HC Deb 28 October 2003 vol 412 cc147-8
4. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)

What discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Executive and (b) the European Commission regarding the implications for subsidised ferry services sailing from ports in Scotland of the recent European Court ruling in the Altmark case; and if he will make a statement. [133809]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire)

In line with normal practice on European Commission issues, there have been discussions between officials of the Scottish Executive and the Department for Transport. However, the subsidy for ferry services in Scotland is devolved and tendering is a decision for the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Reid

Negotiations with Europe are the responsibility of the Secretary of State. The European Court ruling made it perfectly clear that subsidised bus services no longer need to go out to tender, so it would be an anomaly if subsidised ferry services such as CalMac still had to do so. If the legal advice given to the Secretary of State is that the current rules mean that CalMac services would still have to go out to tender, will he go to Brussels and renegotiate the maritime regulations so that the tendering process can be abandoned? The process is expensive, time-wasting and diverts resources from the real job of improving ferry services in Scotland.

Mrs. McGuire

I reiterate that Scottish Ministers are responsible for all aspects of tendering of CalMac services. May I also alert the hon. Gentleman to the fact that his Liberal Democrat colleague Nicol Stephen, Minister for Transport in the Scottish Executive, is at odds with his interpretation of the judgment? Yesterday, in a parliamentary answer, he said: The consequences of the Altmark case for ferry services are far from clear. However, he also stated: As a matter of urgency, we will seek clarification of the legal position and raise the issue with the European Commission".

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Is my hon. Friend aware of the sterling work done by her predecessor and his predecessor in trying to get the Campbeltown to Ballycastle ferry up and running again? Will she discuss with Nicol Stephen whether there is now a prospect of getting that ferry going at least for the summer season? If she is successful, will she invite all her predecessors to the first sailing?

Mrs. McGuire

My mother used to say that self-praise is no praise, but in the case of my right hon. Friend, such praise is truly justified, as he fought a doughty battle to ensure that the Campbeltown-Ballycastle ferry came on line. As he and the House are aware, there have been some difficulties in ensuring that a tender is allocated for the service. The matter has been totally devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but we keep a close interest in developments. I assure him that when the new line is open, I shall ensure that his name is at the top of the list for any invitation.