Caledonian MacBrayne

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2000.

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Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 27th January 2000

To ask the Scottish Executive whether, in his previous post, the new Caledonian MacBrayne chairman Harold Mills ever gave advice to ministers regarding the possible privatisation of Caledonian MacBrayne and, if so, what that advice was. (S1O-997)

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

No. The previous Government's decision not to privatise Caledonian MacBrayne was taken in 1994. It predated the transfer of transport responsibilities to the Scottish Office development department, of which Mr Mills was then head.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

In his former position, did the new chairman of Caledonian MacBrayne ever give previous Administrations advice on the setting up of the Campbeltown-Ballycastle service?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

The decision to sell off the CalMac vessel to Sea Containers was taken by the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth. Uniquely, a direction was sent to CalMac to force it to sell the vessel. It is not normal practice to give out information on any advice that officials give to ministers, because any such disclosure would harm the long-term future of the candour of the advice that they would feel able to give to the Government of the day.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

I had the opportunity to work with Harold Mills for many years in connection with CalMac. To be fair to him, does the minister accept that at all times he supported CalMac's lifeline services and that calls for privatisation did not come from either him or me, but come from the Treasury in Whitehall, whose blandishments did not prevail?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

That question has given a lot of information to all members of this chamber, and I am deeply grateful to Lord James. This Government's commitment is to retain CalMac's lifeline services. We have provided the highest ever levels of investment in CalMac. Two new vessels have been commissioned and will be built in Scottish yards. That is a record of which this Executive and this Parliament should be proud.

Photo of Duncan Hamilton Duncan Hamilton Scottish National Party

Will the minister comment on press speculation that the Executive has come under severe pressure from the European Commission competition department to privatise CalMac? Furthermore, will she recognise the core commitment of people throughout the Highlands and Islands to the public ownership of CalMac and the vital service it provides?

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I absolutely recognise the commitment in the Highlands and Islands and off the west coast of Scotland to ensuring that CalMac provides the best possible services. We have absolutely no intention of privatising CalMac. However, we have to comply with European state aid rules and I have asked my officials to examine the matter urgently. Other European countries have had to investigate the issue of ferries and state aid and we will do that as soon as possible to ensure that we retain our lifeline services and that CalMac operates to the highest possible standards.