Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
680. What representations have you made to the
Government or to the Commission about the impacts of these kind
of extra hidden subsidies?
(Mr Mordaunt) We threatened Zeebrugge once that if
they went after a trade we would go to the Commission and they
did not go after the trade.
681. That is the extent of your involvement
with it. Afterwards did you record this and draw it to the attention
of the Commission?
(Mr Mordaunt) We have certainly kept United Kingdom
politicians involved, we did not go to the Commission, no.
(Mr Jones) This has been a matter that we have continuously
raised as UKMPG and predecessor organisations with officials of
(Mr Mordaunt) I went with Neil Kinnock, we had a session
with him about four years ago and he accepted it was happening
but basically he told us there was nothing he could do.
682. You went to Commission to talk to him when
he was the Transport Commissioner.
(Mr Mordaunt) Correct.
683. I see. Mr Gray, do you wish to comment
(Mr Gray) I just want to say that a more recent example
that is happening today is the port of Amsterdam where they have
just built a brand new, purpose built container terminal where
the City of Amsterdam have invested in excess of £300 million
guilders, about £100 million in the infrastructure, that
includes the water and actually building the quay and the terminal
itself. I have been to see it. The investment is over £100m.
684. If I were in your position and I were highly
efficient and I was privatised and I was so certain that this
kind of investment was going on and I could not justify it on
the basis of organisational change I think I would not only be
going to the British Government but I might have something to
say to the European institutions who are bringing in this particular
Directive. Why have you not done that?
(Mr Gray) We went on a deputation from the United
Kingdom Major Ports Group, some of who are in the room here today,
and went to see Madam de Palacio.
685. Loyola de Palacio.
(Mr Gray) The Commissioner for Transport and Energy.
We raised the subject at that time about subsidies of European
ports. It was summarily dismissed, "That is another issue,
do not talk to us about it", they did not wish to spend any
time discussing the subject at all.
686. While we are on this question of subsidy,
is some of the subsidy coming from the European Commission itself?
Am I not right that in Barcelona and one or two of the Italian
ports are receiving EU grants in order to improve the port facilities?
(Mr Gray) One or two of the Italian ports I know from
personal experience have had some support, especially those in
the South where there is 50 per cent unemployment, have had some
support from the Italian Government and European funding support.
687. Do they constitute a real hazard? Is it
realistic to say that building a modern port installation in Southern
Italy is going to provide economic competition?
(Mr Gray) It could do to the ports in the region.
There is a new port being built in Cagliari in Sardinia which
has been constructed now for some time, they are having great
difficult in obtaining customers, let us say. We are aware that
some of the pricing activity there leaves something to be desired.
688. If we are going to get into a fight between
the Sardinians and the Sicilians something tells me the British
are not going to do terribly well.
(Mr Gray) Luckily it does not affect us.
689. What you are really talking about is large
ships coming from the Far East whose cargo will be brought to
shore, the boxes will be brought to shore, and split up on to
smaller ships to go on to a series of smaller European ports?
(Mr Gray) Mostly, yes. There was a concept at one
particular point where the large ships would come from the Far
East and they would be one-stop Mediterranean and then would transship
on to vessels that would then feed to North Europe and the Mediterranean
area and they would turn around and go back to the Far East. That
was the original concept but that has not happened.
690. If that did happen it would be in competition
(Mr Gray) Vessels would still call in the United Kingdom
and in North Europe but they would be feeder vessels not the mother
vessels. Then, of course, you could get into regional ports in
the United Kingdom. It may not necessarily be a disadvantage to
(Mr Mordaunt) I would just like to the make the point
that it is impossible to get a set of accounts for most European
ports, they do not exist, and this is one of the difficulties
in challenging the continental ports. Can I say, I find it quite
outrageous that this Directive is being put upon us at the time
when we are all transparent, we produce port reports, we are as
efficient, if not more, than the continentals, without government
aid, and I find that this interference from Europe into a very
successful business in the United Kingdom is deplorable.
691. What is the difference between the United
Kingdom application of this Directive or the suggested application
and the European one?
(Mr Mordaunt) We do not know. All we have is a lawyers
view as to what it will mean to us and it will be very serious
for us, our units are generally not big enough.
692. Let us come back to the habitat, then,
what activities of ports are going to be hampered by legislation?
(Mr Jones) On the Mersey we have an area of land adjoining
the container terminal with Seaforth, which was created some 30
years ago as an area for future expansion, which it is proposed
by English Nature should be designated under the Directive. If
that were to occur that would certainly inhibit the potential
for future growth of our main activities around Seaforth Dock.
It was quite strange, the original area proposed to be designated
by English Nature included part of scrap export operation.
693. A scrap export
(Mr Jones) A scrap export operation, a large mound
of scrap metal. The area originally proposed for designation also,
strangely, ended with the port boundary, whereas, in fact, there
was an area of land immediately adjacent to the port boundary
owned by the Local Authority which was not proposed for destination,
notwithstanding that it formed part of the same land mass.
694. Do you know of any particular planning
application that has been delayed or held up because of environmental
(Mr Jones) We have had no planning applications delayed
due to concerns relating to bird life on the Mersey. We have had
applications delayed arising from other environmental issues,
particularly objections raised by English Heritage concerning
one of the developments of our roll-on roll-off facilities, this
is a development that is taking place on a brownfield site. It
was an operational port area some 30 years ago and then it ceased
to be used for port operations. There is an old pump house that
is now in a derelict condition on the site and when we came to
propose development on the site English Heritage objected on the
grounds that we had not proposed refurbishment of the pump house
and the inclusion of that in the scheme. That caused a delay of
some nine months. The pump house was not in the ownership of the
port it was in the ownership of Northwest Development Agency.
(Mr Mordaunt) We have an application at the moment
which is being held up. We want to drain more water from land
into the Severn estuary, and that is being held up by English
Nature at the moment.
695. Mr Gray, do you have any particulars instances?
(Mr Gray) Not at the moment. We are going through
the process at the moment for Felixstowe and Harwich and we are
consulting with the environmental bodies there. We do not have
anything held up at the moment.
696. We have had evidence that suggests that
the port industry is one of the most dangerous in the United Kingdom,
what would you have to say about that?
(Mr Gray) There are certain parts of the operation,
I would say the container handling in particular is certainly
a very hostile and dangerous environment, it is very people and
machine intensive. I am comparing it to other industries, for
example the building industry.
697. We were told by the Health and Safety Executive
it is more dangerous than the building industry and, indeed, more
dangerous than the mining industry.
(Mr Gray) I heard the Health and Safety Executive
say that, I was surprised. I do not dispute what they say, I heard
what they said.
698. In terms of safety itself within the whole
port industry itself there is a fundamental problem, is there
not, if you are still hitting these figures? Can you give us an
indication as to why that has come about?
(Mr Gray) I know that we take health and safety extremely
seriously in our group in the three ports that we operate in the
United Kingdom. We have some three and a half thousand people
between the three ports. In Felixstowe alone we have seven full-time
safety officers doing nothing else around the clock but monitoring
safety and we have another 20 people in our emergency services,
the ambulance and fire officers. We do pay particular attention
to it. We also have a very extensive training programme for all
our staff, for all our new joiners and we also have retraining
for existing members of staff.
699. Out of the 2,680 people that you employ
how many have gone through that course?
(Mr Gray) Everybody who is on dock work.