[Relevant document: The Tenth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Piracy off the coast of Somalia, HC 1318.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of how to build a stable and peaceful Somalia.
At the encouragement of Mr Speaker I shall say a word about the Maldives, at the other end of the Indian ocean, before I turn to Somalia. I know that some hon. Members have been asking about it, and I am assured by Mr Speaker that I ought to address it since there have been developments there this week and it has not been possible for colleagues to ask questions.
I wish to register our concern about developments in the Maldives, in particular the reports of attacks on members and supporters of the Maldivian Democratic party. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is responsible for the middle east, has spoken to both former President Nasheed and the new President and expressed those concerns. It is for the new leadership to establish its legitimacy with its own people and the international community, with an independent review, we hope, of the circumstances that led to what happened earlier this week. We hope that it will demonstrate its respect for the rule of law, including peaceful demonstrations. I welcome the call for calm and order made by former President Nasheed to all his supporters. My hon. Friend will be delighted to discuss with hon. Members the situation in the Maldives, with which he is in close touch, if they wish.
As the House will well know, Somalia today is not stable or peaceful, and that is the matter that we are going to consider today. It presents the most acute symptoms of state failure seen anywhere on the globe, even relative to Afghanistan, which we have just been discussing. It has had no properly functioning central Government for 20 years now, and it is the scene of some of the worst humanitarian suffering that the modern world has known. I will say more about that shortly, but I start with the single heart-rending, staggering and deplorable fact that between 50,000 and 100,000 people starved to death in Somalia last year, half of them children. Somalia’s problems present a growing threat to its own people, its neighbours and the security of Britain and our allies around the world.
What the Foreign Secretary says about the situation in Somalia is absolutely true, and his interest in it is greatly appreciated not only in this country but, I am sure, worldwide. Will he take the opportunity to clarify the situation with regard to Somaliland, about which there is sometimes misunderstanding? As he said, there has been no effective central Government in the former Somalia for more than 20 years, but there has been a very effective Government in Somaliland, albeit that it has not been recognised as a separate state. Will he take the opportunity to acknowledge that difference between the situation in the north and the south?
Yes, of course. The right hon. Gentleman has been a great expert on, and friend of, Somaliland for a long time, and we can indeed make that distinction. I spoke to the President of Somaliland last week to encourage him to come to the London conference, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has visited Somaliland. We give it a lot of assistance in many ways and welcome the fact that it has become a more stable area within Somalia, and we will welcome its participation at the London conference. I will come back to Somaliland later. I have been giving a general introduction to Somalia as a whole, but the right hon. Gentleman is certainly right to make that distinction.
Somalia as a whole not only cries out for compassion but is a point of great weakness in the long-term security and prosperity of the wider world. The people of Somalia deserve their country to be more stable and peaceful, and we in this country need it to be so. For reasons of national interest and our common humanity, we need to help Somalia get on its feet. We need to do so to reduce our vulnerability to terrorist attacks, to maintain the free flow of trade on which our economy depends, to limit our exposure to the effects of uncontrolled migration, to increase the support that we can give to education and economic development in Somalia and to support the stability of a part of Africa where our country has a great many interests and our nationals have been shown to be vulnerable.
Nearly $1 trillion of trade to and from Europe travelled through the gulf of Aden last year. Some 20,000 British nationals live next door to Somalia in Kenya, and a further 200,000 travel there every year. They would be deeply affected if the violence in Somalia spread to its neighbours.
All those interests are undoubtedly threatened by many factors in Somalia, including piracy and terrorism. The House will be familiar with many of the risks, so I will not list them in detail, but just one aspect of the crisis in Somalia brings home the problem dramatically. Large parts of south central Somalia are still controlled by the group known as al-Shabaab, which until recently occupied Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab has publicly declared sympathy for al-Qaeda’s aims and methods, and elements of its leadership welcome foreign fighters and sympathisers from around the world who have swelled its ranks and coffers and used Somalia as a base for terrorism.
Attack planning linked to extremist networks in Somalia has been thwarted from Sweden to Australia, and the Kampala bombings of July 2010, which killed 74 people, were planned and executed by individuals with links to Somalia. Al-Shabaab’s violent tactics inflict suffering on Somalis, including through its known forced recruitment of children, and its embrace of al-Qaeda imposes a concept of global jihad and violent extremism that is alien to most Somalis, highly damaging to their country and dangerous to us.
In the face of such threats, our Government contend, as did the previous Government, that we do not have the option of disengaging from the problems of Somalia. We cannot afford simply to continue to treat the symptoms of those problems without addressing the underlying causes such as the fundamental lack of governance and security across most of Somalia. We believe that a stronger and more united international approach is needed if we are to achieve a stable and peaceful Somalia over time that combines political will with practical measures to boost security and development. We also judge that recent positive developments in Somalia mean that the time is right for a new international effort. This moment of opportunity is why, in two weeks’ time, we will host the London conference on Somalia, bringing together 50 countries and organisations.
I very much welcome the conference on Somalia, but is there a danger that the country’s humanitarian needs will be sidelined if there is too much emphasis on political and security concerns?
There would be such a danger if we constructed the conference in the wrong way. I am talking about security concerns, but the UK makes a huge contribution to addressing humanitarian concerns —we were the second-largest bilateral donor in the recent humanitarian crisis. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will host, alongside the conference, an event to discuss humanitarian needs. As I will describe, one of the conclusions that we hope for from the conference is to highlight those humanitarian needs.
This is about much more than security, as I will describe.
I very much welcome the conference in London, but how will it differ from the one that is being held in Turkey? What are the differences between the objectives of the Turkish conference and the UK-based one?
They will be integrated. I have discussed that a couple of times with my Turkish counterpart. In recognition of our conference in February, the Turks have moved their conference back a little to later in the year. Both Turkey and the UK hope that that will follow on from the progress we make in London. The conference in London is largely at Head of State level—it will be hosted by the Prime Minister, and many Heads of State and Heads of Government will be coming—and will address the whole range of issues affecting Somalia. It is therefore one of the most ambitious conferences that has been held internationally on Somalia. I believe it will help to establish momentum for all the conferences that will follow, including the one in Istanbul.
I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for giving way on that point and I welcome the conference and all discussions that take place on Somalia. It is past time that there was detailed involvement. Can he envisage a day when a conference on the future of Somalia will be held in Somalia, which would show real movement and a real advance?
I can envisage that day, but we are not there yet. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) said, there are stable areas in Somalia and some stable regional and local Governments. Based on what I saw on my visit last week, I would not say that the conditions are right to hold an international conference there yet, but the improvement has been great in the last year—I could not have visited at all a year ago. I can envisage that time if we do all the things that I shall describe.
It is because of that moment of opportunity that I mentioned that we have appointed a new ambassador to Somalia for the first time since 1991—I took him to present his credentials to the President of Somalia last week—and we are working to reopen our embassy in Mogadishu. All of that is consistent with our interests in Somalia and the increased emphasis that we place on conflict prevention as a priority in British foreign policy.
We do not take on that task lightly or without humility. The international community has not succeeded in turning Somalia around, but that is not for a lack of effort by other Governments and this one in recent years. We supported the important initiatives of the previous Labour Government, but we have not succeeded so far largely because the problems are so vast and complex, and because international policy is fragmented.
We must always be clear-sighted and realistic in setting our expectations for what we can achieve. We cannot transform any of Somalia’s problems overnight or impose a political solution on it. Britain cannot achieve any of the goals I am discussing without working with a broad range of countries across the world and Somalis themselves, but we can aim for the long-term goal of a Somalia that is more stable; that is able to meet the basic needs of its population; that can begin to build its economy with international support; that is able to govern its territory; and that can work with us to prevent terrorism flourishing on its soil. To do that we must try to change the dynamic in Somalia, from the trends of recent years of inexorable decline to an upwards trajectory of gradually increasing stability and security.
To achieve even that is an immense challenge. Our recent experiences of rebuilding states after conflict are that the international community has a tendency to set unrealistic goals that are not fulfilled, disappointing the expectations of the people we are trying to help and weakening the impact of our efforts. We must not make the same mistake with Somalia. We have a responsibility to match ambition with resources, our expectations with a good understanding of realities, and our hopes for quick results with the likely need for patient and long-term engagement.
Somalia today is a nation still at war with itself and without a sustainable peace. Its conflict has taken many forms over the past 20 years, from clan-based regional insurgencies, which overthrew the ruling regime in 1991, through warlordism, to the current violent insurgency of al-Shabaab. There have been 14 peace processes in that time, culminating in the current UN-led Djibouti peace process. Somalia’s problems are compounded and fuelled by geography, such as the fact that it has the longest coastline in Africa—it is more than 3,000 km long—and yet has no functioning coastguard or navy.
The scale of the human suffering is unimaginable and the number of victims so large as to be hard to fathom by people in this country. To put it in terms that would hit home here in Britain, more people in Somalia are dependent on emergency assistance than the entire populations of Edinburgh, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool put together; the number of people displaced in Somalia is seven times the population of Nottingham; and the average life expectancy in the 21st century is 48, which is roughly the same as life expectancy in Britain in 1880. An entire generation of children in Somalia has grown up with guns, not school books, knowing nothing other than insecurity and deprivation.
Even against that sober background, however, we can see a glimmer of hope for Somalia today. There are three compelling reasons why the time is right for a major push on Somalia, the first of which is that Mogadishu has been liberated by African Union Mission in Somalia forces, thanks to the skill and courage of the Ugandan and Burundian troops that form the backbone of the African Union contingent in Somalia. I saw that myself when I visited Mogadishu a week ago today. It was encouraging to see people going to the shops and markets. The road to the airport was crowded and some were looking forward to going to the beach on Friday. Those are semblances of normal life compared with what they have experienced in the past few years.
Nevertheless, it is hard to see many buildings that have no bullet holes in them, or that are not scarred by the effect of war. Today, almost all of Mogadishu is controlled by AMISOM and the transitional federal Government forces, and other regions are more stable, making it possible to make progress on Somali governance. Djibouti has sent troops further to strengthen AMISOM, and Sierra Leone is expected to provide a battalion in July, making further progress a possibility.
The second reason for optimism is that those operations and successful counter-terrorism work are putting pressure on al-Shabaab. We need to seize the opportunity to intensify that pressure and not allow al-Shabaab to regroup. Its guerrilla tactics inflict huge suffering on ordinary Somalis and it harbours foreign extremists, as I have described.
Related to that, the international community has made progress in diminishing the pirate activity that is a symptom of, and contributor to, Somalia’s conflict. There have been no successful hijacks in the gulf of Aden since November 2010. The number of vessels and crews currently held by pirate groups is at its lowest since 2009. Twenty-two ships were hijacked off the coast of Somalia between November 2010 and January 2011, but in the same period in the past year only two ships were hijacked.
The third reason for optimism is that there is an opportunity to create a broader and more representative political arrangement when the transitional federal Government’s mandate expires this summer. That gives an opening to launch a broader political process that embraces all Somalis, and that places emphasis on supporting regional governance as well as better and more representative government from the centre.
I pay tribute to the Governments and parties that have played a part in bringing that about; to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, who has made two visits to Somalia this year; and to staff from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development, who have all played an important role.
Those changes on the ground give the international community a window of opportunity to unite behind a clear strategy; to support a new political process that has greater legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali people than the current elite does; to help people to return to Mogadishu and rebuild their lives there; to strengthen the African Union forces in Somalia; to put in place a plan to build up Somalia’s own security and justice sectors; to introduce more effective arrangements to tackle piracy and terrorism; and to work better to support the pockets of stability that are now emerging in parts of the country.
That is what the Somalia conference will aim to do. We have invited Government and multilateral organisations that are active and influential on Somalia; representatives from Somalia, including the transitional federal institutions; the Presidents of Puntland and Galmudug; and representatives of Aluh Sunnah wal Jamaah. We welcome the participation of the President of Somaliland, with the experience that Somaliland can provide of peacebuilding in the region.
We have secured senior attendance from the region, including from Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, as well as from the United States, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Sweden, the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union. I am delighted to say that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend the conference.
We hope to agree practical measures in seven key areas, all of which I discussed on my visit to Mogadishu and Kenya last week, and which are the subject of extensive discussion with our partners all around the world ahead of the conference.
On the political track, the current transitional institutions in Mogadishu run out in August. They must not be extended. The Somali political process must become broader and more representative. That might involve a constitutional assembly drawn from all of Somalia’s communities.
On security, African Union forces have pushed al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu to create political space there, and Kenyan action has put al-Shabaab on the back foot. However, African forces have insufficient funding for UN Security Council-mandated actions. We therefore hope that the conference will consider how funding can be made sustainable for African troops willing to put their lives on the line.
The success stories in Somalia are in the regions. Puntland and Galmudug have established local peace deals and set up administrations. The conference should agree a co-ordinated international package of support to Somalia’s regions that complements work on peace and stability at the national level.
Piracy off the Somali coast is the affront to the rule of international law that I described. We must break the piracy business cycle. We hope the conference will strengthen arrangements to catch, try and imprison pirates, and continue to develop regional maritime capacity in Somalia and across the region.
As one knows from the UN court in Sierra Leone, imprisoning people is quite expensive. Does my right hon. Friend or DFID have any suggestions for how the international community can ensure that sufficient prisons are built to hold these pirates and make sure they do not disappear? Secondly, and related to that, one argument put forward to explain this piracy is that too many of the fisheries have been taken. What can we do to enhance fisheries protection off Somalia?
The United Kingdom is very active on the provision of increased prison places in the country and the region. The Department for International Development is helping to fund the construction of three prisons; in fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has been to see the construction of one of them, so we are involved in that.
My hon. Friend is right about the fishing issue. The Minister for Africa—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham)—and I have been engaged in encouraging the transitional federal Government in Mogadishu to claim their exclusive economic zone, and we will encourage their successors do the same, because that will give them the necessary rights to the waters off Somalia. They will, of course, then need a coastguard, naval and maritime capability of some kind to enforce those rights, but, as I mentioned earlier, that is one of the issues we also want to address. These things are therefore part of the longer-term solution to piracy, and my hon. Friend is quite right to ask about them.
I was just listing some of the aims of our conference. We intend to make it harder for terrorists to operate in and out of Somalia. We hope the conference will agree the areas we need to develop to disrupt terrorism across the region, including stopping the movement of terrorists to and from Somalia, disrupting the flow of their finances and supporting the Somali criminal justice sector so that it can detain and prosecute terrorists in a human rights-compliant manner.
There are disturbing reports that about 50 British nationals are involved with al-Shabaab. Has my right hon. Friend heard such reports, and are they justified?
Yes, they are justified. It would, of course, be difficult to put a precise number on these things, but we are concerned about foreign fighters, in general, going to Somalia, and there is certainly evidence that they include British fighters. Wherever that occurs, and wherever we are aware of it, we work in various ways with the authorities in the region, including in neighbouring countries, and with the emerging authorities in Somalia to try to contain that threat. That is why the defeat of terrorism in the area is an important national objective for the United Kingdom.
On the humanitarian front, the conference provides an opportunity to highlight the need for donors to continue to respond generously and on the basis of needs, to invest more in livelihoods and basic social services, to increase the resilience of households in Somalia to future economic shocks and to help reduce the likelihood of future famines.
We want London to be the start, not the end, of a new process—the process I have described. We want the conference to agree on how we handle Somali issues in future, on a revitalised international contact group, on UN and African leadership and on more countries deploying diplomats and staff into Somalia, not just basing themselves in Kenya, as many, including ourselves, have had to do in recent years. Those are all practical but meaningful steps that will have an impact on the ground.
We hope to emerge from the London conference with a stronger common understanding of the way forward and a renewed political commitment for the long haul. Beyond the conference itself, we will continue to be an active member of international groups on Somalia, including the international contact group on Somalia and the contact group on piracy off the coast of Somalia, and we will maintain our strong bilateral engagement.
Through the Department for International Development, Britain is providing substantial development support over the next four years, working on longer-term programmes to address the underlying causes of poverty and conflict and helping Somalis to take control of their lives and rebuild their communities and livelihoods. That involves working with local and regional governments in areas such as Puntland, which the Development Secretary visited last month, where we will help build democratic institutions that can respond to the needs of their citizens, help the police and justice systems work so that people can feel more secure, and increase access to health care, education and jobs, which are absolutely critical to Somalis and to breaking the cycle of piracy.
Will the conference look at giving people in Somalia access to humanitarian aid, which has been blocked by al-Shabaab? One million people were being supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross and others. Secondly, what steps have been taken to involve and engage the British Somali diaspora, which has many members in my constituency and elsewhere, as part of the discussions and the build-up to the conference?
Humanitarian access is a critical issue that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has pursued for a long time. Part of our objective in doing most of the things I have described is to improve humanitarian access and the ability to encourage sound development across parts of Somalia, including those that are currently under the control of al-Shabaab.
The diaspora in this country has an important role to play. Yesterday, Chatham House held an excellent conference with many leading figures from the Somali diaspora in the United Kingdom. I spoke to the conference to set out the objectives of the London conference in two weeks’ time, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa spent many hours there. The views expressed at the conference are now being fed into our preparations for the London conference. We look to Somalis in this country to assist as actively as they can with engagement with Somalia. Somalia is partly dependent on the remittances it receives from the diaspora overseas; in fact, those remittances amount to more than $1 billion a year, which is more than the total assistance from foreign Governments. The diaspora therefore plays a crucial role in the future of its country, and we recognise that in the preparations we are making for the conference.
We want to help ensure that last year’s tragic humanitarian crisis is never repeated. Britain has been one of the most generous donors to the relief effort, having provided £128 million to the relief effort across the horn of Africa since July, including £57 million for Somalia alone, in addition to our main development programme and on top of the £72 million raised by the Disasters Emergency Committee from concerned people in this country. British aid has reached more than 1 million vulnerable people, saved the lives of thousands and contributed to lifting 750,000 people out of famine and the risk of imminent death.
We are proud of the role that we play and the example we set to others. The UK also contributes 14% of all European Union spending in and on Somalia, including on development and humanitarian aid, and we actively support all three international naval operations in the waters around Somalia, including by providing the operational commander and the headquarters in Northwood near London for the EU naval mission Operation Atalanta. All that work will continue beyond the London conference on Somalia, because it is only through such a sustained and co-ordinated effort that we can play our part in helping to build a stable and peaceful Somalia.
That will be the Government’s approach. We will pursue a policy that is realistic, based on our national interests as well as our international obligations, conscious of the enormity of the problems and aware that only Somalis can resolve their political differences. It is a policy based on partnership with other nations, because it is only by working with others that we can address the scale and international dimensions of the conflict in Somalia, and it is a policy that is broad and comprehensive, that recognises that it is not enough to treat the symptoms of the problem without addressing its underlying causes, and that encompasses development, human security and the rule of law, human rights and political participation, as well as counter-terrorism and counter-piracy. That is the approach that we will urge the international community to maintain, through the London conference, and which I hope will have the full support of the House.
I was a little surprised that the Foreign Secretary chose to mention the Maldives without the courtesy of prior notification, but I have noted all that he said on the matter.
I welcome the opportunity to debate Somalia this afternoon. Although I obviously welcome the conference on 23 February, it is necessary to put the changes of recent months within the broader context of the decades of conflict, poverty and violence that Somalia and the horn of Africa more widely have endured. Somalia’s crisis did not begin with the poor rains of 2010 or the collapse of the Somali dictatorship in 1991; the tragedy in Somalia has been the inevitability of the cycles of despair from which, to date, it is has been unable to escape.
It is right to begin by acknowledging, as the Foreign Secretary did, the significance of Somalia to the United Kingdom. Somalia’s trajectory of decline poses real threats to our security and continues to draw on British resources. The threat of piracy, kidnapping and terrorism, and the potential radicalisation of British youth in terrorist training camps across the country, all directly threaten the security and stability of the region, as well as posing an immediate risk to British interests at home and abroad.
Alongside the security threat, the United Kingdom is also deeply affected by the inevitable burden of responsibility that it rightly shares with the rest of the international community to protect and provide for those affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis and seeking refuge, aid and sanctuary during these desperate times. Given all those factors, I support the Government’s stated intention to affirm Somalia as a key priority of British foreign and development policy in the years ahead.
Although Somalia’s decline goes back much further than the past few months, the timeliness of this debate reflects the fact that the situation on the ground has changed dramatically in recent months, as the Foreign Secretary made clear. Al-Shabaab has suffered several military setbacks that have seen it pushed out of parts of the southern border areas of Somalia and most of Mogadishu, creating an opportunity for the Government to strengthen their hold in these crucial areas. In the second half of last year, famine struck six regions of southern Somalia, and although the United Nations has, I am pleased to say, declared the famine officially over, the situation remains fragile and millions more could still die if international support is not maintained.
The changing situation in the country provides an opportunity, but no more than that—I respectfully suggest—because the causes of state failure lie much deeper than the recently changing dynamics on the ground. For many years, the state in Somalia has not existed in any meaningful sense. It has failed to secure its borders, monopolise force within the territory and even to provide basic services to its people. As a result, Somalia faces challenges of security, governance and corruption that would test even the strongest of states.
That is the context of the conflict with the Islamist terrorist organisation, al-Shabaab, and of a famine that has put 4 million people in crisis and caused the displacement of about 2 million people and the spread of violence perpetrated by terrorists and pirates who terrorise the local population and destabilise the region as a whole.
It is vital that we can distinguish between symptom and cause in relation to a state that has failed as comprehensively as Somalia. The structural failures of widespread violence, endemic corruption, weak governance and a state unable to maintain a monopoly of force over its own population in turn contribute to desperate poverty, the rise of non-state terror and violence, and the Government’s failure to deliver basic goods and services. It is vital, therefore, that the London conference and the work that follows from it address not simply the symptoms but the causes of Somalia’s decline—at root a profound failure of politics and, more broadly, of governance.
Each of us inevitably brings our own perspective and experience to this debate. For myself, this involves not only being a Member representing a constituent, a merchant seaman, taken hostage for some time by Somali pirates but my work as International Development Secretary in the previous Government working to find ways to deliver aid and support development in what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging environments on earth during some of the most desperate years of violence and famine that the country has experienced.
Aid to Somalia increased from just over £3 million in 2002 to more than £30 million by 2009, which meant that we could achieve limited but real progress in dealing with some of the most acute challenges facing Somalia, including helping to deliver basic health care, treatment for malnutrition and improved clean water and sanitation facilities. I say with genuine humility, however, that notwithstanding these sustained efforts, progress was limited. This was not a failure of will but a testament to the scale of the challenge that we faced then and that remains today.
Then, as now, it is important to acknowledge that a response to the pressing humanitarian crisis is a necessary but not sufficient condition for dealing with the broad spectrum of challenges that face Somalia. Circumstances on the ground, specifically the changing security situation, provide new opportunities for action, so I shall first address some of the symptoms of Somalia’s recent decline before addressing the root cause.
I shall begin with the most immediate level of human suffering that has added such an immense sense of urgency to this crisis. The humanitarian situation in Somalia has been described as a chronic catastrophe. The horn of Africa has experienced one of the worst droughts in 60 years and the most severe food crisis in the world since Somalia’s famine in 1991. The situation in Somalia is deteriorating so rapidly that for the first time in 10 years, the UN last year announced a famine across the country. Almost 4 million people—more than half the population—are living in crisis, with 750,000 of them living in absolute famine. That is an increase of 46% from July last year.
The situation is made all the more severe as a result of the deteriorating security situation in parts of the country and the stranglehold of the Islamist organisations that continue to hold sway in parts of the country. Since the first failed rains in 2010, international aid efforts have been in place, but from the outset they have been beset by challenges, particularly al-Shabaab’s decision to ban some aid organisations from operating in the country. An immediate task, therefore, is to alleviate the suffering resulting from the famine declared by the UN. When the Minister winds up this debate, will he share with the House some of the Government’s thinking about how the immediate humanitarian needs can be better addressed and international efforts better co-ordinated in the critical months ahead?
I turn to the piracy off the coast of Somalia, which was mentioned by the Foreign Secretary. Somali piracy has recently grown into a major international problem, exacerbating many of the underlying challenges that we face in promoting the rule of law and in helping Somalia to recover from conflict and famine, not least because many argue that some of the ransom money paid to Somali pirates is finding its way back into funding groups like al-Shabaab.
Somali piracy also threatens vital trading routes and poses significant risks to international security, which makes it an ever-more pressing aspect of the crisis which must be addressed if significant progress is to be made. I welcome the limited progress of which the Foreign Secretary spoke, but there are currently thought to be between 1,500 and 3,000 pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. Some 49 of the world’s 52 hijackings last year took place off the coast of Somalia, and the global annual cost of piracy has been estimated at between $7 billion and $12 billion. Despite nine United Nations Security Council resolutions, three multinational naval operations and a counter-piracy policy that has been taken forward by a number of different international bodies, progress remains limited. The number of attempted attacks, the cost to the industry and the cost of ransoms have all increased significantly since 2007.
In addressing the issue of piracy, a co-ordinated international response is therefore key. NATO, the European Union and the combined maritime taskforce have all thankfully established naval operations to counter piracy, and we welcome the fact that the UK has contributed naval assets to all three operations. We also support the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that armed guards will be allowed to be used in protecting UK ships, although I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm whether the terms of engagement for those armed guards have been agreed. Although tackling Somali piracy cuts across a number of Departments, will the Minister also indicate which has the overall lead on countering piracy?
Let me turn more generally to terrorism and criminality, which continue to plague Somalia and pose an increasing risk to British security and British interests. Large areas of Somalia are today still controlled by militants, and Somalia has become a haven for some of the worst criminality and terrorism to be found anywhere on earth. As early as 2010, the MI5 director general warned of the threat posed to Britain from the rise of terrorist training camps in Somalia, one of the gravest security threats that our country faces, not least because there are now steady numbers of UK nationals known to be receiving training in al-Shabaab camps in Somalia. We are right to be concerned that those who are today fighting alongside al-Shabaab could some day redirect their focus back towards the population in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister give an updated assessment from the agencies of the scale and character of the Somali-based threat to British interests?
Alongside the threat from al-Shabaab-affiliated camps, there is also growing concern about the spread of al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists across the country. Somalia today is showing many of the worrying characteristics that made Afghanistan so dangerous a seedbed for terrorism under the permissive regime created by the Taliban. Strengthening counter-terrorism co-operation in Somalia—and, indeed, across the region—is of vital national interest to the United Kingdom, and will be a crucial step on the path towards securing peace and stability for Somalia. I hope and trust, on the basis of the Foreign Secretary’s remarks, that it will therefore find a place on the agenda of the London conference.
I have spoken of the symptoms of decline that have plagued the people of Somalia and threatened the vital interests of the UK and the wider international community. It is right that tackling those symptoms should remain a high priority for the Government, but let me turn to what I believe are some of the underlying causes that must be addressed if we are to make genuinely sustainable progress on other fronts. Military efforts—although welcome, and significant in recent months—will not alone bring a lasting peace to Somalia. Structural political reform is the only sure foundation for progress. The depth of the failure of governance has to be understood in order to understand the depth of the crisis still facing Somalia today. Somalia has not had a functioning Government for 21 years. Since 2004, the country has, at least in name, been governed by the transitional federal Government. Beset by corruption and institutionally weak, Somalia’s transitional Government now have only six months before their mandate expires. However, in these crucial few months, the situation on the ground has changed dramatically. For the first time in years, Somalia now has a Government who can hold and control a portion of Somali territory beyond the borders of Mogadishu. That is a significant advance, but the fundamental question remains whether the TFG are in a position to benefit from, and capitalise on, the military progress being made, and thereby fully assume responsibility for security across the country.
The international community cannot ignore the reality that the TFG are seen by many Somalis as inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with the immense task at hand. For many Somalis, the record of the TFG is marred by allegations of corruption, embezzlement and state-sponsored violence. For others, the TFG are still largely seen as a Government made up of the victors of Somalia’s bloody civil war. Many struggle to see the current leadership as representing Somalia as a whole. In August, even as the United Nations agreed to extend the TFG’s transitional mandate for one more year, it noted that the TFG had failed to accomplish a single one of their previously agreed goals in the seven years since they were created, including completing a Somali constitution and holding local elections.
In less than six months, the transitional period is due to come to an end. Neither allowing a political vacuum to develop nor simply continuing with business as usual is sufficient under the circumstances. A key challenge for the London conference, therefore, is to encourage the development of a political process that is deemed legitimate and judged inclusive, and that allows all those Somalis who wish to play a constructive role in their country’s future to take part. For durable progress to take hold, the transition stage must end and the task of establishing permanent representative government structures, based on robust constitutional processes, must begin.
Alongside the pressing need for an effective transitional political arrangement in Somalia, establishing effective political structures will also be a crucial step towards enabling the people of Somalia to engage with the ongoing demands and struggles for representation and self-determination that communities in the country have long been seeking. On that issue, I praise the work that many colleagues across the House have done to promote the cause and facilitate the genuine progress that has been achieved—in particular, the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). In government, we were clear in acknowledging the unique and distinct character of Somaliland and Puntland, and continue to defend their right to appropriate representation. However, we must be clear that the task of securing legitimate representation must not be divorced from the broader task of developing the inclusive national political structures that are a necessary part of Somalia’s development into a stable and secure country.
The case for focusing sustained effort on Somalia is clear. However, there have been many attempts—which, to be fair to the Foreign Secretary, he acknowledged—by the international community that have so far failed to resolve the underlying tensions that have had such devastating consequences for the people of Somalia in past decades. Given that, we would like to ask the Minister some specific questions about the approach that he plans to take at the upcoming conference on 23 February and what steps he will take to ensure that it is not a missed opportunity, but the start of real progress. Given that the strength or weakness of the TFG will prove to be as decisive for the future of Somalia as the strength or weakness of Al-Shabaab, how will the conference progress without either guarantees of security on the ground or a credible partner in the TFG for the task of political reconciliation and reform? It is clear that the problems of Somalia will not be solved by a single conference, but will require a continued process of engagement and reform. Given that, what measures are being put in place now to ensure that the outcomes of the conference are sustainable over the long term?
In order to be sustainable, the outcomes must be closely linked to the existing United Nations structures—the Djibouti process has been mentioned—that are already in place. Given that, what measures are being taken to ensure that the decisions taken at the conference are effectively linked to the existing goals, strategies and objectives of the United Nations operation in Somalia? Given that part of the task of the conference must be to tackle the root cause of so many of Somalia’s problems—a chronic failure of governance—what steps has the Minister taken to ensure that civil society groups from across Somalia are engaged at all stages of the process of political transition? Finally, will the Minister set out how the goals and objectives of the conference are expected to tie in with the existing timetable, set out in the road map on political reform that is already in place?
It is clear that Somalia today stands at a critical juncture in its history: 2012 is a crucial year for the political process in Somalia, and 2011 saw significant security progress on the ground. It is right, therefore, that we must seize this opportunity to make real progress and deliver a better and more secure future for the people of Somalia. However, our broad experience of supporting countries emerging from conflict—as well as our more recent experience of state building—demonstrates that changes in the security environment in Somalia will not alone be sufficient to bring real hope for development. Instead, what is needed is an approach to reform the governance structures that lie at the heart of so many of the more visible symptoms of state failure that we see on the ground in Somalia today. The challenge is one that will take years and decades to tackle, not weeks and months; but this should harden, rather than weaken, our shared resolve.
I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his speech, on the work that he is doing in this regard, and on the establishment of the conference. I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development on his many visits to Somalia. I also congratulate the shadow Foreign Secretary on his speech, and particularly the passage on piracy, which bore a close resemblance to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report on the subject.
Somalia is a country of violence, insecurity and human tragedy. The recent famine resulted in thousands of people being displaced, suffering and dying. In its wake, the famine has brought conflict, insecurity and a slow response from the international community. The cause is weak political leadership. There have been 15 internationally sponsored peace talks but, at the end of the day, their conclusions have failed to produce a settlement. In the view of Saferworld, an excellent non-governmental organisation that spends a lot of time on the ground, that is because the debate revolves around exclusive processes between Somalia’s political elites and foreigners. Local Somalis feel shut out, and a trust deficit has opened up between them and their leaders. It is important that the conference does not go down that route. I quite understand that civil society groups will not be attending a conference of Heads of State, but I hope that there will be close contact with that particular group in the build-up to the conference.
Without security, we cannot address the humanitarian situation or promote longer-term development. Defeating al-Shabaab and piracy will not be enough; we must eliminate local grievances and conflicts within parties. This is not only about peace with al-Shabaab; it is about lower-level conflicts, and I welcome the focus on local areas of stability. We must be careful, however, not to derail the process by putting in too much by way of resources and making unrealistic bureaucratic demands without having a good understanding of local power dynamics. We must promote legitimate representation, which is often different from what is expected internationally. It is grounded in traditional processes, which are sometimes more successful than local elections. This is not easy—even Somalis disagree about it—but important issues of human rights, democracy and the role of women are involved.
I would be interested to hear from the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), about the two-state solution that was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). I have to confess that I have an open mind on that question, but I find it slightly ironic that a Welsh MP who believes in the United Kingdom should be calling for such a separation in Somalia.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Yes—I asked for that.
In Wales we believe in the value of being part of the United Kingdom as well as having certain devolved matters. Were that choice available to the Somalilanders, it would be acceptable, but it should be their choice.
My comment, made in jest, has produced a serious response from the right hon. Gentleman. Countries that function well should stay together, but those that do not function well obviously do not want to know about each other. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that matter.
We have a long way to go before we achieve stability. The famine conditions are ending, but tens of thousands have died and 1.5 million have been displaced. Al-Shabaab has banned contact with the International Committee of the Red Cross. At the same time, African Union troops are conducting a major offensive, and the Kenyans are establishing a buffer zone on their southern border as they try to cope with large numbers of refugees. Even they are now pausing, however, and trying to find out whether they have the backing of the international community.
As the Foreign Secretary said, there will be an opportunity, when the transitional national Government’s mandate ends, to look at a broader base from which to conduct policy. The essential needs, however, are to deny terrorists a base from which to operate, and to establish stability. The conference must look at the root causes: poverty, human rights issues, security and the need to work with civil society. It must also focus on conflict prevention, the elimination of famine and hunger and the improvement of health. I am the first to recognise that Rome was not built in a day, however, and I think that this will take a generation of input and influence.
The Foreign Affairs Committee recently published a report on piracy, which is one of the headings for the conference. It might seem self-centred to talk about something that affects British interests: shipping comprises 1.8% of our gross domestic product. None the less, piracy is a component part of Somalia’s instability, and it clearly needs to be addressed. As the Foreign Secretary pointed out, 40% of world trade passes through the Indian ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Globally, the annual cost of piracy runs at between $7 billion and $12 billion. The extra costs to shipping include the extra premiums, the ransoms, the extra staff required, the higher wages and the danger money; they all add up to a substantial sum.
Piracy perpetrates instability in Somalia and threatens other economies. Nairobi has seen an increase in criminality, for example. There is a threat to international security, and rumours of links between the pirates and al-Shabaab. There is also the human cost. Some 3,500 hostages have been taken, 62 of whom have been killed. There are up to 3,000 pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. They are a mixture of fishermen and maritime criminals. They are all aged between 15 and 30, and they are uneducated and unskilled. Their operations stretch far into the Indian ocean.
The pirates’ behaviour is the complete opposite of the traditional role of the pirate that we read about in books when we were kids. Then, the pirates captured the ship, threw the crew over the side and sold the cargo. Today, the crew is the valuable item because the cargo is hard to sell. The pirates operate by sailing a single skiff alongside a ship, throwing up a hook and hopping on board. They operate out of mother ships that have a range of some 1,400 miles. They behave in a violent manner; some 15 crewmen were killed in 2011.
The impact of piracy specifically on the UK has been limited. We all know of the case of Paul and Rachel Chandler and their yacht, the Lynn Rival. I am pleased to say that they are now free, and that their yacht is back in their custody. Two ships were affected in 2009—the MV St James’s Park and the Asian Glory—and Judith Tebbutt was snatched from a Kenyan beach. She remains in custody. It is therefore right and proper that the UK should play a leading role in the international response to piracy, and we are all very much involved in that.
The response from ship owners has been good. They recognise the need for self-defence and for best management practices to minimise the risk of attack. Some nations have put vessel protection detachments on their ships. They are troops from the nation state in question. Many ship owners have also started to use private armed security guards. It is a fact that no ship with armed guards on board has ever been pirated; it is a significant and effective deterrent. The Foreign Affairs Committee therefore welcomes the Government’s announcement that private armed security guards will be allowed on British ships. The Government have published interim guidance, but it is thin on detail. It has been left to the ship owners to draw up the rules, and—dare one say it—the responsibility for the outcome has been offloaded on to the shoulders of the owners. The guidance advises use of the minimum force necessary. There is a question to which everyone needs an answer, however. If a skiff is approaching a ship at high speed carrying pirates with rifles or rocket-propelled grenade launchers, can the armed guards on board the ship open fire? The Government must provide clearer direction on this. If Royal Navy troops were on board these ships, they would be given guidance on what to do. That guidance should be made available to private armed security guards.
Some 60 marine security companies operate in the area, and it is very difficult to tell which of them are good and which are bad. We must give some consideration to the question of licensing weapons. We must also liaise with port and coastal states surrounding Somalia, to establish an agreement on the transit of weapons used by private armed security guards.
The naval policing of the Indian ocean has been good, but patchy. In response to UN calls, there are now three ongoing international operations. NATO Operation Ocean Shield and the EUNAVFOR—European Union Naval Force Somalia—Operation Atalanta both operate from Northwood, where they are based in adjacent rooms. There is also the combined US multinational taskforce, operating from the Gulf. Several other countries also have their own regimes. There should be a greater degree of co-ordination. Do we really need three different organisations, all regularly travelling to the Gulf to discuss operations? We accept that this is not an immediate priority, but it must be addressed.
The naval response has been effective. Although the number of attacks has risen, the proportion of successful attacks has fallen. This year alone, however, there have been two successful hijackings and Somali pirates have taken 28 hostages. The Royal Navy Fort Victoria engaged in a highly successful intervention, in which 14 pirates were arrested and taken to the Seychelles. It is right that we adopt a cautious approach to military operations, but there is more work to be done in this area.
International co-ordination is particularly important in one respect. There have been nine UN Security Council resolutions and we have established a contact group on piracy, in which the UK is playing a prominent role, but we must now address how to get the pirates to justice. Nine out of every 10 pirates taken are released without trial. The failure to prosecute has been criticised by industry. The Baltic Exchange has said that the
“UK has gained a degree of notoriety”
for failure to prosecute. In the past two years, 21 pirates have been transferred to other nations, but recently there have been practical difficulties in the implementation of such transfers. There are also difficulties in respect of the presentation of evidence at trial, and we must review how we collect evidence.
International maritime law allows pirates to be prosecuted anywhere, and former French Minister Jack Lang has suggested to the UN Security Council that an international piracy tribunal might be established. The Government were right to reject that proposition, which would have been very expensive and complicated, and to focus instead on the transfer agreements to Kenya. Given that such transfers have recently stopped, however, I would like to know what steps the Foreign Office will take to restart them.
The ransoms that have been paid have been eye-wateringly high. In 2007, the average ransom was $600,000, but that figure had grown to $5 million by 2011. The total ransom sums paid in 2011 were $135 million. They are paid by air drop, and owners see them as the price of doing business. Ransom payments are not illegal under UK law but, rightly, Government policy is that ransoms should not be paid and they have nothing to do with ransom payments. However, one is left with the slight feeling that they have been turning a blind eye to the practice.
I have no better suggestion at present, however, other than that we should take a harder look at financial tracking. We have little information about where ransom money goes. Some goes to the pirates, some goes to Somali officials, and one suspects that some goes to terrorist groups and international criminals. We need both more information and more action on tracking. The Serious Organised Crime Agency might investigate the flows of ransom money through the UK financial system, and the Government should establish a mechanism to collect data.
I apologise to the House for having focused almost exclusively on piracy, but it has been a particularly difficult problem. In truth, the Government have not been doing badly, but there is much more to be done. Somalia remains a very troubled region, and I wish the conference well and hope the outcome will be successful.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s speech and his enthusiastic engagement with these issues. He is being very ambitious, and I applaud him for that. I also applaud the Secretary of State for International Development. He has visited Somaliland, and so, too, has the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham), the Minister with responsibility for Africa. I wish them well in their endeavours. I roundly applaud the energy that is being put into the British engagement in Somaliland and Somalia.
I also congratulate the shadow Foreign Secretary on his contribution to the debate. When he was International Development Secretary, he took a great interest in this subject, and that came across in his speech. He met the Somali community in Cardiff, as did the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband). There has been a Somali community in Cardiff, in the docks area of my constituency, since about the 1830s. It is now a community that is passionately committed both to Wales and being British, and to Somaliland. I shall talk about that shortly.
The Foreign Secretary highlighted the issue of security. That sometimes comes very close to home. In just the past few days, three men from Cardiff have appeared in court on terrorism-related offences, and I believe that they will be sentenced today. Only a few weeks ago, two young men from Cardiff went to Kenya with the intention of travelling across the Somalia border to join al-Shabaab. Fortunately, they were detained and returned. That is a positive outcome for them, as well as for the community in Cardiff, which, with strong Somali leadership, realises that it has to engage more with the young people growing up in the city and ensure that the temptation of being drawn into terrorism is guarded against. A recent Home Affairs Committee report on radicalisation in the UK is of relevance in this regard. I mention these events as they underline a point that the Foreign Secretary made: security in Somalia is not just about what happens in the horn of Africa and to ships sailing in that region. It can also come very close to home.
The Foreign Secretary stressed security and common humanity as the twin motivations for this fresh engagement. That is absolutely right, but we must also add development to the list.
Unless the vacuum is filled by jobs and opportunity, education and improved health standards in these fragile regions, any gains that are made will be temporary. Military intervention alone is not enough to change the situation in the south. There is also a need to develop democratic institutions. As I shall make clear in a moment, that is one of the big differences between the situation in Somaliland, which wishes to be separate, the situation in Puntland, which wants to be part of a single Somalia, and the situation in the south, where those democratic institutions are lacking.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know from his experience of the Somali community, in all the chaos and difficulty that Somalia faces we should not lose sight of the fact that Somalis are extremely entrepreneurial, and have a fantastic sense of business and international trade. While there are few positive things to say about Somalia at the moment, we must bear in mind their potential to use such assets to enforce and underpin long-term security for the country.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and I am glad to say that those characteristics are reflected in the Somali community in Cardiff. One of the problems of that community, however, is that it is invisible. In recent years, we have organised an event to celebrate Somalis who have achieved some success, such as gaining a PhD in chemistry or developing a proficiency in art or sport, in order to encourage and motivate young people. I am certain that such skills exist even in the most disastrous parts of Somalia, and will be evident if they can only be nurtured and developed through proper institutions and a degree of stability that is absent at the moment, particularly in the south-central part of the country.
My wife started a camp in South Sudan, which by 1991-92 contained 100,000 people. While I was preparing for this debate, she warned, “Remember when you start these big camps that they become a focus for people to come to, and they cannot really sustain that number of people.” We should bear her words in mind when we are considering humanitarian problems. When she was setting up that huge camp she suddenly realised, once she was on the ground, that trying to ensure that the surrounding area could sustain so many people in the long term would involve huge problems—and we have to look at the long term. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is thinking along those lines as well.
The hon. Gentleman is right, and again it is interesting to observe the contrast between the north and the south. After the end of what was known as the hidden war in the north, there were very large refugee camps. Some were over the border in Ethiopia, some were in parts of Somalia, and some were further south in Kenya. In the north that situation is history, because of the development of democratic institutions and stability. Those things are closely interrelated.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that giving humanitarian aid cannot in itself create a sustainable situation for the long term. One of the main issues raised with me by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross was the problem of providing humanitarian aid at a time when al-Shabaab is preventing it from being delivered, as well as preventing free communications and preventing people from living where they want to live. That must be tackled.
A problem highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) was the failure of the transitional federal Government. It is very transitional, it is not very federal, and it is not really a Government; otherwise it is fine. I do not say that in a spirit of negativity, because I think we all want it to succeed. We want the individuals there to make something of their Government. However, it would be foolish not to recognise that the necessary change has not happened. Somalia does not have a Parliament, although some people have been nominated as parliamentarians. For that reason we, as parliamentarians here, have very little capacity to help directly.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the United Kingdom did give assistance to a group of Members who visited Somaliland a few years ago, and has welcomed parliamentarians and clerks to the UK to learn more so that they can develop the institutions that they have in Somaliland. It is, of course, as much in the interests of Somalilanders as in anyone else’s interests that there should be an effective Government in the south. It is not a good thing to have instability in the general neighbourhood. I hope that the Foreign Secretary’s initiative will succeed, and that the CPA and the Inter-Parliamentary Union will be able to work with elected representatives in the future. I applaud the fact that the IPU, of whose UK branch executive I am a member, plans to visit Somaliland in the coming year, and indeed hopes to visit both parts of Somalia.
Piracy has changed in that, at one stage, it was a substitute for fishing and other ways of earning an income; it is clear that it has become far more organised. Interestingly, many of those arrested came from the south-west of Somalia, rather than from the coastal regions, which rather encourages that view. That issue certainly needs to be tackled in breaking down and undermining the infrastructure of illegal activity within Somalia.
I particularly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Mogadishu a few days ago and his appointing an ambassador to that country. That signals confidence that progress can be made, and confidence is enormously important, given that for 21 years there has been none in that regard. The appointment did raise a frisson of concern in Somaliland, which thought that in some ways this might symbolise a belief on the British Government’s part that diplomatic channels should be concentrated through that avenue. I was grateful to the Minister for his Department’s confirming that the arrangements for Somaliland will continue to be made through the deputy ambassador to Ethiopia, who has specific responsibility for relations with Somaliland.
I also welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s acknowledging, following my earlier intervention, that the situation in Somaliland is different. I understand the reasons for his policy of not formally recognising Somaliland as a separate country. The last Labour Government looked at this issue on a number of occasions, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields, as Foreign Secretary, took the same view not because he lacked sympathy for Somaliland or did not respect the wishes of its population, but because, if recognition is to come, it must start in Africa and come from Somaliland’s neighbours, rather than from a former colonial power.
The Foreign Secretary was of course right to put the main emphasis on tackling the disastrous state of affairs in the south-central regions of the former Somalia, because that is where the threats lie to the local people—for whom the situation is truly disastrous—and to the international community. Again, that situation has been underlined by the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, it is understandable that people in Somaliland feel they are being ignored. The newspapers and the media in general cover the problems; it is not a headline to say that a country is living at peace and nothing excessively exciting is happening.
However, I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary underlined that distinction. Such a distinction could be made on the Foreign Office’s website without compromising the Government’s position—for instance, by indicating that security is greater, or that the dangers are less, in Somaliland than in the south. It would be like making the distinction that London was not subjected to regular violent incidents when such things were taking place in Belfast. We got pretty annoyed when, on occasion, some Americans did not make that distinction. The Indian Government certainly got irritated when, after the bombings in Mumbai, the problems were treated as if they were the same right across that very large country.
The Foreign Secretary’s emphasis is right, but I make no apology for wanting to say a few things about the situation in Somaliland in particular. I summed it up a few years ago by saying that
“Somaliland has not been recognised—but it has become respected—as a beacon of democracy.”
That remains true, and in fact those words have been used by the Prime Minister. Following the elections in Somaliland, I asked the Prime Minister his views on 7 July 2010. In effect, he said that Somaliland has earned respect through elections. A transfer of power had taken place from the outgoing President to President Silanyo, after a fairly narrow election victory. The new Government took a mature view, saying that they wanted to be recognised but their top priority was meeting the needs of their people. Engaging with the international community, trying to work with neighbours on things such as economic development, and seeking the development of parliamentary institutions, education and health were even more of a priority than recognition, which they prize greatly.
It is worth while highlighting the history. In 1960, the former British Somaliland gained its independence and shortly after joined the former Italian Somaliland to form Somalia. The early hopes had been that Djibouti, the former French Somaliland, would join to create a single Somali nation, but that did not happen. Sadly, the rule of President Siad Barre became increasingly oppressive towards the north, leading to the emergence of the opposition Somali National Movement, which became increasingly successful in the late 1980s. The fighting mainly took place in the north and there was little international coverage of it, but the coverage increased as the civil war progressed and affected Mogadishu, where most of the diplomats and foreign correspondents were based. Thus, as has happened so often in the past, the concentration in the international diplomatic and media spotlight was on events in the south. As the civil war progressed, the south descended into instability, with increasingly vicious conflict between various war lords. We all know how unsuccessful the international attempts were to intervene and support the development of proper government in the south.
In the north, without any great help from the international community, Somaliland has developed over the past 21 years to have local government elections, parliamentary elections and presidential elections. They are not perfect but, given that it is a country without international recognition, they are certainly remarkable. The creation of an independent electoral commission, which played a considerable part in leading to the presidential elections, was very important, as was the support that we have given in trying to work with the Somalilanders, Parliament to Parliament.
It is also worth remembering the history because there have been Somali communities in the UK for more than 150 years, and Somalis have made a particular contribution to the merchant navy, the Army and the Royal Navy, and to our traditional industries. The roots of my constituency’s Somali community are in the north and sentiment is strongly in support of Somaliland; there is increasing strength in the plea to Britain and to the international community to recognise Somaliland. That requires a process, as I think it is in the “too difficult” box for the African Union and for individual African countries, many of which fear precedent. The precedent of having a democracy for 21 years without recognition would be a pretty high hurdle for anyone else to imitate, but those fears nevertheless exist.
Recognition requires a process that will allow the people of Somaliland to say whether they wish to continue to assert, as they do now, their right to independence or whether they wish to enter into a loose confederation or some other arrangement. This should be for Somalis to decide and I simply plead that we continue to recognise—perhaps I should say “acknowledge”, given that “recognition” is so difficult—the success of Somaliland in maintaining a democracy over a period of time. I wish to make one point about this, which is that they have the legal right to independence. There is nowhere they can assert it, because that is not the way things work in international diplomacy, but as this country was once independent, however brief the period before it entered into coalition with the former Italian Somaliland in the south to create Somalia, international law and precedent gives them the right to assert it.
We need to create the environment in which Somalis can talk to Somalis in an atmosphere of mutual respect, but part of the responsibility of the international community, and of Britain in particular, is to insist that there must be no assumption that the development of a successful Government in the south would give that Government automatic rights over the north. That should not be the case. It should be a question of a process—a proper discussion—and of the right of Somalilanders to determine their own future.
In the meantime, the Government of Somaliland chose not to spend all their time arguing about constitutional issues, but to look to development. I want to make two points. The first is about the encouraging fact that President Silanyo has taken the unprecedented step, which I welcome, of deciding to attend the conference in London. I believe that the Minister for Africa’s willingness to engage directly in understanding the sensitivities has played a great part in making that happen. It would have been unthinkable to have had this conference and for it to have been successful without having Somaliland at the table, but the process has been difficult and risky. Somaliland was left out of the Djibouti process and felt unable to join international processes that would have given it a seat only on the assumption that it came under the aegis of the Government in Mogadishu, so agreeing to be at the table involves considerable risks for the President. It is a tribute to his leadership that he has agreed to do so and that he has involved the two opposition parties, as well as his own, in saying that it is the right thing to do. That in itself demonstrates a strong willingness to co-operate in seeking a solution to the instability in the horn of Africa. It is also to the credit of the Somaliland Government that they have provided humanitarian aid to the south. Again, that gives one hope for a period of proper engagement. That is important because the Somaliland model of peace building, based on people sitting down and working out what they want in a constitution, contains useful lessons, which I hope will be shared at the conference. Will the Minister assure us that Somaliland will gain respect as a result of that?
Will the Minister give comfort to President Silanyo and those who have supported him in his difficult decision by agreeing that the conference communiqué should contain explicit references to Somaliland that welcome his participation; note Somaliland’s achievements in building peace and democracy; draw attention to the relevance of the Somaliland experience to the problem of securing peace in Somalia; note the assistance through humanitarian aid that I have mentioned; thank it for its co-operation in the fight against terrorism and piracy; and encourage Somaliland’s wider economic interaction?
My second point is that I know that the Minister has already welcomed one initiative, namely the establishment of the Somaliland Development Corporation. It is being established because of the lack of recognition that makes involvement in international trade and business difficult. It will be launched on 22 February, the day before the conference, which Ministers will host. The point of the corporation is to facilitate international investment in Somaliland and economic interaction for the benefit of the Somaliland people. As an unrecognised state, it is isolated. Despite its extraordinary achievements in stability and democracy, international donors cannot deal directly with its Government, and foreign investors face uncertainty about whether contracts—the basis of secure business—can be enforced. The point of the corporation is to establish an entity to circumvent that problem. Indeed, I hope that it might lead the Foreign Office, through our trade arrangements, to be able to underpin some of the potential for business development and trade with Somaliland, which is difficult at present.
The development corporation will deal with donors such as Governments, aid agencies and international financial institutions; individuals, including enhancing the contribution that is made by many members of the Somaliland diaspora, as the Foreign Secretary rightly said; philanthropists and foundations; and foreign companies that wish to invest for profit. The founding directors are co-operating with the Crown Agents on the provision of banking services, and the intention is to develop a business plan with aims and objectives in the short, medium and longer term that will be available on the corporation’s website. The plan would be influenced by the development priorities of the Somaliland Government, the decisions of the two boards and the Somaliland development corporation trust. The launch on 22 February will show the confidence of the Somaliland Government in engaging with business and economic development as well as being a participant at the table at the conference.
I greatly applaud the Foreign Secretary for initiating the conference. By acknowledging that Somaliland’s participation is a positive way of coming into the international community, I hope that the UK Government’s lead in these matters will be acknowledged in return.
I hope that the Minister will cover some of these points in his response. I return to my initial point and congratulate the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Minister not just on this initiative but on their personal commitment to making it work. I hope they achieve success.
I am very pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) because we, together with the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), are officers of the all-party group on Somaliland and Somalia. We have been working very closely on all these issues and very much welcome the initiative being taken by the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister in organising the London summit later this month.
This is a tale of two countries. In 2004, the Select Committee on International Development, which I chaired at the time, paid a study visit to see how DFID development assistance was being used in Ethiopia. On that trip, we had a free weekend, but ambassadors do not like it when Members of Parliament have a free weekend because they are never quite sure what the MPs are going to get up to, so they like to keep Select Committee teams busy. Myles Wickstead, our excellent ambassador in Addis Ababa at the time said that he had recently been to Hargeisa for Remembrance day for the Somaliland Scouts. We should remember that during the last war many from Somaliland served in the armed forces. There is in Hargeisa a Commonwealth graves war memorial to the Hargeisa Scouts, to which he had been. He said, “Look, no one has been to Somaliland for a very long time. Would you be interested in visiting it?” To be totally honest, with one exception I do not think that any of us on the Select Committee had ever heard Somaliland. We knew nothing about it, so we said, “Yes, of course, we’d be interested in going to Hargeisa,” and we flew there. We were the first parliamentary delegation to have visited Somaliland for many years and the scene at the airport was one of crowds the like of which I have rarely seen, holding banners saying “We love our Queen”, “We want to come home”, and “Support the Commonwealth”. It was amazing. From the airport to the hotel in Hargeisa, the crowds welcoming members of the Select Committee were about 10 deep.
Does that ever happen in Banbury?
Alas, the only time we see such crowds in Banbury is when the Queen comes to visit, and I am glad to say that when Her Majesty came to visit Banbury to celebrate our charter, we had similar crowds.
The people of Hargeisa saw the parliamentary delegation as very much representing the UK, the Commonwealth and this Parliament. They made it clear that they identified with us, and wanted to identify with us. That caused me to look a bit at history.
The crown of the British empire was of course India, and to protect the sea routes to India the British occupied Aden, and to protect Aden we occupied what became the British Protectorate of Somaliland. Interestingly, the British Protectorate of Somaliland, unlike many other countries in colonial Africa, had well defined boundaries that in the last century the United Kingdom negotiated by treaty with Ethiopia, France and Italy, and there has never been any dispute about them. Indeed, some fantastic British Protectorate of Somaliland postage stamps from the reign of the late King George VI show the map of that territory, which is now Somaliland, clearly marked by treaty. Its boundaries are clearly marked and defined.
To the south of the British Protectorate of Somaliland was what was called Italian Somalia, practically the only legitimate Italian colony in Africa. After the second world war and the defeat of the axis powers, responsibility for Italian Somalia fell to the United Nations and a UN mandate. Understandably, the UN was keen to release itself from the mandate at the earliest possible opportunity, and so in 1960 it was agreed that Italian Somalia would be given independence. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has already explained, the Somalis generally hoped to see a greater Somalia, involving Italian Somalia, the British Somali protectorate and Somalis living in Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia. The British Protectorate of Somaliland was given independence on a Sunday, and for a number of days it was an independent de jure state. Later in the next week, what was the British Protectorate of Somaliland, which had been granted independence by the United Kingdom, joined Somalia to become what is now known by the international community, and recognised by the United Nations, as de jure Somalia.
What had been the British Somalian protectorate and Italian Somalia sought to work as a single sovereign state. However, it floundered as a consequence of the activities of the Government of Siad Barre, and things become so desperate that in 1991 the Government of Siad Barre actually bombed Hargeisa. As BBC journalist Mary Harper comments in her recently published book:
“The authorities’ response to the rebellion was extraordinarily vicious; Siad Barre’s ground and air forces carried out such heavy bombardment of the regional capital, Hargeisa, that it was known as the ‘Dresden of Africa’. Barely a wall was left standing and almost every roof of every building was blown off or looted. The city was smashed and stripped; its population eventually left, walking all the way to Ethiopia in a biblical-style Exodus, as described by Mark Bradbury in his book Becoming Somaliland: The flight in 1988 was one of the fastest and largest forced movements of people recorded in Africa.”
If one goes to Hargeisa, one still sees the bomb damage inflicted on the city, which it has been impossible to rebuild.
I also think that it would be impossible to rebuild the trust between the Somalilanders and Somalia, between Hargeisa and Mogadishu. The people of Somaliland want independence. They have now been independent for more than 20 years. They have had contested parliamentary and presidential elections and, in contrast with many other African states, peaceful and democratic transfers of power without any difficulty, as with the recent transition from President Rayale to President Silanyo.
Somaliland is in exactly the same position as the Gambia. For a while the Gambia was part of Senegal, but that did not work and the Gambia decided that it wished to be independent again. It was granted independence and recognised by the international community. I suggest that Somaliland is in exactly the same position in international law. If so, that prompts the following question: why has Somaliland not been recognised as a de jure state? I think that it has been really bad luck for Somaliland that some of the key players in the region, for their own reasons, have not wanted to recognise it.
First, one would have expected the other Arab nations in the region to support Somaliland, because it is primarily a Muslim and Arab nation. However, Egypt has for a long time been in dispute with Ethiopia over the Nile waters, and I think that it has suited Egypt for there to be as much uncertainty, difficulty and turbulence as possible on Ethiopia’s borders. As Egypt has not been prepared to recognise Somaliland for that reason, neither have other Gulf Arab states.
Secondly, I think that many other African Union member states regard Somaliland as being a long way away; it is not a sub-Saharan nation, and they see it primarily as an Arab nation. It really has not been sufficiently high up the agenda in African Foreign Ministries, such as that in Pretoria. One of the things that will be good for the Somalilanders about the London conference, and for others, is that it will for the first time bring together in the same place all the key players, including the senior representatives of the African Union. It is a matter of fact that President Silanyo has so far not met the key players in the African Union, so the conference will be a good opportunity for that.
Having visited Somaliland on a number of occasions, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth has, I can report to the House that, notwithstanding the lack of international recognition, it has striven to build itself into a decent country. The banking system does not work, because of course it only has a central bank and the only currency is the old Somali one, which is constantly being devalued, so people have to move around wheelbarrows full of money. What they do have, however, is a sophisticated system of remittances from the very supportive diaspora community here and elsewhere in the world, so this afternoon we could go to various places in London and hand over cash for recipients in Somaliland, who could collect it later on this afternoon. The system is even more efficient than Western Union.
Somaliland is not that far from Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, so its potential to do significant back-office work, if it had the opportunities, is immense, but it suffers from not being recognised by the international community. As President Silanyo said recently:
“We need foreign recognition because that is the only way we will become a fully fledged member of the international community. We cannot attend conferences organised by the United Nations and other organisations. We cannot benefit from programmes of the World Bank and other international bodies. We miss out on a lot by not being recognised. We have been very patient about this and we hope our patience will be rewarded very soon. If we are granted international recognition during my presidency, we would put on the biggest celebration the world has ever seen.”
We have seen other countries, such as Kosovo and states from the former Yugoslav republic, emerge in recent times.
The British Somaliland protectorate, now Somaliland, was part of the empire and of the Commonwealth. It has incredibly strong connections with the UK, and, although I fully understand the Foreign Office’s reticence, feeling that if Somaliland is to be recognised it must be recognised first within Africa, I do not think that we should ever forget, or for a moment be seen to be forgetting, Somaliland.
I am very pleased that, of the development assistance that DFID now allocates to Somalia, a significant proportion goes to Somaliland, which has phenomenal potential. It has a fantastic port, at Berbera, with enormous potential, and its access to the sea could, if it were developed, be used by countries such as Ethiopia. But it has just been incredibly difficult for Somaliland to take forward any such developments without international recognition, and because international companies are reluctant to enter into contracts there, where they could never be sure what status in law, recognition in law and system of law they would experience if there were ever a dispute about an investment or contract.
That makes life hard for Somalilanders, but Mary Harper, whom I quote simply because she has spent much more time in Somaliland than I have and has all the objectivity of being a BBC reporter, says:
“The reason why so many Somalilanders have returned home and have been able to embark on such exciting projects for themselves and for the territory as a whole is that, unlike Somalia, Somaliland has since 1991 been rebuilding its economy, society and government. It has been doing this slowly, in its own way, with a careful progression from a clan-based political system to what should ultimately be a Somali-style multiparty democracy. Because western models of peacemaking and state-building have not been imposed from the outside, Somaliland has in many ways saved itself from the fate of Somalia. The example of Somaliland has demonstrated that, when left to themselves, Somalis can form a viable nation state.”
I am therefore delighted that President Silanyo is coming to the London conference. It is excellent that UK initiatives are being taken by the voluntary and other sectors to set up a Somaliland development corporation, so that we here can give Somaliland whatever help we can with investment and job creation. They are all really good initiatives. However, those on the Treasury Bench need to understand that the Somalilanders are willing to give the London conference their full support, but do not want to prejudice their claim to be an independent state. They support it because they see themselves as neighbours of Somalia. Like Ethiopia, Kenya and other neighbouring states, they see that they have an interest in certain issues, such as in ensuring that piracy off the coast of Somalia stops and that the Mogadishu regime becomes more stable. They are coming to London co-operatively and supportively, but want to make it clear that they, like many others in the past in Africa, wish to assert their right to self-determination. I suggest to the House that they have international law and history on their side.
I will make two concluding comments about the conference. As the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee said, one reason the London conference is being held is that the international community and the seas around Africa have been bedevilled by Somali piracy for some time. If the international community is to succeed in bearing down on piracy, it will have to bring prosecutions and imprison people. Someone will have to accept the responsibility for the cost of running those prisons. Understandably, African countries are often not prepared to do so. One reason Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia, is being tried for war crimes in The Hague is that no African country was willing to have him tried in Africa, because they were concerned that if he was convicted they would be liable for the lifelong costs of detaining him in prison, notwithstanding the fact that formally he is being tried under the jurisdiction of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. If we expect African states to imprison pirates from Somalia and elsewhere, there must be agreement on the long-term funding of the prisons and on how the prisoners will be looked after. This is not something that we can start and then forget about and abandon once the problem has abated.
My second concluding remark is about fisheries. Fisheries are an essential natural resource for Africa. For many coastal countries, the potential income from their fisheries is greater than that from their oil, minerals or mineral deposits. Tragically, far too often the fisheries around Africa have been raped and pillaged by much more sophisticated countries, and African countries have not had the wherewithal to protect their exclusive fishing zones. It is said that one historic reason Somalis took to piracy is that it was no longer viable for them to make a livelihood from deep-sea fishing. The Foreign Secretary was right to make it clear that one objective of the London conference is to help the Somalis assert their national exclusive fishing zone. If that is to happen, they must be given help with fisheries protection vessels and fisheries management schemes so that they can defend their fisheries. If they can do that, those vessels and systems will help to bear down on piracy.
Everyone will wish the London conference every success. We all want Somalia to cease being a failed state. Far too many people have starved to death there as a consequence of its failures as a state and its ongoing humanitarian difficulties. I hope that in seeking to improve the plight of its people and bring stability to it, we do not lose sight of the considerable achievements of the people of Somaliland, notwithstanding all the difficulties that they have experienced over the past 20 years, in creating a stable and potentially extremely viable state. They wish it to have independence and, I am sure, in due course become a member of the Commonwealth of nations of which we are all so proud to be members.
Somalia is one of the places that are seen most often through the lens of conflict, famine and humanitarian disaster as failed states. Today’s debate has echoed some of the big challenges that it faces.
Somalia has often been spoken of in relation to international terrorism and the threats posed by al-Shabaab, along with the challenges of piracy. However, I and many other Members know that there is another story, which is often depicted by our constituents from the British Somali community. It is a story of aspiration and of the heritage and history of Somalia before the ongoing conflicts.
From speaking to many members of the British Somali community in my constituency, I know that they are proud of their cultural and religious heritage. They do not want Somalia to be portrayed by the current negative images. They are also proud of the contributions that they make to the people of Somalia through remittance and support, through family connections and more widely. They aspire to see a Somalia that is stable, secure, democratic and economically sustainable, in which people can live free from fear, conflict and famine. The decent majority both in Somalia and outside want to see an end to the conflict and terrorism that have damaged the reputation of their country and led to its often negative portrayal. Our job is to do everything we can to ensure that we somehow make that aspiration a reality.
The humanitarian crisis in the horn of Africa has only made that job harder. No conflict-affected or fragile state will achieve the millennium development goals, which means that large swathes of the world will be left further behind. Today’s debate and the Somalia conference, which I welcome along with other hon. Members, provide an important opportunity to talk about not only security issues, which are vital to our interests as well as Somalia’s, but the challenges of development, economic progress and stability facing the people of Somalia. I hope that development will genuinely be a central component of the conference later this month alongside those other issues.
As other Members have pointed out, there has been no effective government in Somalia for more than two decades, and the impact is all too clear to see. The internationally recognised transitional federal Government control only the capital and a small area in the centre of the country. Puntland and the de facto independent Somaliland both have more effective, if unrecognised, governments in the north and north-west of the country. Despite the recent setbacks for al-Shabaab, it continues to control large sections of the south and engage in constant conflict with the TFG.
Somalia today is a country with some of the worst human development indicators in the world. Average life expectancy is only 48 years, and approximately 1.4 million of the estimated population of more than 9 million have been displaced. As other Members have pointed out, piracy also remains a major problem, not least because a large proportion of food aid—90% of World Food Programme aid in 2010—arrives by sea. As well as the wider costs of piracy, therefore, a wider challenge is posed by it in respect of getting aid and support to people affected by the famine.
A concerted effort from a coalition of African forces is, as has been said, pushing al-Shabaab back. Its withdrawal from Mogadishu last August provided some hope, for the first time in a long time, that it can be defeated. There is some evidence to suggest that its support from sections of the population is beginning to wane, which clearly needs to be encouraged and supported. In the interim, the international community must prioritise protecting civilians, and encouraging reconciliation and a political solution. I am encouraged by the fact that the conference will focus on such issues, which are important because conflict costs not only lives, which is tragic enough, but prospects for the country.
More than 1.5 billion live in countries affected by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence. As the “World Development Report 2011” shows, a developing country in the middle of a conflict does not grow or create jobs for its people, and does not invest in the next generation. There is currently no formal economy in many parts of Somalia. Although I am aware of positive examples, they are clearly not enough. The conflict is not conducive to economic investment or growth, so the resolution to the conflict is a priority. There must be reconciliation, but that must go hand in hand with the development challenges in creating the climate in which we can ensure that there is humanitarian assistance, support for medium and long-term development, and a pathway to progress to stability for the country and its population.
Those living in conflict or fragile states are twice as likely to be under-nourished and more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school. Child mortality is twice as high in conflict states. Worse, conflict in one country affects neighbouring countries. As we have seen, the effect of Somalia on neighbouring countries such as Kenya in the form of refugee flows has led to huge aid challenges. I welcome the contribution that our Government have made to supporting those affected by the famine, but greater action is clearly needed for those still suffering in the aftermath.
The conflict in Somalia continues to cost lives—it is virtually impossible to estimate exactly how many—and makes it harder to tackle the problems that can help to resolve it. Hospitals and feeding centres have been hit by artillery and civilians continue to be killed in the fighting. Protecting them and the vital services they need must be central to our programme in Somalia.
Understanding and tackling the drivers of the conflict is essential. For example, resource scarcity and natural disasters, which are clearly drivers of conflict, have affected Somalia greatly.
Conflict in such countries is also—critically—about development, as I have mentioned. Political security and economic dynamics all play their part, but lower gross domestic product per capita is also associated with large-scale political conflicts. Alongside work to resolve the conflict, which is vital, we must address the humanitarian and long-term development challenges.
Crises such as droughts are drivers of conflict, so supporting the people of Somalia who are affected by the famine and getting aid in are critical. As I stated earlier, removing the barriers to the delivery of aid through organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was reaching more than 1 million people and is now being prevented from doing so by al-Shabaab, must be a priority for the conference agenda. I hope the conference will address that issue and make much more progress than has been made so far, because al-Shabaab has prevented one non-governmental organisation after another from getting aid into parts of Somalia.
The UK has a good track record. Despite the difficult climate and the conflict, it has worked to try to get aid into Somalia through different organisations and through the means available to us. However, there remains a huge challenge. It is estimated that at least a quarter of the Somali population—one of the highest proportions in the world—is still in urgent need of relief and assistance, and 60% of the population live below the poverty line, on less than $1 a day.
As the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), said, the previous Government increased aid to Somalia from just over £3 million in 2002-03 to £34 million, and that money made a huge difference to people’s lives. For instance, 650,000 people in south-central Somalia received basic health treatment, including vaccinations, deworming tablets and nutritional screening, and more than 120,000 children were treated for acute malnutrition in the same region. Water points and sanitation facilities were created for about 50,000 people, and much more was done. Leaving aside those achievements, however, it is clear that we have to do much more, given the challenges Somalia faces and the nature of the conflict. Given the current climate, we have to focus on where and how we can get support to people in conflict zones to ensure they do not face a continued crisis.
When the Foreign Secretary visited Somalia last week—we are pleased to see the beginning of new, more normalised relations with Somalia—his focus seemed to be particularly on security and piracy. Although that is crucial, and although it is in our interests and those of the region, it is critical that we move beyond the rhetoric about development and supporting countries facing conflict to ensure they have the appropriate support and assistance to make the transition from being failed and fragile states facing conflict to being more independent, sustainable societies, where our aid effort genuinely can make a difference.
The February conference is an important development and a chance for the Government to show the international leadership that is vitally needed. Many of us will be watching closely, along with our constituents, to see whether progress is being made. We will be willing the international community on to ensure that this opportunity is not missed and that there is lasting peace and security in Somalia. Although the military dimension and the regional co-operation dimension are vital, the humanitarian dimension must be integral to the discussions and the actions that follow the conference. Long-term stability in Somalia will be about finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict and a political settlement that includes addressing Somaliland’s independence, as well as about achieving sustainable development.
As the worst of the famine passes, we cannot forget that 4 million people, including 2 million children, are still in need of immediate food security and livelihood support. Britain must remain committed to helping that group of people, who desperately need our support. That means having a stronger focus on food security. The international community had warnings of imminent drought and famine in Somalia but it did not act early enough, as was shown by the recent Oxfam and Save the Children report.
Alongside the need for democratic and functional state institutions, I hope that we can consider how countries such as Somalia can gradually attract and build a viable economic environment. Although it is a challenge, we must consider the medium and longer-term aims, if we are to ensure that a failed or fragile state can make the transition to economic and social development and if we are to secure lasting progress.
I hope that the conference will focus on how to get humanitarian assistance to those still affected in Somalia and that a concerted effort will be made to build strong, democratic institutions. It might feel premature now but we have to aspire to ensuring that Somalia has institutions and governance arrangements fit to serve the people of the country. To prevent future disasters and learn from what has happened, the international community must focus on building resilience within both the international systems and the country itself, and we must help Somalia to respond more effectively than it has in the past year to disasters, famine and the humanitarian challenges that it is likely to continue to face. It is also important that the most vulnerable people, such as women and children, who are often the first to suffer in conflict and humanitarian disasters, be supported.
In conclusion, I look forward to progress being made at the conference. I and other hon. Members with a passionate interest in Somalia will follow the conference closely to see that it makes a genuine difference, and we will support the Government’s efforts to bring the international community together to ensure that the concerns and interests of the Somali population are addressed alongside our interest in a secure and stable country.
May I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s initial remarks and say that it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) and so many other well-informed and constructive contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House? This has been the House of Commons at its best, because there is a great deal of cross-party agreement and expertise. I join the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who is no longer in his place, in playing tribute to Myles Wickstead, our former ambassador in Addis Ababa, who, as well as taking the hon. Gentleman to Somaliland, has been a great source of advice to me. I am happy to put on the record my gratitude for his expertise.
For decades, it seemed almost as though the international community had given up on Somalia and, by neglect, been prepared to sacrifice its people to an almost endless cycle of war, deprivation and violence. War is often described as development in reverse, and I am afraid that Somalia is possibly the best example of that in the world. It is identified by the UN as having the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As hon. Members have mentioned, there are nearly 1 million Somali refugees in other countries, 1.5 million internally displaced people there and millions more in crisis and, in many cases, at immediate risk of their lives. We see the whole population’s resilience to natural crises, such as the recent, repeated failed rains, reduced to the point where natural disasters immediately mean an humanitarian disaster, in a way that does not now happen in neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, where there are grain supplies, reserves and so on, and where the Government are managing the natural crisis. We see humanitarian assistance being blocked by the conflict, and we see the conflict itself causing death, destruction and dislocation—the terrible euphemism of so-called collateral damage—with thousands and thousands having lost their lives as a direct result.
It is absolutely fantastic, therefore, that the British Government have taken such an exceptional lead on Somalia. The Foreign Secretary and all his colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence should be congratulated on taking the lead and hosting the forthcoming London conference. However, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary should also be congratulated on visiting Mogadishu, which not many international politicians may have done yet, and seizing the opportunity to open an embassy there again, which is a positive step and a sign of confidence in Somalia’s progress; on reflecting in our policy towards Somalia the emerging Government policy on building stability overseas, which is an important reflection of the overarching strategy in our international policy; and on the commitment significantly to increase aid to Somalia over the next four years, which is now set to average £63 million a year.
Labour Members were quite right to point to their record in government on supporting Somalia. It is terrific to see the coalition Government increasing that aid, and trying to increase its impact and effectiveness wherever possible. In particular, it is important that the London conference is going ahead and that we are hosting it. It is a tribute to the diplomatic skills of the FCO that such a broad-based conference has emerged, with 40 Governments, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League attending, as well as representatives from the various territories and Governments in the wider area of Somalia. That is an important step forward in trying to secure co-ordinated international action.
The conference has seven headings. I think it was originally suggested that the conference might focus overwhelmingly on piracy, so I very much welcome the much broader approach that it is now taking to Somalia as a whole, reflecting the fact that piracy is in many respects a symptom of Somalia’s problems, not a cause. Security is there as a heading right at the start. We should pay tribute to the African Union forces, in particular those from Uganda and Burundi who over many years have made extraordinary sacrifices to help to bring security to Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, and to Somalia as a whole, and also now to the Kenyan and Ethiopian troops present in the country. The fact that different foreign military forces are present emphasises the need for a co-ordinated international approach to security and, indeed, the need to support the Somali security and justice sectors.
However, as in many other places in the world, the military solution will never be the ultimate solution to Somalia’s problems. It is therefore absolutely right that the conference will focus on the political process.
Military solutions are of course not acceptable in isolation, but what we require in this situation is first-class military command and control on the ground in Somalia. That is crucial—perhaps we will even have to give some guidance to African nations that might be involved—but I am quite sure that this is what the Foreign Office has in mind as well.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. AMISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—has made genuine efforts to limit civilian damage and the use of certain armaments in built-up areas, for instance, yet there have been criticisms of some of the impacts on civilians and, perhaps, of the application of international humanitarian law. As part of the international co-ordination of the security effort, it is important that AMISOM operates to the very best international standards of peacekeeping and military intervention.
The political process is absolutely critical. The mandate for the current transitional Government expires in August this year, and it is important that we take the opportunity to build on their achievements. I think that my briefing states that this is the 15th attempt to form a Government in Somalia over the past 20 years, but it is one of the most successful such attempts. The Government have established a reasonable degree of control, at least over the capital city and some surrounding areas. It is important not only to build on that success but to take the opportunity to make the next incarnation of Somali government even more inclusive and broad based, and to build a political process.
The conference is also going to discuss local stability, counter-terrorism and, of course, piracy. The Select Committee’s contribution to that debate will be important. The hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) referred in passing to ransoms. The British Government have taken a clear position on that matter: we are opposed to ransoms, as they feed the pirate economy. It would be good if that was an internationally agreed position that could be properly enforced. We need to take real action to address that source of funds for Somali pirates.
The humanitarian effort is also extremely important. It is most welcome that the Department for International Development is already co-ordinating its efforts with the European Union to reduce duplication and maximise impact. There will be an opportunity to do that more widely, with the United Nations and other representatives who will be present at the conference.
Non-governmental organisations are concerned about the way humanitarian aid is being affected by the conflict in Somalia and, to some extent, by international policies. It is important that the international community draw a distinction between non-political humanitarian assistance and the military and political strategy. NGO staff are endangered when they become associated with the political and military approach, and that can also lead to the delivery of aid becoming a controversial part of the conflict. That inevitably leads to the aid not getting through. The international community needs to draw that distinction and protect that non-political humanitarian space for the delivery of aid. In planning the international approach, and the military approach, it is also important to factor in a respect for human rights and for international humanitarian law.
One topic is not on the conference agenda although I think it should be. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow talked about economic development. Aid will always be valuable for a country in humanitarian crisis, but in the end it is economic development that will lift people out of poverty. I will illustrate the problem to the Minister by citing a report that appeared recently in New Scientist. It concerned work by Anja Shortland of Brunel university, who has tracked the economic development of various villages in Somalia using satellite images. She discovered that two villages in particular had made spectacular progress. Tracking such features as electric light, she found that, over the past 10 years or so, those villages had prospered and that the wealth had spread among the community.
Sadly, the reason was that those two villages were closely associated with one of the clans most implicated in piracy. Anja Shortland concluded that piracy had proved quite effective in stimulating economic development in those places, although that is obviously not a statement that any politician could comfortably make. Piracy is clearly illegal, as well as divisive. It helps only one clan, rather than the whole of Somalia, and it undermines the entire peace and political process. Nevertheless, this does set a challenge for our approach to development. We must tackle what makes piracy attractive to clans and warlords. The economic development we deliver must be at least as effective as piracy at spreading prosperity to poor communities.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point. Of course, economic development is also important for long-term stability. Does he agree that we must find mechanisms to allow investment in Somaliland in the absence of recognition, in order to make sure that what is a successful self-governing area—or independent country, if that is one’s view—is not penalised? The people of Somaliland should not be penalised in respect of economic development.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point, one I was going to address in due course. He has highlighted the importance of the establishment of the Somaliland Development Corporation, and I certainly welcome that.
I also particularly welcome one of the four priorities DFID has identified for its development programme. It says that it will
“boost wealth creation through supporting investment climate reform, skills development and job creation.”
It is essential that we help young Somalis to prosper. In some respects, promoting economic development may seem like a hopeless task, but we must seize all opportunities to help to increase prosperity.
The hon. Member for Banbury emphasised the importance of fisheries. Around the world, fisher folk are often disadvantaged populations, but the survival of their communities becomes utterly unviable if international fishing fleets are coming through and simply removing their sources of livelihood. That will serve only to hand them, once again, into the clutches of the warlords and the pirates. Trying to protect and promote the future prosperity of the Somali fisheries is, therefore, a very important task.
Somewhat counter-intuitively perhaps, some bits of infrastructure have survived almost untouched through the conflict. I understand that the mobile phone network in Somalia works extremely well, and that many Somalis have two mobile phones. Sadly, there is an obvious reason why pirates and warlords would tell their fighters not to attack the mobile phone masts: they are rather important for their operations. We must seize all opportunities, however, and try to build on the bits of infrastructure that still work.
It may seem even more hopeless to talk about the prospects for tourism, but a former diplomat has told me that Somaliland is a relatively peaceful and prosperous country that is safe for visitors and apparently has beautiful beaches. If it was recognised and had the status of a separate country, and then began, as it were, to build its brand separately from Somalia and the areas still affected by war and conflict, Somaliland could become quite a positive economic development story, and tourism could be a key sector. We must seek out opportunities to help Somaliland to develop. It is absolutely right that 40% of DFID’s development aid is focused on Somaliland and that we are taking steps such as establishing the Somaliland Development Corporation, because that example of prosperity and stability could send a very powerful message in the region. It is precisely the kind of message that will gradually begin to persuade communities in Somalia proper to think about pursuing a rather different path from the one that some of them have been pursuing. It would also undermine al-Shabaab’s claim to offer the only route to salvation for the Somali people. It is, therefore, very important that we promote the development of Somaliland.
Political recognition is a difficult issue. It would clearly be somewhat tactless if the UK were to be the first country to recognise Somaliland. It would probably be equally tactless for Ethiopia to be the first country to do so, as it also has a complicated political history with Somalia. We should try to encourage those states that are traditional leaders in pan-African politics, such as Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria, to move towards recognition of Somaliland. That example of prosperity, stability and democracy could prove very powerful, and could help countries throughout the region and the continent to tackle what has been a running sore for a long time.
I am happy to endorse what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree, however, that it may well be that that single point of recognition is what is too difficult, and that what is needed is a process that will lead us from the present situation, which does not seem to offer the hope of recognition at any point in the future, to a number of possible conclusions, one of which might be the recognition that he recommends?
That is a fair point—I think that it has to be an iterative process—but the point I am making to Ministers is that I consider recognition to be a part of that process. It cannot really start with the UK, but I think that we could involve ourselves in a very positive way by encouraging other African states to think about the legal arguments and the fact that the old colonial boundaries will not really be threatened—that is obviously a sensitive issue in many parts of Africa—and to make the case for that prosperous democratic example as one that should lead to recognition, which, in turn, will help the economic development of the country.
I think that, in many respects, the British Government are doing exactly the right thing in regard to Somalia, and I think that the Foreign Secretary, in particular, should feel very proud to be hosting an important international conference that offers a real prospect of—at last—some progress towards prosperity and peace for the people of the wider Somalia.
Let me begin by adopting what is rapidly becoming the custom today and pay tribute to every Member who has spoken so far. I cannot possibly list all their constituencies, but everyone has spoken with great eloquence and knowledge—much more eloquence and knowledge than I shall be able to muster, although I shall do my best.
Let me also say at the outset how pleased I am that we are having this debate. Three weeks ago during business questions I suggested to the Leader of the House that he should find time for a debate on Somalia, and I was pleasantly surprised when he took me up on it. I hope that Ministers will convey my gratitude to him—
And take note of all your future suggestions.
In my Leicester constituency I represent a significant Somali diaspora community, many of whose members will be watching the debate with great interest. I am sure that I speak for a large number of them when I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary for the tone of his opening remarks, and welcome the fact that there is a degree of bipartisanship in the debate.
Many Members have described the situation facing Somalia extremely well. It is a country with no effective central Government, notwithstanding those in Somaliland and Puntland, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) pointed out; a country where the terrorist group al-Shabaab occupies much of the centre and south; and a country which, for all the reasons mentioned, has been one of the largest generators of refugees and internally displaced persons in the world. A symptom of that instability is the piracy off the coast of Somalia, of which the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), spoke with great knowledge. Let me develop some of the points that he made.
Even after the United Nations Security Council resolutions and the various multi-naval operations, piracy has increased over the last five years or so. In 2010, 4,185 seafarers were attacked by Somali pirates and 1,432 were on ships boarded by pirates. Estimates suggest that the ransom take has increased significantly: in 2006 the average ransom was $150,000, whereas in 2011 it was $4.5 million. According to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, the total ransom amount has reached $135 million. I understand the UK’s position on ransoms, and I think that it is right, but perhaps the Minister could tell us whether other nation states think that they should be made illegal. I believe that the United States has been considering that. I agree with the Committee that it is not a good idea, but I should be interested to hear the Minister’s view.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) talked about the economic development of parts of Somalia near where piracy is prevalent. Those areas may well have developed economically, but inflation has been stoked and commodity prices are increasing hugely, which brings all kinds of social problems. Then there is the tragic humanitarian crisis in Somalia, which many Members have spoken about. In 2011 it experienced the worst drought for 60 years and the worst food crisis for 20 years. Four million people are living in crisis conditions, and child malnutrition rates are the highest in the world.
I welcome the fact that the Government are convening this conference, which meets at a time when there are signs of progress. The UN Secretary-General has said that
“the prospects for positive change appear greater than they have been for many years.”
The transitional federal Government are arguably in their strongest position for some time. Al-Shabaab has been driven out of Mogadishu almost entirely, and as the Foreign Secretary said, the photos of Somalis enjoying Lido beach in Mogadishu in recent weeks contrast hugely with the photos we are all used to seeing of burnt-out buildings.
Such progress has been recognised internationally. The Foreign Secretary visited Mogadishu a few days ago, and yesterday the EU special envoy for the horn of Africa was there. However, we should remember last year’s suicide bomb, which killed 70 teenagers. Just yesterday a café was bombed, and guerrilla warfare continues. So although it is right for us to be ambitious and to have high hopes for this conference, that backdrop—along with 15 failed peace processes in 20 years—is the sobering reality against which the conference is convened.
The international community should try to find a solution not only because that is the right thing for Somalia, but, as the Foreign Secretary said, because it is in our national security interest. Finding that political settlement is very important, but I am well aware that the conference is only part of the process. I should be interested to hear how the Minister expects things to develop, and what he sees as the Foreign Office’s role, post-conference.
There are a couple of issues that I hope the conference will turn its attention to in detail, the first of which is the humanitarian situation. Somalia’s humanitarian needs will never be fully met until the violence, political instability and insecurity are addressed. We can all agree that the drought and the famine were a total tragedy, and that the international community’s response was perhaps too slow, although I do praise the work of the International Development Secretary and DFID. We can all agree that al-Shabaab’s banning late last year of a number of aid agencies has not helped matters. Thankfully, the rainfall this winter has been the best in years. However, it could be argued that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating in parts of southern Somalia as a result of increased military intervention in support of the transitional federal Government.
I hope the conference discusses and explicitly promotes the protection of citizens and compliance with international humanitarian law, and that the role of children is considered. We know that, too often, children are recruited to fight in these conflicts. Although we should welcome the TFG’s commitment to working with the UN on this matter, more needs to be done to convince them properly to monitor the use of children in their forces. Perhaps the Minister can touch on that issue.
I am sure my hon. Friend, like me, will have read of Amnesty International’s concerns about child soldiers in Somalia. Does he not think that a very useful outcome of this conference would be a specific, in-terms declaration, signed up to by all parties, that no more children will be involved in any conflicts by any party?
I absolutely agree, and I hope that the use of children in these conflicts will be explicitly referred to in any communiqué resulting from the conference.
I understand that Somalia has not ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that later, but such ratification would achieve the same end.
The hon. Lady makes a good point and she is quite right. I hope that the Minister listened to both those interventions and will comment on them.
I wish to make a few points about refugees. We know that 1 million Somalis have sought international protection in the region, many of whom are residing in Kenya. To pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), the camp at Dadaab was initially designed for 90,000 refugees but it now holds about 440,000 registered refugees, as well as a number of unregistered refugees. I hope that the conference will discuss how to ensure that refugees are registered as quickly as possible. In coming up with any solution that deals with mass displacement, we need to consider the role of the Kenyan and Ethiopian Governments. I particularly hope that the Kenyan Government will ensure that Somalis who seek refuge in Kenya are not prevented from doing so, and I would be interested to know whether the Foreign Secretary is making representations to the Kenyan Government on that matter.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham and my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) spoke about economic development and building resilience in Somalia. That must be a central objective of the international community. As we know, Oxfam and Save the Children have said that the world did not respond fast enough to the crisis, although I pay tribute to the work done by DFID. We knew that the warning signals were there; we knew that the rains had failed and that commodity prices were escalating; and we all knew of the lethal consequences of the political instability in that part of the world. Instead of reacting when it is too late, we have to do more to address the underlying issues and to support investment in local food production, sustainable livestock production and agriculture as we try to build political stability in Somalia.
I hope that the conference also considers climate change, because in the conversation about that we do not always think about Somalia and the horn of Africa, because other parts of the world take more of our attention. We know why the short rains failed, but emerging scientific thinking suggests that the long rains failed and will continue to fail as a result of climate change. We need to examine and discuss that, and I hope that the conference will have a chance to start deliberating on the issue. If climate change is also affecting that part of the world and its long rains, we will need to do more to invest in better irrigation systems and we will need a strategy to deal with the problem.
I represent a significant Somali community in Leicester, one that has settled in Leicester from all over Somalia and Somaliland; some members of the community like to refer to themselves as “mini Somalia”. It has much expertise, and much good sense is talked by many of those in Leicester’s Somali community, many of whom attended the conference yesterday. The Somali community in Leicester recently raised funds to send an ambulance to Mogadishu in the next few weeks. People in the community tell me that they want this conference to succeed, but they are weary from having seen too many conferences and initiatives fail in the past. They want the international community to do what it can to help foster a solution, but they are well aware that any solution has to be Somali-led. Crucially, they want the Foreign Office to continue to engage with them, not only in the run-up to this next conference, as happened in respect of yesterday’s very successful event, but beyond. I am sure that I speak for many in the Somali community on the St Matthew’s estate in my constituency when I invite the Foreign Secretary, the International Development Secretary or the Minister for Africa to come to that estate. They would get some very good coffee and some very fine food, and such a visit would send a very good signal as to how the Foreign Office, or perhaps DFID, is engaging with the Somali community in Leicester.
We have either the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) to thank for this debate—we are grateful to him—or perhaps the lack of business, because a Bill is being discussed in the other place before it comes back here. Sometimes we are too self-absorbed and it is good to have a few weeks to look beyond our own horizons and think about what is happening elsewhere in the world, where often there is great suffering.
I warmly welcome what my hon. Friend the Africa Minister and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary have achieved in their proactive stance on Somalia. It is clear that we have a Foreign Secretary of stature—of course we knew that already—and a Minister for Africa who has tried to push the process forward. He said recently that he wanted a “strategic approach”, but Somalia defies strategy. Nostrums of liberal unitary democracy do not work with Somalia. It has tinges, shades, gradations and distinctions that evade a simple solution. We have to learn to work with that reality rather than try to defeat it with our own notions of what is right.
I do not think we should be quite so defeatist, given that the Somalis themselves have a model that has worked in Somaliland. It has dealt with what was a clan situation and has engaged with the elders through the Guurti. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right about the current situation, but I do not think we should write off the capacity of Somalis to build democracy, especially if they can do so with our help.
I agree entirely and apologise if my opening remarks had a defeatist tone. I did not mean to convey that at all. I just wanted to be realistic. I will, as have many who have already discussed Somaliland, pay tribute to what it has achieved. There is a model about which the right hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), so we should not despair of the situation. I was leading up to saying—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with this—that there is no single solution or governmental process that is right, because Somalia is a patchwork of sub-national entities: some, such as Somaliland, are large, some are small, and some are clan-based.
Somaliland has developed governmental structures that exercise authority in a relatively normal and competent way, despite or—dare I say it—because of almost total non-recognition by outside powers. Perhaps we should learn something from that. Elsewhere in Somalia power can shift rapidly as clans align, separate and shift alliances. I suspect that progress can be made only by encouraging the peaceful institutionalisation and regularisation of the clan structures. That is not being defeatist; it is just recognising reality. That is why I believe that any kind of imposed solution or attempt to create one out of this conference would be a mistake.
At least, in my view, we have learned some lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan. I strongly opposed both those ventures, because I believe they were badly planned and because they involved western troops on the ground. Thank God we have learned the lessons and British coffins are not returning through Wootton Bassett from Somalia. We are, however, engaged and not a great deal has been said about this so far. We are, apparently, training, equipping and supporting Kenyan and other African Union troops. I am told that British Army officers can often be seen in Nairobi doing that. Not a great deal is disclosed about it by our Government—perhaps that is right and it should be under the radar—but I think that Parliament, which pays for it, needs to know what is happening on behalf of our taxpayers.
We have to acknowledge the limitations of foreign intervention, even if we are being cleverer about it this time and using troops from the African Union effectively as proxies. The fact that troops are from Burundi and Kenya does not mean they are not resented as interloping Christians and foreigners by many in Somalia. We have to recognise that and we must not be over-optimistic about their ability to change events there. I still believe there are worrying comparisons with Afghanistan. There is foreign intervention for a start, there is the resurgent Muslim al-Shabaab—read the Taliban in Afghanistan—and there is a weak, corrupt central Government who are too reliant on aid from the west. I think we have been too kind to the Mogadishu Government in this debate. It might be difficult for the Foreign Secretary to say this—I went to the Somali conference yesterday at Chatham House, at which he gave an excellent speech—but the failure of the transitional federal charter and the transitional federal Government, whom we support, is almost absolute. They are virtually a failed entity, apart from in Mogadishu, where they operate only with foreign intervention.
The corruption in that Government, whom our Government support, is absolutely appalling, and taxpayers here should know about it. A confidential audit of the Somali Government suggests that in 2009 and 2010, 96% of direct assistance to the Government from outside powers simply disappeared, most likely into the hands of corrupt officials. Billions of pounds and dollars from the west have therefore simply disappeared. I am not attacking international aid, and I will say something about the vital importance of humanitarian aid in a moment, but it is appalling that, according to a confidential and authoritative audit, 96% of aid from our country and others has simply gone down the drain—into the pockets of corrupt officials.
I believe the transitional road map should be abandoned. If possible, another road map should be agreed that is more flexible and able to develop in response to the implementation of changes—bending to them rather than being broken by them, as has happened in the past. In that part of the world, as in many others, a strict road map is unlikely to succeed in practice. It is clear that the presidential system of a central Administration is inappropriate for Somalia. That has proved to be unworkable and it might be wise to propose a confederal solution to the problem. The country could be arranged into a number of cantons that bestow authority upwards to the national Government rather than there being a system that works downwards from the centre, as with most unitary states.
I rather agree with the hon. Gentleman about having a federal organisation of the possible state, which would reflect the history of Somalia, but may I question him about the report that so much aid has been wasted? That is rather counter-intuitive given that a high proportion of our aid goes to Somaliland, which is relatively well governed and where structures are well in place. Quite a high proportion goes through NGOs, with which that kind of exercise of being siphoned off by officials should not apply. Will he give a little more detail about this report and its sources?
I am not attacking aid to Somaliland. I am talking about aid that goes directly to the Somali Government, not about aid that goes to Somaliland or NGOs. I will happily send my hon. Friend the report, which is very clear, explicit and authoritative. There is undoubtedly a failed state in Mogadishu. We have to be aware of and recognise that.
A report from the Council on Foreign Relations in New York suggests there should be recognition of the reality on the ground with the creation of a council of leaders to replace the bloated and ineffective transitional federal Government and Parliament. That would surely be a step in the right direction. I believe that if a political process begins to succeed in stabilising Somalia, the issue of Somaliland, as we have said again and again in this debate, will need to be addressed. Somaliland has demonstrated its ability to function as an independent state; it is the only part of Somalia with a Government who function properly, and they do so with some democratic legitimacy, which is all the more commendable. All of Somalia, apart from Somaliland, is committed to the idea of a united state; for example, Puntland, while functioning separately, participates in negotiations for the creation of a recognisable national Government and seeks to be a state within Somalia. On the contrary, Somaliland has decisively demonstrated the desire to add de jure sovereignty to its de facto independence, and it should be granted. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that self-determination is right for Falklanders, so why is it not right for Somalilanders?
One way forward would be an offer to Somaliland that it sign up to a confederal Somalia, with a guaranteed time frame for an independence referendum, as happened in South Sudan. Nobody doubts what the result would be. If there was a fair referendum in Somaliland, its people would vote for independence, which, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, they had in the past. That would give Somalilanders a realistic prospect of achieving the international recognition that their state currently lacks, while retaining national legitimacy at a Somali-wide level, even if only transitionally. I suggest it as an idea for the conference, as others have done.
Much of the piracy stems from Puntland, which is one of the poorest areas in an already poor country. Given the lucrative nature of piracy, its financial attraction is understandably strong, but it should also be noted that Somalia’s fishing industry has collapsed over the past 15 years. Its waters have been overfished, not by local people but by European, Asian and other African ships. Lack of maritime security in Somali coastal waters means that they provide a safe haven for people smugglers and arms smugglers, in addition to illegal fishing.
In Britain, we suffer from the common fisheries policy—a thoroughly counter-productive strategy that our Government are forced to accede to. We should therefore sympathise with the position of Somalis who are being ravaged by an immeasurably worse depredation of their fishing stocks by outsiders. While the pirates—until now—seem to be in it simply for financial enrichment, we must be aware of the potential convergence of terrorist groups in the area.
Worse things could happen. For instance, the sinking of a large container or tanker in the approach to the Suez canal would be a propaganda coup for terrorists. Insurance premiums have already risen more than tenfold since the first flourishing of Somali piracy in 2008. Although the pirates obviously keep most of the ransom funds they obtain, we can assume that a significant amount provides local factions with an injection of cash that helps to finance warfare and escalates conflict in the area.
I shall not repeat the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, but there is some confusion about exactly what ships can do when pirates approach them. We heard what my hon. Friend said; there must be clarification of the law of the sea, and I am sure the Minister will provide it when he winds up the debate.
There has been much good progress. Operation Atalanta is an impressive effort involving 23 of the 27 EU member states. We provide the operational headquarters at Northwood. A combined naval taskforce—CTF 150—has been undertaken by a coalition under US co-ordination. It involves the UK, Canada, Denmark, France, Japan and Germany, with participation from Australia, Italy and the Netherlands. It is very impressive and we should pay tribute to it.
As my hon. Friends who took part in the defence debate pointed out, all these things show the importance of the work of our Royal Navy and that it is increasingly over-stretched: in the Falklands, where we have had to send a Type 45 destroyer, in the strait of Hormuz and in anti-piracy control. We cannot rely on others. An authoritative report from the Defence Committee underlines the fact. In recent years, people have said that there is not enough for the Royal Navy to do, but actually it is extraordinarily important and it should be a national priority. We of course have allies for counter-terrorist and anti-piracy purposes—let us not doubt it—but perhaps we should remember Lord Palmerston’s warning, which applies to us just as it does to others, that nations have no permanent friends or allies, only permanent interests. We do not necessarily have permanent allies, but we have a permanent interest in maintaining maritime security. That is why I take every opportunity I can in such debates to pay tribute to the Royal Navy for the important work it does. I hope that when my hon. Friends succeed in catching your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, they, too, might make that point.
Let me end my remarks by talking about humanitarian intervention, because I did not want my earlier remarks to sound defeatist about the importance of international aid. I condemn the libertarian approach that says we should sit by and let the problem solve itself while hundreds of thousands of people go hungry and die, which I think is completely counter to our history of humanitarianism. Therefore, I warmly commend what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development is doing and the help he has given. I often talk about the need for strict controls on public money, but occasionally one has to cut through Treasury controls and get the aid out there. I would like to echo the concern expressed in a Chatham House paper: if the international community does only one thing, ensuring the safe delivery of food aid should be the priority. I have no argument with that. When between 50,000 and 100,000 people are dying, it is right that we should be prepared to take action.
So much of this issue concerns the lack of interest. There is a lack of interest in many parts of the west. Perhaps up to 100,000 people have died in the past year, but this debate has not been overwhelmingly well attended. There is the lack of interest, the divided counsel and the violence. None of this is new. I will end with a quotation I recently read from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part I”, Act I:
“Gloucester: Is Paris lost? Is Rouen yielded up?...
Exeter: How were they lost? What treachery was used?
Messenger: No treachery, but want of men and money;
Among the soldiers, this is muttered—
That here you maintain several factions,
And whilst a field should be despatched and fought,
You are disputing of your generals:
One would have lingering wars with little cost;
Another would fly swift, but wanteth wings.
A third man thinks, without expense at all,
By guileful fair words peace may be obtained.
Awake, awake, English nobility!”
Several hon. Members
Order. Nine Members are trying to catch my eye. The winding-up speeches will start at 5.36 pm, so if hon. Members take roughly between seven and eight minutes each everyone will have an equal footing. If Members cannot show self-constraint, I will help them.
I am not prepared with a suitable Shakespearean quote to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), but I want to pick up on his last point about humanitarian assistance. Somalia, of course, was the country worst hit by the famine in the horn of Africa. Just as one cannot deal with the famine without looking at the underlying security issues, one cannot approach the security issues without taking into account the famine and the circumstances that led to it.
I want to make a couple of points on the famine in the horn of Africa. It has been said time and again that it was both predictable and predicted. I am sure that Members will have seen the excellent report recently produced by Save the Children and Oxfam, which concluded:
“There were clear early warning signs many months in advance, yet there was insufficient response until it was far too late.”
There was a failure to respond at many levels—by international organisations, international agencies, countries throughout the world and countries in the region. The UK Government were one of the first to respond, and their role was very positive, but together the world community did not act, in spite of the repeated warnings that many Members will have read and heard about over the past year.
The question must be: why was there such a failure to act in time when there were such clear warnings? Several features had their role to play, including a lack of flexibility among the system in place to respond to the crisis and, in Somalia in particular, the non-existence of state organisations and a lack of security for NGOs and other actors, but the report from Oxfam and Save the Children makes another important point: when such information from early warnings systems is produced, action has to be based upon those early warnings, and it has to take place at that point, not when one is certain that there is going to be a crisis. If we wait until there is certainty, we will find that the crisis is well upon us and much harder to deal with.
Governments and NGOs have a difficult issue to deal with in their approach to crises. The resources of countries and NGOs are of course limited, and I can well foresee the criticism that would be made if emergency supplies were put in place and then not fully utilised, but we must accept the conclusion is that, if necessary, a risk must be taken by making early preparations to avert such famines. That is why the proposals in the recent humanitarian emergency response review, the Ashdown report, are relevant. Its recommendations on stockpiles of supplies and the means to deliver them have to be considered and put in place in Somalia and elsewhere, so I should be interested to know how the Government will apply the report’s conclusions in their approach to the conference in a couple of weeks’ time.
We are focused on Somalia, but there are increased warnings of another hunger crisis breaking out elsewhere in Africa, in the Sahel region. This debate is of course about Somalia, but it is noticeable and concerning that many features that are described as contributing to the potential crisis in the Sahel are similar to those that we heard about a couple of years ago in relation to the crisis in the horn of Africa. We are told that there were late and poor rains in 2011, that food prices are now too high for people to afford at markets and that instability is arising both from internal factors and from the knock-on effects of developments elsewhere in Africa. I should therefore be interested to know also how the Government will ensure that the international community responds in advance of any crisis in the Sahel.
That point relates to the Somalia issue, because, as we have seen in the horn of Africa, famine can destabilise a much wider area than the one most badly affected. Given that we face also a worrying increase in the tension between South Sudan and Sudan, we in the world community could well be faced with a massive area, stretching from west to east Africa, of hunger, disease and instability, which, as well as damaging the countries and peoples directly affected, is bound to have effects on neighbouring countries, including those that have recently made substantial economic, developmental and political progress.
Those are big issues, and there are limits to what the UK can do. This country has been a major provider of emergency aid under this and the previous Governments, but we have to get the world to mobilise and to focus consistently on the issues. The Save the Children and Oxfam report makes the point that one reason for the international community’s lack of response to the developing crisis in the horn of Africa might have been other events, such as the Arab spring, the global recession, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, and I am sure that that is right, but there are certainly as many—if not more—crises affecting the world now as there were two years ago, so there has to be some way of providing a continued focus on the long-term solutions that are required to prevent such crises from developing in the first place.
I do not have time to develop all the points that I would have made. However, we need to consider the kind of proposals that were outlined in the Save the Children and Oxfam report, such as the proposal for a charter to end extreme hunger. That would look at longer-term solutions to ensure, above all, that countries have resilience so that when crises and natural disasters happen, they can respond internally without having to rely on emergency assistance on every occasion. There is obviously also a need to resolve the security issues.
Finally, the role of the African Union is extremely important. It should not be seen just as a proxy by which richer, western powers can get forces in on the cheap; it must be something much more than that. At the end of the day, African countries, leaders, peoples and organisations, such as the African Union, will have to provide the long-term support to deal with immediate security crises and other crises. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what further support the UK can give the African Union, both in its organisation and for specific missions, so that it has the ability to respond to crises, such as those that we are seeing in the horn of Africa and that we may see in western Africa. Clearly, it will not provide the sort of development assistance that comes from richer and more developed countries, but its role can be important, and should become increasingly important, in providing security, technical and political support. I hope that it will have the full support of the UK Government as it develops that role.
I am extremely grateful to you for taking note of the time constraints, Mr Lazarowicz.
We live in a time when one can feel the tectonic plates of geopolitics move. In and out of this Chamber, Parliament is rightly engaged in debates about our nation’s role in the world. The demands on our armed services in Afghanistan, where we are working with our allies, and in countries around the world are increasing. Our diplomatic and humanitarian effort is being stretched even further. With so much going on, it would be all too easy to forget Somalia, and to think it less important than it is.
I think that it is essential to work with nations around the world to continue to provide support for Somalia. Many of my constituents ask me why that is so. Fundamentally, it is because it matters to the security of the UK. More than 350,000 Somalis live in the UK and we ignore Somalia’s problems at our peril. We should heed the words of the mayor of Mogadishu, who said to the BBC that disaffected young British Somalis were leaving to train in the al-Shabaab terror camps before returning to the UK with “revenge in their hearts”. In 2010, the MI5 director, Jonathan Evans, warned that it was
“only a matter of time”
before terrorists trained in Somali camps inspired acts of violence on the streets of the UK.
Points have been made about the importance of keeping our shipping routes open and free from pirates.
I am interested in what the hon. Lady is saying about the Somali community in Britain. She is correct that there are at least 350,000 Somalis living here. Will she for a moment pause and reflect on the hard work and contributions of that community in developing businesses and opportunities, and on the positive role that a lot of young Somalis play within their community and the education system? We should not allow a message to go out that denigrates an entire community of ambitious and hard-working young people.
I do not believe that my point reflected negatively on the vast majority of Somalis living in our country, who make a very positive contribution. That point has been made well by Members this afternoon and I concur with it. However, we must not put our heads in the sand and ignore professionals who are accountable to this Parliament and the professional advice that they give us.
I welcome what the Government are doing to re-establish an embassy in Somalia and the efforts of the UN to re-establish its base in Mogadishu.
In the weeks around the forthcoming major conference on Somalia, hosted by the Prime Minister, I hope that our media play their part in helping people up and down the country—especially people in places such as my constituency, who do not have day-to-day contact with the Somali community—to understand why it is important that they support Britain’s continued involvement in Somalia. As we are all in the Chamber today, it is clear that all parties understand that, but a large percentage of the people who have sent us here do not really understand it and have reservations about why we are continuing our support. That is quite understandable, because people are often susceptible to compassion fatigue, especially when their standard of living is being squeezed and some people are losing their jobs. Many fear that good money is being wasted. With so many conflicts erupting around the world, they might tire of even trying to keep up with what is going on. As taxpayers’ money is being spent, it is vital that we all do our bit to make the case for support. I believe that people will want to support our efforts in Somalia if they understand the risks to our national security and believe that we are really making a positive difference on the ground.
Today, I want to share with colleagues the positive difference that humanitarian aid is making to thousands of people in Somalia, who, we must not forget, are among the poorest and longest-suffering on the planet. I have mentioned ShelterBox in the House before. It is a great Cornish emergency humanitarian aid charity that provides boxes containing shelter, basic cooking equipment, water sanitisation equipment and tools. Its ingenuity in responding to different situations has enabled it to deliver a remarkable array of services in Somalia in its sturdy boxes. The boxes are all packed in and distributed from Cornwall, and enabled by donations and volunteers. Over the past few years, several thousand boxes have been sent to Somalia, and nearly a further 500 boxes, including 50 classroom boxes, are currently en route. That shipment of direct aid is enough to provide shelter for about 1,000 families.
Due to the security risks of working in Somalia at the moment, ShelterBox does not actually have any volunteers on the ground there. It is instead working with a partner agency, a French medical charity called Women and Health Alliance International, which has a long history of working in Somalia. At the main displacement camp in Mogadishu, it has already set up a health centre, where there is a hospitalisation facility using the disaster relief tents donated by ShelterBox. It is providing primary health care consultation rooms, a delivery suite and even a small hospital. The ShelterBox tents not only provide a clean, sterile area for the medical staff to work in but allow patients to be hospitalised while staying with their families rather than being separated. Pregnant women also have privacy while they are having their antenatal consultations and giving birth. The facility has been described by the doctors on the ground as having made
“a dramatic difference to the well-being of hundreds of Somali families in dire need of assistance in Mogadishu.”
ShelterBox’s success in helping people in Somalia is a result of having worked around the world for many years building effective working relationships with local organisations that do not have the bureaucracy and inefficiency of some of the multinational agencies. Wherever it works in the world, it works with locals and, in doing so, it tries to build capacity in those nations to deal with future disasters.
Working in partnership with other countries’ aid efforts and with people in the countries that we are supporting, so that they can develop their own capacity, is rightly at the heart of the Government’s humanitarian aid response. That theme was echoed in a recent report published by Oxfam, which stated that the UN and international non-governmental organisations provided only part of the answer to crises from Haiti to the horn of Africa.
When the Minister responds to the debate, I would appreciate his reassurance that the Government’s admirable plans to publish information on how taxpayers’ money is spent in Somalia will be implemented so that all can see it, just as donors to ShelterBox can go online and see how their money is being spent so well. Publishing that information would go some way towards reassuring my constituents that their money was being well spent and, as a result, build public support for the essential work that Britain needs to continue to do in Somalia.
Thank you for your time restraint.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I add my congratulations to the Foreign Secretary and his team on their leadership on Somalia. It is excellent that he visited Somalia to see first hand the challenges in rebuilding the country. The Secretary of State said last week:
“For the security of the UK, it matters a lot for Somalia to become a more stable place”.
I echo that, and I am pleased that the UK is hosting the Somalia conference.
Feltham and Heston has a small but significant Somali population. My experience is of a hard-working community looking to develop a life for their families, and of parents encouraging their children to do well at school and take up the opportunity of education that was denied to so many. Many make a positive contribution to the local community through voluntary and other work.
The leaders of the Darussalam Masjid and Cultural Centre in Heston have also shown a lead in helping fellow Somalis who have settled here to deal with the consequences of experiencing two decades of conflict and famine. I should like to build on what my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) said about the aspiration of so many in the Somali community. The conference in two weeks’ time is an opportunity to highlight that other side of the story of Somalia and to keep it centre stage as a symbol of hope.
In my short contribution I shall deal with three matters: the engagement of the Somali diaspora, the situation of Somaliland, and developing systems and livelihoods, which is a theme of the conference. First, on the engagement of the Somali diaspora, I wanted to mention the helpful comments by the Secretary of State during the Chatham House event, which other Members have referred to, and the pledge that members of civil society and the Somali diaspora will have the opportunity to contribute positively to the conference outcomes. Will the Minister say more about that in his winding-up speech? Will members of the Somali diaspora in this country, including those from my constituency, be engaged in future activity? The conference will be the start of a new phase of work and its legacy is important. It would be a lost opportunity indeed not to build on some of the relationships and engagement that develop in the run-up to the conference.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful case for the diaspora community in her constituency. I have a diaspora community in Swindon, and I should like to reinforce to the Minister the hon. Lady’s point about the need for the mechanisms of engagement to be made clear so that my constituents, like the hon. Lady’s, can make a positive contribution to, for example, the future of Somaliland.
I totally support the hon. Gentleman’s comment.
When those mechanisms are established, can we make it clear that we want to engage both men and women from the community? Too often when we talk about community engagement, we do not mean men and women equally.
The hon. Lady will probably be aware of my commitment to the engagement of women in all aspects of political and public life, and I totally concur with her comments.
On the situation of Somaliland, I simply want to add to comments made so eloquently by Members on both sides of the House. Somaliland will be represented in its own right at the conference. Will the Government continue to acknowledge the separate and successful development achieved by Somalilanders, who have turned Somaliland into a beacon of democracy in Africa? There is a fear among Somalilanders that Somaliland could be dragged into the quagmire of the south-central region. We want a secure and democratic south and the continuation of a secure and democratic Somaliland, so that Somalis can together decide their future.
Finally, will the Minister further highlight developing systems and livelihoods, which is one of the themes of the conference? I extend that request to the powerful comments made on economic development by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth). To what extent will access to education and jobs be part of the agenda at the conference? How can we help to develop an environment in which young Somali men, who might otherwise be more vulnerable and who might be drawn into terrorism, have an alternative and a new hope for themselves and their families? Creating an alternative life so that the next generation can live peacefully would surely be a tremendous legacy for the conference, and one of which we would all be proud. I am grateful to the House to have had the opportunity to make this contribution.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to participate in the debate.
I am not going to pretend for one moment that I know an enormous amount about Somalia; the nearest I have been to it was probably when, as a member of the Addis Ababa division of the barmy army, I flew down to South Africa to watch some cricket. Waking up at six o’clock in the morning to the sound of the imam certainly gave the whole place an enormous cultural feeling.
A lot of the issues we are dealing with at the moment, especially in Somalia, are very much a legacy of the cold war. When the cold war came to an end, it was clear that there were no longer two superpowers that could argue the case, so places such as Somalia ended up falling through the cracks a bit.
If the walls of this Chamber were able to talk, they would no doubt tell us that similar debates took place 175 years ago. After the Napoleonic wars, there was a sense that a great deal of piracy was taking place in north Africa, as well as in the Mediterranean.
In 2008, nearly $1 million of trade travelled to the EU through the Gulf of Aden. The UK therefore has a keen interest in making sure that we support and look after our maritime position in the world, and it is important that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government are playing the part they are in leading the great debate on this issue.
Our shipping industry is worth about £10.7 billion to the UK’s GDP. I am told, however, that piracy could cost as much as £12 billion a year. Surprise, surprise, I will be speaking for the Navy in a moment or two, as hon. Members would expect, given that I am the Member of Parliament for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, which I would claim is one of the Royal Navy’s major homes, although others might disagree.
Some 23,000 ships go through the gulf of Aden each year, and that is a good example of how important it is that we, as a nation, do not become sea blind. I am reminded of the story of a frigate that went into port in Sierra Leone and out again. For six or nine months after it left, the terrorists and people in Sierra Leone who wanted to create lots of trouble were convinced that if they started misbehaving, it would come straight back into the port to make sure they did not have another opportunity to create trouble.
Can hon. Members imagine what it would be like in this country if we no longer had any petrol or any groceries in our food stores? That is why the Royal Navy has a significant part to play and why I want to make sure that Somalia is seen as an international issue, and one that we are looking after.
Last summer, I travelled on one of the Type 23s travelling from Malta to Majorca. I had an opportunity to talk to the crew and to see how they operated. They had just come back from dealing with piracy issues off the coast of Somalia. It was very interesting. The first thing I learned was that all naval ships now have a legal officer on board to make sure that any decisions that are taken are compliant with international law. That is a very different story from the days of Captain Bligh sailing around the south Pacific. He would not have worried about such things. Nevertheless, it shows how much things have moved on.
The crew were concerned that their Royal Marines could not go on land to take out terrorist and piracy camps. I hope that Ministers will consider that point at the welcome Somali conference, although it must be taken forward on a firm United Nations basis when a lot of people are around.
I was spurred into action by my hon. Friend’s comments about Royal Marines going ashore. As part of our initiative, I think we should plan to put anti-piracy headquarters, protected by Royal Marines, in Somalia, perhaps Mogadishu, so that we can get a grip on piracy along the coast. That is the only way to do it. At the moment, we are fiddling around in the large ocean. We want to get a base onshore and sort it out. If possible, that should be considered at the London conference.
In the main, I agree with my hon. Friend, although it is important, if we are to do that kind of thing, that we take with us the people who are in a position to make those decisions. There would be nothing worse than putting troops on the ground, only to find ourselves in a similar position to that in Iraq and other places where we have not been welcomed.
I pay tribute to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines based in my constituency, especially HMS Cornwall and HMS Chatham, both of which were port-based Type 22s that unfortunately have had to go. They did an excellent job and I was incredibly impressed when I had the great opportunity to go to the Mediterranean last year. The other big issue was people’s concern at not having the opportunity to earn a medal like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. I urge the Minister to take that point onboard because they make a significant contribution to protecting this country’s trade routes.
If we are to be in the business of nation building, which potentially we should be, we must give advice to potential new leaders. Our universities could provide opportunities to would-be leaders to learn about international relations and, more important, about creating structures of government, such as the judiciary, policing and governance. That would be an effective way of exporting our knowledge.
This country has a proud—in my opinion—reputation for empire, and we still have structures in many countries. As we all know, Somaliland used to be a British dependency, and in seeking to work with it would it not be wonderful if, in the year of the Queen’s jubilee, Somaliland could be encouraged to rejoin the Commonwealth and thereby continue this great relationship?
I am pleased that we are having this debate on Somalia. It is the first debate on this subject for a long time—if not, the first ever—on the Floor of the House, although there have been Adjournment debates. It is a major step forward and I welcome it.
There is a clear need for peace, reconciliation and social justice, which I hope the London conference will help to provide. As I said in my intervention on the Foreign Secretary, I hope that instead of lots of international conferences all over the world, we will witness, observe and hear reports of proper, open political dialogue in Somalia by all sections of the community, indicating the development of a democratic and free society. That is what we want.
I represent Islington North, which includes the Finsbury Park area, where a large number of Somali people have made their homes. They have a strong, vibrant and hard-working community, with ambitious groups of young people trying to achieve. My intervention on the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) was not intended to be critical of the points she was making; it was intended to ensure that we get the message out that there is a big Somali community in Britain that is making a great contribution to our society, with young people—just like young people anywhere else—who want to achieve the best in life. We should support them and applaud what they do, rather than allow an entire community to be denigrated, which is what some of the media have unfortunately done to Somali people over a considerable period.
This morning I chaired a large meeting at the Finsbury Park mosque that, I am delighted to say, the Minister attended as the guest speaker. We had more than 70 people present, with many questions asked about what will happen at the conference and how things will develop from there, and also about support and recognition for the community in Britain. I thank the Minister very much for being prepared to come along. It was much appreciated by the mosque and by the community that we had that open dialogue and debate. I hope that such dialogue and debate can be held in other communities, because the point that we all made this morning was that there is a big diaspora community and a lot of links between the communities in Britain and in Somalia. Much money is sent home, and also people go back and forth, to exercise their skills and pursue their wish to see the development of their society. We should see that as an asset and a contribution for the future. Also, the local community in my area has raised a great deal of money for famine support. Interestingly, One True Voice, the Somali women’s organisation, organised an evening concert for famine support in a Catholic church, to emphasise that participation in the local community, which is something we should all applaud.
We are dealing with the consequences of a colonial past, the cold war and, in many ways, the history of Africa—all those straight lines between countries drawn on the map to describe boundaries that were utterly meaningless to the communities, except that in Somalia things are slightly different, because it is the only country in Africa that is linguistically unified and where only one language is spoken. Every other country in Africa has a multiplicity of languages—[Interruption]—although I am about to be corrected by many Government Members. However, if they can just contain themselves, I will be brief and then they can speak. Let us say “one of the few countries in Africa”, okay?
Saferworld has sent an interesting briefing for today’s debate, which says that
“it will only be through addressing the factors that underlie Somalia’s conflicts that the country will ever move from repeated crises towards lasting peace and prosperity.”
Saferworld outlines a whole lot of issues surrounding that instability—lack of political cohesion, corruption, the power of warlords, the fear that many people feel, and, of course, the ready supply of arms and guns—and the inability of any effective civil society in much of the country, although not all of it, to do anything about it.
I have also received an interesting briefing from the National Union of Journalists about the killing of journalists. Indeed, I tabled early-day motion 2638 on the issue. The latest to be killed was Abdisalan Sheik Hassan, who was shot dead on 18 December 2011, although I listed a number of other journalists who were killed in 2011. “Lives and Rights of Journalists Under Threat”, a report by the National Union of Somali Journalists, goes through, in gruesome detail, the number of journalists who have been killed for trying to report what was going on or have been harassed by officialdom, in all parts of Somalia, for trying to report the “unreportable”—the things that it did not wish to be reported. We want to know what is going on in Somalia, so I hope the Minister will assure us that one outcome of the conference will be a reference to the right to know and protection for those who are reporting, because if authorities of any sort—I am talking of illicit authorities, as well as legitimate authorities—kill journalists, they do it for a reason: they do not want the news to get out. We have to recognise that and be as supportive of journalists as we can be.
The issues of children’s rights and child soldiers were raised earlier. Amnesty International’s recommendations on those matters are important. They state that all elements should verify that children are not among the Government forces and that no person under 18 is recruited into any such forces. They also stress the importance of the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers. This is not some esoteric liberal argument being pursued from afar; if we do not do anything, or encourage something to be done, about the use of child soldiers and the brutalisation of children in that conflict, they will grow up, post-conflict, into adults who know nothing other than the use of a gun and the assertion of force to get their way. That would result in all the horrors of criminal gang cultures such as those experienced in post-conflict societies in Guatemala and El Salvador, and in parts of South Africa after the end of apartheid. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure that the rights of children are respected. I fully endorse the point made earlier that the United Nations convention on the rights of the child should be recognised by the conference; I hope that it will be.
The conference is being held in a former colonial capital. There are some awful European traditions, and one involved the congress of Berlin in 1884, which decided most of the borders in Africa. I hope that this is the last time that this kind of thing happens. I want to see progress in Somalia and the development of an open and democratic society. I also want to see a recognition of the poverty among many of the people there, and of the deaths from wholly preventable conditions and illnesses. I also want to see a recognition of the way in which a great deal of aid does not reach the people that it should, because gangs, corrupt officials and others get hold of it, so that no benefit whatever is derived from it.
In a briefing that I have received, I note that the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has published an assessment of the situation in Somalia. That assessment is a couple of months old, but I suspect that the situation is not very different now. It echoes what the Foreign Secretary said. Based on food supply figures, it is estimated that 4 million people—53% of the Somali population—are in crisis, countrywide. Of those 4 million people, 3 million are in the southern region of Somalia, which represents an increase from last summer, and 750,000 are seriously suffering in the famine, which has worsened.
Yes, we must provide food aid and support for those people who are suffering, and let us also recognise that the situation has become very bad in Somalia. The rest of the world has finally woken up to that fact, and to the need for aid and recognition. Fortunately, so far in this debate and the others that I have heard, no one is talking about an Iraq-type or Afghanistan-type western military intervention. People are talking about a process to bring about political change, recognition and respect for all the different traditions in Somalia.
I am proud to represent a large Somali community in Britain. It breaks my heart when I hear about my constituents’ relatives being stuck in refugee camps for years on end, or about people being killed on the streets of Mogadishu and their relatives here being unable to go home to attend their funeral. That is not the future that my constituents want for Somalia; they want a Somalia that is based on political recognition and democratic institutions, and on an understanding that we have a responsibility to do our very best to end this crisis and help the people to realise the dreams that we all have, for a long life, for fulfilment for our children and for a fair and secure society. That, surely, is what the aim of the conference should be.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I echo the sentiment expressed in his final comments. One of the saddest pieces of casework that I have had to undertake in my short time as a Member of Parliament was to try to help a constituent to find out whether his family were dead or alive; it was extremely sad. The hon. Gentleman has also rightly urged us to dwell on the positive contribution of the Somali community in this country. I have a large Somali community in my constituency, and I strongly echo the positive comments that have been made about the contribution of such communities. Unfortunately, I must focus on a negative issue. It is in part a health issue, and it has not thus far been raised.
As some Members may be aware, Monday was international day of zero tolerance to female genital mutilation. About 140 million women worldwide have undergone FGM, and it is estimated that each year a further 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of the practice. Somalia has one of the highest prevalence rates. According to a 2006 UNICEF study, as many as 98% of all Somali girls undergo it. Although there are signs of progress in some parts of the country, the vast majority of girls undergo what is a brutal practice that has no health benefits and leaves irreparable long-term damage. I particularly want to raise this topic now because Puntland will be represented at the forthcoming conference and its Government are seeking to pass legislation that would enshrine FGM in law. We must try to stop this very bad law being passed.
I understand from local campaigners on the ground working against this practice that the original aim of the legislation, which is referred to as the circumcision law, was to outlaw all forms of FGM. It has since been diluted by some Puntland politicians so that it now allows for—indeed, legislates for—a less extreme, but still invasive and serious, form of this very harmful practice to girls and women. The law even offers indemnity to parents who force FGM on their daughters, and it promises that no action will be taken if the procedure goes wrong.
The President of Puntland, President Farole, has yet to assent to the proposed circumcision law. I believe that he was the original proponent of the law to outlaw the practice completely. The new, changed law seeks to criminalise the worst, most severe kind of FGM—infibulation, which is sometimes known as pharaonic circumcision. However, it would also make legal type 1 FGM, which is, in effect, a clitoradectomy—I apologise for the necessarily graphic language—and which in Somali is called “sunna”.
I welcome, of course, any moves to make the most extreme forms of mutilation illegal, but to enshrine in law a measure that makes it possible to do type 1 FGM on little girls is deeply regrettable, as that would both normalise and medicalise what is a serious human rights abuse—it is recognised as such by the World Health Organisation—potentially on a massive scale. It would also undermine the efforts of DFID and local and international NGOs working in Puntland and across Somalia to eliminate this practice. Worst of all, it would undermine the astonishing and brave work of local women, in particular campaigners going from village to village to get the cutters to put down their knives and to change hearts and minds. This law must not be passed, as that would undermine all the good work that is being done.
The ratification of this law would send the wrong message to the rest of Somalia and the wider region, where there are some signs of progress. It would also undermine efforts here in the UK. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985, and in 2003 a loophole allowing families to take girls abroad to have them cut was closed. However, there are close links between the homeland and the diaspora community, and if this law in Puntland were passed it would send a strong negative signal to women here and elsewhere in the diaspora. That, in turn, would make the job of eliminating FGM in the UK—which is, in fact, on the rise—much harder. No one should doubt that it is on the rise. Earlier this week, I spoke at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists conference specifically on this matter, so great is the problem now being presented in maternity departments and specialist units around the country.
We should back the Puntland President’s original opposition to all types of FGM. He issued the presidential decree in November 2011, and I hope we can support that stance. Our Government in general, and DFID in particular, have been excellent at focusing on the prevention of violence against women and girls in their international strategy. This is an uphill struggle, but it would be made much harder if this law were passed.
We are a major supplier of aid to Somalia, and, like all who have spoken today, I strongly support that. DFID has placed the health, well-being and education of women at the heart of its overseas aid programme. I am pleased to say that tackling FGM is specifically mentioned as a “gender priority” in its strategy on Somalia. However, I fear that that aspect of its work would be hugely undermined if this proposal were adopted. I urge Ministers to use meetings at the imminent conference as opportunities to raise the issue with Somali and Puntland representatives, to put it on the agenda for discussion, and to register their concerns.
Like every other Member, I want the conference to go well—that is enormously important to members of my local community—but eradicating FGM around the world and here in the UK is a tough enough task already, and it would be made more difficult if this law were ratified. I urge Ministers to put the human rights of girls and women firmly on the conference’s agenda.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). I want to praise her for raising the issue of female genital mutilation, and not just in today’s debate. I am sure that all Members are aware of her considerable work on the issue, which is incredibly important and a credit to her.
The first principle of a stable state is the rule of law. Our most famous expression of that is arguably found in Magna Carta, which states:
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful Judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”
Without that foundation, there can be no sustainability and no democracy.
Somalia has spent two decades in the grip of a lawless malaise as its people have been borne on the violent ebbs and flows of competing warlords, yet there is a break in the cloud. The Foreign Secretary spoke of the window of opportunity which currently exists in the country, and that opportunity must be taken. Mogadishu has recently been forsaken by al-Shabaab; the strengthened African Union and transitional federal Government forces have been acting to force out the remaining guerrilla operatives, and are even poised to tackle al-Shabaab in its crucial port stronghold of Kismayo, from which it runs the kidnap, drugs and piracy operations which are its lifeblood and which sustain it in control of swathes of central Somalia.
While those struggles for control rage, the Somali people suffer unbearable degradations. Lamentations at the decline of law and the collapse of civil structures and infrastructure are easily forgotten when supplanted by a daily struggle for simple survival. The bald statistics of the famine suffered in that part of the world have already been spoken about, and I shall not repeat them.
It is clear, then, that the prevailing conditions in Somalia are not conducive to the establishment of a viable nation state. However, the challenge to the forthcoming London conference is at least to show that there is a pathway to a stable Somalia, secure in the rule of law and representative of its people, who are reconciled to the systems of regional and federal government that are put in place. An end to famine, the rule of law and democracy are the ultimate objectives. The prerequisite for the achievement of those objectives is security, and in that respect Britain is again in the lead.
The Royal Navy leads the joint European Union enterprise Operation Atalanta, is in overall control of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, and supports the separate US-led Combined Maritime Forces. Away from the “pointy end” of the Royal Navy is Maritime Trade Operations, a capacity-building organisation that trains merchant seamen. The Royal Navy has been at the forefront of the development of counter-piracy operations, including most recently increasing the speed of access to plans of merchant ships that have fallen foul of pirates. It has also played a great role in advising companies on how to keep their crews safe. It was as part of the NATO operation that the Royal Navy, operating from Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victoria, captured 13 Somali pirates last month.
It is, of course, all to the good that apprehended pirates are no longer at large. However, in the absence of a legal structure making it possible to prosecute them in Somalia, neighbouring countries have had to take on those cases, with the Royal Navy tasked with providing much of the damning evidence.
My hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) have already spoken about the difficulties the Royal Marines face with rules of engagement and the requirement to have a legal officer on board. This is not just some bureaucratic problem; it is leading to people being hurt and killed. When the Royal Marines or the Royal Navy come across a pirate vessel or an act of piracy, there is a time delay affecting their ability to act, which means that hostages are often taken out on deck and tortured. As a result, it is often not possible to undertake an assault.
I have often rehearsed in this Chamber the point that the work of the naval service—the Royal Navy and Royal Marines—is not well understood by parliamentarians. At last year’s Trafalgar event, one of our colleagues approached a member of the Royal Marines and asked him why he was there, as he was not aware that the Army had a role in Trafalgar. I am happy to say that he walked away from that exchange with no limbs broken. We expect the Navy to be there when the Falklands must be defended or Libyan tyrants contained, almost as though Her Majesty’s ships are moored in Portsmouth—or indeed Plymouth—waiting for the call. The fact is that the Navy is constantly working, constantly advancing and protecting British interests. Day and night—while we go about our daily business and while we sleep—the men and women of the Senior Service are at work, keeping the fuel flowing and the shelves stocked, tightening the grip on terrorist activities and undertaking counter-piracy operations to help keep trade routes open.
If the Navy is to fulfil these tasks it must be properly resourced, so I rejoiced when I heard the Prime Minister speak enthusiastically of the Royal Navy yesterday. The new Type 26 frigates—the global combat ships—will be a vital tool in the protection of British interests around the world. The 13 that will enter service will be the workhorses of the fleet and will complement the six Type 45 destroyers currently doing such a good job in demonstrating Britain’s instinct for resolute defence. The qualities of the Type 26 will be directly applicable to the Somalia operations. It is ideal for service in the Indian ocean to tackle piracy and illegal trade, keeping our trade routes open, cutting off the supplies of terrorists, and protecting British citizens home and abroad.
The Royal Navy’s contribution to Somalia is considerable, and I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport: the Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel involved in those operations really do qualify for a medal. They are often in harm’s way.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and is rightly praising the role of the Royal Navy. Does she agree that former members of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines play an important role in private sector companies in protecting shipping? Many of the companies are members of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry, which plays a really important role—perhaps the greatest role—in world shipping.
I agree absolutely with the hon. Gentleman. The former head of the Royal Marines said on this subject that it is a big ocean and we will have to work much more with private companies and navies in order to protect those trade routes. It is positive that many of the people working in the private sector know how the Royal Navy and Royal Marines work.
The Foreign Secretary has articulated Britain’s will to bring Somalia within the comity of nations, and in so doing we will not only be doing the people of Somalia a service but advancing our own interests. It is to the Prime Minister’s and the Foreign Secretary’s credit that the forthcoming conference will be held in London, at which we hope some light can be shone on the shadowy path leading to the clear objectives of stability, rule of law and democracy. I hope that the participants in the conference, and the British contingent especially, will bear it in mind that these ends cannot simply be willed; they must be brought about by the investment of time, resources and effort. The Royal Navy is ready to supply all three, and I trust that its critical role will provide yet further evidence of the need for a strong, well-resourced, and large Royal Navy.
In my lifetime, Somalia has probably been the biggest and most tragic basket case in the world. It has had severe problems since well before 1991—indeed, I can recall them from when I was a boy living in Aden. However, the 2011 drought, which, as the Foreign Secretary has explained, caused the deaths of between 50,000 and 100,000 people, did, to use a pun, “take the basket”. Half of those who died may have been children, and it is time that we did something about this. Somalia’s government simply is not working and it has not worked at all since 1991. Given those sorts of conditions, it is hardly surprising that piracy flourishes; it flourishes in anarchy. Somalia’s long coast offers the perfect opportunity for attacks on shipping. Of course, shipping is vital to our nation and to many others.
On top of all that, al-Shabaab started to take over Somalia in 2006. Someone born a Somali in Mogadishu must curse. Thankfully, last August, al-Shabaab was ousted from Mogadishu but it is still a huge force in the south. That terrorist organisation imposes very violent rule. As we know and as has been mentioned, it is blocking aid to many starving Somalis. It has unrelenting belligerence, it rejects any possible peaceful political settlement and it is imposing a brutal sharia regime on the people of Somalia. It seems that Somalis are getting very tired of all this and are beginning to turn away from these people, so perhaps opportunity knocks.
With the London conference on 23 February, we must push as hard as we can to try to make a start on sorting this basket case out. The main aim of the conference must, of course, be to try to start on the road to peace and security, and getting some form of decent living standards for Somalis. The situation in Somalia is very difficult, but we must do all we can to help our fellow human beings who are unlucky enough to have been born into it. We are so lucky and they are so unlucky, so let us try to do what we can to help them.
What is really needed in order to help Somalia? What steps shall we try to aim for at the London conference? I see the Minister looking at me and wondering where this is going, so I will do my best to be on message. First, the Security Council resolution we already have does require reinforcing. The international community must show its determination. We already have a chapter VII enforcement action Security Council resolution, but we need the international community to have the courage—I was going to use a different word—to do something about it. We need enforcement action to be taken, in some form or other, to sort out Somalia and we need effective funding for all aspects of that action. I have seen what happens when we have unpaid UN battalions in the field—they flog their petrol and sell their food. There has to be proper funding and the humanitarian operations have to be supported by international action.
A timeline for action is already in place, as the end of the interim Government arrangements are scheduled for August. That gives us five months and, as I know from my own experience, quite a lot can be done in that time. However, quite a lot of that time is needed to sort out a plan. First-class leadership by international organisations and military forces on the ground is of course required. The military forces that go into Somalia must have effective, well-thought-through, practical rules of engagement. The one thing they must not do is back away from a confrontation; they must deal with any confrontation. If they back away once, they will destroy their mandate. We have to be robust about imposing a solution. First-class leadership is required, particularly on the ground, and it must be supported internationally by all Governments.
The initiative also has the continuing problem of piracy. One solution—I am not suggesting it is ideal—might be for the international anti-piracy efforts to be put on the ground in headquarters located in a port in Somalia. That might be considered during the conference, as I said when I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile).
What we require most of all at the London conference is what the Germans call a schwerpunkt, which is a Clausewitzian term that I learned in the military. It means a point of concentrated effort, and the point of concentrated effort of the London conference is to make sure that, internationally, we establish determination to sort out the problem of Somalia. That requires everyone to attend with the determination to apply the Security Council resolution to which they have already signed up and to provide the assets, resources and money to help the poor, wretched people in what is, as it stands, a dreadful country. Somalia is not blessed by God, but, my goodness, we must do our very best to try to sort things out for the people who live there and help them.
I wish the Foreign Secretary the very best of luck at the London conference. He will need it. Right now, with al-Shabaab on the back foot, this is probably the best opportunity that the international community has had for a generation to get in and help the people of Somalia. I wish the best of luck to our team at the London conference.
Order. I call Laura Sandys and ask that she sit down no later than 5.36 pm.
It is a great honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). One thing that Somalia has—it would be a great asset if it had peace—is, apparently, the best beaches in east Africa. I declare an interest, because my husband was the head of the United Nations in Somalia eight years ago, during some of the more difficult periods of its history. I have lived through many of the ups and downs and many of the political and diplomatic initiatives that have taken place over the years.
I would say that this is a special period. There is much greater optimism for this conference. We are starting from a low base, but we have progressed and some of the conditions and elements are ready to create a little more stability, greater co-operation and movement forward. I very much welcome the conference and hope that it will represent a proper step change in the security and stability of the area.
I commend the Government for their dedicated and focused attention on Somalia. The previous Government did a lot of work in Somalia, but I think that we have seen a change in our relationship and engagement. The Minister, who represents North Norfolk— [Interruption.] I apologise—that is a Liberal Democrat constituency—but King’s Lynn is at the heart of the Minister’s constituency. He has done a lot of work on this issue and on the appointment of our ambassador.
The conference is important, but I am concerned about certain elements. A group of political leaders are coming to London and this is the 14th transitional Government with whom we have had to deal. Thirteen have failed and we have three or four months before the 14th come to the end of their mandate. Politics, Somalia and politicians have not been a very successful combination. Of course we have to deal with the politicians and we have to deal productively with the parts of Somalia that have developed much greater stability. However, we should also look at the strengths of Somalia and Somalis. One of their greatest strengths is their entrepreneurial business acumen. One could say that even with piracy they were early adopters of a new economic model. There is nothing that stops a Somali trading from Mogadishu right the way to Cape Town or across to Nigeria.
Despite the fact that Somalis place more trust in their business community and business leaders than in their politicians, we are not engaging with the business community there. Certain business men, who are well known, are invested in conflict. That is not unique to Somalia: the same is true of every other country where there is an economy based on conflict and insecurity. However, there are also leading Somali business men who are trying hard and who would and will be invested in peace. Economic stability will be crucial to any settlement, and the business community has the ability to make a difference. There is a large diaspora, and competent business men who are seen as being party to the conference and to the overall settlement will be able to link that diaspora in and procure a lot of the investment that is currently coming in as remittances for humanitarian response. In a more stable environment, that money could be invested in greater economic development.
I have nothing to add to the great strategies and the approach the Government are taking except to say one thing to them: do not forget that there is an important part of civil society out there—the Somali diaspora and the Somali business sector. They are agents for change and, in many ways, they are counterparts that can help to secure change once we establish it through political mechanisms. Sadly, I have less confidence in the transitional Government. I hope we are successful in the next couple of weeks but I think we need to broaden our horizons and our networks.
I thank all those who have contributed to the debate, in which we have all learned something, ranging from people’s membership of the barmy army to people’s reaction to Select Committee visits to Somaliland. It has been very interesting and I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I also welcome the UK Government’s decision to host the international conference on Somalia, and I congratulate the Foreign Secretary and his team on bringing forward the important discussion that is to take place.
We have heard much about the scale of the task facing the conference. We know that Somalia has not had a properly functioning Government since 1991 and that it is the world’s most failed state. It has been the object of failed military intervention and has received tens of millions of pounds of UK aid and international aid, and it is the source of the world’s most serious piracy problem. We all know the difficulties and that there is a transitional federal Government, and I think we all accept that they have failed in their role. It is key to the future of Somalia that some form of functioning Government is established. It is for the Somali people to solve the tremendous problems they face, but unless and until there is a mechanism in the form of a Government to provide sustenance and security for the people of Somalia, I fear that despite the best efforts of countries around the world and of the people in non-governmental organisations who contribute so much on a day-to-day basis, this problem will continue. It is important that we as parliamentarians have the opportunity to present our experiences and our different opinions about what needs to be addressed at the conference.
We have heard contributions based on an enormous wealth of experience. We heard from the hon. Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway), the Chairman of the Select Committee, whose important report was used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) in the composition of his excellent speech. Like me, he learned a great deal from the report. I thank the Committee for the maps that were included; they were very useful in my preparation for the debate.
The key issue of piracy is a symptom of the political situation in Somalia and we need further clarification from the Government about the rules of engagement, which cause practical problems for those who have to face incidents of piracy.
We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael)—a very good friend—from whom I benefited in private discussions about Somalia and Somaliland. He explained the diplomatic approach of the all-party group on Somalia and Somaliland, and why its title has both names—a useful tactic that the Minister might adopt. It is vital that we look at Somaliland, as there are clearly lessons to be learned from that part of Somalia, which has managed to construct, albeit over a protracted period, a functioning form of government. That point was well made several times during the debate.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), in his interesting speech, referred to the people of Somalia using their own institutions to develop governance in their country. That is crucial. It is clear from my reading around the subject that there is distrust of, and disbelief in, Governments among the people of Somalia—not surprisingly—particularly Governments imposed from outside, whether from countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States or from African countries, even those who are offering help and assistance in the form of troops.
We should use examples from Somaliland in discussions between the parties who will meet at the conference. It is good news that the President of Somaliland will attend and that there will be dialogue. There can be no substitute for people coming together to try to find a way forward.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) gave us great insight into feelings in Somalia. We heard an interesting contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali). She talked about development. We need a governmental framework to bring it about. No matter how hard the charitable institutions and the NGOs try, they need a functioning Government to create a positive future.
A range of issues were raised, and I shall not have time to refer to all the contributions. I highlight the speech of the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who spoke about the important issue of female genital mutilation. That is another example that shows the need for a governmental structure that can address a particularly horrific practice. If there is no Government, it cannot be confronted. The problem is very hard to deal with and the hon. Lady explained interestingly and clearly the difficulties, even when there is a Government, with legislation achieving the opposite of what was intended. That is sadly familiar, as it has happened once or twice in this place.
It is important that we recognise that Somalia needs a functioning Government if it is to address the problems it faces. It is for that reason that we have this window of opportunity, to use the Foreign Secretary’s phrase, and I think that it is important that we seize it.
It is also important at this stage to clarify the Government’s intentions. We are holding the conference now because we have this window of opportunity, but I would like more detail on the format of the conference—if not today, perhaps in writing. For example, who will attend, why will particular people attend, and what are the Government’s expectations and goals? It is important that we manage those expectations. This is a hugely difficult problem, as we all know, and there is a danger of creating expectations that are too high and that, if dashed, could make the present situation, as appalling as it is, even worse. The history of the past 20 years is littered with genuine and determined attempts by many dedicated people to address Somalia’s problems, but they have not succeeded, so this is a hugely difficult task.
We need to learn from local examples where positive steps have been taken, and Somaliland is one such example that we have heard about today. It is particularly ironic that Somaliland seems to have a Government who exist and function but are not acknowledged, whereas Somalia has a Government who are acknowledged but do not seem to exist.
What are the legitimate expectations of the UK Government towards the conference, and how will they address accusations of interfering as a former colonial power? Clearly we cannot have a conference on the matter in Mogadishu, but we must be wary of creating a perception that a solution is being imposed from outside. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred to the congress of Berlin, which also crossed my mind when preparing for the debate. We must present the conference in the correct way to both the world at large and, most importantly, the people of Somalia. We need to think very hard about how the conference will be presented in Somalia itself. How will it engage not only politicians in Somalia, but civil society? Civil society in Somalia will be very important, because the politicians have failed in the past. If the conference involved only politicians, it might not be perceived as successful and so might not succeed in the way we want it to.
What format will the conference take, in so far as the different governmental institutions within Somalia are concerned? What role will the Government or representatives of Somaliland and Puntland have in the conference, and how will they contribute to the wider discussion on Somalia? Many questions need to be asked about the involvement of international institutions, because they are heavily and actively involved in Somalia, as we all know, from the United Nations downwards, and African Union countries have troops on the ground. I understand that they will be involved in the conference, but what role will they play, and what will their contribution be to the discussions? My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) mentioned the diaspora, its contribution within the United Kingdom and its interest in the conference and how it can contribute to the debate. I was delighted to hear that the Minister attended the meeting in Islington North this morning, where I am sure he received a lot of advice and information. Some pieces of advice might have been more useful than others, but I am sure that he will make the judgment well.
It is important, however, that we engage with the Somali community in Britain, which I know from my postbag is very interested in what is going on and wants to contribute as positively as it can to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, who has just been elected to the House, carried the whole Chamber when she made that point, and she had two supportive interventions, which is more than I have achieved in 11 years, so congratulations to her. I missed her maiden speech, but she certainly did very well today, and it was tremendous to hear.
I know the Minister, who will be winding up the debate in a few moments, very well. He is a dogged and determined opening batsman, who will try very hard to go the distance with a long innings. I am sure that he will do very well, and I should like to have some answers to my questions, if not today then perhaps in writing. He has the good wishes of Her Majesty’s Opposition for the work that he is undertaking, and he knows, from the voices that he has heard in the Chamber today, that he has a lot of support in what is a very difficult task.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) for his remarks. I may be a dogged opening batsman, but when we played together for the Lords and Commons at Lord’s about four years ago, I was out for four and he made, I think, 38 not out—at the headquarters of cricket.
We have had a really excellent bipartisan debate, with a lot of experience being brought to the table and to the House. As the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) pointed out, this is a debate of huge significance and importance, because it is probably the first time that Members have debated Somalia on the Floor of the House for a very long time indeed.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explained, the time is now right for action to be taken. Mogadishu has fallen, other areas of stability in Somalia have now developed, al-Shabaab is undoubtedly on the back foot and the pirates are under pressure, so we have an opportunity to make the most of the transition by putting in place a new political process. We as a Government were absolutely right to seize the opportunity, and my right hon. Friend explained why he felt that that was the case.
My right hon. Friend explained also that we are realistic about the conference. We are not setting up a new, parallel process. We want to enrich the existing process and to act as a catalyst to drive international action: on security, with more sustainable funding for AMISOM; on the political process, by building on the local stability that I have just mentioned; by breaking the business model for piracy; and by making a renewed commitment to tackle the humanitarian crisis and to bring about better international co-ordination.
Over the next few weeks, it will become apparent how we plan to deliver on all that, but one of the most important areas that has been discussed today is the political process because it is incredibly important that we build on local stability. There are areas, such as Puntland, Galmudug, those controlled by the ASWJ and those being opened up in the west and the south, where people deserve to have their voices heard, and that is why we need a more inclusive and representative political process. We need a constituent assembly that really does represent those people, and to prepare us for transition we need a more credible authority and Government.
Several right hon. and hon. Members asked about the political process. Indeed, the shadow Foreign Secretary asked about civil society and NGOs, and it is important to involve them. A number of hon. Members were very critical of the transitional federal Government, particularly the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), and my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), who noted that 96% of all the aid that has been given to the TFG has gone missing. That is why we are setting up a new financial management board, which is incredibly important.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) asked me what the source was for the statistic that 96% of direct bilateral aid to the TFG was going astray. I am sorry that I did not have that information with me then, but it is important to put it on the record. It comes from the investigative report for 2009-10 by the TFG’s public finance management unit. The TFG’s own internal report shows that 96% of the bilateral aid going to them goes into the hands of corrupt officials.
I point out that we have never given aid directly to the TFG. Of course, a lot of aid has gone into Mogadishu. That is why it is important that we have a new financial management board.
The hon. Members for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) and for Islington North and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) mentioned women and children, and the role of the TFG in ensuring that issues relating to them are addressed. We will certainly look at the language in the communiqué on that.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) that it is essential that after the transition we build more capacity and administrative ability into the structures of the Administration and Government in Mogadishu.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) spoke eloquently about Somaliland. Indeed, my hon. Friend gave a brilliant history lesson to us all. He told us about his visit to Hargeisa a few years back, when the red carpet was rolled out and there were crowds 20 deep on the streets into the city. I visited Hargeisa last July. I was met by the President at the airport and I was received with a red carpet, but the crowds were certainly not 20 deep on the drive into the city centre. I am grateful to my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth for their knowledge.
This is an important conference for President Silanyo. He has been invited to take part. We feel strongly that this is a conference to which the Somalilanders can contribute. They can tell the rest of Somalia what they have done to build stability, what has worked in their free and fair elections, and why they are a good development partner for the UK. His decision is a brave one and the right one.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury asked me whether Somaliland’s position will be enhanced by attending. I believe that it will. President Silanyo will have a chance to speak. He will talk not about independence for Somaliland, but about what Somaliland can do to enhance the peace process in Somalia and about what is happening on his doorstep. By coming on to the international stage, he will meet a large number of international statesmen and Heads of State. He will be able to explain to them what he has done that has worked in Somaliland and why it has been so successful. I take on board what my hon. Friend said about the Somaliland Development Corporation and the role of the private sector.
In the meantime, we will work with Somaliland, particularly on the agreement with the Seychelles to allow convicted pirates in the Seychelles to return to Somaliland to serve their sentences. Obviously, we are urging President Silanyo to pass his draft piracy law and prisoner transfer law, which are essential to allowing the transfer of prisoners back to Somaliland, in time for the conference.
This may seem like a minor point, but the Minister referred to pirates returning to Somaliland. By and large, the pirates are not from Somaliland, but will go there to serve their sentences as part of the assistance that Somaliland is giving to the international community.
That is a very good point. Some of the pirates may well originate from tribes in Somaliland, but others will be from tribes in Puntland or further south. It is a sign of Somaliland’s commitment to solving the scourge of piracy that it is prepared to enter into this important memorandum of understanding.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned AMISOM. I pay tribute to the brave and courageous young Ugandans and Burundians who put their lives on the line to secure the space in Mogadishu for the TFG to move in and, we hope, provide better services. We have supported AMISOM. We are the biggest contributor to its trust fund on a non-caveated basis.
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) that AMISOM is looking at its command and control configuration and considering sector sub-commands. As a peace enforcement mission, it is doing things that I do not believe a normal UN peacekeeping mission would be able to do. It contains brave troops from the countries that I mentioned, who have worked incredibly hard. However, there is no substitute for building up the capacity of the TFG’s Somali national forces. AMISOM is a short-term solution, and we need to build the capacity of the Somali police and national forces.
The right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) mentioned the scale of the threat from al-Shabaab and asked what we were going to do about it. I can tell him that we want to galvanise the international community to support the countries in the region, so that they can improve their capacity to investigate and disrupt the immediate terrorist threat.
A number of hon. Members mentioned piracy, including my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, and for Portsmouth (Penny Mordaunt)—I congratulate them on the work that they have done in their constituencies to support the Royal Navy—and for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway). I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, that we will reply to his report in detail in the near future.
My hon. Friend asked whether private armed security guards would be licensed. Yes, companies need to apply to the Home Office for a section 5 licence in advance of deploying to a high-risk area, and so far five companies have applied for licences. As far as the rules of engagement are concerned, the Department for Transport has already provided guidance to the industry on the use of force, and negotiations with the Home Office are ongoing. I hope that we are moving into the right place in our policy on the matter, which has been widely welcomed.
The co-ordination of the international navies has been excellent, but piracy obviously has to be solved on the land. We are dealing with the problem at sea because we have to, but if we can build political progress in Somalia, particularly in Puntland, Galmudug and the south, we will be able to solve the problem on the land. I am really keen to ensure that when communities chase out the pirates, development aid from the donor community and the private sector goes to those communities to build new fish markets, schools and medical centres.
In the meantime, we are trying to get memorandums of understanding in place so that pirates who are detained can be taken for trial in the region and then taken to serve their prison terms in Somaliland. We are working on MOUs with the Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya—there is already an MOU there and we want to get it reactivated—Tanzania and Mozambique. Although we cannot be complacent, we are making progress.
On the humanitarian front, I underline the fact that the Department for International Development has done a quite superb job. However, we must now move from aid to development—I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester South and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) that that is the way forward. It is incredibly important that we bear in mind the fact that the Somalis are entrepreneurs and business people, and DFID’s emphasis on the private sector is very relevant to Somalia. Combined with the remittances going back into Somalia, which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out were worth roughly $1 billion, I believe that means the situation is much more promising for young people in Somalia. Rather than looking to extremism and possibly terrorism, they can look to businesses and to helping to rebuild Somalia through the private sector, entrepreneurial drive, enterprise and initiative. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) also made that point.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, we are determined to have a reinvigorated and focused international approach to Somalia. We feel that the time is absolutely right for that. The international community has worked on Somalia over the years, but there has been a lack of a really co-ordinated approach. I have been to a number of international contact group meetings on Somalia, and although a great many positive things have been spoken about, we have not had really well developed work groups or work streams. The UN has also now been brought in, with its serious expertise, along with the African Union and European Union.
Momentum has built up towards the conference, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are very encouraged by the number of countries that have accepted the invitation to come. It will not be a one-off. We want it to kick-start a reinvigorated and imaginative international approach. There is a very important role for the diaspora, and we have undertaken outreach with it.
Somalia is at a crossroads. There is no shortage of good will, but ultimately it is up to the Somali people themselves to rebuild their country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of how to build a stable and peaceful Somalia.