[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
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.
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
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 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.
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
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
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 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.”
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 (Croydon South, Conservative)
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?
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
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.
John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling, Conservative)
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?
Henry Bellingham (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office; North West Norfolk, Conservative)
My right hon. Friend was a senior Minister and had a distinguished military career, and he has stayed in many embassies and high commissions.
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 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
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 (Penrith and The Border, Conservative)
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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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
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 (Croydon South, Conservative)
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. 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
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.
Michael Penning (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Roads and Motoring), Transport; Hemel Hempstead, Conservative)
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 (Croydon South, Conservative)
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
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.