HC Deb 17 November 1955 vol 546 cc902-12

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr.Barber.]

10.5 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

The Labour Party, when in office from 1945 onwards, suffered a constant stream of criticism, almost abuse, for its handling of our colonial affairs from the party opposite, which said that it could handle things a good deal better. This does not seem to be the case in the present handling of affairs in North-East Africa, because tonight I have part of an unhappy take to tell in connection with the border of Ethiopia, In the days of the late Sir Stafford Cripps there was talk about "the liquidation of the Empire," but the party opposite seems to be contemplating evacuating—I will not use the unkind word "scuttle"—the Nile valley; first Egypt, then the Sudan, and now, of course, part of the Haud and the reserve area on the edge of the north border of Somaliland.

This chapter began almost a year ago, when two dignified sheikhs and Mr. Michael Mariano came to London and saw the Secretary of State, who was most impressed by their dignity, their bearing and their case. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will remember that earlier this year we had a debate, opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), when we on this side protested against the Somaliland (Ethiopia) Order in Council, 1955. We did not get very far with that, but to be quite fair I want to say that the Minister, who is always courteous, was not unsympathetic. The dusty answer emanated from the Foreign Office which is, I think, the villain of the piece. I think that the Minister is on our side tonight, and at the end of this debate I look for a sympathetic answer from him.

The fears and apprehensions which we then expressed about the future conduct of the Ethiopians have been amply justified and I have documentary evidence—as well as the accounts of journalists who were present at the silver jubilee celebrations at Addis Ababa—that about the end cf August last five Gherri tribesmen were hung in a most brutal fashion. To be fair, I must say that I understand that the Emperor of Ethiopia later commuted the death sentence on 25 other Gherri people, and only last wek I believe that five were released from gaol.

What of the other abuses. There has been the arrest of chiefs, Akils and tribesmen. Chief local authorities and others who were wandering with their peoples in this area in the west of Somaliland have been arrested. I have here ample evidence, which has been checked, about what is happening. On no fewer than nine occasions Akils and tribal chiefs have been arrested by the Ethiopian authorities. The Akils have been released but, of course, we get no apologies or explanations for this kind of behaviour on the part of the Ethiopian authorities. The ninth occasion has been different, because, there, the chief local authority of Hargeisa was taken into custody. I have asked Questions about him in the House during the last few days and we have had some most interesting Answers. I want to make some short comments upon those Answers, and to offer one or two suggestions to the Minister.

On 7th November, in answer to a Question, I was told that Mr. Mohammed Begorreh, the chief local authority of Hargeisa had been put in gaol in JigJigga and charged with membership of an unlawful secret society. That is complete nonsense—if anything it is a political society and he was working with his own people and his own tribe.

These are great days in Ethiopia, with the silver jubilee and a new Constitution, and I hope that this new constitution will grant freedom of discussion, freedom of assembly, expression and the like as provided for under Article 3 (1) of the Agreement. If freedom of assembly, discussion and expression is to be allowed in Ethiopia, why cannot our own British- protected Somalis have this liberty under the new Constitution. Why cannot we alter Article 3 (1) of the Agreement here?

Fortunately for our debate tonight, most of these facts are known and have been checked by reputable journalists who have been to the jubilee celebrations. They are men whose names are well known in the columns of the Daily Express, the Daily Telegraph and similar reputable Conservative newspapers. Again, the agreement of 1955 does permit the liaison officer to attend the trial of any of our people who have been picked up by the Ethiopian police or soldiers. What good is it to have this new Agreement if the liaison officer is not able to go there, since there are no trials, because our people are simply picked up and detained for some months—in one or two cases 12 months—in gaols or awaiting possible future trials?

The case of Mohammed Begorreh was the first time when our liaison officer has had a chance to attend in court. In this matter of producing bodies and allowing men to be sent to gaol, why cannot we use Article 5 of the Agreement? In the United Kingdom, of course, the basic elementary principle is that of habeas corpus. Why must these people languish for month after month in gaol without being told what their alleged offences are, or being allowed to come into open court? I think this is mediirval, barbarous, and, as I said a week or two ago, uncivilised behaviour on the part of the Ethiopians.

One other comment I want to make relates to the Answer to a Question which I asked in the House. The Ethiopian authorities have acknowledged only in this case of Mohammed Begorreh that the liaison officer was allowed to attend the trial. In that Answer, I was told: The right of the British liaison officer to attend the trial, which exists under the AngloEthiopian Agreement of 1954, has been specifically acknowledged in this case by the Ethiopian authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1955; Vol. 545, c. 1477.] I think myself that he might attend on all occasions and in all cases, and that that was implicit in the Agreement which was signed by the present Prime Minister, who was then Foreign Secretary, with the Abyssinian Minister some time ago.

If the régime of terror—I use the word advisedly—persists in this area, tribal organisations cannot function, because what happens is that our protected people, the Somalis, these Akils will not go from the vicinity of Hargeisa on our side of the line to this particular area, because they are afraid of being picked up and put away by the Ethiopians. Again, I have authority for saying that the Ethiopians are setting up their own organisation, in contradistinction to the legal and traditional ones on our side. The term which I might use here is one which was used 10 or 15 years ago; they are setting up their own Quislings inside these areas.

Will the Minister investigate this, and make sure that all these points are put when we have this conference at the end of the month—30th November—in Harar? In an Answer to a Question on 10th November, I was told that we have made complaints in Addis Ababa and spoken to the Ethiopian Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Vice-Governor of Harar Province has welcomed the proposal for the meeting to be held later this month, which, I gather, is 30th November. I hope that these points will be put at that meeting and that we shall maintain what was written into the agreement—that our liaison officers should attend on all these occasions and that we should be allowed to have our own organisation functioning inside this area.

Does the agreement allow British tribal organisations to function without let or hindrance and to move all over the Haud and the Reserve Areas? I understand that this is not only grazing land, but that some is agricultural land. It has been suggested by the Ethiopians that certain areas which have always been held to be grazing land are, in fact, agricultural land and they are preventing our tribal organisations from moving into this patch of land on those grounds. Will the Minister kindly find out what is happening?

May I say a word about social services and, particularly, education? Our education services in Somaliland lag behind what the Italians are giving and have given on their side of the line in what was Italian Somaliland. I understand that we have two, or possibly more, Somali students in the United Kingdom, wheras the Italians may send 200, 250 or more to Rome to study higher education there.

May I make another point about this area outside Somaliland proper? I gather that the Ethiopians, contrary to the terms of the Agreement made this year, are interfering with the Aw Barreh school and that this and another school nearby have been closed. Would the Minister look into this and discover what is happening?

Lastly, and briefly, I turn to the future. I want to give the Minister ample time to answer my questions. What is to happen when the Somalis are given self-government? We have Eritrea to the north and what was Italian Somaliland to the south of our British territory. It is not unlikely, if and when we give self-government to the local people, that we shall have another "Israeli-Arab dispute." In all likelihod, the fighting will then begin in this part of the world. The Somalis fear that in that event the Ethiopians may offer to give them back this area of the Haud and the Reserve Area which we have made over to Ethiopia recently, but perhaps on some political conditions, perhaps if they agree to some kind of political control.

If they look north they see Eritrea, which is now part of Abyssinia. There is no doubt that the Ethiopians look upon British Somaliland as another "lost province" and as a province which, in the future, might be in the same position as that of Eritrea now. Doubtless they have maps in their schools in Addis Ababa showing this, but the Somalis to whom I have talked do not look upon this with any enthusiasm.

All the Somalis I have spoken to look upon their future as being linked with Italian Somaliland. They look upon a greater or larger Somaliland based upon Muslim religion and culture and past history because, as far as I can make out, Somaliland has never been part of Ethiopia or Abyssinia. Their future does lie in a united Somaliland of that kind, where Berber looks South towards Mogadishu and not West towards Addis Ababa. I hope that the Minister will look that way. I trust that he will take a firm stand and do his best for these likeable Somalis who, after all, are in our care. We are their guardians and they look to us to look after them in these difficult and dangerous times.

10.21 p.m.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Henry Hopkinson)

I feel sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) for raising tonight the position of the British Somali tribes in the areas of Ethiopia covered by the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of November last year.

The knowledge of the hon. Member on this subject and his sympathy with the British Somalis are well known. Those sympathies are shared by us all, and my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary and I, on frequent occasions in the House, have made clear the determination of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the rights of the Somalis under the Agreement are fully respected. In winding up the debate on the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement in the Adjournment debate on 25th February this year, I said that we were entitled to expect the Ethiopian Government to see that the Agreement was carried out both in the letter and in the spirit, and with full regard to the interests and feelings of the British Somali tribes.

I regret to have to inform the House that experience appears to show that many of the actions of the Ethiopian authorities in the execution of the Agreement have proved to be neither in accord with the letter nor the spirit of that Agreement, and that very naturally is causing great concern to Her Majesty's Government. While it is correct to say that the Agreement is operated fairly in the south and east of the areas which it covers, known as the Haud, serious difficulties have arisen in the area north and west of Giggiga which is commonly described as the Reserved Area.

As the hon. Member has indicated, these difficulties fall broadly into four categories. First, the Akils and the leaders of the tribal organisations, as well as the IIIaloes, the tribal police, have been arrested and prevented from doing their work. Akils and leaders have been arrested on nine occasions, as the hon. Member said. In eight cases their release was obtained after representation from the British liaison officer.

In the ninth case, however, the elder concerned, Mohammed Begorreh, is still in prison and is to be tried on 19th November. Details of the charges were given by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in reply to the Question asked by the hon. Member on 7th November, and I do not think that I can usefully add anything to that reply, except to say this. First of all, of course, the charge to which the hon. Member referred was in fact reduced to a different charge of breaking the law, Secondly, there was the question of the attendance of British liaison officers at the trials of Somalis under Article III (b) of the Haud Agreement.

A member of the tribe from the Protectorate who uses the territories covered by the Agreement for the purposes of grazing is tried by an Ethiopian Court if he is concerned in a case involving Ethiopians, but a British liaison officer or a member of his staff has the right to be present in court and is given an opportunity to provide any relevant information. That right has been specifically acknowledged by the Ethiopians in the case of Mohammed Begorreh. I imagine that right has never been exercised before because there has been no trial.

I was not aware of the complaints of very long periods of detention to which the hon. Gentleman referred but I will certainly look into them. I would only say in regard to the case of Mohammed Begorreh that the British Consul at Harar, according to information received since the reply to which I have referred was given to the hon. Gentleman, is now assisting him in making the arrangements for his defence.

The second matter which has given rise to difficulties has been the appointment by the Ethiopians of their own Akils—Quislings the hon. Gentleman called them—among British-protected tribes in the Haud and in the Reserved Area. This has been accompanied by pressure brought to bear on British-protected tribesmen to declare themselves Ethiopian subjects.

Thirdly, the Ethiopian authorities have restricted the free operation of the social services by the Protectorate Government in the areas covered by the Agreement in accordance with Article III (c) of that Agreement. In particular, they have on several occasions tried to close down the school at Aw Barreh and have refused to allow education officers from the Protectorate to visit the school. That, too, is clearly a breach of the Agreement.

Finally, the Ethiopians have converted tribal grazing land to agriculture, contrary to the undertaking given by both sides in Article II of the Agreement to ensure that as far as possible tribal grazing rights in the area shall be protected.

As it has become clear that repeated representations by the British Liaison Officer at Giggiga to the local Ethiopian authorities have not sufficed to resolve these difficulties, discussions are now being arranged between the British and Ethiopian representatives at Harar which it is hoped will take place at the end of this month. We do not know the exact date. These difficulties are unquestionably both numerous and complicated. They arise on the ground, and they should, if possible, be solved on the ground. That is why these talks are to be held in Harar.

I am glad to say that the Ethiopian authorities have welcomed these discussions and have suggested that some at least of the difficulties may have been caused by the actions of junior Ethiopian officials. It is something to get that admission. I feel sure that it is the hope of all of us that these talks will be crowned with success.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the position of Somali settlers in the Reserved Area. I must here explain that the Agreement was designed primarily to cover the position of the large numbers of nomadic tribesmen who cross and recross the frontier into Ethiopia in the course of seasonal migrations with their stock. Some of these tribesmen practice intermittent agriculture as a subsidiary to grazing, while others have settled permanently. In this situation, with these different categories of persons, it is not surprising that difficulties have arisen about the working of the Agreement in areas of mixed agricultural and grazing land. These difficulties we hope will be discussed also at the Harar meeting.

I referred earlier to the pressure on British Somalis to become Ethiopian subjects. Some of the permanent settlers have voluntarily become Ethiopian nationals even though they are members of tribes which are under British protection. Others, again, have adopted Ethiopian nationality in an effort to obtain greater security on their land or for other reasons. In this connection the House should know that assurances were given by the Ethiopian Government at the time the Treaty was signed that any duly acquired property rights within the reserved area and the Ogaden would, of course, be respected provided that no forcible expropriation had been involved. Those were the terms of the assurance given to us.

The hon. Member also raised—and this was in my opinion the most important point—the question of the future political development of Somaliland and the Somali fear, of which we are all aware, of Ethiopian domination. I can assure him that Her Majesty's Government fully appreciate the importance of this, and are giving very careful thought to the future development of the Protectorate.

While I am in no position to make a statement on the subject at the moment, I can assure the House that Her Majesty's Government have no intention whatever of abandoning their responsibilities in the Protectorate so long as the inhabitants of the Protectorate wish us to discharge those responsibilities. We have, of course, been obliged to fulfil our legal obligations to the Ethiopians under the 1897 Treaty, out those obligations have now been fully discharged, and we have no others of a similar kind towards Ethiopia or towards any other Power.

As regards the wider issue of future developments in the Horn of Africa, once the Trusteeship Territory of Somalia becomes independent in 1960, I would only say this. That also is a most important question. At this stage, I can only say that the House may be assured that the main factors determining Her Majesty's Government's attitude towards future problems which concern the Protectorate and Somalia will be the wishes and the interests of the Somali peoples themselves.

I am glad to have had this opportunity of informing the House and, indeed, many others in this country who are seriously concerned about the position of British Somalis in Ethiopian territory, of the difficulties which have arisen. I think it is much better that we should say these things fully and frankly.

The Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement is of a type which can only work satisfactorily when there is co-operation and good will on both sides. I am sorry to say that I cannot, at the moment, say that we have had all the co-operation from the Ethiopian authorities for which we had hoped.

Mr. J. Johnson

Is it not possible to meet the Ethiopians at intervals of time in order to discuss the working of the Agreement and even to alter the actual wording of the Agreement in the light of any unsatisfactory parts of it? Is that not written into the Agreement of last year.

Mr. Hopkinson

No, Sir, but I think we can say that this meeting at Harar is the first step in the business of getting the working of the Agreement discussed.

I was referring to co-operation from the Ethiopian authorities in its execution. I think that, having regard to the background of close and friendly relations which exist between our two countries, and the past services rendered by this country to Ethiopia and not least to the Emperor himself, we had the right to expect.

Of the good will felt in this country towards Ethiopia, which was very evident during the Emperor's visit to Britain last year, there can be no doubt. But the various incidents that have occurred during the last few months have, understandably, aroused strong feeling among the Somali people. The existence of this feeling can do no good to either side.

I hope that the forthcoming discussions will afford an opportunity to clear up difficulties and misunderstandings. I must emphasise once again that Her Majesty's Government intend to ensure that the rights of the Somali tribes under the 'Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement are fully respected, just as the Agreement is being fully and faithfully carried out on our part.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. C. J. M. Alport (Colchester)

want to say, very briefly, that we on the Government back benches very much welcome the firm statement which my right hon. Friend has made on this point. It is unfair to the Emperor to blame him entirely for the situation which has arisen in this border area of Somaliland and Ethiopia, because it has been widely known to anyone who knows that part of the world that the Emperor's writ runs even today only a very short distance outside this border.

I warn my right hon. Friend that it is not going to be possible to get the Ethiopian authorities to carry out their undertakings if we are to rely simply upon assurances given to us by the Foreign Office in Addis Ababa. These matters have to be settled with the Rases on the spot. If we can get their co-operation we shall get some results, but it will be extremely difficult to do that because there is no proper sanction that we can exert against them.

I would merely like to ask my right hon. Friend whether, if the Ethiopian authorities are unable to carry out their part of the Agreement, we have a right —anyhow, a moral right—to resume our control over these areas to ensure that the rights of British-protected subjects in British Somaliland are properly safeguarded in accordance with the wishes of the people.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-four minutes to Eleven o'clock.