Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
260. You do not think that the fact that Felixstowe,
I think I am right in saying, now has no passenger ferries whatsoever
has anything to do with the light dues.
(Mr Clarke) I do not suspect that has anything to
do with light dues. Ferries would only be paying seven times a
year so that is minuscule, although in fairness that estuary has
picked up some very good traffic with the passenger ships for
the cruises; the cruise liners now come into Parkstone. That is
a very good traffic which has been gained in the last couple of
261. Anyway there is no evidence that the traffic
in that particular estuary is going down, is there?
(Mr Clarke) No; in fact Felixstowe is the busiest
port in terms of the number of light dues certificates issued.
262. So if it is a disadvantage, it is not a
very large one.
(Mr Clarke) It would appear not.
263. I wonder. The UK Major Ports Group say
that the system of light dues in the UK compounds the problems
of state aids to ports in Europe. You have described the impact
as minimal and insignificant.
(Mr Clarke) I am suggesting that. I have no evidence
because I am not familiar with the total freight costs of our
shipping lines. I am suggesting that it is fairly minimal.
264. So you would not quarrel with the UK Major
Ports Group in their assertion.
(Mr Clarke) I suggest it must add to the problem;
we cannot deny that.
265. I should like to turn to the system. I
understand that vessels which do not call at British ports are
not obliged to pay the light dues, nor the leisure sector, nor
part of the shipping industry, which is always contentious of
course. Should a way be found to force those who currently do
not pay light dues to pay them?
(Mr Clarke) The passing traffic would be difficult
because under international shipping law you have to give a ship
the right of free passage in your coastal waters. That would probably
be difficult to achieve under international law. So far as the
fishing vessels are concerned, the fishing vessels which are exempt
are those under ten metres. Most of those vessels are of a size
that are unlikely to be going outside port limits into our area
of jurisdiction anyway. I do not really see that cut-off has a
266. The leisure sector?
(Mr Clarke) Trinity House is on record as saying about
the leisure sector that if there were a way of collecting it we
believe they should bear part of the liability. I have to say
as the collector that I have no means of collecting that unless
there were some form of registration system, which presumably
would need primary legislation.
267. May I put to you the situation which has
been outlined to us in relation to the Commissioners of Irish
Lights? The Chamber of Shipping in their evidence to us make it
clear that 70 per cent of the expenditure of the Commissioners
of Irish Lights, estimated at some £9.1 million, relates
to the provision of aids to navigation in the Republic of Ireland.
We are told that only £3.1 million is received by the General
Lighthouse Fund from Irish light dues and £1.6 million from
the Irish Government. A quick calculation would suggest that aids
to navigation in the Republic are subsidised by something like
£4.4 million. Would you agree with that? If so, is this not
a serious situation?
(Mr Clarke) Some of the figures you are quoting are
a mixture. May I please remind you that the Commissioners of Irish
Lights are the one body which covers the whole of Ireland, North
and South. Its expenditure is part Ulster and part the Republic.
The total running cost you have quoted I think is the total cost
in punts of the total for the whole of Ireland. The light dues
collected only apply to the Republic because those collected in
Northern Ireland come into our pot. Also, the subsidy to which
you refer is a calculation based on the split of the costs of
Irish lights between North and South. At the end of the day there
is a subsidy; in accounting terms you cannot deny that. However,
to discuss the fairness or otherwise is not for me. That really
is a matter for Government because it was the two Governments
which agreed it. All I can say is that as the collector in the
UK the point is often put to me and I find it somewhat difficult
to defend the position.
268. That leads me nicely to my next question,
thank you, which is a very direct one and perhaps a little simplistic.
Why should those using aids to navigation in the UK ports subsidise
those using such aids in Irish ports?
(Mr Clarke) That is a political question and it is
not quite for me to answer. However, may I qualify in two regards.
You have to look first at the pattern of voyages between Ireland
and the UK because some vessels will be going backwards and forwards
and choose where they wish to pay. You will always have some sort
of distortion, even to the extent of the exchange rate. The rates
per tonne are similar in both Ireland and here. Of course with
the exchange rate at the moment, it is much cheaper effectively
for a vessel to go into Dublin than it is to go into Liverpool.
So when an Irish ferry sails between the two countries you can
see where they are going to make their payments. I am only suggesting
that there are other distortions besides the one you relate.
269. You have been good enough to relate to
the light dues system and state aid and subsidy in the rest of
the European Union. You have also been clear about your views
on leisure activity subject to the qualifications you made. You
have also been kind enough to explain your view about the situation
I outlined in Ireland. Given what you have said, what changes
if any would you like to see to the light dues system?
(Mr Clarke) I am aware that the Department are at
the moment discussing with the Irish Government the basis of the
split of the contribution whatever it is. It is not my role to
get involved in that, I am the collector not the setter of the
rules. Certainly I should be pleased to see some resolution of
that process between the two governments because it is a position
which I find difficult as collector to defend. There are other
areas where the load could be spread certainly, but that is a
question of primary legislation because it would need to involve
a lot of registration and I am not sure whether in other interests
that is the best way forward or not. It would not be for me to
say that. That is the limit of the major policy changes which
I should personally like to see, except I suppose you might argue
that a limit of seven voyages perhaps gives an unfair preference
to the very frequent users. If there were a move in the other
direction one might regard that as a better spread. I have some
administrative things which I have put forward but the industry
do not appear to want to accept those; they are purely administrative
to make my life a little easier and to make the job of collection
a little bit more secure.
270. I realise you have told us you are the
collector and you should not have a view on these things but do
you have any evidence yourself that the differentiation between
the two sets of light dues affects where people take decisions
on a particular port?
(Mr Clarke) Do you mean between Ireland and the UK?
No, it does not alter major traffic patterns. If the opportunity
of a voyage is calling in both places, they will probably take
advantage of the exchange rate at the moment.
271. But you do not have an overwhelming feeling
that there have been major changes in the way that people are
(Mr Clarke) No, there is no change in the pattern
of shipping that you can trace from the certificates which have
been issued. It does not appear to be something of great significance.
272. The Pilotage Act 1987: a great success?
(Captain Glass) I must qualify my answer by saying
that Trinity House was the pilotage authority for many ports for
many hundreds of years and therefore the effect on Trinity House
Corporation was dramatic when the 1987 Act took pilotage away
from Trinity House and gave it to the competent harbour authorities.
We felt aggrieved and it made a huge difference to us. Was it
a great success? In our view no, not at the time, because everybody
was less than prepared for it. We had had 473 years of pilotage
authority behind us and the consequence of the Act passing responsibility
to the competent harbour authorities was greatly underestimated.
In the following years obviously it has dramatically improved.
273. Do you think safety is better now as a
result of the Act than it was before?
(Captain Glass) No. I would suggest that having a
single pilotage authority examining the pilots to a certain standard
and having continuity of pilotage between ports and the seamless
interface between general navigation and harbour navigation has
not been improved by the Act.
274. Do you think some of the port and harbour
authorities are liable to be put under pressure to skimp on pilotage
costs and safety in order to bring the cargo into their port?
(Captain Glass) I know the pressure is immense. The
commercial competition between ports and between users of ports
has to place great pressure on the agents, the harbour authorities
and the pilots themselves. But it should not and really the port
and marine safety code is working towards guidelines which will
prevent it having a consequence on safety.
275. But it is having a consequence at the moment.
(Captain Glass) Yes, it is.
276. What about these pilotage exemption certificates?
Do you think they are being abused?
(Captain Glass) It is hard for me to say. At the risk
of being repetitive, under Trinity House exemptions were granted
under the same rules and examination and syllabus in all the ports
for which we were responsible. After the Act everybody did their
277. Are a lot more being issued now than there
(Captain Glass) Yes, there are.
Chairman: You may give us a careful answer,
Captain Glass, but the reality is that if more are being issued,
are you satisfied that they are being issued on the basis of expertise?
Mr Bennett: I thought the answer was implied.
278. Yes, he did imply it but I am not going
to let him get away with that. I need to know, Captain Glass.
What you are saying to us by inference is that yes, the system
works all right, yes, there has been no obvious change. Then you
say to us that many more pilotage exemption certificates are granted.
I say to you: are you therefore satisfied that that extra number
of certificates is granted to people with the same level of expertise?
(Captain Glass) I would have to answer that I do not
believe so, because of the lack of continuity between ports, as
described earlier by NUMAST.
279. Which you accept as true. You believe that
(Captain Glass) Absolutely.