HC Deb 30 January 1968 vol 757 cc1062-7
1. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to stop mercenaries being recruited in Great Britain for service in Nigeria.

The Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomas)

I am not aware of any recruitment of this sort.

Mr. Barnes

Can my hon. Friend say whether he has had information that certain premises in London have been used for recruiting purposes by people like Major Wicks and Colonel Peters? Would he not agree that the sort of mercenary build-up which appears to be taking place on both sides is the worst possible thing that can happen, because it can only prolong the conflict?

Mr. Thomas

While accepting the latter part of my hon. Friend's statement, I have no information on the earlier part of it. If he will supply me with information, I will gladly look into it.

Mr. Tailney

Will the hon. Gentleman consult with our Commonwealth friends and our allies in Europe to make it as difficult as possible to recruit mercenaries for this senseless civil war?

Mr. Thomas

The Government share the feeling, which is evident on both sides of the House, that the recruiting of mercenaries for this civil war is something to be deplored.

13. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy regarding the supply of arms to the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Mr. George Thomas

Our policy on the supply of arms from this country to Nigeria was carefully reconsidered when the war in Nigeria broke out. It was decided that we would continue to authorise the export of reasonable quantities of arms and ammunition of broadly the same kind as supplied in the past to the Federal Government. This remains our policy. Supplies have all been on a normal commercial basis.

Mr. Barnes

Would not my hon. Friend agree that the supply of arms to either side, by anyone, is another factor which can only serve to prolong this war, and is not the effect of present British policy to give the impression that Britain is more interested in seeing a Federal victory than the earliest possible cessation of hostilities?

Mr. Thomas

Our over-riding aim is to see the end of hostilities, because we, like everyone else in the House, have high hopes for Nigeria, but the traditional supply of arms to the Federal Government could not have been stopped without our being far from neutral, and, in fact, taking sides.

Mr. David Steel

Did not the Government's decision on the supply of arms to South Africa indicate that there are considerations other than commercial ones in the supply of arms? Is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the very deep concern of people returning from Eastern Nigeria, particularly Church of Scotland Mission personnel, about the continued supply of arms, which is allowing what is in fact a war of genocide to go on in parts of Biafra?

Mr. Thomas

I am deeply conscious of the feeling among the people to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, and others. Yesterday, I met a deputation, including representatives of the Church of Scotland and of the World Council of Churches, on the question of the civil war in Nigeria. All our efforts are to bring this business to a speedy conclusion.

Dr. Gray

Would my hon. Friend say when it is traditional to supply arms to African countries when they are at civil war?

Mr. Thomas

My hon. Friend asks if it is right to supply arms to a country which is at civil war——

Dr. Gray

My hon. Friend said that it was traditional.

Mr. Thomas

There is not a tradition of civil war but when these circumstances arose I believe that Her Majesty's Government were right to continue their policy.

Mr. Tilney

Considering that the Commission of Information of Biafra continues to spread rumours that British troops are about to take part in the civil war, would the hon. Gentleman affirm that on no account will any British troops take part?

Mr. Thomas

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I gave the House a categorical denial of a recent rumour that 1,000 troops had left this country to fight in Nigeria. I now renew the assurance, and I hope that the Biafrans will accept what I say. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, no mercenaries have gone or, that we know, are going from these shores to participate in that struggle.

14. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what further requests he has now received for assistance in reconciliation in Nigeria; and what reply he has sent.

26. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the Government's endeavours to help end the conflict in Nigeria.

27. Mr. Braine

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken or are taking in response to requests to use their good offices in effecting reconciliation in Nigeria.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. George Thomson)

We have stated that we are prepared to help the Nigerians in any way we can which would bring peace nearer. We would regard it as a tragedy if their great country fell apart. But we respect their independence, and up till now there has been no request from the Nigerians themselves for our Kelp in settling their differences. We still t relieve that a settlement by negotiation I; possible, and I repeat our offer to do all we can to meet any request from Nigeria in the cause of peace.

Mr. Taylor

Would the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is no sign of a settlement at present, and that the war is simply getting worse? Would he not take the initiative or consider asking a third party to do so?

Mr. Thomson

There are difficulties about a British initiative, certainly a British public initiative, because of our own very close association with Nigeria in the past, but we remain in the closest touch with all the people concerned about this, and a good deal happens behind the scenes which it would not be wise to talk about publicly.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his reply suggests passivity? Can we be assured that Her Majesty's Government are trying to mediate or to secure mediation through the Commonwealth or in some other way?

Mr. Thomson

My reply reveals, I hope, a suitable prudence and discretion publicly about what is said privately, but not passivity. I do not think that the exercise of the time and energies of my hon. Friend and myself at the Commonwealth office can be better employed than they are in trying to contribute towards peace in Nigeria.

Mr. Braine

While we would all accept that the right hon. Gentleman has been doing all he can behind the scenes, is there not a danger of our seeming to stand aloof? Would he not agree that fear is the great corrupter in this situation, and that, since large numbers of Ibos have been massacred in the past, there is a desperate readiness to go on fighting to the bitter end? In this situation, is there not the strongest possible case for our coming out, precisely because we have a close connection with all the peoples of Nigeria, and offering mediation and arrangements, if necessary, for a Commonwealth peace-keeping force?

Mr. Thomson

The hon. Member is absolutely right about fear being an important element here. Some guarantee might be of great importance to the people of Iboland in connection with any settlement, and I have said before that if any idea of a Commonwealth peace force were put forward by the Government of Nigeria, it would certainly be carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government.

Dr. David Kerr

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that, in the context of his replies to this Question, it is important to preserve a neutrality which is not best served by exporting arms to the Federal Government?

Mr. Thomson

That point has been very fully answered by my hon. Friend.

Sir G. Nabarro

In the meantime, how can the position possibly be helped by supplying arms to both sides? How can the right hon. Gentleman say that it is morally equitable that we should continue to supply arms to both sides in Nigeria for Africans to shoot one another, whereas he refuses to supply arms to South Africa for external defence?

Mr. Thomson

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting that in, but he is, with respect, asking a supplementary question which he sought to ask on the previous Question, when he was not called, and which has already been fully answered by my hon. Friend.

24. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs how much damage has been done to British property in Port Harcourt and elsewhere in Nigeria as a result of the disorders which have arisen from unfounded local fears that United Kingdom forces were about to intervene in the civil war on the side of the Federal Government.

Mr. George Thomas

I have nothing to add to my statement in the House on 19th January about the unjustified attack on British property in Port Harcourt. There have been no reports of damage to British property elsewhere as a result of the completely unfounded—and, indeed, fantastic —story that British troops were being sent to fight in Nigeria.

Mr. Tilney

Is a record being kept of all damage to British property caused by this civil war? Have both sides been warned that they will be expected to make good that damage in due course?

Mr. Thomas

We have no official representation in the eastern part, but we are, of course, closely watching the question of British property involved.

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