HC Deb 05 December 1967 vol 755 cc1111-3
3. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what action he has taken to safeguard British interests resulting from the civil war in Nigeria.

Mr. George Thomson

I would refer the hon. Member to what I told the House on 24th October. British interests, like Nigerian interests, will best be served by the early restoration of peace in Nigeria.—[Vol. 751, c. 1486–7.]

Mr. Tilney

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we and the Commonwealth, because of our historic links with Nigeria, and also our big material interests there, have a responsibility to help the O.A.U. or any mission to achieve some solution to this awful civil war, which is likely to ruin Nigeria?

Mr. Thomson

Yes, I accept that and I assure the hon. Member that Her Majesty's Government are doing every- thing they can to help the O.A.U. or anyone else who has a contribution to make to bringing people from the battlefield to the conference table.

Mr. John Lee

Would my right hon. Friend agree to a peace mission headed by himself to go to Nigeria?

Mr. Thomson

I should like to consider that suggestion very carefully. Every effort is being made at the moment to try to bring peace in this civil war in Nigeria. I think the House will understand that in the special circumstances of any civil war, and particularly this one, perhaps the most effective efforts are made behind the scenes.

Mr. Braine

In that connection, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there have been any consultations thus far with the O.A.U.? Do the Government contemplate having any consultations with the O.A.U.?

Mr. Thomson

The O.A.U. mission finally arrived in Lagos a few days ago. A distinguished member of the mission is head of State of Ghana, General Ankrah. We are in touch with General Ankrah about the possibilities.

13. Dr. David Kerr

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what requests he has had for help in ensuring an equitable and peaceful settlement in Nigeria; and what reply he has sent.

17. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what requests he has now received to assist in promoting peace talks between the Federal Government of Nigeria and Biafra.

38. Mr. Booth

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what requests he has received for assistance from the Federal Government of Nigeria or the Biafran authorities to provide auspices for talks to end the fighting in that area; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. George Thomson

The answer to each Question is "None, Sir".

Dr. Kerr

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern felt in this country for the possible fate of the Ibo people, and is he aware, also, of the growing concern for many Nigerians, on both sides in the civil war, who are in this country and experiencing mounting difficulties? Is it not possible for him to take an initiative himself in order to resolve the conflict there and restore the Nigerian economy?

Mr. Thomson

I am aware of the concern on both sides of the House about the sufferings of all sections of the Nigerian people. As I said in answer to an earlier Question, we are daily seeking any practicable means of promoting a peace settlement, but this can be best done privately rather than publicly at this stage.

Mr. Barnes

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that we are unlikely to be asked to intervene in this affair because of the loss of face involved for the side making the request? But is not Britain in a unique position to take an initiative herself to try to end the present stalemate?

Mr. Thomson

I think that Britain is in a unique position, but it cuts both ways. We have a unique position of influence with, I believe, all sections of the Nigerian people because of our past association, but there are also special difficulties associated with any public initiative by Her Majesty's Government because we are, after all, the former colonial Power. I sometimes think that many people who are deeply concerned—I recognise their sincerity—about what is happening in Nigeria still feel that we are living in an imperialist age when Britain can order these things about much more than is, in fact, the case.

Mr. Booth

As the Federal Government cannot come to talks based upon a prior granting of the right of secession to Biafra, will my right hon. Friend offer to arrange talks without this prior condition being made, realising that the first priority must be to stop the fighting in Nigeria?

Mr. Thomson

Certainly, our priority is to try to contribute in any way we can to the stopping of the fighting, but I ask my hon. Friend to appreciate that, in common with every other country in the world, we recognise the Federal Government as the Government of the whole of Nigeria, and it follows from that that we cannot do anything which would recognise the fragmentation of Nigeria.