Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360
WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
JAMIESON MP, MR
360. Was last year exceptional with seven or
was that about the level that we were running at before?
(Mr Burr) The pattern is rather uneven. Last year,
it was by anybody's reckoning a bad year. One of the things that
Port Skills and Safety are gearing up to do which they are going
to launch in September is that the industry plans to launch a
safer ports initiative with clear targets for reducing the number
of deaths and serious injuries in ports and also to reduce the
number of off time or off work accidents as well by substantial
numbers that exceed the targets in the government's Revitalising
Health and Safety.
361. You have told us that this year so far
we have not had any fatalities. Are the serious accidents also
down or are they not so good?
(Mr Burr) I do not think we collect statistics sufficiently.
It is too soon to say.
(Mr Jamieson) The statistics we have are that from
1999-2000 to 2000-01 major injuries in the first of those two
years were 135. In 2000-01 they were down to 72 so there was a
46% decrease in the number of major injuries. There was a slight
increase and two more people were fatally injured in that period
of time. It looks as if there is a trend for serious injuries
to decline and we hope that that trend is being followed through
in fatalities as well.
(Mr Burr) The government Health and Safety Executive
and the industry agree that this needs a big push and we welcome
the lead that the industry is giving in the safer ports initiative.
The government will be very firmly behind that, not only from
the point of view of encouragement but with a vigorous approach
to inspections and prosecutions and the development of guidance
on management responsibility, support by the government for the
industry's passport scheme to regulate non-permanent employees'
training standards and also a review of the dock regulations,
not just to bring them in line with all the latest directives
and so on, but to see if there are not some tweaks that could
be made in there that would make the ports safer.
362. Have you had any complaints about the new
Humber pilot set-up?
(Mr Burr) Enough to write a 40 page paper on.
363. What conclusions did you reach?
(Mr Burr) The conclusion we reached was that in general
the standard of the new pilotage service on the Humber was acceptable
and equivalent to the safety standard maintained by the previous
364. We will welcome a note from you on that.
Minister, you have already emphasised the fact that the government
does not submit to the ports industry EU rules but competition
to lead not only developments but also the future planning of
the industry. How much success have you had with the Commission
in pointing out the difference between what happens on the continent
in terms of state aid and what happens here?
(Mr Jamieson) This has been largely in the discussions
we have had over the Ports Directive. We have been very clear
in making the difference between the way our ports are run and
those that are run in other parts of the continent of Europe.
That is how we have secured many of the changes to this Directive
that we have. I think our ports are considerably advanced in many
respects in terms of liberalisation and the way they operate to
many of those in other parts of Europe. For example, they are
far more responsive generally to the demands of the industry.
There is more weekend working. We have made a very good case in
supporting our ports in this respect.
365. How much support do you get from the Commission?
Do they accept that some of the state aids constitute a distortion
(Mr Reeves) The state aid issue is a pretty complex
business. Under Article 87 of the Treaty, state aid is that aid
which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring
certain undertakings. There is an argument which has been run
in the past that a lot of the state funding that goes into the
ports industry on the continent is not state aid in those terms
because it is not favouring certain undertakings. It is open to
general use. This is just one of the issues. There is uncertainty
about what is and what is not state aid in the port sector and
therefore we have continued to press the Commissionand
I think they are quite sympathetic to our concernswith
one or two other Member States, that they really do need to take
a fresh look at this area. We were pleased that the Commissioner
herself at the Council on 17 June undertook to address the issue
of competition between ports by producing a paper on public funding
and state aid and by amending the Transparency Directive to cover
all the ports covered by the Directive on Port Services, not just
above the 40 million euro threshold.
366. Did she set a timetable for this?
(Mr Reeves) We understand that the Commission officials
have already been working on a draft paper on public funding of
state aid and we hope to see something issued by them by the autumn
of this year, but there is an opportunity over the next few weeks
for the ports industry and others to get their concerns across
direct to the Commission. We are encouraging them to do that.
367. Did you discuss light dues with anybody?
(Mr Reeves) I cannot say we have discussed light dues
specifically with the Commission. However, we have as the Committee
may know recently issued a consultation paper on light dues and
I have some copies with me in case the Committee would like some.
We have held down the rates over some years now through
368. We are not talking about the rates; we
are talking about the fact that this happens in this country and,
as you know, it does not happen elsewhere. That is a disadvantage.
(Mr Reeves) I agree. In most other European countries,
aids to navigation are state funded in one way or another.
369. Is there a suggestion that we are going
to take responsibility for it?
(Mr Reeves) The current policy is that users in the
UK should pay the costs of aids to navigation and that is broadly
the policy in Ireland, Greece and Sweden. We have however asked
specifically, in our consultation paper, for any evidence that
UK ports are financially disadvantaged in comparison with European
ports by the imposition of light dues. We need to remember it
is only one factor in the cost of port calls. We have not seen
evidence yet that there is a significant distortion of trading
patterns as a result of it, but we are encouraging everyone that
we are consulting to come forward with some evidence if they have
it. What we would like to see more generally is some evidence
on the overall totality of port costs so that we can see from
the shipping companies, for example, how the relative costs of
their port calls in the UK compare with costs on the continent.
370. Can I ask you about annex 17 of the UK
Maritime Coastguard Agency declaration: "AIS is a new and
untried system with the potential to make a significant contribution
to safety. It is particularly important therefore during the early
years of implementation that its potential is fully assessed by
mariners. This is causing considerable dismay. We are talking
about the imminent accession to revised SOLAS, Chapter 5."
(Mr Reeves) I am unsighted on that particular point.
It is not part of my responsibilities but we can come back to
you with a note.
371. This is something we have raised before
and it is causing considerable worries. It is going to affect,
as far as we can see, UK competition in relation to a great many
(Mr Reeves) In principle, one of the advantages of
proceeding through IMO is that you have a level degree of regulation
in particular areas on the maritime side. That is one reason why
it is very much an internationally regulated industry.
372. One understands that but what is concerning
people in the industry is that this new system could be used in
some waters to select ships as suitable targets to be attacked.
Is the Department looking at this very closely because if it goes
through by statutory instrument without people talking about the
(Mr Reeves) There is a whole raft of work going on,
on the security issues on the maritime side, as you can imagine.
A lot of it is linked to the IMO agenda.
373. Could you give us a note on that?
(Mr Jamieson) We will undertake to do that.
374. Finally, you have been very good and very
clear about collecting the information particularly about containers.
What we would like to know is that the Department is thinking
ahead in terms of a strategy that would enable it to deal with
a situation where competition was created by continental ports
being able to tranship goods. We do not want in this country to
go through the same situation again where we lose our trade because
so much of it is going into continental ports and then being transhipped.
Do we have your word that the Department is not only aware of
the implications for the United Kingdom economy from that but
is considering in very considerable detail the impact, where we
are going to go, how soon we need to worry about it, what effect
the deep water ports are going to have? Is all of that work going
to come before the Department?
(Mr Jamieson) It is. This is why we are looking so
very carefully at developments in the European Union because we
have to make sure that any developments that take place do not
disadvantage our own ports. A very good example is the one we
have been looking at today, the Ports Directive. It is a very
good example where this country has fought its corner very hard
and very successfully. Although we have not absolutely everything
we want, the work that we have done has generally been approved
of by virtually everybody involved with the operation of the ports.
375. The difficulty is that as an industry it
is a reactive industry in this country. It seems to be quite prepared
to rest on the laurels that we have competition between one port
and another and frankly that is not the case in relation to many
of the ports elsewhere in Europe. Unless there is some imagination,
we are suddenly going to find ourselves in exactly the same situation
in 10 years' time that we found, for example, in relation to aviation.
That would be not only damaging but extremely expensive.
(Mr Jamieson) That is a very poignant observation.
376. Can we be quite clear that the timetable
that you are working to will enable us to get some of the information
that you are gathering and that you will now put quite a lot of
pressure on the industry to come up with statistics that make
(Mr Burr) They want the decisions on the cases. Ministers
have a duty to make informed decisions using the best available
Chairman: Minister, you have been very tactful
and very helpful. Thank you.