Sunday, April 26, 2015
English French German Spanish

Scottish Parliament Speech: Rosyth to Zeebrugge Ferry Service (June 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Despite being an MSP, I am still a jobbing historian. At the moment, I am editing National Museums Scotland's book on Scottish transport - all 700 pages of it. About a third of the book is devoted to sea transport, from which we have tended to drop away in the recent evolution of Scottish transportation. There has been far too much concentration on roads and even on rail routes, given that we have a marine motorway up the North Sea.

I want to set the problem of the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry in the context of the big players in European long-distance road freight transport. Tübingen, where I taught, is just next to Reutlingen, which is the headquarters of the Willi Betz organisation. I am sure that all members have seen their big yellow and blue HGVs on the roads. Since the middle of April this year, Mr Thomas Betz, the managing director of the company, has been in Stammheim jail in Stuttgart, having been found guilty of bribery, coercion, employing a labour force from Bulgaria and registering his brand new vehicles in Azerbaijan, and has also been fined €5 million. The Willi Betz organisation is not a minor rotten apple of European road freight, but is the biggest spediteur in Europe. The case gives one some idea of the problems that an alternative has in coping with a system that is run by cowboys.

Sixty per cent of vehicles coming off the ferries during a live broadcast of the "Today" programme from Dover in November last year were overweight. At Holyhead, 30 per cent of vehicles coming off ferries from Ireland are overweight. I speak with fairly direct knowledge of the issue, because my brother was an HGV driver for the late lamented Christian Salvesen company, which is now owned by Norbert Dentressangle of France. The douce and decent hauliers of Fife used the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry service well, but they were up against very powerful international concerns whose attitude to commerce is that of Long John Silver to commercial Caribbean traffic in the 18th century.

We are in a difficult situation, but we must support attempts to open up competition, especially by sea. We must investigate the new more efficient vessels that are available, especially the Visentini ferries from Trieste, which are only 1 knot slower than the present Superfast ferries, but 50 per cent cheaper to operate. On that basis, we can have services from Zeebrugge to Rosyth and on to Scandinavia and further north, and make the marine motorway that I mentioned a possibility.

That will involve negotiations with the European Union and, above all, trying to get a rational allocation of freight to different modes of transport. It will mean taking on the enormous, powerful and quite unscrupulous lobbies that operate in Brussels. The German Government has reacted impressively to the challenge of the Betz case. We must be as circumspect and wide ranging in the backing that we give to alternatives to road freight haulage. At the moment, the chief of those alternatives from Scotland is sea transport.

Home > Politics > Scottish Parliament Speech: Rosyth to Zeebrugge Ferry Service (June 2008)