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Marine and Coastguard Agency

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 10 March 2011

14. If he will carry out a risk assessment of his proposals for the reorganisation of the Marine and Coastguard Agency. (45287)

The coastguard service is under consultation at the moment. A suite of documents published on 11 February are part of the consultation as we go forward. We have received more than 1,000 submissions, and it is important that the public should feel part of the consultation. We are coming towards the end of that consultation period, on 24 March, but further submissions will be allowed via a six-month extension, which I announced today.

Can the Minister explain how staff in Aberdeen or Southampton will make decisions on which search and rescue units should respond to emergencies? No matter how much training takes place at the new control centres, staff at existing centres, including Crosby, have decades of experience and know the local search and rescue staff personally, so will the Minister explain how the new control centres will improve safety?

First, Mr Speaker, may I just correct myself? The extension of the consultation is for six weeks, not six months.

All the control centres that I have visited—I was in Belfast yesterday, and I have been to Crosby—accept that we must modernise the service and go forward. The robustness and resilience of the service is not there. We have had some fantastic submissions and people have engaged with the consultation. The submission made yesterday in Belfast accepted that we need to close stations and have a resilient system. As soon as we have that we will have a better service, but we will look at all the submissions as they are made.

I welcome what the Minister has confirmed—that there will be an extension to the consultation process on the future of the coastguard service. Does the Minister agree that it is important for him to visit Falmouth coastguard during the extension period, to see at first hand the excellent work done there?

It is an extension for the receipt of submissions on the consultation. The visits will be as they were, and we should visit most of the stations. I am conscious that I have had to cancel a meeting with my hon. Friend’s constituents and the working group there, so I shall do my level best to visit Falmouth as soon as I can.

Does the Minister not accept that if we close more than half of the coastguard stations and lose 226 of the 600 current staff, local knowledge will be lost?

Local knowledge is vital, but nearly every coastguard station I have visited accepts that we have to modernise the service and that coastguard stations will be closed. As long as we accept that, we can roll forward a modern service. However, we cannot just be nimbyist and say, “Our one is okay. Nothing must close.” All the stations have accepted the need for modernisation, and we will work with the excellent, professional coastguard service to provide a 21st-century service.