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My noble friend's Bill seeks to abolish the Trinity House lighthouse service and the Northern Lighthouse Board and to replace them with a two-tier structure: a new commission and a new regulator. The Bill will also cut the Republic of Ireland out of the present structure, which, in my submission, works extremely well.
There is no doubt that ship owners have been campaigning very loudly about the recent rises in light dues. That is perhaps understandable in the current economic climate, but the matter has to be seen in the correct context. Due to the efficiencies of the three GLAs in the use of new technology, automation and the reduction in bases and in the fleet of lighthouse tenders, a substantial saving has accrued to ship owners in recent times. Until last year, the most recent increase in light dues was in 1993. Dues were cut in 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2006. As I understand it, light dues are about 32 per cent lower in real terms today when compared
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Of course, ship owners are hard-nosed business people-it is a tough and competitive business-but they have been complaining about light dues for as long as I can remember. It has not arisen as a consequence of the present difficult times. It was the case when I was in the lighthouse service in the 1960s. Lobbying on the merger of GLAs has probably been around for much of the history of the three lighthouse authorities. Not so long ago, a shipping representative complained rather bitterly to me about the fact that Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, had become a patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board because he saw it as yet another impediment to lobbying for the GLA merger.
I know that my noble friend Lord Berkeley has no interest whatever in compromising the provision and effectiveness of aids to navigation. He is seeking economies of scale by reorganisation. I have been around the block on reorganisations a few times. As well as being merchant service officers and working in the lighthouse service, another occupation frequently found in my family is nursing. In my subsequent career as a nurse and as a representative of the profession in a nurses' trade union, I saw too many reorganisations. I think there have been something like 19 in the National Health Service in the past 40 years. Most of them were allegedly designed to provide efficiencies and synergies. Not every aspect of them was wrong, of course. However, almost all those changes and reorganisations invariably brought about huge redundancy costs, a consequent loss of experience among senior people and demoralisation among staff. An inevitable sequela was an increase in management costs and support staff. I suspect we might well have the same outcome if this Bill were enacted, although I am sure that is not my noble friend's intention.
The existing structure of GLAs provides for each part of the UK and Irish coasts to be covered by people who have unique knowledge of their own coasts which, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said, are the most dangerous in the world. That knowledge must not be lost. Something like 80 per cent of the staff in the GLAs are involved in design, engineering and marine services. Many members of staff would be lost in any new structure where there is relocation to a new HQ, which would almost certainly be in England. As reorganisation in any business shows, many members of staff are not in a position to relocate. The consequences could be quite damaging to the safety of navigation. New premises would be required for a new two-tier structure, training and recruitment issues would follow and it is highly unlikely that the staffing requirements of the new commission and the new regulatory office would show that fewer staff would be required. There would be a reduction in some of the most senior posts, but that would be outweighed by redundancy costs and the need for more support staff to cover a much
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There are political issues to consider. I am not sure that those of us who believe in a United Kingdom should give gifts to the Scottish National Party, such as proposing the abolition of the Northern Lighthouse Board. I am not approaching this from nostalgia or from any nationalistic point of view, but I suspect that many Scots would find it difficult to relate to, for example, the responsibility for Sule Skerry Lighthouse, which is 40 miles north of the Scottish mainland and the same distance west of the Orkneys, to be in Harwich, Tower Hill or somewhere else in the south of England. Neither do I think disentangling the Trinity House lighthouse service from the rest of Trinity House will be as simple a matter as my noble friend Lord Berkeley suggests.
As for the politics of the Irish issue, as has already been said, this morning, of all mornings, when delicate manoeuvrings on devolution appear to be coming to fruition, is not a good time to propose abolishing a successful cross-border body. I am on record in this House as supporting a more equitable funding arrangement for the provision of the Irish lighthouse service, but we also have to recognise the long history. Britain had the largest merchant fleet in the world at the time of Irish independence, and the Irish Free State had almost nothing by comparison. The Dáil-the Parliament of the Irish Free State-perhaps understandably told the Brits that if they wanted to protect their merchant shipping, they could jolly well pay for it. So, there was never a division and the CIL had been a successful cross-border body for three-quarters of a century before the Belfast agreement came into being, and it seems nonsense now to tear it up. We cannot ignore the Belfast agreement because the CIL features in it as an excellent example of all-Ireland co-operation.
We need to have seamless provision in the waters of the geographic British Isles and that co-operation should continue. I have seen the ILV "Granuaile"-the Irish lighthouse tender-operating in Scottish waters, and that is the way it should be, rather than creating a situation where we may need additional staffing costs to cover Northern Ireland, in addition to new ship-time costs and helicopter-time costs and, as I understand it, two new DGPS stations.
I was disappointed that the Government did not find time in their legislative programme for the draft marine navigation Bill. That draft Bill had the support of the three GLAs and would not have been contentious. It would have allowed more opportunities for commercial earnings, which would defray the costs to the shipping industry.
My noble friend Lord Berkeley questioned whether the lighthouse boards are the best people to make spending decisions. The GLAs do not work in a vacuum. They work closely with the shipping industry to ensure safety. When lighthouses and other aids to navigation are no longer necessary, they are decommissioned. To give but one of many examples,
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Some shipping lobbyists would like to go further. Once they get the merger of GLAs, they would like to get rid of many traditional aids to navigation and many lighthouses. That day may come in the longer term but for the present there is that increasing reliance on GPS, electronic charts and other electrical and radio-generated aids to navigation. However, all these systems can fail. As the cruise master of a cruise vessel pointed out to me not long ago, fewer and fewer officers of the watch on far too many vessels can no longer deal with horizontal and vertical sextant angles, rising and dipping distances or a running fix. He found that rather worrying. For him, as for me, lighthouses are still a vital failsafe.
We await the outcome of the WS Atkins review, which has been commissioned by the Government. That review will deal with all the issues being debated today, including light dues and UK-Irish co-operation. We should know the outcome of that report shortly. No doubt the Minister will let us know when it is due to be published. We will undoubtedly then have further debates so that we can shed even more light on this matter.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I come afresh to this subject, unlike most people in the debate so far. The basic premise of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, seems to be backed up by the shipowners: we have an inefficient and expensive body that is crippling British trade. "They would say that, wouldn't they?" rings in my ears. Then there are those who are involved in the current structure who say, "We don't need any change". Again, they would say that. What will the Government say about the reviewing of the situation? What have we done to see what the structure is here?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, pointed out that everyone involved in the history of the pricing mechanism should, judging by his analysis, go away and take a long hard look in the mirror. Holding prices down for too long and pushing them up at the end is bound to cause major problems-end of story. It was basically incompetent of whoever handled it like that; they deserve a very high degree of criticism. There are no two ways about it-it was bound to happen. Whoever took that decision deserves to have all the blame end up on their desk.
As for the question about Ireland, we have taken over responsibility for Irish waters for good historical reasons. The analysis of the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, is probably one that nobody would disagree with. Is Ireland now capable of doing this itself? Probably, technically, yes. Is there any point and does anybody benefit from it? Safety at sea, in terms of people's lives and threats of greater pollution if there are disasters, should be borne in mind. It is also worth remembering that we are one geographic unit. In today's previous debate the question of whether we could go away from
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Is this the most efficient way? This is an old structure and maybe it could be reorganised. Maybe there are too many members. However, there has to be some form of analysis of this. If two bodies that are well entrenched say that there are problems, they are probably not the best two to listen to on reorganisation. We need somebody looking in from outside. I accept that there is no guarantee that anybody coming to this from outside will get it right. My advice would be: take your time and pick your persons well. Surely we should take a look. If some of the functions of all three bodies can be centralised to a greater degree, that should be looked at. It comes down to better control of the whole and a better idea of what is going on.
Is Scotland prepared to give up all ideas of control in this respect? As somebody who has not lived in Scotland for a long time, I am not in the best position to judge. What is functioning best for those people who are moving these large, complicated pieces of machinery through an environment in which things can go horribly wrong should, I suggest, be the underlying thrust. At what price can it be done? Whether this way of collecting funds-or any variation on it-is the best way forward should be considered at the same time. Maybe the structures we have are past their sell-by date in total. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is merely saying, "Change them a little bit". Maybe we do not want to do this. If we are going to look at this, surely we should do so in the round. The things that we cannot escape are geography and the fact that if something goes wrong we pay a price, potentially, in human and environmental terms. With that in mind, I look forward to what the Minister has to say and the response of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to my comments.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for introducing and explaining the purpose of his Bill in his usual expert and comprehensive manner. I enjoy following the noble Lord, Lord Addington. He makes good points but he does not steal my thunder. I just wish I could tempt him to these Benches.
Many noble Lords, including me, have been concerned about the management of our navigational aids and the GLAs. Safe and efficient operation of the navigational aids is clearly vital for shipping. We should also not forget the marking and management of the wrecks-an important function of the GLAs, as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. Here I pay tribute to the crews of the GLA ships. They have to put to sea in adverse conditions, all seasons and hazardous waters. We should be grateful to them.
The catalyst for this Bill is money, or the lack of it. It seems that the Government reduced the light dues when the shipping industry was enjoying very good trading conditions and increased them when times became hard. This is a point made by many noble
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Clauses 1 to 5 provide for the creation of the commission and its regulator. I am not yet convinced of the need for either. The jury is out. Before making any definitive statement, it would be wise to wait for the Atkins report, referred to by many noble Lords. My understanding is that it should be available next month, so we will not have to wait too long. I am sure the Minister will tell us what the progress is. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, outlined in his excellent speech some of the practical difficulties with what is proposed. I intend to draw the text of his speech to the attention of my honourable friend Mr Brazier.
There is always the risk of being taken in by a chief executive who persuades parliamentarians with a very good presentation. Last year I visited Trinity House's operation in Harwich and I admit to being very pleasantly surprised. It seems that the deputy master, Rear-Admiral Sir Jeremy de Halpert, is running a pretty tight ship, with few obvious inefficiencies. For instance, across the road from the new main building was a new integrated facility for the maintenance of buoys. It was not clear to me how it could be done much better because it was all purpose-designed for the task. I wish I could say the same about some MoD maintenance facilities that I know of. I have not visited the other GLAs but I know that there has been collaboration and integration. What is the view of the Minister with regard to having one GLA? Are the savings proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, real or illusory?
Clause 8 meets an important need. As many noble Lords explained, the GLAs are currently restricted in their commercial activities. However, I am always anxious about public bodies being able to undertake commercial activities for fear that this will undermine existing operators or discourage commercial operators from coming into the market. In my commercial existence, many years ago, I was the victim of exactly this. It is therefore no surprise that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has skilfully inserted some safeguards. I would, however, need to feel comfortable that they are effective. They do, of course, rely on Clauses 1 to 5 remaining in the Bill. However, it would be easy to substitute the Secretary of State for the proposed regulator.
All noble Lords taking part in this debate will be aware that the GLAs have a duty to inspect local navigational aids. While most local lighthouse authorities work diligently and rectify any slight defects promptly, this is not universal. It should be. Clause 9 corrects this, as the noble Lord described. I would be rather more cautious if it was proposed that a GLA itself could impose a financial penalty, as this would merely be passing public money from one public pot to another.
The sure touch of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, seems to have deserted him in Clause 10. Charging light dues to the Royal Navy would have little utility but would require extra administrative effort. It might also distort training programmes in order to minimise cost and I wonder what use it would have. It would affect only a few ships and the extra income might
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More important, the clause could interfere with Section 1 of the Old Pals Act. That is a serious danger. The effect would simply be to move a little money from one organisation operating for the good of all seafarers to another one doing the same thing. There is no new money for defence. If Gordon Brown will not give defence enough money to run a war, he is hardly likely to make up the cost of light dues.
Turning to the central point of the Bill, I think that all noble Lords will agree that it is a little odd that we continue to subsidise GLA operations in the Republic of Ireland when that state can now stand on its own two feet. I suspect that this issue is the primary motivation for the noble Lord's Bill and I agree with very nearly all his analysis of the situation. However, it is important to remember that the concern is the subsidy and not how the service is provided. The best solution may well be for one GLA to cover all the requirements of the entire island of Ireland. Again, I would want to see the Atkins report before commenting further, but there is clearly much political benefit in having several successful cross-border bodies, of which the CIL is just one.
The Bill raises several important issues, some of which would have been in the Marine Navigation Bill had it appeared in this Session. The defects that I have outlined are amenable to amendment. Therefore, we should give the Bill a Second Reading and look forward to the detailed surgery and examination, even if, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, hopes, the Bill does not survive the operation.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for bringing forward this Bill. It has generated an excellent and thought-provoking debate in your Lordships' House, although there is an element of déjà vu, as we went over quite a lot of this ground during the summer on the order. My noble friend will know that the normal practice is that the Government do not support or oppose Private Members' Bills in this place. We make no exception in this case. He will be able to tell from what I have to say that, while we welcome some provisions, the Government have serious reservations about other aspects of the Bill.
I acknowledge that some clauses of the Bill are consistent with the Government's position on improving the powers of the general lighthouse authorities. They are based on clauses that were included in the draft Marine Navigation Bill when we consulted on that measure in 2008. I thank my noble friend for including those provisions in his Bill and I apologise for the fact that it has not so far proved possible to find time to bring the draft Bill forward as a programmed government Bill before your Lordships.
The timing of this debate is, in one sense, a little unfortunate. The Government have acknowledged the need for a comprehensive assessment of the provision
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I should like to comment in particular on what is, I think, at the heart of my noble friend's Bill, which is the proposal to transfer the powers and duties of the three authorities to a newly established marine navigation aids commission and for many of the related powers of the Secretary of State for Transport to be exercised by an office of marine navigation aids regulation. If that were done, the current unified system of aids to navigation throughout Ireland would be lost.
My noble friend is aware of the assessment of the provision of the aids to navigation service that we have commissioned. In the terms of reference, we asked for consideration of the costs and benefits of the present structure of three authorities compared to a unified system or one divided along national boundaries. We await the outcome of that work with interest. The disadvantages of a unified system may well outweigh any benefits, but we do not want to embark on a route such as that proposed by my noble friend without a careful assessment of the costs of doing so.
My fear is that a new, dedicated regulatory body would prove much more expensive than the current arrangement for managing the General Lighthouse Fund and overseeing the general lighthouse authorities, which involves-this is the answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein-only two full-time people and the part-time help of a number of others in the Department for Transport. The regulatory costs of the existing arrangements are kept to a minimum at present and the DfT resource is part of a larger remit with wider responsibilities than just the administration of the GLAs.
In addition, there would be a considerable set-up cost in relation to pensions, redundancy, relocation, retraining and new infrastructure in creating two new bodies, so it is likely to be a long time before any savings would emerge. Those costs would have to be met by the shipping industry through the General Lighthouse Fund. I should also remind your Lordships that, in his 2005 report Reducing Administrative Burdens, Sir Philip Hampton recommended a large reduction in the number of regulatory bodies.
I can understand the logic behind having one body to deliver a maritime aids to navigation service and this will be considered as a part of our current study. However, we must remember that the existing authorities have an excellent record of providing aids to navigation to the very highest international standards and we do
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