[Relevant documents: Piracy off the coast of Somalia, Tenth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2010-12, HC 1318, and the Government Response, Cm 8324.]
Motion made and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(James Duddridge.)
Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), who has been dragged back at short notice, for reasons beyond his control, but it is to the benefit of the House that he is here today.
May I raise a point of order, Mr Sheridan? This is a debate on the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which I chair, about piracy off the coast of Somalia. One of the key recommendations was that the guidance for the use of private armed guards on British ships be revised. In its response, the Foreign Office said that the guidance would be coming out in April. Then we were advised that it was coming out in May. I have no quarrel about that, because it is important to get it right. I was informed at 2.25 pm today that the guidance was published at 11 am this morning and we do not have copies of it. We have not seen it. No effort was made to get it to us at 11 am. Would it be appropriate to adjourn for 10 minutes while the guidance is made available, so that we can have a quick look at it?
Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Unfortunately, we have to proceed with the business of the House. It is extremely discourteous of the Department to treat the Select Committee as it has done and I am sure that the appropriate people will be aware of exactly what has happened. However, I am unclear how that can be remedied at this late stage. Does the Minister wish to say something?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mike Penning): I am the Minister responsible for the guidance, although it is not my debate. Clearance was delivered to us only this morning from the Ministry of Justice, and I published it as soon as possible. I apologise to the Chairman of the Committee because he was not given a copy of it. The Chairman is correct: the guidance has to be right, which is why we have published it today. Copies will be here for Committee members before the end of the debate.
Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Will the absence of the information impact in any way on the debate?
Richard Ottaway: I appreciate the Minister’s explanation. I gather that the delay was due to the need for clearance by another Department. However, a large section of my speech relating to this matter and posing questions is now, frankly, academic.
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Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Unfortunately, I am advised that we have to keep going. I can only apologise.
Richard Ottaway: Thank you for addressing the point, Mr Sheridan.
The tenth report of the Foreign Affairs Committee is about piracy off the coast of Somalia, a major problem that costs industry and the world economy billions of dollars and threatens lives. The Indian ocean has become a no-go area for small vessels and is dangerous for large ones. The causes of the problem are many. First, at the heart of it is the fact that, despite the introduction of military forces and private armed guards, still the majority of vessels are unarmed. Secondly, there is a willingness to pay ransoms—a controversial point to which I will return. Thirdly, there are too few naval forces. Fourthly, the pirates are able to operate with relative impunity inside Somalia.
The United Kingdom Government are well aware of the problem and are taking a leading role and, although the Committee makes constructive criticisms of that role, we congratulate them on the steps that they are taking. Concerted international action is needed. The number of prosecutions has increased, but 90% of those detained are released. There is greater use of armed guards and we have regulation and guidance for armed guards. Vessels have been following best management practices. There are issues to do with tracing financial flows: the Committee’s opinion is that financial flows can be tracked—some of the most sophisticated equipment for that purpose is available in this country—and that more can be done in this regard. The Committee believes that there should be at least one UK vessel permanently on station. Of course, we have to support development in Somalia. I shall deal with those points in turn.
The UK is a big player in the world shipping industry, and our part of it is based just a mile or two up the road from here. Shipping and its management comprises 1.8% of gross domestic product. Piracy poses a threat to the UK’s economy and the security of British assets transiting through the area. Some 40% of world trade moves through the region of the Indian ocean, around the Horn of Africa, into the Red sea. The danger zone now stretches over to the coast of the Indian ocean. Much of the cargo is insured here in the UK. The total cost of addressing the threat to Britain, the assets and the industry is believed to be in the region of $8 billion to $12 billion per annum.
Attacks on vessels in the Indian ocean have decreased in the last quarter. In the first quarter of 2011 there were 102 attacks, 16 of them successful, whereas this year there were only 43 attacks and only nine were successful. That downward trend is welcome. To give an idea of the sums involved, in 2011, ransoms amounted to $135 million. The opinion of some observers and witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee was that some of that money is going to al-Shabaab, which it is believed has connections with al-Qaeda.
Since piracy started in the region, some 3,500 crew members and officers have been taken captive and been held, and in the last four years 62 have been killed. Currently, 12 vessels are held and 178 hostages are still in captivity. That the figure is lower than it was reflects a welcome trend, but it is important to state that the level of detention remains unacceptable. It must not be believed that we have been successful and this situation must not become the status quo.
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The peak from which we are coming down was reached in autumn 2011. I think the reason why the trend is now downward is that the self-defence mechanisms are beginning to make progress. The implementation of best management practices is clearly having a serious effect. It is too soon to see if this is a long-term trend, but it is promising. For the benefit of the House, I should say that best management practices involve self-protecting measures, including careful manoeuvring of ships, having safe rooms on ships and using detection equipment. I commend the industry on the implementation of these practices, as does the Committee, and on the results that this is achieving.
Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Does not this highlight a further problem, which is that it is not so much the cargo or the vessel but the crew that is the main financial inducement? All the measures the hon. Gentleman has mentioned apply to the large multinational, well organised modern fleets, but many smaller operators with smaller vessels are becoming more vulnerable. Those measures, welcome though they are, can therefore only be regarded as part of a package, because they deal with only part of the problem.
Richard Ottaway: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. For small vessels the region is, in truth, a complete no-go area. For the piracy of the 17th and 18th centuries, the prize was the cargo, and the crew walked the plank or went over the sides, but that has changed; now, the crew are equally valuable. That attitude of the pirates is causing the problem. That is not to say that the cargo is not still important—shipowners are paying substantial sums to get their cargo out—but as we see particularly when yacht crews are held, in international terms the yacht is worth nothing while the owners still have a high value.
The Government initially resisted the establishment of private armed security guards on board British vessels. When the Minister gave evidence to us during our inquiry, the Government’s position was that armed guards would not be welcome. However, the Prime Minister announced in October or November last year that we will now put armed security guards on board British vessels, and that view is echoed by the International Maritime Organisation. The Committee welcomes the U-turn.
The operation of a private armed guard on board a British vessel is subject to British law—the law of the flag applies on board any vessel. The Government published interim guidance, at the heart of which was a policy based on the Crown Prosecution Service policy of lawful self-defence. We were critical of that, because the CPS guidance was not written with piracy in mind. Indeed, it states:
“If a…firearm…was used…this may tip the balance in favour of prosecution.”
To me and to the Committee, that seemed to be off-loading responsibility for the use of armed guards on to shipowners. The simple question we posed in our report was: if armed guards on board a ship see an armed skiff approaching, can they open fire? That is the test. The initial interim guidance contained little to help make a judgment on the use of force.
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In the Government response, as I pointed out in my point of order, clarification was promised by April 2012, which then became May, then June. I have no idea why there was a delay, but I like to think that it was because international co-ordination and consultation with the IMO were necessary. Indeed, earlier this year, at the invitation of the Department for Transport, I attended a particularly constructive piracy conference at the IMO. What is important, however, is that the UK plays a leading role in the establishment of any guidance, and that is why I regret the new guidance not being available for us to see, because we cannot really comment. We are in limbo—the guidance is out but we are unable to comment on it today. The UK should be playing a leading role, but the issue is current. I want to ask the Government whether they have been happy with the use of armed guards on ships from implementation up to now. How many applications have been received to establish armed guards on board a ship?
The House might be interested to know about the Italian ship Enrique Lexie, which was carrying two Italian marines on board. Though the facts are in dispute, there was an exchange of armed fire with small vessels and two fishermen were killed. For reasons that are not clear, the Italian vessel then went into an Indian port and the marines were arrested amid a dispute about whether the incident took place in international or territorial waters. The matter is unresolved, but the incident highlights the importance of the need for clear guidance and international agreement on the use of force.
We can see how easily diplomatic incidents can occur in the absence of proper guidance or internationally agreed standards. That is mainly because so many factors are involved in international waters, such as a British ship with a foreign crew going into another country’s waters; several jurisdictions are in play. I was interested to read that the IMO has called for an international standard for the use of armed guards, so I shall read the newly published guidance with interest to see whether such a standard has been established. I hope that a Minister might be able to summarise the guidance when he makes his contribution to the debate.
Jim Sheridan (in the Chair): Order. I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and his predicament, but I am reliably informed that document is winging its way towards us and should reach us in the next 10 minutes or so. At the end of the debate, he will certainly have the opportunity to sum up, by which time he might have had a chance to read the document, as will other Members. I am sure that my co-Chair will be sympathetic to his position as well.
Richard Ottaway: That is very helpful, Mr Sheridan, and I am grateful to all those involved in expediting the availability of the guidance.
To conclude on armed guards, I hope that UK rules can influence the international debate, to the benefit of everyone concerned.
Another issue that we identified is that there are no regulations on the movement of weapons, and in that part of the world, a lot of weapons are moving around. We clearly need to have a regime for such movements, and I welcome the UK’s introduction of a revised licensing regime in February this year, although that
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does not tackle the difficulty of floating armouries. Believe it or not, some ships out there will lend guns to ships that enter the danger zone and get them back when they leave. All that is outside the control of any organisation, and an international approach to that difficulty would be appropriate.
The naval response has been better than expected—possibly damned with faint praise—but the truth of the matter is that the Indian ocean is not safe, and to have a 30-minute response throughout the ocean would require the deployment of 80 warships at any given moment, which will clearly not happen. The strategic defence review under way in this country can only heighten the impact on the availability of British ships for deployment, but the UK could have a role to play in providing leadership in operations—we have a good record—perhaps with other countries supplying the ships. As reported by the Ministry of Defence, however, last month HMS Westminster foiled three attacks. Can one of the Ministers present tell us what happened to the suspects from those incidents? Were they detained, released or fended off with no detentions? As I understand it, there have certainly been no prosecutions.
What is needed is international co-ordination. We have the successful UN contact group on piracy and recently—established in February this year—the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Co-ordination Centre in the Seychelles. The centre has to be welcome. It will co-ordinate information on ransoms and target the kingpins in the piracy world.
On the naval response, one of the unexpected side effects is how the international operations have been getting on quite well with one another. We considered a recommendation on whether they should be co-ordinated by a single organisation, but we reached the conclusion that there were bigger fish to fry, rather than having that sort of upheaval at the moment. We have Russian, Chinese, Indian, British and NATO ships there, and given the lack of a big umbrella organisation, the close co-ordination is very welcome.
Turning to convictions, it is difficult to obtain evidence in such situations. Our Committee recommended that more effort should be made, perhaps with the use of video links for witnesses. There are difficulties with various national laws because piracy is a crime in some countries but not others. Implementing such proposals can be expensive for poorer countries.
To date, no suspect has been brought back to the UK for prosecution. We have transfer agreements with Kenya and the Seychelles, and I welcome the new agreement with Mauritius, as I hope that it will result in more prosecutions of suspects. Will the Minister who responds on the memorandum of understanding with Mauritius indicate the conditions that suspects are held in and whether that is monitored. I wish the Government well with implementation of the memorandum of understanding, which sounds to our Committee to be a pragmatic solution. However, if it fails, I hope that the Minister involved will note that the French are now engaged in their second trial of suspects.
Mr Spellar: Will the hon. Gentleman, and later a Minister, clarify the position on bringing captured pirates back to the UK for trial, given the real risk of applications for leave to remain? Is it not better—this is why the Mauritius agreement is so welcome—to support efforts in the region?
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Richard Ottaway: I cannot go to our precise conclusion quickly, but we believe that it would be a good idea if there were prosecutions in this country, if only to demonstrate that we mean business. The important thing is that there are prosecutions, and if a memorandum of understanding is working effectively, it is a pragmatic solution.
Turning to ransoms, I said earlier that $135 million was paid last year, and in our judgment the Government have been slow to track the flow of money. It might be an effective means of countering piracy if the flow of money were tracked. An international taskforce on ransoms has been established recently, but it is controversial because it attempts to prevent payment of ransoms. It is worth noting that the Chamber of Shipping has expressed concern that the international policy and that of the UK is to try to prevent the payment of ransoms.
The Foreign Affairs Committee is worried about that. In our view, the only way to recover vessels is to pay ransoms, which is particularly appropriate when the use of force is ruled out. In all honesty, there is no other way for shipowners to recover their property. The position can be likened to a mugging of a man in the street. If he were subject to a violent attack, no one would tell him not to pay anything because it will only encourage more muggers. I invite the Government to take a hard look at the matter and to say whether Government policy is unchanged.
British hostages have been taken as victims of piracy, and the Committee welcomes the release of Judith Tebbutt. We did not refer to her in our report because she was still in captivity while we were drafting it, and we concluded that it would be too sensitive to comment. We are delighted that she has been released. We understand that there are prosecutions in Kenya and that a ransom was paid. I would be interested to know from a Minister whether that payment was tracked and whether a prosecution is expected. We also took evidence from the Chandlers, and we are delighted to hear that only last week they set off to continue their voyage around the world, but I am reliably informed that they will avoid the Indian ocean.
At heart, the solution to the problem lies not offshore, but onshore in Somalia. There is no easy solution for that troubled country. African Union troops are clearly making progress. We have had two excellent conferences on Somalia. One was here in the United Kingdom in February, which I believe is producing results, and I congratulate the Foreign Office on putting it on. The other was in May in Istanbul, Turkey, at which I gather serious progress was made. The Department for International Development is putting in £83 million, of which £6 million will go on counter-piracy.
We treat the subject very seriously. Our report is important.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I apologise for not having had the chance to read the Select Committee’s report, but I look forward to doing so. I take it that the hon. Gentleman did not have an opportunity during the Committee’s examination of the evidence to speak to welfare organisations such as the Mission to Seafarers and Apostleship of the Sea, which have dealt with some of the hostages before, during and afterwards.
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Richard Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to see that we took written evidence from seafarers, and we quote some of it in our report.
In conclusion, I look forward to hearing how colleagues view this difficult subject.
Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Ind): I commend the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) on his excellent report. I am not a member of the Committee, and I will not detain the Chamber for long, but I was interested in the recommendation in paragraph 27 of the Government’s response:
“We conclude that the Government should not pay or assist in the payment of ransoms but”—
“nor should it make it more difficult for companies to secure the safe release of their crew by criminalising the payment of ransoms.”
As the hon. Gentleman said, the Chamber of Shipping sent a strong briefing to hon. Members here and elsewhere. There are many acronyms, concepts and ideas involved in the debate about using armed guards, the payment of ransoms and so on, and there have been recent examples of people being taken captive for a ransom elsewhere in the world on land and at sea. It is self-evident that if someone demands a large amount of money for a loved one, and that they will be killed or executed if it is not paid, everyone would want to avoid that.
The taskforce’s general direction of travel on ransoms, announced on 31 May, was to reduce or constrain payment—although I may be wrong, and a Minister may correct me. It is most unlikely that anyone could convince foreign Governments not to pay, and not to assist or facilitate payment. Indeed, there are examples of foreign Governments—it is probably best not to say which ones—possibly making payments, and certainly of Governments facilitating payments. Even if the UK obtained agreement from some members of the taskforce, it is most unlikely that the payment of ransoms would stop. Pirates would still be attacking ships and taking people hostage. They would not be taking people hostage on the basis that their country was one that would facilitate a ransom payment. The risk is that we could end up with a two-tier situation, and some people would be released eventually. As the hon. Gentleman said, Judith Tebbutt was released after payment of a $1 million ransom, and it was reported that someone, perhaps even a news agency, helped to pay £500,000 for the Chandlers. A sad recent example was a Scotsman, Khalil Dale, who was kidnapped in Pakistan. There was evidently and clearly a financial imperative in the demands of the people who kidnapped him, and his employer, the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that its policy, as the Government suggested, was not to pay ransoms.
There is a distinction between a Government who make a political policy decision not to pay ransoms, and an employer. For many different reasons, and given the scale of their work, the Government’s exposure to risk is far greater than that of any employing organisation, and seafarers belong to the latter group. It therefore seems quite improper to constrain employers who may have seafarers at sea from paying ransoms in cases when they could get someone released.
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People are held in Somalia, having been captured off the coast. For example, MV Iceberg 1 is still being held; two people are dead and others have been held for more than 800 days. We know that the longer it takes to get a ransom paid the longer people are held in captivity, and that when a ransom is paid, they are likely to be released. Few UK citizens have been affected.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The hon. Gentleman goes to the heart of the knotty moral problem of paying ransoms. Is not the problem that although paying a ransom may well save the life of an employee or a loved one, it encourages the taking of hostages and the risking of other people’s lives? Indeed, it pays for that to be facilitated. Surely we must encourage shipping companies, and others, to take a firm stand against the payment of ransoms.
Eric Joyce: The hon. Gentleman describes the point that we all regard as central to the question. Paying ransoms may encourage pirates, but my instinct is that pirates in Somalia are looking not at the policies of international Governments but at the fact that it is possible to get a ransom payment. I greatly doubt that Governments across the world will agree not to facilitate ransom payments. Indeed, I can list—we all can—the Governments who are highly likely to encourage the facilitation of ransom payments. Therefore, if we say that we will discourage such payments, British citizens will be affected but no one else. It is true that the UK has considerable influence because of its importance in the maritime industry and the presence in the UK of the International Maritime Organisation, but it is highly unlikely that other countries would agree not to pay ransoms.
If there was a billionaire whose daughter had been captured and was about to be shot, and there was a £2 million ransom, would they pay it or would they say, “No, I don’t think I will because it’s just going to encourage others.”? Of course they would pay it. If people are discouraged from taking up kidnap and ransom insurance, the risk is that we will end up with only rich people being able to secure their safety. We know of one or two cases, including that of Judith Tebbutt who luckily was able to secure a large amount of money—$1 million—to secure her freedom. If no kidnap and ransom insurance is paid, other employees will be at considerable risk of exposure.
The case of Khalil Dale in Pakistan is relevant, if perhaps only tangentially. The non-governmental organisation in question was described as “brave” for taking a decision that led inevitably to Khalil Dale’s death. I did not regard that as brave. I thought it was a businesslike decision that, in the worst case, saved the organisation money because kidnap and ransom insurance is expensive. Commercial companies can build insurance into their expenditure and planning assumptions, and it seems a bit too easy for employers to say, “Well, the Government say that this is the best thing to do.” If someone who works for an NGO is unfortunate enough to get captured and a ransom is not paid—imagine, for example, someone on land in Somalia—they are much more likely to be held for many months, or even killed. If they are lucky enough to be employed by an organisation that has paid kidnap and ransom insurance, there is a strong chance that they will be released. That is the realpolitik of the matter.
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In conclusion, we should be cautious about assuming that just because we say, “This is a jolly good thing”, everybody else will agree. If we decide to discourage, or in the worst case, make it unlawful to pay kidnap and ransom insurance, employees—the people about whom organisations must be concerned—will be exposed to much greater risk. That is why in this dilemma I come down strongly on the side of paying kidnap and ransom insurance, and I think NGOs ought to do that as well.
Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling) (Con): I am pleased to follow in the wake of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). We have been the beneficiaries of his naval and nautical expertise over the course of this inquiry.
I start, Mr Sheridan, by wholeheartedly endorsing your comments at the opening of the debate about the gross discourtesy that the Government have shown to the Committee by failing to make available a crucial document that had been promised by the end of April. We are grateful to the Minister for trying to ensure that the document appears before the end of the debate, but you will be first to appreciate, Mr Sheridan, that in such a complex and technical area, the Committee should have seen the document days earlier in order to study it and, if necessary, take advice from the Committee staff before the debate commenced.
Piracy is emphatically not a marginal, peripheral world issue. In my view, it is wholly central, above all on humanitarian and human rights grounds. Piracy is one of the worst forms of human rights abuse that we see anywhere in the world. Thousands of innocent seamen and seafarers have been taken hostage and held in captivity under intolerable conditions. Many have died, and nearly 200 people are in captivity today, some of whom have been exposed to torture, and threats of torture, in order to increase the degree of pressure for ransom money. This is a vile humanitarian abuse.
Equally important are the international maritime ramifications of Somali piracy. A few years ago, most of us would have said that piracy was relatively confined in sea terms; it was a risk in the maritime choke points such as, for example, the Gulf of Aden. As Somali piracy has developed, however, pirates have become more and more audacious, and more and more skilled. They have acquired mother ships and dramatically increased the range of piracy. Piracy now extends vastly further in geographical or sea terms than at the outset of this malevolent trend.
If we were starting the report today, I would suggest to my Committee colleagues that we call it not “Piracy off the coast of Somalia” but “Piracy in the Indian ocean.” Piracy is a form of criminality that, if allowed to take root, has the potential to expand beyond the Indian ocean. We already have what appear to be copycat attempts off the west African coast, and pirates are a risk in the Caribbean. We are talking about an international maritime threat, which is why the issue is so important and why I believe that the Foreign Affairs Committee has done a considerable service to Parliament and the wider international community by producing this weighty and well-researched report.
All the manifold briefings that I have had on Somali piracy, both in the course of the inquiry and as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s defence
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committee, have erred consistently on the side of considerable over-optimism and rose-tintedness. We have been told that we are getting on top of the problem, and figures are produced to indicate that that may be the case. We have been told that the numbers of merchantmen held hostage are going down, as are the numbers of ships that have been taken. However, those are not the key figures. If we honestly ask ourselves, “Is piracy paying?” only two statistics really matter. First, what is happening to the size of the ransom money being paid out? Secondly, what is the degree of risk to which pirates are exposing themselves?
The Committee, in our report, comes up unequivocally with the answers on those two key figures. With regard to the money, at the end of paragraph 111, we state:
“The latest information from Northwood HQ is that ransom payments in 2011 have already totalled $135m—a further substantial increase and a new record.”
On the ransom money test, we are losing comprehensively. The ransom money is going up; indeed, a new record has been set. On the risk test, there is a key sentence in our report at the opening of paragraph 74:
“Around nine out of 10 piracy suspects detained by forces engaged in multinational operations are released without trial.”
Nine out of 10 captured pirates are just released. Therefore, the honest answer to the question “Does piracy pay?” is yes, it does; it is a growing source of huge sums of money and it is largely risk free for those who engage in it. That is the point we are at, and it is singularly serious.
What do we do in this situation? Yes, in a perfect world, there would be an up-and-running criminal justice system in Somalia. There would be a splendid criminal justice system, with splendid courts, and those people would be put where they belong—in jail, for many years. However, that is an illusion. We will not be at that point for years.
On the naval side, as the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, rightly pointed out, the geographical scale of the sea operations is such that there is no conceivable prospect of being able to produce the massive armada of naval forces that would be in a position to respond quickly to a threat of piracy in such a huge area of ocean. Therefore, we are left with just one solution. We must put armed guards on the merchant vessels, and those armed guards must be in a position to ensure that not a single merchantman on the ship is taken hostage and the ship is not captured in any circumstances.
The Government, after a long delay—I have to say that they were continuing the policy of the previous Government—have performed what the Chairman of the Committee rightly pointed out is a complete U-turn, a very welcome U-turn, and have accepted the policy of placing armed guards on UK-flagged ships. However, that can be only half the policy. It is not enough to say that we will put armed guards on the ships and create a new form of arms export licence that enables weapons to be supplied to them. I have, not least in my capacity as Chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, a number of detailed questions about that form of licence, but I shall be delivering them in writing to the Minister. I will not take up hon. Members’ time with them now.
It is not enough to say that we will allow armed guards and will have a licensing system to get the appropriate weapons and ammunition to them. We must have in place the right, requisite rules of engagement,
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and that is where I believe that the Government are seriously falling down in policy terms. The Government’s position appears to be that we state the policy—we say that we are in favour of armed guards—but we will not give any help or support with regard to the circumstances in which lethal weapons can be used. I refer hon. Members to what the Government say on page 5 of their response:
“It must remain for shipping companies and private security companies to agree between themselves upon the guidance on use of force within which armed guards are to operate.”
That, to me, seems to be a very serious cop-out. I do not believe that the Government can responsibly say that we have a policy of putting armed guards on British-flagged merchant ships and then refuse to accept any responsibility whatever for describing the circumstances in which those armed guards can use their weapons.
When I look at how the Government try to justify the policy, I have to say that it does not stand up as far as I am concerned. The Government’s justification, also on page 5 of their response, is that
“the introduction of government-prescribed rules on the use of force would blur the distinction between private maritime security personnel as civilians only acting in the context of self-defence, and military personnel who may be authorised to use force for other reasons.”
My first point is that armed military personnel are used and have been used with considerable regularity to board and to be on board civilian ships in a variety of circumstances, so the Government have ample experience of that; and in all those circumstances, those armed military personnel have rules of engagement, so the Government have in their possession rules of engagement that deal with the type of situation we are discussing.
I would question the Government when they say that the armed guards on British-flagged merchant ships are acting only in the context of self-defence. I do not know whether that is meant to imply the armed guards’ own self-defence. They have a much wider role. Their key role is, of course, to protect and ensure the safety of all the civilian crew members on board the ship and, in the process, ensure the safety and retention of that ship under the control of the crew’s master and the ship’s crew. That is their wider role.
In those circumstances, when the Government have abundant expertise in the area and, as a matter of course, have rules of engagement that they apply to service personnel who have to go on board civilian ships, and given that the Government now have a clear policy in favour of armed guards going on to British-flagged merchant ships, it seems to me to be wholly incumbent on the Government to accept the necessity of making clear what the rules of engagement are.
I come back to the conclusion that the Committee draws in paragraph 37. To me, it is the single most important recommendation in our report. It should be read in full, but I shall quote just the key sentences:
“The Government should not offload responsibility onto ship owners to deal with the most difficult aspects of handling private armed guards…The Government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not. Guidance over the use of potentially lethal force should not be left to private companies to agree upon. We recommend that the change of policy be accompanied by clear, detailed and unambiguous guidance on the legal use of force for private armed guards defending a vessel under attack.”
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I urge the Minister to accept that recommendation.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and his Committee on securing this timely and important debate and the whole Committee on the report, which is an authoritative and important contribution to British policy making in the context.
The problems associated with piracy are well understood by everyone here. It is conducted on a staggering scale in the Indian ocean, and I think that the report suggests that between 1,500 and 3,000 pirates are operating there. It affects trade through the Gulf of Aden worth hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars to the global economy. Any disruption of that trade certainly affects not just British companies, but companies all over the world, and the insurance and other markets that support it. There are disturbing trends, which the Select Committee drew attention to, including—and probably most worryingly—increasing violence against hostages, which was not a particular characteristic of Somali piracy a few years ago. On top of that, there is the fact that such piracy has been going on for decades. The international community despite, I think, nine United Nations Security Council resolutions and three multinational naval operations, has not remotely cracked the problem. As we have heard, the amount of ransom that is being paid is on the increase.
That is not to say, however, that there are not some positive signals. In Somalia, the situation on the ground seems more promising than for many years. That is partly due to the courage of African Union and other international forces, which have secured more territory than for many years. There is some evidence that progress is being made against forces such as Al-Shabaab, although it continues to control huge swathes of the country.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on how serious or sustainable the progress in Somalia is? Is he confident that in three years’ time Somalia will be significantly better than it is today?
Martin Horwood: I cannot predict the future, but the fact that Mogadishu is now an overwhelmingly secure city, which was far from true only a few years ago, and that the Foreign Secretary and International Development Secretary can visit cities such as Mogadishu with a degree of confidence about their personal security is a quite dramatic shift, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge. I do not say that securing a military solution is the only path forward, but the fact that African Union troops and others have made enormous sacrifices, displayed great courage and secured a large amount of territory should not go unnoticed.
There is also progress in the sense that areas of the internationally recognised territory of Somalia—mainly, in practice, self-governing areas such as Somaliland and Puntland—have achieved a reasonable degree of peace and security. The Government have shown wisdom in promoting a flexible attitude to territories such as Somaliland. The creation of the Somaliland Development Corporation, which the Government supported earlier this year, is a positive development. Trying to exploit the economic potential of the relative peace of areas
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such as Somaliland is a practical contribution to the provision of an alternative economic model to the chaos and piracy prevalent in other parts of the Somali territory. It is exactly right that the Department for International Development is prioritising development on the ground and the provision of economic alternatives to people in Somalia.
The convening of the London conference earlier this year was an important step, not just in relation to tackling war and conflict in Somalia and getting a co-ordinated regional approach, which the Select Committee asked for, but in making concrete contributions to progress on anti-piracy initiatives, including some things that have been mentioned: the taskforces on ransoms and the wonderfully named—let me get it right—Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Co-ordination Centre. I am sure that Hansard will report that I got that fluently right. The substantial financial commitment that the Government have made to RAPPICC is welcome, and we have provided its first director, Garry Crone. That support is welcome and exactly the kind of lead in international co-ordination that the Select Committee asked for.
On ransoms, Her Majesty’s Government’s instinct is exactly right. Briefings from non-governmental organisations such as Saferworld, which has talked to civil society in Somalia, make it clear that the economic model of piracy brings, in some cases, the most effective wealth provision into the local economy. If we can disrupt that business model and suggest that a peaceful, normal economy and society would be a more profitable way to develop—as we would obviously hope—we will have some chance of defeating the root causes of piracy. If we continue to fuel the ransom economy and pay money, that will be a massive incentive for Somalis to continue with piracy and to allow it to spread. If, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) said, risk and reward are so imbalanced, why would piracy not spread down the coast of Africa? Why would not that model be emulated in other parts of the world?
Eric Joyce: I thank the hon. Gentleman and will be brief. Does he not think that the thing for a responsible employer to do, if two dozen employees are captured and a ransom is demanded—they may well be executed—is to pay it, as opposed to the view of NGOs, which appear on the whole to want to leave them to die?
Martin Horwood: No. I think that paying is profoundly irresponsible. There are even more extreme cases than that of an employer. It is difficult to tell someone whose loved one has been kidnapped—it would be difficult for me if one of my loved ones had been kidnapped—and other members of the family, “You should not pay.” That is a terribly difficult thing to say to someone, face to face. However, in the bigger picture, people are kidnapped because other people have paid ransoms, which paid for the boats and motherships and the lifestyle of the pirates that makes future ransoms, kidnaps and piracy much more likely. We must try to disrupt that business model. Trying to find a simple military solution is only half the answer. I am afraid that I think that the Government’s instinct is right.
Richard Ottaway: What does the hon. Gentleman think would have happened to Judith Tebbutt and Mr and Mrs Chandler if no ransoms had been paid?
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Martin Horwood: As I said, it is a horrendously difficult thing to say to an individual family or a company, “You should not pay,” but Governments must consider the larger picture and the fact that ransoms fuel the whole situation and that every payment of a ransom supports future piracy.
Richard Ottaway: To use the illustration of a mugger, does the hon. Gentleman think that the best advice to give a mugging victim is, “Don’t hand over your wallet, because that will stop mugging in the future.”?
Martin Horwood: That is the police advice—[ Interruption. ]The police advice is to co-operate, I know, but that is where someone is at imminent risk themselves. The right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling set out the situation: it is a balance of risk and reward. The Government and the international community are addressing the risk element, because they are stepping up self-defence measures, and there is greater international co-ordination and increasing provision of private armed security forces and armed guards. The risk element is therefore increasing slightly, but the rewards are stupendous—hundreds of millions of dollars—and we must try to reduce the rewards or the economic model behind piracy will thrive.
I am afraid that this situation is the classic philosophical prisoner’s dilemma, where the individual action may be difficult to take, but the result on a larger scale is clear. Saferworld says clearly in its briefing, from its research on the ground in Somalia, that the continued payment of ransoms fuels and exacerbates the problem. We want to tackle those things and want people to be safer.
The hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) asked what would happen to British ships in that situation and whether British hostages would be more at risk. I suspect that Somali pirates are quite good business men and can spot a red ensign, a white ensign or whichever British flag happens to be flying. If Britain acquired a reputation for not paying ransoms, it would balance out the risks and rewards of attacking a British vessel and they might think that it would be better to attack somebody else’s.
The principle has been established in other fields. It used to be more common practice for ransoms and payments to be made when hostages were taken in international terrorist situations, such as airfields. There was a concerted international drive to stop any hostage payments being made in those situations, and that form of terrorism has largely disappeared. It has sadly been replaced by many others. It is critical that we disrupt the business model of piracy. That was not the only issue that I was going to address; I will move quickly on.
On the military front, the moves towards international co-ordination are good. I note the existence of the European naval force. We ought to agree between these four walls not to tell the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) about it. It is very effective, and a British operational commander is in place. The rejection of the catch-and-release approach was rightly highlighted by the Foreign Affairs Committee. It is important that that approach is abandoned, so increasing the risk that pirates face. We need more effective action to prosecute, using every available international or national legal jurisdiction that we can find. The British Government are taking a lead in that.
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The report highlighted other issues, rightly including the disappointing progress to date in tracking financial flows—tens of millions of pounds are being trafficked. The Government and, indeed, the international community have been slow to provide ways to track it down and disrupt the flow. It is an important step in disrupting the pirates’ business model. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s view.
The Foreign Affairs Committee is a little inclined always to want Britain to be the country taking the lead. These are global problems. Likewise, it insists that Britain plays the leading role in the naval operation. Although Britain is an important naval power, perhaps given our financial situation and the fact that it is a global problem affecting global business and threatening the lives of nationals of all countries, it is not absolutely necessary to have at least one British naval vessel on operation all the time. This must be done through international co-ordination.
On the prosecution of pirates when they are visible, the report says:
Gathering evidence to secure a successful prosecution for piracy is clearly challenging, but when pirates are observed in boats with guns, ladders and even hostages, it beggars belief that they cannot be prosecuted.”
That is exactly right. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on progress on the international front.
I think that the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling was a little uncharitable in his comments on the use of force by private armed security forces. The UK legal situation is pretty clear. The Library briefing quotes an international law firm called Ince and Co., which says that
“the use of force in deterring or preventing what is a criminal act”
is justified. It continues:
“In the UK…lethal force is normally only allowed where there is serious and imminent threat to life. The decision to use lethal force must be reasonable and the force used proportionate.”
Further clarification on the exact definitions and terms will be obviously welcome whenever it arrives through the door today, and Government are working to provide that. Ince and Co. goes on to make the point that rules on the use of force need to be internationally agreed and as standardised as possible. That is required internationally. The IMO ought to be taking a lead, but it is possibly the slowest organisation in the world at doing almost anything.
In deference to other Members, because we were distracted, I will move swiftly to a conclusion. It is imperative to tackle the situation on the ground and provide different economic models. We should use the example of Somaliland positively to look at fisheries and try to present an alternative way of providing prosperity in the longer term for the people of Somalia, so that this appalling trade does still not offer the attractions that it does now.
Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): The whole debate is a tribute to the astonishing attention currently being paid to Somalia. In fact, the increase in African Union troops from 12,000 to 17,730, and indeed
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this whole discussion, show how important Somali piracy is. I would like to sound a note of caution, however. The most important thing in the debate is not to get dragged in too deeply, or to be too ambitious in what we feel we can achieve on the ground in Somalia.
There are very grand theories going around about the importance of Somali piracy and linking it to theories of state building, economic development, regional stability and terrorism. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) made a number of those arguments. They are powerful, partly because a powerful industry supports them, trying to draw us ever deeper into Somalia. The components of that industry are various, but there are four.
The first is what I call the “forward school”, represented by people like my father, who quite like the idea of grand naval operations and keep talking about sending out Q-boats and remembering Julius Caesar attacking the shoreline. That is the naval “use it or lose it” approach, where a military complex likes to expand its area of operations to justify its existence.
The second is, of course, the Somali Government themselves, who find it very convenient to use Somali piracy to attract international attention and resources. They are increasingly adept at manipulating international sentiment on human rights and terrorism to attract more resources into their Government.
The third component is think-tanks. There is now a major industry, particularly focused on Islamic radicalisation and counter-terrorism, that is keen to connect Somali piracy with the obsessions of Washington think-tanks with the proliferation of al-Qaeda.
Finally, as the previous speaker pointed out, there are the aid agencies, which find it extremely convenient to use Somali piracy to argue for more investment in development operations in Somalia. Connections are perpetually made, and were made by the hon. Gentleman, with governance, failed states, economic development and alternative livelihoods, as they are in Yemen, Congo, Chad, Afghanistan and Sudan.
Martin Horwood: I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s long and genuine experience in the field, but having worked for a development NGO I think the suggestion that the NGOs are in some way fostering an image of Somalia in particular for the benefit of their business model and to encourage spending on development is rather extraordinary and, indeed, really offensive.
Rory Stewart: I am very happy to share endless statements from almost every major NGO and development agency that has attempted to draw links between their programmes on the ground in all the areas the hon. Gentleman and I mentioned and state instability, and indeed piracy itself. It is entirely normal. We have seen it all the way from Congo to Afghanistan. Somalia is absolutely no exception.
The problem with that kind of argument is twofold. First, there is a theoretical problem: the strong link between state instability, governance and developmental poverty and piracy is yet to be proven at any theoretical level. Secondly, the actual links, as Anja Shortland argued in a recent academic paper, are very fragile indeed. No link has so far been effectively established between the piracy and al-Qaeda, and very few substantial
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links have been established between piracy and the al-Shabaab movement itself. As for statements about development and state building, Anja Shortland argued that it is very doubtful whether the contribution of piracy to the Somali economy is anything other than marginally positive at the moment.
I am not saying that Somali piracy is not an evil in itself, or that poverty in Somalia is anything other evil. Both those things are true and important. Attempting to connect the two, however, draws us into a dangerous policy position. The solution is humility and context. Instead of endlessly inflating the problem of Somali piracy in order to draw in more resources, we need to acknowledge the reality of our situation.
We need to acknowledge first that, as many hon. Members have pointed out, we have made little progress on Somali piracy over the past five years. We have invested surprisingly little in the issue, despite an enormous amount of rhetoric. Despite nine UN resolutions and three multinational task forces, the reality on the ground is that there has been an increase in both the number of attacks and the amount of ransom money being paid. Moreover, despite an enormous amount of rhetoric and the idea that people read in The Daily Telegraph that this is the No. 1 priority of the British Navy, we have often only one ship or perhaps none at all in the region; in fact the matter does not actually classify at the highest priority level for our naval operations. Part of that may be due to mixed signals, influenced by the fact that the majority of the crews, unfortunately, are not citizens of OECD countries, and the majority of the ships involved have nothing to do with Britain itself.
However, there are much more fundamental limits constraining us and, unless we acknowledge those limits, we are going to get ourselves in trouble. Those limits are threefold. First, there is a limit of abstraction. Statements about governance, rule of law and economic development in Somalia are extremely vague and ill-focused. We have a poor understanding of governance and rule of law structures on the ground in Somalia, very little idea of what kind of country the international community could turn Somalia into, and few models to put forward. The isolated lives of our diplomats and other international officials, because of security issues and short tour lengths, and lack of linguistic expertise means that their understanding of what is happening at rural level in Somalia is extremely limited. All of that is disguised within a very optimistic language, which talks about a land-based solution, without any evidence that we have the knowledge, the power or the legitimacy to achieve that kind of solution.
Martin Horwood: I will resist the temptation to debate Anja Shortland’s conclusions, which I think demonstrate exactly the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but on the specific point about the lack of a positive model, what about the example of Somaliland—he may regard it as a different territory, I suppose—and the British Government’s support of the Somaliland Development Corporation? Does not that look like a positive alternative model of development?
Rory Stewart: The problems in the al-Shabaab-controlled areas and in Puntland are completely different from those in Somaliland, and attempting to read from one across the other is highly misleading.
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To conclude, the context needs to be put in place. The limited obligation that we have needs to be asserted: in other words, we do indeed have an obligation to the Somali people, as we have an obligation to the people of Congo, Sudan, Afghanistan and our own people, but the threat posed by Somali piracy and by Somali state instability to UK national interests is limited. It is a threat but it is one threat among many. Somalia is one of perhaps 40 countries in the world with which the United Kingdom and the international community needs to be concerned. We should not be raising the expectations of the Somali people through talk of our ability to deliver solutions that we cannot deliver.
This is not a recipe for pessimism. It is instead to suggest that we can make developmental progress, but we will not be able to achieve governance, rule of law, or state stability. We may be able to contain Somali piracy, but we are extremely unlikely to be able to eliminate it. Our objectives should be limited to ongoing counter-piracy operations, some development operations and an attempt to increase the likelihood of a political settlement and decrease the likelihood of civil war. Any attempt to claim that we can do more is likely to mislead the British people, disappoint the Somali people and draw us into a situation into which we should not be drawn.
Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I congratulate the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and his colleagues on their report. The detailed work that has been undertaken and the drawing together of a number of difficult issues show the value of Select Committees. One does not necessarily have to agree with every line of the conclusion. We just need to see the thread of the work that enables a debate to take place, and I am pleased that it was acknowledged in the Government response.
Would you indulge me for a minute, Mr Sheridan, so that I can pay tribute to Lord Peter Archer of Sandwell who died today? He was my predecessor in the Warley constituency. He served for some 26 years in the House of Commons and 20 years in the House of Lords and made a considerable contribution to both Houses and to his own constituency. If there was anyone to whom the phrase, “A fine Christian gentleman” applied, it was Peter Archer. He was a man of formidable intellect. His father was a toolmaker in Tipton. Peter rose to high levels in the law, but never forgot his roots. He always served his constituency well. In some ways, he was a hard act to follow; his reputation as a Member of Parliament in the constituency stood very high, and I only hope that I have matched up to his standards in that regard. I am sure that the feelings of Members here who knew him will go to his wife and family.
I am pleased to see two Ministers here today. Let me briefly damage their careers by saying that they have played a proactive role in dealing with this issue. If some other Departments had been as forward leaning, we would have made progress, and today’s problems are an indication of that. I hope that we will improve the rate of our response to this evolving situation.
As the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) mentioned, the problem began off the Somali coast. Then we saw it moving along the coast of Aden. Indian Ministers are extremely concerned about how close the problem is getting to India. We
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have seen the movement from skiffs to mother ships, the involvement of spotters in ports and allegations of intelligence gathering elsewhere. We are now seeing imitation tactics in the Gulf of Guinea, and I have heard reports, which I have not validated, of similar problems off the coast of South America. We have seen changes in the levels and manner of response.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) talked about Britain taking a lead, which is absolutely appropriate. A major part of our naval doctrine is to secure the world’s sea lanes not only for British vessels but for the world’s vessels. Maintaining free passage of vessels throughout the world is an important contribution and is core to our basic philosophy and our national interest. [Interruption.] I was wondering how long I would have to speak before the documents arrived. One hears a distant trumpet blowing over the horizon as the cavalry appears. I hope that the Minister will indicate whether that basic philosophy is still a doctrinal priority for the Ministry of Defence, our armed forces and the British Government.
Secondly, we have talked quite extensively about the impact on world trade, the amount of money that is being paid, the impact on the willingness of seafarers to go through these routes, the rise in insurance premiums and the potential risk to supply chain management for many countries. The effects of the tsunami in Japan and the floods in Thailand were felt right across Europe. Much of the British car industry and other industries experienced disruption in the supply of component parts because of those particular events. If the passage into the Suez canal became too unsafe for seafarers to risk using it, the additional journey would cause not only extra costs but considerable disruption for British industry.
We should not underestimate the impact of piracy on the countries in-region. I remember talking to the Kenyan Government about cruises. Cruise terminals are big business, providing a considerable amount of employment in many parts of the world. Up to about the middle of last year, the number of cruise ships visiting Kenya went down from about 60 to one—interestingly that one was from Saga, which shows the redoubtable spirit of British pensioners. We can imagine the impact on many workers in Mombasa and indeed on the tourist industry there. In the future, therefore, cruise liners and the yachting business will be affected, which will have a considerable impact. We have talked about development, but such an impact creates the conditions for further instability. That should concern us very considerably.
It is fair to say that throughout the current epidemic of Somali coast piracy the Government have tended towards finding the right solutions but they have not necessarily always moved at the requisite pace. One of the images that we must get away from is the Somali pirates as mindless hooligans. I am not talking about the expendables who, for an extra few per cent, will want to be the first ones on to the vessel. I am talking about the people who are behind them—the people who organise the schemes and who are involved in the organisation of the money. The amount of money that we are talking about requires considerably sophisticated organisation, including the spotting of targets. We have
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seen the evolution of tactics; as we have managed to move, so too the pirates’ tactics have changed. That is not surprising.
What we need to see is Departments working together and not just individually. We were discussing the issue of armed guards and what are sometimes the problems of Government co-ordination, including in real time, as well as the other work we have to do. I fully understand the frustrations that sometimes arise from working through the IMO. We must also co-operate with other countries, and I join colleagues in paying tribute to the naval patrol; it is a very good example of international co-operation. We must get partners to work together and we have to recognise that time is of the essence. We cannot always be playing catch-up. I am not saying that military solutions are the sole solution; they are not. However, we must see a step change in operational tempo.
[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]
In some cases, the response reminds me very much of when we were dealing with the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001. The civil servants in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were working extremely hard to deal with it, but it was only when we changed the operational tempo, by bringing in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, that we managed to deal with the spread of a virus that was outrunning our ability to handle it. The ability to focus on the outcome rather than the process is crucial. It is very important that we get that message across. Indeed, the Committee alludes to it in paragraph 63 of its report, which says that the Government must
“respond flexibly to changes in the pirates’ tactics.”
That is extremely important in this context.
The Government should also look much further at the issue of the pirate bases on land. The Minister and indeed other colleagues who have spoken to those of our forces that have been involved in dealing with the pirates, particularly the Royal Marines, know of their frustration at the restrictions they face when they see the pirates at the start of the piracy season—when the sea conditions become more favourable—assembling all their equipment on the beach, ready to launch an operation. Our forces are hugely frustrated at their inability to go in and destroy that equipment and disrupt the pirates’ operations. Would that solve piracy entirely? No. Would it change the balance of trade and disrupt the pirates’ operations? Absolutely certainly. It appears that there has been some evolution of doctrine in that regard; I merely say that it demonstrates the point, because it took far too long and therefore enabled the cycle of piracy to continue.
I realise that the Minister will be under some constraints in this regard, but can he give some indication as to how we could evolve our approach with international partners, for example on developing air surveillance? I appreciate that the area is very substantial, but I also appreciate that, for instance, the US is developing considerable military resources in the region, particularly in Djibouti and Yemen. Can the Minister say to what extent we will be able to utilise those resources to get a better picture of the pirates’ operations in the area?
I now come to the very thorny issue of ransoms. There has been a spirited debate between colleagues today and I fully understand why—it is inevitable. A number
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of us will have received representations from the shipping industry, and indeed from the trade union representing seafarers. Very properly—I do not say that in any disparaging way—they have outlined their duty of care to their members, including seafarers. However, I wonder if there is any doctrinal difference between paying ransoms for seafarers, kidnapping and hostage-taking. The same broad strand runs all the way through, namely that a company—absolutely understandably and rightly—is most importantly concerned with its duty of care to the welfare of its employees, the seafarers; there are some commercial aspects, but that is the most important consideration.
However, as the hon. Member for Cheltenham rightly said—my praising a Liberal Democrat makes this a historic day—the problem is that when someone pays a ransom, they put at risk the next vessel that goes through that region. Is it easy? Of course it is not. A Government that have traditionally taken a very hard line on hostage-taking—the Government of Israel—recently came to an agreement regarding an exchange of hostages for prisoners in Israeli jails. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the issue. Rarely do I regret losing office, and I must say that I do not envy Ministers involved in these sorts of decisions, when there is no self-evidently right decision to make.
Nevertheless, there needs to be a consistent level of policy. Regarding hostages and kidnappings, British Governments of all parties have had a long-standing consistent policy of not paying ransoms, for the reasons that I have outlined. We have done that even though the Governments of some other countries have taken a different stance. I recognise the difficulty; it is not a completely open and shut case. Equally, however, we have to recognise the good faith of those who have to make those decisions.
There is still considerable truth in the Kipling line that the problem with paying the Dane-geld is that you never stop paying the Dane. I fully acknowledge those who say, “Look, if a member of my family was involved or taken hostage, I would want to pay, or I would want the Government to make the concession.” But Governments have to look at the issue in a different light.
I therefore very much welcome the report, Mr Sheridan— [ Interruption. ] Sorry; Mr Brady. What more would one expect from the chairman of the 1922 Committee than the ability seamlessly to slip into the situation? The report is very welcome, because it provides a proper balance. As I have said, I congratulate the Ministers on their work on different aspects of this subject. My main point is that we need to ensure that we react to the changes—there will be further changes in tactics and problems—to improve the operational tempo and to speed up the pace of decision making. That might even mean that colleagues have the chance to read one or two words of the new guidance. I am sure that the Ministers will convey back the concerns raised in the debate.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr Henry Bellingham): It has been a great pleasure to listen to this wide-ranging, rich and varied debate. I pay particular tribute to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), for
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his work. As we stated in our response to the report, we are grateful to the Committee for examining this important subject in such detail. Obviously, we entirely accept that there is still a lot to do.
We welcome many of the Committee’s conclusions. We recognise the important contribution that the inquiry has made and we will continue a close dialogue and discussion. As the Committee has noted in its report, piracy is not new but a type of criminality that has existed for many centuries. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who is the Minister with responsibility for shipping, pointed out, it has been going on since about 2000 BC. However, the recent evolution of maritime piracy off the Horn of Africa has had a big impact both on the region and worldwide.
In this globalised world in which millions rely on the 23,000 ships that sail through the Gulf of Aden and the Indian ocean each year, the impact of Somali-based piracy is felt here and throughout the global economy. The World Bank has estimated that the total cost to the world economy, through extra costs placed on shipping and higher insurance premiums, is about $7 billion.
The right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) mentioned the impact on Mombasa. Recently, I visited Mombasa and saw the situation for myself. We had a seminar on board HMS Westminster, where many of those representing the tourism and hospitality industry made the point that no cruise ships visit Mombasa now. The right hon. Gentleman gave the correct figures, but he might have pointed out that the one ship that visited Mombasa last year came under pirate attack.
The cost of piracy is huge. Of UK gross domestic product, £10.7 billion comes from the shipping industry. Since 2008, Somali pirates have hijacked about 175 vessels, taken 3,000 seafarers captive and received more than £200 million in ransom payments. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South pointed out, the crisis peaked in autumn 2011. We cannot be complacent, but it is important to note that, although the tempo of attacks has not changed, the number of attacks resisted has greatly increased, so much so that only seven vessels and 214 hostages are currently under pirate control. Those figures come from research by EUNAVFOR—the European Union Naval Force Somalia.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Warley that it is essential that the UK continues to take a leading role in the international community and that the international community continues to work closely together to tackle and end the threat of attack by pirates. It is rarely the case that UK nationals are affected by such attacks, but one of the first duties of a Government is to protect our citizens. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South said, the Committee looked carefully at the handling of the case of Paul and Rachel Chandler, who suffered a terrible ordeal. I spoke to Rachel Chandler after her release, and I know how horrendous the experience was. As we set out in our response, we will continue to work on all the options available to us to ensure that those behind their ordeal are brought to justice. We have also conducted a full review of the handling of their case to see what lessons can be learned, including on the need to ensure that the early engagement offered by the UK mission responsible for co-ordinating our response on the ground is actually provided. The results of that review are annexed to our response. The Government
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are committed to providing the best possible support to those who fall victim to piracy and their families, tailored, of course, to the families’ wishes.
Similarly, the Government are committed to continuing to take a leading role in the international community, including through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. We continue to lead the working group responsible for naval co-ordination and regional capacity-building activity, working with our partners to minimise duplication and encourage the widest possible participation by the international community. An unprecedented number of nations have engaged in the international naval response in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian ocean—sharing information, co-ordinating operations and remaining steadfast in the face of the challenge.
As I think two speakers today pointed out, an encouraging dimension of that activity is the number of non-aligned countries taking part, including China and Russia, for example. We have Operation Atalanta, NATO’s Operation Open Shield and the Combined Maritime Task Force. We welcome that, and we will continue to lead from the front by providing the operational commander for EUNAVFOR and the headquarters at Northwood of both the EU and the NATO operations for the duration of their mandates. To answer the question from the right hon. Member for Warley, this is indeed a key defence strategy. I share his belief that one of the most important responsibilities and duties of the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy is the protection of British interests, but not only from a little Englander perspective. When there are threats further afield, where we have the resources and platforms from which to tackle them, we will do so. That is why the Royal Navy has been prominent in providing vessels for the operations.
In Kenya, I had the chance to visit HMS Westminster when she was moored in Mombasa on a courtesy visit, and to be briefed by the captain on the operations that his forces had carried out. I can inform the House they had indeed intercepted three separate groups of pirates and were able to capture a lot of equipment—in fact, a skiff captured from the pirates was on board. Unfortunately, not enough evidence was available to guarantee a successful prosecution in those cases. One of the most important points to remember is that it is not only a question of having enough evidence to prosecute. Until now, we have taken a robust line on whether the evidence would stand up in court, but one of the drivers has been lack of detention and prosecution facilities in the region. I shall return to that in a moment, because we have made substantial progress.
Naval forces continue to have a positive impact. The recent action by EUNAVFOR to target onshore pirate logistics dumps was a welcome step forward in the evolving rules of engagement of our naval forces in the region. It was a further demonstration that those behind piracy cannot act with impunity at sea or on land. It was also a good example of how the EU is delivering concrete results in the implementation of a common security and defence policy. The action was short and sharp—I understand that it took seconds rather than minutes in terms of the firepower used—but it did substantial damage and took out a large amount of equipment. That sent a strong signal. On the other hand, there is no question of any logistics dumps being
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targeted unless there is sufficient intelligence—obviously, aerial photography and satellite intelligence are needed. As the right hon. Member for Warley pointed out, it is important that all countries engaged in the operations use their assets to the maximum possible advantage so that we can pool information. Indeed, that is what is happening. I very much hope that that action sent an extremely strong signal that there is nowhere for these people to hide. Although we will be very cautious to avoid loss of life or injury to people, when we can target assets onshore, we will.
The Committee has recognised the role that the industry can and does play in protecting vessels against pirate attacks, and the success of the self-protection measures in reducing ships’ vulnerability to attack. We continue to encourage the shipping industry to maximise adherence to best management practice, and welcome the high level of compliance that we see among the UK flagged fleet. I pay tribute to the work done with the shipping industry by my hon. Friend the Shipping Minister. As soon as he came into office, he made it clear to the industry that part of the solution lay in its hands and that it really had to drive forward best management practice and ensure that it was used absolutely uniformly. The statistics show that of ships that have been successfully attacked by pirates, very few have been those that adhered to best management practice, and none had private armed security personnel on board. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in pushing that agenda.
Following the Government’s announcement last autumn that we would allow the use of privately contracted armed guards on board UK flagged vessels, the Committee looked carefully at the issue. As the Chairman of the Committee pointed out, the Department for Transport published before Christmas last year interim guidance for UK flagged vessels on the use of armed guards to defend against the threat of piracy in exceptional circumstances. The guidance included a section on the use of force in the case of an attack. Since then, we have revised the guidance on the rules on use of force.
The revised guidance was published this morning, and I apologise to the Committee and the House for its not being made available earlier. That it was not published sooner is due to the fact that a substantial amount of extra work involving the devolved Administrations was needed, as was final sign-off from the Ministry of Justice. It was not for want of my hon. Friend the Shipping Minister pushing the matter very hard indeed. I am sorry that we did not let the Chairman and members of the Committee have a copy of the revised guidelines when they were made available at 11 o’clock this morning. There are lessons to be learned from that. I wonder whether it will be possible, perhaps in Government time, to have a further short debate specifically on the revised guidelines.
The revision published this morning provides greater clarity on what UK law says on the use of force. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out, the starting point must be our current common and statute law, which is pretty clear about what one can and cannot do. Obviously, companies must seek independent legal advice as necessary when developing the rules on use of force.
In the revised rules we go into a lot more detail, making it clear, for example, that it is
“illegal to use force for retaliation or revenge.”
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That might be perfectly obvious, but the guidance continues:
“If the threat ceases, the defences of self defence, defence of another…no longer apply”,
and if a private security detachment
“believes a threat is imminent, it is not necessary for them to wait for the aggressor to strike the first blow before using reasonable and proportionate force to defend themselves”.
Again, that is clear. It is part of a graduated response. Earlier today, I was talking to experts in the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence, and they believe that we have struck a much better balance. We make a lot more information available. For example, we make it clear that if
“armed guards sighted a pirate skiff”—
a skiff that might be equipped to undertake acts of piracy—
“but there was nothing to indicate that the skiff was actively undertaking an act of piracy, it would be illegal for armed guards to use force against them.”
However, that would not, of course, preclude firing warning shots. All the evidence is that the pirates are cowards. They value their lives—they are not suicide merchants—and the indications are that when warning shots are fired they scarper off pretty quickly.
We have made it clear, and I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South that this is work in progress. The revised guidelines are an important step forward in response to his Committee’s work. We will listen to what people in the industry say about the revised guidelines, and we will obviously listen to what the Committee says, and if we need to make further amendments, my hon. Friend the Shipping Minister has made it clear that he will do so.
Richard Ottaway: The Minister has gone right to the heart of the changes to the guidelines, and has pointed out that paragraph 8.13 states that if armed guards sight a skiff but there is nothing to indicate that it is actively undertaking an act of piracy it will be illegal for armed guards to use force. Can he confirm the corollary that if there is evidence, that is effectively a green light to use force in retaliation and self-defence?
Mr Bellingham: Yes, indeed. It is about a graduated response, and about the members of the armed detachment using their intelligence. If they believe that they or the vessel they are protecting is threatened, they can of course use force. They would probably start by firing a warning shot. If the skiff then disappeared, all well and good, but if it came closer and it was obvious that there were weapons on board, it is perfectly clear from the revised guidelines that the armed guards would not have to wait until a shot was fired at them or in their direction. We go a long way to giving the clarification that is need.
Sir John Stanley: As the Minister is aware, his Department employs private armed security guards in a number of locations around overseas embassies and high commissions. Will he make available a copy of those rules of engagement to the members of the Committee?
Mr Bellingham: My right hon. Friend was a senior Minister and had a distinguished military career, and he has stayed in many embassies and high commissions.
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He will know the work done by the armed guards, who we often employ from companies such as G4S. I will certainly consider whether the document can be made available.
I want to make a few additional points. I think that the Committee was looking for clear but comprehensive rules of engagement, and we have not gone as far as it would have liked. That is, first, because companies must seek independent legal advice. Furthermore, merchant shipping can be subject to multiple jurisdictions. On board a UK flagged vessel, persons are subject to UK domestic laws; they may also be subject to different domestic jurisdictions and equivalent laws depending on the offence committed, the nationality of the person taking the action, the person against whom the action is taken, and whether such an action takes place in international or territorial waters. It is not straightforward, and it can be incredibly complicated. I do not like to see advice saying that it is up to the court to decide, because it brings to mind the debate in the previous Parliament on what force a household can use to defend its property: time and again Minister would say that it was up to the court to decide, but actually we did not want householders dragged into court. However, in the unfortunate event of such a case going to court, it is up to the law of the land in that particular state or jurisdiction to determine whether the force used in the unique circumstances of the case was lawful.
That is why we have not gone into the level of detail that the Chairman of the Committee would perhaps like to have seen. We have not laid out rules of engagement and rules on the use of force that cover every single eventuality. There has to be a graduated approach, and we must take the realpolitikview that every single circumstance and occasion will be unique. To be too prescriptive would be a mistake.
In addition to producing our national guidance, we—I say “we”, but it is more or less my hon. Friend the Shipping Minister—have played a leading role in the development of international guidance on the use of private armed security personnel for our leading role in the contact group. After detailed work within that body, the contact group has handed its conclusions to the IMO to develop further, and such international guidance will be made available. As I said, this is work in progress and further work is going on, first, on the national guidance that I mentioned and, secondly, on the accreditation process. That is very important. I congratulate my hon. Friend on that work and I hope that he carries on working tirelessly on this agenda.
I think it has been widely accepted that a combination of more robust naval activity, industry self-protection measures and the use of private arms security personnel have all contributed to the reduction in the number of successful hijackings in the Indian ocean, but such activities at sea are only part of the answer. We should not lose sight of the fact that the way to combat piracy is obviously on the land. That point was made by the Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Cheltenham and the right hon. Member for Warley. We must look at the political strand, and I will come on to that in a moment in response to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), but in terms of sustainable solutions on the land, one of the things I was very keen to discuss with the shipping industry—it also featured in the London
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conference on Somalia—was what we can do to reward those communities, villages and small towns that have driven the pirates out. For example, in Puntland and Galmudug, the local militia have taken control of coastal communities that have previously been subjected to pirate activities. Those communities need to be rewarded, and rewarded quickly. That is why we have worked very hard indeed with the shipping industry, which I am pleased to say has been very proactive on that score, and been able to make some progress.
I am very pleased to say that when the Secretary of State for International Development was in Garowe, he was able to open a new fish market for which money was provided by his Department. We have also, for example, established new youth club facilities in parts of Puntland and looked at projects to increase existing capacity for vocational training and help similar training facilities in parts of Puntland and Galmudug. I am delighted that the UK Government have come up with £2 million for those projects, which has been matched by a $2 million pledge by the four shipping companies that are also very concerned and interested in that agenda. We are very keen to ensure that money goes into those communities that have successfully driven away the pirates.
I should also point out that as well as those fast impact schemes on the land, it is incredibly important that those pirates who are caught are taken for detention, prosecution and then imprisonment. Part of the problem with catch and release was, first, the difficulty of getting a robust prosecution package and, secondly, the question of where to take the pirates. In answer to the point made by the right hon. Member for Warley about whether we would take pirates to the UK, yes, of course we would. If UK citizens or service personnel were injured by pirates, of course, we would look at the evidence and we would consider bringing them to the UK for detention and prosecution.
The most important thing is to ensure that we build up regional capacity for detention, prosecution and imprisonment. I am absolutely delighted that more pirates are now being brought to justice. We recently agreed a new memorandum of understanding with the Government of Tanzania, under which UK naval assets will be able to transfer suspected pirates caught at sea for prosecution in the Tanzanian courts. That has been followed as recently as last Friday with the signature of our Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Mauritius on a new MOU between us and the Government of Mauritius, which will put UK money into Mauritian prisons and ensure that the Mauritian Government will be able to take more suspected pirates for detention and prosecution. Most important of all, the point being put to us by all these countries is that they will detain pirates and prosecute them, but they do not want to go to the expense of imprisoning them; they believe that those convicted should be imprisoned in Somalia or Somaliland.
Rory Stewart: Will the Minister reflect a bit on the gap that has emerged between the objective—governance, rule of law and state stability—and the programmes we are implementing, which are relatively small-scale development programmes, such as fish markets and
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youth clubs? There is a danger in trying to connect £2 million development projects to the much grander objectives of creating a stable Somali state.
Mr Bellingham: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening. I was referring specifically to those fast impact schemes in the coastal communities. Of course, DFID has a very large development programme in Somaliland. It has also committed a lot of money to south and central Somalia. Much of the money in Somaliland will go into big ticket items around education, health and infrastructure. In Somalia itself—the south and central regions—one of the tragedies is that so much money has had to be spent on relieving famine and on humanitarian relief. If a fraction of that money had been put into building communities, infrastructure and public services, a lot of those services would be far more advanced.
I take on board what my hon. Friend said just now and in his excellent contribution about diplomats having limited reach, the shortage of language skills, the lack of attention being applied and, indeed, the fact that perhaps we are getting a bit too over-optimistic and giddy about what might be achievable. However, I say to him that throughout the work done since I took over this brief in May 2010—I have worked with the Foreign Secretary and received a lot of encouragement from our Prime Minister—I think we have been realistic about our expectations and we have been careful not to raise expectations.
On the other hand, the reason the London conference was well timed is that for the first time for a generation—almost since the events of “Black Hawk Down”—we are seeing areas of relative stability throughout Somalia. In Somaliland, a functioning Government, who were elected in a free and fair election, are becoming a positive development partner. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed out, the African Union Mission in Somalia is making substantial strides in freeing Mogadishu from the curse of al-Shabaab. Progress is being made by Ethiopians in the west of the country around Beledweyne and Baidoa—indeed, AMISOM will soon be sending forces into the west of the country. We are also seeing progress by the Kenyans in the south, and they are about to re-hat as AMISOM troops, as soon as they sign an MOU with the UN.
We have got those areas of relative stability. The key now is to try to win the peace. We do have diplomats—in fact, our new ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh, is a brilliant linguist—so we are intensifying our engagement and involvement. When I was recently in Mogadishu, I had a chance to select the site for our new embassy. It is still just a building plot, but our plan is to build an embassy and to have more activity and presence on the ground, as security allows. Again, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and I have been to Mogadishu. We are sending people in regularly and they stay overnight in the UN compound.
I also point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border that it is all very well the international community doing its bit, but it is crucial that the Somalis also accept the scale of the challenge and make the most of the opportunities. That is why we must have an ongoing political process. The transition period of the Transitional Federal Government comes
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to an end in August. It is essential that we get new political structures in place that are more inclusive and more representative. We have recently had the international conference in Istanbul, which the Foreign Secretary and I attended, and there will be another international contact group meeting in Rome in about a month’s time. The whole international community is agreed that the transition will come to an end. The new constituent assembly will soon be in place and it will elect a new parliament and appoint a new Government. I suggest to my hon. Friend that when we have a new Government and a new parliament who are more representative and inclusive, and who carry more support among those areas of stability within Somalia, we will have an opportunity to move the whole process forward. If that is combined with the international community’s weight and effort in development and assistance on the ground, there will be grounds, not for getting carried away, but for cautious optimism and for confidence that it is worth our while to continue the investment and efforts we put in.
Returning to burden sharing in the region, we recently signed a statement of burden-sharing principles with the Governments of Tanzania and Mauritius, with whom, as I mentioned, we have new arrangements; the Seychelles, with whom we have an effective MOU; and Kenya, with whom we continue to work closely to discuss the prospects for a resumption of our bilateral arrangements.
I understand that when the Foreign Affairs Committee recently visited Kenya, it had discussions with Kenya’s Foreign Minister and, probably, Professor George Saitoti, who was tragically killed in a helicopter crash a few days ago, about whether we could get the bilateral arrangement for the transfer of pirates back on track. I am grateful to the Chairman of the Committee for the work that he has done, and I hope that Kenya will not only carry on accepting pirates, but reactivate the MOU, because it is incredibly important. Kenya is a big regional player and it is important that it does that.
Another positive development to come out of the London conference was the agreement between the Seychelles and Somaliland to start the process of post-trial transfers of prisoners, whereby pirates convicted in the Seychelles can be transferred to Somaliland to serve their sentences. The first such transfer of 17 prisoners took place in late March, and we understand that further exchanges are being planned for the coming months. Puntland is also in the process of agreeing similar arrangements with the Seychelles, and we are pleased that Mauritius has recently made progress in setting up a similar scheme with both Puntland and the transitional federal Government. All that important work means that pirates will be able to be taken to those areas for the purposes of detention and prosecution, and they will then be sent to either Puntland or Somaliland to serve their sentences.
The main criticism from countries in the region was that they did not want to bear the cost of imprisoning such people—many of whom are sentenced to long terms of imprisonment—and that they should serve their sentence in Somalia, so that problem is being addressed. I am very pleased that the UK Government have been able to put a lot of money into building up the judicial capacity. I thank the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which is one of our key partners on that agenda.
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This work must continue. Obviously, it will cost money and a number of countries have made a few contributions. So far, we have been the single largest bilateral donor to the programme, and we are calling on other countries to step up to the plate. A number of commitments were made at the London conference, with the promise of money to go into such work. We hope that that money will be forthcoming, particularly from those larger countries that have made such commitments.
As has been pointed out, the piracy business model is incredibly lucrative. The risk-reward ratio shows that the risks to the pirates have been minimal hitherto, but the rewards have been absolutely huge. We think that the figure that I gave of £200 million-plus paid out in ransom so far is very conservative and that the true figure could be far higher. It is important that we bear down on the kingpins of piracy. The London conference saw two developments in that area, and they complement our existing work on tracking the financial flows of piracy.
First, the Prime Minister announced the international taskforce on piracy ransom payments, which brings together experts from a number of countries with different experiences involving the payment of ransoms. It will look at what more could be done to tackle the growing size and use of ransom payments. The taskforce will consider the views of a wide range of key organisations, particularly our partners in the shipping industry, and will form recommendations that will then be put to the international community. We expect the taskforce to conclude its work by the autumn.
I say to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee that nothing is predetermined and to the hon. Member for Falkirk (Eric Joyce) that we do not have any set, predetermined ideas. We hope to work with the shipping industry and carry it with us. Countries face dilemmas when addressing ransom payments, and we have heard today some powerful speeches outlining the arguments for and against. The bottom line is that the UK Government’s position is strong and consistent: we do not outlaw ransom payments—we have not banned them—but neither do we facilitate or encourage them.
Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that most countries that do facilitate the payment of ransoms have had more personnel kidnapped in Africa, more smaller vessels pirated and more people taken hostage than the UK. I do not think that it is an accident that we have a robust line on this. We as a Government will not facilitate it. If pirates or hostage-takers take a Brit hostage, they will know that the UK Government will not come up with a cheque, unlike some countries.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Cheltenham that if a Government condone and facilitate the payment of ransoms, that will only encourage more pirates and hostage takers. However, I entirely take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, who touched on the tragic case of a merchant vessel that has been pirated and the ransom not paid. The crew members are rotting in hell, which is an appalling situation.
I assure Members that what has been said in this debate will be fed through to the taskforce. Nothing has been predetermined, and this is very much a work in progress. We will work with and listen to the industry. I have read the brief sent to the House by the Chamber of Shipping. It is a powerful set of representations, which, of course, we will not ignore. We are a great maritime
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nation and the last thing we want is for those companies in our shipping industry, which plays a vital part in our economy and is part of our growth programme, to go offshore, away from the UK.
Secondly, the Prime Minister signed an agreement with the Government of the Seychelles to work together to create the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Co-ordination Centre, or RAPPICC—what an appalling acronym—in the Seychelles. The project will bring together a number of international partners to pull together the material that we have to create evidence packages to bring those behind the piracy business model—the negotiators, the financiers, the co-ordinators and the kingpins—to justice.
At the London conference, Holland announced that it would provide €300,000 and two members of staff to RAPPICC. Other countries have also promised money, and we hope that the United States will go firm on its promise to commit. Furthermore, as I think the hon. Member for Cheltenham pointed out, we have seconded a director to RAPPICC from the Serious Organised Crime Agency. While the new building is being built, the centre will start its work in temporary offices in the Seychelles from this week. We hope that the new building will be finished by the end of the year and that my hon. Friend the Shipping Minister will be able to open it.
The new initiatives will complement what we already do with our partners to track and tackle the financial flows of piracy. We are keen supporters of working group 5 of the contact group on piracy off the coast of Somalia—the working group is chaired by Italy—which is charged with co-ordinating and driving forward international activity to track and stop the money.
We are committed to the work of the financial action taskforce, in which we work with regional partners to establish effective regimes against money laundering and illicit financing. We continue to encourage a greater flow of information from our partners in industry to ensure that all possible levers can be utilised to follow and stop the money, and stop those behind the practice of piracy. We need to do more to understand those flows, to interpret them better, to intercept and disrupt them, and to use all mechanisms at our disposal, including examining money laundering laws in many different countries and the work of Interpol. I hope that RAPPICC will help us raise our game substantially.
In conclusion—I have probably spoken for too long already—Her Majesty’s Government will continue our multi-dimensional approach to tackling and undermining the different parts of the piracy model. Progress is being made. There is no question but that pirates have had a very tough time, because while the number of attacks has not been reduced, the number of successful attacks has reduced substantially. Navies have become more robust in their response and, as I have mentioned, action and logistics on land have sent a very strong signal. The industry is now incredibly professional, and the fact that not one single vessel with private armed guards on board has been successfully hijacked is a very strong and good sign of why we changed the guidelines and of our ongoing work.
As so many hon. and right hon. Members have pointed out, the problem is the result of a failed state. It is one of the symptoms of a country, Somalia, which
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has gone from bad to worse. On the other hand, as I have said, a number of strong indicators mean that we can be, not ridiculously, but cautiously optimistic that we can look forward to progress on the ground in Somalia. Indeed, if places such as Puntland have proper local government in place and their militias and police are able to drive pirates out of those communities, and if the same happens in Galmudug, the solution lies on the land. The African Union Mission In Somalia has taken control of Afgooye, which is north of Mogadishu; it is looking, through new consulate operations, to head south to Kismayo, and on the way, hopefully, take a number of villages and towns that have currently hosted pirates. If we can then reinforce that by building up stability and putting in substantial amounts of money—not penny-packet sums, which obviously are needed in some places to reward communities who have driven away the pirates, but substantial development—into services, infrastructure and building that community, the Somalis deserve nothing less, and by working with them we can give them a better future.
The Committee can be proud of its work in contributing impressively to the debate. We will go on working with it to find solutions to this scourge, this problem, this evil. I look forward to further exchanges with the Chairman and the members of his Committee; I thank them again for their work.
Richard Ottaway: I am grateful to the Minister for the very detailed response that the subject deserves.
I will not detain the Chamber for long. I have three quick points. The right hon. Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) intervened to ask about the Committee’s position on prosecution policy. I happily confirm that the Committee’s position is as I, and the Minister, set out. It is preferable for a prosecution to be successfully dealt with locally, otherwise it should come back to the United Kingdom.
We have had interesting divisions on ransoms. The truth of the matter is that there is no answer; both arguments are right. There is merit in both sides of the argument. Frankly, it is better to focus on preventing capture than on paying a ransom. There is a difference between corporate interest and the private interest of the yachtsman.
I will conclude with some comments on the guidance. I am grateful to the Department for Transport for providing the guidance during the debate. I have had a brief chance to look at it. There are clearly substantial changes, which are welcome. The Minister is right to say that it is not as much as we were calling for. It is probably best to say that in the preparation of our report, we have had legal advice and I will run the guidance past our lawyers. I recognise, however, that there are important changes. I also note that the Crown Prosecution Service guidance is still incorporated. I suspect that there is no alternative, because that is the law of Britain. Perhaps therein lies the problem—if we are to have a separate law out in the Indian ocean, it would require primary legislation that may not currently be in the coalition’s plan.
The guidance has also thrown up an interesting distinction in devolved law, distinguishing Scottish law and the law of England and Wales. I am not quite sure
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exactly which applies when the red duster is flying on a ship. However, it is interesting to note, under footnote 15 of paragraph 8.10, that the use of lethal force in Scotland will only be justified in defence of life, or by a victim resisting rape. That is quite a high bar.
Mike Penning: I am very proud to represent the red duster for the UK; this is not a devolved matter. If someone is on a British-registered red duster ship, UK law prevails over international law.
Richard Ottaway: I am grateful for that intervention, which begs a question about the need for a footnote about distinguishing Scottish law and the law of England
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That is very interesting; piracy off Scotland will have to be investigated.
Clearly, a lot of questions need to be considered, and the Committee will do that. The Minister’s suggestion that we have a further short debate on this subject is constructive. It may not be inappropriate for the Shipping Minister to debate it, but I leave that to others to decide.
Mr Brady, I am very grateful to you for chairing the debate, which has been particularly constructive.
Question put and agreed to.