HC Deb 06 March 1995 vol 256 cc9-11
11. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received about reintroducing the riverboat service on the Thames.

Mr. Norris

I have received representations from a number of organisations who have expressed an interest in the operation of some type of commuter service on the Thames. Those proposals are at various stages of development.

Mr. Hughes

Will the Minister confirm that the most recent proposal is that from Transport on Water, suggested by the hon. Members for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and by others; that the core of the proposal is that there should be a partnership between private provision and public provision; and that London is crying out for the Government to give the idea of a decent riverboat service, which can be used for commuters and visitors, a fair wind and real encouragement? Can he confirm that he supports that, and that he will do everything to ensure that the Department of Transport delivers that public sector support that is needed to ensure that it succeeds this time—that it floats, instead of sinking, as the past two initiatives did?

Mr. Norris

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are keen that a viable proposal for passenger services on the Thames be established. I can confirm that I am very happy to consider carefully any proposal that is made to me in that respect.

Naturally, there has been a limit to the amount of public subsidy that that type of service can attract, given that, at the height of its operations, River-Bus, for example, proposed to carry fewer people in a year than London Buses carries in any one day before about 9 o'clock in the morning, or London Underground carries in one day of its operations. With that important qualification, I am certainly very happy to do what I can to help.

Sir Anthony Durant

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of the problems that River-Bus ran into was the lack of piers and jetties? Will he talk to the Port of London authority and persuade it to allow more landing stages?

Mr. Norris

As my hon. Friend may know, that problem was discussed in the deliberations of the Thames working group, which laid its report before Parliament a few weeks ago. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and at the time my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that, if the Department of Transport could help by encouraging more pier provision, it would be only too happy to do so. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that that it is an important part of the provision of any transport service.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Minister aware that the Transport on Water study, to which the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred, has been drawn to the attention of four central London boroughs and the City of London, and that we are hoping that Transport on Water—the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and I are members of the working party—will institute a consortium to investigate the practicalities of the type of proposal described, especially the matching of public provision of piers and private provision of craft?

Mr. Norris

I am delighted to hear of it. The hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience of those matters. I know that he has spent many years researching several projects on the Thames, and for many years my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) has been an assiduous supporter and follower of many of those projects. I am delighted that two such eminent colleagues are prepared to unite in preparing that proposal. I shall certainly give it every consideration when it reaches me.

Mr. Dunn

If a scheme is finally proposed to re-introduce the River-Bus service on the River Thames, will my hon. Friend ensure that the community of Dartford is involved with such a scheme, given that there would be a significant possibility of increasing access to London, for leisure and by commuters, if the scheme were to stop at Dartford?

Mr. Norris

Again, I can say to my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already expressed to me his wish to ascertain whether there may be prospects of a viable commuter service from places throughout my hon. Friend's constituency. There appears to be a considerable logic in removing passengers from the crowded road networks in those areas, apart from the creation of an attractive journey pattern into the centre of the City. My hon. Friend will appreciate that we will look to the private sector to bring forward the proposals, but that we stand ready to be as constructive as we can in every case.