Examination of Witnesses (Questions 243
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
243. Good afternoon gentlemen. May I ask you
to identify yourselves for the record?
(Captain Glass) Good afternoon. I am Duncan Glass.
(Mr Clarke) I am Keith Clarke. I am Director of Finance
for Trinity House.
244. What is the role of major ports in the
economy of the United Kingdom?
(Captain Glass) Our involvement in ports is really
focused on local aids to navigation and the interface between
general navigation aids under our jurisdiction and those provided
by local lighthouse authorities and the harbour authorities themselves.
We do have the statutory duty of inspecting all the local aids
to navigation in all ports and harbours, rivers and estuaries
in England and Wales and during that inspection regime we do liaise
closely with the port authorities on how they assess the risk
and provide the aids.
245. A very careful reply, Captain Glass, but
of course it was not quite what I asked you. I do have a vague
idea of what you do. What I was asking you for was your opinion
of the role of major ports in the economy of the United Kingdom.
(Captain Glass) A vital role with regard to the economy,
I am sure. Our exports and imports are a great percentage of our
trade and the economy in general.
246. Would you think that they are facing particular
(Captain Glass) Efficiencies are always under terrific
pressure. We are in very stiff competition with the European ports
of similar nature.
247. What opportunities do you think there are
for our major ports?
(Captain Glass) Improving efficiencies, building new
and greater infrastructure, competing on a more level playing
field with the Europeans.
248. In what sense?
(Captain Glass) Port facilities, deep draught ports,
access for bigger and bigger ships, more efficient port operations.
249. To what do you attribute the difference
in physical provision between our major ports and those you regard
as their competitors on the European mainland?
(Captain Glass) There is not that much of a difference.
It is keeping pace with the developments elsewhere.
250. Have we kept pace with the developments
(Captain Glass) Yes, I believe so.
251. In all of our major ports or only some
of our major ports?
(Captain Glass) Most of our major ports.
252. May I ask a question I am sure I should
know the answer to but I do not? Do the light dues which Trinity
House collect go into the operational running of the port in total
or do they go into the Exchequer?
(Mr Clarke) No, the light dues are collected and are
then remitted to a fund which is under the control of the Secretary
of State. He acts as quasi trustee of that fund. Under the 1995
Merchant Shipping Act that fund can only be used for the provision
of aids to navigation around our coast. In other words, it has
no means by which it can get into the ports structure. It is purely
for aids to navigation and is dispensed to the three lighthouse
authorities for that purpose.
253. How does this compare with the situation
faced by ports in other European countries?
(Mr Clarke) Some European countries, particularly
France and I suppose Germany, two good examples, have no similar
system whatsoever. They are totally funded from the Exchequer.
Some other European ports have a mixture. Greece has a simplified
light dues system. I am not particularly familiar with it, but
it has one. Sweden has a similar type of system which I think
is called fairway dues, which I believe is different to ours to
the extent that it is based on how far you go up their estuaries.
The Dutch have a system which is involved with their pilotage
dues. It is wrapped up in their pilotage dues. Here again I am
not sure how much is dispersed out to the light dues facility,
but it certainly is wrapped up. I think Denmark is 80 per cent
tax and 20 per cent light dues. There are other countries such
as Canada, Australia and those sorts of places, which have a light
dues system something along the lines of ours. I would say there
is a lot of interest in our system throughout the world. In the
last few months we have had enquiries from India and from Korea
and about a year ago we had a delegation from China come to see
how we did it because they were very interested.
254. Are you convinced that aids, for want of
a better word, given to European ports are as transparent as they
(Mr Clarke) They are not as transparent as they might
be as far as we are concerned. Whether the Europeans would consider
them transparent is probably a different question. Certainly it
does cause a certain amount of confusion in many of the payers
255. You might have heard my question to the
last set of witnesses. What impact do you think the way that light
dues are charged at the moment has on coastal shipping as it currently
operates and possibly its future development?
(Mr Clarke) It depends what you mean by coastal shipping.
If you mean coasters which are going round the coast going to
one port after the other, they pay light dues but it is maximised
at seven voyages. Once they have paid the seven, they are exempt
for the rest of the year. You might argue that is no different
to the ferries which are coming back on a daily basis. They pay
seven a year, so there is perhaps some slight imbalance with those
sorts of vessels as compared with the very big container ships,
for instance, which come in to Felixstowe or that sort of place,
which may only come four or five times a year. That is a comparison
which has to be made.
256. Do you think that there would be some merit
in having light dues and port charges brought together in a single
charge, possibly to cover such issues as waste disposal?
(Mr Clarke) It is probably a situation in which it
would be difficult to put together a general levy such as the
light dues which is consistent throughout the UK, and indeed Ireland
because it is an intergovernmental agreement, and the port dues
which are set by each of the ports on their own as a commercial
undertaking. I see some conflict between the scope of each port
to set its own dues and a regulatory charge. My guess is that
it would probably cause them administrative difficulties to do
that. They have always resisted it in the past.
257. Are light dues available to anybody? Can
anyone check whether they are being charged the correct amount?
Is that information in the public sector?
(Mr Clarke) Yes and it has to be displayed at each
collector's office under the Act.
258. It is a completely different type of information
and charge because it is a standardised charge.
(Mr Clarke) Yes, there is a statutory instrument which
produces all the rules and regulations. It is certainly in the
259. Are you at all concerned at the way light
dues are currently charged and the potential effect on the competitiveness
of the UK ports, particularly vis-a"-vis their European counterparts?
(Mr Clarke) I personally do not have a major problem
with this to the extent that I believe the user-pays system is
right and proper and it does have some benefits as far as I am
concerned. Particular benefits would be the fact that if the user
is paying us, we have to be responsive to the user's requirements,
more so than if it were Exchequer funded. On the converse of that
it might be argued that as the user is also the payer he is probably
more responsible in making requests for additional aids. As regards
the competition angle, yes, it is an argument which is often put
to us that it makes our portsFelixstowe is a good exampleuncompetitive
with those across the Channel such as Rotterdam. I would suggest,
however, that the actual light dues figure is a very minimal part
of the total freight costs of a ship operation. I do not know
the percentage but my guess is that it is probably pretty insignificant
at the end of the day. Some of the major ship owners, however,
do pay large amounts and they would argue against that.