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Brexit: EEZ and Territorial Seas

Volume 785: debated on Monday 6 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what contingency planning they have undertaken to ensure patrolling and enforcement of the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone and territorial seas after Brexit.

My Lords, the Government recently established the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre—JMOCC—to co-ordinate sea-based patrol activity across marine agencies to reinforce the security of our waters after Brexit. In respect of fisheries, Defra has assessed the scale and volume of sea-based patrol capability required for Brexit. Defra and the Marine Management Organisation will work through the JMOCC to utilise available resources in partnership with the Ministry of Defence and other agencies.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful Answer and for the discussions we have had about the co-ordination of this. We have a dreadful hotchpotch of vessels and departments involved, and we are responsible for a vast sea area and a hugely long coastline. To somehow get the maximum effect out of the very small number of ships we have, and to overcome the fact that we do not have a proper air surveillance capability and are not using drones properly, it is absolutely necessary to have a study into how we can focus this and use the JMOCC properly—bearing in mind there is also an operations centre in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the MMO—so we can co-ordinate this and do it properly. At the moment, we will not be able to do it. Is the Minister willing to look at setting up some group to co-ordinate that study so that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of looking after the waters for which we are responsible?

My Lords, yes, with 11,000 miles of coastline and an EEZ of 165 square miles, it is a task. That is precisely why, with the Security Minister having overall responsibility for the JMOCC, the whole purpose is to improve the co-ordination of cross-agency patrol capabilities, increase information-sharing across government and enhance aerial surveillance operations. The whole purpose is to ensure co-ordination; the fact that the JMOCC will be co-located with the National Maritime Information Centre will offer us a strong chance to bring all these things together.

The first responsibility of government is the defence of the realm and, in particular, homeland defence. The co-ordination that my friend the Admiral, the noble Lord, Lord West, has just commented on is essential but, frankly, without the kit and the people it does not make much sense. Some of us have pushed many times before, but in practice, we should have not just offshore vessels but inshore ones, whether they are large RIBs or MTB types, stationed in every single little port in the country. The key point is that that would have the effect of the public, at large, feeling that they are being protected. We could use our reservists and marine reservists to man those vessels—and it would encourage them to realise that, if the service is to do what it should be doing, they must vote more moneys in favour of giving it the resources it needs.

My Lords, as I said, the purpose of the JMOCC is to ensure the best co-ordination. Obviously, we rely on the Royal Navy, as we have traditionally. The offshore patrol vessels currently in operation will be replaced by five more capable Batch 2 OPVs, being built in Govan; then there is our Border Force, with six coastal patrol vessels and five cutters. Marine Scotland runs its own arrangements, and the 10 inshore fisheries conservation authorities have 31 “sea-going assets”, as they are described, ranging from small, inshore vessels to larger fisheries protection vessels. I want to be absolutely clear: we are analysing and working on how we can best enhance the capability.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the UK’s obligation under international law to co-ordinate with neighbouring states on access rights and sustainable management of fishing stocks. As not all of the EU 27 states have an interest in this, will the Minister tell us what bilateral discussions the Government are having with all our potential neighbouring fishing allies and competitors? How will the Lords be kept up to date with progress in those discussions?

My Lords, there were a number of points there. We will be introducing a fisheries Bill, as was in the Queen’s Speech. Our objective is to publish a White Paper by Christmas.

Indeed, this year—my brief says “this year”. That is very important so we set out our future marine fisheries management. Of course, we need to co-operate. The whole essence of what we need to do in these waters is to negotiate, for the first time for a long time, up to 200 miles or the median line. We will be responsible for access to those fisheries but, clearly, the whole purpose of what we are entering into is to have responsible coastal states having discussions and negotiations. As the noble Baroness said, the most important thing is that we get maximum sustainable yields and that they achieve the total allowable catches. Of real importance and the real opportunity is to have sustainable stocks.

My Lords, would the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord West, not be allayed were it the position that the Royal Navy, as he has frequently argued, should have more surface ships? In view of its responsibilities in this area, would it not be appropriate for Defra to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure there are no more cuts to the defence budget?

The whole purpose of JMOCC is to ensure that we and our capabilities are properly co-ordinated. In fact, the noble Lord and I are going to the MMO in Newcastle as soon as we can, early next year, because it is important that we have not only maritime, vessel and aerial capability but the enormous technology there is in digital and awareness of surveillance from the Newcastle office. All those combined will ensure we have secure waters.