Ferry Services

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2007.

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Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland) 2:30 pm, 27th March 2007

What recent discussions he has had with the European Commission on the effects of the European maritime cabotage regulations on Scottish ferry services.

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

Ferry services within Scotland are a matter for the Scottish Executive. The UK Government supported the Executive in making representations to the European Commission on matters relating to ferry services in Scotland, securing a number of important concessions.

Photo of Alan Reid Alan Reid Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The European rules on subsidised ferry services in Scotland are clearly a piece of useless bureaucratic nonsense. They have already forced the Scottish Executive to waste more than £15 million on a pointless tender exercise, and are putting at risk the future of vehicle-carrying services between Dunoon and Gourock. Will the Secretary of State, who represents the UK on the European Transport Council, go to Brussels, tell the Transport Ministers what nonsense the rules are, and get them altered before the Scottish taxpayer is forced to waste even more money, and vehicle-carrying services between Dunoon and Gourock are brought to an end?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

May I begin by declaring that the headquarters of CalMac are in my constituency? That allows me to say that I am aware of the concerns over this protracted tendering exercise, which is, as I have said, a matter for the Scottish Executive. Both the Executive and the UK Government agreed that we had to go through the tendering process, although it has led to some slightly ill-informed speculation, and comparisons with the Paris Metro. There is a different regulatory regime for the Metro system and the maritime system—and as far as I am aware, there are no boats on the Paris Metro. People who want to make that comparison should think twice before doing so.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

My hon. Friend is aware that I have the island communities of Arran and Cumbrae within my constituency. Has he given consideration to what more can be done to make the lifeline ferry services in Scotland affordable for Scotland's island communities?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

Yes. I know those communities very well indeed, and I was pleased to be in Stornoway two weeks ago with the First Minister when he announced that, if he is re-elected as First Minister, there will be a ferry discount commitment. [Hon. Members: "What's his name?"] I understand why Opposition Members do not want to hear about the ferry discount scheme that will benefit the lifeline communities in the islands in the west of Scotland, but they will have to. If re-elected, we are going to introduce a scheme that will give a 40 per cent. discount to inhabitants of the islands—not just the Clyde islands such as Arran and Cumbrae, but the western islands. The move to introduce that important ferry subsidy is due to the intense lobbying and great activity of Alasdair Morrison, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Western Isles, who, more than anyone else, has helped to bring this scheme about. Great tribute is due to him.

Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Can the Minister properly explain why £15 million was wasted in the CalMac tendering? Was it because Scottish Executive Liberal Ministers did not get on with the Department for Transport? Yesterday we saw the reality of Labour's own co-operation between Westminster and Holyrood, when the Health Secretary did not know the First Minister's name. Some £15 million has been wasted—enough for three years of free travel to my constituency, and especially Stornoway. My constituents have been kept on tenterhooks. CalMac crews have not known is going on. Would it not have been much better for Scotland to have dealt directly with Europe on this matter, rather than involving imperialist Whitehall Departments—not least, to save money?

Photo of David Cairns David Cairns Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Scotland Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also Scotland Office), Northern Ireland Office

It is absolutely astonishing that when we are discussing a 40 per cent. ferry discount proposal that will benefit the hon. Gentleman's constituents, he does not even have the grace to welcome that announcement or say that he is going to support it. That is because he did nothing whatever to bring the announcement about. That stands in sharp contrast to Alasdair Morrison, the Labour MSP, who worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and who has secured this great victory for them.