HL Deb 13 December 1950 vol 169 cc953-80

4.18 p.m.

VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS rose to call attention to the position of yachts and boats using the Thames and other water-ways; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in the past I have always tried to keep to the habit of making none but the shortest possible speeches in your Lordships' House. I therefore hope that on this matter, where much detail is involved, your Lordships will bear with me if I make a rather longer speech than usual. I have a lot of small detail to get through. Before starting, I want to apologise to the noble Lord who is to reply because there may be one or two points which I shall bring up of which I have not given him notice. If so, I shall not expect a reply on them, but I hope that he will direct them to the right quarter for consideration. I know that a number of the points I am going to make have not in fact anything to do directly with the Government, or with the Minis-try of Transport, for which the noble Lord speaks, but I am trying to restrict my remarks to organisations which do come under Government supervision or Ministerial responsibility in some way or other. If the Minister makes a suggestion, even if it is not directly his responsibility, some result generally ensues. Before making these suggestions, however, I want to say what I do not intend to suggest.

I do not want to suggest anything which will cause yachts and pleasure craft to get in the way of commercial craft in the Thames and the nearby waterways. London is a commercial port, and it is of paramount importance that commerce should come first, that the commercial craft should have priority. Any suggestions I may make must be in the nature of taking the yachts cut of the way of commercial craft rather, than hindering them. Secondly, I must not suggest any-thing which causes great expense at this present time, or which takes scarce materials or would use such facilities as dredgers, which are very badly needed in keeping in good order our present public docks which are used by commercial craft.

This subject really falls into two parts. There is the question of what we should do now. as a temporary measure, for the numbers of yachts which are arriving for the Pavilion d'Or meeting and the Festival of Britain, and also what we ought to have later as permanent facilities. It is an extraordinary fact that in London River no place is set aside as a yacht harbour. We in this country invented yachting as a sport, and we spread it all over he world. Every capital of any country of any size which has navigable water nearby has a yacht harbour. Not only that, but every decent city of any size with any navigable water has some special place where yachts go to lie. The only exception to that is London, where the whole game started. What are we going to do about the craft which will be coming to visit us next year? Facilities in London are very limited at the moment. Moorings, where they exist, and yacht docks, such as Cubitts Basin, are in private hands, and largely filled with resident craft or houseboats which never leave them. There is no room for incoming strangers, except in very small numbers.

I understand that the Port of London Authority are to lay down more moorings outside this House, which they say will accommodate up to thirty or forty visiting yachts. That will be some improvement, but it still falls rather short of what is required. I understand that something in the region of one hundred yachts will be arriving for the Pavilion d'Or, and somewhere must be found for them to go. A certain number of these yachts will have fixed masts or high upper works, and will be unable to go under the London bridges. They will have to be accommodated somewhere down below bridges. A certain amount of room can be found for them out in the river opposite Greenwich, but as one who has done it very often I can assure your Lordships that it is not very comfortable to lie permanently at anchor in this very busy commercial river. The number of tugs, lighters, launches, police boats and other things which go past make sure that you never spend a peaceful day, or an undisturbed night.

I believe that the Port of London Authority contemplate using some space in the Surrey Commercial Docks. I understand that there is plenty of room there for a very large number of craft, and of course there are no bridges to hinder them in going in. At the same time, transport facilities from those docks to the rest of London are very poor indeed. There are no bus or underground routes running anywhere near, and that is not a very suitable place for us to put the visitors we want to see coming to this country. Some yachting folk have asked me what I thought about the use of St. Katharine Dock, near the Tower, but in this debate I am not going to suggest any hope of anything of that nature transpiring in the near future, because that dock is in a very bad state, and the existing commercial traffic which is using it is fully occupied in getting in and out through the present dock facilities.

Quite apart from our putting up these yachts, if they are to moor up in the stream opposite St. Thomas's Hospital their crews will want to get ashore. I do not know whether any of your Lordships has ever tried to leave a dinghy on one of the Port of London Authority's pontoons. It is a most heartbreaking process. You are told that your dinghy is in the way of the waterbuses, that any available space is needed for Port of London launches, and that that pontoon is quite hopeless, and you are sent to the next one —and so on all the way down the river. I understand that something is to be done about this. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us what is proposed. It has been suggested to me by the Port of London Authority that if any yachting organisation were willing to apply for it, they would be willing to place one of their old pontoons at the stairs which come up from the water by St. Thomas's Hospital, just above Westminster Bridge, and that that would be a suitable place for our guests to land. That seems to me a very good idea, provided, of course, that somebody can be found to watch it, because the fate of dinghies left lying around on the Embankment where they can be raided by all and sundry, and especially children, can easily be imagined.

Apart from these purely temporary provisions, we must consider what can be done in the future about a yacht harbour for London. We really cannot tolerate the position that London should be the only major city without such a harbour. Where can we establish a permanent yacht harbour for London? The Port of London Authority have made various suggestions to me, and I have suggested one or two places to them, and to the yacht clubs which have approached me. And I hope by this speech not only to induce the Government and the Port of London Authority to do something, but also to send out a wireless message, en clair so to speak, to any yacht clubs which may be interested in the matter, to have a look and see what they can get in this way.

In the first place, I understand that the big pontoon which is being built along Battersea Reach, just off Battersea Park where the Festival pleasure gardens are to be, is not to be a purely temporary, jerry-built structure, but will be permanent enough to be left there perhaps for thirty or forty years. If we, the yachts-men of London, can apply to the Festival authorities, perhaps the noble Lord will use his good offices to make certain that the Festival of Britain authorities hand that pontoon over to the London yachts-men at the end of the Festival of Britain, to be a permanent floating mooring-place for incoming visitors. That would be of enormous advantage. They would be able to step directly ashore, and would not have to use their dinghies. They would be able to have pipes laid on directly from water points and fuel points. It might even be possible to have a yacht club structure set up, from which a yachtsman could get all the other things which he needs. As I am sure your Lordships will know, yachtsmen do not drink only water. They need a quantity of other things. They require not only baths but bars as well. They have occasionally to use train time tables, and they want all the rest of the things which any normal civilised being requires, when he arrives at a large city and wants to know where to go next. All these things could, possibly, be provided on this pontoon if, at the end of the Festival of Britain, it were handed over to some representative of the London yachtsmen.

For reasons which I have given before, lying in this river is not always the pleasant business which it might be. I believe that there should be an enclosed dock at some point which yachts could enter and in which they could lie quietly, perhaps for as long as a fortnight. I wish especially to underline the question of a short stay. If you provide any form of mooring-place on this river, with a right for craft to lie there permanently, you will soon discover that, while you have not been looking, a great many of the yachts will have turned into house-boats. Soon after that, you will have a new form of housing problem on your hands. In addition, the yachts which turn into houseboats will block the way for other visitors who may arrive. There are several docks which might be avail-able but I am sorry to say that they are above bridges, so that they would not, in fact, be of much use to vessels with tall fixed masts. There is, for instance, the old Great Western Railway Dock at Lots Road. I understand that it is very little used now for commercial traffic, and it has the advantage of having proper lock gates. It is therefore possible for craft to work in and out of that dock during a great many hours of the day. It can be used at half tide, or at any other state of the tide when a yacht can get over the sill into the lock—not merely when the lock gates are open at high water, making a level inside and out.

Another place which has been suggested is Ham Lock, a large flooded gravel-pit on the south side of the river just below Teddington Lock. It is only just within the Port of London area. That dock, I understand, is now half full of concrete barges, which seem to have turned into very unpleasant white elephants so far as the Ministry of Transport are concerned. I do not know what the Ministry intend to do with this dock; temporarily they might put it to some use in the formation of a yacht harbour. Ham Dock has possibilities for being made into a very beautiful yacht harbour. But, again, the trouble is that it is miles from any point where visitors can pick up buses, or get on to the Underground in order to travel into Town. Furthermore, it is situated some considerable way from the centre of London.

Now I pass from the subject of the Port of London Authority, because a large part of London's waterways does not lie within the Port of London Authority area at all, but within the Thames Conservancy area—that is to say above Teddington Lock—or in the areas of the canals, of which there is a very large network all around North, North-East and North-West London. Some of your Lordships, I believe, have taken craft up into the Thames Conservancy area. Lord Merthyr, who is to speak shortly, wishes to say something about that matter, I understand. I have here a little booklet entitled Hints for the Guidance of Persons in Charge of Launches. All I can say about it is: Heaven forfend that anyone should try to carry out those hints!

No matter what typo of launch they have, before going up into the Thames Conservancy area it is laid down that they will have practically to rebuild it in accordance with regulations. They will have to paint names in letters of regulation size; they will have to alter the fittings of the engine; they will have to stop up any sort of water system they may have, and they will be under the necessity of painting words on their dinghy and carrying out all sorts of other alterations. When they have done all that, they will find that these things are not insisted upon: that, anyway, nobody cares. It may be all right for someone who wishes to keep a boat permanently in the Thames Conservancy area, and who, presumably, would have a boat designed for the purpose; but for visitors coming in from the sea all these tasks would entail a great deal too much trouble. Furthermore, they will find it laid down in the booklet that they may not throw rubbish over the side. That, possibly, is sensible, for after all the purity of the river has got to be preserved. Further on, it is laid down that those in charge of craft may not put out their rubbish on the banks. It is to be noted that there are one or two named rubbish points on the river, but if you look for them it will soon become obvious that they are very difficult to find. I do not know what others would do in the circumstances, but what I did was to creep out at night and bury my rubbish. All I hope is that I shall not be put under arrest at the end of this debate.

Next, let me turn to the canals. The authorities concerned have always been very chary of allowing yachts on the canals, because they believe that they hinder commercial traffic. I have recently cruised on the canals in my own boat quite a lot, and it seems clear to me that, as things stand, there could be a very large increase in the numbers of yachts using canals without commercial craft being troubled at all. If you take a boat along the canals at the present time, and spend a week-end moving around, you cannot expect to meet more than two other yachts on the move during the whole of the week-end. If the people in charge of the yachts are sensible, and give way to commercial craft when it comes to going through locks, or in cases of that sort, there is no reason why even a considerable increase in the number of yachts using the canals should cause any trouble to the commercial craft. Yacht owners are issued by the Docks and In-land Waterways Executive with licences to cruise on canals. If the people in charge of the yachts misbehave—for instance, if they work sluices carelessly, or damage the waterways in any manner— surely the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive can revoke those licences.

There is a considerable length of very pleasant waterway close in to London which could be used by owners of small yachts, which would be of immense value to them and which is at the moment practically deserted. The main trouble on the canals is simply that there are no facilities for yachts; for example, there is nowhere a yacht can lie safely un-attended. I know one can find an occasional factory where a yacht can lie along-side the factory wharf inside the factory gates, making sure that the boat is not raided by the small-boy population of the neighbourhood; but. apart from that sort of place, there is practically no-where to lie with safety if one is going to leave the boat. The provision of moor-ing places would not be too difficult, as they would not have to be very many. They could be a considerable distance apart.

It seems to me there ought to be a canal yacht harbour in London. There is an area of water where this could be done right in the centre of London, on the north side of Paddington. There are two arms of canal which converge on Paddington—the Grand Union, which comes from the west, and the Regents Canal, which comes from the east, coming up from the Regents Canal Dock and running through the London Zoo—joining together at the Paddington canal junction. Behind that junction there is about half a mile of dock. The area of the junction is fairly considerable, and if a small amount of dredging were carried out— and I emphasise that it is a small amount because I have prodded round that area myself with a boathook in an effort to find out how much water there was— there would be a very fine position for a London canal yacht harbour. It would also serve as one of the safe mooring points for canal yachts.

There is another great hindrance to the proper use of canals by yachts—namely, that a number of canals still close down and padlock their lock gates after working hours. The gates are closed of an evening on a working day, after one o'clock on a Saturday and all day on a Sunday. This makes certain that no craft at all can move along the canal at the very times when yachts want to use them. Your Lordships may notice, in the matter of yachts hindering commercial craft, that the commercial craft move almost entirely during working hours and yachts move almost entirely outside working hours. It is only two years since the main line of the Grand Union Canal went through the process of doing away with padlocking their lock gates after working hours, thus opening up that waterway to pleasure craft. But the whole area of the River Lea, the River Stort, the Regents Canal, and Duckett's Canal, which connects them all together, are still padlocked; which means that the entire waterways lying to the east and north-east of London are closed to all pleasure craft at any time except when commercial craft are moving. The reason appears to be the difficulties which have been found in dealing with the old Act of Parliament under which these waterways were built.

It is clear that what is needed in this matter is legislation. There will be no difficulty in that. I understand that the Transport Commission intend to put for-ward an annual Bill in which they will propose any provisions they find necessary for carrying out their statutory functions, and it would be easy for them to put in that Bill a clause permitting the alterations I wish to suggest. The old legislation insists that tolls shall be levied on the Lea Navigation and the other water-ways at every lock. That means there has to be a lock-keeper on duty to collect the money, and whenever the lock-keeper goes off duty, in order not to miss the tolls he has to padlock the lock. The only way to get round that is to do what was done on the Grand Union Canal— namely, to abolish the taking of tolls by lock-keepers and have them taken at check points along the canal, say, at every fourth or fifth lock or at some such other intervals as might be thought fit, and have the collectors take not one lock's worth but four or five locks' worth, as may be necessary. That is a perfectly practical thing to do—it is done on the Grand Union now—but it means that the old legislation will have to be altered to permit it. When that is done, there will be a whole new area of waterways opened up to pleasure craft. Although I have not actually been along that strip, I am told that the Lea and the Stort contain some of the finest water scenery which we have close to London. I think this is a matter in which I should have the support of the Conservative Party, who believe in "setting the people free," and of everybody else. These are very real chains which we wish to cast off.

Another group of people have some considerable reason for dissatisfaction with our present inland waterways—that is, the canoeists. Although I am afraid I did not give the noble Lord who is going to reply notice of this point when I told him what I was going to raise, I wish to lay particular emphasis upon it. The canoeist causes much less trouble on the canals than anybody else. His boat is shallow and he can sneak in alongshore out of the way of commercial craft. He does not need mooring places because he simply lifts his boat on to the bank. What is more, he does not waste water going through locks. When a boat uses a lock, a lock-ful of water is taken from the up-stream side to the downstream side, and wasted. The canoeist does not go through the lock. He simply picks up his boat and carries it round. One would think, therefore, that canoes would be encouraged by the Inland Waterways as a form of traffic which does not cause them any trouble. The canoeist pays less than other craft using the waterways; nevertheless, he pays quite a lot. For the pleasure of going along the canals, he pays 3d. per mile. This may not sound so extraordinary until you realise that the third class fare on our railways is 2½d. a mile. In other words, you pay more to paddle your own canoe on the Grand Union than you pay to use British Railways. I know it is felt that a smaller charge might not be worth collecting, and that this would not be particularly welcome to the canal authorities, but cannot something be done to make things a little cheaper for the canoeist, who causes so little trouble and is a class of boatman who would certainly appear in large numbers if the facilities were available for him on the waterways and if he could get a good cheap licence? He can at the moment get a cruising licence for two guineas a year, but that takes him over only a small area of the country. One would have thought that a cruising licence of two guineas would take him anywhere, but that is not so.

This is all small detail, of course, and much of it not of great weight, but it is these small things which are tripping up the boating fraternity around London. If these small hindrances, which amount in sum total to quite a policy of hindrance, could be removed, then, indeed, the Londoner would have open to him a very fine sport right on his doorstep. We all want to encourage yachting, and we know that as things stand about 50 per cent. of the expense of a yachtsman has nothing to do with his yacht, but is his railway fare to and from wherever his boat is lying. Here is the possibility of enabling him to have his boat within a few pennies'-worth of bus or underground travel, and to cruise over a considerable area of water. I am convinced that if these waterways had just a small amount of work done on them to make things more attractive to the waterman, they would be more adequately used. I beg to move for Papers.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, speaking as a keen yachtsman with some knowledge of London River, having been the principal naval control officer during the early months of the war, and having had to look into all the nooks, crannies, canals and creeks, I feel that we should make more of London River for yachting purposes than we do. If one goes to any of the other great ports, such as Venice, one finds many facilities provided for visiting yachts. I was delighted to hear that there is to be a pier built somewhere near Battersea Park for the purposes of the Festival of Britain. I hope, as I think the noble Viscount suggested, that this pier will be retained as a permanent structure after the Festival of Britain, for mooring yachts alongside for a limited period. I am certain that it would be of the greatest benefit to the many London yacht clubs, of which there are quite a number operating on London River.

I should also like to put forward the suggestion that the Port of London Authority might consider making St. Katharine Dock available, in spite of what was said by the noble Viscount, because that dock, as compared with Surrey Dock, is on the right side of the river for visiting yachts, and with a little tidying up could be made a very fine yacht basin for visiting yachts of the larger sort. I under-stand that we are to have a visit from a large number of big yachts in June of next year for what I think is called the Festival of the Pavilion d'Or. I hope that we shall provide something for them, so that they can appreciate their visit to the greatest port in the world.

I do not want to cover anything like the ground that has been covered by the noble Viscount, but I thoroughly sympathise with the canoeist, who apparently has to pay lock dues although he takes his canoe out of the water and puts it on the other side of the lock. As for the 3d. a mile, I think that is an outrageous charge. I hope that the Government will see their way to giving their support and assistance to the yachting fraternity in London River. We must not forget that these small boats and yachts provide a good deal of the seamanship and training for the officers and men of the R.N.V.R. drawn from the London area. I feel it is vital that we should support anything of that nature which would assist in that training at the present time.

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the noble Viscount's Motion. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is to reply, and I hope that he may find some of our suggestions on water transport more amenable than he seems to find those on road transport. It is surprising to me that a seafaring nation, such as we have always prided ourselves on being, should offer such poor facilities to yachtsmen, particularly in London River. They com-pare badly with the facilities offered by other countries in Europe facing on the North Sea and the English Channel. We do not begin to compare with them in any respect, and we do not hold out any welcome to foreigners visiting our shores in yachts such as one always finds in countries like France, Holland and Belgium.

Early this year I was in a sailing boat in Holland, and later on in France, and wherever one went one received untold kindness and facilities. It was really beyond what one could describe, and one felt very sorry indeed that it was impossible in this country to offer them what they were able to, and did, offer us. There are excellent yacht basins for visiting yachts, either of the particular country or of other countries, at Rotterdam. Antwerp, Deauville and St. Malo, just to mention a few, Rotterdam is in a somewhat similar position to London, and I can best describe it, perhaps, by telling of my own experience there. We went up this river and saw a sight very similar to that which one sees from the Thames, with enormous factory buildings, warehouses, cranes and so on on both sides. One could not imagine how there could possibly be room for private yachts anywhere. But about half way up the river one came into a little lock set into the bank, where there was room for some sixty or seventy yachts, and where there was every amenity. It was right in the centre of Rotterdam, and very pleasant, with trees growing round the top of the lock and every kind of facility—it was a very fine show indeed. We received a great welcome from the people: so much so, that they turned all their Dutch yachts out of the lock in order to let all the British yachts come in, because it was the end of a race and there were many British yachts there. That is a welcome which I do not suppose we should ever give in this country, which is a great pity. We can offer absolutely nothing like that in London.

Next year, with the 1951 Exhibition, I believe that there will be quite a problem. In the first place, there is no satisfactory mooring (except for the odd thirty yachts which the noble Viscount has mentioned) anywhere at all in the river, and the yachtsmen are not even welcome. If you do come up the river in a cruiser, or some other similar small boat, you are just told to go away—you are not wanted. That applies also to any foreigners visiting the Thames. I feel that that is a regrettable situation, and something which we should look into, because with large numbers of foreign yachtsmen coming here next year it will create a very bad impression amongst them, and it will be a very poor return for the hospitality which they always extend to us when we go over to the other side.

St. Katharine Dock has been mentioned, and I believe that that should be decided upon as a future lock. It may not be possible to get anything really elaborate ready by next year, but I am sure it is worth trying to do something. I would say that it is as much the responsibility of His Majesty's Government to do something as it is for them to be concerned with any other part of the 1951 Exhibition, because to a large number of people this matter is very important. St. Katharine Dock could be available for sailing yachts with high masts which cannot get underneath the Thames bridges, and higher up the river there ought to be some sort of mooring avail-able for the motor cruisers and motor boats which can get farther up the river. There is another point. Even in the places where it is possible to moor in the Thames you cannot do so without getting all sorts of permission, and going through all sorts of red tape. That is all wrong. Anywhere you go up the Maas, or any of these other rivers, there are places where you can drop your anchor or take up moorings without asking any-one's permission. That is the way it should be in the yachting world, and in the whole seafaring world, and that is the way they expect it. In the Thames there should be permanent mooring places where such facilities exist.

I do not think that this lack of facilities is entirely confined to the Thames, and I would suggest that before next year there ought to be one other place avail-able to foreign yachtsmen, and I suggest that that place should be Southampton. The Hamble River, which is a great centre for yachts, is as full as it can be, and there is no room for any further moorings to be dropped there. But just by the Hamble River—on the north side, just at the mouth behind the Fairey Works— there is some sort of re-entrant, which is quite small, and which without very much trouble could, I believe, be turned into an ideal dock. I would say that it should be reserved solely for foreign yachtsmen. Southampton is the place where yachts-men automatically go. They always con-gregate there because of the Solent and other facilities. I believe that it would be well worth while to make some place down there—possibly where I suggest— reserved solely for the foreign yachtsmen. I think that is the least we should do.

One final word about yachting generally. It is often thought in some quarters that yachting is not a sport in which people generally can indulge; that it is a sport which is the private pre-serve of the privileged few. Nothing could be further from the truth. This morning I tried to find out how many small yachts and boats there are afloat since the war, but it was impossible to do so, because so many of them are not registered. I think it would be safe to say that there are well over 4,000 small yachts and boats afloat round the shores of this country to-day, and all of them owned by English people. That does not include the small racing craft—the tiny ten-footers and fifteen-footers—and there must be many thousands more of those. The fact is that this is an ever-growing sport, and it is being taken up by a wider and wider section of people. It is going to play a big part in the Exhibition next year, and I think that His Majesty's Government would be contributing greatly to the success of this Exhibition, and also to the happiness of people who go in for the sport of yachting—and there are very many—by trying to provide more facilities on the lines which have been suggested this afternoon.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, when I saw this Motion on the Order Paper I feared at first that it would be rather too easy for His Majesty's Government to answer, but on second thoughts I think that this is a matter which is of national importance—it may be to only a limited extent, but it is of growing national importance. As has been said already, if the Government expend great energy and much money on a thing of pure pleasure, such as the Battersea Park Amusement Fair, then we are entitled to say: "You ought to take an equal interest in one of the most ancient sports in this country; one which, as has been said, was initiated in these waterways, and one which has some use in times of war." I suggest, therefore, that we are not wasting time this evening, and that we are, I hope, exercising the powers of eloquence of the noble Lord who is to reply.

With regard to the inland waterways of this country, I do not hesitate to say that we are fifty years behind the times: and that, I think, is an under-statement. After all, it was this country, I believe, which started canals. We were the people who built the first canals, realising that water transport was the cheapest form of trans-port that had then, or has since, been found. Then what did we do? Having built those early canals, we proceed completely to neglect them. It does not matter for to-day's debate whether it was private enterprise or Government enterprise, but the fact is that they were com- pletely neglected and allowed to silt up and fall into disuse—a thing for which everybody in this country ought to be slightly ashamed.

How much different the circumstances are when one goes to the Continent has been rightly and eloquently commented upon this afternoon. When one goes yachting in Continental waterways one is forcibly reminded of the lack of facilities in our own country for the entertainment of foreign visitors in return for the hospitalities which we there experience. Even since the war Belgium —a country which was involved in the war—has made a first-class yachting harbour at Antwerp (it was opened last year) at very considerable expense and on municipal lines. That harbour was not a mere pier stuck in the river; it was a dock carved out of solid land at great expense. If Antwerp can do that, is London to say that it cannot do anything of the kind? That is only to mention one instance. There are a great number of yachting harbours on the Continent and. of course, there are hundreds in America, compared to which we simply have nothing at all. All the Scandinavian capitals have proper yachting harbours— Copenhagen, Stockholm and so forth. In comparison we have just nothing.

On this question of yachting harbours, may I emphasise a point which has been touched upon already, and that is that they are of little use if the boats in them are exposed to the wash of passing craft. When I think of the noble Viscount sitting on his deck opposite the Houses of Parliament, meditating upon the spectacle of the nocturnal sky-line of your Lordships' House in a state of semi-permanent oscillation, it does not inspire any enthusiasm for the sport at all. It really is a very important point. I know of at least one specially constructed yacht harbour which is largely spoilt and made useless because of the wash of the water-buses continually passing the entrance. That is in Stockholm. The value of that harbour is reduced by 50 per cent. on that account. I was interested to hear for the first time this afternoon of the proposal to make a pontoon at Battersea Park, but I say once again that that will be of little use if the boats lying there are exposed to the wash of the river. Can it be in some way enclosed? I think the noble Lords are entirely right in suggesting that St. Katharine Dock, on the one hand, and Ham Dock, on the other, are the right answers for yachting harbours for Lon-don. They will suit different purposes and, to my mind, they both should be made into yachting harbours.

The Thames is a great highway, but unfortunately we seem to apply to the Thames the general law of other highways, which I understand to be that the public has the right of passing and re-passing along the highway but has no right to stop on it. That is the trouble. If a foreign yachtsman makes inquiries about what he can do with regard to a trip up the Thames, he will be told: "Yes, you can go up the Thames," but he will have very great difficulty in finding where he can stop. It takes a great deal of the pleasure away from yachting if one can never stop. As he goes up the Thames he will see many notices on the bank saying: "Private Landing," "No Landing Here," "Trespassers will be Prosecuted," and so on. I am not saying a word against the owners of the property; they are entitled to stop people from landing if they want to; but I do emphasise the need for municipal or Government action in this respect.

Again I must underline this point about expense. The limited facilities we pro-vide in this country are lamentably expensive. For every lock I go through in my boat on the Thames it costs me six shillings, but if I take the same boat through any lock on the Continent it will not cost me anything like sixpence. I once went through the entire width of Sweden, passing through sixty-two locks, for the sum of 28s. It is true that was before the war, but it shows the incredible difference between the expense of navigating in England and navigating on the Continent. I think I am right in saying that one can go through the whole of Holland by waterway at no expense except a tip to the bridgekeepers, and very much the same thing could be said about France. I hope that point will be borne in mind.

The noble Viscount has reminded the House of the rules and regulations with which navigation on the Thames is wrapped up. I shudder to think what would happen if yachtsmen worked to rule on the Thames. It would create complete chaos. I do not criticise the Thames Conservancy Board or the Port of London Authority; they are entitled to look after their own business; but what we are suggesting to-night is that something should be done for the pleasure craft. Those authorities do not pretend to cater for pleasure craft. I have seen a letter written this year by the Port of London Authority to a well known yachting organisation, saying in effect: "Please do not encourage foreigners to come to London in 1951, because we have no facilities for them." That is rather a serious matter. As I have suggested before, it does one good sometimes to read the experiences of foreigners visiting this country. What do foreign yachtsmen mostly do when they come from a distance, for example, from America or Australia? They first of all go straight to Cowes, because they have always heard that Cowes is a famous yachting centre. Having been disappointed by the complete absence of any yacht harbour at Cowes, and having been rolled about by the "Queen Mary," they make straight for London, because they have heard that London is a great and vast port.

I recall a book written by an American yachtsman who sailed single-handed from San Francisco round the world to London. He arrived at Cowes and arrangements were made for his reception in London by a most hospitable body presided over by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. They entertained him to dinner at our most expensive yachting harbour on the Kentish coast, and provided for him everything possible in the way of hospitality except one thing, and that was a fair wind up channel, with the result that he arrived for the dinner just as everybody was going home. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, because he was there. This man went up river and eventually succeeded in mooring himself at Westminster Pier, where he was duly photo-graphed with Big Ben in the background. I do not know what would have happened if I tried to tie up at Westminster Pier; I am sure I should be chased away before I got a mooring line ashore. In fairness to the authorities, I must say he was allowed to spend the winter in St. Katharine Dock.

I think the noble Viscount has done us a service in introducing this Motion. I say not only to those who go afloat but to all Londoners and all who have the great merits of the Thames and its history at heart, that this is something worth-while. Finally, may I mention one thing in particular, and that is that I earnestly hope that some day, in my lifetime, we may have another great facility which has not been mentioned—namely, the Thames barrage. That touches on a number of difficult subjects, but I believe that in this matter, as in others, difficulties are made to be surmounted, and I refuse to believe that if they can have a yachting harbour in Stockholm, which is a great city situate entirely on a tideless water, we cannot have the same in London. I believe that the advantages of the Thames barrage, not merely to yachtsmen but to all the citizens of London and those who use the Port of London and its facilities, would be enormous. I believe that the amenities of London would be improved beyond all knowledge and that those who then surveyed them would ask: "Why did we not think of this before?"

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to address your Lordships on this subject, but wooed by the eloquence of the noble Viscount and the other noble Lords who supported him I feel that I must say two or three words. Lord Merthyr pleaded a most eloquent case on this subject, but whether he has injured our international relations in suggesting it was ourselves who invented canals I do not know: I should nave thought it was another insult to China. I have little doubt that some of the noble Viscount's enemies may pick up that phrase about "semi-permanent oscillation" and use it to his disadvantage. I think the "semi" is the innuendo there.

More seriously, when we look round at modern life and see how drab it is in every direction we want to encourage every means of getting out of it. Think of the outlook of the unfortunate youth who starts off at sixteen by catching the 8.5 a.m. train in the morning, and knows that he will go on doing it until he reaches the age of sixty-five or seventy—perhaps getting a little later as he goes on in years—and finally draw a pension. That is a terrible outlook, and yachting or boating is one of the means by which we can introduce some colour into modern life. We can let youth have some sort of fling, some sort of adventure, to mitigate the appalling drabness of the conditions we have created under which man and woman have nowadays to do their daily work. Of course, that is the view of all of us in this House, I think without exception. That is probably the view of the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply to this debate, but it does not seem to be the view of the Inland Water-ways Executive, because the conditions under which this adventure is offered to the youth of this country are almost prohibitive. The 3d. a mile for paddling your own canoe may act as some sort of protection to the railways or something like that, but it has no relation whatsoever to facts. The cost of passing these vehicles along these canals is infinitesimal, and to charge a youth or a couple of youths 3d. a mile for paddling along is outrageous. The lock solution does not seem to be insuperable either. The collection of tolls at every lock is obviously absurd. Per-haps some arrangement could be come to for making the system easier to work. I ask the Inland Waterways Executive to remember the motto of so many big business men—"A large turnover at a small profit." At the moment, they seem to be making for the smallest turnover at the largest possible profit.

Then there is the question of the harbours and halts and so on. It is a well-known fact that yachtsmen from time to time must halt for food and for water. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, suggested that these halting places should be pro-vided by public services. I think that some of these places should be provided by private enterprise. The noble Viscount suggested "having one" at the "Padding-ton" Arms." I have no doubt that the "Dog and Duck," and various places like that on the banks of the canals, would in due course, with the aid of the brewers' money behind them, find it profitable to have little tying-up places or harbours where the boats might be left. Let private enterprise see what they can do about it. This is one of the best sports of the country for youth. It is far safer than speeding down the Brighton road, or indulging in any of those other forms of sport which tend to injure others, as well as those engaged in them. Finally, it is an outlet for the sea blood in our veins, and eventually, in time of war, there is no doubt that it produces an immense number of people for the R.N.V.R.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, I want to support a view which the noble Lords, Lord Fairfax and Lord Hawke, have put forward. Before the war, there was a vessel navigating the Thames of which I was very proud. It was called "The Earl of Cork," and was really a 25-foot Service whaler. A petty officer with whom I served wrote to me some time before the war and asked me, knowing that I was fond of sailing, whether I would help get him a boat for a boys' club he was running somewhere down in the neighbourhood of Wapping. So I got a boat that the Chatham Dockyard let me have cheap, and supplied it to the club. That club quadrupled its numbers in the first summer after that, because the boys had a chance to sail. Given the facilities for sailing, hundreds of boys will become interested in the best sport in the world.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all express my gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, for having raised this subject, and also to noble Lords who have supported his Motion? And let me say straight away that His Majesty's Government will do anything they can to influence the use of our River Thames for the private pleasure of the citizens of this country. His Majesty's Government do not require convincing on that score. Of course, since yachtsmen are like sailors, some of their suggestions are not very practical, but the vast majority that have been made this afternoon have been most helpful. As the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, said, I find them far more to my liking than some of the suggestions made yesterday. Perhaps it is because they have that element of sense, which always comes into suggestions when Party alignments are not the major consideration.

Perhaps I should first of all say, as the noble Viscount has indicated, that although His Majesty's Government have a watching brief (and I promise they will do everything they can to encourage the object which all noble Lords have in mind, the River Thames comes under two statutory authorities—one, the Port of London Authority operating, as the noble Viscount said, from Teddington Lock downstream, and the other, the Thames Conservancy, operating from Teddington Lock upstream. I know that all noble Lords will appreciate that in the Port of London area, especially the Pool of London, the first consideration there must be the commerce of the Port. Your Lordships must recognise that. That is the first consideration. When St. Katharine Dock is suggested as a central harbour for yachts, I am afraid that must be completely ruled out, for the reason that St. Katharine Dock is scheduled for commercial purposes and must remain for commercial purposes.

I do not think I need go in detail into all the suggestions that have been made. What I am going to do is to promise noble Lords in all parts of the House that not only will I give these suggestions my very careful consideration, but I will see that all these authorities consider them. Already, of course, a number of things have been done. I am informed by the Port of London Authority that there are within their jurisdiction at the present time moorings for about 500 yachts in the Thames. Whether or not that is going to be enough will have to be carefully investigated. For the Festival of Britain there will be berthing facilities for seagoing yachts (those are the vessels which the noble Viscount mentioned, which of course cannot get under the bridges) down at Dead Man's Upper Tier (rather a peculiar name) in the Surrey Canal and at Rainham, in Essex. They are also going to see whether provision can be made for dinghies in and around Westminster—for instance, at Cadogan Pier. Whether or not we can do more than that within the scope of the Port of London Authority I will discuss with them very seriously.


May I ask the noble Lord a question: Will it be possible for people to tie up in those places he has mentioned, with-out having to ask special permission?


That I could not say. The points that have been raised will be noted, but I think that is a very difficult thing to ask. It will have to be looked at very care-fully. There must be some allocation otherwise moorings may become habitations, and then we shall have a housing problem; in other words, we shall have squatters—and I suppose squatters in yachts are not unknown. I believe that one or two noble Lords come into that category.

Coming to the Thames Conservancy, I was greatly impressed by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr. Again, there are a considerable number of facilities already, but I think Lord Merthyr put his finger on the spot in suggesting that the local authorities who want to attract very valuable custom should see whether they cannot do it in that way. I know that the Thames Conservancy will do everything they can. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, say that yachtsmen were not wanted. I must look into that very seriously. I think the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, supported him by saying that some of our foreign visitors had already received a letter from the Port of London Authority saying, "Please do not come to Britain; you are not wanted."


May I correct a slight inaccuracy? It was a letter from the Port of London Authority to a yachting organisation in England, not to foreigners, saying "Do not encourage foreigners to come." It is not quite the same thing.


The substance is exactly the same. That is a very important matter, and I will have it looked into, because that is against the very thing for which the Festival of Britain is being built. I think there must be some misunderstanding somewhere. But, again, yachtsmen themselves should do something about this matter. I remember supporting very heartily a Motion proposed in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, that my right honourable friend the Minister should appoint to the Thames Conservancy Board a representative solely to watch the interests of those who use the river for private purposes. Your Lordships supported that idea, as did the Select Committee to which the Thames Conservancy Bill was sent; and it is now an accomplished fact. The representative that my right honourable friend appointed to the Thames Conservancy Board is the Chairman of an association of private boat owners. I should have thought that through that channel, and by using their combined voices, the yachting clubs would have a means of righting a lot of the wrongs to which the noble Viscount has drawn attention, and of obtaining a number of concessions.

I must confess that I was intrigued by Lord Hawke's suggestion in regard to getting some of the hotels, hostelries or "pubs." along the Thames to provide moorings. I feel certain that it would be a good source of revenue for them.


And canals.


When I come to the canals I come to something operating under the jurisdiction of the British Transport Commission, who assure me that they are wholly sympathetic to the purposes which the noble Viscount has in mind, and if he will make concrete suggestions to them, even for moorings to be made available at Paddington and Regents Park, and for providing a centre there, they will give them very sympathetic consideration. I am afraid that I do not know very much about canoes, a type of transport that has never appealed to me very much. In my early days when I went on the river, the lowest form of transport I ever patronised was a punt, and I can assure noble Lords that I never navigated that very far. But I will have investigations made.

The noble Viscount said something else which rather intrigued me—about the concrete barges belonging to the Ministry of Transport. It is true that at one time we had a great many concrete barges, but we found private individuals who would buy them all, and we showed far more enterprise in defence of the tax-payer's interests than has private enterprise since they have been the owners of the concrete barges, because the barges are still there, and they have not been able to use them. I will also look into the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, as to whether or not the new pier at Battersea in connection with the Festival amusement park can be used. My present information is that it is considered to be only of a temporary nature; but if it will help at all I will make representations—


May I inter-rupt the noble Lord on the matter of the pier at Battersea? In that connection I had a talk with the Port of London Authority and was informed by them that this pier was of such a nature that it would have a life of thirty or forty years in its present position.


What matters is not so much its life, but whether it would become an obstruction to traffic.


Surely, if the pier is going to be moored for steamers to berth alongside for the Festival, there is no reason at all why it should not remain for a considerable length of time without being an obstruction?


Perhaps we can put up with a little obstruction for a short time, but it is a different thing to put up with it for the rest of our lives. I confess I was not prepared for the point which was mentioned by Lord Fairfax in regard to Southampton Water, but I will look into it. I happen to have lived for thirty years within sight of Southampton Water, which is, of course, the most renowned yachting centre in the world, and the best, and therefore I much resent what the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, said about the "Queen Mary" coming up Southampton Water and rolling all the yachts about. That is a libel upon a great ship, which I assure your Lordships comes up Southampton Water at a speed befitting a lady of her size. I have never seen anything roll in Southampton Water —except yachtsmen coming ashore at Hamble.

I am afraid I have not done very much to satisfy your Lordships on specific points, but I would ask noble Lords, if they have any influence with any clubs, to take steps to get those clubs to combine together and make representations to the appropriate authority, whether it be the Port of London Authority, the Thames Conservancy Board, or the British Transport Commission, on the subjects with which they have dealt so ably this afternoon. If they fail to get satisfaction and they will let me know, I will undertake to pursue the matter as far and as hard as I possibly can. I repeat that it is the desire of His Majesty's Government that every reasonable facility should be given to private boat owners to enjoy the amenities of the River Thames.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I, with the leave of the House, ask one question? I noted what he said about St. Katharine Dock. Supposing a yacht comes up unannounced into the river outside St. Katharine Dock, and wants to get in at tide time, will it be admitted in the ordinary way as yachts are admitted to a number of commercial docks all round the country without any special formalities having to be gone through?


I am afraid I cannot answer the noble Lord's question off-hand. I will obtain the information for which he asks and will communicate it to him by letter.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I must say how grateful I am to the noble Lord who has replied on behalf of His Majesty's Government, and to everyone else who has taken part in what has grown into rather a fine little debate. It might interest noble Lords to learn some of the statistics relating to the numbers of yachts in this country. An accurate record has never, I think, been made, and I do not suppose it can ever be made, because so very few of these craft figure on any form of register. But I know that at Burnham-on-Crouch alone 800 vessels are said to be lying. This I can well believe. At Hammersmith there are close on 200 sailing dinghies. And there is a similar number at Putney, about a mile lower down the river. If you take those three centres, add up the number of craft and then try to calculate what the numbers must be in other parts of the country, your Lordships will readily realise that the grand total must be enormous.

An important consideration, and one well within my knowledge, is that these dinghies are owned to a great extent by students and youngsters working in offices and, generally speaking, by all sorts of people who have very little money. On the whole canoeists, I think, are even less likely to be people of wealth than yacht owners. It should be possible to do a great deal more for these people, as has been indicated by noble Lords to-day. What is more, the facilities which are asked for need not be established by the authorities mentioned, or by the Government. What is wanted by the yacht clubs is space—water space, dock space, riverside space or canalside space—where they can put up club houses and lay their moorings. They are quite prepared to do their part fully. They do not need buildings put up for them. All they require is a place, a site, on which to set up their establishment. If arrangements can be made for suitable places to be provided, I am certain that yacht clubs, canal clubs, canoe clubs and all the rest will appear like mushrooms to occupy the sites which are granted.

Finally, I should like again to say a word or two about the canoeists. Canoe-ing is a sport which has expanded greatly of late, as also has dinghy sailing. Naturally, therefore, the production of small craft has increased in proportion. It is an extraordinary fact that in spite of austerity and other adverse conditions, sail makers and dinghy builders have had far more employment in these last few years than ever before in their lives. There are long waiting lists of people wishing to buy almost every form of small craft. If any sort of facilities for these little craft are given in the areas which have been mentioned, it will open up a very fine sport to the ordinary people of this country. Again, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for the interest which they have shown in this matter. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.

House adjourned at twelve minutes before six o'clock.