Amendment 83

Part of Fisheries Bill [HL] - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 9th March 2020.

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Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:00 pm, 9th March 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment. The UK Government’s robust fisheries enforcement system is delivered in England by a number of agencies working in partnership, in particular the Marine Management Organisation, or MMO, the inshore fisheries and conservation authorities, or IFCAs, and the Royal Navy. Fisheries enforcement is a devolved matter, with each Administration ensuring that appropriate control and enforcement matters are in place in its waters.

As I am sure noble Lords are aware, the UK has recently taken significant steps and we have been working closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK can enforce its fishing rights. As the noble Baroness said, the Royal Navy is increasing its force of offshore patrol vessels, or OPVs, from four to eight ships over the next year. Currently, four are operating at sea, conducting enforcement and overseas tasking, with four in build or regeneration. Of these, at least—I emphasise the “at least” to the noble Baroness—two Royal Navy OPVs are always provided to support MMO activity in English waters.

The MMO’s core provision includes two offshore patrol vessels and up to two aircraft. IFCAs provide an additional layer of inshore surface surveillance capability, which includes 22 vessels. Administrations share assets when appropriate. This may be as a joint working, MoU or chartering arrangement. For example, the MMO and the Welsh Government have agreed an MoU to undertake joint working and patrolling in each other’s waters.

Marine Scotland’s aircraft and patrol vessels have operated in other Administration’s waters, and it is receptive to requests for its assets to assist when possible. Marine Scotland operates a fleet of three marine protection ships and two surveillance aircraft. In Northern Ireland, DAERA has one fisheries protection vessel, accompanied by two fast-response rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs, dedicated to inspection work. Wales operates three vessels: a 24-metre monohull, a 19-metre catamaran and a 13-metre fast response cabin RIB.

In respect of England, via the MMO we have increased the number of front-line warranted officers by 50% for 2019-20, which is 35 people, putting in place a framework to increase aerial surveillance capacity by a maximum of two surveillance aircraft as risk and intelligence demands and chartering two additional commercial vessels to enable an increase in routine sea-based inspections to supplement provision from the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron. I say to the noble Baronesses that it is one of the oldest front-line squadrons in the Royal Navy. It goes back many centuries and has a long history of dealing with these matters. There have been all sorts of instances in the past and, if this were to occur again, I am confident that our service men and women would have the ability and knowledge to deal with these matters proportionately and sensibly.

Additionally, it is also important, since we had an earlier discussion about this, that surface patrol vessels are complemented by satellite-based surveillance technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, or VMS, and electronic reporting systems, or ERS, monitored by the MMO from Newcastle. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, will know about this, but when I and the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, went to the MMO, this was a feature of every vessel we were taken through. I am sure that the MMO would be very pleased for noble Lords to look at this interesting capability. I would be very happy to facilitate that.

These provisions are in line with the MMO’s latest assessment, based on a risk-based, intelligence-led control and enforcement strategy. This is regularly monitored and reviewed, which is entirely appropriate to ensure that in all circumstances we are receiving that assessment.

The amendment’s proposed requirement for a Minister to declare the UK Government’s fisheries enforcement resources sufficient duplicates our existing policy and procedure. In addition, noble Lords will also be aware of the Joint Maritime Operations Coordination Centre, or JMOCC, which was officially approved by the Home Secretary in October 2017. The JMOCC has enhanced the co-ordination of cross-agency patrol capabilities, increased information and resource sharing, promoted prioritisation across government assets and enhanced aerial surveillance operations to derive maximum surveillance benefit. In place in its operational headquarters, the JMOCC has highly trained and professionally qualified representatives from key stakeholders, including Border Force, the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport, the National Maritime Information Centre and the police, as well as the MMO and Marine Scotland. This ensures that available resources can be fully and appropriately utilised across the United Kingdom, thereby maximising our maritime capability, including fisheries protection.

As I have highlighted, the control and enforcement is a devolved matter, and it will continue to be for each devolved Administration to decide how best to control its waters and what new arrangements may be needed in future. In that context, I should say that Defra, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive will continue to work together to share information and ensure a co-ordinated approach to monitoring, compliance and enforcement across UK waters. That will be undertaken.

I have perhaps gone into more detail on some of the abilities for all parts of the United Kingdom to contribute to this process, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me for that detail. I hope with that explanation—