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Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Is it possible to have a debate on the excessive inventiveness of the Prime Minister? I am thinking in particular of yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions in which he referred to the national health service on two occasions and got his facts completely wrong.

Sir George Young: I would deny that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ever got any fact wrong. I heard the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) at the close of play yesterday and I am sure we will want to respond regarding the issue he raised.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I hope that Mrs Bone does not mind that I have been called before my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone).

Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2695?

[That this House believes that public procurement should be used to boost the number of British apprentices; notes that the Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) new Apprenticeship and Skills Requirements Contract Schedule, published in July 2011, has successfully encouraged contractors to hire more than 2,000 apprentices in the Department's supply chain, on a voluntary basis and that a similar scheme has been successful in Essex County Council; estimates that if this were rolled out across the wider public sector it would instantly create 120,000 new apprenticeships at little or no cost to the taxpayer; further estimates that if the normal ratio of these apprenticeship places went to young people, youth unemployment would be cut by seven per cent.; and therefore urges every Government department to bring in similar contracts to those of the DWP and to give thousands more young Britons a fighting chance of a job, a qualification and a decent wage.]

May we have a debate on apprenticeships and public procurement? Since 2011, the DWP has successfully been encouraging suppliers to hire more than 2,000 apprentices. That is different from Labour’s proposal, as it is cost-neutral to the Treasury and is voluntary for the firms involved. If that were copied across the public sector, it could create 120,000 extra apprenticeships. Will the Leader of the House look at this proposal?

Sir George Young: I commend the example of the organisation my hon. Friend has mentioned, which is using the supply chain to employ more apprenticeships. I understand that many public sector bodies are already doing this as a matter of good practice, but we believe that even more can be done through a non-legislative approach to promote skills through public procurement. In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, I shall see whether the Government can give added momentum to the initiative to which he has referred.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The public do not regard a Westminster Hall debate as sufficient recognition of the level of interest shown when an e-petition reaches the 100,000 signature mark. That is especially true in the case of Kevin Williams, who died at Hillsborough. Will the Leader of the House make sure that sufficient time is given to such debates in this Chamber and not push the responsibility on to the Backbench Business Committee, which has many other pressing issues for which to find time?

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Sir George Young: I gently make the point that there would not be a Backbench Business Committee allocating any time at all had this Government not set it up. I am not sure I agree with the premise on which the hon. Gentleman’s question was based, namely that a debate in Westminster Hall is not sufficient recognition of an issue. Some of the best debates I have attended in this Session have been in Westminster Hall, including a very moving debate on Holocaust memorial day last month. I think we need to dispel the myth that because something is debated in Westminster Hall it is not important. We should do all we can to raise the public perception of debates in Westminster Hall rather than denigrate them.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The whole House will thank the Leader of the House for provisionally publishing the dates of recess and for private Members’ Bills, which is a welcome move. If the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) does not like those dates and wants to be here on Wednesdays, she can lead the Opposition through the Division Lobby and vote against it. Indeed, I might well be with her on that occasion. Would it not be much easier and help the Backbench Business Committee out enormously if the 35 days in the next Session for Back-Bench business were allocated in the calendar? They would not have to be on the same day each week and they could even be provisional, but it would help us enormously if they were allocated.

Sir George Young: I can move some way in the direction that my hon. Friend advocates. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), there are a number of set-piece debates that would normally take place on or around a certain day and I am very happy to have a dialogue to see whether we can make that time available. However, it would inject undue rigidity into the parliamentary timetable if we were to allocate in advance days for the Backbench Business Committee. Given the various events that occur during a Session and the unpredictability of many of them, it would impose undue rigidity on the business of the House if we had to pre-allocate all the Back-Bench business days right at the beginning of the Session.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): May we have a debate on the definition of Government savings? The National Audit Office has said that the Cabinet Office cannot say whether the £2.6 billion comes from the reduction of public bodies or wider efficiency savings. If we cannot have a debate, will the Leader of the House kindly ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office to lay before the House a full impact assessment regarding the savings made for those public bodies that are going to be abolished or transferred under the Public Bodies Act 2011?

Sir George Young: I understand that my right hon. Friend has already done so in the context of the Act, but I will draw the hon. Lady’s remarks to his attention. If he has not done what I think he has done, I am sure he will do it in future.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As Sir Philip Mawer has resigned his post and said that he believes he should have been the person who inquired into the Adam Werritty affair, should we not look at this again to make sure we have a thorough investigation into that affair

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because of the real possibility that the former Secretary of State for Defence was conducting his own private foreign policy that could lead us into a war with Iran?

Sir George Young: I have seen the evidence that Sir Philip Mawer gave before the Select Committee on Public Administration, and I have seen the exchange with the hon. Gentleman. It would make sense to await the Committee’s report before coming to a view on this issue, but he will know that the Cabinet Secretary produced his report, which led to the resignation of my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence, and we regard the matter as now closed.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I am glad that the Leader of the House noted what I said in my point of order last night, because that was not an isolated incident. Increasingly, at Prime Minister’s questions we see the Prime Minister red in the face and spraying inaccurate figures about Wales around the Chamber while he attempts not to answer sensible questions.

In addition to the St David’s day debate—a tradition on which I hope the Leader of the House will deliver—may we have a debate in Government time on the NHS in Wales and England so that we can make the comparison between the Government in Wales, who are attempting to improve the service and who have the support of the people, and the Government here, who do not have a mandate and seek to bring in changes that will undermine both care and efficiency?

Sir George Young: I listened to the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order, and even on his own figures it seemed that the NHS in Wales was not doing as well as the NHS in England. I would welcome such a debate, which would give us an opportunity to contrast the extra resources we have provided to the NHS in England and the reduced waiting times since the election with the relatively poorer performance of the Administration in Wales.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the Health Secretary leads for the Government in the Opposition day debate on the NHS risk register when we return? Does he agree that the handling of the Health and Social Care Bill has been an utter shambles from start to finish? Every day we see blue-on-blue briefing against the poor, downtrodden Health Secretary. Would it not better for all concerned if the Government just dropped the Bill?

Sir George Young: In response to what the hon. Member for Wallasey said from the Opposition Front Bench, I explained why we need to make progress with the Bill. As for the hon. Gentleman’s question about the debate when we come back, the Government will put up an appropriate spokesman on any motion that the Opposition table. I refer him to what the Prime Minister said yesterday about the position of the Health Secretary being more secure than that of the Leader of the Opposition.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I know that as a serious parliamentarian the Leader of the House greatly values the independence of Select Committees, but there is clearly something fishy going on with the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. Will he investigate to

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establish whether the Prime Minister and/or the Chancellor of the Exchequer were involved in the consideration by the Select Committee of the appointment of Mr Ebdon?

Sir George Young: I have looked very quickly at the report of the BIS Committee. If the hon. Gentleman is implying that somehow members of the Committee have been nobbled by people who are not members of it, I strenuously deny any such assertion.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Further to the issues regarding the Welsh NHS raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), may we have a debate in Government time about cross-border provision between Wales and England? It is often overlooked now that we have devolved the Welsh side and have England-only Bills on the English side. It is a serious issue. There have been serious cuts to the budget in Wales and we need a debate on their impact on my constituents and others. It would also educate the Prime Minister so that he gets his facts right in future.

Sir George Young: The Prime Minister always gets his facts right, as I have just asserted. It may be appropriate in the debate on St David’s day to raise specific issues about cross-border trade and the NHS. I will refer the hon. Gentleman’s remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

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12.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): Mr Speaker, with permission I will present a quarterly review of our progress in Afghanistan since October last year, representing the combined assessment of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

As always, I begin by paying tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces. They have borne the brunt of the immense difficulties and dangers that Afghanistan has presented each and every day of the last 10 years and which it still presents in so many ways today. Three hundred and ninety-seven British service personnel have lost their lives since 2001, and 14 since my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary made the previous statement on 18 October. This House and our nation will never forget the sacrifices they have made to protect Britain’s national security.

Our Government’s objective in Afghanistan is shared by the Afghan Government and all 50 nations that contribute forces to the international security assistance force. We all want an Afghanistan that is able to maintain its own security and prevent the country from being used as a safe haven for international terrorists. Our strategy is to help the Afghan Government to build capable Afghan national security forces; to make progress towards a sustainable political settlement; and to support the building of a viable Afghan state.

Central to that is the gradual handover of security responsibilities from international forces to the Afghan national security forces by the end of 2014, as we agreed at the Lisbon summit in 2010. British and ISAF troops will continue to perform combat roles until the end of 2014. Our commitment in terms of aid, trade, investment and close diplomatic ties will of course last far beyond 2014. It was reflected in the enduring strategic partnership agreement signed by the Prime Minister and President Karzai on 28 January, and will play a crucial part in securing our long-term objectives.

No one in this House should underestimate the scale of the challenges that remain, but we are confident that our strategy in Afghanistan is the right one to maintain our national security, and we are making steady progress towards our goals. In December, the National Security Council reaffirmed that strategy, and agreed our objectives for the year ahead: 2012 will be an important year to consolidate progress in Afghanistan. The NATO conference in Chicago in May and the Tokyo conference on development in July will build on pledges made at the international Afghanistan conference in Bonn last December, with the aim of securing concrete financial, development and security commitments for Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The process of transition made considerable progress last year. The House will know that this is the means by which responsibility for security across Afghanistan is progressively transferred from the international community to Afghan national security forces, up to the end of 2014 when international troops will withdraw from a combat role. Transition is based on conditions on the ground; it is phased, it is gradual and it can take up to 18 months in any one area. In December 2011, transition

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began in the second group of areas. Approximately half the Afghan population lives in areas now in the process of transition.

The progress made in Helmand by Afghan, UK and ISAF troops is illustrated by the inclusion of Nad Ali, alongside Lashkar Gah, early in the transition process, which began in July. The security situation in these districts is unrecognisable compared with the start of British operations in 2006. Violence levels have fallen dramatically. Afghans have freedom of movement in Lashkar Gah and in all five central Helmand districts. Pupil enrolment for both girls and boys is rising, and the Afghan Government are able to provide services to the province.

British forces continue to conduct operations in Helmand, but are supporting a growing number of Afghan-led operations. In December, more than 280 British service personnel joined forces with 550 Afghan troops on Operation Winter Success. The operation was planned and led by the Afghan national army with ISAF mentoring and support. It succeeded in clearing insurgents from the area where three Helmand districts meet—Nad Ali, Nahri Sarraj and Lashkar Gah—before building new checkpoints, manned by Afghan forces, to increase security and extend the governance and development footprint of the Afghan Government.

The success of such operations allows us gradually to focus our efforts on mentoring and training. We will help to create an Afghan national officer academy to produce the Afghan army officers of the future, and it will open its doors in 2013. It is expected to accept 1,350 recruits annually, and approximately 120 British troops will be based at the academy to provide training and related support.

At the end of December, the Afghan national police were more than 143,000 strong and the Afghan national army numbered more than 170,000. They are deploying in formed units, carrying out their own operations and planning complex security arrangements. Last year, they responded to a series of high-profile attacks promptly, professionally and increasingly independent of ISAF support.

For the first time since 2006, year on year violence levels decreased across Afghanistan in 2011. This is a good indication of progress. However, the regional picture remains varied: in the east in particular the number of security incidents rose. We cannot be complacent, as gains are fragile and not yet irreversible, but we are firmly on track for the ANSF to have lead security responsibility by mid to late 2013. The ANSF will have full security responsibility across Afghanistan by the end of 2014. This means that plans for British combat troop draw-down by the end of 2014 also remain on track. The Prime Minister has indicated that there will be a steady and measured draw-down between now and then, and that British forces will be reduced by 500 to 9,000 by the end of this year. The rate of reduction will be determined by the progress of transition on the ground.

We have also seen progress on the political track. In December, I attended the international conference in Bonn. The conference signalled that our commitment to Afghanistan will continue beyond the completion of security transition and will be reinforced at this year’s Chicago and Tokyo conferences.

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The Afghan Government also made commitments at Bonn. They include further efforts to tackle corruption and improve the capacity of Afghan institutions. The Government committed themselves to upholding international human rights obligations and to protecting women’s rights as enshrined in the Afghan constitution. Respect for women’s rights is a fundamental obligation, and is important for Afghanistan’s future. We agree with the Afghan Government, and regularly impress upon them, that the rights of women must not be sacrificed as part of the political process. This was emphasised at Bonn by the Minister for Equalities, the Government’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas.

Britain supports an Afghan-led political process to help to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. We know that this will take time and will require support. The Afghan Government’s approach received broad endorsement from the Loya Jirga in November 2011 and from the international community at Bonn.

There have been a number of important developments in the political process already this year. Last month, the Taliban expressed their willingness to participate in a political office in Qatar. We welcome any steps towards reconciliation but recognise that they are at an early stage and that more work will be needed to move forward. Nevertheless, the Taliban leadership have accepted the need to engage in a political process, and this is significant. If they are willing to renounce violence, break links with al-Qaeda and respect the Afghan constitution, there can be a place for them in their country’s future. A political office provides an opportunity for all Afghans to work together towards a sustainable peace, for it is only with the engagement of all Afghans that we can hope to see a durable settlement. Britain will continue to support the Afghan Government in these efforts.

In November, the International Monetary Fund agreed a new three-year programme of support with the Afghan Government, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development helped to secure. This has helped to get back on track the internationally agreed set of Afghan development and governance commitments known as the Kabul process. It also allowed donors, including Britain, to resume support to the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, which is helping the Government to deliver vital basic services, including education and health care.

None the less, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries and its financial future is uncertain. A World Bank report published in November showed that the Government budget shortfall might still be $7 billion by 2021. At Bonn we agreed in principle to provide long-term financial support in line with the Afghan Government’s priorities. These plans will be discussed further at the Chicago and Tokyo conferences. We will continue to support the Afghan Government’s efforts to increase tax revenue and economic growth in order to reduce the budget shortfall and aid dependency. Our support to their Revenue Department is helping to exceed IMF revenue collection targets. In November, quarterly revenue collections increased to £322 million, an increase of 23% over the same period last year.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development launched a major new civil society programme to strengthen the capacity of Afghan

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civil society bodies during his visit to Afghanistan in October. This, too, will have a strong focus on women’s rights. The first call for proposals has resulted in over 200 applications, which are now being assessed.

These developments in Afghanistan are essential to the country’s future. So, too, are the actions of Afghanistan’s neighbours. At last November’s regional conference, hosted by our Turkish partners in Istanbul, Afghanistan’s neighbours gave their collective backing to the Afghan Government’s efforts to promote an inclusive political process. They also agreed to work together through a detailed set of confidence-building measures, and a follow-up meeting will be held in Kabul in June. In March, the fifth regional economic co-operation conference on Afghanistan will also take place, aiming to further economic integration. Britain will continue to support these efforts while recognising that they must be led by the region.

Finally, Pakistan has a crucial role and much to gain from improved stability in Afghanistan. It already suffers more casualties from terrorism than any other country in the world. Both countries need to work together to stem the flow of militants, who undermine the sovereignty of both democratic Governments and remain intent on killing their citizens and destabilising the region. The best way to achieve this is through regular, frank and honest dialogue. We welcome Pakistan’s participation in the Istanbul conference and its support for the commitments that were agreed. The recent visit to Kabul by the Pakistani Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, is a positive indication of improving relations between the two countries and signals the resumption of the Afghanistan-Pakistan dialogue. I look forward to receiving the Foreign Minister in London on 21 February, when we will discuss Afghanistan and the region as well as our strong bilateral relations.

Serious challenges remain in Afghanistan. There will undoubtedly be setbacks and difficulties ahead, but we are making steady progress. This will be an important year to consolidate this progress and to strengthen the international commitments to Afghanistan and long-term partnership with its people.

12.54 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it. Of course, the context of this discussion is the number of British personnel currently serving in Afghanistan—almost 10,000—who are harnessing their professionalism and expertise to the task of securing a stable Afghanistan that will not threaten this country’s security again. Their bravery is rightly and regularly praised in the House, but each time it is a genuine and sincere reflection of the admiration on both sides of this House for the work they do on our behalf.

The Foreign Secretary knows that we supported the mission in Afghanistan in government and continue to do so in opposition. We are keen to discuss these issues in a spirit of shared support for the mission, but it is also the Opposition’s job to scrutinise, and that task is especially important when the lives of our servicemen and women are at stake. I hope that he will see my questions in that spirit.

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I will divide my questions between the security situation and the diplomatic effort. On the security situation, the Foreign Secretary has just told the House:

“British and ISAF troops will continue to perform combat roles until the end of 2014.”

How is that consistent with the comments of the American Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, who only last week said:

“Hopefully by mid- to the latter part of 2013 we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice and assist role”?

Incidentally, that comment was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, but there was no statement to the House. Given the integrated nature of ISAF’s work, both in Helmand and across Afghanistan, is the Foreign Secretary seriously suggesting that British military personnel will be involved in combat operations for potentially between a year and 18 months after our American allies have transferred from combat operations to providing training, advice and assistance?

What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the military implications of America’s decision to wind down combat operations more than a year before the previously stated deadline for withdrawal? What is his assessment of the impact on the ISAF mission’s timetable for transition of the announcement in January by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, that French troops will now leave Afghanistan by the end of 2013?

The statement comes shortly after the publication of a leaked NATO document cataloguing the depth of links and assistance between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani security services. The report also details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and the Afghan police and military, so what is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the findings of the report, and how does he reconcile its bleak findings with his description today that

“we are making steady progress”?

The Foreign Secretary has just told the House:

“For the first time since 2006, year on year violence levels decreased across Afghanistan in 2011.”

How does he reconcile that statement with the report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan only last week that indicated that the number of civilians killed and injured has risen for the fifth year running, with the majority of deaths caused by insurgents? The report documented 3,021 civilian deaths in 2011, compared with 2,790 in 2010 and 2,412 in 2009.

The Foreign Secretary said in his statement that 120 British troops will be based at the Afghan national academy. Will he reassure the House that all necessary force protection measures will be in place for them at that time? He stated that the Afghan national army now numbers 170,000. Will he confirm how large the British Government now expect the Afghan national army to be at the time of transition in 2014 and say a little more about how these force levels are to be financed in the light of the deficits he spoke of?

Let me now turn briefly to the diplomatic effort. We have expressed our concern in the past that there was not an oral statement to the House following the Bonn conference in December and that, despite the intense effort required in these critical months, the Prime Minister has not made a statement on Afghanistan to the House

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for many months. It is vital that the scale of our military effort is matched by diplomatic efforts. The Foreign Secretary spoke of November’s Istanbul conference, but will he set out for the House what sustained efforts are being made to co-ordinate the regional players, such as China and Pakistan, and bind them into the work of securing a stable and durable peace?

The Foreign Secretary spoke of the Taliban’s willingness to participate in a political office in Qatar. While it is suggested that only talks about talks are now under way, what progress is being made on the broader and more inclusive political settlement needed within Afghanistan for a stable state post-2014? Specifically, will he update the House on what progress has been made by the Afghan High Peace Council, established at the London conference in 2010, on reaching a consensus on constitutional arrangements and how it is ensuring that women have a proper role in Afghanistan’s future?

Finally, given the timetable for transition, will the Foreign Secretary provide the House with the British Government’s assessment of the capacity of the Afghan state to undertake, as is planned, free and fair presidential elections during 2014?

We now have an end date in Afghanistan, but it is through urgent diplomatic work that we can also have an end state worthy of the sacrifice endured during this long decade.

Mr Hague: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. He rightly pays tribute to the bravery of our armed forces and reflects how sincere those tributes always are in this House, particularly from those of us on both sides who have travelled in Afghanistan and seen the work of our armed services and what happens in field hospitals. We recognise the extraordinary commitment of all involved. He is quite right to point out again—I am grateful to him for it—from the Opposition Benches that those operations enjoy support across the House, and I certainly take his questions in the spirit in which they are obviously intended.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about reconciling what I have said today with what the US Defence Secretary has said over the past couple of weeks. The US Defence Secretary has stressed that US forces will remain combat-capable and ready in Afghanistan to the end of 2014, and he has also said very clearly:

“We’ve got to stick to the Lisbon strategy. The United States has a very strong commitment to Lisbon and to the strategy that was laid out there.”

That strategy involves withdrawing from a combat role after the end of 2014.

Sometimes, in the reporting of different comments, there is confusion between lead responsibility and full responsibility. As I said in my statement, however, we expect Afghan forces to have lead responsibility throughout Afghanistan in mid to late 2013, and I also reflected on how they have lead responsibility for many operations now in Helmand. Full responsibility—that is, full transition to Afghan security control—is from the end of 2014, so we are not conscious of any difference between the approach of the United States, and its intentions for its armed forces, and ours; nor would we want there to be any difference. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right

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to express alarm at the idea of such a difference, which is not something that the Government intend or would accept.

The leaked document to which he refers should not have too much importance attributed to it. It was actually a collection of the views and various opinions of Taliban detainees held in custody, and it should not be taken as a necessarily accurate reflection of the overall strategic situation. I do not accept, therefore, that a leaked document of Taliban views contradicts everything I have said in this statement about the steady progress that is being made—steady progress always qualified by my saying how fragile it is in some areas, and how the picture has been varied.

That brings me to the right hon. Gentleman’s next question, because he asks about the number of incidents. It has risen over the past year in Regional Command East and Regional Command South West, but it has gone down in Regional Command South, down particularly sharply in Helmand, our own area of responsibilities, and down on average throughout the country. It is true also, nevertheless, that some of those incidents have been considerable attacks and cost civilian lives. About 80% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by insurgent activity, and that is why the civilian casualty figures are as he cites—something, therefore, that we cannot at all be complacent about.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about the academy, and I can of course assure him that the necessary protection will be in place. The academy will be on the same site as the United States academy, and full protection will be afforded to it.

On the strength of Afghan national security forces, they will be built up, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, to a total strength of 352,000. Decisions will be made—probably at the NATO summit in Chicago, which the Secretary of State for Defence, the Prime Minister and I will attend—about the strength of Afghan national security forces in later years, and about what the international community’s financial contribution will be. We certainly expect the United Kingdom to make a significant contribution to those forces after 2014.

The right hon. Gentleman asks about oral statements, but I must gently point out that we introduced the quarterly statements on Afghanistan, having called for them for a long time during the previous Parliament, and indeed a monthly report to Parliament. We will always consider requests for further statements, but we have a great deal more statements on the matter than was the case in the previous Parliament.

On regional efforts, the Istanbul meeting was important, and the forthcoming economic co-operation conference that I mentioned will be important also in binding in the partners, but at the Bonn conference it was striking how the regional partners were committed to economic and development co-operation with Afghanistan, as well as all of us who make such a large security contribution.

It would not be fair to say that a consensus on the future, which the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly looks for in Afghanistan on constitutional arrangements, has yet been reached, but the meeting of the Loya Jirga was important progress, as is the establishment of the Taliban’s political office, although that is at an early stage. It does not indicate necessarily that they have signed up to the idea of reconciliation overall, nor that they are united on it, but it is one indication of progress.

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The conduct of forthcoming elections, including the presidential one, will be a very important factor in Afghanistan’s political future and in its stability. We saw in the most recent round of elections—the presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan—an improvement in the holding of free and fair elections conducted in an orderly way. We look for another improvement in the next presidential election.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I share his approach to the draw-down of troops, which depends on the conditions on the ground, and I note that the cost of the ANSF post-2015 is still to be resolved but will, I hope, emerge after the NATO summit. Will he say a little more about the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar? Those discussions are clearly very important. Is there anything that we can do to give them more impetus?

Mr Hague: As I just said, it is too early to say very much about those negotiations, but the United Kingdom has, as my hon. Friend knows, for a long time supported the concept of reconciliation in Afghanistan, including the involvement of the Taliban, provided ultimately that the conditions of their breaking with al-Qaeda and accepting the constitution of Afghanistan can be met. The negotiations are at an early stage and do not necessarily indicate that the Taliban are in favour of reconciliation or have decided collectively to pursue it. It is the possible beginning of a process. We will have to see how that goes, but it is too early to say anything more than that about it at the moment.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary recognise that, while we pay tribute—I certainly do—to our armed forces, as I have said previously, and to all the innocent victims of war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the overwhelming majority of British people want to see an end to our combat role as quickly as possible and, we hope, before the end of 2014? All the indications are that the sentiment in Britain is shared in the United States, France and Germany.

Mr Hague: British people do want their own—our own—national security to be secured, and, yes, they very much support our troops whenever they are sent overseas into combat operations. This country has a very strong tradition of such support, but what we are doing now—setting a clear timetable, whereby by the end of 2014 we will have withdrawn from a combat role, or from having our troops there in anything like their current numbers—is something that meets the approval of the country. But we would not be doing a service to the country or, indeed, to the sacrifices of our forces there over recent years if we indulged in a precipitate withdrawal that left a far more difficult situation than the one that we hope to leave.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): I hope that my right hon. Friend will excuse me if I return to the issue of the attitude of the United States and of the French, but there is a common background. Each country is in the throes of an acrimonious presidential election, and it leads me to the conclusion that statements may be made for political rather than military reasons. If some of the predictions, based on what Mr Panetta has said and has never withdrawn, were to be fulfilled, the

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military position of British troops would be substantially altered. Can we be satisfied that both my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for Defence are aware of that and are ready to take steps if necessary to protect the interests of British forces?

Mr Hague: I understand the anxieties in the House on this issue. The US Defence Secretary clarified any doubts, certainly to my satisfaction and that of my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, in saying, as I quoted earlier:

“We’ve got to stick to the Lisbon strategy.”

The United States has a strong commitment to that. Of course, part of that strategy is that in 2013, Afghans will have lead responsibility across much of Afghanistan, as I indicated in my statement. Increasingly, the role of ISAF is to provide mentoring, training and support. I gave examples of that from Helmand. The United States and the United Kingdom have the same strategy, as do all the ISAF nations.

It is true that France has announced a change in its withdrawal. President Sarkozy has announced the withdrawal of French troops by the end of 2013, rather than 2014. No other ISAF partner, among the 50 nations, has announced accelerated withdrawal plans. The clear consensus at the NATO Defence Ministers’ meeting on 2 and 3 February was that we should stick to the Lisbon time lines, with staged troop draw-down up to the end of 2014.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): The Foreign Secretary has referred to the crucial role of Pakistan vis-à-vis Afghanistan, and to the fact that Pakistan suffers more from terrorism than any other country. Will he give a detailed assessment of Pakistan’s current commitment in terms of tackling terrorism? What is Pakistan doing with ourselves and others to take forward the situation in Afghanistan?

Mr Hague: Pakistani leaders are determined to tackle terrorism. We will have a detailed discussion about that when the Pakistani Foreign Minister comes here in two weeks’ time. I have seen for myself on recent visits to Pakistan how much Pakistanis mourn the loss of tens of thousands of lives to terrorism. We have to accept that Pakistan is in an almost uniquely difficult situation. Its Government are not wholly in control of all their own territory and their writ does not run in all their territory. There is a long history of terrorist activity. This is an enormous challenge for Pakistan. We work with it in many ways, and we use that work to encourage its fight against terrorism. We will continue to do so, but it will remain a difficult struggle.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Unless western forces retain some strategic reserves in one or more strategic bases in Afghanistan after the end of 2014, the highly optimistic portrait that my right hon. Friend has painted will not long survive that date. Will he confirm that America, regardless of pre-election statements, is actively considering retaining some form of significant military presence in one or more strategic bases in Afghanistan?

Mr Hague: That is a matter to be concluded between the United States and Afghanistan. It is a pertinent question. The answer will depend on the definition that those countries together have for their future strategic

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partnership. Of course, the long-term presence of United States forces is a controversial subject in the region. The matter has not been settled. I stress to my hon. Friend the growing size and capability of the Afghan national security forces, which are building up to a total of 352,000. They are equipping themselves extremely well in the current conditions.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Secretary of State for his reference to the welfare and rights of women in Afghanistan. However, he will be aware of the growing concerns highlighted in The Guardian last week that improvements for women will see a reversal. Women for Women International has asked that the allies do not pull out without insisting on guarantees for women’s rights in Afghanistan. What specific commitments are the British Government and our allies calling for to ensure that the support for women’s rights is not rhetoric and that women will stay safe in Afghanistan in future?

Mr Hague: We are continuing to press the Government of Afghanistan, who made important commitments at the Bonn conference on this matter, to deliver on their human rights commitments, including on the elimination of violence against women law and the implementation of the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. As the hon. Lady will know, we are taking a lot of other action to entrench the concept of women’s rights and women’s involvement in Afghan society and leadership. We have funded a project to provide support to female parliamentary candidates and parliamentarians; supported a women’s legal aid centre in Kabul; and provided funding for the elimination of violence against women special fund and for a five-year women’s empowerment programme, implemented by the non-governmental organisation, Womankind. Across the board, the United Kingdom has a good record on this subject.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): My noble Friend Lord Ashdown has written a highly critical account in the The Times this week of the international community’s record in Afghanistan over more than a decade. He concluded, with typical military bluntness, that only the poor bloody infantry, with all their courage and determination, can expect to march out of Afghanistan with their heads held high. Although I do not expect the Foreign Secretary to endorse that statement precisely, does he agree with my noble Friend that alongside the political process, it is critical that we leave behind an Afghan army that is robust, professional and non-political? Does he agree that that, and not the attempted eradication of the Taliban, is the key security objective from now on?

Mr Hague: That is very important, as are all the things that we have talked about, such as building a viable Afghan state and creating a sustainable political process. Those things are important, as well as the security gains. Lord Ashdown is right to draw attention to the extraordinary role of our Army and other armed forces in making it possible to make progress in other areas. It is right that building up the Afghan national security forces, not only in numbers but in quality, is

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critical. One pleasing thing has been the literacy training programme, which 125,000 members of the security forces have passed through, greatly improving their capabilities. Such work on quality has to continue, as well as building up the size of the forces.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Now more than ever our armed forces need to know that we are supporting them. Will the Secretary of State ensure that soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan will not be made redundant as part of the latest tranche of armed forces job cuts?

Mr Hague: Yes. Soldiers will not be made redundant while serving in Afghanistan or within six months of coming back from service in Afghanistan, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has indicated.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend set out the extent of Iranian influence in Afghanistan and the support that Iran is giving to the insurgents?

Mr Hague: My hon. Friend is assiduous in pointing out the malign influence of Iran on its neighbours in several directions. We are concerned about that in Syria at the moment, but it also applies to Afghanistan. There have been clear incidents of practical Iranian support for insurgent activity. We absolutely deplore that. Afghanistan will succeed most effectively if it is free of such influence. We have made that point to the Government of Afghanistan.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Withdrawal in contact with an enemy is most difficult and delicate, and must be extremely well planned. I am mindful that when we went into Helmand in 2006, we had difficulties and stirred up a hornets’ nest. It is possible that the same will happen as we withdraw. I ask the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary to ensure that the generals who are planning our withdrawal are meticulous about the withdrawal plan, so that we minimise the casualties. I hope that there will be none.

Mr Hague: Of course my hon. Friend is quite right, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, myself and the whole National Security Council will certainly be very conscious of that. Of course, in this case it is not the withdrawal of all forces that is ensuring that there is space for political and economic development in Afghanistan, since the Afghan national security forces are being built up all the time. That is different from a complete withdrawal, but of course we will be very conscious of his point.

The upside of saying that we will have come to a certain point by 2014 is that it concentrates the minds of all others concerned. Our experience is that when we say to the Afghans that they will take security responsibility in a particular town or province on such a date, it is a forcing mechanism to encourage them to organise themselves to take that responsibility. We have to ensure that it has the same beneficial effect across the country.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): Having recently visited Afghanistan, I know that one of the key issues in the transfer of security responsibility to the ANSF is the alarmingly high churn of up to 30% in individual Afghan national army units. What plans

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does the Foreign Secretary have to address that, for example by ensuring that better leave arrangements are in place for ANA service personnel?

Mr Hague: This is still an issue. The attrition rates among the Afghan national army are still too high. The average is 2.6% a month across the army, so let us get it in perspective, but it is still higher than we would like it to be. The target is 1.5%. Afghan national police attrition rates have come down to more or less the 1.5% target, but they are nevertheless still too high. They show the importance of the better training arrangements that are now in place. Better pension arrangements are also being introduced, so a range of measures are being brought forward to deal with that very problem.

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Point of Order

1.22 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In answer to the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) in questions to the Leader of the House earlier, I may have given the impression that draft clauses had been included in the consultation paper on the registration of lobbyists. That is not so, although I repeat that it is the Government’s intention to publish legislation in draft after the consultation has been concluded. I have already apologised to the hon. Lady in private, and I now do so from the Dispatch Box. I wanted to correct the record at the earliest opportunity.

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[Relevant document: The Tenth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Piracy off the coast of Somalia, HC 1318.]

1.22 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): 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.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): 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?

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Mr Hague: 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

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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.

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): 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?

Mr Hague: 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.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): 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?

Mr Hague: 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.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): 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?

Mr Hague: 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

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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

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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

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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.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): 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?

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Mr Hague: 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.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): 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?

Mr Hague: 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.

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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.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): 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?

Mr Hague: 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

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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.

1.51 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): 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.

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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.

2.9 pm

Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): 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

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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.

Alun Michael: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Richard Ottaway: Yes—I asked for that.

Alun Michael: 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.

Richard Ottaway: 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

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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

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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.

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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.

2.25 pm

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): 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

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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.

Laura Sandys: 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.

Alun Michael: 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.

Bob Stewart: 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

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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.

Alun Michael: 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

2.51 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): 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

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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.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Does that ever happen in Banbury?

Tony Baldry: 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.

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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,

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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: