Future Maritime Surveillance - Defence Committee Contents

5  Cross-Government cooperation

100. The UK's requirement for maritime surveillance goes far wider than the needs of UK Armed Forces. Other Government Departments and agencies also make use of the MoD's maritime surveillance capabilities and platforms in a number of areas and therefore we examined the cross-government cooperation between departments and agencies in determining the strategic requirements for maritime surveillance and their translation into operational requirements. We have discussed earlier defence-specific processes for establishing and setting the military requirements for maritime surveillance (see paragraphs 9-19). As a result of the 2009 update to the 2008 National Security Strategy, a Cabinet Office-led Maritime Security Review made two recommendations which would run in parallel to the defence-specific processes:

·  Strengthened strategic oversight of Maritime Security through a set of strategic objectives and changes to the central oversight of strategic policy mechanisms.

·  Improved Situational Awareness for Maritime Security through the establishment of a new national multi-agency National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) at Northwood to address current vulnerabilities.[151]

Maritime Security Oversight Group

101. In 2010, the Government sought to provide "strengthened strategic oversight" by establishing the Maritime Security and Oversight Group (MSOG) whose membership is made up of "key representatives of core departments, agencies and the Cabinet Office, and is the senior-level decision making group for maritime issues". The MoD described the role of the group as providing "strategic oversight and direction of all cross-cutting maritime security issues and programmes, including aspects of maritime surveillance [and] is responsible for the Maritime Security vision, strategic objectives and risks, reviewing them as circumstances require, and allocating priorities in order to use a framework to drive and coordinate day-to-day policy on cross government programmes of work".[152]

National Maritime Information Centre

102. The 2010 SDSR acknowledged that no single department or body had the capacity or capability to deliver what is required to monitor the maritime environment and counter threats the UK faces both in territorial waters and internationally. The National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) was established in Northwood on 1 April 2011 "to ensure information was disseminated, analysed and acted upon in a coordinated manner". NMIC brings together government departments and agencies with responsibility for maritime safety, security and environment in one place and is accountable to the Home Office. Its intention is to develop a single picture of maritime activity similar to that used by air traffic controllers so that threats and risks can be recognised and countered as early as possible.[153]


103. The creation of the MSOG and NMIC are intended to lead to a more strategic and coordinated approach on maritime issues. Although both organisations are relatively new we were interested to assess their progress in achieving the roles set out for them by the Government and whether there was scope for further improvements. Edward Ferguson, Head, Defence Strategies and Priorities, who is the MoD's representative on the MSOG, told us that there had been "considerable progress over the past couple of years" with the creation of the MSOG and NMIC. He added "there [had] been real progress at the operational level, and NMIC is the flagship programme. That greater interaction at the policy level is also really helpful".[154] Captain Russell Pegg, Head of NMIC, thought that the recognition that no one department or agency could fully understand what was occurring in the maritime domain and bringing together the "good work" going on within the "stovepipes" of departments had "brought immediate value to the bigger picture".[155]

104. Although NMIC was only established in April 2011, the MoD thought that it had already brought significant benefits by assisting greater coordination between UK Government agencies and departments and also international cooperation with allies. Provision had also been made for NMIC to report directly to the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR) in the event of crisis.[156]

105. Our witnesses widely supported the establishment of NMIC and thought that it had been an important and successful development. Rear Admiral Tony Rix (retd.) described NMIC as "a fantastic organisation [which] will enable us to provide a single picture for maritime activity, with input from numerous agencies. The principle of it is superb".[157] Rod Johnson, the Chief Coastguard, commented "the principle is extremely sound in that what may in the normal pattern of life make perfect sense to my organisation will be of interest for a completely different reason to another".[158] Dr Willett was also supportive of NMIC but pointed out that political will and focus was required for its continued development:

    The point is that when you have something such as NMIC, which is a new idea that is working very well, but which requires political support and resources, do you have the sustainable political focus on maritime issues to ensure that it and other activities like it are enabled to continue to develop?[159]


106. The establishment of the MSOG and NMIC is a useful first step to providing a more strategic and coordinated approach by Government to maritime issues. However we were keen to explore the scope for improvements in cross-government working and also to consider where the lines of demarcation should lie between departments. During our inquiry we heard that there had been an intermittent debate over recent years about the need for the UK to have a National Maritime Security Strategy.[160] In November 2011, the MSOG instructed that work should commence on a cross-government National Strategy for Maritime Security. The MoD said that this strategy would:

    set coherent, resource aware, and pragmatic objectives and actions, with maritime surveillance a key tenet. From a maritime surveillance perspective, the strategy aims to achieve greater coordination of homeland aerial maritime surveillance requirements; and fully utilise NMIC to co-ordinate an integrated maritime surveillance and interdiction capability through well-defined coordinated protocols between the key stakeholders in response to threats".[161]

In oral evidence, Edward Ferguson, MoD, said that this would be difficult because of the number of agencies involved, but added that there were well-worked out procedures for coordination and deconfliction between them.[162]

107. When considering the lines of demarcation between departmental responsibilities we heard that although there are some tasks that are clearly defined as civil and others that are clearly military, there were some that were a mixture of the two. For example military maritime assets which are operating out at sea on a daily basis can provide a degree of surveillance that is non-military although this is not their primary focus.[163] Admiral Rix (retd.) supported examining the sharing of capabilities but warned against practical difficulties:

    I think the sharing of capabilities is clearly a way ahead that needs to be looked at, but there will be all sorts of problems in sorting out priorities. One day, we might want surveillance of the fisheries and at the same time the Ministry of Defence might want surveillance of the Mediterranean. It is a very sensible way ahead, but I suggest that one should not underestimate the practical difficulties of achieving something that is effective for all the stakeholders.[164]

108. The Government agreed that more could be done to develop cross-departmental working and that there were other areas where cooperation should be explored. Edward Ferguson gave the example of aerial surveillance where "there are currently three departmental agencies—the UK Border Agency, the Marine Management Organisation and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency—that have individual aerial surveillance contracts to do different functions". The Government was interested in looking at whether these could be brought together into a single contract, which would be a more efficient use of taxpayer money and should provide a more coherent product. However Mr Ferguson also pointed out that in a more coordinated approach the appropriate governance and oversight arrangements to manage those more coherent and single contracts would be critical.[165] Rear Admiral James Rapp (retd.), was supportive of possible moves towards a single air surveillance contract and suggested the Australian 'Coastwatch' Organisation as a potential model for the UK to follow as many of the characteristics of the UK situation were similar to those experienced by Australia before it adopted this model.[166]

109. Rod Johnson, the Chief Coastguard, said that although the Maritime and Coastguard Agency had no direct experience of the Australian model he thought it an example that could be considered and lessons learned from it.[167] Admiral Rix warned that the Australian model only covered the Exclusive Economic Zone and that the military requirements for surveillance are much more extensive, as were search and rescue requirements.[168] We understand that although the Maritime Security Oversight Group has agreed in principle to move forward on work towards a single air surveillance contract there was first a need to undertake further work, in particular to consider how governance and oversight of a single contract could be undertaken.[169]

110. It is important that cross-departmental cooperation should exist at ministerial as well as at official and operations level. Nick Harvey MP, Minister for the Armed Forces, told us there was a "sort of informal network of Ministers under James Brokenshire [Home Office Parliamentary Under Secretary for crime and security] that look at these things as well. He has the lead responsibility for that, but as this work goes forward and the officials begin to distil options and explore the scope for cooperation, Ministers will come together to look at the work they are producing".[170] He thought that such an informal forum was the right one for taking forward the debate on maritime surveillance issues and settling issues of differing requirements, though ultimately decisions would be taken by the Cabinet or the National Security Council.[171]

111. Asked how much other Government Departments influenced the MoD's thinking or drove its posture on maritime surveillance, the Minister responded that although other departments had active interests and there was scope for better coordination, he could not really see circumstances:

    in which the requirements of those other Government Departments would lever the MoD against its judgment as to the military requirement into providing a service that it did not otherwise think that it needed to provide. However, if the MoD was moving to a position where it was looking at expanding what it does in this area and if the opportunity to cooperate with other Government Departments to avoid duplication, to multitask and to get better value for taxpayers' money was to present itself, I could imagine it happening.[172]


112. NMIC is currently an information-gathering organisation. During our inquiry it was suggested that given its closeness to the maritime information, it might be appropriate for it to evolve into a decision making body rather than for that decision making to be detached.[173] The Chief Coastguard, was cautious about this proposal, thinking that, although NMIC worked very well as a means of sharing information, if it were to become a decision making body as it would be "reorganising the way that the Government currently do their security and safety operations for all things maritime".[174] He said that each agency was interested in different things and alerted by different developments:

    The participating agencies and stakeholders already have mature and well rehearsed practices for dealing with their particular issues and the value-add is, as I have said, recognising that what might be perfectly normal or appear perfectly normal within the pattern of life for one agency may be a trigger for something else. However, turning that into a decision-making cell would require the reorganisation of Government in relation to maritime. That needs to be carefully thought through.[175]

113. While acknowledging these concerns, Captain Russell Pegg, Head of NMIC, did not dismiss the possibility of such a development. He told us:

    We should not change if it is the right thing to do, and we should certainly look at that as a next piece of work [...] The value we have seen added is just through conversation of having all those people together—those eureka moments have happened. The intellectual argument is over; it is really now, "What is the national appetite to go to the next step if that is what the nation requires to safeguard its maritime interests?[176]

114. The Minister was sceptical about such a big change:

    If [NMIC] were to move [...] into a sort of command and control function for the whole of Government, that would be almost unique in terms of the way Government operates. I am not sure I am convinced by that. Individual Departments retain responsibility and individual agencies do form different parts of the work. It is entirely right that we try and get as common an understanding as we possibly can of the threats and the challenges, but [...] the need for the constituent Departments and agencies to retain their responsibilities would be likely to override pooling of the decision making.[177]

115. We commend the Government for the establishment of the Maritime Security Oversight Group (MSOG) and the National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) which have improved cross government cooperation on maritime surveillance issues. The MSOG's work on the development of a National Strategy for Maritime Security is an important piece of work that should be prioritised across Government. In response to our Report the Government should provide us with an update on this work and its planned timetable for it being brought to a conclusion. It must not become a stop-start endeavour. We endorse the work of NMIC as a valuable element in enhancing the national security of the UK. We will take a close interest in its work and how it develops in the future. We are not currently persuaded by the suggestion that NMIC could evolve to become a decision making centre. This would represent a considerable change in the way Government undertakes maritime security and safety operations particularly at a time of major change in the defence arena.

116. We believe that there is room for further improvement in cross-government cooperation in maritime matters. We are not convinced that an "informal group of Ministers" is the appropriate forum for taking forward the debate on maritime surveillance issues. Although decisions may ultimately be made in Cabinet or the National Security Council, we recommend that there should be a greater level of ministerial involvement in maritime surveillance as an issue particularly given the number of cross-government interests involved and as a way of arbitrating disputes between departments and ensuring that the differing interests are focusing on the right areas at the appropriate time. In response to our Report the Government should also provide us with an update on progress on the Maritime Security Oversight Group's work towards a single air surveillance contract. This should include the alternative options that the Government is considering as a potential model for the UK in this area.

151   Ev 34-35 Back

152   Ev 35 Back

153   Ev 35  Back

154   Q 78 Back

155   Q 76 Back

156   Ev 35 Back

157   Q 33 Back

158   Q 33 Back

159   Q 33 Back

160   Q 7 and Ev 56 Back

161   Ev 35 Back

162   Q 78 Back

163   Q 34 [Dr Willett] Back

164   Q 34 [Rear Admiral Rix] Back

165   Q 78 Back

166   Ev w1-2 Back

167   Q 35 Back

168   Q 35 Back

169   Q 78, Q 192 and Ev 46 Back

170   Q 195 Back

171   Q 195 Back

172   Q 194 Back

173   Q 33 [Dr Willett] Back

174   Q 173 Back

175   Q 34 Back

176   Q 77 Back

177   Q 199 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 19 September 2012