HL Deb 07 June 1982 vol 431 cc72-90

7.31 p.m.

The Marquess of Ailsa rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are willing to reconsider their attitude to the Horn of Africa in the light of the Libya-Ethiopia-PDRY Alliance, and the Soviet influence in that part of Africa.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I ask this Question because I am concerned that with the events that are currently taking place in Europe, the Middle East, and in the South Atlantic, the events in the Horn of Africa and its surrounding area are being overlooked.

I ask this Question, my Lords, because last autumn Libya, Ethiopia and South Yemen entered into a "tripartite agreement", known by themselves as "the pact of Aden", and by others as "the pact of conspiracy", the object of this pact being for purposes of "revolutionary co-operation". Among the 28 or so articles contained in the pact, the signatories bind themselves to promote common revolutionary struggles; to oppose the Camp David agreement; to increase support for Arab and African liberation movements; and to do all in their power to deepen their relations with the regions "progressive forces and socialist countries".

This, my Lords, is an aggressive alliance, whose intention is to create instability and insecurity among its neighbours, in particular Somalia, Sudan and the Oman. Already there have been invasions, riots and other disturbances and outrages in Khartoum, Mogadishu and elsewhere. In each and every case the instigators and participants of these acts of violence have been financed, harboured and trained by one or other of the members of this pact of conspiracy. Only recently a group of Somali dissidents from Ethiopia demonstrated with violence outside the Somali embassy here in London. Fortunately only a few windows were broken.

I also ask this Question because it appears that there is a very strong Soviet influence behind this pact. Each of the signatories are themselves heavily involved with the Soviet Union, and they are in receipt of aid, arms, military training and instruction from that country or its satellites.

The Soviet Union was deeply involved in the creation of "the pact of Aden". Not only was there a Soviet representative present at all the meetings, but this same representative assisted in the preparation of the agenda, and himself took the chair at all meetings that involved foreign policy. This surely indicates the degree of influence that the Soviet Union is endeavouring to bring to bear in the Horn of Africa.

I ask this Question because Somalia, Sudan, the Oman and other countries in the area around the Horn of Africa, feel themselves threatened by this pact of conspiracy. They have felt and seen a variety of attempts to undermine their internal security and stability. For this reason, they are looking towards Her Majesty's Government for positive and meaningful support and understanding, their only desire being to be allowed to live their lives in peace and to get on with the task of looking after their own peoples.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask my Question.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, the noble Marquess has done the House an important service in drawing attention to an area of the world which is in danger of being overlooked, notwithstanding the fact that, as he said, it is an area in which maleficent Soviet influence has been, and is, having a marked effect on many of the countries of the region. It is not just that the Soviet influence may have an effect in the future through the tripartite pact that the noble Marquess mentioned. It is that Soviet intervention in the Horn of Africa has already had several harmful results which I should like to begin by summarising.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and wounded by Soviet weapons, including napalm and poison gas. Millions of people have been forced into exile by the armed conflicts waged by Russia's satellite, Ethiopia. Millions more have been displaced internally within Ethiopia as a result of these conflicts. Agriculture has been neglected causing widespread starvation and malnourishment. Development has been halted because of the diversion of resources into military operations on a huge scale.

I was recently in the liberated areas of Eritrea and it is from an Eritrean perspective that I want to consider this Question. I believe that Britain ought to be particularly ready to listen to the people of Eritrea because we, after all, liberated them from Italian colonialism in 1941, only to hand them over to Ethiopian colonialism 11 years later. The Ethiopian claim to Eritrea was based on the assertion that they were the successors in title to the kingdom of Axum which flourished between the 4th century BC and the rise of Islam. Of course that claim is completely untenable because Axum and modern Ethiopia occupy completely different territory, because Axum never controlled the area of land which is present-day Eritrea, and because the region has undergone extensive changes since the middle of the 7th century when Axum collapsed.

In 1950 the United Nations, acting on the prompting of the Americans and British, decided to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia. The British would have preferred to dismember the territory, handing over part of it to Haile Selassie and the remainder to the Sudan. But they went along with the solution which the United Nations finally adopted. The United Nations concluded—and I quote from the UN Commissioner's report—that: the Eritrean people lack the capacity for self-government "; a verdict that was hardly surprising, I suppose, in the age which preceded the great wave to decolonisation in the 'fifties and the 'sixties, but which could not be maintained today when countries a fraction of the size and resources of Eritrea have gained their independence and become members of the UN.

At that time only a very superficial effort was made to discover the wishes of the Eritrean people by talking to so-called representatives who had been elected by nobody, but who put themselves forward as speaking for numbers of people which in total added up to more than the whole population. Most of these people had been generously bribed, of course, by Haile Selassie to speak in favour of union with Ethiopia, and that viewpoint was made to appear to command the support of a sizeable fraction of the population.

So the federation came into existence in 1952 and continued uneasily for the next 10 years, when Haile Selassie dissolved even the puppet parliament in Asmara at gunpoint and imposed direct rule, defying the United Nations. He knew he was going to get away with it because at the time he was strongly supported by the Americans, who got military base facilities as a quid pro quo. But his action was the signal for the beginning of the war of liberation, which has continued for over 20 years.

In 1974 Haile Selassie was overthrown and a military dictatorship came into power. The junta threw out the Americans and called in the Russians. In 1977, when the liberation forces in Eritrea were poised for victory, the Ethiopians brought in massive quantities of sophisticated Russian weapons and compelled the freedom fighters to stage a strategic withdrawal in 1978, giving up all the towns they held except Nacfa, the capital of the northern Sahel Province. If it had not been for the Soviet intervention at that point, the war would have come to an end with an Eritrean victory and independence in 1978; and the continued suffering and deaths since then have been caused directly by the Kremlin. But the Ethiopians did not succeed in overcoming Eritrean resistance. They have had to pour in ever-increasing quantities of men and munitions just to maintain the military status quo.

In the sixth offensive, which started on the 15th February this year, they deployed 120,000 men, massive quantities of armaments, including 122mm heavy artillery, heavy mortars, "Stalin Organ" rocket-launchers, T54 tanks and Mig 23 and Antonov bombers. Colonel Mengistu, the leader of the military junta, launched this offensive with a bombastic speech in Asmara, in which he promised to crush the secessionist bandits ". But the assault did not go according to plan. The 21st division was cut to pieces in Barka Province and the commander, Colonel Ubishet, was executed for his failure in front of the remainder of the army in the public square of Afabet, and I spoke to an Ethiopian prisoner of war who was there in the hands of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and who actually witnessed the execution.

On other fronts, too, the Ethiopians sustained huge losses, so that they had finally to concentrate all their forces on two fronts, Nacfa and the north-east, both in territory which favours the defenders. On the Nacfa front, I saw the EPLF forces well dug in along an escarpment 200 metres high, a virtually impregnable barrier except to helicopters, and the Ethiopians are not keen on using helicopters because the EPLF anti-aircraft fire is now very effective. The town of Nacfa itself has been reduced to a pile of rubble by Soviet-made bombers, but nobody lives there any more. Morale on the Ethiopian side—nearly all of them conscripts and some press-ganged into the army—is very poor, while on the Eritrean side every man and woman is fighting out of a sense of dediction and patriotism.

The Russians cannot allow Ethiopia to lose this war because if they did so they would be kicked out of the naval base facilities they occupy in the islands off the Eritrean coast, from which they can menace the Indian Ocean. The vicious and unprincipled hypocrites in the Kremlin will help to murder a whole nation rather than lose a counter in their game of world domination against the United States. It is partly with this objective in mind that the pact mentioned by the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, has been promoted by the Soviet Union. One effect of the pact has been that the Ethiopians have now called in units of Libya and forces of the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen to try to bolster up their sagging military efforts. Another initiative taken by the Derg, inspired by Moscow is to bring in a new weapon even dirtier than the poison gases and napalm they have used already. They are blackmailing neighbouring Sudan to stop up the routes by which humanitarian supplies reach the hard-pressed people of free Eritrea.

At Bahir-Daar in Gojjam Province, the Derg is training 14,000 terrorists for action in southern Sudan and other groups are training in Wallega Province. The Derg has already demonstrated its preparedness to export terror—the noble Marquess referred to this —in which it no doubt receives assistance from the Libyan masters of the game. Your Lordships will recollect the recent incident in which four assassins were sent to Berlin to kill Dr. Gunnar Hasselblatt, who has done so much for the Oromo people, but fortunately they blew themselves up instead. The German police found a "hit list" with many other intended victims on it. So the Sudanese, knowing that they are up against a gang of absolutely ruthless murderers, reached an agreement with the Derg that "opposition activities" would be closed down in both countries. This, of course, is a very one-sided bargain because the Sudanese do not train any anti- Ethiopian groups: nor do they allow such groups to operate on Sudanese territory. Also, there is no way of seeing that the Derg will keep to their side of the bargain. I do warn the Sudanese that giving in to blackmail by dictators is a shortsighted policy, as we ourselves learned in the 1930s.

But if the Russians cannot afford to let the Derg lose the war, neither will military superiority and political kung-fu be enough to give victory to the Derg. Not only are they outclassed by a noble and implacably determined people, but they are confronted by liberation movements within Ethiopia itself. The Tigrayan, Afar, Oromo and Western Sahara peoples have all taken up arms against the Derg and are recording ever-increasing success on the battlefield.

In conclusion, I come to some remarks on the role of Britain and the EEC. First, I believe we should recognise that Soviet activies in the Horn of Africa constitute a serious threat to peace and should be noticed by the United Nations. Our policy has always been that these were matters for the OAU. But if the OAU is paralysed, how far should other powers allow Soviet neo-colonialist intervention to go before raising a finger to stop it? What is happening in this region is just as a grave a threat to peace as Afghanistan and cannot be ignored.

Secondly, we should stop all aid to the Derg and encourage others to do the same. Astonishingly, EEC aid to Ethiopia during 1980 amounted to 32.2 million dollars, and the Derg received another 33.9 million dollars through the bilateral programmes of member countries, with Germany as the largest contributor with 13.9 million dollars and Britain giving 4.4 million dollars. It does not seem to be appreciated that this aid does not help to relieve the sufferings of poor peasants but it does help to nourish and sustain the Ethiopian war effort, sometimes even directly, by going straight to the troops in the front line. I have with me photographs taken by a distinguished Swedish journalist, Mr. Goran Assbring, whom I met in Eritrea, taken on the battlefield in 1980, showing the gifts of the EEC and UNICEF which have come into the hands of military forces of Ethiopia and have been used to feed their own troops.

Thirdly, we must allocate at least as much extra aid to the neighbouring countries which are threatened with subversion by the Derg as we save by ending the Ethiopian programmes. I believe that an extra 66 million dollars at least should be allocated to the Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia, all of whom desperately need help. It must surely be in our own interest to holster the stability of those countries rather than allow them to fall one by one to subversion plotted in Moscow, Tripoli and Addis Ababa.

Fourthly, is it not time we took the Libyan threat seriously and stopped buying Gaddafi's oil? If an international boycott could be organised now—and there could not be a better time to do it, with consumption in the world either declining or stagnant—it would be an act of self-protection by consumer states which would be welcomed in many parts of Africa too. Cutting off the oil revenues would stop Libya from financing international terrorism and helping the bankrupt Ethiopians to carry on with their military adventures.

Finally, the voluntary agencies, including the Churches, ought to have another look at their programmes. In particular, their support for resettlement projects in Wollega, Oromia and parts of Ogaden should be closely scrutinised. What the Derg are doing is to transplant people from Tigrai and Wollo provinces, so as to be able to break up homogeneous populations of anti-Amhara peoples, relocating them as virtual slave labour in places where they can be closely supervised. Men and women are kept separately, so as to reduce in the long-term the non-Amhara population, and people who do not work get no rations. These camps are being financed largely by the German and Swedish Lutherans, but also to some extent, I understand, by Oxfam.

These agencies should also bear in mind that it is unwise to rely on permanent representatives in Addis Ababa to monitor those programmes, because they can remain there only if they comply with the instructions of the Derg. One test would be to see what was said by those representatives about the persecution of the Mekane Yesus church, one of whose leaders, Gudina Tumse, and 300 other pastors and elders, have disappeared since July, 1979.

At the moment, we are fighting a bloody and costly battle in the South Atlantic, because we believe in principles. We believe in the self-determination of peoples, which means that every former colony has the right to determine its own political future. Even more important, we believe in the principle of the United Nations charter, that sovereignty shall not be transferred by force. The people of Eritrea—3 million of them, which is 2,000 times as many as there are Falklanders—never had the chance to state their case through the ballot, though they have been expressing it vigorously with the bullet for 20 years. They lost the remnants of their freedom under Haile Selassie's jackboot in 1962, as the people of the Falklands have done, temporarily we hope, under Galtieri's in 1982.

We may not have the power to uphold the principles of non-aggression and of self-determination in areas of the world that are not under our sovereignty. But at least we can speak out, plainly and consistently, in favour of those principles wherever they are violated. It is our duty to demand the removal of the illegal forces of occupation in Eritrea and the right of her people, after their heroic struggle, to speak for themselves on their political future.

7.53 p.m.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, if at any time we have wondered why this Question was being put to your Lordships, and, in particular, to my noble friend Lord Belstead this evening, while the country is engaged in defending our people in the South Atlantic, we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Ailsa and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, very good reasons why we should not be neglecting this part of the world, and should be turning our attention to the importance and significance of what is happening in the Horn of Africa.

The geo-strategic importance of that area is shown by merely looking at a world map. It is perfectly clear from the map what role that part of the world will play. Attention has been drawn to the recent alliance between Libya, Ethiopia and the PDRY. But also, of course, there has been a new agreement, a new and further protocol of co-operation, between Ethiopia and the South Yemen, for reasons of energy, tourism, building and other mutual interests. There are already naval and air bases of the Soviet Union, both at Aden and at Khormaksar.

The Libyans are well-known for their various incursions into terrorism around their borders and, not so very long ago, in Chad, with continual raids on the Sudan border and Ethiopian raids on Somalia. So we know that the area is becoming a highly destabilised one, offering the kind of situation which is ripe for further violence and aggression. We all know of the understood aspirations of Gaddafi himself to create an Islamic expansionist empire which would stretch from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean on the one side to the Atlantic on the other.

We also know—and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has indicated some of the facts relating to this—of the constant arms supply by the Soviet Union itself to Ethiopia. One figure which I have, and which I thought was very significant and revealing, is that from 1977 to 1978 one-third of the total arms sales of the Soviet Union went to Ethiopia, while 55 per cent. went to Libya, Algeria, Syria and also India, making a total of 4,000 million US dollars. That surely indicates Soviet interest in that area, and I do not think that anybody can deny that the USSR has direct concern and involvement in that particular area of the globe.

What measures has the West taken in this area, or what measures should it take? When I talk of the West, I talk in the context, mainly, of the European Community, which has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I should like to single out three or four areas which have so far not been touched on, but which I bring to the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, because, since we are debating this subject tonight and are putting a Question to my noble friend, we should at least try to put some thoughts into the Government's head to take notice of what could, and should, be done in that area without costing too much money.

First, it is clear that there is a desperate need for adequate supplies of food. Whereas this was an area which exported wheat at some stage, there is now a continuing decline in the production of wheat. Whereas the Ethiopian objective had been to make itself self-sufficient, there is a continual decline in their production, at the same time as an increase in population. We also know about the terrible position of the refugees in Somalia, who are estimated at 700,000 but are more likely to number something over 1 million, because of the nomadic groups who wander about the territory and come in across the border from Ethiopia.

I have a young friend who has been working in that area on behalf of the Red Cross, and the difficulties that they incur the whole time with distribution and with providing adequate supplies of food of the right type are very moving indeed. I can only say how much we owe to these people who go out in some of these nongovernmental organisations, trying to do their best for those people. But I am afraid the summing-up was that there is no charity in aid, which rather summed up the feelings when they were trying to deal with the lack of administrative capacity, the lack of transport and the lack of infrastructure.

Last year, I drew the attention of the Government, but, unfortunately, without much success to the court of auditors' report of the European Community. It comes out every year, and every year there is a slamming attack on the use of European development fund money and on the way that food aid is handled. I should just like to quote very briefly some of the comments that are made. On page 105, it states that there is poor budgetary estimating and delays in the implementation of food aid. In this context, I remember that there was six months' delay in getting food to Somalian refugees, because of incompetence. I do not necessarily blame the Community itself, but there was incompetence of one sort or another in getting food to the people who were starving. Often, there is unsatisfactory quality of the products supplied, and a failure on the part of recipient countries to comply properly with their contractual obligations to the Community.

These are some of the criticisms made by the court of auditors, who study these matters independently and objectively. The Government would be playing a very useful role, if they would see what improvements could be made in this field. The Community has already supplied about 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Ethiopia and to Somalia, and I shall put the question, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has done: what is the wisdom and what are the grounds of sending food to Ethiopia, if it is to be given not to the people who need it, but to support troops?

The second point I should like to make is that if one is to help these countries, particularly Somalia which is among the least of least developed countries, to earn their living the only way to do so is through trade. So far we have done extremely little to help them make themselves into viable trading communities. Of course it is difficult but I do not believe that it is impossible. It does not depend just on bilateral or multilateral aid. It behoves us with our experience as a trading community—in this context 1 talk again on behalf of the European Community—to work out means of encouraging these people to enter into trading agreements so as to stimulate methods of trading from Somalia. I would point out that so far as the Soviet Union is concerned they have done surprisingly little to help any trading development in these countries. From the less developed countries in 1979, exports to COMECON represented only 3.2 per cent. of their exports, whereas 72.3 per cent. of their exports were absorbed by western countries. This at least showed a willingness on our part to consider that there is a problem and to do something to help them develop their economies—apart from the fact that the Soviet Union and other COMECON countries usually deal with barter trade and compensatory trade, which does not enable these countries to develop their own resources. Hopefully it will be these reasons which will make these countries recognise that their future lies with the West and that their economic and social development cannot depend on aid and support from the Soviet Union.

The Government should do everything they can to encourage private sector investment, which is I believe one of the most helpful ways of developing a country's potential. It does not involve governmental interference from outside. It helps with the training of people for jobs and eventually it helps to stabilise and provide jobs. This is what economic and social development is about. It has been shown over and over again in countries which have recently acquired their independence that the ideologies of Marxism and Leninism do not bring them the wealth and aspirations for which they had hoped. I should like again to draw the attention of my noble friend, in terms of public sector investment, to the use of the European Development Fund. Here again there needs to be much closer scrutiny of the way that these funds are being spent. There was criticism in the court of auditors' report— in particular of one of the countries which we are considering tonight —of the way in which money was handled, of the way that development plans were worked out, of the delays, of the incompetence. Again one can blame nobody, but there clearly needs to be much closer scrutiny of the way that the funds which are available are applied for the benefit of the people.

Finally, may I say a word about the desperate need for a new approach to agricultural programmes. The grandiose agricultural schemes which were meant to provide food for thousands of people have been extremely unsatisfactory. It is not necessary to have expensive and large machinery which needs maintenance and repair and which lies rotting in the fields. It is not necessary to have the modern method of petrochemical fertilisers which, in the case of one of the countries we are considering, led to the complete collapse of their agricultural programme in the long term because of the rise in the price of oil. They simply did not have the funds to meet the expense involved in this type of agriculture. We might consider what is happening in the Philippines. They are looking at the need for indigenous agricultural programmes on a small scale, based upon simple village organisation —possibly with water supplies and a very simple manner which can be coped with and handled by people who are used to certain traditions and habits, without going into very high, modern technology which in their case, frankly, is useless. Indeed, the court of auditors, to quote again from its report, makes a very moving and revealing statement when it says that redevelopment ultimately dispossesses the most deprived sections of the population for whose benefit the investment was originally intended. There can be very few words which are more damning than that of the kind of programmes in which people, in good faith, have tried to involve these particular countries.

There are four points in conclusion which I should like to mention briefly. The West has an interest in the security of the region and in containing the Soviet involvement. There is a need therefore to monitor and to scrutinise Soviet activity. The deterioration of the refugee problem in Somalia clearly means that assistance from outside is needed through multilateral agencies, such as the UNHCR, and through governments. They can also help in this field. Thirdly, there is the point which has already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury: What is the wisdom of giving aid to Ethiopia? Are we justified in doing so? Should it be sent elsewhere? Or are there ways in which it can be scrutinised so that the food goes to the people who are starving, whether it be in Ethiopia or elsewhere? Finally, we must not, as we have so often in the past, lay our policies down rigid tramlines; that foreign policy is one thing and development policy another. Never have we lived in a world which has become so interdependent. We have to recognise that development policy must be considered in relation to our foreign and our security policy and that they should be co-ordinated.

8.6 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I am now going to do something in this House which I seldom do; namely, to quote from one of my speeches in 1958. I then initiated debates on the External Services of the BBC in order to try to provide more money for them. I was fairly successful in doing so. I quote from col. 774 of Hansard of 9th July 1958: Africa is another area where our external broadcasting services should be increased, with a view to combating Communist propaganda and cementing the Commonwealth and Colonies. With the tribal system breaking down throughout Africa, the illiterate African turns only too easily to Communism. I have not the least doubt that the world's next trouble spot will be the Horn of Africa. Here we have the intelligent but highly-strung and politically immature Somalis divided between five countries, one of which, Somalia, is soon to get her independence. Be sure that Nasser and his Soviet overlords will soon be concentrating their propaganda machine among those Somalis who are not to get their independence. Definitely we need a great network of transmitters in Africa if we are to make the British point of view understood ". We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, an horrendous account of the appalling conditions now in that area. I called it "a trouble spot", and that has turned out to be a great understatement. Times have changed since then. President Nasser has gone and Egypt has thrown out the Russians. But we have this appalling problem of almost a million and a half Somali refugees.

As noble Lords probably know, the Somalis are one of the finest races in Africa. They are intelligent people and they have had the most dreadful time during the last few years. The rape of Ethiopia by a Communist coup and the wars in the Ogaden in the 1970s caused this appalling refugee problem. The latest treaty or pact between Libya, Ethiopia and the so-called People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen can only be viewed, as other speakers have said, with the deepest suspicion. There is no doubt that the Soviet bloc has been one of the prime movers behind it, and, of course, it is a pact or treaty which will add further destabilisation to the area. But one really has to look at the map of the east of Africa, Iran and Afghanistan to remember that the Soviets now occupy the latter. When Russia did that there was a great fear that she would come across the Straits of Hormuz and cut off the Persian Gulf.

I said at the time that she would not do that because it was such an obvious move; that she would divert the attention of the West by stirring up a lot of trouble in South America which, of course, she has done. But one day without doubt she will come across the Straits of Hormuz. She now has her right flank protected by this treaty with South Yemen. She also has control of Ethiopia, which is a large part of the Horn of Africa. She is ideally placed, with this treaty including Libya, to act as a giant nutcracker to crack the Sudan and Egypt. It is a really serious matter.

I realise that the British Government probably think that the Organisation of African Unity can control this, but in fact the Organisation of African Unity cannot control such a thing. It would be all right if this was what one might call a "parochial dispute" between two small African nations, but this is an international affair backed up by the USSR, one of the most powerful countries in the world. We cannot leave it to the Organisation of African Unity to sort this out.

I should like to congratulate the Government anyway for not cutting the BBC's External Services' broadcasts to Somalis in their own language, but I think we are being a bit too stingy with our aid. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, and I understand, that our aid for 1981/82 is £4½ million; £3 million of that is for refugees and £1½ million is for Somalia herself. When one thinks that we give overseas aid of £220 million, surely we could afford to divert a little more aid to this part of Africa, to Somalia. I agree that we have a commitment to the EEC, which does send aid to this area, but I would ask the Government to try to be a little more generous here.

I would like to impress upon the Government the great importance of this area of the Horn of Africa. I was probably the first person—certainly the first person in your Lordships' House—to bring this matter to the attention of the then Government. But the Foreign Office took no notice. I find them to be extremely difficult people, who do not take any notice of what one says in your Lordships' House. I will end by saying that if the machinations of the Soviets in this portion of Africa are not checked we may well see, in the not so distant future, that no country in Africa will have true freedom.

The only country in Africa which will stand out will be South Africa; but there I see a great danger, because South Africa is a very tough nut and will be the only country left in Africa with a western culture. I have always understood that the South Africans have the atomic bomb, and South Africa might actually be inadvertently the start of the Third World War if she is so surrounded. I should just like to make that point and to express the hope that Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to stop Soviet influence increasing throughout the Horn of Africa and spreading generally throughout Africa—although it has already spread through other parts of Africa in the last few years.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness Airey of Abingdon

My Lords, we should be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Ailsa for asking this Question, because the debate has thrown up such a wealth of information of an alarming nature. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he does not agree that the situation in the Falkland Islands at the present moment is a classic lesson that prevention is better than cure. Surely that is what we should be thinking about this evening. What we have heard about is a very dangerous situation. I would like to concentrate my remarks primarily on Somalia because that is what I know most about. That is because it is in conjunction with something about which my late husband felt very deeply; that is, freedom under the law.

The Somalis are in fact a very noble people. They are friends, and also Somalia was a colony of this country. They are situated in an extremely dangerous situation and a very tactical situation when one comes to consider all the views that have been put forward this evening. They have suffered terrible problems not only because of the difficulties of their country but also because of the very large number of refugees who have flooded in as a result of the situation in surrounding countries which has been described so eloquently by other speakers this evening.

I should especially like to put it to my noble friend the Minister that it would be of very great advantage to the Somalis—and I have raised this before in an earlier Question in your Lordships' House—if we increased our aid. I know that it is very important to follow up how this aid is spent. This is a matter of which I have great experience, in respect of aid to Poland. I appreciate that it is very much more difficult in this particular situation, in this part of the world, to follow up how aid is used to the best advantage, but I am sure that it can be done, because there are some very good charitable and other agencies through which this could be accomplished.

It is very important that the Somalis—about whom I am speaking in particular—should be encouraged and helped in every way to have better industrial organisation in their own country, and especially in agriculture. This was very well stressed by my noble friend Lady Elles. And it should not be too complicated; it should be a simple form of agriculture that they are already accustomed to. I think anything we can do and any money we can possibly transfer will be more than repaid. It has not been mentioned this evening that West Germany has realised the danger and has helped very much in Somalia. I do believe that it is up to our country to do our utmost, and I do beg my noble friend the Minister to put to Her Majesty's Government that it will be in our own interest, in view of the great dangers that I have been so much impressed by this evening, that we should do our utmost to help our friends in that part of the world.

8.21 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, the noble Marquess, Lord Ailsa, was certainly right to raise this subject for us to discuss this evening. We have been in danger recently of thinking that there is only one problem in the field of foreign affairs with which we need concern ourselves. I am very glad that he has drawn our attention strikingly to this very different problem and in so doing has given rise to what, if I may say so, has been a most well-informed and exciting debate. I am sure the Government have been paying careful attention to the points that have been made.

The immediate matter that is troubling the noble Marquess is the conclusion of the pact with Libya and with Yemen. What strikes me is that that pact is not only plainly hostile to our interests and those of the West, but it is deeply hostile to the whole welfare of Africa because it is concerned with arms, with aggression and with conflict. It contains nothing of the constructive proposals that that part of Africa so desperately needs, because it is one of the poorest parts of the world. Here I agree very much with the noble Baroness who has just spoken. The people of Somalia have particularly, in the most difficult circumstances, striven to produce a country which wanted to live at peace, to provide a civilised form of government for its people, and they have been particularly the sufferers from recent events in the Horn of Africa.

There are, I think, few things more pathetic than the contrast between references, in a pact like this, to progress and the advancement of African peoples, and the actual programme of battle and conflict and consequent impoverishment that the pact will really mean for the people of the Horn of Africa. In these circumstances, what is it reasonable for us to ask Her Majesty's Government to do? The noble Viscount, Lord Masserene and Ferrard, complained that the Foreign Office were very difficult people, that you could never get them to listen to what you say. I think, in fairness, that is partly because people are always asking them to attend to so many different concerns at once. There is a tendency to imagine that we are still an enormous empire governing a quarter of the human race. The error of thinking that is, I think, to be found among noble Lords and Members of another place of all political opinions. There is the tendency to suppose that wherever there is trouble Britain can stretch out its hand and put it right.

I am going to try not to fall into that error, but if one does not want to fall into that error one can still ask the Government to take very seriously the matters that have been brought to their attention tonight. It is natural to say that this is a matter for the Organisation of African Unity, and I would start off with a good deal of sympathy for that point of view, because there is a great danger of merely arousing hostility in Africa if the Africans themselves are ready to suppose, "Here are the Europeans at it again trying to manage the affairs of our continent for us ". But we must in this case notice that the outside interference is already there. It is not in dispute that the Soviet Union is the major force that is bringing about the tragedy now being enacted in the Horn of Africa. Without their support for Ethiopia this whole problem would wear a different complexion.

That is one reason, I think, why we cannot say that the matter should be left to the OAU to manage for itself. If that organisation had now what I hope some day it may have, the power to see that outside countries do not meddle in African affairs, it would be a different question. But that date has not yet arrived. Another reason for not having very much faith in leaving it to the OAU at this juncture is, I think I am right in saying, that the forthcoming chairman of the OAU is Colonel Gaddafi. I think therefore this is not the answer.

But if that is not the answer, what is? The problem cannot be solved by Britain alone; that must be accepted, whether one is thinking in military terms, in terms of aid or trade or whatever. But we might look first at the lines on which Britain could proceed and the places where it might find help. Other speakers have already drawn the attention of the Government to what needs to be done: a reconsideration of our aid policy towards Ethiopia on the one hand and towards the unfortunate Somalis and the Sudanese on the other, and consideration also of what could be done to promote private trade and investment for the improvement of the wealth of this part of the world.

Who can we work with on this? Immediately springs to mind the European Economic Community. The Community did not hesitate to develop a policy of its own towards the general problems of the Middle East and the unhappy conflict between Israel and her neighbours. And we have recently seen in our relations with the EEC over the Falklands what I regard as very welcome growing signs of political mutual sympathy between members of the European Economic Community. I think, therefore, we might ask: how far have the Government got in even discussing these matters with our partners in the Community?

I remember a long way back discussing in Western European Union, which was at that time the only organisation in which you could discuss it, what common action European countries could take to prevent continued Soviet penetration of Africa. It was a little difficult to do anything then owing to the standoffish nature of French policy, but that is a difficulty which is no longer so serious.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested that we ought also to draw this whole matter to the attention of the United Nations. That is another line on which to proceed. The Government, therefore, have had put to them tonight several forms of action they could take and several proposals as to the partners they could find for making action effective. I am hoping very much that we shall get a stimulating and forthcoming reply from the Minister.

8.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the strategic importance of the Horn of Africa needs little elaboration. The Horn guards the mouth of the Red Sea; it faces the critical oil-producing areas of the Gulf, and it overlooks the Indian Ocean. So it is right that my noble friend Lord Ailsa should raise the subject of the British attitude to the Horn, particularly in the context of Soviet influence in the area and of the treaty between Libya, Ethiopia and The Peoples' Democratic Republic of the Yemen; and it is right that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, in speaking at the end of this debate, should make the point that we have had a valuable debate with many different suggestions put to the Government from your Lordships, each of which will be studied with care and to some of which I hope to reply in the course of the next few minutes.

The Horn's strategic significance has assumed even greater importance since 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The arrival of Soviet land forces in the proximity of the Gulf coupled with a build-up of the Soviet naval presence in the Indian Ocean, a presence backed up by the massive base created at Aden, have naturally raised apprehensions about their-overall intentions; and the cynical manner in which the Russians switched their support from Somalia to Ethiopia in 1977 typified the unprincipled nature of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.

One could be forgiven for presuming the existence of a master plan to threaten and eventually control the Gulf area while at the same time thrusting a wedge into the Sub-Saharan area of Africa. My noble friend Lord Ailsa really indicated in his speech that he shares this suspicion. For the Government, I would say this: actions speak louder than words and it is for the Soviet Union to demonstrate by its actions that my noble friend's suspicions are unfounded. Withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a start. So would the substitution of economic assistance for the endless flow of weapons of war; and I was most interested in the figures which my noble friend Baroness Elles gave in this respect.

Like my noble friend Lord Ailsa, Her Majesty's Government wait for some evidence of good faith on the part of Russia. We naturally look with suspicion at moves which appear to suit the Soviet interest, and, in this context, it is just worth examining the circumstances, in which the treaty between Ethiopia, Libya and South Yemen was signed in August of last year, so as to assess as best we can the part that the Russians may have played in planning this alliance. From all accounts, Ethiopia was reportedly dissatisfied at the lack of a forthcoming response to its request for Soviet financial assistance. South Yemen was seeking an event that would give it stature on the world stage, and Libya, apart from her adventures in Chad and elsewhere, was seeking additional support in her vendetta against Egypt and the United States.

My noble friend in his opening speech said that Russia was deeply involved in the planning of the treaty, and he gave some details of this in the course of his remarks. In the Foreign Office, we should be glad to see any evidence of the details which my noble friend gave, for obviously those details would throw some fresh light on the planning of the treaty. What we do know is that the treaty was certainly concluded in haste, and it is noticeable that its phraseology differs considerably from that found in other Soviet treaties of friendship and co-operation.

Nevertheless, the treaty is a substantial document covering the political, economic and military security fields, and its declared purpose is to protect the three countries from:

" World imperialism, Zionism, racism and international reaction ".

I would put it to the House, however, that the real significance of this treaty is surely how the signatories interpret their obligations and what impact the treaty has had on the other countries of the region. The treaty has not been welcomed by neighbouring countries. I recorded that in a reply to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on 19th April. Somalia, of course, appears to be the most affected, but there is a general fear that the treaty is designed to destabilise that country with the ultimate aim of replacing President Barre with a puppet leader. The Somali's point to recent Ethiopian material support for the dissident guerrilla Somali National Movement, which they say operates nowadays out of Ethiopian territory. Another neighbour of Ethiopia, Sudan, has fears that the treaty may be used by the Libyans to undermine its stability. Egypt, to, has expressed reservations about it. The treaty no doubt provides encouragement to the Soviet Union, but I feel that that is different from arguing that the Sovier Union is the real instigator of the treaty.

None the less, I agree with my noble friend Lady Airey of Abingdon that prevention, particularly in this very important area, is better than cure, and Her Majesty's Government most certainly support the United States and Somali defence access agreement, which provides the Americans with facilities at Berbera and Mogadishu. Since 1977, Ethiopia has entered into a series of treaties and agreements with Warsaw Pact countries, the effect being to bind that country increasingly to the interests of the Soviet camp. Ethiopia was one of the few third world countries to vote against the United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Russian "advisers" numbering 1,000, together with some 500 East German technicians and 11,000 Cuban military surrogates, make a formidable presence, threatening not only the immediately adjoining countries but also the heart of Africa.

Economically, too, the Russians seek to make themselves indispensable. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned oil. My information is that Russia makes itself the sole supplier of oil by selling to Ethiopia at concessionary rates. However, with the passage of time it has become evident that while Soviet influence is all-pervading, the stranglehold is not complete. President Mengistu's provisional military government has resisted the introduction of the full party apparatus so dear to Soviet ideologues. Moreover, the realisation has grown that the East are not willing—even if they were able—to finance Ethiopia's development requirements. Also—and this cannot be said loud enough or clear enough—the debt burden for military supplies from Russia, estimated at some 2,000 million dollars, is absolutely crippling.

Gradually, therefore, the Ethiopian Government, or Derg as it is called, have turned back towards the West. The World Bank, which had suspended loans because of Ethiopia's failure to compensate expatriate owners of nationalised companies, was successfully wooed; and last year loans were resumed, though with an element of conditionality about compensation. Bilateral donors were also canvassed and there has been a response, including a response from the European Community and individual member states. That is one part of the picture; but I must also mention Ethiopia's internal problems, about which we have heard a good deal in this debate and not least in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, problems which, incidentally, long pre-date the Soviet presence and are a cause of concern, I know, in the whole of your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord really made his entire speech on the terrible problem of Eritrea, a country which he has visited personally; and your Lordships always listen with the greatest attention to speeches of that kind. Therefore, I will not tread that ground again, except to say that we all know that President Mengistu decided to launch what he has called "Operation Red Star" involving some 100,00 Ethiopean troops and the diversion of resources much needed elsewhere in what is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The Eritreans have strenuously and fairly successfully resisted integration since 1962 through guerrilla warfare. They have been receiving outside, mainly Arab, military support throughout the years and "Operation Red Star "seems to be going the way of previous attempts to solve the Eritrean problem military—namely, a stalemate. I listened very carefully to the conclusion of the noble Lord. The conclusion of the Government is that we earnestly hope that the Derg will turn to negotiation to achieve a durable and a proper settlement.

However, the noble Lord referred in his speech to people in their thousands, as I understood it, being either killed or affected by the use of poison gas. Speaking on behalf of the Government, we do not have evidence to substantiate reports of the possession or the use of nerve gas by the Ethiopians in Eritrea. Of course, the reports were formally denied at the time by the Ethiopian ambassador, and indeed the denial was broadcast on the BBC World Service. I am, of course, very ready to listen to the noble Lord because we would be among the first in the international community to condemn any Government about which there was well-found evidence of any intention to use posion gas on its citizens.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I had the opportunity of discussing this matter with the doctor who treated the victims—Dr. Assefaw in the No. 1 hospital in the base area. He gave me some details of the symptoms of the casualties who came into his hospital, 37 of whom appeared to have suffered from the ingestion of incapacitating gases of the CN or CS type, but one of whom, when examined post mortem, exhibited symptoms like flecks of blood in the pleura and distention of the brain, which he said were consistent with organic phosphorus poison. The fact that one patient exhibited these symptoms may not be conclusive, but there are other indications from sightings of the cannisters in the depots in Asmara which indicate that the Russians have supplied these weapons and that although the Ethiopians may not have used them on a wide scale so far, they certainly have the intention of doing so.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the extra information which he has given because that is precisely what a debate of this kind is about. Certaintly in the Foreign Office we will study carefully what the noble Lord has said. As he will know, the United Nations Experts Group, set up to carry out full investigation into allegations of chemical warfare use, whose efforts we most certainly support, has not as yet judged it necessary to visit Eritrea.

Let me turn after that exchange to another problem, that of human rights. I would take the opportunity in this debate to repeat that we are opposed to the detention without trial of political prisoners. That is our position regardless of the status of the people involved. But it is particularly poignant that a number of those whose only fault was to have been born into the family of the former emperor, and whose association with this country reflects the part we played in liberating Ethiopia from facism, should be among that number. The release of some 600 political prisoners last October is a source of encouragement; but the process could, with advantage for Ethiopia's own interests as well as those of humanity, go very much further.

That is the background against which we must work out our policies in the Horn. It is a generally held view that for historical reasons Britain has some special influence in the region. But that is to disregard policies which vastly reduced our military presence East of Suez going to back to the 1960s. Also British economic and commercial interests in the region of the Horn are slight. United Kingdom exports come to about £40 million to £50 million per annum.

My noble friend Lady Elles drew attention to the need to encourage private investment in Somalia. The Government agrees. The Somali Government are now considering a draft investment promotion and protection agreement which the United Kingdom has put to the Somalis. None the less, for the time being we have to view the extent of our influence realistically.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, towards the end of his speech asked how far the Government had got with discussing with our European Community partners exactly what we ought to do from the European point of view to bring pressure to bear to see whether the objectives which we want to see—objectives of justice and of peace—can be achieved. We believe that the practical course for us, and indeed the one that we are practising, is to lend our weight to that of our Western allies, particularly France and Italy, and of course the United States. A source of potential influence is the European Community with its growing involvement in the economic development of the area. The Community has pledged £67 million and £83 million to Ethiopia under the Lomé Convention—Lomé I and II. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was critical of this and other aid given to Ethiopia and said that other countries in the region of the Horn are in desperate need. My noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard and my noble friend Lady Airey both called for a greater flow of aid, particularly to Somalia.

In 1980 from multilateral donors Somalia received 166.3 million United States dollars, of which 37 million dollars was from the European Community and 86.4 million dollars was from United Nations sources. Our bilateral aid programme has covered the fishing industry, control of the tsetse fly, training scholarships, prefabricated housing for the major Juba Valley Sugar Project and we expect to continue our level of aid in that sort of way at the same level for the year in which we are now and for next year. But in addition —and I go into a little detail over this because I know that in the Parliamentary Question which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked in April the question of aid arose—we provide substantial help through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to alleviate the plight of these unfortunate people mentioned this evening by my noble friend Lady Elles. In 1981 we contributed £1 million each to the High Commissioner's Special Appeals for Refugees in Somalia and Sudan. This was over and above our contributions in cash of £4.4 million, and kind of £1 million of food aid, to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees general programmes.

The United Kingdom for its part is, of course, playing a major role in assisting other African countries to develop their economies and to maintain democratic institutions. It is natural, therefore, that the leading role in the Horn should he taken by those countries whose historical association with the area is closest. But there is also the political constraint, and I am thinking particularly of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, this evening. We have to resolve the dilemma that increased aid to Ethiopia, which might help its development and also lessen its dependence upon the Eastern bloc, would in effect seem to condone the regime's record on human rights. In the context of a genuine dialogue and if we had a clear commitment from the Ethiopian regime to move in the direction of greater respect for human rights, your Lordships might agree that we would be right to offer increased support. A clear commitment to compensate dispossessed British enterprises would also help, and we continue to await such a commitment. In the circumstances, we must, with our allies, maintain a policy in this region which is realistic, cautious, yet hopeful. But we shall need patience and perseverance. My Lords, in this region we are in for a long haul.