Examination of Witnesses (Questions 301
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
JAMIESON MP, MR
301. Good afternoon, Minister. As always, we
are honoured with your appearance. May I ask you, even in that
circumstance, to identify yourself for the record?
(Mr Jamieson) Thank you very much, Mrs Dunwoody. I
am David Jamieson, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department
302. And you have brought with you?
(Mr Reeves) Stephen Reeves, Head of Ports Division
in the Department.
(Mr Burr) Andrew Burr. I work with Steve in the Ports
303. Minister, do you have something to tell
(Mr Jamieson) If I may, Mrs Dunwoody, I would like
to make a few brief opening remarks which I hope will help the
Committee. First, can I say that we, as always, welcome the Committee's
interest in Government policy for the ports industry, which aims
to foster its continuing success in a sustainable way.
304. We are secure in that knowledge, Minister.
305. We published Modern Ports at the
end of 2000 because we felt that the industry's role in transport
policy had been somewhat neglected. There had not been a comprehensive
assessment of ports policy for a long time. It may assist your
Committee, Mrs Dunwoody, if I just briefly highlight our broad
policy aims and set them in context for you. The Committee will
be aware that the competitiveness of the United Kingdom economy
depends on quick, easy, economical and safe movement of people
and goods. We, the shipping lines' ultimate customers, have come
to treat the whole world as our market place. The shipping industry
succeeds in meeting our demands quickly and cheaply and competition
between lines is fierce. They depend on a modern ports industry
doing its bit to keep this complex supply chain in good working
order, so ports serve a national interest, supporting our needs
as consumers and the competitiveness of our national and regional
economies. We need a thriving ports industry. Our ports must remain
able to handle current UK trade and its potential development
efficiently and sustainably. As we say in Modern Ports,
they must not only meet the immediate demands of their customers
but also invest in new facilities, in safety and to safeguard
communities in the environment. The Government does not fund the
ports industry but we are of course involved in the land side
connections to the road and rail network and the multi-modal studies
have an important role here, as does the Strategic Rail Authority's
freight strategy about which the Committee has just been hearing
a few moments ago. The government is an important regulator of
the ports industry besides planning control. There are also standards
to regulate health and safety and to avoid accidents in potentially
dangerous jobs. We have worked with the industry to promote new
safety standards and a systematic approach to risk management.
We are also working with the industry on training standards and
I welcome this very positive approach. We have done this standard
setting work without compromising the industry's responsibility
for the safety of operations. In conclusion, we look to the ports
industry to be efficient, and they are entitled to look to the
government to be an efficient regulator. Regulation tends to grow
piecemeal until it becomes a burden and that is one of the problems
we notice. I know that the Committee is especially keen to look
at new issues that have arisen since the predecessor committee
held hearings earlier last year and the biggest of these is the
market access to port services directive on which a common position
was reached at the Transport Council last month, after intensive
discussions under the Spanish presidency. We played a very full
part in these and I will be very happy to give any further detail
if that would be helpful to the Committee. We, as always, look
forward to your questions and ultimately to your report on this
very important matter.
306. That is all absolutely excellent. As always,
a most coherent, intelligent and encouraging report. Which of
the objectives is most important, the long term objective of Modern
Ports as a planning strategy, a framework, or the short term
objective of dealing with the narrower aspects, such as the ones
you have just been outlining like safety?
(Mr Jamieson) I think they are both important. We
as a government need to have a long term view which is set out
in Modern Ports, but there are some very short term issues
such as safety, and there are issues that can be dealt with in
the here and now. We have public inquiries going on, for example,
at the moment and those will be for the short to long term. We
have to look at both issues with due regard.
307. You have made it very clear that the industry
is not funded by the government so how are you going to achieve
(Mr Jamieson) We do not fund the ports. In some of
the other European countries, they run their ports very differently
to ours. We are satisfied that the market place has generally
worked extremely well in supplying the ports facilities in this
country. We see our role as to respond to the framework of regulation,
to ensure that safety is in place and to ensure that the environmental
aspects are put right. We see ourselves as an overall regulator
and we see the market having to respond to providing the provision
in our ports.
308. The difficulty is that you have said there
are constraints about a market led development which might not
take account of the wider public policy factors and we have already
heard this afternoon that the industry seems to be assuming that
the Strategic Rail Authority will always put the money into the
infrastructure improvements. What is the attitude of the government
going to be? Are they going to ask that the industry funds infrastructure,
not only inside its own port developments but immediately outside
in dealing with constraints on traffic; or are you assuming that
you will not be able to hit your objectives in terms of modal
(Mr Jamieson) In terms of the actual structure of
the ports, it would be our view that we would not be funding those.
Successive governments have made that clear over the years, but
there is an interface between the development of the ports and
improvements that may take place or extra transport that may be
needed. That will be a matter for negotiation between the ports
and the SRA. It may be that the port sees some advantage in providing
some of that funding but in the end that will be a matter for
negotiation between the two. There will be other areas as well.
The Highways Agency plays a very important role in this in making
sure that the road links are there. In some cases, there may be
a role for the local highways authority for local roads which
may be important in moving goods out of a port area. We see also
the freight facilities grants may be assisting, for example, some
sort of improvements to the rail marshalling yards or improving
the work on a line that may help the freight to and from the port.
309. Who sets the priorities for these changes?
Where are they recorded and how can they be looked at in conjunction
with, for example, the regional planning authorities?
(Mr Jamieson) The ports themselves will develop on
a market basis.
310. If for one reason or another they decide
no, they do not want to invest in the infrastructure, nothing
(Mr Jamieson) What has happened up to now is that
the market has provided the services in the ports and they have
grown on the basis of a market division being there. If there
is a gap in the market, as we have seen recently with the four
applications that have been made, the gap is attempting to be
filled by the applications that have been made to improvements
311. The industry is making it very clear that
the constraints upon its development now lie in the infrastructure,
mainly in roads but also in rail, and in a number of pinch points.
They are also making it clear that, whatever you say, they were
expecting that investment to come from the government. What is
the government's attitude to that?
(Mr Jamieson) When these inquiries take place, we
have a role of oversight of those. We have a final decision on
them. The socio-economic aspects of the inquiries and the environmental
aspects we have to consider. If those go through the inquiry stage
and they are accepted by the government, then it is incumbent
upon the ports to work with the SRA and with the Highways Agency
and those responsible for the multi-modal studies to look at the
infrastructure issues that are important to them.
312. Who takes responsibility for implementing
multi-modal structures and the changes that will actually impinge
directly on things like capacity?
(Mr Jamieson) That will be a matter for the regional
planning bodies to make their recommendations.
313. They will be funded by central government?
(Mr Jamieson) In some cases, that may be the case,
314. You said that the government has a role
in relation to environment and safety in relation to ports. Does
the government have a role in developing ports for regional economic
(Mr Jamieson) No, I do not think we do. A regional
development agency may be working with whoever is operating the
port with a view to investment in that area, but these matters
have been very much devolved now to regions and we think it is
very important that those decisions are made at a regional level
and that that discussion goes on at a regional level.
315. What about government support for improved
infrastructure investment to support the regional economic regeneration
related to ports and trade?
(Mr Jamieson) We would not see any direct government
funding going into the port itself. However, there may be a case
for various assistance. As I mentioned, the freight facilities
grants may be available. Regional selective assistance may be
available for other matters outside of the port that may enhance
economic development in that area.
316. Does that mean that the government would
be supportive to the Strategic Rail Authority or other investors
in developing trade between Ireland, the port of Liverpool, through
to northern Europe?
(Mr Jamieson) I detect there might be something behind
this question. That would be a matter for the regional development
agency working in the overall structure of government guidance
of these particular matters. You mentioned Liverpool. The objective
one programme has provided certain road infrastructure projects
that have assisted the economic development in that area and some
of those may benefit movement of freight from the ports.
317. Do you give any guidance to the Strategic
Rail Authority on its infrastructure investment policy, aimed
at assisting port development?
(Mr Jamieson) Not directly. They have an overall responsibility
in their freight plans. We have in the 10 year plan our objective
to increase the amount of freight on the railways but any instruction
would be contained within the Strategic Rail Authority's future
318. Is it an area that you would have concern
about as a Minister? Is it something you would make inquiries
about and want to satisfy yourself on?
(Mr Jamieson) I would have concern if any of the organisations
were not working together, were not assisting each other in the
overall aims that we have. That would be fairly obvious. If we
felt the process was not working and they were not responding
to each other, I think yes, we would have concerns.
319. What is the current status of the EU Directive
on port services?
(Mr Jamieson) I thought this would be an important
issue for you. It is an area that has grown rapidly in the last
few weeks. Firstly, we support the liberalisation of ports. We
had serious reservations about the Directive when it first came
out. We thought it would be disruptive for our ports; it would
have an adverse effect on investment. We strongly believe that
there should be competition between one port and another because
we feel that that is what creates competitiveness and that is
what drives down the costs. What we did appreciate is that our
ports are at a different stage of development and growth to many
of the ports in other parts of the European Union. They tend to
operate much more on a landlord/tenant model; whereas ours tend
to be vertically integrated. We did have very considerable concerns
about the Directive as it stood. We have listened to all sides
in the industry. The trade unions have made some very strong views;
so have the port operators and many others have made views to
us. I am very pleased to say that we have, by negotiation, effected
a very large number of changes to that Directive which we think
will be beneficial to our ports industry.