Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP, Minister of State, Department for Transport

  Sub-Committee B considered this document at its meeting on 13 February 2006.

  We noted your concerns, and were reassured that you would seek to amend this document during the course of your negotiations. We also understand that the industry is being consulted and that in due course a Regulatory Impact Assessment will be produced.

  Is the Government raising the question of whether whole or part of this Proposal falls foul of the subsidiarity principle? Is this one of the areas of concern referred to in paragraph 17?

  We noted that your Explanatory Memorandum did not have a separate paragraph dealing with proportionality. However, it appears from paragraph 18 that there are issues of proportionality. We would be grateful if you could explain this in more detail. What steps are you taking to address this?

  We are maintaining scrutiny on this document.

15 February 2006

Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 15 February, in which you asked for additional information particularly in relation to the questions of subsidiarity and proportionality.

  It is not possible for me to respond in full to the Committee's concerns at this time. I understand that the Commission is to produce a paper concerning the costs of the Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) on fishing vessels, which I anticipate being discussed at a Council Working Group in mid-March. Following the publication of the paper and the discussions at Working Group I will be in a better position, in March or April to reply to your questions that you have raised in your letter.

  I expect the Regulatory Impact Assessment be available by May.

28 February 2006  

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP

  Thank you for your letter of 28 February, replying to my letter of 15 February 2006. Sub-Committee B considered your letter at its meeting on 13 March 2006.

  The Sub-Committee were surprised that you felt unable at this stage to respond to the four specific questions asked in our letter and would be grateful if you could revisit the correspondence. The expected paper from the Commission on the costs of Automated Identification Systems, which your letter mentions, does not appear to relate to these questions.

15 March 2006

Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 15 March. In your letter, you refer to your earlier letter of 15 February and to my interim reply of 28 February.

  The proposed Directive has, until recently, been under discussion in the relevant Council Working Group, and some issues—notably the question of the mandatory carriage of Automatic Identification System (AIS) on fishing vessels—are still to be resolved. I believe that the issue of AIS on fishing vessels is likely to be resolved at a forthcoming meeting of the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER). I had anticipated being able to write to you taking into account the outcome of the COREPER discussion. However, as that discussion has been put back to 24 May, and in view of the timing of the Whitsun Recess, I thought it best to give you an update now on the draft Directive before it is discussed at the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council on 9 June, at which the Austrian Presidency hope to be able to reach a "general approach" on this item.

  Turning to the points raised in your letter of 15 February, you asked whether the Government was raising the issue of whether the whole or part of the Commission's proposal would fall foul of the subsidiarity principle, and whether this was one of the areas of concern referred to in paragraph 17 of the Explanatory Memorandum dated 2 February.

  The answer is that the Government does not consider that the Commission's proposal falls foul of the subsidiarity principle. Of course, shipping is an international business, and the best place to develop regulatory standards for international shipping is the International Maritime Organization. Nonetheless the subjects covered by the Directive—notably information interchange (in the context of the SafeSeaNet system), carriage of Automatic Identification System equipment, information interchange (in the context of the SafeSeaNet system), declarations concerning the carriage of dangerous or polluting goods, provision of places of refuge, and sea conditions in which ships may be allowed into or out of port—are all broad areas where there is already regional (ie European Community) legislation and this amending Directive does not appear to significantly push the boundary further. Consequently, this is not one of the areas of concern referred to in paragraph 17 of the Explanatory Memorandum. The areas of concern are those described in the Explanatory Memorandum's paragraphs 18-23 inclusive.

  Your letter of 15 February went on to address the issue of proportionality. You noted that paragraph 18 of the Explanatory Memorandum mentioned issues of proportionality and asked for a more detailed explanation. The answer is that our concern relates to the proportionality of the proposal for carriage of AIS on fishing vessels. As stated in the Explanatory Memorandum, the proposal has been prompted by a number of unfortunate collisions between merchant ships and fishing vessels, especially in busy sea areas, which have resulted in the sinking of the latter with loss of life. While the UK recognises there is problem to be addressed, we have questioned whether the proposed response is the right one. In particular, we have expressed the view that the cost burden which the proposal for carriage of AIS on fishing vessels would impose is disproportionate to the likely safety benefit in terms of reducing the number of collisions. Although the issue has yet to be resolved at COREPER, I understand that the majority of EC Member States do not share the UK's view and that it is likely that the text of the Directive which goes forward for consideration by Council on 9 June will contain a provision relating to AIS on fishing vessels.

  Accordingly, in order to reduce the cost impact on the fishing industry (estimated at £1.2 million) we are now working with like-minded EC Member States to ensure that the requirement to carry AIS equipment is phased in over a number of years after the Directive comes into force. There is still a debate to be had over the length of the phase-in period, but it is likely the outcome will be four or five years, starting with the larger vessels (where the cost will be proportionately less in terms of the other costs of operating and maintaining the vessel) working down to the smaller boats (where the costs of fitting AIS would be proportionately higher). The annual cost impact on the industry if a five year phase-in period agreed will be of the order of £240,000. Vessels built after the Directive comes into force will be required to be AIS equipped, the cost of the AIS equipment being de minimis in terms of the building and fitting-out costs of fishing vessels of 15 metres or more.

  While the current average cost of the necessary equipment is in the order of £1,400, we expect that the price of the equipment will fall in real terms over the period of the phase-in given the increased volume of units required and technological advances.

  The positions in respect of the other issues highlighted as areas of concern in the Explanatory Memorandum are as follows:

    —  The UK and a number of other Member States continue to argue strongly against an explicit reference to the draft Directive on Civil liability and financial securities of shipowners. One of the paragraphs which was to include such a reference has now been deleted from the Presidency text, and the UK and likeminded Member States favour a straightforward deletion of the other reference. A small minority of Member States still wish to retain the reference, either with or without square brackets, on the grounds that the civil liability dossier may yet be taken up by a Presidency before the Vessel traffic monitoring amending Directive is adopted. Some Member States have yet to commit themselves to a position.

    —  Whereas the UK was broadly content with the draft Directive's text in respect of places of refuge (although we noted that there were areas where clarification was required), that text has met with severe opposition from some Member States who considered that it would impose obligations on them which they were reluctant to accept. The Presidency text on places of refuge has been modified to take account of these concerns. The reference to "an independent competent authority" has now been removed, and we anticipate that the reference to meetings of Member States' authorities being held at the initiative of the Commission will also be removed.

    —  As regards the provision on measures in ice conditions, the UK and one other Member State pressed for the inclusion of wording, analogous to that in Article 18(2) of Directive 2002/59/EC, which would reaffirm the decision-making role of the master in the context of the Safety of Life At Sea Convention. Forms of words have been developed, for inclusion in the operative article and in a recital, which go a substantial way towards the wording which we envisaged. Both the other Member State and the UK recognise that what we have achieved is sufficient.

  I still expect that a "general approach" on the proposal will be achieved at the June Council.

  This Department will be producing an RIA after we know the outcome of the discussion in COREPER and will submit this to you shortly. We will, of course, keep your Committee informed of the progress of the negotiations, including the European Parliament's First Reading of the proposal, currently scheduled for November.

18 May 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP

  Thank you for your letter of 18 May, which Sub-Committee B considered at its meeting on 5 June.

  We were grateful to you for your responses to our concerns over the proposals conformity with the important principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. We are satisfied that the proposal is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity. We note and share your concerns over the potentially disproportionate costs to the fishing industry of the mandatory installation of Automated Identification Systems, and support your efforts to ensure that, if included in the text presented to the June Council, it is to be phased in over several years rather than be instantly required. We would be grateful for a report on the outcome of the Council meeting.

  We are content to lift scrutiny on this document at this stage.

6 June 2006

Letter from Stephen Ladyman MP to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 6 June, which indicated that you are content to lift scrutiny on the above document. I am writing because you also asked for a report of the outcome of the Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council on 9 June in respect of this proposed Directive.

  At Council on 9 June, a majority of Member States supported the Presidency's text; in view of that, the Chair concluded that a "general approach" had been reached for the Vessel Traffic Monitoring Amending Directive. Discussion of this item was relatively brief, and the main area of concern for the UK remained the fitting of AIS (Automatic Identification System) to fishing vessels. The UK and others accepted the Commission's proposed 15 metre threshold for vessels to have the equipment fitted. A clear majority around the table supported the phase in periods proposed by the Presidency, that existing vessels of 24 metres will need to come into line within three years of entry into force of the Directive. For smaller vessels there will be a longer timescale: four years for 18-24 metres and five years for 15-18 metres. New built fishing vessels of more than 15 metres will be subject to the carrying AIS 18 months after the entry into force of the Directive.

  Although the Commission expressed concern over what it perceived as the dilution of the proposals on places of refuge, Member States unanimously supported the Presidency text. This was an acceptable result for the UK.

  I will, of course, continue to keep your Committee informed of progress on this dossier, and will be submitting the RIA to you shortly.

5 July 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Stephen Ladyman MP

  Thank you for your letter of 5 July, replying to my letter of 6 June. Sub-Committee B considered your letter at its meeting on 17 July.

  We were grateful to you for your report on the outcome of discussions on the proposed Directive in the June Transport Council. We are reassured that the general approach agreed is "an acceptable result for the UK" and look forward to receiving an RIA and further updates in due course.

19 July 2006

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