My Department is in regular contact with boat operators, the millennium exhibition organisers, the Port of London Authority and other interested parties about the possibility of introducing new passenger services on the River Thames. I met my hon. Friend, with representatives of the Transport on Water Association, to discuss this subject last September.
Is my hon. Friend aware that during the Festival of Britain, 5 million people took to the river for transport? Does not the millennium exhibition at Greenwich represent an outstanding opportunity to establish a regular passenger service on the Thames? What is the prospect of public funds for piers, the essential infrastructure if this long-awaited and much to be desired service is to become a reality?
My hon. Friend is right persistently to draw attention to the need to attract more passenger traffic to the Thames, particularly in the context of the millennium exhibition at Greenwich. Bids can be made to support the building of piers, and in the recent capital challenge allocations we have been able to support a pier for Bankside which will serve both the Tate and the Globe. The pier for the millennium exhibition, which will be at north Greenwich, is within the plans of the millennium company. I hope that it will attract a great many people as a result of the park-and-sail opportunities at the pier and at the sites at Barking and Woolwich.
Does the Minister agree that the concept that I have presented to him, along with the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) and the Transport on Water Association, has the advantage over the London First scheme in that it would be integrated with the transport network and would not result in tourists paying £5 or £10 a go? The Minister has received the correspondence and should be aware that no fewer than 10 piers could be constructed between Vauxhall and the Tower for a third of the cost of the London First proposals, and that those could be used not only by passenger services but by other vessels. Would not such a public investment be good value for money compared with the £80 million to £100 million being spent on two platforms of the Jubilee line—albeit, of course, that that could interchange with passenger services such as I have described?
The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Jubilee line extension will carry many more people to the millennium exhibition and the other stations on the route than could possibly be transported by water. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that he has consistently supported travel on water. With his twin interests, I suspect that he will one day press us to introduce a Thames pedalo. We have taken on board his points, and he and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford have written to me. We have passed on their information and calculations to the cross river partnership, the organisation that we are part-funding to carry out an in-depth study of the possibilities of cross-river transport.
May I welcome the Government's keen interest in regular passenger services on the Thames? May I remind my hon. Friend that the Thames does not stop at Greenwich—or even at the great barrier—but extends all the way to Gravesend, where we have excellent piers and much maritime industry and tradition? I welcome what he says, and I give him all encouragement to make greater use of our great river.
I am happy to acknowledge my hon. Friend's support for extending the use of the river right along to the mouth of the Thames, and he will know that the Thames gateway initiatives are working on that in terms of road and rail links. I am sure that my hon. Friend will continue promoting the interests of north Kent for many years to come.