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Coastguard Services

Volume 522: debated on Thursday 27 January 2011

The consultation on proposals to reconfigure coastguard maritime rescue co-ordination centres was launched on 16 December and will run until 24 March 2011. After that all responses received will be reviewed and analysed before we make a decision. At present there is no final timetable for the decision, as the time required for analysis will depend on the volume of responses received. In our view, it is more important to make the right decision than to make a quick decision.

I have been contacted by several constituents who are concerned about the proposal to close Clyde maritime rescue co-ordination centre. They are worried that the loss of local knowledge will risk coastal safety in and around the waters of the Clyde. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment to listen carefully to those concerns about the closure of coastguard stations and, in particular, rethink the proposal to close Clyde MRCC?

Of course we will give careful consideration to all the representations made in the consultation. I should emphasise to hon. Members that we are talking about search and rescue co-ordination centres. They are not front-line delivery points; they are the centres that manage and co-ordinate the calls coming in, and task the front-line rescuers. The driver for the change is managing the work load and interlinking the centres across the country, so that they can best manage fluctuations in work load and provide a 24-hour competent service.

Have not the regional fire centre proposals, which were based on pretty much the same principles, been abandoned? Was not consideration given, before the consultation paper was published, to where this could end?

Indeed; I looked at precisely that point. The difference is that fire and rescue services are localised—there are different fire and rescue services around the country. Her Majesty’s Coastguard is a national service, operating as such, and the reconfiguration will provide nationally networked co-ordination centres that will deliver across the whole country.

Today’s Liverpool Echo calls into question the genuineness of the consultation on the coastguard service. If we take into account the scrapping of Nimrod, the ending of the emergency towing vessel contracts, the selling off of air-sea rescue, the prospective closure of coastguard stations and the sacking of coastguards, what assurance can the Secretary of State give to shipping, where there is real concern about the future of safety? Can he assure us that there will be no compromising of maritime safety?

It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to talk about the selling off of search and rescue, when the search and rescue private finance initiative project was initiated by the Government in which he served and had been running for at least three years before the general election. On the specific point about the Liverpool coastguard co-ordination centre, Ministers looked at the proposals made by officials in the Department and judged that the decisions to be made between Belfast and Liverpool and between Stornoway and Shetland were so close that the consultation should go forward while making it clear that there was a judgment call to be made within each of those two pairs of stations. There was not a clear and definitive business case, which I think is what has given rise to the story in the Liverpool Echo to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.