HC Deb 20 December 1999 vol 341 cc506-7
2. Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

If he will make a statement about the promotion of leisure and tourism services on the River Thames, with particular reference to the role of London River Services. [101996]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Janet Anderson)

The Government are keen for the vast tourism potential of the River Thames to be maximised in a sustainable way. We are supportive of the work that London River Services has undertaken towards furthering our objective of improving and enhancing the river. We are confident that it fully shares our view that the objective includes promoting the use of the river for tourism and leisure purposes, as well as transport. I was glad to have the opportunity to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those important issues for London.

Mr. Darvill

I thank my hon. Friend for that statement. She will appreciate the fact that the River Thames attracts more than 2 million sightseeing and restaurant cruise passengers every year, which generates some £30 million of revenue. However, does she agree that, when granting licences to river operators, London River Services should take account of existing contractual arrangements as well as past investment and future planned investment?

Janet Anderson

Precisely for those reasons, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), recently wrote to London River Services. He said:

We recognise the wish to protect"— the investment that has already been put in

"and the need, in promoting new services, to have regard to the well-being of existing operators, and I know you are taking steps to ensure these matters are evaluated systematically when new licences are being considered."

I reassure my hon. Friend that, because of my Department's interest in tourism, we shall keep a close watch on developments. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary recognises the importance of tourism on the Thames, particularly for the millennium year, during which we anticipate that about 2.4 million extra visitors will be attracted by the millennium dome, which is now the international symbol of the millennium.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

I am grateful to the Minister for her paving answer. Can she now tell us whether the Under-Secretary has received a reply from London River Services?

Janet Anderson

I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman is disappointed with my reply, but I have given him all the assurances that he needs. He knows, too, that he came to see me, with my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill), to discuss the issue. I am confident that we have assured him that the Government recognise the importance of tourism and of continuing to maintain those services on the River Thames.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Now that Lord Justice Clarke's inquiry has confirmed that the river is safe for use for the millennium festival and beyond, can the Minister ensure that information is easily available and accessible on websites and elsewhere so that there is maximum use of the river to provide an alternative to road and land-based transport throughout next year? Will she and her colleagues get on with putting the final safety measure in place and take the legislation through the House quickly to make sure that people cannot drink and drive on the river, just as they cannot drink and drive on land?

Janet Anderson

On the latter point, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will, of course, do everything they need to do and can do to ensure people's safety on that important occasion. A number of websites make available the information to which he refers and I shall, if I may, write to him with the details of those.

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