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Marine Navigation Aids Bill [HL]

Volume 724: debated on Friday 21 January 2011

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is able to make his speech, it falls to me to make the following statement. I see one or two puzzled faces opposite, but this is very much a normal matter.

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.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Chief Whip for that introduction. The predecessor to this Bill had its Second Reading nearly a year ago, on 5 February 2010, and I refer noble Lords who are interested to col. 432 of Hansard for that date. In its present form, this Bill is in exactly the same format as the Bill that I introduced then and noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to make the same Second Reading speech.

I am grateful for that show of support. However, in many ways things have moved on on the navigation aids front. There has been progress, with developments, and I believe that it is a good idea to bring the Bill forward again.

I remind noble Lords that I introduced the Bill last year because, in the previous year, the Government of the time had increased light dues—the dues that ships pay to enter any British port—by 67 per cent, which in the middle of a recession I thought was a bit steep, to say the least. I can go through all the reasons for that, but I think that it is enough to say that they can be found in the Hansard of a year ago. I maintained then, and still do, that such an increase is frankly unaffordable. We are talking about a unique structure, where the Government set the charges for ships based on what the three general lighthouse authorities say that they need, and the ship owners have to pay up.

The main problem arises when you compare that with all the cost-cutting that the Government are making at the moment. There have been some enormous cost-cutting measures, which we have been debating here and will continue to debate, particularly in the Public Bodies Bill. Basically, the Government are saying, “You have to cut the costs. Do it how you like but this is the way that it is going to end up”. Uniquely, I think, in this case, the Government still set the charges but the taxpayer does not pay; the ship owner pays. I shall repeat just one quotation that I read out a year ago from Stephen Bracewell, the chief executive of the Harwich Haven Port Authority. He said that, as a result of the increase in the light dues,

“no less than four major container services have ceased calling at the Haven Ports”.

That is a pretty serious change to ship movements, involving a loss of revenue and a loss to the economy.

In the ensuing year, I have consulted a number of people and organisations about this light dues issue. The problem is still as bad, but I believe that there are simpler solutions. I have come across a number of examples elsewhere of how costs have been slashed for maintaining the lights, which of course has resulted in lower charges. The best example that I found was in Australia. A couple of weeks after my Second Reading speech last year, I received an e-mail from someone in Australia whom I did not know saying that he had been reading Hansard the previous night. I felt chuffed about it but I wondered why someone in Australia would be reading my speech in Hansard. However, the person concerned had been the director of the Australian lights authorities and, over the past 10 years, had achieved a saving of 50 per cent in the maintenance of the lights all the way round Australia. I went to Australia in April and arranged to meet him. I was extremely impressed with him because he also knows the UK waters very well. He was adamant that similar savings could be made here and a number of his articles were published in Lloyd’s List. One of the elder brethren at Trinity House, Michael Grey, wrote in saying that Australia was nothing like the UK. He said that it was a square country and needed only a lighthouse at all four corners. I am exaggerating slightly, but it was that kind of thing. Mr Davidson responded by saying that he knew all about the UK waters and that he stuck by his arguments.

I also heard more recently that the Hong Kong authorities are reducing light dues by 20 per cent. They are bringing in similar efficiencies. I understand that in many of the old colonies, shall we say—they are now independent—where a similar structure of lights occurs, there is the potential to make similar reductions.

Since last year, the new Government have made a lot of progress and I am pleased that they have. First, they have made progress on what we have come to call the Irish question. Since 1922—or since for ever, actually—ships entering UK ports have contributed to the cost of maintaining the lights around the Republic of Ireland. I remember putting down a Starred Question about that a few years ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, answered it by saying that the Irish Government were not keen to negotiate. Well, they wouldn’t be, would they, if they would have to spend somewhere between £15 million and £20 million more because ships coming into British ports no longer had to contribute to the maintenance of the lights around Ireland. After all, they do not contribute to the lights around France, Belgium, Germany or anywhere else.

The present Shipping Minister, Mike Penning MP, has reached agreement with the Irish Government to stop this transfer of funding by the end of this Parliament. I certainly welcome that. He will need all the support that he can get given the state of the Irish economy. I believe that the Irish Minister whom he met a week or two ago resigned yesterday, so I hope that the agreement will still stand.

The Government have also finally started to tackle the costs of running the three lighthouse authorities around the coast. I understand from a letter from the Lights Advisory Committee that the Government have set the GLA the target of making cuts of 17 per cent over the next five years. That is welcome—it is a major step forward—but they could go further. Anyone in the position of being a monopoly supplier, effectively government-funded in the way that it operates, could cut costs a lot more.

I have already written to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and other speakers whose names were on the list when I wrote the letters to tell them that, if the Bill is given a Second Reading by the House today, I will introduce amendments to make it much simpler. These amendments would do two things. They would require the Government to reduce light dues for ships entering the UK ports by codified reduction targets annually for a five-year period—probably by 50 per cent in five years, which is achievable. I would also support the present Shipping Minister in his work in dealing with the Irish Government by requiring the Government to cease payments by a certain date.

My Lords, I know from my time at the receiving end as Transport Minister that my noble friend is extremely knowledgeable and an assiduous campaigner on these issues—rightly so, given their importance to a seafaring and trading nation. Is he in a position to estimate the deleterious effect on trade of such a large increase over a short period of time, even if only in very round figures?

My Lords, that is an interesting question. When I quoted the chief executive of the Harwich Haven Port Authority, I quoted only part of what he said. He also said:

“This action by four major carriers has already deprived the General Lighthouse Fund of £2.4M in annual light dues”.

He did not estimate the reduction in business for the Haven ports, but the noble Lord will appreciate that, if four major container lines cease coming into the UK but go to the continent—Rotterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg—and feeder across, there will be a serious and significant reduction in jobs. Of course, shipping lines take extremely seriously even small changes to the amount that they have to pay.

The noble Lord mentioned making amendments. Will he tell us in precise detail what parts of the Bill he proposes to remove?

My Lords, the noble Lord is entitled to make his Second Reading speech without interruption at this stage of the debate.

I am grateful to noble Lords. I was about to come to what I intend to remove, which will be a significant part of the Bill. I will replace it with what I would call an output specification, which, as I said a moment ago, would be a clause that would require the Government to reduce light dues, to codify reduction targets by probably 50 per cent over five years and to cease providing the Irish subsidy.

I was proposing to leave in the clause on pensions, because that came from the draft Marine Navigation Bill, for which the previous Government did not get round to finding parliamentary time. I wrote to the Shipping Minister asking whether he thought that it was a good idea to leave it in or whether he wanted anything else to be put in. As the noble Lord will know, there is already a Commons Private Member’s Bill, promoted by Therese Coffey, on wreck removal. So it is for me to have further discussions with the Minister, and a substantial reduction in the Bill’s scope will be proposed. However, I have checked with the Clerks and they seem happy with that. I have also been advised that in Private Members’ Bills in your Lordships’ House we can propose reductions in charges, costs or anything else, but we are not allowed to propose increases. That is the advice that I have had from the Clerks. Again, however, we can debate that.

All organisations that are under pressure will say that they have squeezed their efficiencies as far as they can and that they cannot do any more without compromising safety. However, we have seen in many areas that, when push comes to shove, they can do it. I believe that a bit more pushing on the GLAs will enable them to reduce costs. They will have to reduce costs and it will not compromise safety.

I welcome the Government’s action in particular in respect of the Irish question. However, I think that it would be useful for the Government to have some legal support in the shape of this Bill in case the Irish want to change their mind at any time. I have talked to many people in the shipping industry, as I said, who have confirmed the view that Mr Davidson has suggested—that reducing the costs of the GLAs by 50 per cent is reasonable and achievable and that, if the costs come down, the charges will come down. I very much look forward to noble Lords’ comments and, no doubt, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, to further discussions. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare my interest as Minister for Shipping from 1985 to 1986 and from 1992 to 1994. I did not take part in the Second Reading debate last year because I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was wasting the time of the House. At that time a major report into the lighthouse authorities was due and it would have been a much more efficacious use of the House’s time had he waited for the report to be published before putting his Bill before the House for Second Reading. I fear that this year the noble Lord is abusing the House. He has told us that he will substantially revise his Bill—and that he is entitled to do. The Bill comprises 14 clauses and one schedule. From what I managed to elicit from him a moment ago, only one of the clauses will remain, Clause 12, on the pensions funding, and he will introduce some other clauses. Those of us taking part in this debate have spent a lot of time doing preparation on the Bill as it is before us, but that time has been completely wasted.

The noble Lord had the courtesy to write to my noble friend Lord Attlee on 14 January advising him what he was going to do. He did not write to me until 19 January, and I got the letter only this morning. I was very lucky to receive a copy of the letter that he sent to my noble friend Lord Attlee. Why did the noble Lord not write to those of us who are taking part in this debate at the same time as he wrote to my noble friend Lord Attlee, on 14 January? Why has he allowed us to waste our time in this fashion? I fear that this is an abuse of the House. Perhaps he should do the right thing, withdraw this Bill and bring forward for Second Reading a Bill that he actually intends to pursue through the House. I do not dispute that his proposed amendments will make the Bill a lot better, because there are amendments that I would wish to put forward anyway, but I feel that I have wasted a considerable amount of my time, as has everyone else taking part in the Bill, because the noble Lord has not had the courtesy of letting us know exactly what he is going to do.

When the noble Lord spoke he repeated much of what he said last year, and of course he told only one-half of the story. He mentioned the increase in light dues. What he did not tell the House is that the light dues are the same in absolute terms as they were when I was Minister for Shipping in 1993, and that it is a 32 per cent reduction accounting for inflation. So, far from a massive increase, there actually has been a substantial reduction. He wants a 50 per cent reduction; well, he has got a 32 per cent reduction since I was Minister for Shipping. So the situation is not nearly as bad as the noble Lord has tried to portray to the House.

What was wrong—and what I fear my honourable friend the Minister of Shipping is wrong to do—was to freeze the light dues. That is why there was such a substantial increase. There was no increase from when I was Minister for Shipping until the increases were made in the past couple of years, and the Minister for Shipping has said that he will not increase light dues for the next three years. I think that that is unfair on the shipping industry. It is far better to have gradual increases—or, one hopes, reductions—rather than having a period of a freeze. Labour Ministers were very wrong to do that, because it then catches up with you: you get a deficit and you suddenly have to have what appears to be a substantial increase.

I do agree with the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in congratulating my honourable friend the Minister for Shipping on getting an agreement with the Irish Lights. This is an old problem which I tried to deal with in 1985-86 and in the early 1990s, but that was not a sensible time to try to negotiate that sort of agreement with the Irish. It is very good that the Irish Lights cover the whole of Ireland—I think that it is the Irish rugby team, the Irish Lights and a third organisation which I cannot remember that cover the whole of Ireland. I agree that the partial subsidy that we gave towards the Commissioners of the Irish Lights will be phased out by 2015-16.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also said that there ought to be a continuing reduction in light dues. Of course he probably has read the Atkins report; and he probably knows that all the lighthouse authorities are currently working on a reduction and that, this year, all the running costs in real times will be decreased by at least 3 per cent. They have to meet, over a five-year period, an RPI-X formula, and they are well on their way to doing that.

There is now a joint strategic board at non-executive director level which is a result of the Atkins report and I think that it is a sensible way forward. This board is for the first time looking at all the corporate plans for the three separate lighthouse authorities. It is interesting to recall that the Atkins report did not recommend that the three GLAs should be merged into one, but said they would operate much more efficiently as three individual bodies. That is certainly beginning to prove the point.

The strategic board has a lot more to offer in the running of the lights. When something as new as that is introduced, of course it takes a bit of time to settle down. The Northern Lighthouse Board, Trinity House and the Commissioners of the Irish Lights are trying to get together. I think that there were some difficulties early last year but they seem to have worked their way out of the system and the board is now doing a very good job. I wish that I had been able to do something like that when I was the Minister for Shipping.

With the work that has taken place with the lighthouse authorities since the Atkins report—the reductions in the light dues and the continuing RPI-X indices—the running costs are coming down. In fact, the running costs will be reduced over the next four years by more than 17 per cent. That is not quite the 25 per cent that some would have liked, but it is very good over four years. That is fairly comparable to the Department for Transport’s CSR outcome of 14 per cent.

I hope that given perhaps a more balanced view of where we are with light dues, the noble Lord will not pursue this Bill. I would repeat only that, as far as I am concerned, he has behaved extremely badly towards the House and all of us who are taking part in this Second Reading debate.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will recognise the tenacity and commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to this important issue. I am sure that he will understand that for the reasons expressed by the noble Earl it is difficult to have a debate today in anything other than general terms on the important question of the UK system of providing aids to navigation.

However, it is useful to have such a debate at this time. It is also refreshing to have a debate on shipping in your Lordships’ House because it is a topic that we seldom cover, which is interesting when we consider how important the shipping industry is to this country’s economy and to our maritime heritage. I believe that it is timely to revisit the question of light dues. We are the only country in the world to have a user-based scheme for the funding of light dues. While that is not in itself a reason to change the system, it should at least give us the opportunity for pause for thought and to reflect on why we are the only country left which does it in this way.

Clearly, money is the essential driver, as it so often is. The budget shortfall within the General Lighthouse Authorities can be dealt with only in the way that any organisation deals with budget shortfalls; that is, you increase your income, you cut your costs or you do both. The original proposal to increase the budget at a time when all other departments were slashing theirs was ill advised. I am very glad that the Government have stepped in and have given some firm guidance that this is not acceptable.

I very much agree with the point made by the noble Earl that having a stop-start approach to light dues where they are frozen for many years and then increased very fast is not a sensible way to treat the shipping industry, which now has far more options available to them. As we have heard, a large number of companies are simply deciding to go to Rotterdam or to Antwerp and to use feeder ships to try to ship. This is having a serious effect on the maritime industry generally and has the effect of making the budget crisis within the GLAs even worse because they are trying to bring more money in and actually are bringing in less. They then get into a vicious circle from which it is difficult to escape.

The Government need to reconsider the principle of whether a 41p per tonne levy on ships in UK waters is still an appropriate way forward, given that it is described as a user tax, when there is no mechanism for measuring whether these ships are using the lights at all. With modern navigation and so on, things have moved on. The Chamber of Shipping is adamant that this is a tax on trade. We need some clarity of thinking as to whether that is what it is.

The budgetary problems will be eased by the recent announcement of the agreement with the Irish Government that they should take on responsibility for their own lights. I congratulate the Minister, Mr Penning, on achieving what previous Governments said was impossible. Therefore, either Mr Penning has been very persuasive or we have a lot of extra leverage after having written some large cheques to the Irish Government lately. Whichever way it is, we certainly seem to have made progress that has eluded us before.

I understand that the subsidy to the Irish Lights this year is around £12 million, which will come as a significant benefit to the budget. Will the Minister say whether this saving will in part or in whole be reflected in reduced fees to the ship operators or will simply disappear into the lighthouse funds to help to deal with the pension deficit?

The issue of operating costs is important. I know that the Government are working with all sectors of the transport industry to look at why UK costs are much higher than overseas comparators. They are doing that for rail, roads and so on. I suspect that this is as much of a problem with marine navigational aids as with any other sector. As we have heard, an article in the Lloyd’s List of 23 August 2010 by the former chief executive of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has highlighted how Australia transformed its lighthouse system during the 1980s, improved service quality and reduced costs. I know that a lot of other countries are looking at the Australian model and I hope that our Government are too.

On 14 January, the Government in Hong Kong announced that they will reduce fees for a range of maritime services, including lights, by about 20 per cent. Clearly, there is a wealth of international experience on which to draw. That is appropriate because shipping has well established international organisations, including the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea in this area.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has done the shipping industry a service by bringing this forward today, although I hope that he will accept the difficulties of scrutinising a Bill that has disappeared before our eyes. Nevertheless, I thank him.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust and as a former commissioner of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

As other speakers have recognised, we have been here before—the same Bill had its Second Reading less than a year ago—but, nevertheless, like my noble friend Lord Reid, I pay tribute to the tenacity of my noble friend Lord Berkeley in bringing this issue of lighthouses before the House. As has been said, shipping is a vital part of our trade and it is important that these issues are looked at properly.

Much has happened since the Second Reading last February. First, there has been an agreement between the British and Irish Governments on the so-called subsidy to the Commissioners of Irish Lights. The Minister, Mr Penning, can take real credit for having reached that agreement, particularly in the face of the difficulties that the Irish Government face. Of course, the Minister was building on work that had been done by his predecessors, but, nevertheless, to have secured that deal last week is significant.

The second major thing that has happened since last February is the publication in March 2010 of the Atkins report. I am sorry that my noble friend did not say more about that, given that the new Government quickly accepted most of the report’s recommendations, which have now been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. The report was established by the previous Government to look at the structure and funding of lights in the UK and the efficiencies that could be made by the general lighthouse authorities. We now have a joint strategic board, which I understand has settled down well after a shaky start and is producing real benefits. The authorities are now monitoring each other’s business plans with a view to co-ordination. Another recommendation that has been accepted is the rationalisation of the buoy yards, with a buoy yards study addressing significant overcapacity in Harwich and Swansea.

The RPI minus X formula, which is designed to produce a year-on-year reduction in running costs, has also been accepted. Each GLA has its own value for X because they start from different bases. The Commissioners of Irish Lights, as I understand it, has accepted a target of just over 6 per cent given the need to achieve a significant reduction in manpower. For the Northern Lighthouse Board, the target is just over 3 per cent. To be clear, that means that, if the RPI is under 3 per cent—which may be just a hope at the present time—there will be real and absolute savings through efficiencies. The savings will be 17.4 per cent over the next four to five years. I understand that the recommendation on light dues was not accepted by the Government, but Mr Penning has made it clear that there will be no increase in light dues for at least the next three years, which is to be welcomed.

What should happen to this Bill? First, I commend my noble friend on his decision to drop the restructuring of the general lighthouse authorities and the establishment of a marine navigation aids commission and office of marine navigation aids regulation. For various reasons that I will not go into now, I believe that to be the right decision. However, I will make one comment, which is that, given the deal that has been reached between Mr Penning and the Irish Government, it is important that we bolster the Minister and make sure that we are not accused of bad faith by trying to restructure the general lighthouse authorities.

My noble friend has informed the House that he contemplates a radical restructuring of the Bill. Of course I bow to the Clerks and the House authorities on whether those changes are within the scope of the Bill, but I draw to the attention of noble Lords that the purpose of the Bill is to,

“Establish a Marine Navigation Aids Commission; to establish an Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation; to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1995; and for connected purposes”.

We are now informed that the purpose of this Bill is to be significantly altered. However, I make no complaint that I did not receive the letter, as I did not put my name down to speak in this debate until yesterday and the letter was in fact passed on to me by friends in the Northern Lighthouse Board, so I was aware of it.

As I understand it, there are two elements to the amendments that my noble friend wishes to make to the Bill. The first would require the Government to reduce the light dues for ships entering UK ports by codifying reduction targets annually for a five-year period. The second would require the Government to cease providing the Irish subsidy by a certain date. In my submission, the second proposal is now otiose, given the agreement between the UK and Irish Governments. I do not see any merit in providing some sort of legal backbone to the agreement, because there is no reason to suppose that the Irish Government will renege provided that we keep our side of the bargain. On the proposal to issue some kind of reduction target, I have to say that I am always sceptical of attempts in legislation to impose rigid budget constraints, which require us to attempt to look into the future to see how financial circumstances may or may not change.

A better method would be to give some stability in the setting of light dues—I have already welcomed the announcement of the freeze that is to apply for at least the next three years—and to ensure that operating costs are reduced so that efficiencies are obtained. We have already seen that with the progress that has been made on implementing the Atkins recommendation on RPI minus X. That will produce real and significant savings. I accept that progress has to be monitored, which will happen through the lights users committee and the work of the department.

Mention has been made of different funding methods such as those that are used in Australia. It is clear that our system of funding is now unique—in other countries, the funding comes out of general taxation—but I think that we should be careful when we seek to draw analogies between different systems of funding. It may be that there is time to look at whether the current method is the right one for the future, but I have to say that many of us would be concerned if we moved away from the principle of the user pays to placing a burden on the general taxpayer. However, that is a debate for another day on a different Bill.

I believe that the right course for my noble friend would be to withdraw this Bill and to bring forward legislation in a more proper form that we can debate on its merits.

My Lords, I agree totally with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, have just said. We have discussed this Bill once before, so it is rather extraordinary for us to discuss it again in its original form when the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was good enough to write to us all to tell us that he is going to change it substantially. I declare an interest as an elder brother of Trinity House, which is an unpaid position. In view of the wise remarks that have already been made, I will confine my own to just a few points.

My first issue, which I did not raise when we discussed this almost a year ago, is that “Marine Navigation Aids Bill” as a short title is, strictly speaking, not correct because marine navigation aids include any aids that you might find on the bridge of a ship, including radar and so on. The correct title should be “Marine Aids to Navigation Bill”, which would limit it to the work done by the general lighthouse authorities, which is what the noble Lord is concerned about.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has already taken issue with the general cost of light dues. It is true that such dues were reduced five times between 1993 and 2006, in which year the previous Administration reduced them by a further 13 per cent at a time when shipping was enjoying the best boom that it had had for years. With hindsight, that was unfortunate, because of course the time came to raise the dues again as the General Lighthouse Fund had in effect been running at a loss. In 2009, there was a large increase, which was followed by a second increase a year later in April 2010. As the noble Earl said, those increases came when we were in recession and shipping was going through a hard time. I can understand ship owners’ resentment, but they did slightly ignore what had been happening over the previous 10 to 15 years.

We have always collected light dues under the user pays principle. That is not unique to this country. Things may have changed a little but, as I mentioned on the previous occasion, quite a number of other countries collect light dues either in whole or in part in the same way, so it is not correct to say that our system is unique. Governments of both persuasions have supported the user pays principle. The problem is that our charges are transparent and ship owners can see them when they get their bills, whereas in other ports around the world the charges are either covered by government funds or included in port charges. There is no evidence to suggest that it is any more expensive for a ship to call at our ports than ports on the continent.

I also take slight issue on how business has been affected by the recent rises. The figures that I have seen do not suggest that there has been any reduction in ships calling at our ports. Some individual ports may have been affected, but container lines are notorious for switching from port to port as it suits them. A lot of them now work in consortia, so any decision—for example, to switch from Felixstowe to Southampton or vice versa—may be strategic.

Much has been said about the Atkins report, which is now in the process of being implemented. Reductions in costs are in the pipeline. Certainly, Trinity House has committed to reduce costs by 26 per cent over the next few years, which is broadly in line with departmental cuts. I think that it is safe to say that light dues will have to remain stable for the next three years so that one may see how the situation pans out. Let us give Atkins a chance. We all agree that the Atkins report was very useful. Let us see how its implementation works out before we think of any further changes to light dues. I feel certain that dues will come down in time, but the increased efficiencies now being made in the general lighthouse authorities will ensure that the reduction can be made in time. It would be unwise to think that any reduction could be made within the next three years.

One aspect of the Bill that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has introduced that is in many ways welcome is the proposal to give lighthouse authorities increased power to use their ships for commercial purposes. Under existing powers, such ships can undertake commercial work, which brings in more than £3 million a year that is paid into the General Lighthouse Fund. Any means of increasing that ability would be most welcome. In view of what has happened, that is one the few aspects of the Bill that would be welcomed. However, as the noble Lord mentioned, there is the problem of another Private Member’s Bill in another place that seeks to deal with wreck removal. Both those matters, as well as the pensions issue that has been mentioned, were included in the draft Marine Navigation Bill. Although we are all disappointed that the Government did not bring that Bill forward, it would now seem sensible for them to do so at the earliest opportunity. That would be the best course of action and would make the noble Lord’s Bill and the Bill in the Commons unnecessary.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Berkeley should be congratulated on his persistence in introducing this Bill again. It gives us a further opportunity to look at the important matter of the safety of seafarers and the maritime environment. We can, as has already been done, note the progress made since we last debated this matter on 5 February last year.

It is a pity that we could not have had this debate in a few days’ time, because we could then have marked a very important anniversary in aids to navigation: the lighting of the Bell Rock lighthouse, the oldest sea-washed lighthouse still in commission anywhere in the world. Now, like all UK lighthouses, it is automated, but tonight, as on every other night apart from some nights in both world wars, it will give one white flash every five seconds. It will have done so for 200 years on 1 February.

I have a long interest in shipping and aids to navigation. I was born and brought up in the lighthouse service. I was for a few years a fourth-generation lighthouse keeper. Before joining the service, my dad was a merchant navy officer. I have a stepson who is a senior engineering officer and a cousin who is a deck officer in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I can say to my noble friend Lord Berkeley that I know a little bit about Australian lighthouses as well. My brother was a serving light keeper for the Northern Lighthouse Board and then, for most of the rest of his career, a lighthouse keeper in Australia. From what I gather from him, there is little or no comparison between looking after Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and the Pentland Firth and looking after Australia, except perhaps for the Bass Strait. You can go along almost the whole coast of the south of Australia and see not a single light anywhere.

My noble friend’s Bill seeks to abolish the three GLAs and replace them with a new commission and a regulator. The role of the Secretary of State will be replaced in relation to his responsibilities for the lighthouse authorities and the General Lighthouse Fund. It also seeks to cast adrift the Republic of Ireland, which has always been an inherent part of the present tripartite GLA structure.

There is no doubt that shipping companies complain about light dues. They did it when I was a light keeper all those years ago; they have complained about the size of light dues for most of the history of the general lighthouse authorities. They would prefer Governments to abandon the principle of user pays and for the taxpayer to pick up the bill. As has already been said, that would not be terribly popular, particularly among parties opposite. I do not think that it would be popular with anyone else either, except for the shipping companies.

Shipping is a tough business—I understand that—and one which is of great importance to this country. Clearly, ship owners and charterers have to have a close eye on their financial bottom line. However, as has already been well said in the House, they have enjoyed a long holiday from increases, which has included substantial reductions in light dues. For people who enjoy holidays, there is always a day of reckoning, as I, as a pension fund trustee, know to my cost, having not persuaded employers to keep on paying in the good times so that we might have avoided the sudden problems that crop up.

If memory serves me correctly, there was not an increase in light dues for some 15 or 16 years, until 2008 or 2009, with dues being about one-third lower in real terms than in 1993. Of course, that has led to a deficit in the General Lighthouse Fund and to the consequent and recent increases about which there has been so much complaint. However, as we have also heard, there is to be no further increases in light dues for the next three or four years, which should bring some stability.

No doubt ship owners will continue to have issues, and not just about light dues. I know that they have issues about other charges such as port costs, ship dues, mooring costs, conservancy costs and pilotage—you name it and ship owners will have something to say about it; for example, discharging and loading costs, including craneage. In reality, light dues are a relatively small part of the whole in terms of inward and outward trade to and from this country.

My noble friend seeks to deal also in his Bill with the so-called subsidy of the Commissioners of the Irish Lights. That has, I agree, been a running sore for a very long time and is happily on the way to being resolved. We now know that it has been decided that the funding of the Republic of Ireland aspect of the CIL will cease by 2016 at the latest. That work has been going on for many years and I agree that the Shipping Minister should be commended on the agreement which has been reached. It is good to see that the British Chamber of Shipping has welcomed the agreement. It will be interesting to see in the fullness of time whether the campaign to end the Irish subsidy will lead to an increase in trade into the UK, which the shipping industry has promised.

The new intergovernmental agreement destroys any further argument about the disbanding of the Commissioners of the Irish Lights as presently constituted. The CIL has always been a cross-border body and responsible for Northern Ireland coasts as well as those of the Republic. I am pleased that the Shipping Minister confirmed this week that the existing structure of the three lighthouse authorities is to be maintained. That is sound common sense.

What has changed since we discussed this matter last year? I suggest that there are two big issues. The first has been discussed already: the Atkins review, which was published in March and has brought forward a whole host of recommendations, many of which are already in train. The most important of them are: the establishment of the Joint Strategic Board to drive far greater co-ordination between the GLAs; the recommendation to centralise monitoring and to look at the rationalising, as my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd, said, of the number of buoy depots, of which there are presently four—Trinity House has two, at Harwich and Swansea; the Northern Lighthouse Board has one at Oban; and the Irish Lights has one at Dun Laoghaire; to reduce running costs in real terms using the RPI minus X formula; and to look at the GLF funding of costs incurred by the Commissioners of Irish Lights.

The Atkins report did not recommend any amalgamation or change in the present structure. As I said on 5 February last year, the review found that financial costs would outweigh any benefits of a merger of the lighthouse authorities. It also stated that the operation was too small to justify a separate office of regulation.

The Joint Strategic Board has been set up. It is relatively early days but it now appears to be working well and includes, for the first time, the close questioning and examination of each other’s corporate plans. It would seem, therefore, that the Joint Strategic Board can do much or all of the job that my noble friend envisaged for his Office of Marine Navigation Aids Regulation.

The three monitoring centres will be centralised for out-of-hours working and at weekends. This has been found to be a better alternative to complete centralisation. As my noble and learned friend Lord Boyd said, the buoy depot issue is under close examination to see what further savings can be made. The three GLAs have worked out what their X is in the RPI minus X formula which will lead to reductions in running costs in real and absolute terms over the next four or five years.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said that the Shipping Minister sought a reduction of 17 per cent—I thought it was 25 per cent—over the next three or four years. If that cannot be done, the GLAs will have to tell the Minister why it cannot be done. That will concentrate minds at all three headquarters. So the GLAs are not being spared the scrutiny of this Government despite the fact that the savings will not accrue to the public purse.

I have no doubt that these savings can and will be made through further developments in technology, such as e-Loran and the potential of the Galileo system to name but two. The GLAs will move forward, review and desperately try to be more efficient, but that must be done in a way which must not compromise the safety of the mariner or the marine environment. It is always wise to recognise that there is a tension between safety and costs, which is why, of course, we have the international SOLAS conventions, and it is our obligation as a state to adhere to these.

There is a view among many ship owners that costs can be reduced by the decommissioning of more and more lighthouses because of the use of global navigation satellite systems, electronic charts, AIS and so on. I agree that the continued development of e-navigation represents much of the way forward, but if you talk to the masters of the ships rather than the owners, they will tell you that for the foreseeable future there have to be lighthouses as a back-up, as a secondary system, as a failsafe. Reduced manning on ships in recent times has led to very poor watch-keeping practices on far too many vessels. There is too much reliance on GPS. There is no such thing as a completely safe radio-based navigation system. For example, GPS can be interfered with and readily jammed—cheap jammers can be obtained which can readily jam GPS signals and make them unavailable for many kilometres; and, beyond a 30 kilometre range, can interfere with a signal with potentially disastrous results—and so it is necessary to keep the secondary system of lighthouses, certainly for the foreseeable future.

GLAs do not exist in a vacuum; they work with shipping interests. There is a continual review by all three GLAs as to what lights may be decommissioned or have their ranges reduced. In some cases even today, new hazards are being lit. That process has continued since we last debated the Bill at Second Reading last year, with a further number of lighthouses being decommissioned, including one not terribly far from the territory of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. Clythness lighthouse was decommissioned a few months ago. Costs are continually being reduced through more reliable technology, less maintenance and fewer visits by ships and helicopter. Other stations are now subject to review, many where, only a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable for that part of the coast to be unlit. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that there is no useful purpose in a merger of GLAs and a new regulator, which will not and cannot produce anything more than is already being done in the existing structures.

I hope the Minister will also acknowledge that, as a result of the Atkins review, there has been considerable progress in terms of more co-ordination, closer working, achievable savings being made and a positive response from the GLAs to the Government’s requirement to shadow the CSR and the working of the RPI minus X formula. These, together with the road map to resolve the Republic of Ireland subsidy issue, go much, if not all, of the way to meeting the concerns and outstanding issues raised by my noble friend Lord Berkeley.

I hope that my noble friend will recognise this and not seek to take the matter further. A more useful way forward would be to concentrate our energies and try to persuade the Government to bring forward the draft Marine Navigation Bill. It has received pre-legislative scrutiny and has been considered by the Transport Select Committee in another place. That draft Bill has been gathering dust ever since, with neither the previous Government nor the present coalition Government seeming to find time for a Bill that is non-contentious but very useful legislation. I hope the Minister will say something about the possibility of it being brought forward in the near future.

I again thank my noble friend for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important matter. It may be esoteric to some, but it is of significant importance to all who use our seas for business or pleasure.

My Lords, I intend to speak briefly in the gap—as does the noble Lord, Lord Prescott—to thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I came into the Chamber at the beginning of the debate as an innocent and out of interest. I find myself likely to leave it at the end as a much improved person with greatly enhanced knowledge, not least about the Irish question, of which, in this context, I had never heard.

Two things prompted me to intervene. First, I was born and brought up in Harwich in the days when the port was rather less important. Certainly, the massive port opposite, Felixstowe—now the country’s largest container port—was in those days a home for rather spectacular flying boats which, as a boy, I used to watch from across the estuary. My interest was sparked when the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to the haven ports. He made a point, on which I hope my noble friend will be able to comment, which was not picked up in the rest of the debate: that, whatever the other lines of argument, trade is being lost to British ports as a result of the present situation. I did not hear anyone follow that up, but it is an important point which may be of interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, who cannot live very far from Felixstowe.

Secondly, having strayed into the Chamber as an innocent and despite thanking the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I want to put on record that an overwhelming case has been made by almost all noble Lords for him not to push the Bill too hard. In addition, an equally overwhelming case has been made for the Government to bring forward a wider Bill to embrace these and other issues. I hope we shall hear a clear-cut response on that matter.

My Lords, I start with an apology; I did not realise that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was before the House until I came in, switched on my television and heard him speaking. I declare an interest having spent 10 years as a merchant seaman and having been a Minister for merchant shipping in the previous Government.

Having heard the argument’s today, I should say that ship owners have always been concerned about cutting costs. But we are talking here about a very small part of their operating cost. Whether right or wrong, whether it should be paid by the taxpayer or the user, it has been subject to the user principle. As the Minister for shipping, I constantly had to deal with the problem that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, raised, of how to deal with the Irish and how to get a proper agreement between us. I am pleased to hear that agreement apparently has been reached. The Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is trying to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness into this operation and the payment of navigational aids. I am not too sure whether that is the right approach, but there is certainly a problem.

I want to address my remarks to whether the user cost, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, is a disincentive to British shipping. The facts are clear: more tonnage is coming into Britain by ship than ever before. We are roaring in trade. That is true not only in Britain but in most countries; it is the nature of the global economy. So I do not think that they have been put off by the cost in those circumstances. I have been concerned about the cost of the crews, however, to which the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, referred. Over the past few decades, the reduction of crews on ships has led to a reduction in navigational skills and the loss of ships. Crews have been reduced by more than 25 per cent. That is a real saving—there is no doubt about it. Most of our shipping was flagged out to what we call the flag-of-convenience countries, such as Liberia and Panama, which sold their flag. The ship owners, many of them British, were very happy to take advantage, because it was a reduction in costs. It was also a reduction in skills and navigational abilities. Having achieved that real advantage, they now talk about the costs of navigational aids.

I should point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, that what happened to containers happened years ago. A decision was made on whether Britain was going to be the area for container centralisation and distribution to Europe. We lost it. The tidal advantages to Rotterdam and other places gave them an advantage. Therefore, there was a great deal of redistribution from Rotterdam and to the British ports. Nevertheless, the container trade has been considerable; there has been massive growth, even in the UK.

I shall return to the point about user tax. Is this a disincentive to the British industry? Does it wish to reduce its costs and have an advantage? Of course it does—I understand that—but should they be paid by the taxpayer or met in user payments? When I was Minister for shipping, I was faced with a decline, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, must know. The British navy as registered under the Red Ensign was 30 million tonnes in 1970; when I came in in 1997, it was down to 2 million tonnes, and it had flagged out to other countries. I introduced the tonnage tax, which was a user payment and a means by which the ship owner could have greater control over his costs and profits by paying a known tonnage tax rather than a profit tax, which might be changed by various Governments. By using the tonnage tax we had a transfer back to the British fleet, and from 2 million tonnes in 1997, we now have 17 million tonnes under the Red Ensign. I am delighted about that, although I do not think enough jobs came out of it.

I remind the noble Lord that speakers in the gap should restrict their comments to four minutes and he is now in his fifth minute.

I bow to the noble Baroness’s knowledge, and I am sorry about that. I shall finish on this one point. User tax did not discourage the fleet—it actually encouraged it. So I am not convinced that the small amount of tax that we are talking about would be a disincentive to the British ship owner.

My Lords, this has been a stimulating debate on what looked to be a constructive and fairly modest Bill. I have found few joys in opposition, but it is one of them today that it is not my job to settle this kettle of fish. The Minister certainly has to produce some coherent replies, while my noble friend also has a few issues with which to wrestle.

I thought that it was slightly unfair that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, was chided for interrupting the opening speech. This is a fairly unusual situation, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said. As he was about to propose a major structural change to the Bill, in which only Clause 12 would survive in its existing form, he was bound to expect that some anxiety would be expressed on that score. I think that the noble Earl would accept, along with other noble Lords, that whereas my noble friend wrote to the Minister and to me on behalf of the opposition Front Bench, it would have been difficult for him to inform all Members who were going to participate in the debate, because he did not know who they would be at that stage. That is why things came late to other noble Lords. That is a genuine difficulty and not one that I have seen before with regard to a Private Member’s Bill. We all recognise the problems there.

I rise not to speak about this Bill but to point out that the Dog Control Bill was pulled from business last night because at 5 pm the opposition Front Bench tabled amendments, one of which was a wrecking amendment. There has to be some care in putting forward these points. I am not sure whether that was done on purpose to destroy a Private Member’s Bill or whether it was simply done, unfortunately, at the last minute, but neither I nor the Whips’ Office was informed. I hope that the noble Lord can take that back to his colleagues on the opposition Front Bench.

I reassure the House that I am not responsible for dog control for the Opposition, so I have no knowledge of those instances. A dearth of my colleagues in support on the Front Bench may have been noted; a major meeting of the Front Bench is going on, from which I am the only absentee, so I shall take to that meeting the point that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has made.

With this Bill, my noble friend is trying to respond to the reality of a significant and changing situation. The Bill was drafted in advance of his knowledge of the agreement on the Irish lighthouses. We all welcome that agreement and congratulate the Government on the progress that has been made. Two successive British Governments had looked for a long time at what was almost a historical accident, which had somewhat outlived its justification. It is a slight irony, I suppose, that the Government hand out billions to the Irish Government and seek to take a small amount of money back in relation to this Bill, but this is scarcely the place for major economic debates on such issues.

I understand the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, reinforced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, that there was a case for withdrawing the Bill. My noble and learned friend is wise enough in these matters to be able to conduct his own affairs but on the whole I agree that, if the Government follow up the suggestion that they should bring in a more comprehensive measure, this Bill could be and ought probably to be dropped. However, until we see the colour of the Government’s money, my noble friend would be well advised to continue with a Bill that has significant constructive possibilities to it. If the Government can give absolutely clear assurances on the way forward encompassing the objectives of the Bill, then so be it, but there should not be a premature withdrawal. Therefore, I hope today that, despite the strong points that were made in this regard—the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, also emphasised this—the Bill will be given a Second Reading, if only because we have had the occasion for a very enlightened debate, which I am sure will continue until we see the full picture. Only in this debate and in this House could we have such contributions of expert opinion on a shipping issue. I speak as someone who has been seasick on the Solent, so I defer to all those who have that vast experience of shipping issues and I appreciate the contributions that have been made.

The main debate was on the question of how the dues have been organised over the years. It is undoubtedly the case that a catch-up that occurs because a freeze has obtained for a time is deeply resented—it is bound to be. There is no doubt at all that, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, reflected, this has been a prosperous time for the British shipping industry, which has been the beneficiary of frozen fees. We probably need to ensure that there is a process that has a rather less dramatic impact on the industry, although I take on board the points that my noble friend Lord Prescott made when speaking in the gap. However, other noble Lords also emphasised that those questions of costs are not such as to see a major deterioration in the competitiveness of British ports vis-à-vis Rotterdam or other continental ports. We have to keep these things in some degree of context. Nevertheless, they are a factor. Consequently, we should use this legislation or ensure that the Government are pressed to identify how these matters will be dealt with in future.

We must all be in favour of the saving of costs. Quite frankly, even a landlubber like me would look somewhat askance if costs could not be reduced, given the enormous technological advances that have occurred regarding safety at sea. Those surely give us an opportunity to guarantee what is absolutely essential—safety—but must we then make a trade-off between safety and how the services that are withdrawn are organised? Nevertheless, there must be that opportunity on administrative costs and we should welcome that. The only thing to say on costs of that kind is that, if any vehicle is difficult to organise in terms of how one considers operating costs, I would guess that it is a Private Member’s Bill, but that is for my noble friend to answer when he replies to the debate.

This has been a most stimulating occasion. I think that we have all genuinely enjoyed the debate. There has been a clash of opinion, which I quite understand, given that the Bill is being recast significantly, but everyone in the House will know that my noble friend Lord Berkeley is stimulated by a commitment to improvements in transport. He has put this Bill forward in good faith. It can still be, in our view, a vehicle for progress in an important area. I therefore hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for once again bringing forward his Bill. As he has said, this is the second time that he has done so but he has initiated a very good debate. The noble Lord will know that it is normal practice for the Government not to support or oppose Private Members’ Bills and I do not propose to break with this convention. I do, however, hope to demonstrate that the need for the main thrust of his Bill has been overtaken by events, as many noble Lords pointed out. I am grateful for their contributions.

Since the noble Lord first introduced his Bill, the report by the Atkins consultancy, entitled Assessment of the Provision of Marine Aids to Navigation around the United Kingdom & Ireland, has been published. It is a particularly well researched and well received document, which has provided us with a blueprint on the governance of the general lighthouse authorities and the provision of marine aids to navigation around the UK and Ireland, without the need for immediate legislation to enable the implementation of its recommendations.

I recognise that many of the clauses in the noble Lord’s Bill are consistent with those contained in the previous Government’s draft Marine Navigation Aids Bill. I shall comment on some of those clauses. Clauses 1 to 5 provide for the creation of the commission and its regulator. As I stated in my speech in February 2010, I do not see the need for either. Indeed, the Atkins assessment did not see fit to recommend the creation of either of these two organisations which, if the noble Lord’s Bill were to progress, would effectively replace two existing bodies with two more.

I applaud the noble Lord for his versatility and ingenuity in attempting to achieve his aims, and note that he is seeking to achieve some of his goals by means of amendments to the Public Bodies Bill as well. However, I draw his attention to page 245 of the Atkins assessment, which concluded that there was “a weak case for” amalgamating the two UK-only lighthouse authorities into a single organisation such as the noble Lord’s Marine Navigation Aids Commission, because the estimated costs of doing so were likely to outweigh the potential benefits generated. Indeed, I addressed the matter of the illusory benefits of such a merger at last February’s Second Reading of his previous Bill.

Atkins did recommend the creation of a general lighthouse authority Joint Strategic Board, responsible for identifying synergies and driving through efficiencies. Last summer, with the Shipping Minister’s endorsement, such a Joint Strategic Board was set up at no cost to the General Lighthouse Fund. The board has since worked closely with the Department for Transport and the three GLAs to identify efficiency measures and drive down running costs—several noble Lords referred to that work. The Joint Strategic Board is still at an early stage of development but is achieving positive results. I believe that this continued, gradual evolution of integrated working, driven by the Joint Strategic Board, is far preferable to any of the radical, rapid and uncosted changes in marine aids to navigation provision that the noble Lord’s Bill would effect.

The General Lighthouse Authorities co-operate in the provision of marine aids to navigation around the UK and Ireland. Each authority carries out largely similar tasks; however, the regional skills and knowledge that each employs reflects a localism in the service delivered. The Commissioners of the Irish Lights have continued as an all-Ireland body since the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. However, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is less concerned with the commissioners’ history than with their present funding. In his opening comments, the noble Lord mentioned that my honourable friend Mr Mike Penning, the Shipping Minister, has been in discussion with his Irish counterpart on the matter. It is to my honourable friend’s credit that he has reached an early understanding with the Irish Government on self-financing, which will nevertheless preserve the tri-GLA structure and the historic links of marine aids to navigation provision across both countries.

The stated goal of both the UK and Irish Governments is now that the Commissioners of the Irish Lights will become self-financing in their work in the Republic of Ireland by 2015-16, as relayed in my Written Ministerial Statement of 18 January. I hope that this understanding will go some way to reassuring the noble Lord that no undue financial burden will in future be borne by UK shipping, and that the continued cross-border co-operation of the UK and Ireland on this safety service is desirable and should therefore continue. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who touched on this point, called it a government subsidy to the Irish lights. It is of course not a government subsidy but a shipping industry subsidy, as many noble Lords mentioned. I am sure that was just a slip of the tongue by the noble Lord.

On Clause 7, the measure to clarify the extent of jurisdiction up to the outer limit of the pollution control zone will help to assist the providers of aids to navigation in operating an efficient safety regime in the seas around this country. That provision is therefore welcome. As I said last February, Clause 8 meets an important need, as the General Lighthouse Authorities are currently restricted in their ability to undertake commercial activities. For instance, those authorities may in some circumstances be unable to purchase the necessary tooling to carry out some evolutions that the industry might require.

The generation of income from commercial activities that maximises the utilisation of assets and resources is without doubt desirable and can only be of benefit to light-dues payers. It is inevitable that there has to be some spare capacity in a system that needs to be capable of rapid response to emergencies. However, it is important that the commercial activities of public sector bodies should not unduly impede the commercial activities and structure of the market.

Turning to Clause 9, the UK has many local marine aids to navigation in addition to those required for general navigation. The General Lighthouse Authorities seek to ensure local aids to navigation are established and maintained to internationally recognised standards through the discharge of their functions of superintendence and management, including their aids to navigation inspection regimes. Indeed, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, the General Lighthouse Authorities may direct a local port or harbour to provide such aids to navigation as are appropriate. This alone is normally sufficient to ensure the appropriate provision of local aids to navigation, particularly when backed up by existing safety-related legislation.

On Clause 10, the noble Lord believes that as many users as possible of marine aids to navigation should pay for them, including the Royal Navy. However, I set out my position robustly in the debate on this Bill last year, and do not intend to do so again; my position has not changed on this matter.

On Clause 12, in the past, the General Lighthouse Authorities employed many more staff than they do now. The automation and de-manning of lighthouses and other technical advances have reduced staff levels substantially. Nevertheless, there remains a large number of former GLA employees who are now pensioners drawing their entitlement. This is not an unusual situation. Many other public bodies that have downsized due to efficiencies have exactly the same problem. The General Lighthouse Authorities’ pension liabilities are far from unique. As we are all aware, such legacies are not limited to the public sector, with many private organisations in a similar position. That said, as part of the Government’s wider public sector pension reform, we expect the General Lighthouse Authorities to review and modernise their pension arrangements, to keep them on a sustainable footing.

My noble friend Lord Caithness, in his well thought out contribution to the debate, dealt with the issue of GLA efficiencies far better than I could have done. I did not know that he was concerned about the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I am bound to say that I agree with everything that he said. He has certainly saved me much work.

My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market made a number of points in her excellent speech. She made her case very well, as usual, particularly when she queries our principle of light dues. However, in common with other transport modes in the UK, the Government believe that transport providers and not the general taxpayer should pay for the essential safety services needed for reliable operations. It would also be unfair for the Treasury to pay for the GLAs directly, as the majority of commercial shipping services calling at UK ports are owned by companies based outside the UK where beneficial tax regimes for those industries exist. Like any other form of revenue-raising activity, light dues remain unpopular with those asked to pay, regardless of how much they benefit. Many noble Lords have made that point.

The noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, also made an interesting and well delivered speech. Yet again, I find myself in strong agreement with the Benches opposite. I hope that this trend persists. The noble Lord talked about the vulnerability of GPS navigation systems. Last year, I attended the GPS jamming trials organised by Trinity House and my handheld GPS gave me some most peculiar results, telling me that I was somewhere in central Europe.

My noble friend Lord Newton of Braintree talked in the gap and touched upon the loss of trade to British ports. I have just explained the logic of the light dues policy. We were also joined by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, and I was shocked to find myself in agreement with him as well.

We had strong contributions from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway. This is a great example of the House showing itself to be a source of expertise. I strongly agree with everything that both noble Lords said. On the query of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about the Wreck Removal Convention Bill, we of course support that piece of legislation.

I always enjoy listening to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, and his contributions from the Front Bench. I am grateful for his whole approach to this matter.

When my noble friend Lady Garden intervened, she did so only to remind the House that it is customary to allow the mover of a Bill to lay out his stall without constant interruption. That is a much better way for the House to proceed.

I have already touched on the point of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, about the Irish Lights.

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I have found them to be very helpful. I hope that I have gone some way to reassuring the noble Lord of the fitness for purpose of the General Lighthouse Authorities and the Department of Transport’s administration and governance of them in my comments today. I hope that the noble Lord will consider substantially scaling back should the Bill proceed into Committee. The noble Lord could also consider drafting a new Bill, as suggested by many noble Lords.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the Bill. I am also grateful for one or two interventions, because it was a slightly unusual way of proceeding after I decided to change it. However, I thought very carefully and consulted quite widely on this. I was advised that it was quite in order to do it like this. I felt it was therefore important to inform as many noble Lords as I could see on the list beforehand of my intentions. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, did not receive it; I sent them all by e-mail but I could not find his e-mail address. Perhaps that is an opportunity for thinking again. I am very sorry; I apologise for that.

We can have a talk about that afterwards.

We have had a great variety of comments, some of them complimentary, some of them not. I have learnt a great deal from different people’s views today. I should of course have mentioned the Atkins report in my opening remarks. It has made progress. I still believe that more progress could be made. If one reflects on this, the key issue, when one is talking about RPI-X, is probably what X is. We can debate that, and I am sure that we will.

The key is what the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, suggested as the answer to having two concurrent Private Member’s Bills and the draft Marine Navigation Aids Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, did not really comment on the Government’s intentions on that in his summing up.

I could go through and thank all noble Lords who have spoken and comment on what they have said, but it would take a little bit of time. I know that one or two colleagues are waiting to get on with the next debate. However, I cannot resist responding to my noble friend Lord MacKenzie who complained, quite rightly, that we have got the date wrong for the Bill. If it had been on 1 February, it would have been 200 years from the start of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, which was a fantastic piece of civil engineering construction in its time.

Whether I want to take the Bill forward is really a question of whether we can somehow incorporate, or get moving on, the navigation aids Bill that the previous Parliament was unable to take forward. I have been talking to some people, and Clerks, about whether much or some of the content of that Bill could be incorporated into a Private Member’s Bill. It could be within the Long Title. I am advised of that for this Bill, but I do not think that it could be with the one in the Commons, because that is called the Wreck Removal Convention Bill—apart from the “wreck” bit of it.

There has been much discussion of how much the present Government want the Bill to go ahead, but in draft form it had a lot of support in the previous Parliament. As the Bill stands, I do not think it is appropriate to take it forward, even with the amendments I have tabled and much further thought. We have progressed and I have heard many useful comments today. However, it would be useful to keep it open for Committee stage to see whether the contents of the Marine Navigation Aids Bill could be incorporated. That is in the absence of any commitment from the Government to find time for it; I would not expect them to do so anyway.

My inclination, therefore, is to ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading but, clearly, I would not take it forward in its present form or with these amendments without a discussion as to what else could go in and whether it is necessary to take it forward at all. On that basis, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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