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Volume 482: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

4. What steps his Department is taking to encourage the Somali community in the UK to engage with helping Somaliland to develop its place in the world. (234531)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was glad to join my right hon. Friend in meeting members of the Somaliland community in Cardiff last month to discuss links between the community and Somaliland. We are keen to encourage further links with the community, and are planning further meetings with officials.

I am sure that the whole House will wish to send its sympathy to the people of Somaliland following the recent suicide bombings that disrupted the peace and development of democratic institutions which had continued for the past 18 years. When our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Cardiff recently, he met leaders of the Somali community. I was particularly proud of the young Somali women from Fitzalan high school and the young Somali men from Butetown and Grangetown who said that they wanted to help build links back into the Somaliland community. Will Ministers encourage the diaspora to become involved particularly in work with schools in Somaliland, and will my hon. Friend join me in considering the possibility of internet links to help build pupil-to-pupil and teacher-to-teacher contacts between us and Somaliland?

We also condemn the appalling bombings, and I join my right hon. Friend in offering condolences and sympathy to all those affected. I also commend my right hon. Friend for the work he does in support of Somaliland, and I share his view that fostering links between young people is crucial. I am glad that, under the Department for International Development global schools partnership programmes, four primary schools in Somaliland are linked with primary schools in Cardiff, involving some 4,000 children in Somaliland. We also need to have virtual links between schools, so I am glad that the British Council is developing the online element of its connecting classrooms programme, to enable links to be made between parts of the world, particularly those areas where travel is dangerous.

We constantly work with relevant Governments and non-governmental organisations to support the development of governance and the rule of law and the improvement of the lives of the people in those areas.

Further to that question, what specifically are the Government doing to find a way forward in resolving the conflict in Somalia, which has real strategic implications not only for the horn of Africa, but beyond that for east Africa as well?

My hon. Friend is right to express that concern, and the UK is keen to help Somaliland continue to make progress. That is difficult, particularly where there are setbacks, such as on human rights. A political solution is what is needed, and we work with all our international partners to get that, and we seek the support of the African Union to ensure that Somalia and Somaliland find the correct political solution in the interests of all their people.