HC Deb 15 February 1990 vol 167 cc381-3W
Sir David Price

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what decisions he has taken about light dues in 1990–91; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Parkinson

Continuing progress in containing costs will permit me to make a further reduction in light dues this year. The present buoyancy of the general lighthouse fund liquid reserves will also permit me to return some of the benefit of this in 1990–91 in the form of a "bargain break" to payers in the cargo sector who have contributed to the strength of the liquid reserves in past years. This will take the form of a reduction, for 1990–91 only, in the maximum number of chargeable voyages (from seven to six voyages). I am also introducing a further round of reforms to the light dues system to remove some remaining anomalies and to bring into charge certain vessels which have hitherto gained exemption. In broad terms these changes are equivalent to a reduction of about 14 per cent. in light dues and will mean that light dues have been roughly halved in real terms since 1981. I am grateful for the efforts of the general lighthouse authorities which have made this possible.

In summary the main changes are:

  1. 1. A 2 per cent. reduction in the voyage tariff.
  2. 2. Waiving of dues in 1990–91 for ships making a seventh liable voyage.
  3. 3. Increasing the half rate tariff for sailing and towed ships to the full rate, together with introduction of a new exemption for sail-training ships.
  4. 4. Ending the exemptions for dredgers, hoppers, visiting foreign racing yachts and commercial sailing ships and towed craft between 20 and 100 net registered tons.
  5. 5. Making tugs liable on the basis of registered length in place of net tonnage (which hitherto had in practice exempted most tugs from charge).
  6. 6. Re-defining the ballast exemption to exclude from it ships which are engaged in commercial revenue earning activities other than the carriage of cargo or passengers.
  7. 7. Increased minimum charges per voyage.
  8. 8. Introduction of flat rate charges for pleasure craft in place of tonnage based charge. (This change affects only those pleasure craft over 20 net registered tons liable to light dues. The British Ports Federation is conducting a separate feasibility study into extending light dues to smaller pleasure craft; its report is expected shortly.)
  9. 9. Ending the former "uplift" charge for ships registered in countries which have no reciprocal tonnage agreement with the United Kingdom.
  10. 10. Removal of the remaining distinctions between ships in the former "home" and "foreign" trades and (as already announced last year) extending to all ships which pay per voyage the option to pay dues on no more than two voyages a month.

Following representations from the shipping and port industries, I have decided to retain the present exemptions for ships genuinely in ballast or calling into port for their own purposes. I have concluded that ending these exemptions, while offering a simplification of the rules, would have had disproportionate redistributive effects.

I have also considered further the remaining major reform recommended by the 1988 light dues working party, that light dues paid per voyage should be assessed on ship's gross rather than net tonnage. There appears to be general agreement that this reform would be a fairer basis of charge, and the remaining question is one of timing. I have concluded in principle that this change should be made in 1994 in conjunction with the full implementation of the new tonnage measurement system introduced by the international tonnage convention 1969. Subject to determination of the appropriate level of charge at the time, I envisage a single change to a gross tonnage basis with effect from 1 April 1994. Announcement of this now will allow time for those concerned to prepare for the change.

After the 1989–90 adjustment of the payment period for fishing vessels, to bring it into line with the standard financial year for light dues, the 1990–91 charge for fishing vessels is being held at its 1988–89 level, representing a reduction in real terms of over 10 per cent.

These changes represent a continuing reduction of the burden of light dues combined with a further round of constructive reforms to the light dues system. The necessary order will be laid shortly. This is the third successive year in which light dues have been reduced in cash as well as real terms, and forecast movements of costs suggest that an increase in dues at least in line with inflation may be necessary in 1991. Tight control costs will none the less be maintained.