HC Deb 16 December 1968 vol 775 cc843-6
1. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made to wards peace in the Nigerian Civil War and the acceptance by both sides of a Commonwealth peace-keeping force.

18. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on recent progress towards a settlement of the Nigerian Biafran conflict.

28. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement regarding his efforts to secure a cease-fire in the Nigerian civil war.

49. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about recent steps to attempt to end the war in Nigeria.

68. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he has taken, or now proposes to take, an initiative designed to achieve the acceptance by Nigeria of an international peace-keeping force.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State has been in Lagos for the past week continuing our dis- cussions with the Federal Government about the possibilities of progress to wards the end of the fighting and more effective relief. Lord Shepherd, who is having another meeting with General Gowan today, will be returning very shortly to report to me. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has visited Addis Ababa and has discussed these problems with His Majesty the Emperor of Ethiopia in the light of Her Majesty's Government's intention to assist the Organisation of African Unity in any way possible. All concerned know that we are ready to help in any way to bring about negotiations. We have already said we would contribute to a Commonwealth peace-keeping force, should both sides desire one.

Mr. Tilney

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the Under-Secretary's reported visit to the Vatican? Is there any chance of a Christmas cease fire, temporary though that may be? What chance is there of the Federal Government offering positions for some form of peace-keeping force unilatterally, in their territory?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot say anything definite about the possibilities of a Christmas truce, but this is, of course, one way in which one might get the beginnings of a ceasefire. On the hon. Gentleman's second point, about a peace keeping force in Federal territory, I believe that, if a ceasefire and some meeting of the parties could be arranged, it would be possible to make progress on these lines.

Mr. Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Lord Brockway and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), have, with great courage, just been to Biafra, and that they report that Colonel Ojukwu is prepared to accept an immediate ceasefire by both sides, and also the idea that there should be a United Nations peace-keeping force in the whole area?

Mr. Stewart

As to a United Nations peace-keeping force, we would gladly co-operate in any peace-keeping force which could be arranged, whether it were Commonwealth or Commonwealth and other countries. At present, it has not proved at all easy to make any progress through United Nations channels on this.

I know, of course, that my hon. and right hon. Friends have made this visit and I am hoping to hear from them about it. However, I am afraid that I must notice that Biafra Radio, on 12th December, announced that, if there were a ceasefire, they would insist on going to the conference table as a separate, independent nation. That is to say, that condition is still attached.

Mr. Fisher

Since it often seems to be the case that it is Colonel Ojukwu—this applied in the case of the land corridor and day relief flights—who is the stumbling block, would it be worth inviting the African States, Zambia and Tanzania, which have recognised Biafra, to appeal to him to allow an international force between the combatants in this area?

Mr. Stewart

I should like to consider that suggestion. We are trying to find any way in which we can make progress. It is certainly true that it is the attitude of Colonel Ojukwu that blocks so many possibilities.

Mr. James Griffiths

Would my right hon. Friend accept from all of us that we welcome the initiative of the Under-Secretary's visit? Will the Government give first priority to the desperate need for a cease-fire? May I call my right hon. Friend's attention to two new dangers that might have calamitous results in the near future? First of all, the supplies of home-grown food—yams and cassave—are running out very rapidly and there is already an outbreak of measles which may amount to an epidemic in the near future. We are assured by doctors, responsible people, in Biafra, that, if this happens, it will have a devastating effect on already under-nourished and half-starved children. May I ask the Government to use their influence with both sides, in which we will join them, in getting a cease-fire, to avoid what could be a terrible human tragedy early in the new year?

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of his supplementary question. I am sure that he is right to lay the chief emphasis on a cease-fire and relief—relief against famine and relief against disease. The House knows the measures we have taken on relief and what the difficulties are in getting the materials where they are required. My right hon. and noble Friend was concerned with a cease-fire. It is not the first attempt we have made. This is a continuous process; and we shall continue to do all we can.

40. Mr. Henig

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will take further steps to bring about an international cessation of arms supplies to the combatants in the Nigerian civil war.

Mr. M. Stewart

As the House knows, we should be ready to co-operate in any enforceable international arms embargo which could be arranged in the context of an agreement to end the fighting.

Mr. Henig

Will my right hon. Friend, in order to bring this about, now issue a public and specific invitation to the Governments of France, Portgual and the Soviet Union to join Britain in trying to bring about an international embargo on the supply of arms to both sides in the Nigerian civil war?

Mr. Stewart

We have already raised this matter with some of the countries supplying arms to either side. The Russians made it clear that they would continue to support the Federal Government in any event. Those who are supplying Colonel Ojukwu deny that they are doing so. That is why it seems that in this situation if an embargo is to be effective it has to be policed at the point of entry into Nigeria, and that is why I said that it must be seen together with the possibilities of a cease-fire.

Mr. Lane

In view of the great concern in the House and of many of our constituents, will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Prime Minister to try to put the Nigerian question at the top of the agenda for the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meeting in January?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think I can preempt the agenda for the conference at this stage.