HL Deb 22 October 1981 vol 424 cc843-4

3.20 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consult with other Governments in order to bring to an end the attacks by pirates upon Vietnamese boat people, so many of whom have thus been massacred or drowned.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we are already doing so. We are taking part in consultations which are already under way in Geneva between interested Governments and agencies under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that welcome reply, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government will make it clear to the Government of Vietnam that their oppressive régime, which has caused so many people to take to the boats and to go on the high seas, is made even worse by their tolerance of these pirates who act in such a brutal way to the distress of civilised countries?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we appreciate the tenor of my noble friend's supplementary question and, of course, we deplore these particularly brutal attacks. We are satisfied that the other two Governments which my noble friend did not mention—that is, the Thai Government and the Malaysian Government—are very conscious of the gravity of the situation and we welcome the steps already taken by those Governments to control piracy in their own waters.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, does not this situation point to the need for a United Nations peace-keeping force with a naval arm to stop piracy not only in this case, but in similar cases? As regards the Vietnam boatmen, will the investigation at Geneva include an inquiry into the ownership of the syndicate which, as evidence before the United Nations Refugee Commission has shown, has charged £3,000 per person to go on these crowded boats which are often sunk and has bribed officials to allow them to depart? Will an inquiry be made into that?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I was not aware of the details referred to in the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. However, if he would like to furnish me with the relevant details, I shall most certainly bring the matter to the attention of not only the consultations in Geneva but also, of course, my right honourable and noble friends.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the apparent appointment of the Red Cross to deal with this shameful situation seems a bit odd? Is that the appropriate organisation to deal with the matter? Is the noble Lord also aware that, apart from the shameful attacks on the Vietnamese boat people, piracy on the Nigerian coast and in the region of the Gulf has become almost a national pastime? Moreover, is he aware that it has been considered by international shipping interests, including the British Council of Shipping, and that it appears that the only remedy available would be to arm members of merchant vessels or those associated with liner companies trading in that area, so that they can deal effectively with these pirates?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we shall, of course, consider the most interesting suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, in the second part of his supplementary question. However, so far as the Red Cross is concerned, I understand that the Red Cross is included in the talks in Geneva because it is that organisation which deals with the effects of the piracy rather than the piracy itself.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the noble Lord say in approximately what proportion of cases the Thai or Malaysian authorities have captured those responsible for these atrocities and put them on trial?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am afraid that I have no information on that point.