HC Deb 18 March 1997 vol 292 cc504-5W
Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the future provision of marine aids to navigation by the general lighthouse authorities. [21125]

Mr. Bowis

The general lighthouse authorities carried out a consultation exercise during 1996 to determine user views on the future provision of marine aids to navigation. The major proposals, which were supported by respondents, were that the UK should provide a differential global positioning system, adopt the Loran C system as provided by the north-west Europe Loran C system agreement and discontinue the Decca navigator system and the radiobeacon service as soon as was reasonable. The GLAs proposed to maintain traditional aids to navigation, subject to regular reviews.

We welcome the GLAs' proposals and accept the need to establish a civil marine navigation plan as a sound basis for planning the future provision of aids to navigation into the next century.

We support the broad thrust of the proposals which are in line with developments in the international maritime community and will assist the transition to a civil global navigation satellite system. The balance of opinion following the consultation exercise supports the provision by the GLAs of DGPS for marine users based on the global positioning system at a relatively small cost to the general lighthouse fund. The system offers improved navigational accuracy while maintaining the system integrity of GPS, as well as the prospective benefits of providing future interface with electronic charting, integrated bridge system vessel traffic services and transponder systems.

The UK is interested in adopting the NEL system to replace the Decca navigator system as the terrestrial back-up to GPS. We cannot commit the UK to NELS until its future has been placed beyond doubt. In the meantime, users should be aware that the GLAs are unlikely to operate the Decca navigator system beyond the year 2000.

The GLAs' proposals can be implemented within the income provided by the reduced level of light dues that we announced on March 6. They will save an estimated £32 million over the next 20 years while offering the prospect of improved accuracy to the navigator. Further reductions in user costs after 2000 are expected from the GLAs' on-going reviews of traditional aids to navigation which will be carried out in consultation with users.