HC Deb 09 April 1968 vol 762 cc1062-5
14. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will launch a British peace initiative to end the Nigerian conflict as suggested by Colonel Ojukwu in his letter dated 12th March to certain hon. Members, a copy of which has been sent to him.

17. Mr. Lipton

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what further action he will now take to effect a peaceful settlement between Biafra and the Nigerian Federal Government.

20. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of the continuation of the war in Nigeria and the danger of genocide there, what steps he will now take to bring both sides together.

30. Mr. Booth

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the report he has received on the outcome of the approach made by the head of the Commonwealth Secretariat to the Nigerian Federal Government, in the light of the latest developments.

36. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what further initiative Her Majesty's Government propose to take to bring about mediation in the civil war in Nigeria.

Mr. George Thomson

We have repeatedly expressed our hopes for a negotiated settlement and an end to the fighting. We have also made it clear that we are ready to consider taking any action which we believe might be helpful in leading to that end. We must of course bear in mind the responsibilities of the Federal Military Government as the government of an independent sovereign state. Moreover there are already a number of peace moves going on, for example by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and the O.A.U. We must be careful not to impede these efforts by well disposed parties which command our ready sympathy. But if the Biafran authorities have any specific proposal which they would like to put to Her Majesty's Government in writing with a view to its being passed on to the Federal authorities, we should be ready to receive it.

Mr. Barnes

Will my right hon. Friend use the influence he undoubtedly has in Lagos to encourage the Federal Government to move closer to the negotiating position now taken up by Colonel Ojukwu? Does he agree that there must be a limit to the amount of human suffering that the establishment of the 12 States is worth?

Mr. Thomson

We certainly feel as deeply as my hon. Friend and, I know from the evidence of the Questions, hon. Members on both sides of the House feel about the need to end the suffering in the Nigerian civil war. We have constantly pressed on both sides in it the need to get round the table and negotiate a peaceful settlement, and we are continuing to do so.

Mr. Lipton

What specific action are Her Majesty's Government taking to use whatever influence they have with anybody to end this very lamentable state of affairs? Can we stand helplessly by and just see these Africans killing themselves?

Mr. Thomson

We are not standing helplessly by. I assure my hon. Friend that when the history of this tragic episode in Nigeria is written, he will not feel that we have not seized every opportunity to try to bring the fighting to an end.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Would not the most productive move be for Britain to press for a Commonwealth representative, preferably an African, to get both sides together, particularly as the Biafrans are ready to negotiate unconditionally?

Mr. Thomson

My hon. Friend seems to overlook the fact that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, with our complete support, has for months been trying to do exactly that.

Mr. Tilney

Will the Minister confirm that we would be prepared to co-operate in a Commonwealth peace-keeping force, so that the Ibos would not fear further massacres should they lay down their arms?

Mr. Thomson

I have said in the House on previous occasions that if there were a general desire from Nigeria for a Commonwealth force as part of the settlement of the civil war, we would be ready to consider very carefully whether we could participate in it.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that nationalism is the force least subject to reason and argument, that it is causing bloodshed all over the world, and that it is very difficult to have reason applied to it with a view to bringing about a settlement?

Mr. Thomson

I agree.