My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
I wish to announce that we will be consulting on proposed amendments to the Merchant Shipping (Light Dues) Regulations 1997.
On current projections, the General Lighthouse Fund will incur an estimated funding shortfall next year of around £21 million. Recent falls in the investment portfolio of the General Lighthouse Fund have reduced the capacity of the fund to defer or spread these increases in dues, which are being kept to the minimum necessary to deliver next year’s funding requirement. The Government have a statutory responsibility to ensure that the fund is maintained at an appropriate level to meet the operating requirements of the General Lighthouse Authorities. Failure to deliver safe maritime conditions would adversely affect the business interests of commercial enterprises and the safety of vessels and their crews.
We are proposing that light dues rates for merchant vessels calling at UK ports will be adjusted from 1 July this year by 6p from 35p to 41p per net registered ton (NRT); that the tonnage cap will rise from 35,000 to 50,000 NRT, so that the maximum charge per call will become £20,500; and that the voyage cap will be raised from seven voyages to nine voyages, so that a vessel will not be required to pay light dues after nine payments are made in the year. A payment is valid for a rolling month from the day of payment. Through this consultation we are seeking views on a range of options for raising the necessary money.
We have worked with the shipping industry over many years to reduce the costs of providing general aids to navigation and the General Lighthouse Authorities are rightly proud of their operational and financial performance where light dues rates have not had to rise since 1993 and have actually fallen by over 40 per cent against RPI over that period. This has been achieved through major efficiency gains made by the General Lighthouse Authorities resulting in lower operational costs of over 20 per cent in the last decade. We will continue to work with the industry and the General Lighthouse Authorities further to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.
In 2006, when rates were cut by 10 per cent, we had the industry’s assurance that as a result of this significant reduction, if the General Lighthouse Fund were to face greater financial demands than it could meet, the industry recognised that rates would have to rise. That time has now come and that is why we are proposing to make these changes to the regulations.
We will continue our negotiations with the Irish Government aimed at reaching a new lasting agreement for funding the work of the Commissioners of Irish Lights in providing a whole-of-Ireland aids-to-navigation service.
Copies of the consultation paper have been deposited in the House Libraries and are available on the DfT website at www.dft.gov.uk/consultations. Responses should reach DfT by 18 May 2009.