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This takes me back some 20 years to the days when the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and others were Shipping Ministers in this House and when light dues regularly came up for debate when a relevant statutory instrument came forward. Ship owners were just as vociferous then in disliking what was put before them, because, in those days, light dues were still rising.

As we have heard, they have not risen since 1993 and have been reduced five times since then, culminating in the previous 10 per cent reduction three years ago. With hindsight, I think that we could agree that it was possibly a poor decision to reduce light dues then. As was put forward by the general lighthouse authorities,

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if they were increased slightly then, we would not be faced with this problem today, where ship owners are greatly affronted by what they see as exorbitant rises. The fact remains that the General Lighthouse Fund would run out of money in the next year if this statutory instrument was not agreed. Safety would begin to suffer because certain lights would have to be put out. That is completely unacceptable. We are talking about maintaining the safety of navigation for all ships, which is of vital importance.

I shall pick up a few points that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made, and elaborate on them. It has to be remembered about the General Lighthouse Fund that the general lighthouse authorities also lease their ships out for commercial work. In the course of the year, that brings in something like £3 million to the lighthouse fund. It was agreed in this House to allow the lighthouse authorities to do that outside commercial work, in the days when the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, was Shipping Minister. That was a move forward, which has enabled the lighthouse authorities to generate extra income for the fund.

Since the late 1970s, I have had an association with Trinity House, and I speak for Trinity House specifically now. I have seen for myself the enormous changes that have taken place since then; in those days, we had manned lighthouses and light vessels and a reasonable sized fleet. That has been cut drastically and we now have a very efficient, slimmed-down organisation; all the lights and buoys are controlled by one person sitting in a control room at Harwich. It is all automated and great use is made of solar power. In the old days, there were gas cylinders involved. I remember one particular lighthouse that generated its own gas in large cylinders. During an annual inspection, the inspecting Elder Brother used to flick the mantle off with his pen and the wonderful Emmet-like machinery clicked into action, clicked round and a new mantle dropped down and lit with a plop. That was the old days; we are now a very different, modern, outward-thinking organisation.

There is another aspect to what Trinity House and the lighthouse authorities do that has not been mentioned. Ships generally use global positioning satellites for their navigation these days; the system is supplied by the Americans, who are quite at liberty to cut it off at will at any time. It has had its glitches from time to time and the EU, mindful of this, has set in motion its own alternative system, called Galileo, which is several years behind schedule and grossly over budget. I think that only two satellites have been put up so far. Also, there is the underlying intention, as I understand, that it will be used more for charging us to drive on our roads in Europe than by mariners. The cost at the moment is £3 billion. The lighthouse authorities have been working on another system-a much cheaper, alternative system-which is eLoran. It is a low-frequency, long-range, terrestrial navigation system; trials have been going on for three years, and it seems to produce 10 metres of accuracy, which is very good. That has cost £1 million a year, which we can place against £3 billion, with no result out of Galileo as yet.

Another worrying thing about the present level-position satellite system is that a test was done last year using a very simple portable handheld device like a mobile

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phone, which can be bought on the internet and run by a couple of torch batteries. It could be used to jam the GPS signal for 20 miles out to sea. So there are all sorts of worries with the present system, and the lighthouse authorities are trying to set up this alternative, which must be supported.

As has been said, we are talking about very small figures for this increase. A large modern container ship costs in the order of $150 million, and we are talking about a few thousand pounds. Seen overall, it is a very small sum, although I understand in these straitened times that ship owners are upset. They are trying to cut their costs. However, the downturn has followed three or four exceptional years in shipping where a lot of people have made an extraordinary amount of money-although not all. Some, in order to maintain their market share, have either absorbed other companies or, as often happens in good times-it has happened throughout history in shipping-they have rushed to order new and bigger ships. A lot of large companies have a large number of very expensive ships on order, so one can understand that they are in difficulties. The sums are astronomical compared with this comparatively small rise in light dues. Ship owners say, "We don't need lights". They may say that, but any navigator or mariner worth his salt would disagree entirely. A fixed navigational source is worth its weight in gold. Technology is wonderful, but it goes wrong more frequently than one likes to admit.

Our light dues are transparent, as has been said. We are not the only ones to have them: roughly a third of countries charge a levy like us, including Belgium, Greece, Malaysia, South Africa, Panama, Australia, Sudan and others, so we are not alone in having our charges up front. The "user pays" principle is supported by the EU, the present Government and the previous Administration. Another third of countries have a mix-a levy and part Exchequer paid-and in the remaining third, payment is from the Exchequer.

The ship owners have had a holiday on light dues over the past three years and the time has come when they must pay more. I know that they do not like it. I understand that the Irish question is still under discussion between the Governments. It would be nice to think that something will come out of that, although the agreement is under an international treaty and one does not walk away from international treaties. I am sure that an answer can be found. In summing up, I return to the fact that we cannot compromise safety at sea. The General Lighthouse Fund must be sufficient to meet the needs of our navigation aids. I support the order.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, particularly given his association with Trinity House. It is many years since I became a member of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers, but strangely enough the reference to the Irish question in this debate reminded me of when I took its exam. There was a particular question saying, "list the slow Irish ports", which I understood at the time was a technical expression. Alas, I was quite unable to list the slow Irish ports. Fortunately, there were other questions which apparently I succeeded in answering correctly.

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None the less, it is important for us to have this opportunity and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on obtaining time for it. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, who I understand is to reply to this debate, on the first occasion that I have seen him in action on the Front Bench, together with what one of his new colleagues described yesterday as the "wacky world of the Whips' Office"-a description I presume applies only to the present Government. Be that as it may, this is important. We have a helpful attachment to the order itself, consisting of an Evidence Base (for summary sheets). I will not quote from it at length, but some paragraphs are totally incomprehensible. The evidence base states:

"Government intervention is necessary given the market failure that results from the public good aspects of aids to navigation, i.e. the provision of aids to navigation such as lighthouses are 'non-rival' in consumption as use by a given ship does not detract from that of other vessels".

Perhaps the Minister should go back to his department, find out who is producing this gobbledegook and see if something can be done to improve it.

4 pm

More interestingly in the document is a summary that lists what policy options have been considered, along with a request to justify any preferred option. Five options are given, but there is no option 6 to eliminate the subsidy as far as concerns the Irish arrangement. However, I understand from the position that has already been mentioned that, in 2004, Mr Darling -then the relevant Secretary of State-gave an assurance that the matter would be dealt with. I gather that the extent of the subsidy would be virtually sufficient to eliminate the present deficit. Will the Minister clarify what that deficit is forecast to be? It is described in the papers as a "forecast deficit". Will the proposed increase in fees be sufficient to eliminate the deficit, or will it merely maintain the present situation with the deficit continuing into the indefinite future?

Another thing worthy of comment is that we were helped by a memorandum from the Merits Committee on the matter, which it felt ought to be debated. It referred to increases in the levy of 11 to 43 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggested that in some cases the increases may be as much as 80 per cent. If that is so, we should ask the Minister to clarify the exact increase. Clearly, this increases costs to the shipping industry, particularly the cost of exports from and imports to this country, at a time when we all recognise that financial circumstances are very stringent. I hope that the Minister will reply to those points. Once again, I congratulate the noble Lord on securing the debate.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen: My Lords, I start by declaring my interest. The noble Lords, Lord Sterling and Lord Greenway, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and I are all distinguished Elder Brethren of Trinity House-unpaid, of course, but proud and pleased to be part of an organisation that has saved the taxpayer very considerable amounts of money, has been efficient and effective and goes back to the days of King Henry VIII. I am probably the only Member of the House who has a lighthouse

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on his coat of arms. I was born in the police station in Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay, which was about six feet away from the Atlantic Ocean. That gave me a unique qualification to be Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and also a keen appreciation of the dangers, problems and difficulties of those who live and work around the coasts of the British Isles. The 20,000 miles that the three general lighthouse authorities have to look after-the Northern Lighthouse Authority where I was born, Trinity House and the Irish authority-are extremely dangerous, highly unpredictable and in considerable need of the maritime aids that are provided.

I commend my noble friend for securing the debate. Although I disagree with what he is arguing for, the debate has allowed us to highlight a subject with which not many people are conversant. It also highlights the importance of the issue both to the shipping industry and to those who use the coasts of our country.

The problem with the debate is that my noble friend is using it to highlight a problem between Governments which can only be addressed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. He is applying a method to object to what is a justifiable increase in the light dues, which would have a direct and considerable impact on the operations of the lighthouse authorities as well. I hope that we can try to put a division between those two objectives.

My noble friend may or may not be right about the Irish subsidy but that is a matter that can only be resolved between the two Governments. I dare say that the Minister and those in charge at the new omnibus business department which has been created will pay careful attention to the points that have been made. However, the issue cannot be resolved through this statutory instrument. This instrument is essential given the shortfall in funding for the GLAs. It must therefore be passed so that we can continue the major benefits that come from the lighthouses and navigation aids.

It is interesting that the ship owners are now making the case that with modern shipping, modern techniques and satellite aids, there is not the same necessity for the navigation aids that exist at present. However, I think that the management of Trinity House would say that the current number of collisions with buoys and navigation aids amply illustrates and gives evidence to the fact that they are still required. Although the ship owners appear to have a very strong view about the impact of the light dues, it appears that the captains and masters are unanimous in their view that the physical navigation aids should remain.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, made a point about GPS-the global positioning system-and its European successor, as yet untested, Galileo. I have a little knowledge about both those systems. The global positional system, organised by the United States of America, is a military system that is lent on a free basis to the rest of the world. However, it is obviously commanded by the American authorities, which at any point can turn it off. All these systems are vulnerable to what the Government pointed out in last week's national security strategy is a substantial threat of cyber attack. This week alone three departments of state in the United States of America came under a

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sustained and very considerable attack on their computer capabilities. So this is not something that we can easily dismiss. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, tests done with very simple over-the-counter pieces of equipment have shown that today's high-technology, high-cost ships can be rendered into relying on some of the oldest means of navigation aid available.

Of course any organisation involved in supplying services to industry must clearly give a good and efficient service. However, no one can doubt that the general lighthouse authorities have made a huge contribution to efficiency savings. I simply underline what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and others have said: there has been no increase in light dues since 1993, but there has been a 50 per cent reduction in light dues over 10 years. My noble friend was able to say that this was the biggest increase in 10 years. That is thanks to the efficiencies of the GLAs over that decade and a three-year holiday in the past three years. Inevitably that £21 million gap has to be made up. You can go so far with efficiencies, and we have probably now reached the limit. These navigation aids are still required. This mechanism gives relief to the taxpayer, who pays absolutely nothing to the maintenance of these aids. It imposes a small and proportionate burden on those who conduct international trade by sea. This statutory instrument should be given a fair wind.

Lord Sterling of Plaistow: My Lords, like other colleagues, I have been an Elder Brother of Trinity House for some 20 years. I am rather split because I have also owned ships, run P&O and Stena, and been heavily involved with ships at sea. I want to reiterate what others have already said, having seen it from the sharp end. I almost led the charge against increases in light dues in the early 1990s but, having been part of Trinity House, I can say that the changes on that front have been extraordinary. The conscientiousness of the executives of Trinity House has been quite amazing. From a management point of view, I could not find a more professional organisation. The idea that, somehow or other, another organisation should possibly take over the running of things would be totally wrong.

I am speaking because, as far as I am concerned, safety at sea is paramount. That is the key. I am not going to get involved in the cost factor. Although there has been talk of ships now leaving our shores and going to Rotterdam or Le Havre, we must remember that those countries include light dues in their port charges. Most of our debate arises because we are much more transparent.

Finally, I make the point that we have an enormous number of private marinas around our shores. Our shores are quite beautiful, but also quite inhospitable. You could say that the Government should consider that private yachtsmen-who are probably more reliant on many of these navigational aids-should in a small way contribute to some of these costs in the years to come, as in any other field of endeavour. I suggest this purely as something for the Minister to consider. I also have to say that I support the view that Ireland could perhaps pick up more of the tab. I wanted to make those observations, having been involved at the sharp end myself.

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Viscount Simon: My Lords, I feel very much like the junior today. I declare that I have no financial interest as a Younger Brother of Trinity House. Going back a long time, I should, I suppose, also declare that for around 10 years, ending in the late 1960s, I was a master mariner. I was a navigator and therefore made use of the lighthouses and the lights emanating from them. We did not have GPS then, of course; we had not even heard of it. We had, however, heard of LORAN, which was an initial form of GPS.

Much has been said today but I would like to expand slightly on one aspect that was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Of the 54 major maritime nations, 18 pay for navigational safety out of general taxation; they include the USA, France and Holland. Eighteen do it through light dues, including the UK, Greece and Australia; and 18 do it through a mix of both, including Spain, Japan and Finland. All are having to raise their prices. However, we are unique in having been able to reduce the charges over the past 16 years, as noble Lords have mentioned. That is something that no other country can match. It should be noted not only that, after the second increase in dues that is coming into force, the rate will still be 32 per cent lower in real terms, but that ship owners agreed in 2006, without proviso, to support a future rise in light dues in exchange for a 10 per cent reduction.

The tri-general lighthouse authority is based on giving the mariner a seamless and integrated safety service around the British Isles, ensuring that all the coastline dangers are covered. The majority of the dues for ship owners are not taxed; they come from the ship owners and cover the large number of ports in the area covered by Trinity House. Support must go to protecting the less frequented areas of Scotland and Ireland. We know about the agreement between the UK and the Irish Government, and the talks that are currently taking place. We must enable these talks to come to a satisfactory conclusion for everybody. The current system has worked well for many years, and the organisations in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland have a very long history of bringing benefits to mariners and of operating efficiently. Safety is paramount at all times, and to change the arrangement to one that would potentially present all kinds of problems cannot go past.

4.15 pm

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-voting Elder Brother of Trinity House. Some considerable time before that I was a commissioner of Northern Lights. However, that was not as long ago as 1898, so I have no responsibility for the defective nature of the accounts which were apparently then produced. When I was a commissioner of Northern Lights the Irish Troubles were very much at their height and it was a great comfort to us that the arrangements for the lights between Ireland and the north of Ireland worked completely satisfactorily and harmoniously over that period when other arrangements between north and south were very difficult indeed.

As has been said, this is now a matter for negotiation on the part of the two Governments. I have no doubt that we will hear about progress in that regard in a

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moment. Subject to that, it seems to me that the record in relation to lighthouse dues and the economies effected by the general lighthouse authorities is exemplary. Therefore, these increases are eminently justified. I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box. I believe this is the first time that he has responded to this provision. We look forward to hearing his response.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, when I first received a note from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I was quite cross as, having been a woman at sea-not a brother, younger or older-and having had a fishing fleet of my own, I too queried why we should pay somebody else's dues. However, if you sit in this House long enough and listen for long enough, you hear all sorts of explanations that make things seem much clearer. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for bringing forward this Motion of Regret as it has enabled me to refresh my memory about why safety at sea matters so much.

As a good, free-born English woman, I hate the idea of having to subsidise the Irish for something they should be paying for themselves. That is the way one feels when one does not hear all the facts. The truth of the matter is that it is not a great deal of money but whether it is a penny, a pound or a million pounds I am still not sure that I like the idea of having this continue to happen to us. I read that in 2004 Alistair Darling said that he would do something about it. That was reinforced by the Permanent Under-Secretary of State saying that he would do something about it. All I can assume is that the two Governments are still nattering and talking to each other and we shall not find out today how far they have got. I thank everyone who has clarified this matter for me. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for making this debate possible. I wish the Minister great happiness on the Front Bench. He could not start his Front-Bench career with a better subject than this.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for raising this issue today because it is a matter of considerable concern to all noble Lords who have taken part, and what a galaxy of experience they have.

Despite recent improvements many are still worried about the efficiency of the GLAs, especially at the centre rather than at the "front line". What is not in doubt is the skill, dedication, and indeed courage, of the men and women who do the physical work of installing, maintaining and repairing our navigational aids, not just the lights and beacons on land but the navigational buoys which have to be put in place or moved using the modern fleet of specialist ships. Another operation is the marking of wrecks. These tasks might be relatively easy to perform today on the south coast but I suggest that it is a rather different matter off the north-west coast of Scotland in the middle of winter. We and all the seafarers who rely on their efforts owe them a debt of gratitude. They need have nothing to fear from our deliberations today.

My noble friend Lord Glentoran has made his contribution from the Back Benches and is a commissioner of Irish Lights. Noble Lords should note that he and others do this commendable work

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unpaid. Our debate will be much more balanced as a result of his contributions and other noble Lords close to the GLAs.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has two main concerns. The secondary one is the efficiency of the GLAs and the need for the increase in light dues. There may well have been significant efficiency savings in recent years and we know that all the lighthouses have been automatic since 1998. However, this does not mean that all GLAs are 100 per cent efficient. I confess that I have no idea how they measure up, and I accept that I need to do further research. I easily found the Northern Lighthouse Board's annual report on the internet, but I did not manage to find the Trinity House report-but I will find it in due course.

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