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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 680 - 699)




  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 DETR.
  (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 on this?
  (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.

Mr Bennett

  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.

Mr Bennett

  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 with yourselves.
  (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 us.
  (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 concerns?
  (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.

Mr Donohoe

  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.

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