Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001

MR NORMAN MCKINNEY, MR GEORGE MILLS, MR LES CATE, MR ALAN GRAVESON AND MR ANDREW LININGTON


Chairman

  180. Gentlemen, may I welcome you most warmly to the Committee and apologise for keeping you waiting for a moment or two? May I ask you first of all to identify yourselves for the Committee?
  (Mr McKinney) Norman McKinney, Chairman of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots' Association.
  (Mr Mills) George Mills, Vice-Chairman of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots' Association.
  (Mr Cate) Les Cate, Executive Committee Member of the United Kingdom Maritime Pilots' Association.
  (Mr Graveson) Allan Graveson, National Secretary from NUMAST.
  (Mr Linington) Andrew Linington, Head of Communications, NUMAST.

  181. Did either of you want to make a short opening statement or may we go straight to questions?
  (Mr McKinney) Quite happy to go straight to questions.
  (Mr Graveson) As far as we are concerned you may go straight to questions.

  182. What is the role of major ports in the economy of the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Graveson) The importance of ports cannot be underestimated for an island nation. They are very important for the economy of the nation as a whole and for the regions given that some 85 per cent of our trade is transported by sea. The efficiency and effectiveness of our ports can determine the success or otherwise of our industry.

  183. What role are they going to have in future? Is it going to change?
  (Mr Graveson) There will be some changes in the future if we move towards regional government. I have witnessed on a recent visit to Italy that the regional government of Tuscany is putting investment support into three major ports. It was intervening.

  184. Do you think there are particular challenges and what opportunities are there for the major ports?
  (Mr Graveson) Clearly there are challenges and opportunities. One of the challenges is meeting the requirements with respect to capacity. Capacity is growing year on year as world trade grows, therefore there is a necessity for development. Clearly that development must be planned and measured.
  (Mr McKinney) Basically I agree with all Mr Graveson has just said. I should also like to add that it is very important that our ports are safe havens for traffic and for shipping and very important that they are financially viable.

  185. Do you think that is likely to be challenged in the future?
  (Mr McKinney) Competition from our continental neighbours will certainly increase. It is an ongoing thing all the time that competition from ports like Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp will obviously have an impact upon our ports.

  186. What do you think threatens their viability? Is it the fact that many of them in this country are private ports and state owned or regionally controlled in other countries?
  (Mr McKinney) That is very important. My understanding is that ports on the continent receive more financial assistance than UK ports.

Mr O'Brien

  187. We have a lot of influence from the EC on the way our ports are operated. What is your view of the European Commission's Directive on ports services? How in particular will it affect the provision of pilotage services in the UK?
  (Mr McKinney) We are concerned about the EU Directive on ports services, particularly in respect of pilotage. We believe it would be a detrimental step and we do not believe it will enhance the safety in our ports if competition in pilotage is introduced.

  188. Do you think that Her Majesty's Government has done enough to raise with the European Commission concerns about the impact of the Directive on pilotage services?
  (Mr McKinney) The Directive has only recently come to light and we have not really got into this process yet. My understanding of it is that the UK Government and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) are now going into a twelve-week period of consultation and discussion over the Directive. We have mentioned the Directive to the DETR on several occasions and they have said they have not seen it yet, so they do not believe it is right to comment on something which has not yet seen the light of day.

  189. Are you saying you have not seen it?
  (Mr McKinney) We have just briefly seen it now. We have had it a matter of a couple of weeks now.

  190. Will you be making representations direct?
  (Mr McKinney) Certainly we have decided that we shall be making representations on the Directive and particularly on pilotage.

Mr Stevenson

  191. The UK Major Ports Group say in their evidence that ports in the United Kingdom "... receive virtually no financial support from central or local government". They go on to say that the general pattern is that the infrastructure of a port is owned and operated by public bodies in Europe. Would you describe the support that these ports in Europe get through this avenue as state aid?
  (Mr Graveson) It depends how you determine "state aid". Many countries in Europe are a little more judicious in the interpretation of "state aid". What we are looking at here is support for the infrastructure, that is the rail and road links and the facilities at the ports, including berths, channels. Therefore I would not say it is exactly so much state aid as infrastructure investment.

  192. NUMAST say in their evidence that other European ports benefit from state funding.
  (Mr Graveson) Yes, that is right, we interpret it as state funding indeed because clearly the money is coming out of the public purse. Yes, we can divide that as to whether it comes from a regional government or whether it comes from central government.

  193. I do not want to be pedantic but words are important. You say that such arrangements "... may put UK ports at a competitive disadvantage". Do you have evidence to show that they are being put at a disadvantage or are you not so sure?
  (Mr Graveson) The question here is that we need to gather more evidence on this. There is no doubt that more evidence needs to be gathered, but there is a general impression that that is the case.
  (Mr Linington) One of the examples we do quote in the report is the recent sale of Newhaven and Folkstone and possibly Ramsgate as well, where a French local authority is seriously trying to purchase ports to keep maritime services flowing between France and Britain. There is a concern there that we do not have that same kind of strategic vision that certainly that regional authority does.

  Mr Stevenson: We may have or not have strategic vision. What I am particularly interested in are your comments about state aid and support. Officially there is a European Union regime on state aids and I for one—and I am sure colleagues on the Committee—would be more than interested if you were alleging that competitor ports in the EU other than the UK are being subsidised by state aids. It would be extremely useful if you were able to supply us with evidence which would justify those allegations.

Chairman

  194. Do you have any evidence? Has any research been done?
  (Mr Graveson) No, no research has been done and I would admit that we have very little evidence. The difference is in the structure of the ports in Europe compared with this island of ours. There are very few ports on the continent of Europe relative to this island nation which has a scattering of large and small ports right around it. Therefore it is much easier for those countries actually to provide the infrastructure in the form of road and rail links to those ports. This is only what we can witness by actually seeing it.

  195. The Committee has to be fairly precise. We are not arguing with you as to the rights and wrongs of it; I do not want you to think that. We do need, if we are to follow this argument, some evidence because most regional governments would say they anyway have to provide an excellent infrastructure to get goods backwards and forwards to ports. That could be taken as an argument that perhaps the British Government is not so prepared to put so much money into infrastructure. That is not a clear definition of state aid. The point Mr Stevenson is trying to make to you is that if we are clear in our own minds that regional ports which are not privately owned, as the majority of them are in this country, receive positive support we ought to know that. What I am asking you is whether anyone has done any consistent research that we could use.
  (Mr Graveson) To the best of my knowledge no-one has done any consistent research.
  (Mr McKinney) We have no evidence of any.

  Chairman: Of course I should never dream of giving instructions to gentlemen but I am sure you will want to go away and think about that.

Mr Bennett

  196. May I just pursue this question of pilotage? Surely with all the modern devices which are on ships pilotage is not as important as it was.
  (Mr McKinney) I certainly would not agree with that. There may be a lot of new electronic equipment on board ships but still when it comes to the heel of the hunt there is nothing more appropriate than a pilot going aboard, particularly nowadays, and we have had recent evidence of this, where a lot of the crews are regarded as being sub-standard, from countries which are not maritime countries. Our Association believes that the role of the pilot is even more important in this day and age.

  197. Is the number accidents growing?
  (Mr McKinney) There is nothing to suggest that the number of accidents is increasing or decreasing. We do have accidents from time to time.

  198. Your evidence suggests that things are not as good as they should be but you do not actually have any evidence for that.
  (Mr McKinney) Yes, that is true. We could probably do a bit more research on that.

  199. What about the Pilotage Act 1987? Do you think that is not working?
  (Mr McKinney) When the Pilotage Act 1987 first came into force in 1988 we found a lot of difficulties with the Pilotage Act, particularly sections 2 and 3 on employment and self-employment. It has settled down to a great extent. Unfortunately we did have this very serious accident in Milford Haven in 1996 and since that time we feel that a lot of measures have been taken, particularly by DETR, to look into the workings of the Pilotage Act and to review it to see where things had gone wrong so they could be put right. We believe there is a much better atmosphere and things are improving with regard to the Act.


 
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