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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I rise to express my support for the observations made by the two noble Lords who have already spoken in this debate. Although I am doubtful as to whether the over-used term "a level playing field" is the right one in the circumstances, I understand the point that they are trying to make. In fact, as the Bill stands, I believe that a degree of prejudice is imported into the vital industry of tourism--indeed, it is vital for London, vital for attracting foreign revenue to London and vital for ensuring that London retains its significant position on the world stage as a city of great tourist interest.

I find it extraordinary that there is no reference to tourism in the proposed guidelines. I ask my noble friend specifically: why has that omission occurred? There is a real need for a balance between transport and tourism. I am not convinced that this balanced approach is being applied at present, or, indeed, that it is even being indicated. It is very important, as justified by the history of the situation, that the tourist industry should be given some substantial benefits as a result of the work that it does in providing such services. To obtain significant investment in leisure and tourism, Thames operators were granted sole access to specific routes on the river for fixed periods under contractual licences granted by the PLA.

It seems to me that the approach of LRS at the present time is in breach of those agreements. Again, I ask my noble friend the Minister specifically how that situation can be tolerated. I understand that LRS seeks to justify its position because of statutory obligations, which have been placed upon it by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to implement transport on the Thames. One must pay regard to what is fair in the circumstances. Clearly, the development of these services and of tourism on the Thames is of great importance. I believe that this has been recognised by those who provide such services. But how can anyone justify a breach of sole operating licences when one thinks of the investment which has taken place in order to provide those services?

I believe this to be an issue which ought to be looked at most carefully. I do not propose to enter into the Division Lobby on the issue, and I say so very specifically at this stage because this is a matter which can be worked out. I should like my noble friend to tell the House tonight that the Government are looking very carefully at the issue and that they have no intention of participating in any scheme which would seriously disadvantage those engaged in the tourist industry. There will be time to reconsider the matter while the scheme is being developed. It is not perhaps necessary to put it in the Bill. Although the two noble Lords who have already spoken did not say so specifically, my interpretation of their remarks is that they would like an assurance that this is a matter which will not be passed over.

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I am particularly worried that tourist services could be put in an even more disadvantaged position in the future by subsidy and by unfair competition being practised by other transport vis-a-vis those services. Therefore, the licences which were granted by the PLA to boat operators in 1993 should be honoured. It is not as though one can just write off this investment; indeed, it is something of considerable importance. The future of such operators will be in jeopardy if this investment is simply to be written off by those who will be undertaking the management of the scheme.

I do not propose to say anything more, save to end on this note. I believe that it is extremely important to recognise that tourism is of critical importance to this city--one only has to observe to recognise what is happening on the river, especially in the summer months or in the spring--and that it will go on being so after the passage of this Bill. I do not think that a deterrent or a discouragement should arise by virtue of current steps being taken which could be averted.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I am mindful of the time but, as someone who raised these matters on Report, I should like to add a few words to the debate. Broadly, as other noble Lords have said, the problem is that operators of tourism boats are worried that LRS will disregard existing legally-binding agreements with the PLA and seek to impose unilaterally new conditions, which would seriously prejudice the operators' ability to continue to operate in a financially viable manner. That is the overall problem.

Following my interventions and those of other noble Lords on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was kind enough to write to me. After a consultation with one of his officials, I passed his letter on to one of the parties who had been lobbying Members of this House. That party has now written to me and I shall get back to the noble Lord via the correct procedure in that respect. However, as regards the present position in our proceedings on the Bill, I should like to point out that those concerned would like to see LRS working within the partnership spirit of previous agreements, rather than with the new arrangement. As noble Lords have already said, they are looking for reassurance that the agreements which already cover tourist boats will not be disrupted in a way which will be disadvantageous to the tourist industry.

If I may say so, it is very difficult on the river to make a clear distinction between transport and tourism; for example, I have in mind those boats which, I hope, will go to serve the Millennium Dome. Will they make a significant contribution to the transport of people to the dome? I think not. I believe that they will be largely tourist in their objective--and a very pleasant trip I expect it to be. I very much hope that I and my family will take part in that. But we shall do so not as a means of getting to the Millennium Dome, as I think the Tube will provide a better means of doing that, but because it will be a delightful trip which will enable us to see much of London en route.

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I believe that transport in the sense of rush hour transport is unlikely ever to comprise a major part of London's river transport. I think that tourism will continue to comprise the major part of that. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure those who are responsible for that tourist traffic.

7 p.m.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as no one has opposed my amendments I welcome the implicit endorsement of them by the House and will comment on Amendments Nos. 60 and 62! I wish to make it absolutely clear to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and to others that the Government recognise the importance of tourism in London and tourism on the Thames in particular. We value highly the investment that has been made by operators in improving the quality of facilities and services that are available on the Thames. We want to see improvements sustained.

My noble friend asked why tourism had not been included in this provision. I assume that he asks why it has not been included in the guidelines issued by London River Services. As I understand it, tourism is mentioned in that context. I shall check that reference. Certainly the spirit of the whole approach is that tourism and functional transport are covered. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, insofar as there is a distinction between tourism and transport services, the delineation is not at all clear cut. We do not see the objectives of tourism and of transport as being exclusive. Nor do we see the role of London River Services as being to promote transport, for example, at the expense of tourism. Indeed I am absolutely confident that London River Services shares that view.

However, as significant anxieties have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and others, I want to place it on record that we do not believe that there is a conflict here. We shall write to the chair of London River Services accordingly and, in doing so, we shall reiterate the importance of considering the well-being of the existing services, especially the high quality of current services. I hope that that meets the point that has been raised in relation to existing service providers. In addition I understand that LRS is committed to considering the impact of existing services when it grants licences for new services, if any. I believe that that is primarily a matter for LRS rather than the Bill. It becomes a matter of detailed operational and commercial negotiations. Nevertheless I make it absolutely clear here that our aim to increase the use of the river includes tourist use as well as more functional transport use. We wish to see new attractions all along the river, new investment in piers, boats and transport linkages, and better marketing and information on all of these.

We believe that the size of the tourist and transport markets will grow. We wish to open new routes. Nevertheless we would not wish to see the interests of existing operators who have made an investment in this service jeopardised. We shall make it clear to London River Services that that is our intention. I do not,

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however, think that it is appropriate to amend the face of the Bill to that effect. I hope that noble Lords will accept my assurances on that matter.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Greenway had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 60:

Page 152, line 5, at end insert ("and, in the exercise of this power shall ensure that--
(a) the needs of tourists are taken into account; and
(b) adequate access to any such amenities or facilities is provided for vessels used wholly or mainly for carrying tourists").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I would just like to say how grateful I am to the Minister for the assurance he has given and for the promise to write to the chief executive of London River Services. That shows that he has taken on board the strength of feeling in all quarters of the House. I express my thanks to those noble Lords who have supported me in this matter. I shall not move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 60 not moved.]

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