By: Nick


In our Parliamentary Studies Course Baroness Bakewell of Stockport, the President of Birkbeck, spoke to the class about her experience as a Peer in the House of Lords.

Baroness Bakewell spoke of how it felt to be appointed to the House of Lords in 2011. As you would expect, the House of Lords is a very traditional place. The tradition is contained within the buildings and space as well as the ceremonies and rituals, from the grand state opening to the forms of address between members (called ‘Peers’).

It is also a rather calm and ‘nice’ place. Politics and debate is conducted in ordered way and Peers regulate themselves in discussion. Unlike the House of Commons down the corridor, members are often towards the end of their professional career with less ambition and, most importantly, no pressure to be re-elected. For a great exploration of how it feels to be there, I’d recommend a look at Dr. Emma Crewe’s anthropological study.

Yet, as Baroness Bakewell explained, the House of Lords is more than this ‘nice’ place. First, it is a highly expert place. Baroness Bakewell pointed out that the Lords contains a high number of the very people you would want in any ‘revising chamber’-lawyers. It also has academics, surgeons and members of the military (as well as plenty of ex-politicians), many of who continue with their professional careers part-time.  Sitting in on debates, she said, means you always learn something.  To get an idea of the variety, see this table of expertise from 2010 study by Meg Russell and Meghan Benton.

This means that discussion in the House of Lords is often backed up with knowledge. This expertise means the Lords can and, increasingly, will question and, ultimately, temporarily block government legislation. Baroness Bakewell had just returned from debate around the  Anti-Social, Crime and Policing Bill . In this case, the House of Lords rejected the government proposals after a lengthy analysis of its clauses.

Second, the House of Lords is also changing. The composition is shifting . In fact, up until the last General Election in 2010 there were more women in the upper (unelected) House of Lords than in the lower (elected) House of Commons. Not only is it changing in terms of numbers. Its opening up to the world and spending more time explaining what it does-see this great collection of House of Lords bloggers. There’s also the brand new Lords Digital Chamber which brings together the tweets, blogs and videos of all the Peers.

Our ideas about the House of Lords come from the images and ideas about privilege, tradition and aristocracy. But it isn’t all like that. The House of Lords is changing. As Baroness Bakewell pointed out, it’s more professional, more knowledgeable and more assertive. Governments should beware.

The Department of Politics would like to thank Baroness Bakewell for taking the time to speak with the staff and students. 



Pirates in the Indian Ocean off Somalia and the militias operating across states in the deserts of the western Sahel share two characteristics: hostage-taking provides their primary income stream, and they have successfully sustained and extended their business and political models over many years. Selective violence and guile have combined to create lucrative markets in which legal international actors – representatives of states and multinational companies – have been obliged to negotiate.

In terms of Indian Ocean piracy, October saw the publication of the first detailed economic analysis of the seizure of ships, cargoes and their crews off the Somali coast over the past decade. Pirate Trails is a 130 page report by a group of researchers from the World Bank, UN and Interpol, subtitled Tracking the Illicit Financial Flows from Pirate Activities off the Horn of Africa”. Interviews with pirates, their brokers and bankers detail the venture capital required to successfully seize ships. The report then analyses how ransom monies – estimated to total around $400m over the past eight years – are then reinvested or laundered, both within Somalia and via networks in Kenya, Djibouti, Dubai and Europe.

The report focuses exclusively on the Somali pirates and ransom finances. As such, it illuminates only one of side of what in effect has become a triangular international industry.

Somali piracy has spawned a vast ‘legitimate’ counterpart industry to negotiate the release of ships and their crews.  This is the second side of the ‘piracy industry triangle’. Those working in the ‘negotiation industry’ are private companies. Their costs and profits come from the insurance industry, most ransoms being ultimately paid out via the maritime insurance policies of shipowners. Legal actors involved in negotiations include international law firms, communication and logistics specialists as well as Somali negotiators. The latter are often drawn from communities in OECD states; hence the publicity over both US-based and British Somalis recently involved in high-profile hostage cases.

While the operational hub for many such agents is Kenya, London is central to the industry. Across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament sits the HQ of the International Maritime Organisation . London is still a global hub for shipping and maritime insurance. Many of the insurers and lawyers actively engaged in pirate negotiation and the payment of ransoms are based here.

The politics department hosted one such lawyer two years ago; at the launch of Brian Mabee and Alex Colas’ edited book Mercenaries, pirates, bandits and empires. This provides a unique overview of historical and theoretical approaches to how piracy has figured in international relations.

What of the third side of the ‘piracy industry triangle’? Not only have the pirates prompted the creation of a well-paid cadre of specialised lawyers and negotiators, they have also spawned a vast anti-piracy operation. Many of the world’s navies participate in such operations, as I related in a recent study of Djibouti, the principal hub for vessels involved in anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. The Chinese navy’s participation in, and cooperation with, such patrols currently represents China’s most significant deployment as a global multilateral military actor.  Multilateral anti-piracy missions also include the European Union’s EUNAFOR mission, headquartered in Northwood, Hertfordshire. A fictionalised version of the US Navy’s role in anti-piracy can be currently seen at a cinema near you in the movie Captain Phillips.  (Sadly you have missed the surreal experience of viewing the film aboard an anti-piracy ship).

In Somalia since 2005 there have been around 160 hijackings and hostage transactions, with the report estimating the average ransom payments rose from $1.2m in 2007 to a peak of $5m each in 2011.  Transactions in West Africa’s territorially vast hostage market are less frequent but far more lucrative, as underscored by the Euro20m paid by France to secure the release of four hostages in November.

David Styan is a lecturer in Politics