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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. On the point of Europeans receiving aid where British ports do not, is that not causing an imbalance in the use of port facilities?
  (Mr Everard) We would argue yes, but it is not up to us as ship owners. I am sure it is unfair as between ports but it is not necessarily unfair for us as ship owners.


  321. You are getting the advantages; we understand that.
  (Mr Everard) Yes.
  (Mr Good) May I just comment, representing port agents. Certainly the effect of hidden subsidies on continental ports is a major factor and has been for many years in that we know that vessels which would or could come to a UK port choose to unload in Antwerp and then cargo is transhipped across or even sent across by trailers. It is a major factor that some of the major continental ports can undercut British ports. It is getting better now because the efficiencies of British ports have improved so much that it is getting closer and certainly some owners are now looking again at calling direct at UK ports. However, it is still a factor.

Miss McIntosh

  322. Would the European Ports Directive not be an opportunity to look at this question?
  (Mr Astbury) Yes, it is. The proposed European Ports Directive is part of a package. Another element of that package is a proposal on transparency. The Commission having studied long and hard came to the conclusion that they could not honestly find out what subsidies were going on in European ports. They have in parallel with the proposed Ports Services Directive announced proposals to move forward the question of transparency at least to the point of being able to establish an inventory of requirements while leaving their application applicable to the normal state aids regime within the EU.

Mr Stevenson

  323. This is obviously quite important. We have asked the question of other witnesses this afternoon. Between you, for different reasons, you seem quite certain that state aids are being applied in the rest of the European Union. What evidence do you have and what research have you done to justify those claims and may we see that evidence and research please?
  (Mr Astbury) It was in the EU Commission's Green Paper on ports published three years ago now. There was some evidence which illustrated examples of where there was indeed public provision of infrastructure, which one might also call state aids. They went away to try to establish further evidence of that. They failed to be able to complete that, partly I suspect because not all Member States cooperated fully in the process, and therefore were planning something to do about it. That is not to say that all these state aids are illegal, because most of them have been advanced on the basis of creating public infrastructure within a framework which makes them acceptable. There are arguments to be had as this proceeds but the Commission is at least trying to do something to establish the facts now.

  324. I am more interested in whether your organisations have evidence and have researched this issue.
  (Mr Everard) No. It is much more really for the ports to come up with something. We have not.

  325. Yes, I understand that but is the answer yes or no.
  (Mr Astbury) No, we have not done any research.

  326. NUMAST has given us evidence that the port safety committees are there but the most important people, that is the users of the port, are rarely represented. Is that the case? Do you concur with that?
  (Mr Astbury) I do not know, is the answer.


  327. You do not know.
  (Mr Astbury) No, I do not know, neither have I had any complaints from our members that they should have had greater involvement.

  328. It is not always the same thing, is it?
  (Mr Astbury) No, it is not indeed.
  (Mr Everard) As the Chamber of Shipping we are mainly looking at getting in and out of ports and arriving on the berth. It is very difficult for us to say what is going on inside the terminals.

Mr Stevenson

  329. Nevertheless you would obviously have some concern about the people who are servicing your vessels.
  (Mr Everard) Definitely.
  (Captain Bligh) In support of the comments made by NUMAST, there is a problem in many ports where our ships call in that the infrastructure for the ships' staff to leave the vessel is not very good and could be considered in some areas to be "unsafe" because the port is built very much around the structure of discharging the cargo and it does tend to keep seafarers slightly captive to their own environment.

  330. NUMAST were arguing that there is a discrimination between the safety approach and regime on board and that on dry land. Would you agree with that general view?
  (Captain Bligh) That is too sweeping a statement. I do not think there is a discrimination. I think the interests of the two sides are slightly different in that the ship owner is asking the port for higher and higher productivity and the ways the ports can do this is by using their facilities to their utmost. Consequently they do put services in place to allow the mariner to leave his vessel, but it is at the convenience of the ports and not necessarily the convenience of the mariner himself. You get this slight conflict. They are not put in any context at a lower level, it is just that the flexibility is not offered to them.

Mr Donaldson

  331. What demand is there from shipping companies to provide their own port services and which services would they like to provide?
  (Captain Bligh) I would not like to try to answer that.
  (Mr Everard) It is very different to look at what is happening in the UK than at what is happening in the rest of Europe. There is not an enormous demand in the UK because we have so many ports dotted around the place that there is fair competition. If you really want to do something you can usually negotiate with somebody. It is not an enormous problem in the UK.

  332. Is there any evidence that ports have sought to prevent shipping companies from doing so?
  (Mr Good) If an operator or an owner wants to set up his own facilities, if he has sufficient throughput, if the port wants to keep the customer, he will see his way to providing or negotiating with the requirement of the owner and that has happened in certain quarters.
  (Mr Everard) It has not been a problem which has been highlighted to us in the UK. It can be a problem elsewhere.
  (Captain Bligh) My own company is presently setting up a port infrastructure in the Netherlands under its own right.


  333. In Europort or elsewhere?
  (Captain Bligh) Yes, in Europort.

Mr Donaldson

  334. Why is it more attractive to do it in the Netherlands than to do it in the United Kingdom?
  (Captain Bligh) Opportunity.


  335. What opportunity does Rotterdam offer?
  (Captain Bligh) For us at the moment it is the building of a deep water berth for our larger newer ships, that there will be sufficient water there to bring them into port, which is not available at the moment in UK ports.

Mr Donaldson

  336. Is it in any UK port?
  (Captain Bligh) No.
  (Mr Everard) You do have an investment in Southampton and London though in port facilities.
  (Captain Bligh) Our parent company does but as P&O Nedlloyd we are investing in other ports within Europe.


  337. May I ask you about the United Kingdom's attitude towards the European Commission's concerns and the Directive on pilotage? Do you feel that the United Kingdom is pushing hard enough for a clear protection for those interests we have?
  (Mr Astbury) It is a little early to be able to answer the question though we should love to be able to in that the proposals have not been out very long and the Government is presumably in the process of assessing them and will we hope be in the process of consulting the various interests.

  338. The difficulty is that everybody implies, rather tactfully, that there are some difficulties with this particular Directive. Do you want to tell us what those difficulties are even if you can afterwards deny it? Everything is subject to deniability.
  (Mr Astbury) I shall try to help with at least the areas in the Directive on which there may be a variety of views and which may turn out to be controversial. It is going to be more difficult to use our comments as the considered view of the shipping industry, so I hope they will not be taken that way.

  339. You have put in your caveat beautifully. Point taken. I still ask you: where are the areas of difficulty?
  (Mr Astbury) The difficulties arise because the European port industry is a very diverse one and it has developed in different countries in different ways. It is undoubtedly true that there is scope for considerably greater efficiency and competition, both between ports and in the provision of services in ports and that competition has in many parts of Europe been strongly resisted for decades. As a result therefore of pressure from shipowners amongst others, the Commission has at last come to grapple with the difficult question of how they might get a higher level of competition, efficiency, flexibility, all those things. In the UK we happen to have grappled with some of those questions over the last couple of decades already all by ourselves. The UK ports in many respects are ahead of the game. In trying to find an EU policy—an EU policy in a sense has to be a one-size-fits-all type of legislative framework—they are coming at it in a way which will not entirely match the way we have gone in the past. The implications of that are exactly what are being studied at the moment. You have taken evidence from the port organisations about that. We are not ready to have a definitive view about that yet but we do recognise that there are difficulties in the UK about some aspects of the approach, particularly in relation to cargo handling.

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