MacNeil challenges Prime Minister over Coastguard cuts

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Responsibility for coastguard services should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the SNP said after raising concerns at Prime Minister’s Questions and in a Point of Order at Westminster today (Wednesday).

Western Isles MP and SNP Transport Spokesperson, Angus MacNeil, called on the Prime Minister to reconsider the Government’s plans to slash coastguard provision, closing coastguard stations across Scotland.

Later, Mr MacNeil raised a Point of Order over the decision by the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee to cancel a key debate on the future of coastguard services with less than forty eight hours notice.

Mr MacNeil said: “Cutting coastguard stations will put lives at risk and the Tory-led government must think again. Maritime safety - not financial savings - should be the driving force behind any review.

“The way these services are being cut by the Tory Government and the debate over their future snubbed by the Westminster parliament underlines why responsibility over these lifeline services should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

“These Tories proposals are unjustifiable and would leave Scotland with just 25 per cent of the co-ordination centres in the UK despite accounting for 60 per cent of the sea area. In anyone’s book, that spells danger.

“With ever increasing activity on Scotland’s seas - through oil and gas, offshore renewables, fishing and tourism – there are real concerns over the UK Government’s ability to manage the coastguard service.

“The UK is making really bad decisions for coastguard services in Scotland which raise real safety concerns. We should make better decisions in Scotland and not leave it to London.”

Last night Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan hosted a meeting at the Scottish Parliament between the Chief Coastguard, the Scottish Director of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and MSPs of all parties. Dr Allan made clear to the MCA the “deep anxiety” which their proposals for coastguard cuts are causing throughout Scotland, not least in the Western Isles.

Alasdair Allan commented: “Last night I invited MSPs of all parties to join me in questioning the Scottish Regional Director of the MCA, Bill McFadyen, and Chief Coastguard Rod Johnson.

“The meeting included MSPs who represented between them all of the Clyde, Shetland, Forth and Stornoway coastguard stations, and all of whom shared my serious concerns regarding the proposals by the MCA.

“Questions centred in on the crucial issue of the local knowledge which all concerned about safety at sea expect coastguards to have. While the MCA were able to give a clearer indication of their plans for stations to work more closely together, they did not allay my fears that local knowledge was being downgraded and the service essentially centralised.

“Other issues raised included the future of the Coastguard’s emergency towing vessels. No adequate explanation was given as to what if anything would now replace these.

“The meeting was a civilised one, but the MCA were left in no doubt that their proposals are not acceptable, either in the Western Isles or across Scotland. While the UK, rather than Scottish Government, retains control of the Coastguard, I believe that the Scottish Parliament, both through this meeting and through the debate I led on the subject last month has made its view very clear. These plans are ill thought out, and the MCA should abandon them.”