Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 9th February 2012.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham 3:33 pm, 9th February 2012

May I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s initial remarks and say that it is a pleasure to follow Rushanara Ali and so many other well-informed and constructive contributions from both sides of the House? This has been the House of Commons at its best, because there is a great deal of cross-party agreement and expertise. I join Tony Baldry, who is no longer in his place, in playing tribute to Myles Wickstead, our former ambassador in Addis Ababa, who, as well as taking the hon. Gentleman to Somaliland, has been a great source of advice to me. I am happy to put on the record my gratitude for his expertise.

For decades, it seemed almost as though the international community had given up on Somalia and, by neglect, been prepared to sacrifice its people to an almost endless cycle of war, deprivation and violence. War is often described as development in reverse, and I am afraid that Somalia is possibly the best example of that in the world. It is identified by the UN as having the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As hon. Members have mentioned, there are nearly 1 million Somali refugees in other countries, 1.5 million internally displaced people there and millions more in crisis and, in many cases, at immediate risk of their lives. We see the whole population’s resilience to natural crises, such as the recent, repeated failed rains, reduced to the point where natural disasters immediately mean an humanitarian disaster, in a way that does not now happen in neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, where there are grain supplies, reserves and so on, and where the Government are managing the natural crisis. We see humanitarian assistance being blocked by the conflict, and we see the conflict itself causing death, destruction and dislocation—the terrible euphemism of so-called collateral damage—with thousands and thousands having lost their lives as a direct result.

It is absolutely fantastic, therefore, that the British Government have taken such an exceptional lead on Somalia. The Foreign Secretary and all his colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence should be congratulated on taking the lead and hosting the forthcoming London conference. However, the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary should also be congratulated on visiting Mogadishu, which not many international politicians may have done yet, and seizing the opportunity to open an embassy there again, which is a positive step and a sign of confidence in Somalia’s progress; on reflecting in our policy towards Somalia the emerging Government policy on building stability overseas, which is an important reflection of the overarching strategy in our international policy; and on the commitment significantly to increase aid to Somalia over the next four years, which is now set to average £63 million a year.

Labour Members were quite right to point to their record in government on supporting Somalia. It is terrific to see the coalition Government increasing that aid, and trying to increase its impact and effectiveness wherever possible. In particular, it is important that the London conference is going ahead and that we are hosting it. It is a tribute to the diplomatic skills of the FCO that such a broad-based conference has emerged, with 40 Governments, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League attending, as well as representatives from the various territories and Governments in the wider area of Somalia. That is an important step forward in trying to secure co-ordinated international action.

The conference has seven headings. I think it was originally suggested that the conference might focus overwhelmingly on piracy, so I very much welcome the much broader approach that it is now taking to Somalia as a whole, reflecting the fact that piracy is in many respects a symptom of Somalia’s problems, not a cause. Security is there as a heading right at the start. We should pay tribute to the African Union forces, in particular those from Uganda and Burundi who over many years have made extraordinary sacrifices to help to bring security to Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, and to Somalia as a whole, and also now to the Kenyan and Ethiopian troops present in the country. The fact that different foreign military forces are present emphasises the need for a co-ordinated international approach to security and, indeed, the need to support the Somali security and justice sectors.

However, as in many other places in the world, the military solution will never be the ultimate solution to Somalia’s problems. It is therefore absolutely right that the conference will focus on the political process.