South Dorset MP says coastguard chief was banned from speaking to him

A Tory MP has accused the Government of banning the head of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) from speaking to him about the privatisation of Search and Rescue services.

South Dorset MP Richard Drax has written to Transport Secretary
Stephen Hammond, asking him to confirm that he gave a ‘gagging order’ to MCA chief executive Sir Alan Massey.

Portland will lose its helicopter in 2017 as part of government plans
and the area will be covered by aircraft from Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire. 

In his letter, Mr Drax, who has campaigned against the closure since it was first announced two years
ago, wrote: ‘I recently requested a meeting with Mr Massey, to be told you have
ordered him not to see me.

‘Is this true? I enclose an email from Mr
Massey, which indicates it is.

‘I find it quite extraordinary that an MP should be prevented from speaking to anyone on behalf of his constituents.

‘I would ask you to withdraw this order and allow me to talk to a
vital link in the chain, before a disastrous decision is made.

Mr Drax also dismisses a claim by the Minister that, if Portland closed, the average flying time from alternate bases to
reach incidents would be 21 minutes, saying the flying time from Lee-on-Solent was 30 minutes.

The letter ends by asking the Minister to think again.

Mr Drax adds: ‘This is positively Orwellian.

‘We were told that anyone
involved with the Portland Search and Rescue service who opposed the
last helicopter reorganisation were ‘warned off’.

‘We told the Transport
Select Committee that it could happen. Now we are seeing it for

A spokesman for the MCA confirmed Mr Massy had responded to a request from Mr Drax but referred any further questions to the DfT.

A DfT spokesman said: ‘The minister’s view was that in light of numerous exchanges at ministerial level on this issue, including meetings with the previous secretary of state and the prime minister, there was no further ground to cover.

‘The closure of the Portland base is something the government has made its position clear on and Mr Hammond met Mr Drax in early December to discuss these issues in depth.

‘A further engagement with the MCA was therefore deemed to be unnecessary at this stage.’