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Maritime Piracy

Volume 506: debated on Monday 22 February 2010

UK armed forces continue to play an integral role in the command and control of EU, NATO and coalition counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

We are determined to play our part, through the Royal Navy, and in close co-operation with other Government Departments and countries, to tackle piracy and to protect legitimate trade and transport.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but will he tell me how and when he will implement the Djibouti code to deal with piracy in the Indian ocean and the gulf of Aden, particularly in relation to kidnappings?

We strongly welcome the commitment from the Government of the Seychelles, which was encapsulated in the Djibouti announcement, to consider hosting a regional counter-piracy chamber to prosecute pirates within their national jurisdiction. One of the key challenges that we face is ensuring that prosecutions can take place locally and regionally, and we will continue to press partners in that direction.

Is the Minister aware of the widespread support for the Government’s policy of discouraging ransoms? Does he agree with Kipling that

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,

No matter how trifling the cost”?

I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. While I understand where people who desire the payment of ransoms are coming from, in the longer run it would simply lead to greater problems and more kidnappings—it would store up problems for the future. The Government are therefore right to resist the payment of ransoms.

Along with some colleagues, I was out in the Gulf in the summer recess, and I encourage my hon. Friend and Opposition spokespersons to do the following. When the Labour party is returned to government after the next election, there will be hundreds of new MPs, and I ask that every Front-Bench spokesman writes to every new Member suggesting that they join the armed forces parliamentary scheme. It is important to do that, because the scheme is about not only front-line services but what the armed forces do for this country.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I know many colleagues on both sides of the House who have taken part in that scheme. Indeed, there is a dinner this evening, hosted by Mr. Speaker, that both the Secretary of State and I will attend. It is a genuinely worthwhile scheme that brings home very practically to Members across the House the reality of life in the armed forces.

I heartily endorse what has been said about the armed forces parliamentary scheme, even though some of my Liberal Democrat opponents do not. Returning to the subject of piracy, however, the Minister spoke about playing a part, but since the policy of releasing pirates after simply confiscating the equipment with which they were proposing to commit piracy has been so widely practised, what are we doing, other than playing a part, to deter piracy? Can the Minister confirm that the new proposals he has mentioned will mean an end to the policy of stopping pirates and then releasing them unharmed and able to carry on with their mischief?

I do not want to intrude on the private grief between the hon. Gentleman’s party and the Liberal Democrats—and, in any case, I am unsure of its provenance. In respect of piracy, where there is credible evidence, we seek to move towards prosecutions, but where such evidence does not exist, we have to act differently. However, we are giving a wide range of assistance to maritime shipping passing through the gulf of Aden, and it is important to make it clear that since December 2008 only one merchant vessel that was registered with the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) and that was operating in accordance with best practice has been seized by pirates. That is the result of the actions that we and other partners are taking to tackle this problem.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a connection between piracy and the funding of terrorism, and also that piracy off the horn of Africa is one of a lengthening list of defence issues in Africa? Therefore, is it not now time that NATO developed a policy towards Africa, by bringing all those matter together within a formal relationship with the African Union?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that there is a link between the piracy challenge and the military challenges we face, but there is also the issue of the appalling human rights situation and lack of government in Somalia, and we therefore need to work across Government Departments and with our international partners to tackle the problem at source. Yes, there is a military component to this, and we are enforcing that very effectively, but there need to be political changes in the region as well.