My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are proposing to take to improve the quality and appearance of the River Lea, particularly in its lower reaches.
My Lords, the primary responsibility for maintaining and improving the quality of the River Lea rests with the Thames Water Authority. The quality of the river upstream of Tottenham Lock is generally satisfactory but downstream some stretches are of poor quality. I understand that the water authority's aim is to bring the lower reaches up to at least class 2 in the national classification scheme. It would then be of fair quality and should be capable of supporting reasonably good coarse fisheries as well as having some general amenity value.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that partly encouraging reply, but is he aware that when I went along this waterway in July, I could hardly see the surface of the water because of floating rubbish and water weeds, that there were reeds encroaching from the banks and that it was silting up at various places? Is my noble friend aware that this could and should become an attractive waterway for thousands of people? Will he pass on to the Thames Water Authority our strong feelings about this matter?
My Lords, I very much appreciate my noble friend's comments and I shall certainly pass them on to my noble friend the Secretary of State. The British Waterways Board is making every effort to keep the waterway free from litter and has instituted a clean-up campaign. It is now experimenting with a newly designed refuse collection vessel.
My Lords, although it is encouraging to hear that the British Waterways Board is going to clean up, is the Minister aware that no single authority is responsible for clearing the rubbish out of this or any other river, unless the water flow is impeded or unless there is pollution? Does he not think that in urban situations such as this it would be a good idea for the Department of the Environment to take on some responsibility? I stress this particularly for urban rivers because the riparian owners can scarcely be expected to look after their bit in these situations.
My Lords, I fully accept that there are quite a lot of authorities involved with this particular river. However we believe that they are capable of coming together and providing satisfactory results. I draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the fact that the British Waterways Board is at the moment viewing a joint development with a private undertaking in the Limehouse Basin which will include a housing complex with a marina and other facilities. This is now subject to ministerial approval for the British Waterways Board capital investment provision. It is a good example of positive action taking place to improve localities.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that for many miles the new river meanders along the same terrain as the River Lea: for instance, through Enfield and Edmonton? Is the Minister aware of proposals by the Thames Water Authority to create a new waterway and thereby make the new river redundant? Will the Minister undertake to have conversations with the Thames Water Authority to persuade it not to proceed with that proposal but to enhance the already historic character of the new river by making more investment in it and thereby creating better management?
My Lords, I am interested in the noble Lord's remarks but I feel that they are rather wide of the Question on the Order Paper.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question as one who on occasion navigates the River Lea. Is the noble Lord aware that a great deal has been done of late to improve the banks, although a great deal still needs to be done both to the banks and to the water? Is the noble Lord further aware that what this waterway really needs is to be used for the purposes it was built for—for commercial cargo? That is what should be established on this waterway. It is ideally situated for this purpose but this use is inhibited by the dock labour Acts.
My Lords, the noble Viscount has a distinct advantage over me in his knowledge of the water. I can confirm to him that last year a 1·3-mile stretch of the towpath was restored.