insist that the riverside pathway is incorporated as part of the development. There have been one or two incidents where people have tried unilaterally to block off the path. We have had to be fairly firm with them. In fact, we have always kept it open, but after a bit of trouble, sometimes.

We have built bridges over some areas. Noble Lords probably know Limekiln Dock, Limehouse and St. Saviour's Dock, Bermondsey, so that we have a continuous path. Some of the bridges have won awards. So we are really trying down there. We have signposted riverside walks so people going through the streets can see where they can get easy access. Noble Lords will know that we have promoted the refurbishment of the warehouses. We have preserved them to keep the history of the river alive and to turn them into accommodation.

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Anybody who visits Canary Wharf now during the day will note the activity there because the project is now almost entirely let and the riverside cafes and restaurants are bustling. It is a great pleasure to visit the area. If noble Lords have not been there recently, I suggest that they do go because the whole place is vibrant. That is bound to reflect on the river, its use and value as a tourist attraction. Hotels are also being developed at Canary Wharf and Surrey Docks. There are also to be substantial hotels at the Royal Docks.

Perhaps I may mention also "TourEast London" which is a partnership for tourism led by the London Docklands Development Corporation and chaired by our energetic marketing director, Sunny Crouch. Together with colleagues and other organisations, she is promoting the use of the River Thames as something which unites, rather than divides, the whole of the area. The project is attempting, in all sorts of ways, to attract people down here not only because the River Thames is an enjoyable feature in itself, but because, without being immodest, the corporation has done a remarkable job there. Its work is well worth seeing.

8.31 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble kinsman Lord Luke for having introduced this most topical debate. It is a great pleasure for me to refer to "my noble kinsman" and this is the first time that I have been able to do so in this House. My noble kinsman was right when he said that there is a perception that the Thames is under-used and not fully appreciated. I certainly welcome his call for more co-operation between the public and private sectors with regard to the commercial and tourist opportunities that the river offers. At the outset, I must also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, on his outstanding maiden speech. I agree with his warning that London should not be complacent about tourism.

It is easy in a debate of this nature to get bogged down by the raft of statistics from the London Tourist Board, the Joint London Tourist Forum, the Port of London Authority and other bodies on the numbers of tourists and the benefits to the local economy. What I did find of interest, however, is the statistic that 30 per cent. of visits to London attractions are to facilities, venues and galleries at riverside locations. My noble kinsman mentioned that 26 million tourists visit London every year, but only 2 million take a trip on the Thames, of whom 55 per cent. come from overseas.

There is no doubt that there is huge potential for using the river as a linking device as well as for the expansion of river trips in their own right. As my noble kinsman pointed out, there has been a rapid expansion in the activity, holiday and leisure market on the Thames, with an increasing number of sports such as sailing, windsurfing, rowing and water skiing. All of these attractions have created visual interest and activity on the river, attracting additional visitors to the riverside.

Many of those interested in the development of tourist and commercial activities on the Thames welcomed the previous government's initiative earlier this year when John Gummer launched a planning guidance for the

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river which, in his words, was aimed at bringing the Thames "back to life" and providing a coherent planning framework to maximise the potential of the river. It was therefore heartening that the Deputy Prime Minister in July this year spearheaded the Thames 2000 initiative to boost river transport and upgrade the piers and moorings at key places to enable tourists to travel by river to London's main historic and cultural riverside landmarks as well as to promote more commercial freight transport along the Thames.

Reports such as the LTB's Tourism Strategy for London and BTA's Overseas Visitors to London report in 1993 suggested that London as a whole and the Thames itself did not necessarily require more visitor attractions. They believed that what was required was an improvement in quality and standards of service as well as visitor management and marketing to match visitors' constantly rising expectations. There have been many criticism about the shabby appearance of many of the sites along the Thames as well as about many of the "unsightly rubbish barges", to use the words of my noble kinsman.

It is therefore most encouraging that the Deputy Prime Minister has promoted an integrated river transport system for the Thames which should address the concerns of the London Tourist Board that many activities on the Thames which are tourist-orientated have been fragmented due to no overall strategy and very limited co-operation and co-ordination between the tourism businesses and local government.

As noble Lords will have noticed, over the past few years there has been an array of high profile developments and refurbishment of buildings along the Thames. These were discussed in an excellent article in the Sunday Times of 6th April 1997 which highlighted 13 ambitious schemes from the proposed £500 million entertainment and leisure centre to be built at Battersea power station to the Millennium exhibition in Greenwich. These should potentially transform the Thames into a gigantic playground. I warmly welcome the 180-mile Thames path. I am sure that my noble friends will be pleased to know about that. I welcome also the opening of the Thames cycle route. I am a cyclist, a rambler and a runner so I have an interest in all such developments and I am pleased that we, as Londoners, now have more opportunities to make the most of the paths along the Thames.

The potential for utilising the Thames to offset the transport headaches of London are enormous. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, made some extremely interesting suggestions about that. There is a commonly held view that the Thames is London's most under-utilised transport asset. It is therefore most encouraging that the Thames 2000 initiative has focused on boosting river transport for both tourism and commercial freight transportation. It will certainly be a major environmental benefit.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, also mentioned, there have unfortunately been a number of failed scheduled river commuter services. It is hoped that future proposed ferry services, if properly promoted to London's residents, will be much more commercially

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viable. Perhaps the Minister will comment on the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks--I see that he is now seated on the Woolsack--for a public subsidy. I hope that the Minister will comment also on the concern of my noble kinsman that there is currently poor public access to the Thames. Will there be any improvement in that regard? Can the Minister also comment on what plans are afoot to build new bridges across the Thames and on any plans for repairing Hammersmith Bridge?

In conclusion, there is no doubt that there are excellent opportunities for sustainable tourism through the revitalisation of the Thames as well as for increasing the huge transport potential along the river. I hope that this debate will highlight not just the potential benefits of the river, but also the benefits of an integrated strategy for the Thames.

8.38 p.m.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, on his most entertaining and informed maiden speech. My own maiden speech is fairly recent in my memory, so I know how pleased the noble Lord must be feeling to have got it out of the way. That means that we can now look forward to him springing up on all sorts of occasions because he is now free to speak in your Lordships' House whenever he chooses. So, congratulations and welcome!

I must declare three interests in the debate. First, I am a tourist. I am not a Londoner, so for part of this winter, to keep fit, I am walking the Thames path from its source deep in the Cotswolds in a field one mile from Cricklade Station to the mouth of this mighty river, some 180 miles downstream, taking the Thames Barrier as the finishing point. I shall check later to see whether I am using the book written by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I am sure that it would be enormously useful to me.

Next Sunday I shall reach Oxford, where the river suddenly becomes the Isis. I cannot work out whether it is a tributary there or not, but it becomes the Isis. I am becoming very aware that The Wind in the Willows country river of Ratty and Moley, of reeds and ducks, and of match fishermen has already changed. As I have walked, it has changed into an ordered set of locks, barges and motor cruisers. It is about to move on serenely to punts and picnics before it arrives at Teddington where the tidal Thames starts to transform itself into the play place of the rowers and sailors before we come to the tripper boats and cruisers and it then gets down to the serious business of being the country's busiest commercial port. It transships and transports over 50 million tonnes of cargo a year. Massive quantities of oil, forest products, sugar, food, aggregates, sand, refuse, cement and much else travel right into the heart of our city on this very fast tidal river. The river runs at three knots, which is faster than you or I can walk, and dips down and up by seven metres. It rises and falls by 22 feet on a tide.

I declare my second interest. I serve on the board of the Port of London Authority, whose statutory duty is to be the conservancy and navigation authority of the

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Port of London and the tidal Thames all the way to Teddington Lock. I know that the chief executive and crew of the "Royal Nore" were delighted to transport my noble friend Lord Luke both up and down the full reach of the Thames. They were delighted that so much interest was being shown in the subject. They very much look forward to reading the report of today's proceedings.

While this mighty river flows up and down at such speed all of the working traffic upon it proceeds from east to west. That traffic must cope with other tourist boats which nip across from north to south. That can be a very dangerous procedure.

There is no doubt that people see the commercial and industrial activity. That is why London turns away from the river. It is a mucky river. That is what a working river should look like. People try to compare the Thames with all kinds of rivers. It is not right to compare it with the river that runs through Paris. If one is to make a comparison it should be between Paris and Oxford. London should be compared with Rouen because that is where the heavy work is carried out. Certainly, the work is not done in pretty Paris.

People try to turn the Thames into something else. Of course, Venice is a lagoon. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has expressed concern at the suggestion by the Port of London Authority that the Thames barrier should be raised in order to make a lagoon for just one day, or just 18 hours, for the purposes of the millennium. That suggestion has been met with an intake of breath on all sides and great worries by bird lovers and conservationists, of whom the noble Lord is obviously one. That suggestion has received no response as yet from the Deputy Prime Minister, who will be the one to decide on what will be possibly the greatest tourist venture of the century on our mighty river. My noble friend Lord Luke, in his splendidly informed speech, said that each year two million people took a river trip. He would like a lot more people to do that. That concerns me.

I declare my third interest. I am president of the National Federation of Consumer Groups. In this case they are consumers of tourist facilities. Tourists have six requirements: choice, access, information, safety, fairness, and redress. From what we have heard, choice is improving. Access is not so good. My noble friend Lord Luke has said that parking is very bad and that the piers could do with a little help. More bridges are being built but it is all a very slow process. Noble Lords also heard from the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, about safety, quite rightly.

There are rules of the rivers, but not everyone abides by them. Not all boats are registered. At the moment any one can buy a motor boat, yacht or rowing boat and take it out on the river without a single lesson, any registration or anything else. He can go right down the Thames and out into the wide open sea. If we are to make greater use of our working river as a playground the Government must be encouraged to look at proper registration and forms of testing before people are allowed to take boats out

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on to the river. At the moment accidents are prevented because many other boat owners are aware that there is a danger and take avoiding action.

As to equity, is there value for money on the river? How does one compare like for like on the basis of what is being charged? Noble Lords may be interested to know that in Henry VIII's time when there was only one bridge on the river there was a good deal of trouble. The lightermen and watermen, of whom there were thousands, were brought into order by one price being set by the King and his Council. As to the question of redress, I do not believe that there is a regulator or ombudsman. I apologise if what I have just said is incorrect. A sea and a shore appear to be two very different matters.

I believe that if the proposed GLA is set up correctly the Government have the opportunity to provide co-ordination and better regulation of river services. Like my noble friend Lord Mountevans, I believe that if there is to be a new and integrated transport system for London there must be a public subsidy to make that happen. Not only will we have to subsidise the actual journeys but a good deal more access points must be built.

My noble friend Lord Luke is to be congratulated on tabling this Question at a time when London and its life and governance are under serious consideration. The River Thames is a main artery to the heart of London. It is big, fast and powerful, and at least once a week someone dies in it. People earn their living from it, are fed by it and play on it. The river is already a magnet for tourists. My noble friend Lord Luke wants a lot more. Given good governance, planning and generosity on the part of the Government, the future tourist potential is enormous.

I should like to finish with a warning. Much of my life has been spent in docks or afloat on ships, because I come from the fishing industry. Fast-moving water is a dangerous highway. Slippery steps and missed footings can kill and injure. People understand the dangers of other highways. As far as concerns road-borne traffic, people understand their rights and responsibilities as pedestrians and car owners, but afloat that is not the case. I urge the Government to take time to carry out a consultation exercise which brings together the port authorities, riparian councils and consumer, health, safety and tourist representatives before they raise the expectations of tourists to our tidal Thames and its environment.

8.48 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Luke, for introducing such an enormous subject. It is not a subject to which one can possibly do justice in the hour and a half that has been allotted to it. It is not one subject but two. Further, this debate gives the House the opportunity to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane. It is conventional to say how interesting and informative are maiden speeches. But I learned a good deal this evening about matters that I did not expect to hear. I congratulate the noble Lord.

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Both the Thames and tourism have many aspects. In preparing for this evening it appears to me that perhaps, like other topics, they break down into three headings: strategy, sustainability and mechanisms to deal with various issues. I should also declare an interest. I am a councillor of a London borough which is a riparian borough. Apart from Docklands, my borough is the only London borough on both banks of the Thames. If I refer to Kew and Hampton Court noble Lords will understand my interest in tourism and the interconnection of the Thames with my own borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. I am also very lucky to be able to live on the Thames. My little stretch of the Thames is not typical of others. The river is by no means homogenous. I am able to observe daily some of its uses and, I am afraid to say, some of its abuses. Irresponsible movements by boat owners is something about which I feel strongly.

Tourism, as noble Lords have said, on and around the Thames is not just an issue for central London. We have heard of the rural stretches upstream. Downstream there are enormous opportunities for regeneration; for instance, new conference facilities. I dare say that that will be one of the developments which may be in the minds of those who look at further development in that area. We have new bodies which will be taking these matters on board. They are strategic issues, as the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, rightly said.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, referred to the new greater London authority. I, too, look forward with great expectation to its involvement in this big issue and to that of the London Development Agency, which I hope will quickly come under the aegis of the new authority. I am sure that those bodies will look at the river, as the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, said, not as a dividing line or boundary but as a focal point. We are apt to look at rivers as though they are geographical boundaries. River basins of course are not. People look towards the river and not away from it.

We have talked about the use of the river for tourism. Comments about day visitors--Londoners visiting their own river--are well made. The noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, said that showing visitors around heightens one's own awareness. That is a telling point. The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, made a similar point.

There is also tourist-related employment. Here there is an issue of sustainability, not in the environmental but in the social sense. We are all aware that employment in the tourist sector is often low paid. There are then all the issues related to the wider economy.

I talk about sustainability in the social sense, but there is also sustainability in terms of location, land uses and movements. I was fascinated by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. We must be wary of totally demand-led development. I am thinking especially of hotels, but they are only one example. There is undoubtedly a demand in London

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for more hotel beds, but indiscriminate building could do a great deal of harm, depending on its location. We must not destroy what is so precious to our city. It is precious in so many ways, including its industrial heritage and trading character. I welcome every move to conserve and enhance them.

We must consider the whole quality of the built environment as well as the natural environment; the setting and quality of buildings. I include bridges. When I chaired a committee in Richmond upon Thames, I was much involved with a major development on the river there. The most gratifying aspect was seeing the public enjoying access to the river in an urban setting. There were different views about whether the building was of the right type. I should have liked to have seen a modern building. It would be good to see more up-to-date buildings on the river. The public were able to enjoy the facilities of an interesting setting and the river all in one.

Tourism is essentially not a sustainable activity because it encourages travel. Many comments have been made about transport. I shall add one about tourist boats and the noise that they create. It is not the noise of their movements but the noises that comes from them. It sounds as if I am being rather a kill-joy, and in fact I am a kill-joy about this because disco noise--I can hardly call it music--as it is heard from the river bank is more intrusive than social.

I turn now to mechanisms and resources. I end by commending to noble Lords and to those who are involved in such matters the Thames landscape strategy--the work in the area from Hampton to Kew--which was a partnership of local authorities, supported by a number of organisations. I do so because it is an interesting piece of work and one which is continuing. The policies it identifies indicate to me how important it is to be detailed and specific about one's ideas for taking forward what is important. It includes policies such as--I pick these almost at random--identifying areas where fishing is not in conflict with nature conservation and the integration of jogging routes in path circuits.

The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, is a jogger, walker and cyclist in one. With cycling along the Thames, detailed waymarking is required. There are different modes of transport which need piers and other forms of access to the river in the right places. Other aspects of the strategy include promoting river tourist transport services, improving publicity and, where appropriate, rebuilding piers and jetties to increase access and linking services into the existing public transport and car parking network, controlling tourist boat noise and wash levels to minimise impact. That is a tiny selection of the policies which illustrates the balance that needs to be struck when considering the issues that your Lordships have been debating.

8.58 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Luke, has rightly been congratulated on introducing this debate. Those congratulations are not due just to him but to the other well-informed

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speeches that have been made, notably that of my noble friend Lord Gordon of Strathblane who did not sound as if he was making a maiden speech. It was a speech of great command and enormous interest.

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Luke, prepared for the debate by travelling on PLA vessels up and down the Thames. When I served on the GLC, I do not remember that being offered, except in the form of visits to the estuary on sludge vessels. I am told that any possible unpleasantness from the sludge was mitigated by a plentiful supply of alcohol which was internalised, shall we say, as the voyage to and from the dumping grounds proceeded. I never went on those trips, but I am, and have been, an admirer and lover of the Thames all my life. I have benefited greatly in knowledge and understanding from the speeches this evening.

The Government are in no doubt about the importance of tourism on the Thames. Tourism in London is of great importance to the economy, not just of London but the whole country. After all, 54 per cent. of overseas visitors to this country spend some time in London. The numbers last year were a record. The statistics show that £7.5 billion was spent by visitors to London. So far as concerns the London economy, that represents 7 per cent. of our GDP. So, as I say, we do not underestimate its importance.

I was challenged by the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, to make a commitment to co-ordinate work on the Thames. He is right; I do not know whether I can give him a clear and unequivocal answer. However, I hope that my comments about some of the aspects of tourism on the Thames will give him encouragement.

Perhaps I may first talk about new riverside attractions. The point about attractions on the side of the Thames--the phrase "string of pearls" has been used to describe what has been done and what is being proposed--is not only what they do for themselves (I am talking about galleries, museums, sports attractions and so forth) but the way in which they act as a catalyst for other developments, provide jobs and contribute to the surrounding communities.

A remarkable number of attractions have opened during the past 25 years. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in his reference to Brunel. More are planned. There is to be a multi-purpose entertainment centre at Battersea, a Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich, a Docklands Museum at Canary Wharf, a wonderful proposal for the Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside and, above all, the new Millennium Experience. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to that in tonight's debate. It is not only that the new Millennium Experience will exist for a year or however long some of the facilities can be kept open but that there will be permanent development--what has laughingly been called "Presserville" after the Deputy Prime Minister--alongside the Millennium Dome, which will provide an ecologically sound community of 1,000 homes for a long time after the dome is no longer with us.

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A number of noble Lords referred to the river links and we recognise their importance. From my experience on the GLC, I recall the problems with the river buses, which were referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Gladwyn. It is true that more could be done for river transport if there were more piers. Indeed, more piers are proposed and there is to be a new footbridge from Charing Cross to the South Bank. Furthermore, the more attractions there are on the river the more likelihood that river buses will be successful.

I take seriously the warning of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, about the problem of regular commuter traffic. I am afraid that that will not be eased because the Jubilee Line and the Docklands light railway extension to Lewisham will provide effective competition to what could otherwise be river bus traffic. Therefore, emphasis is likely to be on the infrastructure rather than on subsidising river bus services. Of course, there will be a huge boost from the millennium because it is planned that of the 12 million visitors 1 million will go from central London by river bus and 600,000 could use downstream park and sail facilities. Perhaps from that investment in infrastructure there could be a spin-off which will continue.

A number of noble Lords, notably the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord St. John, referred to the need for better access to the Thames, and my noble friend Lord Cocks gave a very encouraging account of the work of the London Docklands Development Corporation, which has certainly contributed greatly to access to the Thames and to use of the Thames in the area of the London Docklands.

I was asked about piers. The new Millennium Experience Company and the Cross River Partnership have proposals which are still in preparation for new piers. We are confident that there will be new piers at least at Blackfriars and Waterloo and that they will have Underground and rail links.

A number of noble Lords, notably the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord St. John, referred to the need for co-ordination and a simpler structure of authority. Of course, that is what is planned for the London mayor and the greater London authority. The consultation document raises the question of whether the London transport authority which is to be set up should have the power or the duty to promote river transport.

If one looks at the Government Office for London's strategic planning guidance for the River Thames, many of the ideas are good but the recommendations all say that planning authorities should give consideration to this or that. That is not very powerful. The document from Thames 2000 is excellent in many ways but it is a wide range of bodies which is supposed to take action and it does not seem to me to be a recipe for co-ordination.

In the very short time available to me, I shall refer briefly to specific points made by noble Lords. My

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noble friend Lord Gordon referred to the need for a working river and not just a tourist river. I take that issue very seriously. He said that it is important to persuade Londoners to value their river because it is a pride of Londoners. I know that the Government agree with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred to work on the Thames path and my noble friend Lord Cocks made the same point. There was some disagreement between my noble friend Lord Cocks and the noble Lord, Lord Luke, about the desirability of turning the Thames into a non-tidal pool. I rather sympathised with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. Perhaps it is

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worth experimenting with just for the millennium, but I do not think that it would be the Thames that we know and love if we used the barrier in that way.

In dealing with the various issues, I have dealt with most of the points raised, except that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, when she referred to the need for standards and safety standards in particular. That is further evidence of the need for a greater London authority which could take over control of those matters.

In the 30 seconds which I have left, I repeat my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I assure them that their suggestions, comments and opinions will be taken seriously by government.

        House adjourned at nine minutes past nine o'clock.

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