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House of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd March 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Bishop of Chelmsford.


Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is now their policy on relief and development in Somalia.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we shall continue to fund relief and rehabilitation projects through NGOs and UN agencies in areas where security permits.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that in north-west Somalia there has been a surprising degree of stability? What have the British Government been able to do to support humanitarian and development operations in the north west? Are there any circumstances in which, in the absence of effective central government in Somalia as a whole, Britain might contemplate recognising the claim to secession of the people in the north west?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, on the first part of the question, we did of course have an NGO liaison officer in Hargeisa throughout last year until November when he had to be recalled because of the security situation. I am glad to tell the House that he re-established his office in Hargeisa on 19th March. He will continue to help the NGOs to focus on the rehabilitation of basic health and education. We must realise, however, that the NGOs are doing that against a background of the fighting still going on; 40 people were killed outside Hargeisa only a few days ago. As for any question of recognising the secession of north-west Somalia, it is much too early to talk in those terms. It is not something we have ever felt was right to do. What we hope to see is a coming together and reconciliation of the people of Somalia as a whole.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, in the Minister's view, what lessons have been learnt from the history of UN attempts to find a solution in Somalia?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the main lesson is that one cannot operate in a country where two or more groups are determined to continue fighting unless one is almost prepared to take sides. One of the difficulties faced by UNOSOM, which worked extremely well there for a number of months, was that it could never get an agreement with both sides which the clans kept. That has always been a problem. I should like to pay tribute to the UN agencies which have

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worked there and which continue to work in Somalia as a whole, which is something the people seem to have forgotten.

Lord Rea: My Lords, is the Minister aware of reports from Africa Watch that Kenya has been the source of supplies of arms to some of the disruptive elements in the south of Somalia, particularly the Darod military factions? Will Her Majesty's Government investigate that and make representations to Kenya to ensure that that covert activity ceases?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, first, Kenya has been subjected to an incredible amount of pressure by the filtering of arms from Somalia into Kenya. If there were any truth in the allegation about the supply of arms from Kenya into Somalia, I am certain that the Government of Kenya would want nothing to do with it. One of the tragedies is that far too many arms are circulating in that whole area.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, is the Minister in agreement with the policies of the international NGOs? What has been done by the ODA to strengthen the local network?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord could have been listening to what I said at the beginning. Our NGO liaison officer was there throughout most of last year until security in Hargeisa made it impossible for him to remain. Our staff have been working in Mogadishu throughout the troubles, helping those NGOs which have been brave enough to stay there. I heard only this morning that CARE International is putting expatriate staff back into Mogadishu at a time when things are not yet certain. We have been supporting the NGOs, and we intend to do so for as long as it is safe to do so.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it looks as though the departure of the UN has forced the war lords in Mogadishu itself to come to some agreement. What is the Minister's prognosis for the security situation in the capital?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, whatever has forced the war lords to come together, they may stay together or drift apart as they have in the past. But far be it from me to try to predict anything about Somalia. I have lived with the problem for far too long to take such an unwise step.

Lord Judd: My Lords, will the Minister accept that she has the support of the whole House in everything that she is trying to do in this difficult situation? Does she agree that one of the grave problems in Somalia has been the anarchy and the protection rackets? Is it not essential that those involved in non-governmental organisations, government and UN programmes, and so forth, work closely together to resist such exploitation? What is being done to achieve that wider co-ordination?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord is right: resisting the pressures of protection rackets has been one of the hardest aspects. In the early days of UNOSOM great efforts were made by British nationals in the area and people from the United Nations

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to control the situation. However, during the second half of last year the situation again went from bad to worse. I shall look further into the present situation, but I can say that wherever non-governmental organisations are working they should always seek to resist protection rackets. The difficulty is that, if a single one gives way, all the rest are vulnerable, which has been the problem with which we have had to deal.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, I hope that I do not embarrass the Minister by asking whether she is aware that her answers have been a mixture of clarity and concern, like a glass of refreshing spring water.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I take my bow. Thank you.

Privatised Industries: Role of Regulators

2.45 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of recent developments in the gas and electricity industries, they will set up a commission to examine and report on the role of regulators in the privatised industries.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, no. The Government believe that the regulatory system for the privatised utilities has provided significant benefits to the economy and the consumer and do not intend to establish such a commission.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, has the Minister's attention been drawn to a statement made last week by Miss Clare Spottiswoode, the gas regulator, in which she admitted that she was not accountable to anyone and called for a public debate on the subject of regulators? She added:

    "The annual report supplied to Parliament is not worth the paper it is written on".

Does that suggest that there is any accountability on the part of regulators? Will the Minister comment on the fact that the regulator in the electricity industry published price-sensitive information after a £4 billion sale of shares in National Grid and PowerGen, with serious consequences for the City of London?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord has asked me two questions. My attention has not been drawn to the remarks of Clare Spottiswoode and I am grateful to the noble Lord for doing so. However, I cannot agree with her assertion because the regulator is subject to the possibility of judicial review. He, or in this case she, is accountable through the scrutiny of Select Committees, which can and should require the regulators to give an account of their performance. The regulatory offices are also subject to periodic National Audit Office review into the conduct of their business. Finally, the regulator cannot change a firm's licence in the face of opposition, and disputes are referred to the MMC.

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The noble Lord asked about the electricity regulator. On 3rd March the Treasury took independent financial and legal advice on the share sale prospectus and its accuracy. It received legal and financial advice that even if the issue of price controls for the regional electricity companies was reopened, that was not material to the share sale of the generating companies. They are subject to a wholly different basis of regulation. In the light of that advice, the decision was taken to go ahead.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister referred to the benefits that have accrued to the consumers as a result of the actions of the regulators. Is he aware that North West Water has recently inflicted an increase on its consumers of three times the increase in the cost of living? Does he believe that in those circumstances domestic consumers in the area such as myself have been protected by the regulator? It would appear that the regulator has done nothing whatever in that respect.

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