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

Memorandum by The Corporation of Trinity House (P 39)


  This Memorandum contains the views of Trinity House within the terms of reference of the Transport Sub-Committee's Inquiry into Opportunities and Development Prospects at Major Ports. Trinity House welcomes the opportunity to assist the Committee in its Inquiry.

  Due to the specialist nature of its maritime role with its focus on safety of navigation, Trinity House believes that it can best assist the Committee by providing background information on its role of providing safe, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation for all classes of user. Clearly safety of navigation has an impact upon opportunities and development prospects in UK ports as port accessibility and safety of navigation in, and in the approaches to, our ports are of concern to the port authorities themselves and to potential users. In addition, the way in which the costs of provision of Aids to Navigation ("AtoN") are recovered is relevant in terms of the overall costs of port access. It seems to Trinity House however that there are aspects of the Terms of Reference set for the Inquiry by the Committee which fall outside Trinity House's remit. It is, however, glad to assist in any way it can and to provide any further information or expertise in this area if required.

  As the Committee will recall, Trinity House submitted a Memorandum in 1998 to the Committee's Inquiry on the Future of the UK Shipping Industry. In our view many of the points made in that Memorandum remain relevant to the present Inquiry. Trinity House understands that the Committee may wish to address the particular issue of light dues as a means of payment for the provision of general aids to navigation by users and, in particular, the issue of light dues "with reference to international comparisons" in accordance with its Terms of Reference.


  Trinity House was formally constituted under Royal Charter granted by Henry VIII in 1514. Today, Trinity House performs its main duties and discharges its functions as:

    —  the General Lighthouse Authority ("GLA") for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar;

    —  a charitable organisation for the safety, welfare and training of mariners;

    —  a deep sea pilotage authority.

  Trinity House is led by a Court of Elder Brethren under the Master, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Responsibility for the Lighthouse Service is delegated to the Lighthouse Board which is made up of three executive directors and four non-executive directors, three of whom are nominated by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and three senior officials who are non-voting executive directors.

  The Lighthouse Service is financed from light dues (see below), a system of user charges levied on commercial shipping. These dues are paid into the General Lighthouse Fund of which the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions is trustee. The Lighthouse Service's expenses, together with those of the GLA's for Scotland and Ireland are met by the Fund. The Lighthouse Service is therefore funded directly by the user. There is no expense to the UK tax payer. A summary of the Lighthouse Service is found at ANNEX 1.

  Trinity House regards accountability and openness as being of paramount importance. All classes of user of AtoN are regularly consulted on their requirements and assist in deciding on changes to the mix of aids.

  Trinity House introduced a Code of Best Practice for Lighthouse Board Members in November 1996. This is currently being updated with regard to the provision of effective internal control as promulgated in the Turnbull Report. The Code includes commitment to the Principals of Standards in Public Life set out by the Nolan Committee. In addition the Public Appointments Unit is actively involved in the process of the Secretary of State's nomination of three non-executive Directors to the Lighthouse Board. Openness is maintained by the publishing of Service targets and objectives in an Annual Review. Other publications are made available on the Trinity House website. Trinity House is also compliant with the Combined Code on Corporate Governance arising from the Turnbull Report, through a system of internal controls embodied within its Management Systems for Quality.

  Trinity House delivers services under the umbrella of its Management Systems for Quality ("MSQ") which inter alia embraces—

ISO 9001 Standard

  The first lighthouse service in the world to be certified across the whole scope of its operations.

ISM Code

  In respect to Trinity House tenders, launches and marine management systems.

BS 8800 Safety Management

  Accredited to RoSPA Level 5.

ISO 14001 Environmental Management


  The MSQ is based on the Service's core business and has been developed to orchestrate the Lighthouse Service's philosophy of constant improvement.

  Trinity House also produces an annual corporate plan with specific targets and cost projections three years in advance.


  Trinity House has contributed to the drafting of the Port Marine Safety Code in connection with lighthouse authority, duties, wrecks, Vessel Traffic Services and the inspection role of the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLAs) in respect of AtoN provided in local lighthouse authority areas. As a result, all AtoN provided by harbour authorities/local lighthouse authorities must be maintained in accordance with the availability and other criteria laid down by the GLAs, including a requirement for periodic review. Publication of the Code by the DETR was followed by a contribution by Trinity House to the draft Guide to Good Practice with emphasis on safety of navigation issues.


  The UK and the Irish Republic are Signatory States to the International Maritime Organisation SOLAS Convention 1974. Chapter V, Regulation 14 places general responsibility on contracting governments for the adequate provision of AtoN in and around each of their respective areas, for the safe navigation of shipping. The UK Government (DETR) participates in navigation matters at international level, as a Member State of IMO; this is co-ordinated in the UK by a Safety of Navigation Committee (UK-SON) chaired by a senior official of the Maritime Coastguard Agency and may, for example, involve discussion on changes to internationally approved Traffic Separation Schemes such as the one established in the Dover Strait. The GLAs provide advice to the Government on AtoN matters mainly through a non-statutory Joint User Consultative Group.

  By virtue of Part VIII of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, the UK Government has largely been able to delegate responsibility for AtoN to the GLAs. The superintendence and management of all lighthouses, buoys and beacons is vested in the GLAs in and around the coasts of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, by virtue of Section 195 of the Act, subject to certain provisions regarding local AtoN in harbour authority areas.

  The Government however, retains responsibility under international law for the proper discharge of the UK's international obligations under SOLAS and is mindful of this when dealing with requests from the GLAs for financial sanction to AtoN proposals. The DETR also needs to be satisfied that the powers delegated to the GLAs are being exercised in a way which meets the UK's SOLAS obligations. The GLAs are classified as public sector bodies although the financing of their lighthouse services is by way of light dues collected from the private sector commercial shipping industry and paid into the dedicated General Lighthouse Fund.

  The GLAs enjoy worldwide respect through the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) and otherwise, due to their long experience, their standards of service and professionalism. The GLAs have a tripartite forum for co-operation, the exchange of information and the co-ordination of common policies to determine where cost-savings can be made in their respective organisations and in the facilities provided through joint initiatives. The GLAs have a long-proven wealth of practical experience amongst those persons who operate their lighthouse services in all weathers. It is a reliable and cost-effective maritime service in support of navigational safety within the present system of non-governmental finance provisions. Our systems of AtoN are comprehensive and known for efficiency and high standards amongst those who use the seas in either a professional or leisure capacity.

  All expenses relating to lighthouses, buoys and beacons maintained by the GLAs, are met out of a self-supporting fund known as the General Lighthouse Fund ("GLF"). This fund is maintained by light dues income, the collection and accounting for which are centralised and controlled from Trinity House, the GLA having jurisdiction in England and Wales.


  The GLF was set up under the Merchant Shipping (Mercantile Marine Fund) Act 1898 and was initially brought under the stewardship of the Board of Trade and latterly the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Section 205(5) of the 1995 Act enables the Secretary of State to regulate the scale of charges and determine the basis of liability.

  It should be emphasised and clearly understood that the GLF is a non-profit making fund. The level of dues collected are regulated to ensure that adequate funds are always available to meet the sanctioned operating and capital estimates of the GLAs, with a view to retaining a small reserve to meet contingency requirements. There is no trading profit ingredient in the system.


  Except for certain provisions relating to local lighthouse authorities, the superintendence and management of all lighthouses, buoys and beacons throughout Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and the adjacent seas and islands are vested in the GLAs, Trinity House having jurisdiction in England and Wales, the Northern Lighthouse Board in Scotland and the Isle of Man, and the Commissioners of Irish Lights/Irish Lights Commission in Ireland.

  Light dues are levied on a scale and in accordance with the rules laid down in regulations made from time to time by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions who is responsible for adjusting the rates of light dues to maintain the General Lighthouse Fund at a level commensurate with the approved estimates of expenditure of the GLAs. Charges are normally reviewed once annually, by the Secretary of State, for the purpose of maintaining the level of the Fund. Any variation broadly takes the form of a percentage increase or decrease of the light dues calculated on the basic scale.

  Light dues are payable per voyage in respect of ships arriving at or departing from ports in the United Kingdom or the Irish Republic, unless they come within the scope of one of the statutory exemptions; tugs and fishing vessels of 10 metres and over and pleasure craft of 20 tons and over are required to make periodic payments on account of light dues.

  The GLAs are empowered to appoint collecting agents (currently the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers) who collect the light dues from ships making voyages to and from the ports. The owners of fishing vessels and tugs are invoiced direct by Trinity House-on behalf of all three GLAs—based on entries maintained by the relevant UK Registry. The amounts collected are remitted into the custody of the DETR who have responsibility for management of the GLF.

  The tonnage of the vessel on which light dues are payable per voyage is the net tonnage denoted on the International Tonnage Certificate issued in accordance with the International Tonnage Convention 1969 or on the national certificate of registry. Fishing vessels and tugs are rated according to registered length. For those paying by voyage liability for light dues is limited to one voyage per month on a rolling month basis. There is a maximum number of seven liable voyages per year.


  Trinity House firmly believes that marine AtoN services should be user-funded and that the whole spectrum of marine users should pay as far as is practicable and necessary to ensure a fair and balanced system.

  In our view the light dues charged in the UK and Irish Republic are a bona fide levy in proportion to the cost of the general AtoN services provided, somewhat akin to the user funding systems for aviation and road traffic and the local AtoN services charged to the ports' users. It is considered fair that commercial and leisure users should pay for the AtoN services provided for the common good of marine safety and the prevention of pollution at sea.

  In our view light dues are a justifiable charge on the users of AtoN; the system also provides the necessary discipline for more effective user consultation / AtoN review procedures. Moreover, it produces the correct overall balance between the perceived and actual AtoN needs of the marine users. Trinity House seeks to maintain an objective stance by not bowing to political pressure or relying entirely on the views of only one body or person purportedly representing the views of the large majority of a certain class or group of users.

  It seems to us likely that lighthouse organisations which are not funded directly by the user are less inclined to listen to and reflect the requirements of those using the service. Equally under publicly funded regimes users are inclined to express their requirements without due regard to the expense involved. Public funds are finite and this can be an important factor in determining the level and quality of the AtoN provided, with potentially dangerous consequences. It therefore seems there is no simple way to ensure that decisions are made always for the best where partial or total state funding of marine AtoN services is involved. In our view there is much less risk of the quality and range of AtoN being compromised where there is a direct interface between the provider and user, particularly when overall control of availability of funds is exercised by a trustee, as in the UK.

  Many countries, including those who have studied and admired the UK and Irish system are actively looking at the possibility of implementing at least a part-charge to the user for the general AtoN services provided.

  In fact a significant number of administrations throughout the world levy light dues. As may be expected, many of these are British Commonwealth countries. Similar systems have only recently been implemented in Canada and Australia. Most countries levying light dues aim only to recover a proportion of their expenditure on AtoN. It has been said that the problem of cost recovery for AtoN remains difficult since there are usually more ships passing along the coastline than going to port. These ships cannot be charged for using marine AtoN and facilities unless there is a balanced system of user funding throughout the region. One of the strengths of the European Union's Communication of a Common Policy on Safe Seas (COM(93)66 final) is that it recognises the advantages of a Pan-European user funding mechanism for the provision of AtoN. It is to be regretted that this initiative remains undeveloped and appears of relatively low priority in the Commission's Green Paper on Sea Ports and Maritime Infrastructure (COM(97)678 final) and the recently published Commission Communication "Reinforcing Quality Services in Sea Ports: A Key for European Transport" and the accompanying proposal for a directive on Market Access to Port Services (COM (2001) 35 final).

  We respectfully draw the Committee's attention to Table C at Annex 3 to the GLA's Marine Navigation Plan period to 2015[37]. This provides a comparative profile of the Union Member States Aids to Navigation Arrangements and their related funding.


  The DETR's (then DoT) Report on Liner Shipping and Freight Rates between the UK and Northern Europe in 1986 concluded that only one-seventh of the difference in cost between UK and Continental Ports was attributable to light dues and that the other six-sevenths or 85 per cent was due, inter alia, to operating inefficiency at that time and foreign port subsidies. It is clear therefore that other considerations carry greater weight than light dues where a shipowner has a choice of a UK or a Continental Port at which to discharge. Furthermore it should be noted that whilst the rate of light dues has not increased since 1993 (and was in fact reduced in 1997 by 4.6 per cent), last year in particular saw a significant increase in larger vessels visiting UK ports with a commensurate increase in light dues revenue. It does not therefore appear that light dues, in isolation, operate as a deterrent to the use or potential use of ports by ship operators.

  Another "distortion factor" may be seen to arise out of the fact that not all users pay for the general AtoN service provided by the Corporation-in particular leisure craft users are mainly exempt. Trinity House believes that this anomaly should be addressed as soon as a cost-effective method of collection can be devised and made enforceable.


  As mentioned above Trinity House considers user consultation to be of the utmost importance in delivering a service which meets the navigational requirements of users. The close contact developed between provider and user is, in our view, one of the strengths of the "user pays" system. The shipowners are represented directly on the Lighthouse Finance Committee through the Lights Advisory Committee (LAC) which provides advice to the Secretary of State on lighthouse matters from the point of view of the marine users. However, the LAC may not be regarded as truly representative of the bulk of shipping in UK waters which is predominantly foreign flag; government shipping and leisure craft are also outwith the scope of the LAC and are consulted separately via direct consultation initiated by the GLAs.

  The full scope of financial and user consultation carried out by Trinity House is described and illustrated at Annex 2.


  As a founder member, Trinity House has made valuable contributions to IALA, particularly in regard to the work of the technical committees on radionavigation, operations, engineering, Automatic Identification Systems and Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). In turn, IALA provides important recommendations and guidelines for use by the International Maritime Organization.


  Trinity House regards the principal of subsidiarity as being of the utmost importance in the better provision and performance of AtoN services by EU Member States; any EU interface must respect the need for diversity in handling regional circumstances, particularly in the ports industry.

  Insofar as the efficient and cost-effective provision of AtoN services is concerned, the Corporation believe user-funding is of fundamental importance. The light dues system in the UK and the Irish Republic, combined with the active examples of effective inter-GLA co-operation, lend weight to the subsidiarity principle in dealing with AtoN matters. Common policies can be made to work through consultation with, and co-operation between, Member States; this will ensure the required feedback and necessary action concerning special needs due to particular regional circumstances.

  A considerate amount of co-operation and consultation towards the formulation of common marine AtoN policies is already taking place through IALA. Trinity House believe this should be allowed to continue and develop with the direct input from the administrations of EU Member States to IMO and the EU as necessary. In addition, the EU should not be allowed to spend money unnecessarily and work in isolation where great efforts are already being made towards the development of a worldwide navigation system through IMO. Where some benefit exists for the common good of the Union and can be better achieved by the EU in consultation with Member States, then Trinity House will be prepared to lend the full weight of their experience and expertise to assist the effort, provided that democracy and diversity are guaranteed in working toward any common solution.

P B Rowe

Deputy Master

12 March 2001

37   The Marine Navigation Plan Period to 2015 is a plan devised by the GLAs to ensure the ongoing provision of a satisfactory, economical and reliable AtoN service to meet the changing requirements of all classes of mariners in the waters of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. The plan is kept under review and the GLAs will give timely notification of any changes to the maritime community and relevant institutions. Back

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