HL Deb 02 June 1980 vol 409 cc1106-8

2.46 p.m.


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, in view of the recent rapprochement between Somalia and Kenya, the question of offering military aid to Somalia could be reviewed, it being understood that the United States of America is currently negotiating for military facilities at the port of Berbera in the face of growing danger in the Arabian Sea and Gulf areas.


My Lords, the Government welcome the indications of improved relations between Kenya and Somalia, but we have no plans to offer military aid to Somalia.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this: Since Eritrea is under the guidance of communist influence and Somalia is slanted to the West, would it not be advantageous¤in view of the present exercises of the United States of America in that area to safeguard oil supplies¤that military aid should be given to Somalia? May I also ask the noble Lord this: Would not the fact that 1½ million refugees from Russian pressure are in Somalia mean that, compassion aside, expediency and self-interest would justify a greater amount of support than the £ 850, 000 promised and, in view of the self-interest and expediency, there would be more dividend from that than from much other of the £ 220 million aid distributed by us annually in other directions?


My Lords, the amount of humanitarian aid which we can give to Somalia depends not only upon the scope of the problem, which I readily acknowledge, but also of course upon our resources. As for military aid, of course we have to view that in a different light, and I can tell your Lord-ships that in fact the Somalians have not asked for any military aid at this time. As for the position of the United States, that is a matter for the American Government upon which I would not wish to comment.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that I do not agree with my young friend opposite who is asking for unilateral action in this connection? But as the Americans appear to be interested in the area¤and quite naturally because of the circumstances¤would it not be advisable to engage in consultation with the US Government in the military sphere in order to ensure that we are acting in collaboration?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we do keep in close consultation with the Americans in this and all other matters.


My Lords, has the noble Lord any information regarding the intensification of military action by the Ethiopians in Western Somalia, backed by Soviet and Cuban forces? Has he consulted with the officials of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees about the enormous number of persons who are displaced from their homes throughout the whole of Africa by the aggressive military actions of the Ethiopians? If he is not prepared to increase military aid in that region, would he consider favourably an approach from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to add to the amount which we are providing to supplement these people throughout the region?


My Lords, we are always prepared to consider any approach from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; but as I said earlier, our response must be tailored to our resources.


My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and my noble friend Lord Shinwell, may another young Member of the House put a question? I should like to ask the noble Lord whether the Government would consider as an alternative to providing military aid to Somalia, the proposal supported by Somalia and by all Governments bordering the Indian Ocean, except Oman, that the Indian Ocean should be neutralised and cleared of all these military bases?


My Lords, that is one of a good many proposals of its kind which we see from time to time. All of them are examined carefully, but that one in particular suffers from a number of shortcomings.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Port of Berbera was in British possession for upwards of 200 years until the last war, and that the people of the old British Somaliland would probably welcome an increased use of the port facilities at Berbera by British trading interests along the Red Sea?


My Lords, that is no doubt the case, but it does not, I think, arise from the Question.

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