Commons Gate

The Ports Industry in England and Wales (HC 1700-I)

Transport Committee 1 Nov 2006

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Evidence given by Mr John Garner, Fleet & Ports Director, P&O Ferries Ltd; Mr Søren Friis, General Manager, Operations & Planning, UK and Ireland, Maersk Company Limited; Mr Des Crampton, Chairman, Port Skills and Safety Ltd; and Mr Allan Graveson, Senior National Secretary, Nautilus UK (formerly NUMAST); Dr Mark Avery, Director, Conservation, and Mr Andrew Dodd, Head, Site Conservation Policy, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB); and Mr Detlev Golletz, Assistant Director, Infrastructure, SEEDA.

Q14 Mrs Ellman: The Government have a policy of non-intervention in a port; do you think that is right?

Mr Graveson: That is extremely problematic, non-intervention. It is entirely right and appropriate to allow industry to go about its business and conduct its business profitably; however, non-intervention, from the point of view of the good of the nation, can be extremely detrimental. Leaving it purely to market forces therefore can result in a situation where the Government itself cannot plan the infrastructure, because it does not know where that development actually is going to take place, so inevitably there will be a lag factor, whether that is in roads, railways, transhipment terminals, or whatever. Inevitably, it is subject to failure in the longer term.

Q15 Mr. Eric Martlew: On that, can you give us an example?

Mr Graveson: Yes. An example of that I would give would be, if we look to the concentration in the South East of this country, which can result, therefore, in situations of ports which are running themselves extremely well and have managed to accommodate increased capacity. However, the lead from those ports, and we can look to the ports of Dover, Felixstowe, indeed Southampton, we have not got the rail infrastructure in place, we have not got the transhipment terminal in place to make use of coastal shipping and, as a consequence, the result is the chokes on our roads in this country.

Q16 Mrs Ellman: Are there any other views on this?

Mr Friis: We welcome the continuation of a policy of non-intervention. We believe that the market will make the right decisions, if left to do so, and we would not like to see a policy whereby a UK Government would start to dictate where the port would be located.


Mr Crampton: We do believe that port managers should use best practice, and what Port Skills and Safety is doing is producing the standards and qualifications to allow these people to operate at best practice. Clearly, as far as we are concerned, the regulation of health and safety management is done by the Health and Safety Executive through the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Q85 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on that, I am perplexed. Obviously, your organisation is doing a good job, and it is put above the Health and Safety at Work Act, you have found it necessary to do something else, but the question is why should not that be extended to all the ports?

Mr Crampton: We do not see the need for it to be mandatory. Although we are a membership organisation, all of the work that we do is available to the industry at large, so it is not available exclusively to our members, it is free to anyone.

Q86 Chairman: It is enforcement, I think, Mr Crampton, which concerns us, is it not? It is not whether they have access to your code of conduct. We just want to know who is actually enforcing it and if for any reason people are not complying with it, surely it would be better if that code had a bit of ballast, it was something that was important, it was accepted by everybody because it was compulsory? That is all we want to know.

Mr Crampton: We do not believe it needs to be compulsory.

Q87 Chairman: You have not explained to us why?

Mr Crampton: We believe that the Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive, which looks at all industry, is perfectly adequate to do that enforcement job.

Q88 Mr. Eric Martlew: Are you saying that really the Health and Safety at Work Act does not need to exist?

Mr Crampton: No. We are saying that we are producing the standards and the qualifications for people to use in the industry. It is quite adequate, we believe, for the Inspectorate to monitor employers, and we believe it will become self-evident that the use of those standards and qualifications will represent best practice. We do not think it would be doubling up to have a second enforcement agency.

Q89 Mr. Eric Martlew: Let us move to Mr Graveson. Are your workers safe?

Mr Graveson: I would say, not the case in a bad port; they are, in a good port. The HSE have responsibility essentially for the landward side, the MCA for the wet side of a port. There is a memorandum of understanding between the two at the interface. This code provides that all-important bridge between the two. For a good port, the implementation of the code is not a difficulty, it is practised well at most of our principal ports throughout the country, and therefore making it compulsory would have no detrimental effect. In this particular case, I would also like to cite the port of Newhaven and the continual groundings that have taken place there and the mismanagement at that port, and all the regulatory authorities could do, effectively, was name and shame that port, no more.

Q90 Chairman: Because it is not a compulsory code, is what you are saying?

Mr Graveson: Because it was not compulsory or, alternatively, and/or the Secretary of State could intervene to close a port should it be necessary. We saw incident after incident of grounding in that port, which was investigated thoroughly by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch, and if the recommendations of the first incidents had been taken by the port management subsequent incidents would not have occurred. There is the potentiality at present, if an incident occurs in a port, that very little can be done to prevent that incident on a second or subsequent occasion, with considerable loss of life, despite the good offices of the MAIB doing a thorough and complete investigation. The DfT and MCA are powerless.

Q91 Chairman: You are saying that neither of them have the powers actually to impose conditions on the port, even though they have made a number of recommendations on safety?

Mr Graveson: That is correct, and in discussions it has resulted in little more than a name and shame exercise for the port. All you can do is name and shame that port; you can do nothing else at present.


Q109 Mr. Eric Martlew: I think we have strayed away perhaps from the productivity issue. I may be wrong, it may be a very delicate issue. Normally, when you say productivity is not as good in the UK as somewhere else, you would be comparing like with like, you would be comparing a similar port, say, in Germany or Japan. Usually, the productivity problems are caused by either restrictive practices by the workforce or a lack of investment by the company: which is it, or is it both?

Mr Friis: Certainly in the UK there is a very high standard of health and safety, and long may that continue. We do not see that differing significantly from the UK onto the Continent. If I may offer one specific example, it is that in most Continental ports there are four six-hour shifts during the day, whereas in the UK typically it is worked as two 12-hour shifts. That lowers the flexibility for the shipping lines to arrive. I am talking mainly of container shipping lines here. That is one example of where port industry could make a change to the way things are done today and, we believe, achieve high productivity.

Q110 Mr. Eric Martlew: Are British ports less well equipped with modern facilities than Continental ports?

Mr Friis: No. Obviously, there are a number of ports on the Continent which are more recent and have more modern equipment than those in the UK, but, as a ports industry, if you will, no, we do not believe that.

Q111 Clive Efford: I did not follow something you said, Mr Friis, which was that the UK has two 12-hour shifts and the European ports have four six-hour shifts; that seems to add up to 24, in a sum. How does it make a difference?

Mr Friis: It makes a difference in that, traditionally, or in practice, you will get better productivity if you arrive your vessel at the same time as there is a change of shift, which provides the UK with only two possible arrival slots during the 24-hour period, whereas you will have four on the Continent. Traditionally, for a number of reasons, you will lose a bit of time around the end of those shifts, a number of hours where perhaps it is not felt beneficial to start a vessel which arrives at five o'clock, before the shift starts at seven o'clock.


Q124 Mr. Eric Martlew: I notice, for example, you say that more should go on rail, but is not the reality that any capacity we have on the railways is going to be taken up by passengers, who are going to be given priority? You mentioned the West Coast Main Line, which I know very well, and really freight on that line is a problem now, so we are not going to get extra capacity on the railways unless we build new lines. Do you believe that the Government are thinking enough about this?

Mr Golletz: I think so, jointly with Network Rail. Firstly, there is the fact that rail freight can be transported at different times than people, so they can take up more time slots, they can take up off-peak slots, and, from what we have learned with Network Rail, there are opportunities. Also there are possibilities at the next stage, for instance, to develop diversionary routes, routes with currently are underutilised or not fit for freight, as such, as a second stage. As a third stage, yes, you are right, just as with roads, we may need to look at additional rail freight or rail capacity per se, but at the moment it is felt in the industry that a better balance, with better management and better co-ordination with freight forwarders, and so on, can achieve a slightly better shift towards rail freight.

Q125 Mr. Eric Martlew: When I go on the Continent, I often see the canal system used much better than it is here, perhaps it is more modern than ours, but is there any option of moving freight from the ports to the market via the inland waterways?

Mr Golletz: With due respect, the canals in the UK were developed a long time ago and the dimensions are such that they lend themselves to only very limited freight and dimensions; the canals on the Continent, in Germany, the Rhineland, a new canal was built for industrial sizes and even that is still underutilised, but the dimensions are very different. If we had large-scale canals, yes, but, on the other hand, thinking out loud, I think the geography of the UK would not lend itself to invest heavily in upgrading canals, because, obviously, you have got the sea all round.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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