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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001

CAPTAIN DUNCAN GLASS AND MR KEITH CLARKE

  260. You do not think that the fact that Felixstowe, I think I am right in saying, now has no passenger ferries whatsoever has anything to do with the light dues.
  (Mr Clarke) I do not suspect that has anything to do with light dues. Ferries would only be paying seven times a year so that is minuscule, although in fairness that estuary has picked up some very good traffic with the passenger ships for the cruises; the cruise liners now come into Parkstone. That is a very good traffic which has been gained in the last couple of years.

Chairman

  261. Anyway there is no evidence that the traffic in that particular estuary is going down, is there?
  (Mr Clarke) No; in fact Felixstowe is the busiest port in terms of the number of light dues certificates issued.

  262. So if it is a disadvantage, it is not a very large one.
  (Mr Clarke) It would appear not.

Mr Stevenson

  263. I wonder. The UK Major Ports Group say that the system of light dues in the UK compounds the problems of state aids to ports in Europe. You have described the impact as minimal and insignificant.
  (Mr Clarke) I am suggesting that. I have no evidence because I am not familiar with the total freight costs of our shipping lines. I am suggesting that it is fairly minimal.

  264. So you would not quarrel with the UK Major Ports Group in their assertion.
  (Mr Clarke) I suggest it must add to the problem; we cannot deny that.

  265. I should like to turn to the system. I understand that vessels which do not call at British ports are not obliged to pay the light dues, nor the leisure sector, nor part of the shipping industry, which is always contentious of course. Should a way be found to force those who currently do not pay light dues to pay them?
  (Mr Clarke) The passing traffic would be difficult because under international shipping law you have to give a ship the right of free passage in your coastal waters. That would probably be difficult to achieve under international law. So far as the fishing vessels are concerned, the fishing vessels which are exempt are those under ten metres. Most of those vessels are of a size that are unlikely to be going outside port limits into our area of jurisdiction anyway. I do not really see that cut-off has a major problem.

  266. The leisure sector?
  (Mr Clarke) Trinity House is on record as saying about the leisure sector that if there were a way of collecting it we believe they should bear part of the liability. I have to say as the collector that I have no means of collecting that unless there were some form of registration system, which presumably would need primary legislation.

  267. May I put to you the situation which has been outlined to us in relation to the Commissioners of Irish Lights? The Chamber of Shipping in their evidence to us make it clear that 70 per cent of the expenditure of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, estimated at some £9.1 million, relates to the provision of aids to navigation in the Republic of Ireland. We are told that only £3.1 million is received by the General Lighthouse Fund from Irish light dues and £1.6 million from the Irish Government. A quick calculation would suggest that aids to navigation in the Republic are subsidised by something like £4.4 million. Would you agree with that? If so, is this not a serious situation?
  (Mr Clarke) Some of the figures you are quoting are a mixture. May I please remind you that the Commissioners of Irish Lights are the one body which covers the whole of Ireland, North and South. Its expenditure is part Ulster and part the Republic. The total running cost you have quoted I think is the total cost in punts of the total for the whole of Ireland. The light dues collected only apply to the Republic because those collected in Northern Ireland come into our pot. Also, the subsidy to which you refer is a calculation based on the split of the costs of Irish lights between North and South. At the end of the day there is a subsidy; in accounting terms you cannot deny that. However, to discuss the fairness or otherwise is not for me. That really is a matter for Government because it was the two Governments which agreed it. All I can say is that as the collector in the UK the point is often put to me and I find it somewhat difficult to defend the position.

  268. That leads me nicely to my next question, thank you, which is a very direct one and perhaps a little simplistic. Why should those using aids to navigation in the UK ports subsidise those using such aids in Irish ports?
  (Mr Clarke) That is a political question and it is not quite for me to answer. However, may I qualify in two regards. You have to look first at the pattern of voyages between Ireland and the UK because some vessels will be going backwards and forwards and choose where they wish to pay. You will always have some sort of distortion, even to the extent of the exchange rate. The rates per tonne are similar in both Ireland and here. Of course with the exchange rate at the moment, it is much cheaper effectively for a vessel to go into Dublin than it is to go into Liverpool. So when an Irish ferry sails between the two countries you can see where they are going to make their payments. I am only suggesting that there are other distortions besides the one you relate.

  269. You have been good enough to relate to the light dues system and state aid and subsidy in the rest of the European Union. You have also been clear about your views on leisure activity subject to the qualifications you made. You have also been kind enough to explain your view about the situation I outlined in Ireland. Given what you have said, what changes if any would you like to see to the light dues system?
  (Mr Clarke) I am aware that the Department are at the moment discussing with the Irish Government the basis of the split of the contribution whatever it is. It is not my role to get involved in that, I am the collector not the setter of the rules. Certainly I should be pleased to see some resolution of that process between the two governments because it is a position which I find difficult as collector to defend. There are other areas where the load could be spread certainly, but that is a question of primary legislation because it would need to involve a lot of registration and I am not sure whether in other interests that is the best way forward or not. It would not be for me to say that. That is the limit of the major policy changes which I should personally like to see, except I suppose you might argue that a limit of seven voyages perhaps gives an unfair preference to the very frequent users. If there were a move in the other direction one might regard that as a better spread. I have some administrative things which I have put forward but the industry do not appear to want to accept those; they are purely administrative to make my life a little easier and to make the job of collection a little bit more secure.

Chairman

  270. I realise you have told us you are the collector and you should not have a view on these things but do you have any evidence yourself that the differentiation between the two sets of light dues affects where people take decisions on a particular port?
  (Mr Clarke) Do you mean between Ireland and the UK? No, it does not alter major traffic patterns. If the opportunity of a voyage is calling in both places, they will probably take advantage of the exchange rate at the moment.

  271. But you do not have an overwhelming feeling that there have been major changes in the way that people are taking decisions.
  (Mr Clarke) No, there is no change in the pattern of shipping that you can trace from the certificates which have been issued. It does not appear to be something of great significance.

Mr Bennett

  272. The Pilotage Act 1987: a great success?
  (Captain Glass) I must qualify my answer by saying that Trinity House was the pilotage authority for many ports for many hundreds of years and therefore the effect on Trinity House Corporation was dramatic when the 1987 Act took pilotage away from Trinity House and gave it to the competent harbour authorities. We felt aggrieved and it made a huge difference to us. Was it a great success? In our view no, not at the time, because everybody was less than prepared for it. We had had 473 years of pilotage authority behind us and the consequence of the Act passing responsibility to the competent harbour authorities was greatly underestimated. In the following years obviously it has dramatically improved.

  273. Do you think safety is better now as a result of the Act than it was before?
  (Captain Glass) No. I would suggest that having a single pilotage authority examining the pilots to a certain standard and having continuity of pilotage between ports and the seamless interface between general navigation and harbour navigation has not been improved by the Act.

  274. Do you think some of the port and harbour authorities are liable to be put under pressure to skimp on pilotage costs and safety in order to bring the cargo into their port?
  (Captain Glass) I know the pressure is immense. The commercial competition between ports and between users of ports has to place great pressure on the agents, the harbour authorities and the pilots themselves. But it should not and really the port and marine safety code is working towards guidelines which will prevent it having a consequence on safety.

  275. But it is having a consequence at the moment.
  (Captain Glass) Yes, it is.

  276. What about these pilotage exemption certificates? Do you think they are being abused?
  (Captain Glass) It is hard for me to say. At the risk of being repetitive, under Trinity House exemptions were granted under the same rules and examination and syllabus in all the ports for which we were responsible. After the Act everybody did their own thing.

  277. Are a lot more being issued now than there were?
  (Captain Glass) Yes, there are.

  Chairman: You may give us a careful answer, Captain Glass, but the reality is that if more are being issued, are you satisfied that they are being issued on the basis of expertise?

  Mr Bennett: I thought the answer was implied.

Chairman

  278. Yes, he did imply it but I am not going to let him get away with that. I need to know, Captain Glass. What you are saying to us by inference is that yes, the system works all right, yes, there has been no obvious change. Then you say to us that many more pilotage exemption certificates are granted. I say to you: are you therefore satisfied that that extra number of certificates is granted to people with the same level of expertise?
  (Captain Glass) I would have to answer that I do not believe so, because of the lack of continuity between ports, as described earlier by NUMAST.

  279. Which you accept as true. You believe that is so.
  (Captain Glass) Absolutely.


 
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