Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001
JOHN A GOOD
300. Thank you. Mr Good?
(Mr Good) No, I do not think so.
301. How important are major ports to the economy
of the United Kingdom?
(Mr Everard) Absolutely vital. The UK is about the
fifth or sixth largest trading country in the world and our goods
mostly go in and out by sea. Our ports are absolutely vital to
the future of the nation. Also the ports are vital in terms of
safe navigation and making sure that things do not go wrong. Very
302. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities
which are faced by the major ports?
(Mr Everard) To make sure that they can reach the
increasing cargo which is bound to come. World trade is increasing,
hopefully the UK will have a good share of that and they have
to make sure they meet those opportunities both economically and
303. Do you have a view on the impact of the
way that we charge light dues in this country on coastal short
sea shipping? How in your view could we improve in the future
adequate potential increases in coastal shipping?
(Mr Everard) I must admit on coastal shipping I think
light dues do not actually stop anything moving. We only pay seven
times a year once a month and it is not an enormous amount. The
people who really suffer from paying light dues are actually the
large ships who pay an enormous amount. Basically light dues are
a tax on trade and we are a trading nation and to put a tax on
trade is not very clever. Any increases or decreases one way or
another affect movements in one way. I cannot say that in themselves
light dues on coastal shipping make too much difference to movements.
304. You have not given any percentages; just
large, small ...
(Mr Everard) I would say a couple of percent, two
or three percent on port charges over a year, would be the cost
of light dues for my sort of ship.
(Captain Bligh) We presently operate a fleet of about
143 large ships operating worldwide, 20 of which come into UK
ports. The burden for us of light dues paid during the last financial
reporting year for light dues was £2.2 million.
305. On what?
(Captain Bligh) On light dues.
306. Yes, I understand those were light dues
but what proportion is that?
(Captain Bligh) It is 110 calls into four major ports
in the UK.
307. Can you give us a percentage?
(Captain Bligh) A percentage of ...?
308. What effect is that in terms of your overheads
(Captain Bligh) I could not give you an accurate figure
for the percentage.
309. One hundred and ten.
(Captain Bligh) One hundred and ten calls of ships
in UK ports and we pay on average £20,000 a call and light
dues charged April to April were £2.239 million.
(Mr Good) The Institute do collect the light dues
on behalf of Trinity House as their agent. Having said that, we
do not argue with the user-pays policy as long as it is the same
throughout Europe. On the basis of the amount paid by shipping
lines, one shipping line has calculated that it is equivalent
to about £10 per container handled every time they load or
discharge a container.
310. The Committee have a problem with this.
Captain Bligh, what would be the total worth of the goods being
carried? The amount of money you are talking about is very large
and the Committee would naturally take a considerable interest.
But in order to put that into some kind of perspective, we need
to know what that represents, do we not, in terms of the total
(Captain Bligh) First of all, we pay light dues on
all the cargo we move through the United Kingdom and out, because
it is a tonnage based tax, regardless of whether we actually discharge
311. Yes, I understand that but that is part
of the business.
(Captain Bligh) Yes, but the figure which has just
been quoted, which was approximately £10 per containerwe
charge our freight rates on a container not on the actual load
inside itis an approximate figure of what it amounts to.
Throughput of containers through the
312. What is the charge for each container?
(Captain Bligh) There is no flat rate charged per
container in the sense that different trades and different routes
have vastly different container rates.
313. So we cannot really say that this is an
unfair percentage because we cannot tell, can we?
(Mr Everard) I am not sure that we are actually saying
necessarily what the percentage is. The fact is that callers in
UK ports are paying £64 million a year in light dues which
are not being paid in ports abroad and the lights are not on the
whole being used by the merchant ships as much as they are by
other people. Even if they are being used by other people, a lot
of the ships which use lights are ships which never touch this
country. You only have to look at the oil pollution caused, apart
from the Sea Empress which was a port accident in Milford Haven,
by the Torre Canyon, the Amoco Cadiz, the Brer, which were all
ships passing the UK, which in theory would be using UK lights,
but it still did not stop them having their problems, which were
for different reasons. Passing traffic does not pay anything.
It is a tax on ships using the UK, to the benefit of lots of other
people, including yachtsmen as well as passing ships.
314. Yes, but one could, if one were being awkward
about it, argue that if the passing traffic were pushed further
out that would be a simple way of dealing with it: they would
not get the benefit of the lights but it would not in any way
impinge upon their overheads.
(Mr Everard) If you go up the Channel you have to
go in a certain place. We are not arguing against lights at all.
We are not saying the lights should be shut out. What we are saying
is that we do not think we should have to pay the amount we are
paying towards light dues. It is quite true that with the sort
of ships which we are operating today you could in theory actually
do without lights. We are not saying we do not want them, we are
not suggesting that.
315. It might not be altogether wise.
(Mr Everard) What I am saying is that there are many
other people who use lights who are paying absolutely nothing.
316. For the record, is it fair to say that
for the most part we are fairly unique in this country in having
a number of privately owned ports?
(Mr Everard) We are unique. We would start off by
saying that in this country, we are a bit different from, say,
the European Community, if you compare with Rotterdam, say, we
have a lot of private ports. Actually from the ship owners' point
of view we would say they have done pretty well over the last
15 years. I have been going to Sweden for the last 30 years. I
used to say when I went there that I wished our ports in the UK
were as efficient as Sweden. Now things have totally turned round.
We are far more efficient than they are and the big thing the
ports have done is not only invested in cargo handling and other
equipment, but it is so much easier to get a ship worked in the
UK at any time of day, night or at weekends. I and not saying
everything is rosy, because I am sure it is not, and I am sure
that will come out later on. On the whole I would actually say
that UK ports are efficient.
317. We will not go into the reasons why because
I might be called out of order. Are you convinced that state aids
in other European ports are as transparent as they might be? Are
you convinced that they are not a form of unfair competition?
(Mr Everard) There is no doubt that they are a form
of unfair competition and they are not transparent. We in the
shipping industry do not mind subsidies to ports because they
reduce our costs. We are not going to come out and say do not
318. You do not get any and you are not likely
to get any.
(Mr Everard) No, but the fact is that it does help
to reduce port costs and hopefully the charges are less to us.
What I would say is that I do not actually think that is a very
good way for Government to use their resources. You mentioned
coastal trading. I think it would be a much better target to use
the money to persuade those cargoes which are currently going
by road to come back to sea, not just by giving a general subsidy,
which in many ways treats different people in different ways and
does not always achieve what is wanted. I think targeting is a
much better idea.
319. I am obviously very familiar with Harwich,
representing it for ten years in the European Parliament, and
I am full of admiration for what they have done with the cruise
ships and the ferry boats generally out of Harwich, but it is
those last eight miles of road. You are not going to get people
to use UK ports if you do not have the infrastructure to get the
traffic, either goods or passenger, to the ports.
(Mr Everard) The present Government has helped us
with the 44-tonne lorries because that does help us move things.
Also they have announced that they are going to extend the freight
facilities grant. We are very grateful and we believe those are
the sorts of things which will help us. Of course there has to
be some investment in roads. You can argue whether roads fully
pay their amount or not but the fact is that the Government's
policy does seem to be to try to help to get cargo back to water,
particularly with their new planning advice where they said water
was something which must be taken into account to take cargo off