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COASTGUARD services must stay part of a national organisation and will not be devolved, Shipping Minister Mike Penning said yesterday.

He was giving evidence to the Commons Transport Committee on controversial plans to close a number of stations - including Holyhead.

As the Daily Post has reported, the Government proposed shutting 10 of the 18 UK coastguard stations, including Holyhead and Milford Haven.

It wanted to downgrade another five, which would only open during the day, among them Swansea.

But last week sources close to Mr Penning''s boss, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, signalled a U-turn, and said new plans would be drawn up.

Grilled: minister Mike This could see a reprieve for a small number of those coastguard stations earmarked for closure. Plaid Cymru wants a consultation on devolving coastguard services, with Arfon MP Hywel Williams, who opposes the closures, saying: The mess made by Westminster shows we cannot expect Westminster to look after issues in Wales. But Mr Penning - in answer to a question from a Scottish MP - said the Government had no plans to devolve coastguard stations.

This is a national emergency service.

"The Government have not looked at, and have no intention of looking at, breaking that up under the devolution settlement, he said.

The coastguard is seen as a national organisation and will go forward as one.

There was a risk of fragmentation and reduction in quality if the service was broken up.

Penning Mr Penning said the plans to close more than half the UK coastguard stations were not fixed in stone and would be changed in response to the worries of staff.

He told the committee: This wasn''t a done deal.

"It will be a proper consultation. "From the outset and at every station I have visited we have said categorically this is not a done deal.

But he insisted that there must be changes, warning: The status quo is not an option.

In bruising exchanges he clashed with committee chairwoman Louise Ellman, who accused him of breaking a promise that coastguards would be allowed to give evidence to her inquiry.

Mr Penning denied gagging the coastguards.

He said they could not give evidence in person as they were civil servants.

But he also assured Ms Ellman they would not be victimised if they did speak out.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Vice-Admiral Sir Alan Massey continued to defend the planned changes, saying they would improve the effectiveness of the service.

He told the committee that while any loss of local knowledge about the seas off Britain''s coasts would be a massive problem, they would put measures in place to ensure this did not happen.


Grilled: Shipping minister Mike Penning
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Title Annotation:News; Teasers
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 25, 2011
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