Monthly newsletter Edition 16 Sir Robert reports:- Page 1
Yet again certain MEPs have tried to question the continued existence of BNFL's Sellafield Plant and this time have thrown in the Springfields location (Lancashire) for good measure. A cross-party collection of Irish MEPs used the increased terrorist threat to launch a spurious attack on the nuclear waste processing plant in Cumbria, claiming that it poses a danger to their country and Britain as a target for Osama bin Laden and his friends. They also questioned the timing and validity of the long-overdue decision by the British Government to implement the new MOX plant - so important to the jobs and economic well-being of West Cumbria. Since this farrago of nonsense was produced during a debate in the Parliament, I was able to redress the balance somewhat and told them in no uncertain terms to "get their hands off Sellafield!" I also suggested that this was not a fight they could win as long as I was an MEP!
The debate was also about aviation security which has absorbed a great deal of my time in recent weeks. I made three particular points in the interests of restoring public confidence in flying. Protect aircraft more carefully on the ground, improve baggage and passenger screening and provide Government funds to assist airlines in meeting the vastly increased costs of tighter security and war risk insurance. This followed on from my speech at the shortened Party Conference during the discussion about Defence & Foreign Affairs and I am determined that the British Government and the European Commission are going to get the message.
Airlines - and associated tourism enterprises - are suffering serious financial headaches at present and some are being forced into major employment cutbacks or even bankruptcy. When a company like Swissair collapses, it shakes the entire industry and the Chairman of a British airline suggested to me recently that there would only be three serious European carriers left within a year if the market continued to decline. The Transport Commissioner has been beset by companies such as Sabena (Belgium), Aer Lingus (Ireland) and Alitalia (Italy) and their respective governments, all demanding substantial state assistance to keep them in the air and, to her credit, she has resisted most of the blandishments. If the likes of Ryanair, Go, Buzz and Easyjet can manage without public subsidy - let alone BA, BM and Virgin - why should those who were in trouble long before September 11th be baled out? (Sabena has only made a profit once in the last 40 years!) Wisely, the Commission has granted assistance only for the four days that US airspace was closed to all foreign aviation and have agreed, pro tem, to time-limited support for security and insurance costs. Other than that, normal competitive market conditions ought to apply.
Whilst on the subject of tourism, I had some cross Cheshire Conservative County Councillors in Brussels recently. They are becoming increasingly irritated that there seems to be little potential benefit to their County from next year's Commonwealth Games. Cheshire is not alone in this view since Lancashire and Cumbria are also missing out. Surely such a prestigious event should attract visitors to explore other areas in our region, as part of package deals or as extra days. It appears that every effort has been made, either by the Management of the Games or Manchester City Council, to pack the City Centre with tourists rather than to liase with other deserving local authorities. What does the North West Tourist Board think about that? Especially in the light of the need to restore the tourist industry after this year's Foot and Mouth epidemic.