Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (580-596)

18 JUNE 2003  


  Q580  Chairman: My understanding is that the UK industry thinks that this directive will force British ports into a continental model of landlordship.

  Mr Reeves: It might have some impact in that direction, but because of the durations we succeeded in securing, we are talking about a change over a couple of generations. I would only make the observation that if you look back at a similar time in history, you see that the UK ports industry has changed beyond all recognition in such a period of time. I would only say that it will be something encompassed—

  Q581  Chairman: Forgive me, the reason it has changed has not been because someone has directed it to change. Your own government has supported the fact that all these ports are private ports.

  Mr Reeves: And the pace of change in the UK industry, in so far as there is a restructuring towards a landlord and tenant model, will largely be one not dictated by us or Brussels but dictated by market forces. If that is the way shippers and service providers want to go, if they want market entry, if they see opportunities, they will seek to exploit them. In so far as the UK industry continues to succeed in being competitive and successful, then I do not think it has a great deal to fear.

  Q582  Chairman: Have you done a survey on the engagement of non-permanent employees in the ports industry?

  Mr Burr: That is part of the study we are doing on manpower.

  Q583  Chairman: When can we expect those results?

  Mr Burr: We are in the process of scoping how difficult the job is.

  Q584  Chairman: What is the definition of the verb "to scope" Mr Burr?

  Mr Burr: I am sorry.

  Q585  Chairman: You have used "scoping" in the sense some of us would take to mean "retrench". You now appear to be saying that "scoping" is looking again at something you had previously decided. What is your definition of "to scope", which is not a verb which was known to me originally, but I learn a lot in this Committee?

  Mr Burr: Rather than try to define a word which does not exist, I shall use another one. We recognise that this question is complex and we are in the process of appraising how quickly we could get to the bottom of it.

  Q586  Chairman: We recognise that this question is complex and we are in the process of working out how soon we can get to the bottom of it.

  Mr Burr: As I explained, you might take a port and say it is easy to count how many people work here.

  Q587  Chairman: I might indeed.

  Mr Burr: You go into the port of Bristol, for example, where they have 300 tenants who are not in the port business at all, they just happen to be using industrial units on their land.

  Q588  Chairman: And of course that information would not be available through their landlords or through anybody controlling the port. It would come as a complete surprise.

  Mr Burr: They would not know how many workers there were in those units; they would have no reason to know.

  Q589  Chairman: We do have things like national insurance, we do have things like employer laws, we do have one or two other things.

  Mr Burr: But not accessible to the harbour authority.

  Q590  Chairman: So the harbour authority has no way of finding out how many people are involved.

  Mr Burr: It is a rather more difficult question.

  Q591  Chairman: How soon before we can expect this Delphic reply to be issuing from the department?

  Mr Burr: We do not have a date by which we will be able to tell you how many people there are in the ports industry.

  Q592  Chairman: I see. Well I do hope Mr Jamieson manages to last out the length of time required.

  Mr Jamieson: Who knows, I may well and so might you.

  Q593  Chairman: Perhaps we could re-instate the oracle in Plymouth, do you think?

  Mr Jamieson: Indeed.

  Q594  Chairman: Frankly, Minister, you are always very tolerant and you are very good about giving us information, but I think we are very concerned about the fact that the ports industry as a whole does require some clear indication of government policy. I think this Committee wants to be sure that you have, in the way you have estimated the development of ports, in the way you have estimated capacity and use and in the way that you intend to plan the connection between ports and the infrastructure, be it roads or rail services, a very clear view of where you want the ports industry in this country to go. When can we expect such an adequate description?

  Mr Jamieson: I am sure those are matters which are going to be in your report, which we have long awaited.

  Q595  Chairman: It is quite possible; yes, it is quite possible.

  Mr Jamieson: We will respond in full to that report.

  Q596  Chairman: I know you will, because you do not have a lot of choice.

  Mr Jamieson: No; indeed. That is why I said we will respond in full to your report.

  Chairman: Good. We shall then get the opportunity to debate it. Mr Jamieson, as always, very entertaining, occasionally informative. Thank you very much. The Committee is adjourned.

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