Coastguard Services (David MacBrayne Group)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23 June 2011.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-00117, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on David MacBrayne Group supports coastguards. This debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the recent submission by the David MacBrayne Group to the UK Government’s consultation on the review of coastguard services across the United Kingdom; notes that the David MacBrayne Group is the principal operator of the Clyde and Hebrides and Northern Isles ferry services and is the UK’s largest ferry operator in terms of vessels operated and routes served and notes its view that any changes to coastguard services should be constructed on the premise of saving lives and not on saving money, and argues that it is vital that coastguard services remain based throughout the whole of Scotland in order to offer the greatest possible service to the public and that, with an ever-increasing level of seafaring traffic on the west coast of Scotland, it is ludicrous that the Clyde facility is earmarked for closure.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

It is important to highlight a couple of points at the outset of the debate. First, the publication of the Transport Select Committee report at Westminster this morning has somewhat superseded the motion before us. It rejected the proposals and called on the United Kingdom coalition Government to withdraw them—I will return to that point shortly.

Secondly, I received a communication from the chief executive of the David MacBrayne Group in which the group highlighted its concerns with aspects of the motion and the potential misinterpretation of what the group had stated in its submission to the Transport Select Committee. I read the motion thoroughly a number of times after I received the e-mail, and I can see how the group might have interpreted it. The title of the motion was also mentioned. I appreciate that the David MacBrayne Group would not offer any political support on campaign issues, but its valid point of ensuring that any proposals should centre on saving lives and not saving money is in my opinion supportive of attempts to save the services.

My motion takes the usual format, and I did not in any way mean to cause either direct or indirect misinterpretation. The group’s reading of the motion was certainly different from mine, but I am happy to put on record my thanks to it for raising its concerns about the motion and for bringing them to my attention.

I will summarise a couple of the proposals that the UK Government has put forward. First, there is a proposal to reduce the number of maritime operation centres in the UK, leaving only two 24-hour centres: one in Aberdeen, and the other in Southampton or Plymouth. There would also be seven sub-centres, only one of which would be in Scotland—in either Shetland or Stornoway. The result of those proposals is that the five operation centres in Scotland would be reduced to two.

Along with other members, I have met coastguard representatives a few times. I am sure that everyone in the chamber will know that they are absolutely committed to the job that they do. They understand the areas that they cover, and it would be very difficult for people from other parts of Scotland or the UK to understand the nuances of the territory in different parts of the country.

We debated the issue back in January in a members’ business debate secured by Alasdair Allan. He has given me his apologies that he could not make this debate, but he said that he still has the same concerns that he had in January and remains supportive of what the Parliament said then and what has been said recently.

In the debate in January, the political consensus was that the UK Government’s proposals were dangerous. Every MSP who spoke highlighted the importance of the coastguard service in their area; as we know, though, getting involved in a divide-and-conquer exercise only assists the UK Government.

Obviously, I want the Clyde base to stay in Greenock and to remain open, certainly for the west coast. There are many arguments for that, the main one being that nuclear submarines are based on the Clyde. While those submarines remain there, the best possible security must be available close by.

Secondly, the west of Scotland has some of the best sailing waters in the world. It is the UK’s second most popular area for such activity, coming behind the Solent, and our recreational boating sector is increasing year on year. However, the proposals will reduce safety across the west of Scotland. As far as the coastguards are concerned, any modernisation of service delivery should always be about saving lives, not saving money.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

Perhaps I can add another element to Mr McMillan’s speech. The member will be aware that we are losing the Nimrod aircraft, whose fantastic fixed-wing capability for search and rescue was used, for example, in the Piper Alpha incident. Does he share my view that such a move will reduce Scotland’s—and indeed the UK’s—search and rescue capability even more?

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

That very valid point has been made on a cross-party basis for a number of months now.

Coming back to the publication today of the Transport Select Committee’s report, I note that the committee’s webpage says:

“The Government should withdraw its controversial proposals to modernise the Coastguard Service, says the influential cross-party Transport Committee. Serious concerns were raised that the safety of people at sea, on cliffs and beaches will be jeopardised if the proposals proceed in their current form.”

I do not know about anyone else in the chamber or anyone who might be watching the debate online, but I find that quite a damning indictment of the UK Government’s proposals. It is abundantly clear that there is no support in the UK, let alone in Scotland, for a reduction in services. Ultimately, any change should primarily be about the determination to save lives, and no one genuinely believes that that will be realised under the current proposals.

I will raise a number of points about the Clyde base, which is in the west of Scotland region that I cover. First, has the Maritime and Coastguard Agency looked at alternative premises for the facility? When we attended a briefing at the navy buildings in Greenock a few months ago, Duncan McNeil and I saw for ourselves how rundown they were.

Secondly, I should point out that the facility has no problem with personnel. In fact, a high number of people are applying for positions at it.

Thirdly, it seems as if the coastguard is taking the brunt of the cuts. What of the management? I should also note that Inverclyde Council had offered to help find new premises if the facility was going to remain in the area, but I know that that will be a big challenge.

This has certainly been a big issue for a number of months across the whole of Scotland; indeed, it was a big issue in the Scottish parliamentary election campaign and has certainly been so in the Inverclyde by-election campaign. Irrespective of who wins next Thursday’s by-election—I hope, of course, that it will be Anne McLaughlin—I expect that individual to go to Westminster, fight our corner and ensure that the Clyde base remains on the west coast and within Inverclyde itself. I firmly believe that, if that does not happen, security on the west coast will be reduced.

I hope that the chamber will continue this fight, speak with a single voice and make it clear that the UK Government’s proposals are not supported by anyone here or any party in Scotland. Indeed, I hope that we continue to hear that single voice this afternoon.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I thank Stuart McMillan for securing this debate on an issue of such importance to many people living and working on the west coast of Scotland.

Earlier this week, history was made when a passenger ferry crossed the Clyde at Govan for the first time in many years. It marks a new dawn for ferries on the Clyde, a mode of transport that served for more than 230 years until the 1960s and the opening of the Clyde tunnel. As passengers travel between the new Water Row pontoon in Govan and the Kelvin harbour landing stage, crossing to the Riverside museum, the new home of Scotland’s museum of transport and travel, they will experience at first hand the rich tapestry of the Clyde.

What a history it has been. The Clyde witnessed the boom of the industrial revolution and became renowned for its shipbuilding, with “Clyde-built” being a byword for unsurpassable quality and precision. In recent years, the Clyde has transformed beyond recognition, with Glasgow deserving the title of European city of culture. The Clyde will bring more success as Scotland pioneers the renewable energy revolution, designing, building and maintaining marine technology.

Integral to the success and rich tapestry of the Clyde is the coastguard service, ensuring the safety of engineering workers, fishermen and holidaymakers. Its bravery, skill and dedication for generations has been remarkable. The coastguard service has been in operation since 1829 and, due to Scotland’s long maritime tradition, has been of incalculable value to the people and communities that it serves. However, in its continued efforts to slash public sector spending, the UK coalition Government proposes to slash the coastguard workforce by half, scrap offshore rescue tugs and close eight of the UK’s 19 coastguard centres, of which only three will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Unfortunately, we have been in this position before. In 2000, Labour’s John Prescott did a Nick Clegg and reneged on his promise to protect the coastguard service, closing three UK coastguard stations—two of them in Scotland, at Oban and Pentland. Unbelievably, the new consultation document has earmarked the Greenock coastguard for closure, intending that rescues be run remotely from Aberdeen, almost 200 miles away. This, colleagues, is madness.

The Greenock coastguard station looks after the busy Clyde and beyond. It manages Royal Navy traffic—including submarines, as Stuart McMillan said—ferry routes, cargo vessels, leisure craft and an increasing number of cruise ships. It covers 1,300 miles of island and mainland coastline—an area that is home to a vast array of dangerous and difficult waters and terrain.

For years, the Clyde coastguard service has garnered a vast expanse of local knowledge—an invaluable commodity. Under UK Government proposals, that vast local knowledge would be sacrificed as operators in Aberdeen attempt to co-ordinate rescues on the rugged west coast of Scotland with no idea of local place names, landmarks and other information to aid the locating of a vessel or person in distress. It is evident that the proposals have not properly taken into account the number of lives that could be put at risk, and the Government must reconsider its decision with the utmost urgency.

Only today, as Stuart McMillan said, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, which commands a Government majority, called on ministers to abandon their current plans, labelling them “seriously flawed.” Having studied the evidence, committee chair, Louise Ellman MP, said:

“We found little support for the current proposals and we have no confidence that, under these proposals, the Coastguard will in future be able to respond to emergencies at sea as well as they do now, let alone in a more effective way.

A drastic reduction in the number of rescue co-ordination centres will result in a loss of local knowledge amongst coastguard officers who are responsible for taking calls from people and vessels in distress. The committee is not convinced by the Government’s claim that technology can, at present, replace such local knowledge.”

The proposals would see the loss of dozens of local jobs in Greenock, an area of the country where unemployed people outnumber vacancies by a factor of 58:1.

It is clear that, as in the past, the busy waters of the Clyde need a strong, professional coastguard service, able and equipped to deal with almost every eventuality. The UK Government must reverse its dangerous proposals and commit to the future of the Clyde coastguard and its skilled personnel, or devolve the service to Scotland so that this Parliament can secure its future.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I welcome this and every opportunity to make the case for the Clyde coastguard based at Greenock. However, as Stuart McMillan pointed out, I was a bit cynical and suspicious about the nature of the debate, given that we have had lots of opportunity to discuss the issue in a united way across the parties in the Parliament. I was delighted to take the opportunity to seek and receive the First Minister’s support on the issue at First Minister’s questions some time ago, and of course Alasdair Allan’s very good members’ business debate on the issue was well attended, which clearly sent the message that the Parliament was united on the issue. I was therefore surprised to see the issue back on the agenda for this debate and was suspicious of the motives. However, I heard what Stuart McMillan said and I am happy with his reassurances that he is not using the response from David MacBrayne and his company as a political tool in the current by-election.

I make no apology for repeating some of the important issues about the Greenock coastguard station, which is better known as the navy buildings after the buildings that house the station. There are a wealth of experts in that station who are available to assist in times of difficulty. In these times, it is rare to find such a facility under one roof, and that needs to be recognised. It should not be given up easily. Some people would say that that type of capability should be the norm. I was glad to read—I will return to this—that the Transport Committee at Westminster is considering a radical rethink of the matter.

As has been mentioned, the Clyde coastguard manages Ministry of Defence traffic, including nuclear submarines. It also deals with significant cargo traffic at the Clydeport container terminal and manages the more than 30 cruise liners that arrive in Greenock every year, which each carry in excess of 1,500 passengers. The Clyde coastguard also covers ferry routes as far south as Arran and as far north as Mull, with estimated annual passenger numbers of 4 million to 5 million. The potential for human, environmental and political disaster is obvious. I hope that some of the political disaster can be avoided.

It is timely to welcome David MacBrayne’s submission to the consultation. As Stuart McMillan also recognised, the last piece of work of the late David Cairns MP was supportive of the coastguard station. I hope that submissions such as those from David MacBrayne and David Cairns have influenced the Transport Committee, which came out with its condemnation yesterday. I hope that those submissions were of assistance in its deliberations. The fact that current coastguard personnel were prevented from participating in the so-called consultation makes it even more important that those submissions were received.

There is no doubt that the Transport Committee at Westminster shares our concerns. The chairman, Louise Ellman, said that there is little support for the proposals and that the committee has no confidence that they would allow the coastguard service to perform as well as, or more effectively than, it performs now. She said that any future reorganisation of the service should be based on 24-hour centres rather than on stations that open only during daylight hours. She also stated:

“We accept there is a need for some modernisation, but the government’s proposals for the future of the coastguard service are seriously flawed.”

We agree. The Parliament agrees. There is a lot of U-turning going on just now. Let us hope that that continues and that the UK Government U-turns on its daft and dangerous proposals for the coastguard stations around Scotland.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

One dark night around 10 o’clock in late September 1977, I went with two companions to the assistance of a yacht in Easdale Sound. We had been alerted by the screams of women on board the yacht. We commandeered the only boat that was available, the Easdale ferry, which was an overgrown rowing boat with an outboard engine. There was a brisk wind, but we were experienced boatmen and conditions at that point were not serious. As we approached the yacht, however, our engine failed, the wind and the waves suddenly began to rise and we were swept northwards towards open water.

Before we could rig our oars, we were driven on to a rock. A huge wave arose out of the darkness and broke over the boat. My two companions were washed overboard and I was driven to my knees. The boat was swamped. Fortunately, as the boat was wooden, it did not sink, but successive waves washed over it, and I could breathe only between waves.

The boat slowly drifted northwards through the darkness and huge seas. Eventually, it turned over in the heavy surf that was breaking on the island of Insh. I half swam and was half washed ashore, on to a small rock. The boat was smashed to pieces in minutes. I found a depression at the top of the rock and I lost consciousness.

When I came to, parachute flares were in the sky. Somehow, my companions had made it ashore and raised the alarm. The coastguard was alerted. Oban lifeboat launched but—wisely—turned back in the horrific conditions just south of the island of Kerrera. Luckily, the coastguard was able to contact the skipper of the one local fishing boat that was capable of searching in such conditions, and it put to sea.

Local knowledge again came into play, as those on the fishing boat were able to narrow the search area to where they knew I was most likely to be. I was spotted at 3 am, but conditions were still too bad to launch a helicopter. A Sea King from RAF Leuchars picked me up at 8 am.

Without the specific local knowledge of the coastguard, acting in co-operation with the fishing boat, I would not have survived. That local knowledge encompassed intimate understanding of tides and local weather conditions, which can often be contrary and counterintuitive. It also included knowledge and understanding of the capabilities of local vessels and their crews, who are often asked to help in such circumstances.

The story has a sad sequel. The fishing boat skipper who braved horrific conditions to search for me, and his crewman, were lost at sea a few years later when their boat sank. Afterwards, a pall hung over our community for many weeks.

We who live in coastal communities will pay for the coastguard cuts and will count the cost in lost lives and needless tragedy. As we are developing our offshore renewables, our seas and coastal areas will increasingly contribute significantly to our prosperity. That prosperity will be delivered by men and women who will at times work in hazardous conditions. It is therefore truly perverse that the London Government should contemplate the proposed cuts at this time. I urge all members of the Parliament to oppose the coastguard cuts.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

First, I apologise for being late. I was at the Royal Highland Show, where I listened to the First Minister, if that is any consolation to the Minister for Housing and Transport. I apologise to Stuart McMillan for missing his speech, which I will read carefully. From what Duncan McNeil said, it must have had a slight frisson, so I look forward to clarity on that when I read the speech.

I will make three brief points to support the debate’s general tone, and particularly what members have said about the select committee report that was published this morning. I hope that that report will firmly block proposals that would be damaging, as members from every political party that is represented here have said. There are many and varied reasons why the proposals are flawed—the select committee said that they were “seriously flawed”—but I will describe two reasons.

The first relates to the important point that was just made about local knowledge, which was excellently illustrated. I can think of several comparable examples, although they are not quite as dramatic as that in the distinguished speech that was just made. The Transport Committee’s report should leave us in no doubt as to how seriously it took the point about local knowledge and how flawed the proposals are in not understanding that, in relation to the communications technology that supports the use of local knowledge and the pressure that the proposed approach would put on volunteer coastguards, who are the cornerstone of much of the work that goes on in many of our coastal communities—certainly in my part of the world. I am pleased that the select committee has done a very good job on that point.

The select committee also did an excellent job on emergency tug cover, which members mentioned. The issue is increasingly important, given the diverse nature and increasing scale and size of the shipping in our coastal and international waters. The committee said that the Government should either extend the emergency towing-vessel contract, if it cannot secure an alternative before the end of September, or find a different way to procure the service.

The point is extremely important to me. Long before I was involved in politics, the Braer disaster happened to my community. I have too many memories, as most of Shetland does, of the three weeks after the disaster and of the impact of the Braer oil spill on the south of Shetland. Donaldson produced his report after the Braer disaster for a very good reason—I do not know whether the minister has had a chance to read the report or to be briefed on it. What stood in the Donaldson report then stands to this day. Since the moment when the current proposals were published, I have been at a loss to understand how the UK Government could not have simply gone back to Donaldson and recognised the need to continue tug vessel cover.

I hope that the UK Government will not only accept the case that the Transport Committee has made and follow its recommendations, but will rip up the proposals and accept that they were seriously flawed from day 1.

The Scottish islands were not going to be divided and ruled on the issue. I made a case, as did Alasdair Allan, Liam McArthur and Scotland’s First Minister, for the Stornoway and Lerwick coastguard stations to remain open on a 24-hour basis, all year round, because that was the right argument to make, based on the shipping concerns and the needs and requirements of the oil and gas industry—and the renewables industry as it emerges.

In one of the many submissions that were made by the save Shetland coastguard campaign, whose petition attracted 13,000 signatures—the highest-ever number of signatures to a petition in support of a campaign in Shetland—Simon King, the wildlife cameraman, author and presenter, made the environmental argument and went on to say of the coastguard stations:

“If they were to disappear, the safety of all who live on or visit the isles would be threatened.”

That was right then and it is right now, and the UK Government needs to listen to that.

Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

I begin my short speech by congratulating Mike MacKenzie on his measured, personal and powerful contribution to the debate.

It is not so long ago that we debated the matter on a motion that was lodged by Alasdair Allan. One of the things that I recall about the debate is that it seemed from Alasdair Allan’s opening speech that he was expecting a degree of division in the Parliament on the subject. In fact, the Westminster coalition parties as represented here—Liberal Democrats and Conservatives—were happy to join the consensus in the Parliament that the proposals that were being considered were deeply flawed and needed to be abandoned and seriously revisited.

In the context of the debate I undertook to go to Westminster to meet the minister, and in March I went to see Mike Penning and discussed in detail the conduct and content of our debate in the Scottish Parliament. Shortly thereafter, I think that he extended the consultation period. He has travelled extensively throughout the UK to meet the communities and people who are involved in the issue and I think that many of the concerns about the proposed changes that have emerged in this debate and in debates around the UK have been forcefully represented to him. He made it perfectly clear that, although he thinks that many changes require to be made, he remains open minded about the outcome of the consultation.

By coincidence, the House of Commons Transport Committee report on the coastguard, emergency towing vessels and the maritime incident response group was published today. I listened carefully to Louise Ellman, the chair of the committee, when she was interviewed at some length on the “Today” programme this morning. I note that she accepts the need for the new technology. She wants to embrace that within the coastguard service and accepts that there is a need for modernisation and, indeed, for some rationalisation, but what the Transport Committee has concluded is much what members of the Scottish Parliament and members elsewhere have concluded, which is that the actual proposals that are contained within the Government’s consultation are the wrong proposals and, as has been said, they are deeply flawed and, in some cases, unsafe.

I notice that the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, has also welcomed the report, albeit that it must have been a little bit uncomfortable for him when he read it. He has said that it is important that that on which we agree—the potential additional investment in new technology and a degree of modernisation—is not lost, but it is important that this time round, subject to the Government’s response to the Transport Committee’s report and to the consultation, the proposals that subsequently emerge, should they be different, command support from all those involved throughout the coastguard service and are designed both to embrace the opportunities that exist but modernise the service in a way that people can support and will be of benefit and also secure and safe.

Photo of Dave Thompson Dave Thompson Scottish National Party

First, I congratulate Stuart McMillan on securing this important debate.

Picture the scene: it is Friday 13 September 2013 and Mike Penning—he is still there, unfortunately—rises to his feet in the House of Commons following the latest grounding of a tanker on Scotland’s west coast. Television screens around the world have already been filled with pictures of seabirds covered in oil, environmentalists are predicting that the delicate marine environment will take decades to recover and surrounding communities are trying to come to terms with the economic devastation as their fishing, tourism and food production sectors begin to feel the impact of the latest disaster and the inevitable negative publicity.

Mr Penning, as the Tory minister responsible for the cuts to the system in 2011, has been called to make a statement about why no emergency tug was available to tow the stricken tanker to safety when its captain reported that it had lost power and was drifting towards the shore. Before the member of Parliament for Hemel Hempstead’s voice is drowned out by angry jeering, he is heard to say, “Britain’s maritime protection service now operates far more efficiently than it did before we were able to deliver the new streamlined high-tech service in 2011, saving the taxpayer money every year.”

How do I know this? Do I have a crystal ball or the second sight? Am I a latter-day Brahan seer? I hope not, as he was burned in a barrel of tar for speaking his mind. I am no Brahan seer; it is just that, like most people in Scotland, I have a good helping of common sense, which tells me that such a disaster could easily happen if Mr Penning and his Westminster coalition Government press ahead with these cost-cutting measures.

I hope that we might be seeing evidence that the penny is finally dropping in the mother of Parliaments, where Transport Committee chair, Louise Ellman, has said that the cuts are “seriously flawed” and will be “inviting disaster” if they go ahead. Surely the select committee’s damning report must be heeded, and we will now see a rapid dumping of the proposals.

Among the many fishermen’s groups appalled by the proposals is the Mallaig and North West Fishermen’s Association. It is based in my own constituency of Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, which includes fishing interests from Skye to Loch Linnhe on the west coast and Avoch on the east coast.

Following publication of the Westminster select committee’s report into the proposed cuts, I contacted John Hermse, secretary of the MNWFA, to discuss where this latest development takes us. He knows better than most the value of having robust arrangements in place to help protect the lives of his members as they seek to harvest what the sea can provide to feed the country and sustain their local communities. He welcomed the fact that the tide of political opinion seems to be turning and told me:

“This is the wrong type of austerity measure for the country. The MCA at every opportunity stresses the most stringent safety standards for fishing vessels but they can’t have double standards when it comes to reducing their own organisation’s core abilities.

We discussed this at the last Scottish Fishermen’s Federation meeting and we were thankful that we could see that a bit of sense was being introduced into the debate.”

John Hermse is right about the lack of wisdom in cutting back on this essential safety net. Let us hope that the message has got through in London.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

Like other members, I congratulate Stuart McMillan on securing the debate, which is particularly timely given today’s publication of the Transport Select Committee’s report on its inquiry into the coastguard proposals and other marine safety issues. The speeches today and in the previous debate in January send a clear message, which was confirmed by the select committee.

The strength of the concern about the proposals cannot be overstated. It extends not only throughout Scotland but throughout the UK. There is broad consensus that the proposals are ill considered and ill founded.

As the motion and the David MacBrayne Group emphasise, the overriding consideration must be protecting life, not just saving money. We all support—and must support—efficiency in public services, but not at the expense of a service’s primary function, which in this case is ensuring safety at sea. We heard an eloquent speech from Mike MacKenzie about his experience in that regard.

Of course, it is not only the coastguard proposals that cause concern. The convergence of those proposals with the withdrawal of funding for emergency towing vessels and the uncertainty over the future of search and rescue services and marine firefighting capabilities threatens to create a perfect storm that would leave users of our seas and our precious marine environment itself exposed to unacceptable risks.

Tavish Scott was right to say that we should not forget the Donaldson report. It would be illuminating for those who consider the proposals to go back to that report and see what emerged from it.

Alongside those significant concerns on the substance of the UK Government’s proposals and its funding decisions, we are very disappointed with the process to date. Despite the fact that the Scottish coastline and sea area make up 60 per cent of the UK total, there was no prior consultation with the Scottish Government or wider Scottish interests. That meant that valuable information and expertise were not taken into account in arriving at the coastguard proposals. However, I hope that the consultation to which Scottish interests contributed heavily will lead us to a more sensible outcome.

The situation in relation to emergency towing vessels is even more perilous. Following a unilateral decision to withdraw funding, we are still no further forward in knowing how that vital service will be provided after September. The Scottish Government is pleased to play a part in the working group that was established to consider alternative provision, but we must emphasise that that is not a suitable model of engagement. In essence, we are asked to devise a solution to a problem that was created by the UK Government without any prior consultation or proper consideration of risk or appropriate resources. The select committee notes that the UK Government

“is, quite literally, inviting disaster.”

It is up to us to ensure that that disaster does not happen. We had one illuminating example of what that might mean from Dave Thompson’s speech. The decision-making processes on the future of search and rescue services and firefighting at sea have been marked by unacceptable uncertainty.

Given that scant regard for Scottish interests across the board, it is natural that we look to exploring the merits of devolution of the coastguard responsibilities to Scotland as an option at least. In so doing, we are mindful of the need for the cost implications to be properly and transparently examined in order that the appropriate resources transfer with the responsibility. I also acknowledge the importance that the shipping industry, for example, places on a consistent and integrated UK service. However, those issues would not be insurmountable in the case of a devolved service.

We have made our points to the UK Government in response to the coastguard consultation and in correspondence between ministerial colleagues and their Whitehall counterparts. The First Minister has also raised the concerns directly with the Prime Minister. We also provided evidence to the Transport Select Committee and I am pleased that the concerns about the inherent risks of the proposals are strongly reflected in its report.

The David MacBrayne Group, which has years of experience of operating in Scottish waters, has also made a valuable series of representations. There is broad consensus with its contention that the focus on costs, rather than lives, is wrong and that local knowledge—about which we heard quite a bit tonight—is crucial. I also agree that the proposals’ social and economic impacts, particularly in our more remote areas, should be considered.

A number of members said that we have not allowed ourselves to be divided and ruled. It was particularly interesting to hear some of the comments about the Clyde. That is where recreational sailing was born. I have sailed there many times, although I have never been given sole charge of the vessel, and it is reassuring to know that there is a coastguard out there looking out for me.

Stuart McMillan’s point about the presence of nuclear submarines and all the other traffic in the Clyde is very important indeed. The consequences of not having the right cover really are unthinkable.

The David MacBrayne Group makes the point about its involvement in search and rescue. It can and should contribute directly to the debate, and I hope that it is listened to.

It will, I hope, be crystal clear that the Scottish Government has real concerns about the UK Government’s proposals for the coastguard and ETVs. The Transport Select Committee endorses those concerns, and we need a constructive dialogue with UK ministers in order to take the issues forward. We accept the need for modernisation, but we do not believe that saving money should come at the expense of putting lives or the environment at risk.

This Government has taken great steps recently to improve the management of our seas. The Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced marine planning to respond to the increasing use of our seas, and we stand poised to reap the benefits—as other members have mentioned—of offshore renewable energy.

It is crucial that the valuable services that our coastguard and ETVs provide are not compromised in any way. We need maritime safety services that are capable of delivering for Scotland, which includes meeting all the demands that have been mentioned. That must include the search and rescue services and the fire-fighting capabilities that are also being reviewed.

We need to keep safe those who use our seas and coasts, and we must ensure that we keep those seas safe from pollution. Today’s debate has again shown that members are unhappy at the way in which Scotland has been treated in relation to those vital issues. We need to work together with the UK Government in the weeks and months ahead, as it responds to the select committee’s report and finalises decisions, to ensure that Scottish interests are heard, understood and properly taken into account.

Meeting closed at 17:41.