HC Deb 18 April 1994 vol 241 cc707-22

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

8.3 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Before the House adjourns, I should like it to give some consideration to the subject of Somalia. On a day on which the world's attention is once again on Bosnia, it is impossible to give Somalia the attention that I should like it to receive.

I propose to talk about recent visits made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) and myself to Somaliland. I express my appreciation to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Overseas Development Administration for the support that they gave both before and afterwards. The circumstances were really quite difficult at times. I want also to express my appreciation to Action Aid, which sponsored the visit to Somaliland and whose work we should have liked to see more of but could not. All the signs are that its work is successful. It includes extremely valuable work both in water and in veterinary projects. I was pleased when the ODA recently increased its contribution to Action Aid for that work.

Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

I echo the hon. Gentleman's thanks to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to Action Aid for everything that they did for us during a difficult time.

Mr. Worthington

I shall talk about Somaliland to some extent, but I shall also broaden my remarks to encompass the whole subject of Somalia. There is no doubt that Somaliland is more stable than many parts of Somalia. Despite the experiences that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and I had, there is no doubt that there are some encouraging activities taking place in Somaliland. I draw attention to two in particular. One was a conference at Boroya, which lasted for five months. The clan elders—the traditional leaders of the area—came together and hammered out a constitution and a plan of campaign for the territory. The second encouraging event was one at which the hon. Gentleman and I were present: I refer to the giving up by the people of Somaliland of their heavy weaponry. We went to the national stadium to see the handing-over of the heavy weapons by the fourth brigade of Hargeisa. Things are being accomplished by the people of Somalia without the help of the United Nations. Activities are being undertaken in the cause of peace and development by the people themselves, and that must be encouraged.

I gather that this debate can continue until 10.30 pm —it is certainly not my intention to speak for two and half hours, and I see the Minister wince at the idea. We want to know from the Government just what they regard as British responsibility. What do they consider to be the British link? When we ask questions of the Government about areas of concern in Africa, they understandably express nervousness and say that they do not want to be deeply involved in every trouble spot. I can understand that approach, but that does not mean that I support it. When I table questions about Rwanda or Burundi, for example, Ministers say that the Government are not taking a lead in those countries. Those are not parts of Africa with which we have been traditionally associated; I can understand the expectation that in those countries the Belgians should take a lead.

The concomitant of that, however, is that in those parts of Africa where we have traditionally been involved, we should be giving a lead. There is no doubt that in Somaliland, the former area of British Somalia, we are the donor country, the northern country, the developed country, the country that is seen as having unparalleled knowledge and experience of and a shared history with Somalia. I should like to know whether the Government accept that link. Do they see some special duty falling on Britain to give a lead in Europe and in the United Nations in respect of Somalia and other countries? Obviously Sudan and perhaps, Sierra Leone, come to mind. Those countries were part of the empire and their peoples expect us to be involved.

I raise that point because, in the economic sphere, it is accepted that Britain has a special interest. It is accepted that, in a discussion with those at the World bank or the International Monetary Fund of the affairs of African countries with which we have been associated, it is expected that the British director of the bank will speak first; he will have a particular interest and locus in that area. If we were talking about francophone Africa, the French director would speak.

Does the Minister believe that there is a special responsibility or special relationship—if I dare use that expression—between this country and some parts of Africa? What is our role? It is wishy-washy simply to say that the international community has a role. The international community does not exist in an enveloping way; it exists to he driven by some parts of that community. The international community is only as strong as the nations within it.

With regard to parts of our colonial inheritance, I should like to think that we accept at least a moral responsibility. I am not talking about money. I am not saying that huge amounts of extra money should go to the area—although the Minister will be aware that the Opposition believe that our aid budget is shamefully low. We are talking about commitment and political leadership.

Such leadership is desperately required. If one visits Somalia or Somaliland, it is clear that the United Nations is floundering. We visited Hargeisa, which is the chief town of Somaliland. At the United Nations Operation in Somalia office in Hargeisa, we were deeply dispirited by the coherence of the UN effort. When we asked the UN representatives—the UNOSOM task force—what they were doing, they said, "We are here to support." It is very difficult to support without resources. It is difficult to have credibility in relation to support if one has nothing to give. The people in the Hargeisa office of UNOSOM say that they are there to support. They say that they send messages to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, but that they disappear into a black hole and no response is received. It is very difficult to see how stability can continue if the world community does not provide real support and resources for Somaliland. There is an utter lack of purpose there. The staff have no idea what they are supposed to be doing.

These matters are heavily bound up with a thorny and difficult issue: three years ago, the people of Somaliland declared themselves to be the independent republic of Somaliland, but no one has recognised Somaliland. That is easy to understand: it seems to be an article of faith of the Organisation of African Unity and the Arab League, for their own reasons, not to recognise the break-up of other states because they fear a domino effect in their countries. Because no one has recognised Somaliland, we are paralysed in terms of how to react to it.

We experienced the same paralysis in relation to Somalia in the first place. Hon. Members may recall the questions asked about the situation in Somalia in 1991 and 1992. We were told—and we knew—that there could be no reaction to Somalia because there was no Government there. The UN, the European Union and the other international bodies can operate only when there is a sovereign Government in that country. Paradoxically, when there is nothing but chaos and when there is the most need, the international community can do nothing because its charters prevent a response. We were in that mess in 1992 with regard to Somalia as a whole and we are in that mess now with regard to Somaliland, because no one recognises Somaliland.

There is a form of Government and order there to which we are unable to respond. We can send humanitarian aid into the country or region or whatever one wants to call it. We can set up water and veterinary projects. But when it comes to meeting the country's major infrastructural requirements to prop it up and stop it retreating into disorder, we are unable to respond.

Last autumn, a UN official in Somaliland—Mr. McAteer, who has since understandably disappeared from the scene—said that it was time to dismantle the nonsense of Somaliland. He was obviously chased out of Somaliland by the people of the area. I am not arguing for the recognition of Somaliland. Far too many Europeans have been telling Africans what their borders should be. That is not for us to do. But if a bit of a country is behaving in the right way, is having peace conferences and is disarming itself, it is important to pile in behind that bit of a country and assist it. One should not become paralysed in that situation, but that is the current position in Somaliland. The paralysis of Mogadishu has become rigor mortis by the time it reaches Hargeisa; nothing happens there.

I believe that the budget must be devolved from Mogadishu to Hargeisa so that the people on the spot can work with the authority in Hargeisa. That could lead to many kinds of development. During our truncated visit to the country, before we spent time on a Somali hill side, we saw a port where animals had to be taken out on the small dhows that were moored in the bay. At some stage in the past, the piers, jetties and lifting gear had been destroyed or had fallen into decay.

That port does not require an Overseas Development Administration project. It needs serious money to help the people of Somaliland to re-establish their traditional trade in livestock to the Yemen or to Saudi Arabia. At the moment, we are paralysed. What is the Government's response to UNOSOM's paralysis in that regard?

For the benefit of those who are not fully aware of the situation, let me explain that UNOSOM has overwhel-mingly been a military operation. In 1993, about $615 million was spent on UNOSOM. Some 85 per cent. of that was military spending. None of it was spent in Somaliland: there are no troops there because there has never been a need for troops there.

The UN must also begin to call its separate organisations to account. Those organisations sometimes work well, but sometimes they fail to deliver. We cannot just let them go their own way. In Djibouti we went to see the person who ran the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operation for Somalia and Somaliland. As it happened, the person in Djibouti showed us the programme of what was occurring. A lot was occurring and much of it seemed to be worth while. However, what was striking was that the people virtually said openly that we must understand that they do not get tangled up with UNOSOM in any way at all. They preserve their freedom and they guard and defend their turf.

At least they were doing something. What was the World Health Organisation doing in Somaliland? All we got was the information that it was delivering some drugs. Since I came back, I have asked the Foreign Office some parliamentary questions. Apparently, the World Health Organisation in Somaliland has developed, with non-governmental organisations, a detailed plan for the problems of Somaliland. It would be more convincing if the NGOs in Somaliland knew that that is what WHO said. When we met representatives of the NGOs, I thought that they would say that they had been working with WHO. However, they said that the trouble with WHO is that it is elsewhere. The WHO is spending its time in Kenya; Kenya is a more comfortable place than Somaliland.

What was the Food and Agricultural Organisation doing there? I do not know what it was doing, but we must get some sort of accountability. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how he, as a representative of the Government, keeps tabs on what is happening in areas where relief operations are supposed to be taking place.

I cannot convey strongly enough the extent of the deprivation in places such as Somalia and Somaliland. We are talking about countries without the fundamental apparatus of a state; we are talking about countries without income, revenue, a taxation system and a civil service; and we are talking about countries that have no power system, no communications system and no reliable water supplies.

There is also a total lack of education and health systems; at present, there is a great threat of cholera throughout Somalia. The response must come from the NGOs. A generation of Somalis have not been educated. That can be rectified only if the international community responds in a more sensible way. The Government must tell the House why Britain is not the key player in that response. Who else will provide the motivation in terms of Somalia if it is not Britain? Who is more qualified? I hope that the Minister will address that issue.

As I said, we are talking not about recognition but about support. It is a question of encouraging those who are doing the right thing. If one does not do that, there are two potential sets of beneficiaries. The first comprises the gunmen—we ran into five of them——who will take over again. Another thing that is happening in Somalia at present is the first substantial stirring of fundamentalism. If this country does not like fundamentalism, it must prove that it is a trustworthy supporter of those who are trying to work well in countries such as Somalia. That deals with Somaliland.

I shall now spend a little time talking about Somalia as a whole and the situation that we found there. I have extremely mixed feelings about what is happening in Somalia. Undoubtedly, there is the threat of a real problem arising there. I suspect that most people in the United Kingdom think that the troops have withdrawn because CNN said that the Americans are out. Of course, CNN showed the landing of a vast number of American troops in December 1992. The Americans became very chastened by their experience. One needs knowledge, appreciation and subtlety in dealing with a country such as Somalia. The troops have not withdrawn; there are 20,000 troops from 25 countries still in Somalia. What are they doing there? I am not quarrelling with the fact that they are there. But if United Nations troops are there, there should be clarity about their purpose.

Some 25 nations are represented in Somalia in the 20,000 strong task force. The task force is dominated by western troops—the Americans and others have by and large withdrawn. There are 12,000 troops from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. If I simply mention those three countries together, it is a little tricky to imagine great harmony of command and unity of purpose. Another 22 nations are part of the task force.

Today, we have been wincing about the forces in Bosnia and the difficulties that arise when those over whom one is trying to keep peace start turning on one. What are the troops doing? What is their mandate? Some of them are said to have done extremely good work—I have heard praise for the Botswana troops in Somalia, for example. I suspect that some countries will say that it is a good training exercise; some will say that it is a good place to get hard currency; and some will say that it is a good place to get their troops paid for.

If the clans start to turn on the troops, what is their mandate? Are they able to shoot if there is no way out? I suspect that the troops will spend a great deal of their time in compounds. They will be there in a peacekeeping role, but they will not be out on the streets because the streets are fairly dangerous.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

And Rwanda.

Mr. Worthington

My hon. Friend mentions Rwanda. In Rwanda, there were 2,500 UNIMIR troops. When things started to turn nasty, they had to be withdrawn. At this stage, we should be thinking about the role of the troops.

What we need now, above all, is to be clear about the purpose of the United Nations operation. Part of it may be military, but of a lot of it is not; it is about getting good political leadership in Somalia. The catastrophe of the Somalia operation had the most profound consequences for the Americans. The Somalia exercise heavily conditioned the American response to Bosnia and the response of America and other countries to the situation in Sudan, Liberia and so on.

We need to start thinking about the troops and what they are doing. We need to ensure that they are getting good political leadership because there seems to be a vacuum. For some time, the leadership of UNOSOM was identified with Admiral Jonathan Howe of the United States navy, but he has gone now. Who has replaced him? Who is looking after Somalia now?

There are some encouraging signs. I know that Oxfam would want me to praise the Hirab peace initiatives which have brought about agreement between the Abgal clan and the Haba Gadir clan in the southern part of Somalia, and to praise the work being done by the Iman of the Hirab.

Those are the good things that are going on, but there are other, very worrying, things. Aid agencies talk about how difficult and unpredictable the streets of Mogadishu are now, and the International Committee of the Red Cross —of all organisations—has moved its expatriates out of Somalia. The World Food Programme had to shut down the expatriate component of its offices within Kismayu because they were being attacked by Somali fighters.

It is not uncommon to be kidnapped now in Somalia —if I dare to mention it. In the first few months of the year, there were six kidnapping incidents. Aid agencies are seriously considering their positions because a worrying situation still exists there. Even where good things are occurring—for instance, a week or so back there was said to have been an agreement between the Aidid faction and the Ali Mandi factions in Nairobi to bring about peace in Somalia—they do not seem to be followed through. There seems to have been cynicism about that agreement, and it was thought that it followed a UN threat to stop paying the Somali delegates' expenses in Nairobi. The UN said it would not keep paying them to stay in Nairobi hotels unless they came to an agreement.

As far as I know, a meeting that was supposed to have occurred last Friday in Mogadishu to take through the peace agreement between the Ali Mandi supporters and the Aidid supporters has not occurred. I am told that fighting occurred when the Aidid forces seized control of the town of Merca, south of Mogadishu. It is a volatile situation. There are reports of inter-clan fighting and the technicals are said to be back on the streets of Mogadishu. A political initiative is needed to take things further and to work with the people of the area in a much more subtle way than has occurred so far.

On paper, the UN Security Council resolution that we are now working to seems to be better than the previous one in terms of working in local centres of strength. However, it is one thing to say such things and quite another to deliver. I should like to see the UN report on the 5 June incident published. That incident began the escalation of the trouble and led to the hunting down of Aidid. Apparently, there is a 260-page report which is highly critical of the UN operation and which has not yet surfaced.

We must look at the human rights abuses that have been occurring in Somalia—both by the Somalis and by UN operators. I applaud the Canadian Government, who have been prosecuting UN peacekeepers who went too far and tortured or abused people in their care. Progress in Somalia is possible only if the UN peacekeepers have credibility. It was disastrous when Admiral Howe decided that he was against Aidid, because that in itself led to the deaths of hundreds of Somalis and there are now difficulties in overcoming that particular bitterness.

In conclusion, we have a great opportunity tonight to hear until 10.30 pm the policy of the Government on Somalia. It will not take until 10.30 pm, but it will give us an opportunity to explore the Government's thinking on the issues and to discover its commitment to further humanitarian aid. However, I do not think that fundamentally the issue is one of humanitarian aid; the debate is about political initiative. On my first visit to Somalia, I was disturbed by the Foreign Office's lack of knowledge about what was happening in the Mogadishu area. Diplomats were not paying visits to Mogadishu. The responsibility for Somalia still lies with the Nairobi high commission. I think that more visits are now paid and there are better contacts. However, it is inadequate that one diplomat in Nairobi has his Kenyan responsibility and also has an oversight for south Sudan and Somalia. That is an under-representation of Britain. I am grateful to the Minister for listening, and I hope that I have given him some areas on which he can respond.

8.35 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

On behalf of the all-party group on Somalia, and also the Somali community in Britain, may I express our thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank (Mr. Worthington) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) for the interest that they have taken in the situation in Somaliland, and in Somalia.

News of their kidnapping and swift release led for the first time to coverage on television and radio about the difference between what was happening in the south of the former Somalia and what was happening in the north. I am sure that it was not a plot on their behalf to be captured and released so quickly, but it is true that the situation in the north was virtually invisible for a period. The period of danger which my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman faced had a beneficial side-effect of, for the first time, concentrating the attention of the British and world press on the different situation in different parts of the country.

For the sake of shorthand, I intend to use the name "Somaliland" for the area that covers the former British Somaliland—the Republic of Somaliland—and "Somalia" for the former area of Italian influence. It is difficult to be precise in the circumstances, but I think that that is the easiest shorthand to use.

I intend to refer primarily to Somaliland, because that is where most of our Somali constituents around Britain come from. We have had an historic responsibility in that area, albeit one which was broken by the time it united with the south.

My hon. Friend was correct to talk of the initiative that has been shown by the people of Somaliland in trying to address their problems. The way in which they have sought to pull themselves up out of a situation of complete despair is remarkable. There have been extended discussions over months, rather than days and weeks, and without hotels, cash or help.

Efforts have been made by the Somalis towards disarmament initiatives, and the mayor of Hargeisa has attempted to establish a police force. There have been attempts to rebuild the infrastructure and to retrain, and these things constitute a modern human miracle—especially when the situation is compared with the south.

I pay tribute to Save the Children—and to other organisations such as Oxfam, to which my hon. Friend referred—which have been involved in the aid effort and the attempt to support the north. I should also like to refer to the positive response that we always received from the Under-Secretary and, on a personal basis, from the Minister. Baroness Chalker has travelled and seen the situation at first hand.

One of the examples of the sort of help that is being given, and which arose from a suggestion made on a cross-party basis from the all-party group was the sending of a chief superintendent from the Metropolitan police to assist with the attempt to reconstruct the police force.

That initiative was positive, not only in the advice that he gave and the information that he brought back, but in the fact that it was seen as a symbol of Britain's interest in the problem which they were trying to tackle. The Foreign Office, however, needs to go further and shrug off its fear of becoming involved in Somaliland. It must accept that the people of that area, and the Somali community in this country, look for more from Britain.

President Egal recently referred to the difficulties of surviving as an Administration. He said: We haven't got the resources and the international community is … turning its back on us. Our great danger is if we cannot promise, nor deliver on our promises to these people. That's our greatest danger.

The Administration—let us not call them a Government if that offends—who are running Somaliland cannot deliver, police or pursue the reconstruction, because it is difficult for any organisation that is not a Government to do so. The present system is in danger of breaking down and returning to the previous disaster.

I endorse the comment made by my hon. Friend, that the issue is not recognition of the state but recognition of the Administration and its efforts, which require support. At some point, the international community must recognise either an independent state in Somaliland or a reconstructed state in the Somalia area. I support my hon. Friend's view that the matter must be decided by the Somalis. The problem is that the international community provides neither a framework in which they can take that decision nor a mechanism by which the people of the north can choose to become independent, and nobody in the south has formed an Administration with whom agreement can be reached.

I recognise the difficulty for the British Government and the international community, but hope that the Minister will assure us that Britain will press the international community to decide how the Administration in the north can, at some point, achieve independence or recognition, and ensure that it is not left in limbo for a long time.

We have seen two cases in which a Government have disappeared—first, in former Yugoslavia; secondly, in Somalia. Those parts of the country that try to exercise responsibility are left in a catch-22 situation, because they cannot win recognition until they have taken steps that require the help of the international community, which comes only after recognition. I realise that that vicious circle is not of the Minister's making, but I hope that he agrees that the problem must be dealt with, as it is not of the making of the Somali people, either.

Martyn Lewis, the BBC broadcaster, recently commented about the need for good as well as bad news to be portrayed on television. When I first heard his remarks, I thought that they were a recipe for unfounded optimism, but he has taken a personal interest in Somaliland and expressed concern that the good news about achievements in the area has not found its way on to our television screens.

Last week, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London organised a seminar on media reporting in the Horn of Africa. I commend the college for an excellent seminar that led to some good debate. A point made strongly was the prevalence of the "lighthouse" approach to reporting: a light flashes on to one area, part of the world or topic for a moment, and then flashes off.

I commented in a contribution that all of us in politics —I suspect that the Minister will agree that not only the Opposition have this experience—live in an atmosphere where the light flashes on and off just as rapidly in domestic politics. When it comes to Somalia, the problem is that images showing disaster in Mogadishu flash on to our screens every now and then, while images showing positive events in the north are extremely rare.

We have seen a sad piece of history. The people of the former British protectorate entered a quick marriage with the people of the former Italian protectorate. For a short period at an early stage, President Egal was Prime Minister in that united country. Over the years, however, the terrible human rights violations that occurred under Siad Bane, and then the civil war, have led Somalis in this country to find it difficult to contemplate the idea of returning to a single Somalia. They also find it extremely worrying that the coverage of debate is between the two factions in the south, while the north is totally ignored.

The lighthouse may flash back on to Somaliland in the immediate future. Is the Minister aware of something of which I learned just before coming into the Chamber—the declaration of a water crisis in Somaliland, made by the presidency in a press release only yesterday? The recent problems of water shortage are now becoming acute and, coupled with the neglect of the past 10 years of civil war, which have rendered engines at most boreholes inoperative due to disrepair and, in some cases, destruction, they are now bringing the country close to another crisis.

If the Minister is aware of that, will he explain the position? If not, will he undertake to look into that news? It is argued that there is an urgent need to deal with the cost of the rehabilitation of boreholes for an initial period of 20 days, in the hope that the long rains will satisfy water demand in the longer term.

The other day, I jumped from my seat when I saw a television programme, which I hope the Minister saw, by an independent news agency, Front Line News, presented by George Alagiah on BBC television. For the first time, the whole country was depicted, and we saw the dotted line showing the difference between the north and south in the figure seven. I am glad to see that the Minister has a map that reflects that distinction in greater detail than the BBC normally does, and that he comes to this debate well prepared and well informed.

It was almost a physical shock to see that portrayed, yet request after request from the all-party group and others has gone unheard. We have pleaded for the reality of the situation to be recognised. It is depressing that it was not a mainstream BBC programme, but produced by an independent contributor. I suspect that, had it been a hard news night with major news in Bosnia or the United Kingdom, that programme would not have seen the light of day. However, let us be thankful for small mercies, and grateful for the fact that it was shown. One of the producers of the programme, Anna-Wynn Roberts, summarised the situation of the inhabitants of Somaliland thus: They feel very let down by Britain in terms of aid, and as President Egal told us, they are receiving no aid from other countries due to a tendency to defer to the old colonial power. However, many do have rather good memories of Britain's colonial rule and speak of Britain with great fondness.

I know that Ministers are sympathetic, and that some effort has been made to send aid, but we need to go beyond that —to help with infrastructure and to support the Administration, so as to make what has been a minor miracle into the major miracle of a country re-establishing itself with a positive Government.

Only a few months ago, there was an exhibition in this House in which the images captured by the camera of Hamish Wilson showed the efforts being made in training and education. They showed images of Somaliland at peace, as well as the liberation of Hargeisa and the destruction that the war has caused. I hope that those images and the images shown on television recently will elicit a greater response from the Government.

I have already said that other countries look to Britain to take a lead—that at least is the expectation expressed to me by the United States Under-Secretary of State. He told me that the Americans look to Britain, because of its historic interest, to take a lead in Somaliland.

The Somalis in this country feel that they have contributed by serving in the Army and the Navy ever since the turn of the century. The Somali community in Cardiff, which I know well, has been there for 80 or 90 years, and the Somalis believe that their service in wars up to and including the Falklands and the Gulf should be recognised by Britain. We should put pressure on the international community to recognise what has been achieved in Somaliland.

Like my hon. Friend, one of the members of the Anglo-Somali Society has reported back on the difficulties caused by UNOSOM and other UN organisations being late with police pay. I am sure that the Minister recognises that, in the volatile north, that can cause problems. I know that the British Government have had to pressurise other Governments to come up with the share of finance for mine clearance that they have promised to pay.

Demobilisation and resettlement must be effected quickly if the fears expressed by President Egal are not to be borne out in practice. Moreover, the reconstruction of roads, which would help the economy to take off, would be a great help.

Mr. Worthington

By allowing me to intervene, my hon. Friend gives me a chance to add something that I missed earlier. I want to pay tribute to the group of Zimbabweans who are undertaking the extremely difficult task of safeguarding the weaponry that has been given up, and of planning the rehabilitation of the militia. It might appear an extremely simple task voluntarily to disarm former soldiers, but we cannot even cope with that, so I hope that the Minister will agree to press for more funds for the Zimbabwean team.

Mr. Michael

I am glad to endorse my hon. Friend's comments. He covered so many issues that it is not surprising if he left out one. I hope that the Minister will respond positively.

I want to underline one or two pleas before I close. It must be frustrating for the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome not to be able to speak in the debate because of the burdens of office. Were he able to speak, I am sure that he would do so eloquently; in any case, his attendance is silently eloquent of his interest.

The Republic of Somaliland requests a recognition by Britain that resolutions do not guarantee the delivery of financial assistance. I am sure that the Minister can easily endorse that. Not only Somaliland but many Somalis here would appreciate it if the British Government, either via the British high commissioner in Nairobi or via New York, would play a more distinct role in directing in the work of UNOSOM and the United Nations Development Programme, in the interests of Somaliland. There is a lack of information from UNOSOM about the expenditure that will be available for Somaliland, as distinct from the south or from Somalia in general.

President Egal received a letter stating: UNOSOM has not got budgetary resources for demobilisation activities, but a proposal is currently being considered by the General Assembly.

The letter was dated 23 February, and it goes right to the heart of the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that the demobilisation efforts should be underwritten and urgently endorsed before things start to break up again. The danger is that such efforts may teeter unless they are provided with immediate help.

I have referred to resources for police salaries. Until recently, funds from UNOSOM were not known to be available beyond April; were they to be cut off, there would untold consequences. I hope that the Minister can tell us about that. If he cannot, I hope that the British Government will strongly take up the issue with the United Nations and UNOSOM.

Does the Minister agree with my hon. Friend's eloquent point that there is a need to work to promote stability and rehabilitation within existing civic structures? Will he press for the United Nations to end the skewing of funds towards the south, and to build on the foundations established in the north—foundations of hope that may prove a model for other parts of Somalia and of the Horn of Africa?

In the longer term, it is important that there be an expression of the wishes of the people of Somaliland for their own future. The referendum has been wisely delayed for the moment; if one is undertaken, it is important that the UN and the international community be able to recognise it as a valid statement of the views of the people of Somaliland. Our problem hitherto has been that parliamentary organisations cannot help, because there is no parliament there.

Will the Minister try to ensure that Britain and the international community give the Republic of Somaliland some light at the end of the tunnel and a way to establish the view of its people, so that they can resolve the situation in which they find themselves? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie that that should not be an issue now, but I hope that it can be resolved at some time in the future.

Will the Government seek to be a broker with regional and European countries to make progress towards some agreement? Will they, alone or with other countries, seek to build on the work of the NGOs, and accept the view that we have been pressing for some time, that we must build on the administration and the police and proceed with disarmament, demobilisation and the encouragement of economic development? That should be done in advance of any recognition of, a Government or a resolution of the issue of the birth of a new state.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to some of those points. I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie for his initiative in initiating the debate.

8.59 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I welcome this opportunity to respond to the comments on Somalia by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). I congratulate him on making himself a considerable expert on the subject and I also congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who has been an established expert on the subject for some years.

I am glad to see that the people of Somalia have two Opposition spokesmen. They certainly have one spokesman on the Government side in my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson). There is much expertise in the House on this subject.

Before I respond to the debate, may I say that I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on overseas development, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and all other hon. Members were relieved to know that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome got safely back to Britain. It was a worrying moment for all of us and I thought keenly about the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend at that time. I am pleased that the experience in no way seems to have dampened the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie for Somalia or his determination to continue to work to assist its people, particularly those in the north-west of the country which has so exercised the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth and others.

Hon. Members are right to draw the House's attention to the needs of Somalis as they strive to rebuild their country, a process which I hope to show in my brief speech the Government are assisting in no small measure.

Over recent months, the United Nations intervention in Somalia has been the subject of much criticism which we have heard repeated in the debate. I heartily agree that there are certainly lessons to be learned from the UN's experience in Somalia as a whole and not only in the north-western part. However, even the most vociferous critics have to accept that the involvement has meant that hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved and significant humanitarian and political progress has been made. Those are important achievements for which the United Nations can rightly take considerable credit. However, I accept the strictures on other activities that have been voiced in the debate.

Following the decision of the US and a number of other troop contributors to withdraw by the end of March, a new Security Council resolution, adopted on 4 February, gave a reduced UN force of up to 22,000 troops a mandate to protect ports and airports, keep open supply routes for humanitarian aid, take forward reorganisation of the police and judiciary and assist with the repatriation of refugees and the supply of emergency relief. That is the current role of UNOSOM.

The resolution also made it clear that although the international community remains ready to assist the people of Somalia to rebuild their country, the onus for that lies firmly in the hands of the Somalis, as has been acknowledged in the debate. It will be for them to show that they are ready to work together and for them to provide a safe and secure environment in which reconciliation and redevelopment can take place.

It is surely right that the solution to the problems of Somalia should be agreed and implemented by the Somali people themselves. The Government will continue to work closely with our partners in the United Nations and with those in the field in support of that approach. I hope to say more about that shortly. The United Nations has brokered many meetings between the warring factions. An agreement reached in Addis Ababa early last year came to nothing. A further political conference in Addis Ababa in December also failed to reach agreement, and the year ended on a decidedly gloomy note.

However, last month's Nairobi agreement has bought a small degree of hope. An agreement was also struck on Lower Juba, the centre of the famine in 1992, and the scene of much of the recent inter-clan fighting.

We have now seen clear indications that there is a will among the Somali leaders to reach a political settlement. It is important that the follow-up meeting in Mogadishu on 25 April should prove to be a further step towards the formation of a national Government in Somalia.

The international community, through the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the Horn of Africa Standing Committee, has worked tirelessly, often behind the scenes, to try to help the Somali people along the path to political reconciliation. Support for those efforts is the way ahead. Ultimately, only the people of Somalia themselves can bring about the peace and stability that they seek.

I refer to a specific point made by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, and agree that the United Nations Development Programme's office of procurement services—the Zimbabwean team working with the Egal Administration—has done an extremely good job. We expect soon specific proposals for assistance with demobilisation and reintegration of the militia. We are certainly ready to help and we will urge the United Nations and other donors to do the same.

The security situation remains a major area of concern. Developments in both the political and humanitarian fields will be at risk unless security on the ground can be improved. We have been particularly worried about the security of British non-governmental organisation staff in Somalia, and officials in London and in the field continue to work closely with NGOs in Britain on that issue. British and Irish NGOs have been active throughout the crisis, working in a difficult and dangerous environment to bring help to thousands of Somalis. The hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie and for Cardiff, South and Penarth and the House will join me in paying tribute to the commitment and bravery of both their expatriate and Somali staff.

Somalia is not at all an easy place in which to work. As the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie observed, banditry and armed gangs are prevalent. Local authorities have to take a leading part in working with the international community to establish a secure environment. Only then will it be possible to move ahead with much-needed reconstruction and rehabilitation.

In those circumstances, all agencies face difficulty in operating, and it is true that the work of UN agencies has been variable. Some have made a valuable contribution, but we have been frustrated by the performance of others. The United Kingdom has continually urged UNOSOM and UN agencies to improve their performance and to put greater emphasis on the wider relief effort outside the capital, including the north-west.

We understand that it is the UN's intention to establish a mine clearance training establishment in Mogadishu for Somalis throughout the country and that it hopes to increase local involvement in mine clearing. Fourteen mine-clearing initiatives are under way.

Mr. Worthington

Mine clearance was under way in the north, but, now that it has been centralised in Mogadishu, it has stopped in the north. I confidently predict that there will be no mine clearance in the north this year.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, which emphasises his earlier observation. We urgently and consistently press international donors and agencies to recognise the needs of the north-west that the hon. Gentleman described.

Mr. Michael

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A meeting in the House that we organised jointly with the Anglo-Somali Society was attended by someone who had been directly involved with mine-clearance operations in the north. He made the point that moving the operation to the south had stopped progress in the north, which is precisely where progress was being made. That characterises so much of the United Nations approach.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for adding grist to his hon. Friend's mill.

I shall say a few words about the British Government's recognition of the need to help the people of Somalia as they strive to return their country to normality. I shall speak of Somalia in general and then come to the areas of the north-west.

In the absence of a national government, we have no mission in Somalia. However, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in London maintain regular contacts with a broad spectrum of visiting and expatriate Somalis. We also keep in regular touch with the United Nations and other international bodies involved in the Somali problem. Staff from our missions in Nairobi and Addis Ababa continue to pay regular visits to Somalia. Our high commission in Nairobi covers central and south Somalia, while the embassy in Addis Ababa is responsible for the north-west. That arrangement takes account of the access routes to Hargeisa and Mogadishu, and is in line with the arrangements of NGOs and agencies. In addition, an NGO liaison officer has been appointed for the north-west to develop new programmes with international and local NGOs in health and education.

The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie expressed particular concern, as did the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, about the plight of Somalis in the north-west, on which I have already commented. We understand and share his concerns that the interests of that region sometimes get forgotten, and must not be so. Perhaps it would be appropriate at this point to restate the Government's position on the self-proclaimed secession of north-west Somalia. We believe that the future of Somalia must be decided by its people as a whole. The north-west should play its full part in the emerging constitutional dimension.

We hope that the Administration will participate fully in the forthcoming Mogadishu meeting. That is surely the way forward. We recognise the progress that has been made by the Egal Administration, and have made it clear that we are willing to join the rebuilding process. Since May 1991, we have provided almost £5 million of emergency assistance to the north-west. As hon. Members know, my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development visited north-west Somalia last summer in connection with her aid responsibilities. British aid is funding NGOs and UN relief agencies, not only in Hargeisa but throughout the region.

With UNICEF, our assistance is helping to re-establish water supplies in the Toghdeer region. We have supported Action Aid's programme in Sanaag since 1992, which is helping to establish water supplies and livestock services crucial to the local economy. The hon. Gentleman has, of course, judged the value of Action Aid's work at first hand and will be pleased to know that, since his eventful visit, we have agreed to continue funding throughout the whole of 1994.

We are also supporting Save the Children with local health authorities to establish health services throughout the region. We have provided funds for an important mine-clearance operation, as I have mentioned, on which hon. Members have commented. That has successfully cleared mines from strategic locations in and around Hargeisa, although I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. In short, our assistance has made, and will continue to make, a vital contribution in north-west Somalia.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth referred to police assistance. In conjunction with UNOSOM and the local authorities, we are helping with the development of a police force in the region. Two missions have been sent. They have been somewhat hampered by some problems and unrealistic expectations among the Somalis, and progress has been slower than we had hoped. Nevertheless, a small team of officers will go to north-west Somalia shortly to work on training. We are also ready to help with equipment and building repairs.

I will say a few words about the declaration of a water crisis. We are very concerned about water problems and reports of cholera outbreaks and we certainly stand ready to assist in that area.

Our working relations with the north-west are not in any way dependent on recognition of the referendum on independence or any recognition of that kind. Irrespective of that, as I have said, we have consistently urged all the international donors to pay much more attention to the north-western area, and we will continue to do so. We need UNOSOM to play a much more strategic and co-ordinating role in that region: I quite agree with that view. We shall also press the point in the Somali aid co-ordinating body meeting which is now taking place in Nairobi. One of the issues that we intend to raise there is the need for a devolved budget.

Somalia is at a crossroads. The last three years have left the country's infrastructure in ruins, and its people with no institutions of government. The international community is prepared to assist the Somalis in rebuilding their country. To enable that to happen, the Somalis must show that they are prepared to work together to provide a secure environment and a measure of stability. Her Majesty's Government will do all that they can to encourage and support progress towards that end.

Let me end with a quote from a speech made by my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development in a debate on Somalia that took place in this House some two years ago, in the early days of United Nations humanitarian intervention. She said: We hope that Somali leaders themselves will also have learnt from recent events that the international community can provide the assistance which is so desperately needed only if they also commit themselves to a policy of peaceful resolution of their disputes."—[Official Report, 12 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 1090.]

That message is still valid in the context of the present day. I am sure that all hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Clydebank and Milngavie and for Cardiff, South and Penarth, will wish to join me in urging the Somali people to seize this opportunity to return peace and stability to their country.

I have been able to comment briefly on only some of the important points raised by both hon. Members, and I apologise if I have not covered all the points that they wished me to cover. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will be reading the report of tonight's debate, and the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie will be visiting her in due course. I know that she will be able specifically to answer his detailed comments during that visit. I will invite her —and I know that she will respond—to write to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, and to comment on his remarks more fully than I have been able to tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seventeen minutes past Nine o'clock.