Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780 - 786)




  780. I want to ask the PLA about their role. How do you differ from a private ports company such as ABP?
  (Mr Cuthbert) As I said earlier, we are a public trust, responsible for the safety of navigation throughout the whole of the tidal Thames which starts at Teddington and ends at a line roughly between Clacton and Margate. We are responsible for the movement of ships, shipping and leisure craft within that area primarily. We have limited planning powers also to help the safeguarding of wharves, particularly aggregate wharves and waste wharves in the GLA area. We have responsibility to promote the Port of London as a commercial port.

  781. Why is it clearly essential for safety reasons to have a single consistent regime for navigation?
  (Mr Cuthbert) Lord Justice Clarke in his Thames Safety Inquiry said that there should be one set of byelaws on the whole of the tidal Thames that starts out at Clacton and ends at Teddington.

  782. Can you give us more details about the safety levels?
  (Mr Cuthbert) The safety levels as far as our own port is concerned, our own employees, our record is similar to ABP's. As far as navigational safety on the Thames is concerned, I would like Bruce Richardson to answer that question.
  (Rear Admiral Richardson) Chairman, you will be aware, obviously, with the introduction of the Port Marine Safety Code that the navigational safety aspects of the port operation, in other words the wet part of the thing, is now subject to standards set by Government. It is a requirement that full safety assessment is conducted, risk assessment, and indeed that the port operate within a safety management system. I believe this initiative has done a great deal for the maritime safety aspects of the port, which is predominately what the PLA responsibility is. I am afraid I am unable to comment on the dry side, the cargo handling side.

  783. Okay. Can I bring both of you now to the whole problem of this famous Directive. What do you think are the difficulties with it?
  (Mr Cuthbert) My view on this is that the Directive is fine for the landlord type of port on the Continent where the state or the city or the municipality or the lender or whoever it is that finances the port infrastructure such as breakwaters, dredging, quays, locks, etc, some even to the cranes and the buildings themselves. In the United Kingdom, as you were saying earlier, with the privatised industry, it is left to the privatised ports to run this strategic national asset. The idea that ports will invest and will continue to invest major sums of money in terminals with the threat hanging over them that under the proposed Directive part of that investment will be taken away from them, and it can be handed to somebody else to operate once you have built it, I think creates uncertainty as far as investment is concerned and is therefore potentially very damaging to the UK industry. As the Directive is drafted at the moment, we are told by officials in Brussels that it will not apply in the Port of London because we are an open port and we do not regulate the provision of port services. Our concerns are what is going to happen when this goes through the European Parliament and before the Council of Ministers, what changes are going to be made. A relatively small change of a few words and we would find ourselves as a regulated port. I think this is very damaging for the UK. It does not take into account the financial structure of the ports industry in the UK. It is the only industry in the whole of the 15 States which is financed this way. It is discriminatory and disproportionate against the UK ports industry. I think there are also questions too over the rights to enjoy property. There is no mention of compensation in this Directive anywhere. I cannot see how you can have a system like this and produce a draft Directive to take away people's property rights without indeed covering the issue of compensation.

  784. Have you made those points both to the Government and to the Commission?
  (Mr Cuthbert) Yes, to Mrs de Palacio herself and to Keith Hill.

  785. What response did you get from Signora de Palacio?
  (Mr Cuthbert) "That is as maybe but we have got to do something". She did not actually say this herself but her officials did. "We cannot tackle state aid in ports, that is too difficult. It is outside the Treaty of Rome. We have to do something in the ports and therefore we are going to open up the ports services market. That helps complete the common market and the open market and why are you objecting to it? We are very sorry but we are going ahead anyway".

  786. Mr Lerenius?
  (Mr Lerenius) Chairman, I am not going to repeat everything Mr Cuthbert said but I would say basically that I agree with his view. This fits very badly into the sort of structure we already have. It is not going to make us more efficient. I think investments are at risk. I have difficulty, I must say, when a new regulation, a new bureaucracy is introduced. At least one would expect it to have some upside, we have very great difficulty seeing any upside here.

  Chairman: On that point, I shall say thank you very much to you all. We are very grateful.

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