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Somalis (Government)

Volume 463: debated on Monday 4 April 1949

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9.47 p.m.

I wish to raise the question of the future government of the Somali people, including those in British Somaliland, the Ogaden, Somalia, which was formerly Italian Somali-land, and Jubaland. In answer to a Question of mine today, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that British Somaliland is to remain as a British Protectorate. As regards the Ogaden, with the exception of some border districts, it is to revert to Ethiopian administration. The future of the former Italian colony of Somalia, which includes Jubaland, is to be decided by the United Nations General Assembly. It is impossible to regard such an arrangement as satisfactory either to the Somali people or, I would suggest, to this country. Many of us frankly are suspicious of the possibility of Somali coming again under Italian rule. What claim have the Italians to consideration? They did not rule the Somalias well. Indeed, we know from evidence that they ruled them very badly, for they oppressed the people and treated them as slaves. Their rule was harsh and bad in the extreme. Certainly they are not wanted back by the Somalis.

In the war, in which they eventually lost Somaliland, the Italians were the aggressors. They wantonly attacked British Somaliland as well as Britain herself wherever they had a chance. They were well and deservedly beaten and I suggest they deserve no further consideration whatsoever. This country which was the victor over aggression of the worst description is certainly deserving of some consideration. On 4th October, 1944, the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said that Italy would not get Somaliland back. On 11th October, 1944, in reply to a supplementary question, this was confirmed by his then Under-Secretary of State. After the Italians were driven out in 1941 and 1942, for the first time for hundreds of years practically the whole Somali people were united under one rule. That rule was that of the British. They were not only united but they were contented, also for the first time for a very long time, for most of them.

The people of British Somaliland, of the Ogaden and Jubaland are of one race. That fact has not always been recognised and realised. Indeed, so are those of French Somaliland; 90 per cent. of the people speak the same language. I suggest that they ought to be united. They occupy an area of very nearly 2,000 miles of coastline. That is an important area which ought not to be in any hands conceivably hostile to the British. As regards French Somaliland there is no question of change and there never has been. The French have never been willing that there should be.

Was there not a plan—we know in fact that there was a plan—for a united Somaliland? It was a British plan. It was to have been under United Nations organisation trust, but under British administration. Was not that plan popular with the Somali peoples? Were they not all prosperous, happy and hopeful for the future, because a promise had been given to them by the British Government that the Somali people would never again be divided and placed under foreign rule? Now the Ogaden has gone back to Ethiopia and Somalia may be given back to Italy under a decision of U.N.O. Other races and peoples are being given the prospect of self-government. We have the examples of India and Burma, for what they are worth. No such prospect is given to the Somalis, who have been uniformly friendly to us. No one speaks a good word for them either in the Foreign Office or anywhere else. I do not hesitate to say that the plan for a united Somaliland was sound and just—I have it on the evidence of many people who have the best of reasons for knowing—and that it was accepted generally by the Somalis.

It was only the weakness of British garrisons and the apparent indecision of British policy that led to increasing demands by Ethiopia—which had not much claim on Somaliland—and to a feeling of uncertainty in the Somali territories about what was going to happen to them. My information is that soldiers, officials, traders and the Government of Kenya are all in favour of a united Somaliland under British administration, and I believe that information to be correct. Are their opinions to be entirely disregarded? What do the United Nations, except ourselves, know about this matter? I wonder whether United Nations members and officials could put their finger on the map where Somaliland is?

As for the French, they are perfectly consistent. The one thing that they have made absolutely clear and perfectly rightly, from their point of view now, is that they are going to stick to their part of Somaliland and they are not suggesting that there is any question that their rule should be changed and that they should clear out. They are apparently suggesting through the League of Nations, that we might do so. We are not desired to have any advantage from having been successful in war, after having been attacked in circumstances of almost unbelievable aggression. We are not to have any gain of any sort, or kind, or description, and even our own British Somaliland is to go under some sort of trusteeship under the United Nations.

Naturally the Somali people are bewildered at what has happened. At one moment they thought, that after something like five years of steady rule under British administration, during which they were prosperous, contented and happy, that they were not going to be put back under any foreign rule, and above all not under Italian rule, which they feared and disliked more than all the rest put to- gether. It will be a slur on our revutation and upon the prestige of this country if we give away these peoples. It is what we are proposing to do, it seems. In consequence of what has happened, the British are now looked down upon, almost disliked and more or less distrusted. Our prestige is completely gone down in the world. I was going to say that is does not exist, but I would not say that. It is very much diminished, for the same reason that it has diminished in some other parts, especially in the East, because we have not had a strong and consistent policy. We have been vacillating. We have been hesitating. We have been making concessions to everybody who chose to have the effrontery to ask for what they had no right or entitlement to. I am referring particularly to the Italians.

I hope very much that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give us some assurance that British interests will be considered. One British interest apart from any others, and apart from our British interest in good government wherever we have any form of British territory, Colony or mandate, is that there is a very distinct advantage to this country in having those 2,000 miles of coastline under British administration, free from potential enemies and past enemies such as are the Italians. I hope we may have some sort of assurance that British interests are to be considered in this matter and that the interests of the Somalis themselves are not to be subordinated to the ambitions and pique of Italian feelings.

9.58 p.m.

I hope my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) will permit me to disagree with the conclusions to which he has come, although I am happy to say that I start from the same premises he has laid down in his closing sentences—that is to say, I think the question should be considered from the point of view of British interests and the interests of the Somali peoples. I hope to show that those premises lead, however, to different conclusions from those to which he has come.

The first argument of the hon. and gallant Member was that we had defeated Italy in the war and that therefore Italy was entitled to no consideration from us. I suggest that begs a great deal of recent history. I need not go into the whole of that history. Those who sat with me in the last Parliament know that I had to do many battles in That Parliament for a proper understanding of Italy. For a long time now it has been accepted that Italy has "worked her passage," in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, and that British interests demand the friendship of a strong Italy. Italy has quite recently been welcomed into the North Atlantic Pact and as a founder member of the Council of Europe. It is unnecessary for me to go into all the reasons—

It being Ten o'Clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

—for this attitude, but I had hoped that they were now accepted by all people in this country as certainly they have been accepted among all the principal parties. If I may express my own view in a sentence or two it is that a dismayed Italy was led into war against us by a megalomaniac Mussolini, that she never really fought against us, but her armies staged "soldiers' strikes" and surrendered by the hundred thousand at the earliest opportunity, and that as soon as they could, by industrial action, by a powerful resistance movement and by action taken by the King and the Army leaders, the Italians overthrew the Fascist regime and gave substantial help to the Allied cause. They certainly gave far more assistance to the Allied cause than they ever gave to the German cause. I trust, therefore, that however this question is settled it will not be settled on a punitive basis. We should be taking an entirely wrong attitude if we sought to settle the question of Italian Somaliland on the basis of it being a punishment for Italy.

I am not for one moment suggesting punishment. I am suggesting that they ought to get no advantage out of the part which they played in the war.

I think it can very well be argued that whoever gets Italian Somaliland will get no advantage out of it. I do not think that any of the Somali territories are of any advantage to anyone. They are territories of which we can justly say that they are a white man's burden.

My hon. and gallant Friend proceeded to argue that Italian rule in Somaliland was bad. That is not my view. We must compare like with like, and if we compare Italian rule in Italian Somaliland with French rule in French Somaliland or British rule in British Somaliland or with the independent State of Ethiopia, there is no need for the Italians to be ashamed of what they did. In the territory of Eritrea their administration was remarkably good, and showed what they could do when they had a suitable terrain. In Italian Somaliland they were dealing with intractable problems. If we look at British Somaliland we can see that more was accomplished in the days of British military administration, thanks to the large sums of money which that administration had at its disposal, other was accomplished in some generations of previous Colonial rule. I do not think it can be established that Italian rule was bad in Italian Somaliland.

My hon. and gallant Friend used as his third argument the case for the unity of the Somali peoples. He said the Somalis were united under British rule in the war and that it was a great pity that that unity should now be broken up. I should like to submit to him that if that principle is consistently followed it will lead to a great many difficulties. If the Somalis are to be united why should not many other peoples in Africa be united? I do not want to put ideas into the heads of evil-minded people so I will mention only one, which has come out publicly at the United Nations. I refer to the case of the Ewe tribe in West Africa, who are divided between the Gold Coast, British Togoland and French Togoland. A demand has arisen among some of them for unification, and if we proceeded on the same basis among all the tribes of Africa it would play havoc with the existing frontiers. I believe that once we begin interfering with frontiers we never know where the process will stop, and that it is better to leave well alone.

The plan for a United Somalia, with which I am very familiar, never would have worked. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, it was put up officially by the United Kingdom. It was proposed that not all but the greater part of the Somali peoples should be united in a United Somalia. But we could get no support for this scheme. The reasons are not far to see, for every other country except ourselves thought that this plan was a scheme for the aggrandisement of British territory under the name of a British trusteeship. Indeed, it looked suspiciously as though Ethiopia were being invited to surrender the Ogaden by the bribe of Eritrea, which was not ours to offer in any case. The offer having been made and having received no support, it was officially and publicly withdrawn some years ago.

Let us be clear. This never was a plan for a United Somalia in the full sense, as my hon. and gallant Friend recognised. France was never willing to enter this scheme; but it may be said that French Somaliland is a small territory and the scheme could go ahead without it. But there are Somalis also in Kenya. I doubt very much whether we should have been willing to include the Somalis of Kenya in the scheme. There are a very large number of Somali peoples, or people akin to the Somalis, in Ethiopia, and it was quite certain that Ethiopia would not touch the scheme except under compulsion. Therefore, I do not think that there was ever any great likelihood that this scheme would be attractive to the other countries concerned.

My hon. and gallant Friend says, however, that it was attractive to the Somali peoples. It is not easy for us to get authentic information about the views of the Somali peoples. I have done my best to get such information as I can from Somalis I have met. I have found that such Somalis as I have met from British Somaliland were not keen on the scheme. They saw a possibility, if they remained under straightforward British Colonial administration, that in a relatively short time they would achieve self-government within the Commonwealth. But if that arrangement were upset, they saw it as a retrograde rather than a forward movement in their constitutional development.

There is one last point I should like to make. It has been put rather forcibly recently by an expert who is most familiar with these parts, Mr. R. H. A. Merlem who, in letters to the "Crown Colonist" and to the paper "East Africa and Rhodesia," has argued that a United Somalia would be an excellent place for Communist activities throughout Africa. One reason is that most of the Somalis who go abroad are sailors or work in ports. They have been particularly exposed to Communist propaganda in their work. If they return to a united and independent Somaliland, in all probability many of them would be Communist agents. As it would be an independent territory, we should have no control over them. The same fears have been expressed with regard to Ethiopia—the fear that the Soviet Embassy in Addis-Ababa is being used as a base for Communist propaganda. I have been into this question as carefully as I can and, frankly, I do not think that the case is proved. The Russian activities in Addis-Ababa are not noticeably larger than they should be to fulfil the purposes of a diplomatic mission. It is, however, easy for us to see that this danger exists.

I submit that, on all these grounds, my hon. and gallant Friend has not proved his case, but, rather, that we should go slowly in this matter. I think it will certainly be to our interests and in the interests of the Somali peoples if British Somaliland should remain under British rule, the Ogaden should go back to Ethiopian administration, and that Italy should have a trusteeship for Italian Somaliland.

10.10 p.m.

The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) has obviously studied the situation in Somalia considerably, and, although I have not done so, I would like to intervene in this Debate if only to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) on rectifying something to which I have objected more and more as this Parliament has proceeded, and that is the way in which this House becomes a rubber stamp for the behaviour of U.N.O.

At the present time, we find it extremely difficult ever to debate anything which U.N.O. is to discuss, and it is a welcome fact that this evening we have a chance of debating something which touches partly on a matter that is to be discussed by U.N.O. in a very short time. That matter is the future of the Italian Colonies. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Keighley to say that Italy is working her passage very well, but what we have to remember is that, where a specific pledge has been given to any people by His Majesty's Government, that pledge cannot be broken unless we have the permission of the people to whom it was given. There are specific pledges which have been given both by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Learning-ton (Mr. Eden) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law) in the last Parliament or in the Parliament before, which make it certain that there is no question whatever that the Italian Empire in Africa was irrevocably lost to Italy as far as this country is concerned.

I am perfectly prepared to believe that if we got permission from all the countries in the Italian Empire to an arrangement whereby Italy should take a joint trusteeship under the United Nations, we could consider ourselves absolved from that promise, but until we get that assurance, that promise stands and ought to stand, and I hope the Foreign Secretary is going to say so, when this matter is discussed by U.N.O. We ought to have learned the lesson by now, from Palestine if. from nowhere else, that when we make a promise and then make another promise that is incompatible with the first, we merely cause misery to other people as well as to ourselves and also lose the respect which the people concerned in the first instance have for us.

We are going to do exactly the same thing again in the case of the Italian Colonies in Africa, if we are not very careful. It is a horrifying fact that the British delegate to the conference of deputies of the Foreign Minister, when they were discussing this matter last year, joined with the United States and France in recommending, an Italian trusteeship for Italian Somaliland. What right have we to do that? In my opinion, we have no right whatever, unless we are asked to do so by the people of Somaliland, and I do not believe that we have asked them. It is as a last-minute protest—because the United Nations are about to discuss this matter and decide the whole future of these territories—that I join with my hon. and gallant Friend tonight in the hope that U.N.O., which has shown itself incapable of making a just decision over anything else, will at least think again over this matter.

10.15 p.m.

I must apologise for not being in the Chamber when the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) introduced this subject In view of the fact that I was in Somalia four or five months ago, I hope I may be allowed for three or four minutes to put forward such views as I gathered when I was there. When I saw that a Question had been put down today I came to the House at Question time. The Under-Secretary of State in reply to my supplementary question, said that the territories were not in favour of the British continuing their influence in that part of the world.

The hon. and gallant Member said they were unanimously in favour and I said there was no unanimity.

There may be 10 per cent. or 5 per cent. against, but I can assure the Under-Secretary—and I do so with the best of good will and I have travelled throughout Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda and the Sudan—that not only official circles, and very high official circles, although I do not wish to mention names, but also the white population and a considerable amount of the native population were against the return of these territories to Italy.

I am a great admirer of Italy; I love Italy. I was in Italy for the Italian elections as a guest of the Italian Government and I have never seen elections conducted on a higher scale. I think they beat our own elections. I saw no intimidation of any sort, although I was in what they call the Red part of Milan when it came to the final night. I have never seen a country more inspired by the spirit of democracy than were the Italians. I have great love for that country because unquestionably they have many qualities, of art, of music, of every kind, which are possessed by no other country in the world.

When I was in Kenya—and here I must disagree with the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas)—I found that even in that far away spot there was Communist infiltration. It seems incredible that thousands of miles away where there is only big game and natives, one finds that the Communist machine has penetrated even into those distant parts. I saw a lot of a movement called the Somali Youth Movement, which was unquestionably inspired by Communist propaganda which had penetrated into Kenya. While admiring the Italians—and I hope they will indeed earn their passage home—I must say that one Italian in three in these days is a Communist. The other two are very strongly anti-Communist, but at the same time we must realise that the field for activity by the Soviet Union is a very big one, because they are able to work through a vast number of Italians. It is not the fault of Signor de Gasperi or the Italian Government. The Italian population is 50 million, so there must be 15 million Communists, which is a very big number of enemies and traitors not only to ourselves but to Italy as well.

I therefore humbly suggest that we should go very slowly in this matter; that while encouraging Italy in every possible way and while not showing ourselves narrow-minded or bigoted about the regrettable action which she committed during the early and middle part of the war, yet we must be realists and accept the views which are unquestionably held by the people who live in close contact with Somalia that the present is a very wrong time in which Somaliland should be handed back to Italy.

10.20 p.m.

We have had the advantage of a number of expert views on this subject tonight. The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Colonel Dower) was critical of the attitude of His Majesty's Government from a somewhat different standpoint from that of the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys). He showed the position of the Italian contribution which can be made, I think, to Western civilisation and the importance of Italy in the building up of Western Europe. His attitude, therefore, to this problem contrasted somewhat with the rather unconstructive attitude towards Italy shown by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield. A number of the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield were, I think, extremely cogently answered by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas). I found myself in agreement with a number of the points which the hon. Member for Keighley made.

Reference was made to the United Somalia proposal. It is, of course, true that a proposal for a United Somalia was put forward by the Foreign Secretary to the Council of Foreign Ministers in Paris in 1946. The proposal was not supported by the other Powers, and was withdrawn. It was opposed mainly by the Soviet Union and by France. The French Government support the general solution of trusteeship for the ex-Italian Colonies. We have to bear in mind the views of those Powers. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Peters-field was putting forward this proposal as a matter of practical politics. I do not know how he proposes to proceed to implement the views he holds. I do not know whether he seriously believes that 'this project will get the two-thirds majority at the General Assembly which it requires. What he says, irrespective of the merits of the proposal, is simply not practical politics today. Nor is there any reason to believe that, as he suggested, all the Somalis are in favour of that proposal. A number may be; they may not he. We were not told what the basis of the hon. and gallant Member's belief was. We have had the first hand testimony of the hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth.

Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I did not mention names for very excellent reasons, and I will only say that the source of my information was military, and high military.

I, too, have my sources of information on this subject, and I do not think we can jump to the conclusion—I do not think there is sufficient evidence to say—that the Somali people as a whole supported the proposal—or, at any rate, to say it with the confidence of the hon. and gallant Member. He also gave the impression to the House that there was almost unanimous hostility to Italy amongst the Somali people. I think the hon. and gallant Member's information—I am not sure of its source—is somewhat out of date. Our latest information suggests that there is no un- animous hostility to Italy. That is certainly what is shown by our latest information; and, indeed, it is shown by the report of the Four-Power Commission which, of course, sent a body to make inquiries on this very point.

A number of Somalis are admittedly strongly anti-Italian, mostly, I think, those coming from the so-called Somali Youth League, but our information is that this league is unrepresentative, and that it has lost whatever influence it had. I do not think that we should jump to the conclusion that there is united hostility to Italy among the Somalis. The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cocker-mouth was worried by the existence of Communism in Italy. Certainly that is a factor which needs to be borne in mind when we are considering this general problem. May I suggest, on the other hand, that one of the ways in which Italian democracy can be strengthened is if other countries of Western Europe show an understanding and a constructive and friendly spirit towards the Italian people. That again is a factor which we must consider in making up our minds on these problems.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke), in a vigorous speech, stated that this House was becoming a rubber stamp for the United Nations. That struck me as an extravagant description of this House. Whether or not the United Nations is capable of rubber-stamping anything in the unanimous and forceful way implied by this phrase I am not sure: in any case, I think that it would be a very hard case to prove. He also held against the Government that we had made two contradictory proposals on Palestine. Again, that is an accusation which should be directed elsewhere.

Returning to the Four-Power Commission, I think that I should draw the attention of the House to the conclusions reached by the body which was sent out by the Four-Power Commission. It concluded that the majority of the Somalis wanted Four-Power trusteeship leading to independence. The report emphasised that the Somalis wanted almost any government which would guarantee peace and security and that the Somalis were not ready—I think that this is probably agreed between us—for immediate independence. There were Somalis, the report stated, who resented the idea of an Italian return, but also there were many others in that part of the world where sentiment among the Somalis was strongly pro-Italian. It is not legitimate to say that at the time when this report was made there was general hostility to the idea of an Italian return.

Since that time, I think that there is no doubt that such hostility as there was has greatly decreased. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield suggested that these people were entitled to independence, and, of course, the idea of independence for the Somalis is not ruled out by Italian trusteeship. He seemed to suggest, on the other hand, that British trusteeship meant independence and Italian trusteeship, equally under the League of Nations, meant the end of all hope of independence. That is not so. The purpose of the United Nations trusteeships which are obligatory and become binding on the trustee countries is that they shall lead forward the peoples to independence, and there is every expectation that that would be so if Somaliland returned to Italian trusteeship. The House will not expect me to anticipate the decision of the United Nations Assembly on this question, but whatever the views—

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

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.