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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the remit has been published. The names, where they still exist, have also been published. So far, of the 46 task forces, 21 have published their reports. Many are in the process of still considering their findings. The vast majority which have finished have already published their reports. There may be good reasons why reports are not published, which is a matter for individual departments, but the majority are published. That seems a much better system than any which preceded it.
I submit with the greatest respect that the points so eloquently made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, were not really complaints about task forces--indeed, he is nodding. He was saying with a considerable degree of force that there is too much legislation and too much happening in the law-making process for the man in the street to absorb. He did not say that task forces are a bad thing--he is nodding again. In my view, they are a good thing, because they widen the circle of advice received by Ministers.
What are the problems which need to be addressed? First, transparency. We should name the people on the task forces. We do. We should state their focus and remit. We do. We should keep that information up to date. We update it every six months. We should publish the reports of task forces. Twenty-one have already reported, and many others will be published or are in the process of being published. I cannot say that there will not be good reasons why advice should not be published.
The second complaint relates to accountability. Ministers receive advice from a whole series of sources, including task forces and civil servants. The Minister is ultimately accountable for the decisions he makes and the advice he takes into account. It is right that the advice should be given not to Parliament, but to the Minister or Ministers who are to make the decision. Once the Minister has made a decision, he will then have to determine his policy and account for it to Parliament. If any objections to the people from whom he takes advice are made, the position in relation to task forces, ad hoc reviews and the like enables Ministers to be questioned in Parliament about from whom they are taking advice because, unlike any previous government, we are publishing the names of task force members and so on. Noble Lords and honourable and right honourable Members of another place are therefore able to raise such issues with Ministers.
I turn to a number of important points made during the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred to "tsars" and mentioned Keith Hellawell, who, she said, was doing an extremely good job. He is a special adviser in the position of a civil servant. Like all civil servants, he is accountable through Ministers. In the past few days there have been two debates on drugs in the other place. All that Mr Hellawell does is therefore subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester referred to the publication of the Football Task Force's report. As I have indicated, the publication of reports is a matter for the individual Minister concerned. Twenty-one reports have been published so far. There may be good reasons why they should not be published. Other task forces are in the process of continuing their work.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, asked about consultation, which is a real issue for government. We must develop means through which consultation may be carried out as effectively as possible. That means different kinds of consultation for different groups. The Cabinet Office has published guidelines on consultation, of which I refer to one section. The guidelines rightly suggest that when one is dealing, for example, with professional groups, such as--dare I mention it?--lawyers, the best way to consult is through a paper-based consultation. One sends them a document asking for their views, which is expected back in writing. I believe the noble Lord gave 78,000 as the number of solicitors or firms of solicitors receiving a document relating to Access to Justice--to which 30 replied. We have citizens' juries, people's panels, and workshop open meetings in other kinds of consultations. Perhaps we should now have workshop panels for lawyers, people's panels of lawyers, and citizens' juries for lawyers. It seemed a sensible way of consulting lawyers. I agree in principle that consultation has to be done on a basis that is sensible and well tailored to the needs of the group being consulted.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, failed to disclose one point about the 1945-51 government. He said that they were able to achieve without employing task forces. However, that government had the assistance of the noble Lord himself as one of the members of the supporting Labour majority. The noble Lord also referred to the fact that there are 165 companies with secondments in government which are not included in the task force numbers. I believe it would be wrong to regard secondment as in any way parallel to task forces. Secondment will be thought to be a good thing by both political government and the Civil Service because it leads to
The conclusion I draw is that task forces, ad hoc reviews and advisory groups are in principle a good thing. They are sufficiently transparent. The Government have taken trouble to identify who they are. They improve government by bringing a wider range of advice and a wider range of experience to the policymaking process. That can only lead to better government.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, we have had a surprisingly lively debate on what has hitherto been an arcane subject. We have placed the spotlight on it, at least for today, and I am sure that it is a subject to which your Lordships will return. I was amazed that there were no contributions from the Conservative Back Benches. However, that was more than made up for by the exuberance of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon. I am grateful to all noble Lords who took part in the debate. It was especially illuminating to hear experiences recalled by those who have sat on task forces.
I am not sure that anyone has answered my final conundrum: how are task force recommendations put back into a government structure which created some of the problems in the first place? Nevertheless, I am sure that we shall return to the subject. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset that, as two noble Lords who were due to speak have scratched, I hope the House will indulge me if I stray a little over my 15-minute allotment.
The Thames has played a pivotal role in London's history from the earliest times. It is a river steeped in history and it has provided not only an easy means of transport but also a vital link with the trade routes of the world. London's greatness was built on trade, and for many years that trade flowed both outwards and inwards through what was the largest port and dock system in the world.
My reasons for introducing this debate are twofold. First, with the election of London's new mayor only a few months away, the more publicity we can bring to matters fluvial the better. Some of us failed to get a separate river strategy included in the Greater London Authority Act; however, the new mayor, whoever he or she may be, will be free to bring forward a separate strategy for the Thames. Failing that, the mayor will have a duty to,
My second reason is to give the House an opportunity to discuss matters relating to the Thames more fully than was possible during the passage of the GLA Bill. Anyone who has travelled down the Thames recently--and I did so just before Christmas--can have no doubt that it is not being used to its full potential and as such is something of a wasted asset. Although my Motion mentions commerce and leisure activities in particular, these inevitably include other factors such as safety and transport. In addition, I am sure that your Lordships will raise other topics of interest as the debate progresses.
I turn first to commercial matters. London is still a large port and we still have the enclosed dock system at Tilbury, now run privately by Forth Ports, with its adjacent riverside grain and container terminals. The container terminal, jointly operated by Forth Ports, Associated British Ports and P&O, is just embarking on the construction of a second berth. The Port of London Authority lost a large slice of its revenue last year when Shell decided to close its Shellhaven oil refinery. However, the recent announcement that Shell has chosen P&O Ports, a subsidiary of our leading shipping company, as its preferred partner to develop the site, with a new container port and roll-on/roll-off facility, is indeed welcome; nevertheless, that is still several years ahead. Incidentally, there are still several very viable roll-on/roll-off terminals on the Thames, the nearest to central London being situated at Deptford. I am sure that we shall hear more about the Port of London Authority from the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. On behalf of all of us, perhaps I may congratulate the noble Baroness on her recent elevation to the position of first lady vice-chairman of that august body.
One of the fastest growing and most successful areas of shipping today is cruising. London and the River Thames are no strangers to this form of leisure activity and small cruise ships have visited the Pool of London for many years. Only some five years ago, Tilbury international cruise terminal attracted some 70 cruise calls, many by large passenger ships. Unfortunately, that time coincided with the decision by the port of Dover, faced with a potential loss of traffic from the Channel Tunnel, to diversify into cruising, as a result attracting most of Tilbury's business. The bulk of the traffic has never returned. There is a scheme to build a new cruise terminal at Greenwich as part of the
Waste disposal has been a commercial success story so far as the Thames is concerned. For 15 years or so, a large proportion of London's waste has been quietly and efficiently taken down-river by barge to landfill sites at Rainham and Mucking in Essex. I had the opportunity a few years ago to look at the Rainham operation run by Cleanaway and did the trip back up-river to Westminster with an empty barge train. It was a most illuminating experience. Three years ago, Westminster council contracted to move a large proportion of its tonnage away from the river in order to make use of spare capacity in the Bermondsey incinerator. However, the opening hours did not match the times required by the council and much of the waste material proved too bulky to pass through the grates. The result was that, in several stages, more than 100,000 tonnes of waste per year has been returned to river disposal. In total, more than 800,000 tonnes--over 20 per cent--of London's rubbish is moved by river every year, equating to over 100,000 lorry movements. I submit that that is a very proper use of the Thames.
Concerns exist as to future landfill capacity, but two years ago Cleanaway attained planning permission for an extra 15 million cubic metres at Rainham, which will give the site at least another 10 years' operation. That will buy a modicum of time for new waste disposal technology to be found in the interim.
As things stand, the other operator, Cory Environmental, which transports even larger quantities of waste down-river--something like 600,000 tonnes a year--from the western riverside, the City of London and Tower Hamlets, will be forced to close down its site at Mucking in October 2002. That was the deadline set originally by the GLC. Cory has tried to extend it, so far without success, but after two public inquiries Essex County Council is adamant that it does not want any more of London's rubbish. Cory has been unable so far to obtain planning permission for an incinerator sited down-river. I believe that a realistic, co-ordinated and sustainable waste strategy is needed urgently if London is to resolve its impending waste crisis. But that approach needs to address the transport and treatment of London's waste, including making the best use of strategic assets like the River Thames.
The one area of commercial activity on which I have not yet touched, but which I regard as most important, is transport. Some 100 years ago London County Council introduced its so-called penny ferries--small paddle steamers--which turned out to be a commercial failure. Since then many other schemes have been tried: the river buses built for the Festival of Britain, Russian hydrofoils, and, more recently, fast
More recently, wash has been cited as a problem. Some years ago I took one of the fast catamaran ferries to Docklands. The craft reached its full potential speed for only about three minutes. When I asked what was the point of having a fast craft to make that trip I was told that there was a barge here and something else there and the catamaran had to slow down. Some of us recall when the Thames was commercially busy and permanently rough. No one then made a fuss about wash. There has been a good deal of design work carried out recently in Australia to develop fast low-wash catamarans.
New services to the Dome, which has one of the newest piers on the river, are just beginning to start up. We all hope that they will be successful. But if we are ever to achieve a real breakthrough in river transport we must be bold, which is not (I hasten to add) something that those who govern us are particularly good at. The new mayor should be a person who is capable of making bold decisions, and I believe that people would respect him or her more for being so. We have heard much talk of integrated transport policies, but where does the river lie in all this? To create a really effective ferry service requires boldness, commitment and, above all, money. Those three matters usually induce wobbly knees in any government.
Perhaps I may be permitted to put forward a bold suggestion of my own. I should like to see a large part of the peninsular on which the Dome stands levelled and turned into a giant car park. It is ideally placed at the entrance to the Blackwall tunnel and the start of the main trunk road to Kent (A2). Combined with a fast and regular ferry service with integrated ticketing to central London, and taking only 10 to 15 minutes, it would help to reduce the present horrendous traffic levels in the Blackheath, Lewisham and the Old Kent Road areas. Anyone who has recently travelled down the river cannot have failed to notice the mushrooming housing developments, which in turn mean more potential commuters.
A huge park-and-ride scheme would benefit all--commuters, shoppers and theatre-goers alike--and go some way towards reducing traffic level. In time the scheme could be extended to other areas of the river. When this debate finishes, I shall drive to Gravesend to see friends. That journey can take up to two hours in rush hour. How I wish I could do it by river in less than an hour!
Another possible future potential is the water taxi. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has scratched because I believe that he intended to say something about that. Many noble Lords may have seen the film "Shakespeare in Love" which contained an amusing incident involving a rowing water taxi. Only last night the Lord Mayor, in addressing the Parliamentary Maritime Group, apologised for not arriving by river. He would have found such a facility extremely useful.
For the future well-being of the Thames both commerce and leisure must co-exist. I do not agree with those who wish to see all commercial traffic banned from the river. However, it cannot be denied that one of the reasons the river is now much cleaner than it used to be--a fact that we all appreciate--is that the level of up-river commercial activity has fallen off dramatically.
I turn now to leisure matters. The upper reaches of the Thames have always been used for boating leisure activities. It is important to stress how much business--boat-building and repair yards, marinas and sailing and rowing clubs--is involved. Traditionally, not many leisure activities occurred on the lower reaches because the river was simply too busy for small craft. However, new uses are being found, for example water sports are now being pursued in the old Royal Docks. Only recently a new boathouse, the largest in Europe with a capacity to house 98 rowing eights, was opened in the Royal Albert Dock.
Some of your lordships will recall that happy day some 10 years ago (perhaps longer) when both Houses took part, with great gusto and a lot of laughs, in a rowing regatta just outside this House. I remind noble Lords that every June your Lordships' yacht club challenges the House of Commons yacht club to a race on the Thames from Westminster Boating Base near Dolphin Square. That does much to encourage young people to take an interest in boating.
Undoubtedly the main leisure activity involving tourism is the use of pleasure boats. There used to be a motley collection of old up-river launches and retired ferries, but in the past few years considerable sums of money--something of the order of £25 million--have been spent on upgrading the fleet. We now have a modern and efficient fleet of vessels, many of them stable catamarans. Interestingly, they now have a year-round capability which hitherto was missing.
Tourism and leisure have already made a substantial contribution to the life of the river and its economy. The Thames Passenger Services Federation believes that with government support this activity has the potential to double. During the passage of the GLA Bill I raised the fears of some operators about the regulation of river tourist traffic by the new London River Services, an offshoot of London Transport. I refer in particular to the continued recognition of agreements made with the Port of London Authority when it held responsibility for piers. The Minister, none other than the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, himself, gave an assurance that he would look into this matter. Recent evidence that LRS is now considering tourism services more fully is a welcome move in the right direction, and it is to be hoped that that can be built upon.
To enable all forms of river leisure activity to be carried out it is vitally important that proper access to the river be maintained. Piers and landing slips must be preserved. With so much property development going on there has been a tendency for access to be lost. I readily pay tribute to the work being done in this area
I said at the outset that safety considerations were an integral part of the future well-being of the Thames. Your Lordships will be aware that only last week, acting on the recommendations of Lord Justice Clarke, who carried out an exhaustive and highly commendable report into river safety in a very short time, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a public inquiry into the loss of the excursion ship "Marchioness". I do not wish to comment in any way on that unfortunate incident. However, I should like to raise one or two broader points regarding river safety arising out of Lord Justice Clarke's inquiry. Her Majesty's Government acted with commendable alacrity in immediately indicating their acceptance of the 44 recommendations in the Clarke report. I believe that 10 have already been implemented. The action plan published last week includes a consultation paper on alcohol consumption afloat and the funding of a formal safety assessment on search-and-rescue facilities on the Thames and the provision of experimental life-saving equipment at various Thames-side locations. That is all very laudable.
I do not believe that anyone would disagree with a ban on drinking by the skippers and crew of passenger craft. However, I urge the Government to think very carefully before they impose a blanket ban on private craft. Drinking on private boats is not a major problem and individual offenders are few and far between. The police have a hard enough time enforcing drink-drive laws on land and I do not see how, even with the help of the PLA in the case of the Thames, they could begin effectively to police such a matter on the river or in coastal waters. And with an election not too far ahead now, I think that the Government would be unwise to upset the 9 million or so people who go boating every year.
On the search and rescue question, I urge caution before setting up any separate organisation for the Thames. I think that a proper look at what equipment already exists and an effective means of co-ordinating that equipment in response to accidents is the most sensible way to proceed. I do not think that present traffic levels warrant such an organisation, although we all hope that traffic levels will grow in the future. Perhaps a permanent SAR committee such as the one that covers coastal waters would be one way to proceed initially.
One advantage of the new focus on safety is that the responsibility for safety on the Thames, which in the past has been a somewhat grey area between the Port of London Authority and the police, will at last be resolved. The PLA has made considerable improvements to navigational safety over the past few years, including updating the Thames Navigation Service at Gravesend. But it lacks funds for safety. Funding is another aspect adversely affecting the rive police, now part of the Metropolitan Police Force based at Wapping. Its workforce has been drastically
There are many other topics which I could mention: the Thames walkways; the difficulties of planning with many riparian boroughs involved; and the environment comes into the question but I know that the topic will be covered later. One thing is certain. It is the main reason why some of us sought a Thames strategy in the first place. So many disparate bodies and interests are involved that there badly needs to be a central co-ordinator--a headbanger if you like--to bring some sort of order out of potential chaos. I believe that the new mayor should be that person and I fervently hope that he or she will take that task firmly to heart. Perhaps the fact that Mr Dobson took a cruise on the river immediately after winning his party's nomination recently was a good omen.
I look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords and the response of the Minister. The Thames is one of London's greatest assets. It is a spectacular asset and one which I think we should all like to see returned to its rightful place as a bustling highway for both commercial and leisure activities. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, perhaps I may first declare an interest. I am the vice chairman of the Port Of London Authority, and have been a member of that authority for six years. I am grateful, therefore, to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, for introducing this debate on the future use of the Thames for commercial and leisure purposes. It gives me the opportunity to share a little of what I have learnt over the past few years. I know the river quite well, physically, because I have walked its 186-mile path in its entirety. I thoroughly recommend that to your Lordships. The path is now completely open and it is a very nice walk, especially during the winter months.
Our great metropolitan capital owes its very existence to the River Thames. London's foundations were laid not far from this House near London Bridge where the Romans linked access to the banks through the marshes to a ford across the river.
In modern transport parlance, London was Britain's first intermodal cargo facility when goods were transferred from water to land and vice versa. From these small beginnings, the great port integrated totally with the capital itself and grew to a peak of 61 millions tonnes of movements in 1964 to become the United Kingdom's largest port. Today, London is still home to a great and efficient modern port, with more than 50 million tonnes of cargo passing through each year. That may not be obvious from where we are
As cargo ships have grown in size, they have moved down river away from the Pool of London and the old enclosed docks, so that most Londoners no longer experience the workings of the port in their daily lives. The port still thrives, but the recent decision, as we heard, to close the oil refinery at Shell Haven has created the opportunity for a huge expansion in container handling facilities on the Thames--the most exciting prospect to emerge for many years.
The prosperity of London as an economic community historically has depended on the Port of London. It is still a great wealth creator, providing employment for 37,000 people in port-related activities, and adding £2.7 billion in gross value to the economy of the capital and the south-east of England. With its modern road and rail links to the rest of the nation, the port surely is a national asset, not merely a regional one.
The PLA has played, and continues to play, a leading role world-wide in technological innovation and the advancement of the global ports industry. Despite the tragic 1989 "Marchioness" disaster, there is a good safety record on our river, as was indicated in Lord Justice Clarke's report into safety on the Thames published last December. However, it is obvious that we must be vigilant and do all we can to ensure that such a disaster never happens again.
It is often overlooked that more than 95 per cent of the materials and goods entering or leaving this country travel by sea, the mode of transport least damaging to the environment. There are approximately 90 United Kingdom sea ports handling cargo, of which 38 are regarded as major. London regularly handles in excess of 50 million tonnes of cargo, and accounts for 12.4 per cent of all non-oil goods shipped through the UK ports.
I turn now to the aspect of the Thames which is perhaps most familiar to your Lordships. The Thames is the lung from which London draws its breath. That was not always so, as this place will have recorded one and a half centuries ago. It is the backdrop for a significant part of our tourism industry that provided London with £9 billion of visitor spend in 1998, a truly important element of London's economy.
The disposal of the domestic waste created by that industry and by the population of London in general is one of the key issues that will face the mayor on election. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has already alluded to the fact that the Thames plays its part in relieving the capital of this problem by enabling 800,000 tonnes of waste to be transported quietly and cleanly by barge to disposal sites down-river each year. It will be clear to noble Lords what a beneficial effect that has on reducing lorry miles on London's roads. It is vital that at least as much of London's waste continues to move by water in the future.
The key to the future lies in the application of the policy implemented by a previous Secretary of State, John Gummer, who initiated the protection of strategic wharves in the upper part of the tidal Thames between the Thames Barrier and Teddington Lock. That ensures that proper consideration is given to safeguard port land for the greater long-term good of London and the south-east before any redevelopment proposal of vacant riverside sites is permitted.
We must not let this vital issue be pushed to one side by short-term expediency. The riparian authorities are well aware of their responsibilities and must stand up to the pressures exerted on them so that the working Thames continues to operate for their ultimate benefit.
The industrial image of the river is the very one that has been its heart for centuries. Let us give the modern port industry on the Thames the ability to live and to work in harmony with its neighbours, based on the concept of sustainable development to help to make London a great place in which to live and work. I believe that a strategic approach must take into consideration the hopes and expectations of future generations of Londoners and Thames' users. I also believe that using the Thames for freight transport is the key to removing much of the burden from our congested roads. I urge your Lordships to lend support to the greater use of the Thames for cargo and passenger transportation and to give encouragement to the river-based commercial enterprises to develop and flourish.
A separate strategy for the Thames by the mayor of London would touch the very heart of our great city and I am delighted to use this opportunity to support the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, in his call for that.
Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I, too, begin by declaring an interest--or, more precisely, two. I am chairman of the Father Thames Trust, a charity founded in 1996 largely as a result of the extraordinary tenacity and vision of its secretary, Robert Staton. That vision and the remit of the charity is,
The second best specific interest, but one strongly felt, is that since the 1960s I have had the great fortune and privilege to live next to the Thames at Richmond and, from the front of my house, to observe its changing moods and endlessly fascinating scene. Sometimes its mood is solemn and dangerous. It has
During the 1960s, the river was dead or dying. It certainly looked a non-starter in terms of a commercial future. There was an enormous question mark hanging over the future of the docks and, in terms of leisure, its potential had not been fully understood. It was a very polluted river. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, referred to the odours of the Thames which used to penetrate this House and another place. It is not malodorous in that way, but the 17th century "Water poet", John Taylor, described the Thames as "a toad brown river" and bewailed the fact that,
I used to keep a boat on the river called "The Floating Voter". I named it in hope that the floating voters of Richmond would support me, which they never did in large enough numbers, to get into the other place. However, I am pleased to say that since then the floating voters around the Thames have increasingly become enthusiastic about the river and have supported it. In the case of my charity, the Father Thames Trust, that is the key to the amount of money we have been able to raise to advance access to the river, to monitor it and to educate people to an enthusiasm and realisation of its value.
Another important date in the renaissance of the river was 1994 when the Thames landscape strategy produced its 100 year environmental plan for large stretches. That has won tremendous support. Certainly, on my stretch of the river there has been the active participation of many boroughs, including Kingston. It is interesting to remember that during the 1960s, when so much development was taking place in Kingston, it almost forgot that it was "on-Thames" and turned its back on the river. Now there is great emphasis on reaccess to the river and understanding what it can do for the town.
The key of understanding what the river can give us in London is of huge importance. After all, what would London be without the river? It is almost impossible to imagine the character and personality of London without the river. Cities in continental Europe--for example, Brussels--which decided to put their rivers underground lost character, personality and definition in immeasurable terms.
I want to draw attention to two key future aspects, one of which has been mentioned. Although the process appears to be increasingly painful and in some cases unedifying, we are eventually to have an elected mayor of London. Of course, I accept my own party's candidate and our processes of democracy have been without criticism. When in place, the mayor must surely grasp the strategic importance of the river to London as a whole in transport and in leisure. It is a great new opportunity. The mayoralty is, in a sense, a new platform for London.
The second point relates to the Millennium Dome. It is astonishing and a great pity that somehow in the construction of the Dome and its themes, the most obvious, which stem from its very location--namely, Old Father Thames and Old Father Time--were not brought together into something which would have given a theme not only to its strangely themeless launch but also to its future success.
It is strange because, after all, the construction of the Dome has revitalised a derelict part of the river. That is a great gain for London and for the river. However, when one emerges from the Underground station to visit the Dome there is no view of the river. You cannot see the river. What, instead, you see, and then smell, with increasing impact, is McDonalds. You would not know that you were on the river because you are immediately funnelled into the great tent and disappear inside. Yet, within yards of the Millennium Dome is the tide and time of the nation. I hope that even now it is not too late for the Belgian from Euro Disney to grasp the real potential and benefit of the Thames to the Dome and to make much, much more of it.
In the river, we have London's greatest natural asset, its greatest open space and an extraordinary inheritance. Before the debate, I was reminded of the lines that the Rhine is water and the Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history. In the past, a great deal of that history was rather too physically present in the river. However, the fact is that the River Thames links our past, present and future in this great city. I am hopeful that, in the years to come, that asset will be increasingly realised, that people's enthusiasm for it will grow, that its usefulness will be multiplied and that its future will become assured.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Greenway for having introduced this debate. The noble Lord comes from a distinguished background. As chairman of the Marine Society, he is well qualified to speak on this subject. It is also appropriate that today's debate is taking place almost a year after my noble kinsman Lord Luke introduced a similar debate in this House which raised many issues, many of which have been taken up over the past year.
At the time, many recommendations were made as to how to maximise use of the Thames. I was therefore heartened by the speech last year of the Minister for London, Nick Raynsford, at the launch of the new river express service to the Millennium Dome, when he said that, this year, the river would regain its rightful role at the heart of London's transport system.
London First, the business organisation which promotes London for international investors, has been championing for several years the cause for greater use of the river, in particular through the upgrading of piers and the need for more services. Clearly, for businesses to succeed in London, there needs to be the most efficient transport system possible, matched with quality of life. Both those needs can be promoted by greater use of the river.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, referred to the Cross River Partnership, which has been responsible for raising much of the necessary funds for the upgrading of several of the most important piers, which are now being managed by London River Services. Certainly, the Thames 2000 initiative has already been successful in revitalising river passenger services, especially to the Dome.
The new and refurbished piers at Waterloo for the millennium wheel--the London Eye--Embankment Pier, Blackfriars and the Tower of London have been a major boost to handling the increased leisure traffic. However, there has been some criticism of the manner in which London River Services have managed the service, in particular as regards the new piers and over the granting of exclusive rights for the three key routes. That has effectively resulted in the stifling of competition and has naturally annoyed other operators who wish to take traffic on those specific routes.
One problem the new Thames river-boat services will inevitably face is how to make those ventures a commercial success. Many others have tried and failed to operate river-boat services over the years. In the main, this has been due to the expense of maintaining vessels on such a swift-flowing river. However, despite this drawback, it is essential that those who provide such services on the river are given the flexibility to choose the routes they want to operate and not to be restricted by London River Services.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, spoke with great passion about the stretch of the river close to his home. I understand from recent research that the Thames is now the cleanest metropolitan river in Europe, with 115 species of fish. The noble Baroness,
A number of new piers are in the process of being constructed by private contractors, including the Vauxhall Cross pier. I am sure that several Peers who have been buying private residences close to the Vauxhall Cross pier will benefit from the new structure. There are also the new Battersea and Chelsea Harbour piers. Unfortunately, for some time the developers of the Tate Gallery pier have been unsuccessful in trying to raise money for the proposed pier on Millbank. However, it is hoped that those funds will be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.
Many peers have spoken of the election of the new London mayor. That postholder, along with the GLA, will take on responsibility for strategic planning matters, many of which will obviously focus on the Thames. The consultation paper on the London mayor's planning role published in January this year gives clear guidelines to the key objectives for the spatial development strategy, which include promoting and encouraging greater use of the river.
When I last spoke on this subject, I based many of my arguments on the previous government's paper on strategic planning guidance for the Thames, published in February 1997. It is heartening that many of the concerns raised in that excellent report have now been addressed by the regeneration plans for the Thames. I hope that the Minister, when responding to today's debate, can give us further assurances of the measures to be taken to ensure that the Thames regains its rightful role at the heart of London's transport system.
Lord Selsdon: My Lords, last week there was a full moon. A few weeks ago there was an extremely big full moon, closer to the earth than ever before. Noble Lords will know that it is always best to plant peas and beans when the moon is rising and carrots and potatoes when the moon is falling. Perhaps noble Lords are wondering what the moon has to do with this debate. However, your Lordships will know that most of the speakers on this side of the House--my noble friend Lady Wilcox, my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley and myself--are the only water signs speaking today. We are all Scorpios.
The relationship between the moon and water is most interesting, not only as regards vegetables, but in the days when, if one needed a strong mast for a ship, the wood would be cut from a tree only when the sap was rising, along with the moon. Of course, noble Lords will know that water is magnetic and we are made up in the main of water, as are the peas.
But why is this great street not used? The answer is in the moon and the tides. The speed of the tides of seven knots or more and the moving up and down cause problems. The problems for the future of the Thames lie in the transport infrastructure. As your Lordships will know, I have been fortunate enough to be elected here. Therefore, I speak with some authority on this particular subject. Jane Austen said:
There is a slight misunderstanding over the term "setting the Thames on fire". If the Thames was an original sieve that was used to sift grain and was made out of horse hair, a hard worker could sieve very quickly and the Temes would smoulder and burn. Most people cannot set the Thames on fire, which means that they are pretty useless.
Approximately 20 years ago I had a rather useless job. First, I was appointed by Peter Shore chairman of the Greater London and South-East Council for Sport and Recreation. I was responsible for sport and recreation in all of London, Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Because I was a Scorpio--a water sign--I liked the Thames and that was my undoing. I went to the GLC with my committee as we were eligible for grants. We set up "Thames Day"--a task force that was never disbanded. Thames Day was great fun. We blocked off the bridges with some difficulty--the PLA was not terribly pleased about that at the time as my noble friend Lady Wilcox was not there. We had speedboats which ran up and down, hitting bits of wood. We had fireworks and good fun. We had to negotiate with the lightermen who wanted some money upfront because we were a government quango (although I had tried to make it autonomous). In the end, they agreed to co-operate with us.
My own history and failures are considerable. My father, who liked motor racing and, sadly, died young, was a special constable who used to drive a speedboat up and down the Thames. He used to box and wrestle for charity in the Isle of Dogs. Rather like the Front Bench opposite, it was considered to be a good thing
Together with my noble friend Lord Geddes and a few others, I believed that I might make a fortune carrying out developments on the Thames. We built a hotel at Chelsea Harbour, which cost approximately £40 million. My only association with it is that I believe that my name appears somewhere on a napkin. However, the Gulf War occurred and we had no infrastructure because the river boats which were then being set up went to the places that people wanted to go but did not come from the places where they lived. Therefore, they were a disaster. I tried to help many of them to avoid going bust but it was a hopeless situation.
I bought a boat which I named "White Eagle" after my father. I used to pretend that I was a captain and my son was then appointed. With the help of the lightermen, we were fully trained. For two years we drove up and down the Thames. We would drive people to the Tower of London and tell them to board the Light Railway (which of course was not finished), go to Docklands to see what was happening there, go to Mudchute to see where the Great Eastern was built by Brunel, then go under the Brunel tunnel to Greenwich. We would pick them up by boat on the way back. The problem was that the Port of London Authority sometimes did not like us to park there. We had several problems because there is no speed limit on the Thames as far as Wandsworth Bridge and we could go flat out. One of our friends said that there was no difficulty about wash as long as one listened to the complaints. Many people tried to complain and to obtain grants or support or possibly sue because of the wash.
I loved that river. I shall give some examples of what could be achieved with some funds or a grant. We liked fishing but one could not fish in the Thames. My friend at that time, Sir Tufton Beamish, offered £100 to the first person to catch a salmon. Not long afterwards, he lost the £100. There were two Henry VIII graving docks near Greenwich which the council were intending to fill in. My team, who were quite bright and young, said, "Let's turn one of them into a fishing paradise. We'll put little poles around the numbers and stock it full of fish". We did so and people fished there 24 hours a day.
Next, he said that there was nowhere in London where one could gain a certificate for sub-aqua diving. A certain depth was required and the swimming pools were not deep enough. Therefore, we took the other graving dock and turned it into a sub-aqua training school. Not a great deal of money was involved. Then, the canoeists asked, "Can we go along on the top while the divers are underneath?" Those are examples of small ventures which created tremendous fun. As I was reporting to the noble Lord, Lord Shore, at that time, he has the credit for my failures!
Then, I was asked whether I would become involved in Docklands. We were building a hotel there which became a disaster. The boat which we ran also became a disaster, mainly due to the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who, as Commodore of the House of Lords Yacht Club, suggested one day that "White Eagle" should be the guardship for the race between the Commons and the Lords. I believe that there was a rail strike and the Minister for Transport in another place was on one of the sailing teams. The cameras wanted to photograph him in a sailing boat while the race was taking place, and people were queuing to walk over the bridges.
My son was captain on that particular day, and the Thames is very shallow outside your Lordships' House. We were pushed by the cameras to move forwards and backwards and we hit a subterranean rock, or something similar, and one propeller broke. A plastic bag entered the air or water intake of the other engine, which then stopped. My son, who had been trained by the lightermen and was 18 years-old, was becoming slightly nervous. We hit something else, and a noble Baroness--who is not in her place, thank goodness, and whose name I shall not mention--was cannoned forward, knocked someone else over and the coffee was spilt. Then, unfortunately, another noble Baroness, who had said that she was a great sailor, suffered from what one might call "mal de Thames" and the heads were blocked. We then had to get the boat, with hardly any support, all the way to Tufts Boatyard. It cost me a fortune. Of course, I said that I would never do it again. Next year we shall go on ship once more.
I believe that such things should be fun. However, the problem throughout is infrastructure. It is very frightening to cope with the tides on that great highway at night. One can see how disaster can so easily occur. There is a problem with the height of the bridges. A lighterman knows how to go under a bridge, and it cost me quite a large number of drinks to be told how. It is very simple. One stands on the highest part of one's boat and, when one can see the underneath of the bridge, one can go under it perfectly safely. However, it is important to stand in the right way. To go under with the Thames travelling at perhaps six or seven knots, one's speed must be faster than that in order to maintain steerage-way. It is a difficult exercise.
That is one of the worries. If we are to get the Thames to come alive again, we must have infrastructure. That costs money. Your Lordships may remember that 20 years ago there was a plan to build a dome at Greenwich. It was to be for sport and recreational activities. If I look back at what has happened on the Boston waterfronts in America and right around the world, it is clear that most people produce a plan. They realise that it is a long-term exercise and that there must be a plan for the infrastructure. We made some fairly disastrous mistakes with Docklands because the infrastructure was not in place. As a result, the private sector fails, loses money and reputations collapse. The same could be said of that wonderful airport, City Airport. To
The GLC at that time was extraordinarily helpful and supportive. The PLA later came round to realising that its future did not lie solely in ports but in other areas of activity. The future of the Thames lies in leisure and the creation of an environment that makes life friendly. Over-development causes problems. There should not be any encroachment on it. A master plan should be drawn up by the new authority and discussed as soon as possible. Without the infrastructure, the moon will win and we will fail.
As I see my noble friend Lord Colwyn sitting beside me here, I recall one happy moment when my wife was organising a walk down Gabriel's Walk for all those people who had had hip replacements and had to walk a mile. It was pouring with rain, but my noble friend stood on Gabriel's Walk and, like the Angel Gabriel blowing his horn, led this gang of people down there almost like the Pied Piper.
I have had such fun on the river. I know it reasonably well. I went on a guide's course. I know why Lambeth Bridge is called Lambeth Bridge. Even my mother's ashes are sunk somewhere in the Thames between Westminster and Lambeth. She was the first lady to become Lord Mayor of Westminster. As I am about to sit down, I try to think who I can end with. It is 400 years since Spenser said,