Second Reading

Marine Navigation Aids Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 11:12 am on 5th February 2010.

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Moved By Lord Berkeley

That the Bill be read a second time.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords) 11:17 am, 5th February 2010

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Marine Navigation Aids Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I declare an interest as a harbour commissioner at the port of Fowey in Cornwall and as president of the UK Maritime Pilots' Association. Neither organisation is affected by the Bill.

My interest in introducing the Bill is to support the competitiveness of shipping, our ports and the marine industry generally. Aids to navigation, lighthouses, buoys and beacons around the UK are funded by a levy, known as light dues, on merchant ships calling at British and Irish ports. This is a tonnage-based levy subject to a cap on the maximum chargeable tonnage and on the chargeable number of port calls in any one year. In nearly all other countries, the maintenance and renewal of navigation aids are funded by government, but I am not proposing that we go down that road now. Dues here are paid into a central fund-the General Lighthouse Fund-from which they are disbursed by the Department for Transport to the three general lighthouse authorities in England, Scotland and Ireland.

Faced with a projected shortfall of £21 million, significant increases in light dues this year and next were announced by the Department for Transport in June last year. The increased light dues amounted to an initial 67 per cent, followed by an outrageous second increase of 26 per cent, making a total for the year as a whole of around 80 per cent at the worst possible economic time. A number of reasons for these increases were given by Ministers, including additional costs, dealing with the GLAs' pension problems and a continuing contribution of £15 million to maintaining lights around the coast of the Republic of Ireland. It is therefore essential that a lasting solution is sought to restore industry confidence after a succession of clumsy mistakes, wasteful use of resources, poor consultation by the Government and these huge increases in the light dues. The Bill aims to address all these mistakes.

These increases are, frankly, unaffordable in the current economic conditions and risk deterring some vessels from calling at UK ports, particularly direct calls by large container ships and discretionary visits by cruise ships.

I start with what I shall call, to use shorthand, the Irish question. The subsidy to fund navigation aids in another member state is unique in Europe. Successive Ministers have argued that we have a common sea area with the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and that we need to make sure that the lights work for the benefit of ships coming into our ports. However, we do not fund the lights in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark or Norway, which are on a shipping lane that is much more heavily used than the one between the UK and Ireland, so why do we continue to help fund the lights in the Republic? I know that it is a relic of the time before the Republic gained independence, but that was more than 80 years ago. Again, Ministers have argued otherwise, but as was established through a Parliamentary Answer on 12 January last year, there are no legal or constitutional reasons why the Government could not withdraw immediately from the 1985 agreement and the funding of the Commissioners of the Irish Lights. Furthermore, in November 2004, which is more than five years ago, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling MP, in a response to the Transport Select Committee, committed HMG to cease the funding of Irish lights.

There is a precedent for the changes to funding of matters Irish in health. The funding of the Irish lights from the General Lighthouse Fund could be stopped in the same manner as the Department of Health ceased funding for healthcare for Irish pensioners under an agreement made between the two Governments in 1971. This move, which happened last year, saved a much larger figure of around €600 million. It was done with minimal political bargaining and, most importantly, had scant regard for what Ministers have claimed as a problem of "diplomatic relations".

Support for ending this payment to fund the lights in another member state has come also from Julian Brazier MP, the shadow Shipping Minister, who was quoted on the Daily Telegraph's website on 24 March last year as saying,

"80 years since the Irish Free State received its independence, we are still subsidising their lighthouses and navigational aids", effectively paying 65 per cent of the total costs. He continued:

"I would remind you that your Government has been promising to tackle this issue since January 2004 ... the shipping industry has been particularly hard hit by the current economic turmoil", which is very supportive. He went on:

"Any additional cost pressures at this time could lead to lines missing out stops at UK ports altogether. The City of London, as the global centre for shipping, could also ultimately be affected".

Ministers here have been rather more cautious, saying that the Irish Government are not keen to negotiate. I suggest that they wouldn't be, would they? That is not a reason for not doing it. I therefore repeat what I have said a number of times in this House: we really are past the time for talking; it is time for the Government to act decisively. They should give the Irish Government a year's notice and then switch off the £15 million subsidy.

However, £15 million, I am afraid, is not enough of a saving. There must be much more that could be saved if the provision of navigational aids was rationalised and subject to independent regulation. At the moment, the three GLAs responsible submit their budgets to the department for some light-touch scrutiny. Then, once the process is completed, the charges are just passed on as light dues to the ship owners entering the UK. There is no independent regulation of the charges or the related costs. I am afraid that the department has shown itself to be rather a poor regulator. Even this year, when all the other DfT agencies, including the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the Highways Agency, are being required to plan for at least a 5 per cent reduction in their budgets for 2010-11, some GLAs seem to think that they can continue to do what they like. In the first draft of its budget for 2010-11, Trinity House proposed an increase of 3.4 per cent.

The Government appear incapable of taking an independent view of GLA costs or charges. They commissioned a study through Trinity House to justify two years' worth of cost increases. It was carried out by Raven Trading, which subcontracted to a company whose partner is also a Commissioner of the Irish Lights, and consulted only one shipping line. The whole thing was shrouded in secrecy. Predictably, Raven Trading incorrectly concluded that the threat of ships reducing their calls to the UK was not real and that the GLAs needed more money to pay their board members and hopefully get some repeat orders for consultancy work. However, according to a Written Answer I received on 13 January, HL1160, the department sees "no conflict of interest" here.

According to Stephen Bracewell, the chief executive of the Harwich Haven Port Authority, ships are already avoiding the UK. He has said that,

"in the last eight years of 2009 no less than four major container services have ceased calling at the Haven Ports, with cargo being consolidated not on feeders through north European ports but on other vessels continuing to call at the Haven. This action by four major carriers has already deprived the General Lighthouse Fund of £2.4M in annual light dues revenue, for which the GLF would need to find the equivalent cuts in expenditure to stay balance-sheet neutral ... I regret that I and many other local Haven businesses cannot share the view of Raven Trading ... that this action of ships no longer calling in the UK being an 'empty threat'. The loss of those same services has also had an inevitable effect on local employment aimed at providing vessel rather than cargo-related services: towage; pilotage; conservancy; mooring; agency; taxis and chandlery".

This is quite important. This stark warning has been issued first hand to the department. I can only hope that it takes some notice of the industry at the front line.

Now the Government have commissioned a more far-reaching study by Atkins, which is due to report next month. Again, it very helpfully has a steering group comprising the three GLAs. As Mark Bookham, chair of the Independent Light Dues Forum, said in October last year:

"It's like turkeys voting for Christmas".

Effectively, the GLAs are on a steering group set up to determine the future of their own structures. We therefore have two studies where those organisations being investigated have representatives involved in the study. There is serious concern in the shipping industry that a small, independent regulator is needed, as I propose in the Bill.

I am sure that forthcoming speakers will bombard me with figures about the set-up and the running costs but, in preparation for that, I point to Chris Bolt, the PPP arbiter for London Underground-I am sorry about the title, but it is not my doing-as a model that could work. As established in a Parliamentary Answer of 26 October, the General Lighthouse Fund already provides £98,000 for the activities of Department for Transport staff in the Lights, Navigation and Ports Safety Branch. That could be quite sufficient to fund a small regulator.

Some noble Lords may wonder why I am bringing this Bill forward today rather than waiting for the outcome of the study, but there are many urgent issues in the Bill, and the outcome of the study will be useful input to it. The inability or unwillingness of the Government to grasp this issue is why I propose the amalgamation of the three GLAs and introduction of a small, independent regulator to oversee cost reductions while providing a safe service.

I am encouraged that the Conservative Party supports the amalgamation of the three GLAs. Julian Brazier is quoted as saying on 24 March:

"'Many in the industry are wondering why it is that we require three separate lighthouse bodies, when they could be brought together and efficiency savings made".

In a debate last month in another place, he confirmed this position, asking whether,

"the Government considered whether any overhead savings could be achieved by amalgamating, for example, Trinity House and the Northern Lighthouse Board ... I wonder whether there could be a further reduction in overheads".-[Official Report, Commons, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 15/12/09; col. 6.]

The present GLAs argue that they are doing a great job and have made many savings, but are they or their "sponsoring" department really the best people to make that judgment? This Bill is therefore designed to create a structure to remedy the situation, to merge the GLAs into a Marine Navigational Aids Commission and introduce a regulator-the Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation. It would allow the MNAC to undertake more commercial functions and includes the pension clauses, taken verbatim from the Government's Marine Navigation Bill, which underwent parliamentary scrutiny by the Transport Select Committee. It is important for me to acknowledge that the charitable work of Trinity House has been really good. It is not included in this Bill but needs to come under a separate debate. The Bill does not affect that element and should be kept distinct. Although I know that a number of noble Lords due to speak today are brethren, elder or younger, of Trinity House, and the charitable organisation does a lot of good works on many fronts, that is not a reason for preventing a restructure which would save a lot of money for ships coming into the UK. Independent regulation is the only way in which to restore confidence to those who pay light dues to ensure that their money is being spent wisely.

In setting the light dues, the regulator would undertake its own studies into what costs of this super-GLA, as we might call it, were reasonable, as well as consulting interested stakeholders, governed by the overriding principle that safety is paramount. Independent regulation must be seen as a sensible and effective way in which to reduce costs and improve efficiencies in organisations that are effective monopolies. It works well in water, energy, telecom, air and the rail industry. In rail, independent regulation can claim most of the credit for Network Rail being required to reduce its costs by 50 per cent in 10 years while improving performance. This is in stark contrast to when the Department for Transport was the regulator of the High Speed 1 line and awarded a cost-plus contract to Network Rail to operate and maintain the line for 80 years. I do not think that Governments are good regulators.

Self-regulated organisations will always claim that they are very efficient and that no further savings can be made but, following regulatory intervention, they generally manage to achieve substantial savings that they previously said were unachievable. They inevitably lobby Governments hard to control the regulator, but most of the time the regulator process works itself through, and results are generally positive, with better service and quality, lower costs and more money for investments.

Much of the Bill involves changes to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, but creating the MNAC or super-GLA would bring significant cost savings, by eliminating the triplication of functions. The three GLAs could share a handful of back-office functions. The Bill aims to correct the nonsense of triplication with rationalisation of the corporate centre into a prudent, logical and sensible organisation, as Julian Brazier suggested. On the cost of senior managers and board members, according to the GLF annual report and accounts for 2007-08, Trinity House has four board members paid more than £70,000 and one paid more than £100,000. On the Commissioners of the Irish Lights, one board member is paid more than £70,000 and four more are paid £100,000. In total, the three boards cost more than £1 million a year, and a lot of savings could be made instantly with one super-GLA, seven to nine board members and a lesser remuneration package.

Some GLAs have argued that the regional knowledge will be lost, but the reform that I propose aims to tackle the back-office functions fully by completely rationalising the three corporate centres to make the savings. Regional stations should be in place under the proposed unified centre, but they would be ready for any further devolution of responsibilities to the Governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland or anywhere else, so I do not think that there is a real concern there.

There is a need for stronger regulation, and a smaller, independent regulator would restore badly damaged industry confidence. The regulator would be cheap to run, as I have said before, and would have a small office of one or two nominated senior people with back-office support, when required, from organisations that could be the Office of Rail Regulation or the CAA, both of which I have talked to-or, more logically, the MCA.

Having consulted the GLAs and the shipping industry, I amended Clause 2 from the draft Bill, which was on reducing the number of board members and their prescribed attributes. The Bill makes provision for charges to be levied on the MoD vessels as well as pleasure craft, although no details are contained in the Bill because it will be a matter for the regulator, which would consult widely. That is not, as the GLAs have said, to increase the revenue from shipping or other sources, but to reduce the costs of providing these services, which is what the Bill aims to achieve. I hope that the Atkins report will help that.

In conclusion, it is time for decisive and bold action to restore the reputation of the UK as an attractive place to do maritime business. I acknowledge that the Bill may not make much further progress before Parliament dissolves, but I intend to keep up pressure on government to make these changes. I hope that a future Government would support this move to increased efficiency and reduced costs and could introduce the necessary legislation themselves-I hope while taking into account the contents of the Bill. Failing that, I shall bring it back at a suitable time in the next Session.

The department followed the huge increase in light dues with a second increase on 1 April. I know that my Conservative colleagues are with me when I urgently call on the Government to withdraw that second, harsh increase. As Jesper Kjaedegaard, the chairman of Maritime UK, said this week,

"for those who think that light dues are an insignificant part of the total operating costs-let me just remind you that for a typical Panamax container ship, this tax amounts to £13,650 per call increasing to £17,200 per call ... If this joke goes ahead, this won't be an April Fool joke, but a significant misjudgment".

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Speaker (Lords) 11:36 am, 5th February 2010

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing this Bill forward again, giving us another chance to discuss it. He has given us a very detailed description of what it entails and all the bits and pieces associated with it. I shall address only certain items.

Together with other noble Lords, some of whom are here today, I spoke on this subject on 7 July last year and declared, as I do again, that I am a younger brother of Trinity House and a Master Mariner who, from time to time in years gone by, used the signals from lighthouses and buoys.

The Bill seeks to replace the GLAs and establish MNAC in their place, with an Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation-OMNAR-to replace, in large part, the role of the Secretary of State in his responsibilities for the GLF and GLAs. As far as the GLAs are aware, there was no consultation with the Republic in terms of the proposed removal of the fading mechanism for its aids to navigation. Furthermore, the Bill fails to grapple properly with the constitutional issues associated with the Republic's position under existing legislation.

In terms of the Bill itself, it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for the provision of aids to navigation, following the creation of the MNAC and the establishment of the OMNAR. This concerns me and, I suspect, many others. A failure in terms of aids to navigation provision could be extremely costly in terms of human life, property and the marine environment. The "Tricolor" wreck, which sank in French waters in 2004, has cost something approaching $200 million. Furthermore, the Bill is unclear on the question of the transfer of existing assets and liabilities and how any transitional measures would operate. Nor does it mention the responsibility for wrecks, as Sections 252 and 253 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 place responsibility for wrecks outside harbour areas with the GLAs.

The Department for Transport has commissioned W S Atkins to conduct a review of GLAs and the management of GLF. Among its aims, it will address the funding regime-in other words, more light dues raised in Ireland resulting in less reliance on dues raised in England. It will also look at where future efficiencies can be made in GLA operation and support. The review will report in March, and its recommendations are unlikely to require major primary legislation. Devoting parliamentary time now to an issue that would largely be resolved looks somewhat inappropriate. However, the Bill presents an opportunity for ship owners to keep in the public domain their grievances about light dues and the GLA structure.

It has been estimated that significant costs would be incurred in setting up the new structure, particularly with regard to operating costs, redundancy, relocation, retraining and new infrastructure. These have been estimated at between £25 million and £70 million, or, to put it another way, between 12.5p to 35p on light dues, which the ship owner would have to bear. Would any ship owner approve of this potential increase to the running costs? I suspect not.

Photo of Lord Boyd of Duncansby Lord Boyd of Duncansby Labour 11:40 am, 5th February 2010

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust, a body set up by the Northern Lighthouse Board to look after property that is no longer part of the General Lighthouse Fund. I was also a commissioner of the Northern Lighthouse Board for nearly 10 years.

In 1998 I was present at the ceremony of the automation of the last manned lighthouse in the northern lighthouse area, Fair Isle South. That was a sad and poignant moment because it marked the end of manned lighthouses and the fine tradition that went along with them. We owe a significant debt of gratitude to those who served in the past to keep our seas safe and those who now do so.

If the ceremony for the automation of Fair Isle was sad and poignant, I submit that it also marked a new beginning for the lighthouse service. Under successive chief executives, James Taylor and now Roger Lockwood, the NLB has reformed, modernised and gone from strength to strength, and I know that that is true of other general lighthouse authorities. In Scotland the operation has been slimmed down: the Granton base has long since gone, Stromness was closed during my time as a commissioner and operations are now based solely in Oban. The Pharos was replaced after only 13 years in service; it was deemed no longer fit for purpose, which showed both the pace of change that the lighthouse service had to match and the ability of the lighthouse authorities to invest in new ships. The tender for the new Pharos was submitted along with the new ship for Trinity House.

Costs have gone down. It is now a highly proficient, competent and efficient organisation. What my noble friend did not recognise is that with other general lighthouse authorities, the NLB kept the light dues at a level pace for 13 years, from 1993 to 2006. In 2006 light dues went down by 13 per cent, a decrease that was forced upon the general lighthouse authorities at the behest of the industry. That now looks like short-termism on its part.

The GLAs do not operate independently but, increasingly, in partnership. The ship agreement is one aspect of that but they also have set out a collective vision, first in 2020 The Vision and updated recently in 2025 and Beyond. Those documents have set a course for the general lighthouse authorities for the future.

My noble friend has raised the Irish question. There is one part of me that never quite understands the logic of this. Lighthouse dues are paid on the basis of visitations to ports, not on actual use of the lighthouse. Those who pass Fastnet or Tuskar Rock do not close their eyes on the basis that they are passing a lighthouse in a foreign jurisdiction and they ought not to be paying for it; I am sure that they often welcome them and in some cases have been relieved to see them. My noble friend says, rightly, that it is a foreign country and we do not pay for any lighthouses in any other foreign jurisdictions. That is true, I grant him that, but that attitude still seems somewhat counterintuitive on a day when we have had an announcement of further devolution to Northern Ireland, and the example of British-Irish co-operation over lighthouses was specifically acknowledged in the Good Friday agreement in 1998. In any event, the Irish Government are now separately subsidising the lighthouse authorities, and negotiations will no doubt continue on that matter.

I have studied the Bill with some care. It may be my fault but I am unclear on whether the existing GLAs, after the introduction of the super-GLA that my noble friend has described, will have any continuing function. I have looked in vain, for example, for any clauses that relate to the transfer of assets and liabilities or the winding-up of the GLAs. They are not there. There is mention of the board of the Northern Lighthouse Board coming out of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, but there is no mention of what exactly would happen to the existing lighthouse authorities. Would they continue in any shape or form? No doubt my noble friend will address that when he comes to reply.

In any event, what exactly would be the solution to this problem? As far as I can see, it would be the creation of two new quangos, whether in addition to or instead of the existing one. We would have a Marine Navigation Aids Commission, no doubt replete with a new headquarters, chairman, chief executive, expenses, pension, corporate strategy, HR, disability information strategies-the lot. If that were not good enough, we would then have a separate body to oversee the first: a marine navigation aids regulator. One is reminded of the old woman who swallowed the spider to catch the fly.

If ship owners have been pressing for this, one has to question whether they have really thought it through. My noble friend says that it is to support competitiveness, but in fact-with the greatest of respect for him-he would be increasing the amount of bureaucracy involved and therefore, as my noble friend Lord Simon said, increasing the costs. I would be grateful if he explained to us in more detail what the relationship would be between the new bodies and the existing general lighthouse authorities.

I come back to the Scottish issue. Has my noble friend consulted Scottish Ministers? He will say, rightly, that the issue of lighthouses is a reserved matter, but the fact is that there is a close relationship between the Northern Lighthouse Board and the Scottish Government, there is a concordat between the Department for Transport and the Scottish Government that inter alia covers lighthouses, and the Northern Lighthouse Board is regarded as a significant part of Scottish life. I have not mentioned the Isle of Man, but that is true there is well. He will find, if he presses this, that there is considerable opposition in Scotland, not just from an SNP Administration but from any other Administration that is likely to come in, as well as from the public; the NLB is regarded as part of the fabric of Scottish life, and they will not look favourably on the downgrading or abolition of the Northern Lighthouse Board with some centralised quango in its place.

I hope that my noble friend will in time go away and reflect on exactly what he is attempting to achieve by this. There are legitimate questions to be asked about the operations of the general lighthouse authorities, but the answer is not to tear up the existing structure; rather, it is to ensure that it works better and more efficiently in the future.

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench 11:50 am, 5th February 2010

My Lords, I will make a few brief comments if only because I am recovering from a heavy cold and I am not certain how long my voice will last. I declare a non-financial interest as an Elder Brother of Trinity House.

One has to admire the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who continues to bring his question before us at every opportunity. He mentioned that his timing might be a little awry at the moment. Obviously, it was the usual channels' decision as to when his Bill would get a Second Reading, but the timing is unfortunate. As has been mentioned, there is yet another review going on into the General Lighthouse Authorities-the Atkins review-one of a number over the past few years, and that is due to report next month. Although this gives us an opportunity to discuss the whole question of light dues once again, we might be wasting our time because nothing will happen until the Government have seen the results of that review. The noble Lord admits that he does not expect his Bill to make much further progress and we will have to see. But it is probably unlikely.

The Irish question has been referred to several times. It is really the fly in the ointment and the one thing that really annoys the ship owners. As has already been hinted at by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, this new arrangement is under an international treaty. It is not as easy as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggests to walk away from international treaties. These things require careful consideration. The other problem, as we all know, is that the majority of light dues are paid by ships visiting English ports-something like 87 per cent. Scotland and Ireland would find great difficulty if they had to pay for their own navigation aids. Ireland gets comparatively few ships these days and if it was forced to charge realistic light dues, the dues would be extremely high and probably no ship would go to Ireland anyway.

There have been several misconceptions with regard to figures-the noble Lord who preceded me mentioned this. This is something that does not come out very often, but ship owners always scream about this huge increase in light dues. Admittedly it is large, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd, said, light dues have not risen since 1993 and were reduced on several occasions since then resulting in a 50 per cent decrease. As has been said, in 2006, there was an opportunity to raise light dues, but it was resisted. That was unfortunate because ship owners at that time were enjoying successful markets and most of them were making large sums of money. An increase then would have been easily absorbed and nobody would even have considered it. However, the shipping industry has taken a huge downturn during the recession and these rises coming through now-one recently and another one due later this year-will hit them harder because they have been going through such lean times.

The recovery is starting, if slowly. Certainly, I was looking at figures only yesterday for a large French shipping company. Its revenues on the Asia-Europe run, which is the main trade lane, are certainly beginning to rise and rise more quickly. We hope that difficult times are past and that ship owners soon start making reasonable money again. The noble Lord mentioned charges of thousands of pounds per ship, but within the overall costs of running a ship, they are still remarkably small.

There is some conception that these services are provided free in a lot of other places around the world. That is not true. Ours are upfront and visible. It is the user-pays principle, which the Government and the EU champion. In other countries it may be paid by direct taxation or included in general port charges. There is no evidence to suggest that ships are charged more in this country-there is no direct figure available-but it seems that the costs of provision of navigational aids is roughly the same wherever you are. Ship owners are paying wherever they go: it is only because they have a huge bill put in front of them every year that they complain.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also mentioned ships turning away from this country due to the charges, but I question those figures. Maersk Line, the largest container line in the world, has only recently brought its largest container ships into Felixstowe. Only four or five tankers ever built have been larger than these ships. They are extremely large and carry up to 15,000 20-foot containers. When they were introduced a few years ago, they made two initial visits for promotional purposes into Felixstowe and then the service was run from the north continental ports. The fact that Maersk has now decided to bring the ships into Felixstowe tells me that this great worry about light dues is perhaps not as great as one might imagine.

There seems to be an almost insatiable appetite to modernise or, in other words, tear down or destroy institutions that have been around for many hundreds of years and replace them with a new set-up that may well prove to be less efficient, could well cost a great deal more-there was mention from other speakers of possibly up to £50 million more under this Bill-and which could have all sorts of unintended consequences. The three general lighthouse authorities have worked efficiently together to provide seamless provision of aids to navigation in what amounts to 20,000 miles of some of the most dangerous waters in the world. Anything that upsets that balance should sound a warning note.

Another example of how these cross-border organisations work is the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It has worked perfectly satisfactorily in Ireland as well as the rest of the UK for many years. I know that it is a charity funded entirely from donations, but it shows how these organisations can work-as indeed the lighthouse authorities work together well with their Irish partners.

I cannot say that I wish this Bill well in any way at all. In fact, I sincerely hope that it has a quiet death, but I have no doubt that the noble Lord will persist. Perhaps we shall look forward to debating this again in a new Parliament. But I have a feeling that the new Government of whatever colour will have their time taken up by far more pressing matters than light dues.

Photo of Lord MacKenzie of Culkein Lord MacKenzie of Culkein Labour 12:00 pm, 5th February 2010

My Lords, I welcome the opportunity that the Second Reading of my noble friend's Bill gives us to discuss this important issue. Aids to navigation may seem rather esoteric to many people, but that belies their importance to the safety of the mariner and the security of the marine environment. I have an interest in this issue: I was born and brought up in the lighthouse service in Scotland, and I served as a lighthouse keeper for a few years in my younger days.

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 shipowners 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 shipowners 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 with 1993. Like pension funds holidays taken by employers when times were good, a day of reckoning always arrives. Shipping has enjoyed a light dues holiday, but the consequence is that the deficit in the GLA fund is something like £21 million, and that cannot go on without affecting the quality of the service provided and therefore compromising the safety of life at sea.

Of course, shipowners 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 larger area. Does the Minister have any figures on the cost of the staff at the Department for Transport who are devoted to GLAs? Has any comparative estimate been made of the staffing costs for the proposed new regulatory body?

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, Killantringan lighthouse, the light station where I was born, was discontinued a little over two years ago. On the other hand, in consultation with maritime interests, the original Monach lighthouse, which had been unlit since early in the Second World War, was brought back into commission 18 months ago.

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.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Spokesperson for Defence, Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport , Deputy Chief Whip 12:11 pm, 5th February 2010

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 Europe at certain times reached a level of hyperbole where unhitching Britain from the European continent and towing it somewhere else on the result of a referendum was an underlying theme. We are where we are: shared geography is something we cannot escape from.

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.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee - Shadow Minister (Maritime and Shipping), Shadow Minister 12:15 pm, 5th February 2010

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 Lords. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, were very illuminating; we are lucky to have his wise counsel.

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 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 amount to only £250,000-perhaps the marginal costs of the proposed regulator. Even if it was twice this amount, I do not think that it would be worth a clause in primary legislation. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, when he replies, could indicate what he expects the revenue to be.

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.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Government Whip, Government Whip 12:23 pm, 5th February 2010

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 of the maritime aids to navigation service in the UK and Ireland by joining our Irish counterparts in commissioning a wide-ranging study, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. That work was announced on 10 June 2009 by my honourable friend the Shipping Minister and is being carried out by WS Atkins, which is due to report next month. It would be inappropriate of me today to anticipate its recommendations. I expect, however, that if Atkins delivers results in accordance with its terms of reference, we will see some useful ideas on how the three general lighthouse authorities can make improvements to their working practices, both jointly and individually, which will feed through into efficiency savings. I am sure that the lighthouse authorities will welcome the noble Earl's comments and his reference to the improvements in efficiency that he detected when he visited them.

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 not want to compromise that-I commend what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said about that. I strongly suspect that, if we are to retain the local knowledge and incident-response capability that are crucial to our safety performance, it will be difficult to make significant cuts in the regional infrastructure inherent in the present structure, so savings from consolidation are likely to be small.

However, we believe that there will be significant opportunities for building on the already extensive collaboration between the three authorities. This is where I anticipate seeing some more cost savings appearing in areas such as the management of the combined fleet of ships. For similar reasons, we should carefully consider the evidence before taking the step of splitting the management of Irish Lights. I fully accept that we have to improve the funding arrangements and ministerial colleagues are engaged on this. However, Ireland is a good example of where geographical considerations are not necessarily coincident with political boundaries and we want to be sure that the long-term solution that we come up with is consistent with both economic objectives and our maritime safety objectives. The lighthouse service in the UK and Ireland is rightly held up as an excellent example of co-operation, bringing together a unified British Isles solution to maritime safety. The Commissioners of Irish Lights have continued as a cross-border body since the establishment of the Irish Free State, the success of which was confirmed by both Governments by the inclusion of CIL as a model of all-Ireland co-operation within the 1998 Belfast agreement. We would only move away from such co-operation if all the benefits of doing so were very clear.

I should at this point refer to the discussions that are taking place between our shipping Minister, my honourable friend Paul Clark, and his Irish opposite number, Noel Dempsey, the Irish Minister for Transport. As recently as 2 February, this week, Mr Clark wrote to Mr Dempsey on the subject of the funding of Irish Lights' activities in the Republic of Ireland. He said in the letter:

"I think it would be of great benefit if we could jointly state our unequivocal commitment to progress to a situation where Irish Lights were fully financed from Irish sources within a definite period".

However, I correct the figure to which my noble friend Lord Berkeley referred as the cost of Irish Lights. The subsidy to the Irish Republic is not £15 million. I seem to remember that he used that figure in our debate in the summer. The correct figure is, of course, substantially less than that because the £15 million figure includes the cost of providing a service for the coast of Northern Ireland.

Subject to what Atkins may say in its report, it is possible that even the economic case for changing the current arrangements in relation to Ireland will prove unconvincing. I do not believe that the UK or the Republic of Ireland would be willing to transfer responsibility for their aids to navigation to another sovereign state. It would then follow from my noble friend's proposal that there would have to be two separately funded authorities providing aids to navigation in and around the island of Ireland, which may be less efficient and more difficult to co-ordinate. It would also follow that if the Republic has a separately funded system, ships visiting both countries on one voyage would have to pay light dues twice, once to each country's authority. That would have implications for the shipping industry's costs.

Turning now to some of the less controversial aspects of my noble friend's Bill, I welcome the way that he has embraced some of the ideas that went into the draft Marine Navigation Bill when we put it out to consultation in 2008. Whatever organisation is responsible for providing maritime aids to navigation, they need to have the powers and authority to do so effectively. The measure to clarify the extent of jurisdiction will help to assist the providers of aids to navigation in operating an efficient safety regime everywhere in the seas around this country.

Looking at Clause 8 of my noble friend's Bill, I am pleased, too, that he agrees that the funding of the lighthouse authorities should remain essentially as it is. The system is not perfect and we are continuing to look for ways to improve it, not least by trying to include as many as possible of those who use the aids to navigation in the payment system.

The possibilities for obtaining income from commercial activities by the providers of the service are important in maximising the use of resources. It is inevitable that there has to be some spare capacity in a system that needs to be capable of rapid response to emergencies. If that spare capacity can be employed profitably in other, non-critical commercial work that brings in additional income, it can only be to the benefit of those who pay for the system. The general lighthouse authorities have already made good use of their existing powers in this way and I therefore applaud the clause that permits greater use of spare assets.

An often overlooked but none the less important aspect of the work of the general lighthouse authorities is their involvement with local lighthouse authorities in ensuring that standards are maintained. In drafting the Marine Navigation Bill, we took the view that these powers would benefit from improvement, particularly in respect of the enforcement of directions by a general lighthouse authority so that on the, admittedly quite rare, occasions when there is a serious failure in the delivery of local aids to navigation, there should be the threat of a criminal sanction to deter continued non-compliance. My noble friend is therefore quite right to incorporate this in his Bill.

Regarding Clause 10, my noble friend is clear in his intention that as many people as possible who benefit from the work of the lighthouse authorities should pay for them. Generally, we agree with him, but any attempts to broaden the base of payers must be workable and cost effective. In the case of this particular clause, I believe that, in its present form at least, it could impact only on a small number of vessels involved in activities such as safety and revenue or fisheries protection.

Clause 12 deals with pension liabilities. These are a growing issue for the general lighthouse fund. In a sense the general lighthouse authorities are a victim of their own success in modernising and automating their infrastructure which has created a large number of pensioners in comparison to the present staff levels. By operating a pay-as-you-go final salary pension scheme from the general lighthouse fund, we have reached the position where pensions are a disproportionate part of the costs of the service. The authorities' net pension expenditure in 2007-08 was £141/4 million. They are carrying an unfunded potential liability of some £330 million.

Like many other sectors, this is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue for the long term, and changes need to be made to enable future pensions to be fully funded. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Berkeley has included this sensible measure, which is based on the clause in the draft Marine Navigation Bill, to enable changes to be made which might modernise the authorities' pension arrangements. It is a step that will have to be taken regardless of any other changes to the governance of maritime aids to navigation. I will nevertheless remind your Lordships that as we advised during the consultation on the draft Bill, the Government have no intention of reaching any conclusions on new pension arrangements for existing or former staff of the general lighthouse authorities without full consultation with all those involved.

Before I conclude, I wish to respond to some of the points which were made in the debate. I echo the tribute made by my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd of Duncansby and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, to those who work in the lighthouse service. They do a wonderful job, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. It is right that this House pays tribute to them today. My noble friend Lord MacKenzie of Culkein referred to the increase in light dues, as, indeed, did many other noble Lords in the debate. It is worth putting on the record that even after the increase in light dues that is due to take place on 1 April this year, light dues will be no more in absolute terms-that is, 43 pence per net registered tonne-than in 1993. This is 32 per cent lower in real terms after taking account of inflation. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, referred to the decision by Maersk to divert an extra line from the Far East to Felixstowe. Like him, we believe that this is an indication that the increase in light dues will not act as a deterrent to foreign shipping companies bringing their ships to the United Kingdom.

As regards the efficiency of the GLF, its investments in recent years have generated very positive returns which have helped to maintain or cut light dues rates. Viewed over the past five years, the portfolio has delivered a positive return of 11 per cent. That is another example-I hope the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will agree-of the GLF doing the right thing.

I hope that I have explained why the Government are concerned about the proposals in my noble friend's Bill for establishing a Marine Navigation Aids Commission and an Office of Maritime Navigation Aids Regulation. We are also concerned about his proposals for the effective turning off of the Irish Lights. My noble friend is well-intentioned and very determined. I suspect that we shall hear from him and other noble Lords on the subject on more than one occasion in the future. However, I hope that he will realise, from our efforts to carry out a full review of the provision of aids to navigation, that the Government share his concern to achieve an end result that provides an improved and efficient service. We are not convinced that his model is the right one, but we admit that we do not yet know all the answers. I hope that the current review will provide many of them. I thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate for their excellent speeches.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 12:40 pm, 5th February 2010

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken; we have had a very good debate. Not everybody agreed with me, but I did not expect that. A number of issues have been raised. I will not attempt to answer all of them, because I will not repeat what I said in my first speech. However, I hope to answer one or two questions.

My noble friend suggested in his response that I am trying to turn off the Irish lights. That is not the case and we both know it. It is a question of getting a more equitable means of financing them. Whether or not we have one structure that covers the whole of the British Isles, including Ireland, under a marine navigation aids commission or something like that, the key is to get commonality of services. Many noble Lords spoke about the importance of local services, and they are absolutely right. What I was and am trying to achieve is equitable financing between ships coming into UK ports and those entering the Irish ports. As the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, how the work is done on the ground is a separate issue. However, as the Republic is a separate member state, there is no difference between a ferry crossing the Irish Sea and paying light dues at both ends-in Dublin and Holyhead or Birkenhead-and a ship crossing the Channel between Dover and Calais. If light dues are chargeable in each port, they should be paid.

My noble friend Lord Simon asked about the role of the MNAC. This is in Clause 1(3)(a) of the Bill. He and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, mentioned that the estimated cost of the new structure would be £25 million to £70 million. I was given that figure by representatives of Trinity House when I met them. I have asked them several times since to give me details of how they arrived at the figure, but there has been total silence. I do not believe that the figure is sensible: there is no evidence to back it up. I maintain that if one merged some of the back offices, which is what I am proposing, and possibly reduced the number of expensive board members, one would make a saving.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, said that the arrangement with Ireland was part of an international treaty that could not be broken. As I said in my speech, a Written Answer on 12 January last year stated that there is no legal or constitutional reason why it could not be broken. I do not know who is right, but that is what the Written Answer said.

There is some debate about whether ships are being diverted away from ports and, if they are, why that should be so. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, mentioned extra ships coming in from the Maersk company. My information is that the "Emma Maersk", one of the biggest container ships in the world, if not the biggest, came in to Felixstowe. I have several photographs of it. I am told that it is now going around the Atlantic loaded with empty containers because it is cheaper for it to steam in a small circle than go into port. We can debate this until the cows come home, and I fear that we will get different views from different people.

The noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, said that the continuation of lights and navigation aids is absolutely vital. I entirely agree. I am certainly not proposing to change this. There are wonderful new electronic devices, but many ships do not have them and need to use lights.

My noble and learned friend Lord Boyd talked of the concerns of people in Scotland about whether the Scottish Government would be happy to see the end of the Northern Lighthouse Board. That is a consideration. I have no views on whether one organisation should be based in London, Glasgow, Edinburgh or anywhere else. If it is all part of a UK system, there is no reason why it could not be based in Scotland or England. That is something that we need to discuss further.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is clearly concerned at the proposal in my Bill to charge the Royal Navy for entering UK ports. He said that it was a waste of public money to move it from one pot to another. However, I do not believe that this is public money: it is money paid by the shipping lines. I do not see why the Navy should be exempt from paying money for using the navigation aids paid for by the shipping lines, any more than anybody else should be exempt. We can discuss that in Committee.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee - Shadow Minister (Maritime and Shipping), Shadow Minister

My Lords, there is a very good answer to that question. It is extremely likely that there will be some occasion each year when the Royal Navy provides valuable assistance to Trinity House. If it did so on a commercial basis, it would be extremely expensive.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

That is a very good response; we can look at that again. I take the noble Earl's point. As my noble friend Lord Faulkner said, there are many issues that should be looked at, including how payments are made.

All the other issues could be discussed at a future stage-if we get there. I will conclude by addressing my noble friend's final comments about the joint statement between the Republic and the UK regarding their willingness and intention to come up with a solution to what we have all been calling the Irish question. This is very welcome. I am grateful to him and his colleagues for doing this.

Noble Lords have made many comments in this debate and I am grateful to them all for participating. There is a lot to reflect on.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.