Government accused of 'Orwellian' behaviour over rescue service plans
The Government has been accused of gagging the head of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency over plans to close a search and rescue helicopter base covering the Westcountry.
It is feared that plans to cut two of the 12 search and rescue bases dotted around Britain's coastline, including Portland in Dorset in 2017, will leave some areas exposed.
The private company which takes over the service, currently carried out by RAF and Royal Navy pilots and crew, will be expected to operate from ten locations, including North Devon and West Cornwall although not necessarily from RMB Chivenor, near Braunton, and RNAS Culdrose, near Helston.
Conservative MP Richard Drax, whose South Dorset constituency includes Portland, has now criticised the Government for its "almost Orwellian" behaviour in banning the head of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Sir Alan Massey, from discussing the scheme with him.
"I fully understand your wish to speak with me about an issue that I know causes you great concern," Sir Alan said in an email sent to Mr Drax.
"(The) minister has, however, determined that he does not wish me, as an official, to re-engage on a matter on which the Government, and he personally, has made its position clear."
Mr Drax has written to the Transport Minister Stephen Hammond asking him if he had banned MCA officials from speaking to him.
He said: "I find it quite extraordinary that an MP should be prevented from speaking to anyone on behalf of his constituents. It really is almost Orwellian and totally out of character with Conservative policy and principles."
The successful private bidder for the 10-year search and rescue contract is expected to be announced by the Government in the coming months.
"When someone dies off our coast because a helicopter did not reach them in time," Mr Drax added in his letter to Mr Hammond, "I'm afraid this Government will be held responsible."
A spokesman for the Department for Transport 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."