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Migrant Crossings: Naval Assets

Volume 795: debated on Wednesday 6 February 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the total cost charged by the Ministry of Defence to the Home Office for the use of HMS Mersey and naval assets in the Channel since 1 January.

My Lords, the deployment of the Royal Navy vessel is an interim measure while the two Border Force cutters currently redeployed from overseas make their way back to UK waters. To date, this has cost £700,000. The deployment is funded by the Home Office and will be kept under constant review.

I thank the Minister for her Answer. This operation has been a complete and utter shambles. That is a real worry because, as we move towards Brexit, the need to patrol our territorial seas and enforce our laws both there and in our exclusive economic zone is going to become greater. Who on earth is co-ordinating this? In the Navy we have a nice tradition where occasionally we shoot a senior officer to encourage the others. This might be a perfect candidate for the case. We have in place a joint maritime operations centre, which has all the departments there. Why can we not fully fund it and put a person in charge—a naval officer or whoever, I do not care—who can co-ordinate our shortage of assets to do the things we need to do? This is only going to cost a couple of million, which is not that much in the big order of things.

The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that as we approach Brexit we should be mindful of some of the events that might happen around it. We will shortly have a director in post at JMOCC, which I hope gives him some comfort. The nature of a crisis would determine the co-ordination response.

My Lords, the Minister will have seen a report in the Sunday Times that the Government have reduced a promised £22 million towards a public health approach to tackling knife crime to £17 million. Is that where the Home Office found the money to pay the Ministry of Defence? If so, can she explain why the Government see keeping desperate refugees out of the UK a priority over saving the lives of British youngsters on our streets?

My Lords, when I saw the article in the Sunday Times, I realised it was wrong. The noble Lord is absolutely right to state that £22 million was committed. It still is committed; £17 million of it has already been allocated. That is not to say that the additional £5 million will not be forthcoming, because it will. In terms of desperate refugees, I think he might be referring to the PNQ that he is about to ask, but these are serious criminals.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us why we need expensive naval ships to escort immigrants, who may be in sinking boats, to our ports?

My Lords, the nature of the event was such that the two cutters to which the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, referred were undergoing maintenance at the time. Yes, there has been a temporary deployment of a Navy ship. It is not cheap—I agree with my noble friend on that—but the two cutters will soon be back in action.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Home Secretary’s decision has not left us vulnerable elsewhere in the world? What is being done to break up the operations of these criminals and catch the people smugglers, whose reckless actions are putting people’s lives at risk?

My Lords, an awful lot of work is going on to stop the movement of people across the water—recently it has been in the channel, where the waters are very dangerous indeed. The noble Lord might like to know that as recently as the last couple of weeks, the Home Secretary met Minister Castaner to discuss bilateral co-operation on maintaining our waters and keeping people safe when they make those terrible journeys across the channel.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that most of these refugees crossing the channel are from Iran, and that their chance of staying in the UK, whether permission is granted or not, is 97%? Would it not therefore be better to have a really effective way of differentiating between genuine refugees and economic migrants, and making sure that the latter are returned?

The noble Lord is correct about the high percentage of Iranians. His second point is right too, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

My Lords, as part of its contingency planning for a crash-out no-deal Brexit, is the Home Office preparing measures to discourage British citizens from leaving the country?

My Lords, will the Minister reconsider the Written Answer she gave me last week about some of the Iranians who have fled their own country because of persecution, or even because they were facing execution for reasons such as religious belief or coming from particularly at-risk minorities? She said that it would be impossible to carry out a manual count of those who have come across the channel and look at the reasons why they have come, to identify whether they are economic migrants or genuine refugees fleeing persecution.

When I wrote to the noble Lord saying that we could not do that, it was simply because the data was not available to disaggregate, but I will look at his Written Question again and see whether I can give him any further information.