Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780
WEDNESDAY 28 MARCH 2001
780. I want to ask the PLA about their role.
How do you differ from a private ports company such as ABP?
(Mr Cuthbert) As I said earlier, we are a public trust,
responsible for the safety of navigation throughout the whole
of the tidal Thames which starts at Teddington and ends at a line
roughly between Clacton and Margate. We are responsible for the
movement of ships, shipping and leisure craft within that area
primarily. We have limited planning powers also to help the safeguarding
of wharves, particularly aggregate wharves and waste wharves in
the GLA area. We have responsibility to promote the Port of London
as a commercial port.
781. Why is it clearly essential for safety
reasons to have a single consistent regime for navigation?
(Mr Cuthbert) Lord Justice Clarke in his Thames Safety
Inquiry said that there should be one set of byelaws on the whole
of the tidal Thames that starts out at Clacton and ends at Teddington.
782. Can you give us more details about the
(Mr Cuthbert) The safety levels as far as our own
port is concerned, our own employees, our record is similar to
ABP's. As far as navigational safety on the Thames is concerned,
I would like Bruce Richardson to answer that question.
(Rear Admiral Richardson) Chairman, you will be aware,
obviously, with the introduction of the Port Marine Safety Code
that the navigational safety aspects of the port operation, in
other words the wet part of the thing, is now subject to standards
set by Government. It is a requirement that full safety assessment
is conducted, risk assessment, and indeed that the port operate
within a safety management system. I believe this initiative has
done a great deal for the maritime safety aspects of the port,
which is predominately what the PLA responsibility is. I am afraid
I am unable to comment on the dry side, the cargo handling side.
783. Okay. Can I bring both of you now to the
whole problem of this famous Directive. What do you think are
the difficulties with it?
(Mr Cuthbert) My view on this is that the Directive
is fine for the landlord type of port on the Continent where the
state or the city or the municipality or the lender or whoever
it is that finances the port infrastructure such as breakwaters,
dredging, quays, locks, etc, some even to the cranes and the buildings
themselves. In the United Kingdom, as you were saying earlier,
with the privatised industry, it is left to the privatised ports
to run this strategic national asset. The idea that ports will
invest and will continue to invest major sums of money in terminals
with the threat hanging over them that under the proposed Directive
part of that investment will be taken away from them, and it can
be handed to somebody else to operate once you have built it,
I think creates uncertainty as far as investment is concerned
and is therefore potentially very damaging to the UK industry.
As the Directive is drafted at the moment, we are told by officials
in Brussels that it will not apply in the Port of London because
we are an open port and we do not regulate the provision of port
services. Our concerns are what is going to happen when this goes
through the European Parliament and before the Council of Ministers,
what changes are going to be made. A relatively small change of
a few words and we would find ourselves as a regulated port. I
think this is very damaging for the UK. It does not take into
account the financial structure of the ports industry in the UK.
It is the only industry in the whole of the 15 States which is
financed this way. It is discriminatory and disproportionate against
the UK ports industry. I think there are also questions too over
the rights to enjoy property. There is no mention of compensation
in this Directive anywhere. I cannot see how you can have a system
like this and produce a draft Directive to take away people's
property rights without indeed covering the issue of compensation.
784. Have you made those points both to the
Government and to the Commission?
(Mr Cuthbert) Yes, to Mrs de Palacio herself and to
785. What response did you get from Signora
(Mr Cuthbert) "That is as maybe but we have got
to do something". She did not actually say this herself but
her officials did. "We cannot tackle state aid in ports,
that is too difficult. It is outside the Treaty of Rome. We have
to do something in the ports and therefore we are going to open
up the ports services market. That helps complete the common market
and the open market and why are you objecting to it? We are very
sorry but we are going ahead anyway".
786. Mr Lerenius?
(Mr Lerenius) Chairman, I am not going to repeat everything
Mr Cuthbert said but I would say basically that I agree with his
view. This fits very badly into the sort of structure we already
have. It is not going to make us more efficient. I think investments
are at risk. I have difficulty, I must say, when a new regulation,
a new bureaucracy is introduced. At least one would expect it
to have some upside, we have very great difficulty seeing any
Chairman: On that point, I shall say thank you
very much to you all. We are very grateful.