HC Deb 22 July 1968 vol 769 cc50-110

4.7 p.m.

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

This is a short debate, on a subject on which all of us feel deeply concerned, and I am sure that many hon. Members will be seeking to speak. It would, I understand, be convenient, and will meet the point made by the Leader of the Opposition at Business Question Time on Thursday, if I were to open with a short account of the report which Lord Hunt and his colleagues have made to the Government on the relief situation in Nigeria. I will try to make it as brief and dispassionate as the gravity of the issue and its harrowing nature allows. With permission, I will then be glad to deal, at the end of the debate, with the other aspects of the Nigerian problem which will, no doubt, be raised.

Lord Hunt and his colleagues—Sir Colin Thornley, of The Save the Children Fund, Mr. Hodgson, of the British Red Cross, and Dr. Evans, the medical expert —left London after a rapid and intensive briefing on 5th July, which was three days after I had announced to the House their acceptance of their urgent task. The first of Lord Hunt's recommendations was received in London within 36 hours of his arrival in Nigeria, and he continued to send recommendations throughout his visit. I can assure the House that no time has been lost in taking up those recommendations, many of which were acted on by us well before Lord Hunt and his colleagues returned to this country. Lord Hunt and Sir Colin Thornley arrived back on Friday evening. I and my officials had a long conference with them on Saturday and they reported their findings to the Prime Minister today.

During the course of the mission's stay in Nigeria, Lord Hunt and his colleagues were able to visit the main areas of distress in the Mid-Western State, in the Enugu area and in the South-Eastern State. They had full and useful discussion with General Gowon and other members of the Federal Government. They had detailed discussions with the Commissioner for Rehabilitation who, during the period of Lord Hunt's visit, was given additional responsibility by the Nigerian Government to deal with problems of relief. Lord Hunt and his team had a full exchange of views with representatives of the International Red Cross and other relief organisations

I think that it is not too much to say that their presence and activities in Lagos acted as a catalyst and an encouragement to others, inside and outside Nigeria, to come to grips even more earnestly with this daunting problem. From this point of view, in particular, their mission was well-timed and worth while.

The first question which the House will ask, and which Lord Hunt and his team set out to answer, was: what was the real degree of need in Nigeria? Lord Hunt is now in no doubt that the human need for relief is great and requires international effort to be solved. Although estimates of people in dire distress resulting from the war, along the perimeter of the fighting line on the Federal side, must be treated with reserve, Lord Hunt considered that 1 million would not be an unrealistically high figure. In the South-Eastern State there is, he reports, very severe and pitiable distress. Malnutrition and starvation are rife, with a high death rate, which is running, possibly, at 200 or 300 a day.

In general, Lord Hunt has reported, his mission was much impressed by the assistance given by the Federal Nigerian Army in the forward areas in providing emergency relief within their means. For example, in Onitsha, the Army was running relief for 3,500 refugees, who appeared to be in good health and morale. He observed that a spirit of vindictiveness was notable by its absence among responsible people whom his team met.

The second question which Lord Hunt sought to answer was: given this degree of need, what are the priorities? Lord Hunt has defined to us the most pressing needs as follows: first, food and medical supplies; secondly, doctors and relief workers; and thirdly, transport. In trying to meet some of the most urgent needs, we have already used or firmly committed about one-half of the £250,000 allocated by the Government for relief aid in Nigeria. There was an earlier provision of £20,000, made some weeks ago. That was given direct to the British Red Cross, which immediately purchased and despatched medical and food supplies which have reached Nigeria.

The third question which arises is: how can this help be best organised and how can these priorities be most quickly fulfilled? It was immediately obvious to Lord Hunt that the only chance of achieving an effective distribution of aid throughout the areas of need—that is, on both sides of the fighting line—was to channel it through the co-ordinating machinery of the International Red Cross. This is a cardinal recommendation which we think is of general application in order to avoid duplication and misunderstanding, and the Government certainly propose themselves to follow it.

The International Red Cross has accepted this obligation and it has been recognised by the Federal Government and by other donor Governments as the proper channel for the administration of all international relief work in Nigeria. I remind the House that U Thant, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has since endorsed that recommendation on behalf of the United Nations.

I should like to tell the House exactly what we have done and are doing. A Hercules aircraft of the R.A.F. Support Command flew to Lagos on 12th July with a load of food supplies provided partly from Government stocks and partly by charitable organisations in this country. I want to emphasise that this load consisted entirely of supplies which we had been advised by Lord Hunt were urgently needed. This is important not only in underlining the degree of urgency under which we have sought to operate;, but because, until Lord Hunt arrived and was able to assess the needs on the spot, some of the supplies being rushed out were not appropriate and were leading to waste of precious resources.

A further load was transported to Lagos by an R.A.F. Britannia on 18th July. Its cargo consisted of specialised medical supplies of types, again, which Lord Hunt had identified as being of special urgency. These are being distributed under the auspices of the International Red Cross. Some of these supplies are already being used by a British medical team organised by the Save the Children Fund which was flown out to Nigeria and is installed at Awgu, situated between Enugu and the edge of the territory controlled by Colonel Ojukwu. More food and medicines are being assembled for transportation by the R.A.F. this week.

Lord Hunt found that the primary need was for skilled personnel to administer relief. At his request, three medical teams—recruited by the Save the Children Fund—were flown from London to Lagos on 12th and 18th July to join other teams already operating under the auspices of the International Red Cross. Another two teams can be made available at short notice as soon as the International Red Cross asks for them. The Government have underwritten the cost of supplying these teams from our grant of £250,000, but the Save the Children Fund has generously agreed to finance as large a share as possible of the cost from its own resources.

It is clear from Lord Hunt's report that the provision of transport for the distribution of supplies is of major importance. Twenty 3-ton trucks and five Landrovers, all of them four-wheel-drive vehicles, were released from Army stocks and shipped from Dover on 12th July on a vessel specially diverted by the Elder Dempster line. This vessel is expected to arrive in Lagos later this week. Lord Hunt has since recommended the purchase and despatch of other vehicles, mainly lorries, which have already been ordered and which will reach Nigeria during the next few weeks. Oxfam has generously volunteered to pay for 25 of these vehicles. On Lord Hunt's recommendation, the Government have also purchased six field ambulances which are being shipped from Liverpool this week.

I wish at this point to pay tribute to British firms established in Nigeria who, in co-operation with Lord Hunt's mission, have also undertaken to provide vehicles, drivers and maintenance teams locally. As a result of this invaluable initiative, a fleet of about 50 vehicles has been assembled, some of which will operate from the main supply centres to the main distribution centres, while others will operate from there within the disaster areas and along agreed corridors as and when these may be established. Other vehicles are intended for the movement of goods from Calabar to the distressed areas in the South East and Lord Hunt was informed that ships are moving many tons of relief goods from Lagos along the coast to Calabar.

One of the chief needs identified by Lord Hunt in connection with this transport operation was the need for self-contained chains of transport carrying relief supplies to the main refugee areas. We are ascertaining through the Red Cross how the installation and maintenance of these essential transport links can most effectively be brought about.

Lord Hunt has come to the conclusion that the Government's contribution of £250,000 is adequate for the present, together with other donations which are being received from other Governments and from private agencies all over the world. The immediate concern—and I should like to emphasise that to the House—is not inadequate money, but the need to build up an adequate distribution organisation. The Federal Government are co-operating energetically in this and the Rehabilitation Commission, which is charged with overall responsibility for relief operations, is working closely with the International Red Cross.

Lord Hunt also expressed firmly the view that the land route is the most effective way by which adequate relief supplies can quickly be brought to those who are suffering inside the Ibo area. General Gowon confirmed to him the willingness of the Federal Government to open a relief corridor from Enugu to Awgu and then to an agreed point on the Okigwi road, where Colonel Ojukwu's authorities could take over. The suitability of this road was checked by members of Lord Hunt's team. Sir Colin Thornley himself drove down the road without difficulty or obstruction in a relatively short time.

I emphasise to the House again that the desirability of this mercy corridor from Enugu has been endorsed by the International Red Cross, by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and, most recently, by the Organisation for African Unity. The supplies are already in transit from Lagos to Enugu and can start to flow to those who need them the moment Colonel Ojukwu says the word.

A suggestion has also been made in discussions about what is the best way to get relief supplies—a suggestion to the Press by Colonel Ojukwu of a demilitarised zone and corridor around Port Harcourt, through which supplies could go after delivery by sea. Not only would this proposal—and I do not know whether it has been formally put forward by Colonel Ojukwu—raise obvious political and military difficulties, but the sea channels to Port Harcourt were blocked during the fighting and are still uncertain and dangerous to navigation.

Lord Hunt also pressed for a temporary emergency air lift to shift the stockpiles which have accumulated at Fernando Po. Colonel Gowon confirmed to Lord Hunt that he would seriously consider the possibility of direct flights to a neutralised airstrip in Biafra if the International Red Cross were able to make arrangements with Colonel Ojukwu by which the I.R.C. assumed full control of this. I have just heard—a short time ago—that the I.R.C. has now asked the Biafrans for the use of an air strip under the control of the International Red Cross for use day and night.

The Biafrans have not so far replied, but the International Red Cross says that even if daylight flights only can be arranged it will still insist that the air strip should be under its complete control. I very much hope that this offer, which seems to unlock what has been a particularly difficult door, will be accepted swiftly by Colonel Ojukwu on behalf of the people who are suffering in the territories which he controls.

It was our hope and intention that Lord Hunt would have paid a visit to the areas controlled by Colonel Ojukwu. Unfortunately, we were informed in writing by a representative of Colonel Ojukwu before Lord Hunt set off for Nigeria that such a visit would serve no useful purpose. We persisted in our endeavours in this direction and there were subsequent indications that this attitude might be modified, but, unfor- tunately, no confirmation of that was received before Lord Hunt had to return home at the weekend.

Despite this, Mr. Hodgson, Deputy Director-General of the British Red Cross and a member of Lord Hunt's team, went to Fernando Po, where he waited for several days in the hope of being able to fly into the Ibo heartland to make an assessment of the need there and the best means by which help could be given to meet it. Mr. Hodgson was offered full travel facilities by the International Red Cross, but I regret that, for reasons outside his control, he was unable to complete his journey.

Lord Hunt has authorised me to say that even now he would be willing to visit the areas controlled by Colonel Ojukwu on receipt of assurances that such a visit would be welcome and that he would receive the necessary co-operation.

Her Majesty's Government, the whole House and, I am sure, the country are greatly indebted to Lord Hunt and his colleagues for the thorough, efficient and dedicated work which they put in during their visit to Nigeria, work which was free from any suggestion of political involvement or bias. Their work and recommendations have not only helped us to use the British grant in the most effective ways, but have also inspired others to co-operate in establishing channels of relief more commensurate with the appalling needs of the situation in Nigeria.

The results of Lord Hunt's investigations are being put at the disposal of the voluntary agencies here and I am making them available to other interested Governments who are concerned that their own contributions should be as effective as possible. Sir Colin Thornley and Mr. Hodgson have arranged to visit Geneva to discuss Lord Hunt's impressions with the I.R.C. and to further co-operation in that connection.

The House will have noted, in addition, the appointment by the I.R.C. of Mr. Lindt, a distinguished Swiss diplomat and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to direct from Geneva the operations for relief in Nigeria. The appointment of Mr. Lindt, with that of Mr. Hitz, as the International Red Cross Head of Mission in Lagos, is an important step forward in the machinery of the I.R.C. for tackling this appallingly urgent problem. Sir Colin Thornley and Mr. Hodgson will go to Geneva as soon as Mr. Lindt has returned from his present visit to Lagos so that they can confer together.

I promised at the outset that I would be as brief as possible and confine my remarks to Lord Hunt's report. It may be for the convenience of the House, however, if I add briefly a comment about what I regard as a significant, hopeful and helpful development over the weekend regarding peace talks. The House will be aware that at its meeting in Niamey, Niger, on 18th July, the Consultative Committee on Nigeria of the O.A.U. reviewed developments in the Nigerian civil war which it discussed with both General Gowon and Colonel Ojukwu.

The Committee asked the Federal Government to implement without delay their decision to establish a mercy corridor for the transportation of food and medical supplies to the affected areas and appealed to the secessionists to co-operate by accepting relief supplies transported through this emergency corridor.

The O.A.U. also thanked Governments and organisations which had given assistance for the relief of civilian suffering and appealed to other Governments and organisations to ensure the continuation of this humanitarian assistance. Most important, the Committee issued a special communique in which it announced that the Federal Government and Colonel Ojukwu had each agreed to initiate forthwith preliminary talks in Niamey under the chairmanship of President Diori, and had also agreed to resume peace negotiations in Addis Ababa as soon as possible under the auspices of the O.A.U.

Hon. Members will welcome these hopeful developments as warmly as I do and will wish them every success. They make an encouraging prelude to what otherwise is a very solemn debate indeed today. I am personally anxious, as are all hon. Members, to say nothing in this debate that might make these crucial discussions more difficult.

4.25 p.m.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)

The Opposition have selected this subject for a part of one of their Supply days because we thought that the whole House would be anxious to debate the situation in Nigeria before we rise for the Summer Recess.

We are grateful to the Commonwealth Secretary for complying with the suggestion that he should open the debate. In so doing, he has disentangled some of the confusing facts in this situation. This confusion has made it difficult for us to know what to believe and what was the right thing to do.

It must be recognised that the war in Nigeria is a civil war of extreme violence and passion and that the influence of outsiders on this situation is marginal. Nevertheless, we in Britain feel that we have an obligation to give any help that we possibly can to a Commonwealth country —help in two ways, either to mitigate the suffering that arises from the war or to assist in bringing about peace, if that is within our power.

There will be general agreement on the priorities which the right hon. Gentleman outlined: first, the organisation of relief of the starving on both sides of the fighting line; secondly, the establishment of a cease-fire; and, thirdly, a political settlement. The right hon. Gentleman rightly concentrated his account today on Lord Hunt's mission, the possibility of helping the suffering and those who are starving and who, in many cases, are dying.

I wish to associate my hon. Friends with the tribute the right hon. Gentleman paid to Lord Hunt and his colleagues. In very difficult circumstances they did work of real value. It is a horrifying thought that the Commonwealth Secretary had to say that, in Lord Hunt's opinion, I million people are in need and that 200 to 300 people are dying each day. It is difficult to think of these circumstances as a reality—but it is a reality and this is what is happening in another country of the world at this moment. It is clear, therefore, that problems of these dimensions cannot be dealt with except by international action.

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that an advance has been made in several ways. The first is in the mobilisation of the necessary supplies and food; in establishing what are the real needs in terms of food and medical supplies and in providing the transport which, if the routes are open, can be used to get these supplies to the right places. The second is in co-ordinating the relief programmes of the various private agencies. This is an important matter and extremely necessary after the experience of the first few weeks. The third and most important, as the right hon. Gentleman emphasised, is the acceptance of the International Red Cross as the instrument of distribution.

Her Majesty's Government have, as the right hon. Gentleman said, made contributions which are right and which, I believe, have been prompt; for example, the Hercules and Brittania with the kinds of food selected by Lord Hunt as essential, the three medical teams from the Save the Children Fund, which has shown great generosity, not only in this respecst but by way of sums made available, the 20 3-ton lorries, field trucks and ambulances which have been made available and the £250,000 which Lord Hunt formed the view was probably adequate for the present, since the need is for the orderly distribution of supplies rather than for more supplies at present. I have no doubt, however, that Her Majesty's Government would produce more money if that were found to be necessary at a future date.

Missing so far is a sense of urgency on the side of the combatants in Nigeria. We were glad, therefore, to hear of Lord Hunt's remarks about the Federal Government's activities in assisting humane action. I hope that Colonel Ojukwu will in future be less intransigent and will dismiss, by his actions, the suspicion that starving people have been used for political leverage, because this suspicion has become widespread abroad.

From the information given by the Commonwealth Secretary, it seems that the leaders of both sides are now applying their minds more seriously to the routes by which food may be brought in and the means by which relief on this scale can be brought to the sufferers. Quite clearly, this problem will take a long time to solve. Therefore, a land corridor which will bear the weight of the traffics over months, if not years, is an absolute necessity. I hope that that is now broadly agreed by both sides.

But if lives ares to be saved—and, I repeat, it is said that 200 or 300 people are dying each day—it is obvious that there should be an airlift. A question on which I am not quite clear, and perhaps the Commonwealth Secretary will help to clear it up in his reply, is why food is not now arriving for the hungry on the Federal side of the line, where, we are given to understand, a good many thousands of people are in a very bad way.

What are the real difficulties left in designating an airstrip in Ibo territory? I should have thought that certification of food by the Red Cross ought to be able to eradicate the Ibos' fear of poison. I should have thought, too, that an airstrip could be designated under the complete control of the International Red Cross. I am glad that the International Red Cross has asked for this control by day and by night. If the airport is not used at night, the Red Cross must control it at night. This should remove the complementary fear on the Federal side that the airstrip might be used for the importation of arms if it was not being used for the importation of food.

There are possibly two hopeful developments there. At any rate, these two matters ought to be capable of solution. U.N.I.C.E.F. has been and is operating through the Red Cross, and that, too, is good. Therefore, in this field of relief I think that the Commonwealth Secretary had some hopeful things to say if we can only get the essential co-operation of the leaders of the two competent forces.

The second priority is the cease-fire, and it is profoundly to be hoped that the initiative taken by the Organisation for African Unity will succeed. It is possible here that the previous suggestion of a Commonwealth force, either to observe or to police, so that the Ibos might feel that they were protected from the danger of massacre might come into the picture again, and I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether, in his opinion, such a force can be mobilised in a reasonable time and what steps are being taken to see what its membership might be. I believe it to be a suggestion of practical value, particularly looking at it from the Ibos' side.

We hope, therefore, that the two sides will get together rapidly at Addis Ababa, and it is good to know that this meeting place has been agreed. I do not know that it is profitable today to go very far into the issue that is central to the dispute, which is notoriously difficult—the right of a territory to secede from a federal structure. I think that it is apparent that in the last resort it is a matter which can only be agreed by the Nigerians. The comments of others at this time might be harmful, and, at best, would be useless. The two sides should get round the table and try to settle the matter for themselves. We must not look forward to the penalty of failure, but if there were failure the Nigerian troops undoubtedly would invade the Ibo heartland, and then the war would start again.

A relevant question, perhaps less urgent today than it was when we last talked about the matter but one which is genuinely exercising many minds, particuuarly in this country, is whether Her Majesty's Government are right, in these circumstances, to continue to ship to Lagos even the 12 per cent. of the arms which the Federal Government use. We on this side have hesitated to advocate that action should be taken on this matter now, not because the Federal Government could not easily acquire the arms elsewhere—of course they could, and in a very short time—but because the Federal Government holds the key, first, to the organisation of the relief of the hungry; secondly, to the possibility of a cease-fire; and, thirdly, to the nature of the ultimate peace settlement. There is some evidence that General Gowon is influenced by the counsels coming from Her Majesty's Government and the British people.

We have to realise—and must weigh this consideration against other considerations that we may have, and give it sufficient weight—that if the arms to the Nigerian Government were withdrawn, any influence which Her Majesty's Government wield today would be totally gone. We must, therefore, ask ourselves whether so to act would serve the Ibos or, indeed, anyone else in Nigeria. There are two situations possible in the future in which the Government might decide that they would have to withdraw arms. One is if the war began again, with the invasion of the heart of the Ibo land, and the other is if there should be any evidence emerging from the peace talks in Addis Ababa that the temporary suspension of arms might make a contribution to the success of the peace talks.

I do not think that we can tell this in advance, but should that come about it might be a circumstance in which arms might be withdrawn. But for the reasons I have given, this could be a very serious step to take. The House should be very careful before it makes up its mind what, in these circumstances, is best for the Ibos and best for the whole Nigerian nation.

I believe that, on balance, we are bound to conclude that the real way in which Her Majesty's Government can assist is to use all our authority with the Federal Government for the restraints that are necessary to obtain an agreed political settlement. That, I think, the right hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve, and in that purpose we wish him good fortune.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I am sure that the whole House will wish to thank my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary not only for his statement, but for the hard work he has put in to try to bring about a settlement in Nigeria. I congratulate the Government on their wisdom in sending to Nigeria a mission led by Lord Hunt, and I join in paying tribute to it.

I also want to pay tribute to our voluntary agencies who, at all times, in circumstances like these, immediately go to work and try to do what they can. Their work is often very difficult, but I pay tribute to them all; the voluntary agencies, the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church—and we have learned what the Pope himself has done. They all work in difficult circumstances and with limited resources. It is, therefore, essential that their efforts should be co-ordinated so that there will be an avoidance of waste. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome my right hon. Friend's acceptance of the recommendation of the Hunt mission that all this work should be co-ordinated through the International Red Cross. I am sure that all the voluntary agencies would be glad to co-operate fully in that respect.

The events in Nigeria make a terrible story—1 million people in very dire straits, and 300 dying every day. This, in a Commonwealth country. The House and the whole country is deeply moved.

I appreciate, as do all those who knew something of Nigeria, that the best thing for relief is to get a corridor of mercy—a land route. We know that to provide the route, to repair the roads damaged by war and to provide the transport will all take time, but assuming that there is agreement on all sides that a land route should be provided as quickly as possible to transport food, medical supplies and other help to these suffering people, can the Commonwealth Secretary tell us first how long it will take?

Mr. Thomson

I must answer my right hon. Friend immediately on that crucial point. I understand that some of the supplies are already moving across to the proposed corridor of mercy. I understand that some of these supplies could go into Biafra this week if there were willingness to receive them.

Mr. Griffiths

I am very glad to hear that.

I add my voice to that of both right hon. Gentlemen in a plea to Colonel Ojukwu. I have a deep regard for the Ibo people and I understand the circumstances, however wrong we think them I add my word to that of the two right hon. Gentlemen in urging Colonel Ojukwu to co-operate in every possible way, urgently, at once, with the Federal Government and particularly with the International Red Cross, to get supplies quickly to the stricken people. If he now refuses this he will lose a great deal of the sympathy he has evoked from people in this country, including myself.

While accepting what my right hon. Friend said, I hope that he will give support to the idea of an airlift. This is so desperately urgent that we should press for it in every way so that the quickest means may be adopted to bring relief. The events of the last weekend have transformed the situation. My right hon. Friend knows my view. My view was that immediately this became a civil war the Government should have stopped supplies of arms. One of the dangers in this African situation when troubles of this kind arise is that rival Powers step in with arms help. This is very dangerous.

For the moment, I shall not argue that view. I am profoundly glad, as I am sure we all are, that through the agency of the Organisation for African Unity the two sides are to be brought together. I am very glad about the news in the Press and on the radio today. I believe that it is now possible that they can settle an agenda for the meeting to be held in Addis Ababa. The first thing I am sure they will do is to get a cease-fire. I congratulate Colonel Gowon on agreeing to meet the representatives of the Organisation for African Unity, for there are "hawks" on his side—I have met some —who believed that the way to settle this was to carry on the war and wipe the other side out.

I hope that it is not too late to reach agreement and that the tragedy and bitterness aroused has not gone so deep as to prevent the emergence in some form of a united Nigeria. I am sure that if the war were to continue to the bitter end any hope of a united Nigeria in any form would be out for generations. The bitterness and the hatred would be so deep. All of us who have met people from both sides know how deep and bitter it is. Sometimes we have been shocked by the bitterness shown by young students to each other in this country. All of us who know Nigeria are deeply disturbed about this.

I hope that there will be a cease-fire, but a political settlement will take a long time. One of the essential things before they begin to discuss a political settlement is a long cooling-off period. I am glad that the Organisation for African Unity has taken this matter up and that a settlement by Africans themselves seems possible. I am glad that this Organisation is developing, for it can enable Africans themselves to solve these problems. If they can solve them themselves that will be better than rival Powers outside coming in.

I therefore express the fervent hope that there will be a cease-fire and a period during which no attempt will be made to decide the future of Nigeria. I put it to a representative of Biafra here, "Are you prepared to say that you do not exclude in the future a united Nigeria?" He answered, "Yes, with one proviso and that proviso is vitally important. Having regard to the experience of the last two or three years I shall never be prepared"—did he use the word "never"?; at least, he said "now"—"to accept that the security of my people, the Ibos, can be entrusted to anyone but a force of our own. "This will be one of the problems. That is why I join with the right hon. Gentleman in saying that I hope the Organisation for African Unity will be prepared to co-operate with my right hon. Friend and with other countries in the Commonwealth to have a Commonwealth peace force there.

It will not have a job for two or three months; unfortunately, it may be required for some time. I hope that the Government will give every possible help they can to it. I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend has done, for what the Hunt mission has done and the recommendations it made. I hope that they will be carried out quickly. I end by again expressing the fervent hope that the talks now taking place in Niger, and which are to take place in Addis Ababa, will result in a cease-fire and that Nigeria will begin to climb the very difficult road back to unity. This is our hope and prayer. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do everything possible to help this course.

4.47 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I am sure that the whole House will re-echo the good wishes expressed by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire Sir Alec Douglas-Home) and by the Secretary of State for the success of the conference now under O.A.U. in Niger and later, we hope, in Addis Ababa. As some of us on this side of the House have said, this must remain the main hope for a settlement of this problem.

I cannot express quite the same optimism as seemed to be expressed by the Secretary of State. I think that the whole House and the Government are guilty of having acted too slowly on what has been a major and growing world tragedy in Nigeria especially in that part of it called Biafra. The report we had this afternoon referred hardly at all to what is happening in Biafra, but to what is happening in Federal Nigeria proper. I shall address myself to this problem and also to the problem to which the Secretary of State referred, whether we should now go on with the policy of giving arms when peace talks are actually under way.

It is a sad and sorry tale that as early as April the International Red Cross was appealing for emergency relief for those suffering from starvation and malnutrition in Biafra. Since then, it is a fair judgment to say that almost no foodstuffs or medical supplies have gone into Biafra in spite of our activities. Only supplies from the Vatican, 400 tons, from the International Red Cross, 160 tons, from the World Federation of Churches, 100 tons have got through, with great difficulty, at great peril to the lives of individual pilots and at great cost.

We talk about the great influence which we have with Lagos. Article 23 of the Fourth Red Cross Convention of 1949, to which Federal Nigeria is a party, provides that it is improper to stop the breaking of a blockade in favour of food and medical supplies for women and children. It is remarkable that this Article of the Convention has not been brought to the attention of the Government in Lagos. What happened to the two Hercules we managed to get off? What happened to the goods from the Red Cross which were going from Lagos and which were then taken off the S.S. "Jaja" and replaced by ammunition? To talk in a spirit of optimism about what is happening would be a great illusion and would be building illusion in the House and in the country.

I turn to one hopeful sign, of the International Red Cross attempting to set up aid inside Biafra, where the greatest agony is being endured. In Nigeria, there are surplus foodstuffs and it is a matter of seeing that foodstuffs are available. In Biafra, there is a desperate shortage, and this is an important distinction. Let us hope, therefore, that everything will be done to make it possible for the Red Cross to set up a demilitarised airstrip and that both sides will agree to this. I hope that the Government will be able to afford aircraft, as we on this side suggested, for such a relief operation from the stores built up outside Federal territory.

I turn to the more difficult problem of arms supply. I suggest that there is a strong case for halting deliveries of arms from this country while the peace talks which have been started by the O.A.U. are in progress. I know that we have an obligation to co-Commonwealth Powers, but when the point has been reached that it is quite clear that an overwhelming victory has been won, the moral principle comes into play, and the main objective must surely be to avoid what, in technical terms, is known as over-kill, to avoid the massacre or the final destruction of a people. When genocide is threatened, legal obligations, and so forth, fall into a different perspective.

Other countries have thought fit to break their commitment. Belgium and Czechoslovakia, earlier this year, stopped the provision of arms. Holland is a country with interests in Nigeria not unlike ours from a purely commercial point of view. Holland, with Royal Dutch Shell, Philips Lamps, Unilever N.V., Heineken Breweries and other international firms, probably has almost as large a stake as we have, certainly second to ours.

Yet it must be known to the Government that on 9th June of this year the Dutch Government, on humanitarian grounds, stopped all shipments of arms to Nigeria, breaking contracts to ship to Nigeria by 1st July 16 million rounds of small arms ammunition and 5,000 fragmentation rounds for 105 howitzers.

Threats were made against the Dutch Government and Dutch nationals in Nigeria, which I am happy to say, have in no way been fulfilled. In spite of our special historical obligation, whilst these talks are going on Her Majesty's Government should give immediate and urgent consideration to the suspension of further arms shipments.

I must now raise a new point which I have attempted to check today with the Ministry of Defence, but have failed so to do. I think that the House was somewhat surprised when, a few days ago it appeared in the Dutch Press and was then accepted here after a certain amount of denial, that shipments were going on of Saracen armoured personnel carriers to Nigeria. I ask the Minister to confirm or deny my information that a large consignment of Saladin armoured cars is awaiting shipment to Nigeria from Army depots in this country.

The armoured personnel carrier, which is a tracked carrier, can at least be said to be of great use in progressing across dangerous and difficult territory, but, at this time, to ship large numbers of lethal armoured cars would be against the interests of the country and certainly against the interests of humanity, and I hope that a statement will be made before the conclusion of the debate. I have endeavoured to find out the truth of what I have said from the Department and have failed to do so.

I will give the information I have in detail to the Minister, so that it can be checked. On 15th July a friend of mine, having seen a picture in a Dutch newspaper of a shipment of British military vehicles, asked the War Office for a check on number plates for identification purposes. He was referred to Chil-well, which, as the hon. Gentleman will know, is the vehicle organisation section of the War Department at Nottingham. There the following conversation took place: I spoke to a civilian clerk in that section who asked where the vehicles were being disposed of to. I replied that they were being shipped overseas, to Nigeria. To this he replied that he would go and look it up. After a few moments he came back to say, 'They're not amongst the big consignment of Saladins that are waiting to go now.' When asked a further question, he realised that I was not speaking from an internal telephone, as he must, at first, have assumed. With some knowledge of the way in which unpleasant news has the habit of escaping from military departments, this has all the ring of accuracy. I hope, therefore, that it will be cleared up.

In the name of humanity, it would be foolish to ship instruments of war which would convert corridors of mercy into avenues of massacre. From the point of view of statesmanship, it would be a major folly to complicate further the business of the Organisation for African Unity in the desperate and difficult negotiation taking place in the Niger and later in Addis Ababa. Surely the time has come for this country, in what has been a chain of political, administrative and often moral errors, now to say that enough is enough.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

This has been a very sombre debate. I will not detain the House long, because although we have been affected by the sombre note while listening to previous speakers, I am heartened by the events of the past weekend. I see a gleam of sunshine in the O.A.U. meetings at Niamey.

This is essentially an internecine dispute to be settled by Africans themselves. I am always careful when discussing African affairs, particularly those of a sovereign State and a sister nation in the Commonwealth. I bear in mind, too, that the leader of the Federal forces, General Gowon, is what is termed in American parlance a "dove" and has held back his battalion commanders in the field. If anyone can make for a merciful ending to this bitter, bloody internecine dispute, it is General Gowon.

I no more wish than the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) to see corridors of mercy become avenues of massacre. I want more corridors of mercy. I will return to that in a moment, because I believe that we can have one if we can get the two sides to accept the fairly clear and simple conditions for this corridor. We have now for the first time a Mission which has supplied an authentic firsthand account of what is happening, and I pay my tribute to Lord Hunt and his colleagues.

Each morning, I receive letters and missives about the civil war from many places, not least a publicity firm in Geneva. One knows that in any war, especially a civil war, the first casualty is truth. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful about accepting evidence unless we know that it is factual and honest.

I have listened with great care to the account of Lord Hunt's Mission about millions being in desperate straits and 300 dying daily, and I shall make my comments purely in the context of saving lives.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

This figure has been bandied about several times. For the sake of clarity, could it be explained? As I understand it, this is the figure of deaths in one province and not over the affected area as a whole. Would the Commonwealth Secretary confirm that that is so?

Mr. Johnson

I welcome that intervention, because I have heard figures from other reputable quarters, and we have all read figures in responsible newspapers likeThe Times and theSunday Telegraph giving first-hand accounts of situation. This figure seems a very small total.

Mr. George Thomson

It is a reference to the situation found by Lord Hunt in the South-Eastern State. He put forward the figure with all possible reserve. One can only make an estimate of this kind of grisly total.

Mr. Johnson

Before the Mission, my evidence from inside the territory was that the figure was higher. My evidence has come from journalists and others who have come out of the territory east of the Niger. I understand that the area is occupied by Federal forces and is now pacified and stabilised. Many thousands of Ibo peasant farmers are returning to their villages. That is the position which is certified and confirmed by reputable observers.

However, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), I am terrified by the fact that though Ibo peasants may be returning, the people who should be in the capital of Enugu are not returning. I refer to politicians, lawyers, army officers and doctors—in other words, the elite of the people who administer and govern the Ibos, whether there be eight million, 10 million or more, as some suggest. Whether or not they are all in Biafra behind the elite who are with Colonel Ojukwu, these leaders are being herded and beleaguered in the Ibo heartland— which is bush. All their cities are occupied by National forces. They have lost their sea gatewayvia Port Harcourt. There is no access for them other than by parachuting food supplies and by the odd aircraft landing. To my mind, this is too costly a method of getting in food and medical supplies.

I have said before what is now confirmed by the Hunt Mission, that it is possible quite easily to get within a few miles of the Ibo eastern lines from Enugu via Awgu and then to the no man's land. That can be done. It is no use anyone denying that it is not possible to get in hundreds of thousands of tons of food by a land corridor, given the co-operation of the Ibo people and Colonel Ojukwu.

I would add my plea to Colonel Ojukwu and his colleagues to allow the International Red Cross to do this. It would help many suffering people and, beyond that, would give us hope for the future following the Niamey Conference and after the Addis Ababa talks. After this, a cooling-off period is required, whether or not Commonwealth forces are there, to enable these wonderful people, the Ibo, the Yuruba and the Hausa to work together to re-build a peaceful society. Do not let us forget that Nigeria is the largest and possibly the most gifted of all the African states. I have always felt that it is the one African State which could lead the African people against any outside evil influence, whether or not it shelters behind apartheid. It is the only nation which could lead a future African continent.

Turning to the supply of arms, there are of course many "hawks" in the Western forces. There are those who argue that, if the aim is to save the lives of thousands of future gifted citizens who are now dying in their early youth from starvation, the way to do it is to end the war, because that would mean early pacification and the ability to go in and save lives. This is the view taken by some in the West.

Let us not forget today to thank General Gowon. Whether we call him a dove or not, he is holding out against these malign influences, be they Moslem, whether they are Hausa, or whether they are those people who dislike the Ibo because of their past activities. These are the factors with which General Gowon is contending. We should recognise this and pay him tribute for his efforts.

I believe that the British Government have played a not insignificant part in influencing General Gowon in this connection. I believe that this is partly due to our constitutional links and to the fact that we have known as students and otherwise here many of those who are now in power in the Federal Government. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the influence which he personally has brought to bear and which has possibly succeeded in holding back some of the worst excesses which might have happened.

Further, I believe that the fact that we have helped them with arms has played a not inconsiderable part in our being able to be on the inside, so to speak. We are able to play what part we can play as old Commonwealth colleagues and additionally as allies in this internecine dispute in Nigeria. I say this advisedly. I go further and say that it helped us in some small part to get the Kampala talks going and also to get the visit of the Hunt Commission accepted. All these are positive factors. They have all been leading on to a mellowing and lessening of the tension in Nigeria, to the Kampala talks, and so on. I now feel—not much safer—but definitely clearer in my mind about the possibilities. Now that the O.A.U. has got the Niamey Conference going, and now that the two sides have said that they will meet in Addis, I believe that there is hope at this stage. Without hope we would all perish. I hope and believe that it is possible to have a settlement, because I believe that these fine people in West Africa deserve no better— certainly they deserve no worse—than a settlement leading to a future which will give something to these young people who are suffering such terrible agonies in Eastern Nigeria.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

One factor which has been common to every speech which has been made in this debate so far is that no right hon. or hon. Member has shown any wish or intention to interfere in the political tragedy of Nigeria. The motive of the Opposition in initiating this debate and of every right hon. and hon. Member in taking part in it is to try to do something practical on humanitarian grounds to avert a tragedy which is taking place at the moment and which could in a matter of days, or perhaps weeks, reach monumental proportions.

I should perhaps declare an interest— not a commercial one, but one which might be thought to render me politically prejudiced on one side as opposed to another. I had the privilege for some years to act as an economic consultant to the Eastern Region Government in Enugu. I hope the House will accept, having heard the few remarks which I intend to make, that this in no way influences the view that I hold of the present situation.

I think that this debate is exclusively based upon humanitarian considerations. The concern of the House is as the representatives of a country which for many years has had close links with Nigeria and which has a very close friendship with the people of all tribes and of all regions in Nigeria who at the moment are involved in one of the most brutal of civil wars, a war which has seen the death of thousands in war and which will probably see the death of many thousands more through starvation.

Indeed, I think that politically the best we can do at the moment is to keep out these issues and hope that the O.A.U., which is now seized of the matter, will have success in the initial talks at Niamey and later in the talks at Addis Adaba.

Last week my colleagues and I contacted the Prime Minister of Canada and asked him whether he would use his influence to achieve three objectives which I think are still essential. The first is; a ceasefire. The second is a recognition by both sides that the Red Cross should have exclusive rights of transit and entry. The third is, if not a halt by all nations to the supply of arms—the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs indicated on 12th June the difficulties, which I recognise—none the less that both sides should declare that they will cease from importing arms from now on. Perhaps this is very difficult to achieve.

I think that very reasonable proposals were contained in a letter published inThe Times on 2nd July and signed by many people who are entitled to be listened to. I would like at this stage to pay a tribute on behalf of my colleagues to the work of Lord Hunt and say that I think that Britain is very fortunate that it can call on people of the calibre of Lord Hunt to give public service.

The terror is that it will not be only those who will die from starvation but those who will live to suffer from its after effects and those who will, for example, as those who are medically qualified will know better than I, suffer from some of the diseases of malnutrition such as—kwashiokor. This may well cause defects of the brain and of the liver which will be with them for the rest of their lives.

If we are to try to get an acceptance by both sides of the priority of getting supplies of food and drugs into these areas, we must try for a moment to understand the psychology of the Biafrans, who at the moment appear to be resisting the inflow of Red Cross supplies, either through the "avenue of mercy" or through any Federally-assisted supply line. The Biafrans, rightly or wrongly, but I think that we must recognise the psychology, are frightened of an invasion of the heartland of Biafra. They are frightened of a resulting massacre. As 30,000 Ibos were massacred in Northern Nigeria, and as 2 million Ibo refugees have been received in Eastern Nigeria, one cannot say that those fears are wholly groundless. The Biafrans are frightened that there will ultimately be complete subjection by the Federal authorities. All those fears may be thought groundless, but we must recognise that they exist. Only if we can do something to ameliorate those fears can we move forward on the other matters which have been raised.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) who made a very powerful case, about Britain's position in the supply of arms. We are told that Britain is supplying only 15 per cent. of the arms to Nigeria. I am informed that that 15 per cent. represents value and not quantity. Therefore, in so far as that 15 per cent. represents small arms, it is perhaps true to say that of those who have been killed the ratio of British arms is probably as high as 80 per cent. I have also received representations by telegram about the imminent despatch of Saladin cars which it is feared are about to be shipped to Nigeria.

If Her Majesty's Government claim that this continued shipment gives us a special influence—I confess that it is a very strange way to retain friends and influence people, particularly for a Labour Government—I would ask: what assurances have they sought and have they received on those matters which at the moment are of paramount concern to the Biafran people?

On 12th June, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) put forward the concept—he repeated it again today—that there might be an international force, which might possibly be a Commonwealth force, to safeguard the position of the Biafrans. General Gowon has given a sympathetic response to that, and it may well be a matter on which Her Majesty's Government can give us more information.

What undertakings have the Government sought about the possibility of a cease-fire, which would mean that the refugees who are at present concentrated in the Ibo heartland were safe from further military incursions? If Her Majesty's Government say that they have the right to continue to supply arms in the present quantity because doing so gives them influence, we, by the same token, are entitled to expect that that special influence will produce positive results on the question of a further invasion and the possibility of a massacre, both of which the Biafrans fear and both of which the Federal authorities are at pains to discount. I suggest, therefore, that we ought to be able to secure positive guarantees on those matters.

I shall not comment on the question of the rights of Biafra save to add a word to what the Foreign Secretary said on 12th June, in a carefully reasoned speech in which, I thought, he showed that he had as much compassion and humanity on this issue as has every other right hon. and hon. Member. I hope that it will never be thought that we are expressing an opinion on what the future federation or pattern in Nigeria should be. We are the last people to lay down the law about federations, having strewn federations about the world, many of which have had subsequently to be dismembered and the penultimate of which led in part to U.D.I. in Central Africa.

I re-echo the appeal made by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire, that the main object at this moment must be to send supplies through to people who are starving, wherever they be. Any leader, whether Federal or Biafran, who unreasonably fails to grant transit to the Red Cross for bringing in these supplies will invite the hostility of the world. I very much hope that the land route from Awgu will be accepted by the Biafrans. General Gowon has made a significant statement in regard to the possibility of an airlift, an internationalised Red Cross airlift, and I hope that that will be supported.

I tentatively put forward the suggestion that, if there is an element of suspicion about loading of supplies at Fernando Po, there might, perhaps, be neutral observers provided by Nigeria, from both Biafra and the Federation. All these are matters to be gone into, but if there is good will on this issue, I believe that the humanitarian problem can be tackled. We shall not succeed, however, until the very real suspicions and fears on the part of Biafrans, some of which, I accept, are groundless, are removed.

On the latter question, I say only that people do not go into civil war unless they feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have real grievances. It is, therefore, a matter of psychology; we must try to understand what it is that prevents Colonel Ojukwu at present from allowing the mercy missions to go through. I hope that we can overcome his objections so that the best thing can be done for his people.

I am convinced that it is wrong for this country to continue to supply arms. It may be said that we had some influence at Kampala, in the Hunt mission, in getting talks going in London and in assisting the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, but I regard that as hardly compensation for the very high price of a continued supply of arms which are being used to kill people in the field and civilians in their villages. I hope, therefore, that the British Government will cease the supply of arms in the new situation. Now that the O.A.U. itself is to call on all nations to stop the supply of arms we must give a lead in this respect. At the very beginning, perhaps, there may be have been some justification, but in the situation of a civil war, it is one of the most amoral acts of any Government since the Second World War. I regard it as a disgrace to this country, and I hope that we shall stop supplying arms at once.

I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in his efforts. I hope that the O.A.U. will be successful. But I implore the Government to recognise that, if we have any special influence, it must be used to remove the doubts in the minds of Biafrans who, perhaps reasonably, perhaps unreasonably, are holding up the possibility of a settlement, on the limited front of getting supplies moving, through very real fears which we must try to remove.

5.25 p.m.

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)

I entirely agree with everything said by the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), particularly in his demand that this country stop supplying arms and in what he said about the need for relief. The question of relief has preoccupied the minds of most hon. Members who have taken part in the debate so far. Last week, the Prime Minister used a graphic phrase about getting food into the bellies of starving babies. Clearly, this must be the first priority. But the British Government will agree, I am sure, that the priority need is to get the food equally to people on both sides. We have heard a good deal from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about relief for the Federal-held territories, but, alas, there is still little to report about relief for Biafra.

We cannot entirely separate the question of the supply of arms from the question of relief. If we are trying to send relief to everyone who is suffering, as we should be, our ability to get relief to one side is severely restricted by our policy of supplying arms to the other. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman made his point about the 15 per cent. of Federal arms which are British. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding here. The right hon. Gentleman was right to point out that the 15 per cent. is in money terms, and, since the war is primarily an infantry war fought on the ground, these are just the weapons which we are supplying from this country—rifles, machine guns, armoured personnel carriers and, perhaps, armoured cars. We should remember that.

The Government should not be surprised that, because of their policy of supplying arms, they met with a "No" from Biafra when it was suggested that Lord Hunt should go to Biafra to talk about official British Government aid which the British Government want to supply. I am sure that many hon. Members feel that it was disappointing that Lord Hunt did not, in fact, go to Biafra. The Biafrans would have been willing to see Lord Hunt if he had been able to talk about wider matters, if he had been able to talk about possible airlifts, possible corridors and the sort of inspection which would be involved. But, because Lord Hunt appeared to be able, and to be briefed, only to talk about the official British £250,000 worth of aid, the Biafrans were not ready to receive him.

Mr. George Thomson

I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. Lord Hunt wanted to go to Iboland in order to discuss precisely those matters. He was not at all inhibited by his terms of reference.

Mr. Barnes

Then it may be that there is not sufficient understanding in London of the Biafran attitude to negotiations of this kind at any given time. I shall have something to say about that in a moment. Whatever the Biafrans may have said about their readiness to receive Lord Hunt, they have certainly made clear that they were willing to receive voluntary supplies from Oxfam and the Red Cross if they could get them. It is here that I feel that the efforts of the British Government to get the supplies moving have proved so disappointing. There is now a tremendous stock-pile of food at Fernando Po. The director of Oxfam told me the other day that it is approaching 3,500 tons. There is also a very large stock-pile of food at Lagos. All the experts who have got into Biafra, like Mr. Kirkley, the director of Oxfam, have stressed the need for immediate relief, because this is the time of year when food is at its shortest supply in that part of the country, and also when it is most costly. In a month or so more food will be available, for the harvests will have come. That is why the air lift was so crucial two or three weeks ago, when it was in the news, and why it will continue to be so crucial for another three or four weeks.

Therefore, the British Government must accept, if they want to aid the situation and relieve the starvation on both sides, that they will be able to relieve starvation in Federal-held territories with their official supplies through Lord Hunt and through Lagos, but that with the present stalemate the best chance of getting relief into Biafran-held territory is to channel it through the voluntary organisations, to make it possible for organisations like Oxfam and the Red Cross to get it in.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)


Mr. Barnes

I shall say how it can be done. Let us come to the question of the Hercules aircraft, on which two or three weeks ago Oxfam had an option from a company. It was available to ferry between 60 and 80 tons of food a day, by daylight, from Fernando Po direct into Biafra. There were air strips on which it could have landed. The only thing that made it impossible for Oxfam to get that food in was that the Federal Government were not willing to give safe passage by day to the aircraft.

Mr. Mackintosh

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that in the Northern Province of Benue, a traditional supplier of food to the Ibo heartland, there is a great deal of food which needs only to be run in by truck, and which the northerners are desperate to sell to their traditional markets. This would only require agreement between the two frontline commanders. Our problem is to bring those commanders together and get them to allow the passage of trucks down perfectly good roads. It is not a question of aircraft, and it could be done now.

Mr. Barnes

My hon. Friend knows the country well, and I am sure that he is right. But a great deal of food available in Nigeria and parts of Biafra is basically carbohydrates. The great need at present is for protein. People on both sides are dying through lack of it, and this may not be quite such an easy matter.

On the question of the Oxfam aircraft, at one time it appeared that the British Government were trying to get the agreement of the Federal Government to allow the aircraft to fly by day, but about three weeks ago the news came through that this permission was not forthcoming. The Federal Government said that if the aircraft flew they would treat this as violation of their air space, and it would be shot down.

Judging from the Answers Ministers have subsequently given when questioned about this, I am not convinced that it was ever seriously put by the British Government to the Federal Government that they should allow safe passage to the Oxfam Hercules. I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with this. I think that part of the difficulty was that the British Government were not too well-informed about the air strips where the aircraft could land. At one time my right hon. Friend referred to grass air strips. There are several tarmac airstrips in Biafra, one of which is longer than the air strips at Enugu and Port Harcourt, and could take very large aircraft. This lack of communication with the Biafran side is very serious.

Last Tuesday my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) put a Question to my right hon. Friend asking if he would make a further statement on the progress of British initiative to achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Nigeria. My right hon. Friend replied: I have nothing to add at present to my statement to the House on 2nd July. It appears from Colonel Ojukwu's public statements that he is not yet prepared to take up the opportunity which I am convinced exists for meaningful contacts between the two sides about a return to the negotiating table."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July 1968; Vol. 768, c.200.] On Monday the Biafrans handed in to the Commonwealth Secretariat a letter indicating that they were prepared to resume peace talks immediately anywhere. I am informed by the Biafran Office in London that a copy of that letter was sent to Lord Shepherd, but on Tuesday my right hon. Friend gave Answers which seemed to show that the British Government's assessment of the Biafran negotiating position on any given point was based on what Colonel Ojukwu had said three or four weeks ago at a public rally in Biafra for internal consumption.

On the same day it was clear from Answers to Questions which I put that the British Government were not aware of two Biafran suggestions for alternative corridors—a water corridor up the river Niger to Oguta or a land corridor from Port Harcourt. On Monday Dr. Okigbo, one of the Biafran leaders, was in London. He gave a Press conference and made those two alternatives plain, but somehow this information had not got through to the British Government. The Biafran Office is manned by Mr. Kogbara who took part in the peace talks at Kampala and, I believe, has now gone to Niamey and will go to Addis Ababa. There are people in London, or passing through, with whom the British Government could maintain contact and get much better information of what the Biafrans would accept and are prepared to do at any time. It is a great pity that diplomatic protocol should appear to be a barrier to meaningful contacts of this kind. Before my right hon. Friend labels Colonel Ojukwu as intransigent I wish he would take more pains to find out what has been said at any given time.

But the question of relief and the need for it is really only a symptom of the war, and the main need must remain a cease-fire. A very serious military situation now exists between Nigeria and Biafra. It is quite clear, as it has been for some time, that there is a big buildup of arms and military equipment going on on the Federal Government side. It is justified by the Federal Government in the following terms, and I have also heard it justified by some hon. Members in the same way. The argument is that the quickest way to save starving Biafrans is for the remaining Biafran towns to be taken as quickly as possible by Federal troops so that the war can be won. Then, the argument goes, Oxfam, the International Red Cross, and other relief can go in. A more sophisticated version of the argument is that the best way to get the land corridor from Enugu working is for it to be opened up by force so that relief can go through.

Such an argument totally underestimates the determination, rightly or wrongly, of the people remaining in the Biafran-held area to fight to the last man and the last bullet, and the death-roll if such a military solution were added to the colossal starvation figures. I was glad that a correction was made on the 200 or 300 which my right hon. Friend mentioned in his statement. It was not a figure for the whole country but just for the south-east part.

Mr. George Thomson

I am as fallible as anybody else. I was very fallible over the grass air-strips, and I admit my fallibility. But I did not mislead the House about the 200 or 300. I said that they were in the south-eastern region.

Mr. Barnes

My right hon. Friend misunderstands me. I was about to make the point that there had been reports from the Red Cross that 3,000 people a day are dying from starvation in Biafra. I was merely referring back to the correction that was made. I understood my right hon. Friend's opening statement originally in the sense in which he meant it. I was just making the point that I was glad that the correction had been made.

If such a military solution were to be resorted to at this point in time, added to the colossal figures of people dying from starvation, there would be many more who would die as a result of the fighting. One must remember that the fighting would be most severe in and around the remaining Biafra towns— towns like Aba—where there are already many hundreds of refugees concentrated. So a final military solution to this tragic problem must at all costs be averted. It is something to which Britain ought to be applying her influence—such as it is at the present time—to avert.

What appears to be happening is that, as the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) said—and the point was made by the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) —at a time when this build-up is going on on the Federal side and when we should be restraining them, Saracens and perhaps Saladins are going from this country. If I cared more about the niceties of Parliamentary procedure and the integrity of answers given to Parliamentary Questions, I suppose I should ask for some explanation of the Answer that I got to a Question last week when I was told that the Saracens in this shipment were not armoured fighting vehicles. If the words "armoured fighting vehicles" mean anything, that is what they are, because they can carry machine guns and are armoured and are ideal for fighting in the terrain in which the war is being waged.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I have listened with the greatest respect to everything that my hon. Friend has said. But if it is right that a final military solution is the worst alternative that faces Nigeria and the final military solution is in the hands of the Nigerian Federal regime, how does my hon. Friend think it will help towards avoiding that final military solution if we throw our influence against their régime by withdrawing the supplies of British arms?

Mr. Barnes

Deciding to stop arms would have been a difficult decision to make whenever it was taken. The importance about it would have been its timing. Many of us believe that in months past there have been several points in time when a decision to stop supplying arms could have been the catalyst which would have brought about a cease fire and the cessation of arms supplies from many other countries. It is not an easy matter. But the policy of supplying arms is, I believe, basically wrong. If the situation is to be put right, I agree with my hon. Friend that the timing of the decision to change the policy is important.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

Could my hon. Friend demonstrate that the timing would be right now?

Mr. Barnes

It depends on the extent to which one believes that in this country we are still in a position to exercise any influence over the Nigerian Federal Government. This is the question. For many weeks I have been extremely doubtful whether we have this influence and whether we ever had it. A much more logical explanation of British policy —there are many inconsistencies in British policy—on this matter is that it is totally committed to the Nigerian Federal Government's point of view. If this is the case, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to say so. It would be more honest to spell it out. I also believe that if this is the policy and he said so, he and his right hon. Friends would not have been involved in so many of the semantics, apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in which they have been involved as a result of following this basically illogical policy.

If that is not the policy—it seems as if it is, but I sincerely hope that it is not —and if the policy now is genuinely to try to meet the great humanitarian need which exists on both sides of the fighting lines, I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to go out to Lagos and use all the influence that he has there, on the one hand, to restrain the Federal Government from a final military solution, and, on the other hand, to get the relief supplies moving in.

On the question of relief—I come back to the point which has occupied the minds of so many hon. Members in this debate—I believe that it has been a game of shadow boxing. It is a pity that there has not been someone there to act as, perhaps, the chairman of an international relief committee or someone who could have said "Federal Government, you will not accept this way of doing it. How would it be if you had observers on Fernando Po? Would you agree to the Biafrans having observers? "There should have been someone there able to put another proposition whenever an objection was raised. This is what is needed to ensure that the relief gets through.

I appeal to my right hon. Friend to use all the influence that he has in these matters on the relief side and especially in restraining the Federal Government from a major military offensive, which seems very much in the offing.

5.46 p.m.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

I have the privilege of knowing Nigeria, at any rate the Northern territories, fairly well, because I have been there a number of times. A few years ago a company with which I was then connected sponsored a nutritional conference at Ibadan at the request of a dedicated Irish doctor, Dr. Collis. To show that it was not a commercial enterprise, all my company's competitors and anybody else who could contribute useful advice were invited to attend. Addressing the conference were a number of distinguished medical men and nurses, who were distressed then at the starvation in northern Nigeria. So starvation in Nigeria is by no means new.

At that time the starvation was the result of lack of education on the part of the average Nigerian about food values, lack of money and lack of getting the story over that the children needed more protein. Everybody did what they could. In spite of this, the hospital at Ibadan, in the words of Dr. Collis, was every morning like a casualty clearing station with swollen, pot-bellied children with tiny little arms and tiny little legs dying of starvation, and there were, of course, many hundreds more dying in their own homes because there was no room in Ibadan hospital for them. This was due to ignorance and a lack of education about the type of food that was necessary. So the problem existed in a very big way before the civil war started, but, of course, the civil war has exacerbated the position.

It was with that experience that I had the temerity to write to the Prime Minister and make certain suggestions to him. I go only briefly into the suggestions that I put before him. One was that, through other circumstances which may appear to be rather fantastic but were not perhaps as fantastic or stupid as they may have sounded, I thought that Colonel Ojukwu would be prepared to receive a delegation of two or three people who might be acceptable to him for special reasons to talk about the problems of opening up the line of communication for the supply of food. As yet, I have not had a reply from the Prime Minister, but I hope that the suggestions which I sent to him in the middle of last week will be considered, because they were made seriously and with great sincerity and without any desire for commercial gain or advantage.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

There has been a remarkable pattern about this debate. There has been complete unanimity between the two Front Bench speakers. Yet, with one exception, every back bench speaker has taken a different view. I grow a little uneasy and uncertain about the correctness of views when I see such unanimity between the two Front Bench spokesmen.

I do not take any pleasure in saying what I propose to say. Until the British Government stops the sale of arms to Nigeria, there is blood on its hands. This is not the intention, but it is the result. This weekend I spoke to a Biafran lady in Manchester who has seven children of whom she has not heard for 12 months because communications are broken. She told me what she thinks about things. Let us put ourselves in her position. She sees the photographs in the newspapers of the starving children. Her children are probably starving. Then she is told that the British Government are supplying arms to the other side. What is her natural reaction? One can imagine what the Biaf-rans are feeling in their own country.

The supplying of arms to one side invalidates us as peace-makers and discredits our attempts to get aid through. If we stop the supply of arms, we shall be in a better position to do both things. Everybody in the House profoundly hopes that the peace talks in Addis Ababa will succeed. As one who is not an adherent of either side, I appeal to the leaders on both sides for a cease fire. If the talks succeed, the Federal Government do not need our arms. If the talks do not succeed, it is all the more vital that we should not send British arms to add to the carnage. If the threatened penetration of the Ibo heartland takes place, one of the main instruments will be British Ferret vehicles.

I listened with great care to the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). We probably disagree on everything, and yet I could not disagree with a single word of his speech on this issue. If his reference to Salad ins is correct, there will be serious trouble from both sides of the House, and, in my view, deservedly so.

The Nigerian war provides the classic case for a ban on the sale of arms abroad. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) has devoted a great deal of his life to this question. He will never find a better illustration for his case than the one we are dealing with today. One by one, the other Governments, to their credit, have said "No" unilaterally—the Belgians, the Czechs, and now the Dutch. The Russians are doing the same as we are doing: they are selling arms. But I understand from a contact that Lord Brockway has made that they would agree to stop selling arms if we stopped our arms deliveries immediately.

I have heard from a very high quarter that perhaps we could deal with the Russians but that the Portuguese might cheat. I do not accept that we could not stop them from cheating. The Portuguese are far more susceptible to British pressure than some of the other Governments with which we are dealing. We should know in Lancashire, because goods made in Portugal by sweated labour are coming into our country. Stopping their import is just one way in which we could exercise pressure on Portugal. There are many ways in which we could bring Portugal to heel if it cheated in this respect.

The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) thought that we had influence by maintaining our supply of arms. He mentioned 12 per cent. The figures of 15 and 25 per cent. have been mentioned. We are not supplying planes, but, apart from that, we are supplying the overwhelming majority of the arms going to the Federal Government. The right hon. Gentleman's argument about influence might have been justified if we had stopped the tragedy from happening. But it has happened. We have failed to have any influence. The starvation is taking place; the massacres have taken place. How can we say that by supplying arms we have maintained our influence?

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Why does my hon. Friend think that the Federal Government forces stopped at the outskirts of the Ibo heartland? Why should not they have pressed on, as they had the military might to do?

Mr. Allaun

Not because Britain was supplying arms.

Mr. Lyon

What evidence does my hon. Friend have for saying that?

Mr. Allaun

What evidence does my hon. Friend have for his assertion? We are supplying arms to one side. Presumably they are useful to them, or they would not have received them. If we stop the supply of arms and get the other nations to do the same—and we are not in a position to get the supply of arms stopped jointly unless we do it individually—surely we shall be in a position to bring pressure on both sides, particularly on the Federal Government, who are in the attacking position. That seems logical to me.

Pope Paul has recently said that the Roman Catholic Church—I speak as a non-Catholic—has managed to make 30 deliveries of food by air. That is greatly to its credit. It does not seem greatly to our credit that, according to the Minister, we have managed to make only one delivery by Hercules or that we have not yet found a way of delivering supplies of food and medical materials.

I understand the British Government's position. They are opposed to the Bal-kanisation of the African States, and so am I. I do not think that splintering is helpful in any country or continent. But Englishman who has been out there for many years who says that the bitterness I have recently seen a letter from an is now so great that it is impossible to expect, or even hope for, a return to the previous position and, in particular, that the Biafrans, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) said, will refuse any policing by security troops provided by the Federal Government. Who can blame them? They fear that it would lead to massacres, and it would be wrong for us to force them to rely on them.

Mr. Mackintosh

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the bitterness extends to the minorities in Biafra? They are bitterly opposed to a Biafran solution, and one can meet their representatives here to check on the strength of their opposition. One must, therefore, be careful in using this term. The bitterness exists within Biafra as well as outside it.

Mr. Allaun

I appreciate that among the 12 million to 14 million people in Biafra there is a minority of non-Ibos. I appreciate the fears of the minority within the minority. I am not suggesting that the security forces should be armed Ibos, but it would be wrong to expect, as a term for peace, that we put Federal troops in the Ibo heartland. That is my point.

I think that if we have some responsibility for the Vietnamese war, we have a far greater responsibility for the Nigerian civil war, because we are involved in sending arms there, whereas we are not, thank goodness, sending arms to Vietnam.

The Government have been appealed to by back benchers on both sides. I have been a member of two all-party deputations to the Minister. Our appeals have been rejected, just as the speeches made this afternoon have been rejected. Presumably the advice given by civil servants is accepted. That advice does not seem to have produced very good results so far, and it is time that the elected Members of this House were listened to far more carefully in this terrible situation.

I conclude by appealing to the Government to take action on four matters. First, there should be a public call for a cease-fire. It is remarkable that the British Government have not yet made a public call for a cease-fire. Secondly, we should unilaterally and immediately stop supplying arms to the Federal Government. Thirdly, we should call on the four other Governments who are supplying arms to stop doing so immediately. Lastly, we should press Gowon to provide security for the air transportation of food and medicine under the supervision of the International Red Cross.

This afternoon my right hon. Friend said that he hoped that Colonel Ojukwu would agree to the supply of food by road. I do, too, but there is far greater force in the British Government appealing to Gowon to allow air supplies to go in now, because this can produce quicker results. Those are four suggestions which the Government should adopt to relieve the present tragic situation.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). In his mind, and he believes in the mind of Colonel Ojukwu, arms and food are muddled up, but it must be remembered that on quite a number of aeroplanes carrying food to the Biafrans, arms were also carried, and there therefore seems to be some logic in the argument of the Federal Government that at least those shipments should be inspected.

I am on record, as long ago as the beginning of last August, as urging the Government to put an embargo on arms to both sides. Had we done so, possibly tens of thousands of lives might have been saved, but the situation is very different now that the Federals are poised for victory. I agree that while the discussions go on the shipment of arms might be stopped, but let us imagine what will happen if Ojukwu is intransigent. Friendly though I have been to many Ibos in the past, he may well be recalcitrant. But this war must be ended and food must be taken in whatever politics the leaders of the Ibo happen to want to play. If the talks do not succeed, we must continue shipping arms.

I ask the hon. Member for Salford, East to remember what happened to the arms from the other countries which put on an embargo. The Dutch and the Swedes have kept their word, but I am told that France has continued to consign arms to that country, and so have Belgium and Czechoslovakia, possibly to both sides. I am told that there is no control whatsoever over the supply of second-hand arms, and these are often as lethal as those which have just been made.

I detected a somewhat pro-Ibo feeling in the hon. Gentleman's speech. He seems to think that they alone have suffered, and that their cause is completely right. I have many Ibo friends. Only about three weeks ago, I had lunch with a Member of Parliament from the Eastern region of Nigeria. Three days before seccession he argued in the House of Assembly at Enugu against that action. He was an Efik from Calabar, and shortly after that he found himself in detention. Along with three hundred other Efiks he was taken out and he saw most of the people with him machine-gunned to death. He was lucky The bullets kept low, and he and one other man escaped. This is the horror of civil war. A war is bad enough but civil war is much worse. It is the worst of all kinds of war, and it is no good arguing that one side is better than the other. Let us forget what has happened and concentrate on the present and on the future.

When one of my Federal friends heard that we were going to debate Nigeria, which he said rightly was an independent member of the Commonwealth, he commented that he hoped when they returned to Parliamentary government we would have no objection if every three weeks or so they discussed race relations in Great Britain. But, as I see it, we have every right to argue whether arms should go to Nigeria from this country, or whether people and aid should be sent there.

I believe that the supply of arms should be controlled, and they will have to be controlled in future by a Commonwealth force. If the Commonwealth is to mean anything, I hope that under the Secretary General we shall establish some form of Commonwealth force to which, in the end, the Ibos can look for protection. It may, however, be years before they really feel that they can live in freedom without the fear of being massacred.

I hope that the force to which I have just referred will be the prototype of something very much greater. I believe that the Ibos hate Britain to such an extent that they would not like a British contingent there, but there is certainly no reason why such a contingent should not be on the Federal side. I hope that Britons will be allowed to volunteer for such a force. I think that it should be about two brigades strong, so that it will not threaten anybody. Its duty would be to protect the International Red Cross which would be the agent for distributing food. It could also be used to protect the Ibo people.

I now come to the question of foodstuffs. There has been much talk about airlifts. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how many airstrips remain to the Ibo people, shut in as they are in a territory no bigger than the West and North Ridings of Yorkshire—a people more numerous than the whole population of Scotland, entirely surrounded by Federal territory. Have they a spare airstrip to offer to the International Red Cross? If so, that airstrip should be demilitarised. If the Biafrans continue to send arms in the Federals will have every right to bomb that airstrip. Therefore, any airfield under the control of the Red Cross must be demilitarised so that it will not be bombed either by day or by night.

I want to make one suggestion to the Minister. There are many river fleets owned by West African companies. In the past they have travelled up the Niger and Benue right up as far as Yola and Gardua in the Cameroons and have brought back thousands of tons of groundnuts and other feedingstuffs. In large measure these fleets are still available to go on routes from places like Burutu Sapele and Warri across the Niger. Why should not they be painted white with red crosses and work irrespective of Bailey bridges or roads which have been blown up? They should be able to get across, although I am told that there may still be pockets of Ibo resistance west of the Niger. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that. Colonel Ojukwu should be in control, even of his outlying units. It is up to him to tell those West of the Niger to let the food cargo fleet go through.

We must have crash action in feedingstuffs for the people on both sides whom we know so well. This mission of mercy could be undertaken by the Commonwealth. It is not a short-term project. Colonel Ojukwu may think that because he has been recognised by the Governments of Zambia, Tanganyika, Gabon and the Ivory Coast he can rely on them for protection, but where are their legions of spare soldiers to help him in his hour of need? I hope that he will accept the reality of the situation and appreciate that in this tiny enclave in which millions of his people live he could not hope to thrive even if he got independence.

The Ibos must trade; they depend on Nigeria, and there must be some form of association between the two. I hope that Colonel Ojukwu will see sense, and that the Niger, at present dividing two peoples who have traded with each other for so many years will, very soon, once again unite those peoples, both of whom have been so friendly to Britain.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Joha P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Waver-tree (Mr. Tilney) with his deep knowledge of Nigeria and the situation there. I deeply respect the feelings of hon. Members who have spoken, and share them. None of us, with our own children looking at us across the Sunday breakfast table and seeing the sort of picture of a starving Ibo child that we saw on the front page of theSunday Times yesterday could feel anything but horror and alarm.

Nevertheless, although we have these deep feelings we must realise that this is fundamentally a Nigerian problem. I am amazed at the impression of some of my hon. Friends who seem to think that a single word from the British Government would end the tribal hatreds that have existed in Nigeria for generations and which have caused them to fight each other in the past, not with machine guns or Saracens, but, almost as horribly, with machets and sharpened agricultural implements. This was done in the riots in Kano, during the Tiv riots and the massacres at Ibadan a few years ago. We know how these feelings have generated. Those who have watched the situation in Nigeria have seen this thing building up over the years, with the Ibos and their rivals struggling with each other and amongst each other on the question whether Nigeria shall be organised on a non-tribal basis or in tribal units.

We must be fair; when the Ibo leadership discovered a major oilfield in the area that they could claim they realised that they had the economic resources to go for a state organised on a tribal basis, the only difficult factor being that 5 million non-Ibos live in the oil-bearing area and the ports which an Ibo State would need.

Mr. James Griffiths

My hon. Friend will appreciate that after independence, when the Federal Government was formed, the Ibos from the East joined it. It was those in the West who offered opposition.

Mr. Mackintosh

My right hon. Friend will know that at that time when the Federation was formed the most ardent Federalists in Nigeria were the Ibos, because they lived in a poverty-stricken area which needed Federal funds. It was only when the oil was discovered and the financial situation in the Eastern region was transformed that the leadership there felt that the situation had changed. That was not the sole cause of their desire to secede, but it offered a way out of the long-term frictions that had reached their climax in the pogroms in the North in 1966.

I am sorry to go over this history but it is necessary for my hon. Friends who say that if we had done this or that we could have easily got a cease-fire. Such a simple decision to have a cease-fire was rejected by both sides in Nigeria because they wanted to know on what terms the cease-fire would come about. The Biafrans want to know whether they will be recognised as an independent territory. The West wonder what would be left for them in a Northern-dominated Nigeria. Those who live in the North are wondering whether that territory would be better as one or three states. It must be remembered that there are 47 separate linguistic groups in Nigeria. Many of the Nigerians, on both sides, have asked whether human rights and the future freedom of the people in this part of Africa will be better safeguarded with a small number of chauvinistic tribal groupings, each with a minority within its borders— because they could not construct any state without a minority—or a large Federation trying, somehow, to reconcile and meet these points.

All this may still be a long way from helping the dying and starving people in the East of Nigeria but if those of us trying to mediate in this country try to get the Biafrans and members of the Federal Government in London to meet to talk about the situation we find that they are not very bothered about starving children—and I am not accusing them of callousness. They are concerned with a deeper matter—the basic question of the terms on which the war can be brought to a conclusion. Some hon. Members imagine that it needs only the British Government to say, "No more weapons: it is all over", for the war to end. They are mistaken. A great deal of damage could still be done. It would not help if simply to cut off the supply of arms but this is also a point on which one must look at the historical background.

I believe it was right that the British Government should have trained and equipped the Nigerian Army originally. I take off my hat to General Sir Welby Everard who trained the Nigerian Army —then a small force of 10,000 men—on a non-tribal basis. They were brought up to be Nigerians and not members of this or that group. Nothing upset me more than to hear of the treatment of Colonel Nzeogwu, the original army leader of the army coup in the North because he was an Ibo who was basically not for tribalism. He was murdered after his eyes had been gouged out by the Biafrans —or rather his fellow Ibos. The officers in the army originally had the idea of unity and detribalisation in Nigeria, but then after the pro-Ibo régime of General Ironsi, the army broke up into its tribal segments. The position of the British Government was correct up to the point at which they trained the army and supplied it with equipment and munitions, because it was a force for stability and order in Nigeria.

The question arises, first, could we have altered matters by stopping the supply of arms, and, second, would this have produced the kind of essential detribalised unitary state in Nigeria which would have been the best guarantee of human liberty? I take the point that it is not our place to determine wh at goes on inside Nigeria—this would be far too paternalistic and old-fashioned an attitude—but we must say what the British Government should do about this. Although we do not have the tremendous influence which some Government Members have suggested—and, I think, which has been over-estimated by some of my hon. Friends—if the Nigerians on both sides wanted to get food into the East tomorrow, they could do so. The province of Benue is full of food, and it cannot sell its harvest. This does not require the Red Cross or 'planes or anything but the officers on two fronts on each side to agree and to allow food to pass through their lines.

This is a war of elites and the Ibo elites around Colonel Ojukwu know that, if the Federal Government win, they and their families will be stripped of everything. This was done in peacetime, when the Action Group elite lost in a peacetime coup in the Western Region; they and their connections and their families and their villages were stripped of everything. The university appointments, the Government contracts and every job changed hands. This is what the Ibo elite will have to face if Colonel Ojukwu loses. We must try to inject flexibility into the situation by means of the tiny amount of influence which we have.

The British Government's stand has left them with some talking points with the Federal Government, but we should not over-estimate them. If we push it too far, we will be told to take our arms and chase ourselves. After all, they have enough to finish the job.

Mr. Barnes

But for months past, this policy has been emphasised and, if we expressed doubts about supplying arms, we were told that it was because we were maintaining this influence. My hon. Friend should not be surprised, therefore, if some of us accepted this and and are now worried.

Mr. Mackintosh

I agree, and I said that some Members of the Government over-estimate their influence, but they are listened to, up to a point, by the Federal Government.

There is an Ibo élite in contol in Biafra. This is not a guerrilla war of peoples but a war of elites for certain key posts of influence and power. We must try to persuade the Federal Government that if they win or a cease-fire comes on terms which mean victory in practice, that they will so arrange those terms that they do not mean a crushing humilitation for the Ibo élite. Second, we must persuade them that there should not be trials. That is not our business, but if we were Colonel Ojukwu, would we have a cease-fire when we knew what it would mean—the firing squad? I have read that Colonel Ojukwu has taken physical action and has shot people whom he regarded as traitors, but who were loyal to the Federal Government. One can understand the pressure on the Federal Government not to let these people down if they win.

Therefore, there is a critical problem of trying to get the Federal Government, somehow, to ease its terms, to give some security to an élite which, basically, it would like "rubbed out". This is a major difficulty. We cannot do a great deal about it and it is a mistake to indulge in hyperbole about the British Government having the power to alter totally the face of Ibo—Yoruba—Hausa relations which have had their difficulties and tensions in ways that we in Europe, with our generations of French and German and other wars, have no right to criticise, for hundreds of years. We can help, but cannot do all that much. I hope we use our influence on these points that may ease the way towards a ceasefire.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

The whole House will agree that this has been a thoughtful, constructive and, at times, moving debate. It was much helped at the outset by the Commonwealth Secretary's factual statement. He did a great deal to clarify what has hitherto been a most confusing situation. The debate has also reflected, in every speech, I think, the grave disquiet felt in all quarters of the House and throughout the country. But it still leaves unanswered a number of important questions.

The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has just made a most interesting speech, and one of the truest things he said was that we should not deceive ourselves. Words spoken here, however well chosen, may express our horror at what has been happening and our frustration at not being able to bring succour to the afflicted as swiftly and on the scale which we would wish, but they do not in themselves solve the problem. Indeed, if we accept Lord Hunt's estimate, then since the debate began a few hours ago hundreds of people in the war-stricken areas, including many children, will have died of hunger, and many tens of thousands more will perish in the next few weeks.

This is the harsh, grim reality. This tragic situation is all the more distressing to as because it is happening in a country which we, above all others, helped to create, where, until recently, high hopes for a great and prosperous future reposed, and where, in the Christian missions, in the schools and in commerce, so many of our own people are still playing a constructive and honourable rôle long after the endng of the colonial phase. It is natural enough that we should all feel deeply moved by the agony of Nigeria and be impatient to do something about it.

But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) said, this is a civil war in a country which we no longer control. We can help by persuading both sides to come to terms and by offering relief, but in the last resort an end to the conflict can come only in one of two ways—either the Federal Army completely crushes the Ibo rebels, with all the dire consequences that must flow from that, or there is a negotiated settlement.

Our impatience is all the more understandable because the movement of relief supplies, which my right hon. Friend said was the first priority, seems to have been hampered less by physical transportation difficulties—great though these are—than by political argument between the two sides. On the one hand, Colonel Ojukwu has said that he will accept air lifts provided the food does not come through Federal Nigeria. The idea has even been spread among his people that food from such sources would be poisoned. On the other hand, the Federal Government have refused permission for direct air lifts into the Ibo heartland because they suspect and not without reason, that the same 'planes which are making clandestine flights by night with food and medical supplies have been carrying arms as well. For the Federal Government, therefore, logically enough, only a land corridor is permissible.

As a result, the International Red Cross, Oxfam, the World Council of Churches and a host of other dedicated organisations have been literally standing by for months, frustrated, unable to do the job which they are equipped and eager to do. For them, as for the watching world, it has been a heartbreaking experience.

The House will have noted with satisfaction what the Commonwealth Secretary said about the Government's response to the recommendations of the Hunt Mission. I join with all who have paid tribute to the splendid work of Lord Hunt and his colleagues. Even so, a number of serious questions still remain unanswered.

Whatever the reason, the sad fact is that Lord Hunt was unable to enter the Ibo heartland. That was not his fault and we must all commend his readiness to go there if Colonel Ojukwu permits him to do so. This is exactly what we would expect of a man of Lord Hunt's calibre. But has the House been told the whole story of the scale and horror of the famine situation? Lord Hunt considered, on the basis of the best estimates which he had been able to make in the areas which he visited, that one million people are at risk. Does this include the people in the Ibo heartland? He estimated that 200 to 300 are dying each day in the South-Eastern State—an area, I take it, in fact, to the north-east of Calabar. How many people are dying elsewhere? Surely the figures are likely to be very much greater than 200 or 300 a day?

On 8th July the Commonwealth Secretary replied to a Private Notice Question which I had asked him. As to the scale of the famine he said: I have just had a direct report this morning to say that most of the relief organisations are agreed that the situation around Ikot Ekpene, which is on the Federal side of the line, is now desperate and as bad as, if not worse than, anything in rebel-occupied territory. I believe that that area is in the South-Eastern State or in that locality. He continued: It is important to the House to be aware that human need is not simply in the Ibo-held territories, but also on the other side of the fighting line."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1968; Vol. 767, c. 40.] It is important for us to know, when we are considering what help can be brought to bear on the situation, what is the total scale of the problem—not the problem only in one part of the war-stricken area but in the whole of South-Eastern Nigeria.

I agree entirely with the Commonwealth Secretary that the best chance of an effective distribution of aid is through the International Red Cross in order, if I may use his words, to avoid duplication and misunderstanding. That is a very wise decision, but we still do not know where such distribution is to take place. In the Federal-held areas? In the Ibo heartland when the proposed road corridor is driven through?

But what about the situation now in the Ibo heartland, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) referred in his most eloquent and moving speech? I beg the Commonwealth Secretary to consider the agonising dilemma which faces the voluntary organisations. A few hours before this debate I was advised that a further 1,000 tons of high-protein food is being sent today to Fernando Po to add to the already quite sizeable stockpile which the International Red Cross has assembled there. At this moment not more than ten tons of this food is being moved by night flights. I am not talking here about other clandestine flights but about what appear to be approved flights under Red Cross auspices each night. These are making a negligible contribution to the problem. I am told from informed sources that if permission were given for day flights, at least 100 tons could be sent in every day and that this would probably meet the most immediate needs. In short, the food is there but day flights are forbidden and night flights are inadequate. I invite the Commonwealth Secretary to state what advice he will give to the voluntary organisations in a situation of that kind.

What is the position about the Federal Government permitting direct Red Cross flights into the Ibo heartland from Fernando Po, landing at Calabar and then taking off after inspection? What has happened to the suggestion which I made about a fortnight ago that one way of getting around the mutual suspicion would be to grant safe conducts to observers from both sides to accompany every aircraft flying into the Ibo heartland? The Commonwealth Secretary said today that General Gowon has promised that airlifts will be permitted into the Ibo heartland. I was delighted to hear that, and the whole House must have been too. But according toThe Times on 19th July, Colonel Ojukwu has said that he would be prepared to set aside an airport for the exclusive use of relief aircraft and would agree to inspection of cargo by representatives of the Biafran, Nigerian, and International Red Cross to show that no arms were included. That is not unreasonable. What is being done about this proposal? What are the obstacles in the way of supplies being flown in now to the people who need them?

What the Commonwealth Secretary told us this afternoon about political developments is enormously encouraging. A week ago it did not seem possible that General Gowon and Colonel Ojukwu would be prepared to go to the conference table. It is heartening in the extreme that they have taken part in the preliminary talks at Niamey organised by the O.A.U. and that it seems likely that they will go on to further talks at Addis Ababa. Here is the beginning of real hope. For Colonel Ojukwu may now be made to see by other African leaders that bargaining over famine relief in the hope of securing further diplomatic recognition is not only heartless but impracticable. It is heartless because, although he accuses his enemies—I do not say with any lack of sincerity on his part; he may genuinely believe it—of genocide, to the outside world his own actions are suspiciously like suicide for a large part of his people. It is impracticable because secession on a tribal basis is not likely to find much favour with the O.A.U. because it constitutes a threat to the viability of almost every State in Africa.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), who knows more about Nigeria than do most of us, that there is very little point about going over the causes of this terrible conflict. It is easy enough to be wise after the event and to argue that, as colonial administrators, we should have left behind us a different Nigeria, one with 12 or more States based on the country's many ethnic groups and not one of three huge regions, each dominate by a major tribe and the whole dominated by the Muslim North. For that is to ignore what the Nigerian leaders themselves wanted before independence and what they were prepared to accept. One recalls British misgivings at the time. But to have created a different structure would have delayed independence, and the Nigerian leaders were not prepared to wait. With the wind of change olowing as vigorously as it did through Africa in the late 1950's, who is to say that they were wrong?

Equally, it is futile to argue that the conflict began with the bloody coup of the Ibo officers in January, 1966, which preceded the massacre of Ibos in the North six months later. For that is to ignore the long history of tribal rivalry and suspicion which British rule may have contained but which it certainly did not eradicate, and which, after all, is common enough elsewhere in Africa.

What matters now is that the Federal leaders seem determined not to repeat the errors of the past. The abolition of the regions and the creation of 12 or more smaller States does not change the ethnic facts but it gives the minority tribes a bigger share in local administration and it should remove the fear about domination by the Muslim North. Credit should be given to General Gowon for the restraint which he has been exercising in these last stages of the fighting. He now controls the main centres of what used to be the eastern region and also Enugu, the Ibo capital, and he must know that further military advances would drive these brave, vigorous and imaginative people, the Ibos, into the bush and that the guerrilla fighting would be long and bitter and would call for a permanent army of occupation. That would be costly in the extreme and it might even be fatal, as several hon. Members have reminded the House, to the hopes of those who believe that a united Nigeria has a great destiny to fulfil in Africa.

Nigeria needs to win back the Ibos. She needs their skills and enterprise if she is to tackle her problems effectively and fulfil her destiny. What matters now is the possibility of a new start for Nigeria, and the extent to which we in Britain can contribute to its success by helping to bind up the wounds of her people and to rebuild their shattered economy.

As regards our making a contribution to the bringing of peace to Nigeria, may I make it plain that we support the Government's readiness to contribute to a joint observer force as part of a pacification programme. It is possible that a proposal of that kind will emerge from the talks in Addis Ababa. It is not too early to ask, therefore, what is being done about the preparation of a British contribution to such a force. We recognise that there are some questions which cannot be answered here and now—the size and the composition of the force, the functions which it will be called upon to perform and who is to command it; all those are matters which lie in the future which will have to be agreed between the two sides and will then have to be loyally supported by the contributing powers.

But the thought which I leave with the right hon. Gentleman is that such a force cannot be created overnight. Its mobilisation and movement into the affected areas will take time. Yet we already know that the situation is urgent, that if lives are to be saved and the work of rehabilitation is to begin, not a moment must be lost once the political decision is taken. I therefore urge the right hon. Gentleman to say what preliminary steps the Government have taken to earmark and prepare a British contingent, with all its necessary services—particularly communications equipment, transport aircraft and so on— so that it can move like lightning if and when the call comes.

This debate takes place after many weeks of anxious questioning about the situation in Nigeria. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone said, the voluntary organisations have been battling with unanswerable problems for months past. The right hon. Gentleman will know that the Opposition have exercised the utmost restraint in pressing him on these matters. However, I beg him not to misunderstand our attitude. Our purpose has been to avoid making difficulties for the Government while they were negotiating with the Federal authorities, first about the efforts of the voluntary organisations, secondly about the Hunt Mission, and thirdly, because we do not wish to precipitate a situation where the hawks on the Federal side are encouraged to call for an all-out military effort to crush the Ibos. The Government have known throughout that they would have our full support if they offered transport aircraft, vehicles and so on, to move stocks of food known to exist in Federal Nigeria or Fernando Po. We have recognised the need to help the Federal Government to bring hostilities to an end in a constructive and honourable way, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire made plain we have reservations about the continued supply of arms. Hitherto the Government's case for continuing arms supplies to the Federal forces has been that by this means they can preserve some influence in the situation; that a ban on British arms would not stop arms coming in from elsewhere, and that even if it did the war would continue with bayonet and machete, as long as the will to end it by negotiation was lacking on both sides. Indeed, with stocks of munitions dwindling, the temptation to finish off the war by an all-out military effort might well be irresistible.

There is a great deal in this argument, but the Government's case that they were supplying arms to preserve their influence is from now on going to be brought very severely to the test. Neither we nor the nation could condone the continued supply of arms if large scale fighting were to break out again or if it were suggested in the talks in Addis Ababa that a temporary ban would help. This subject has touched the consciences of all hon. Members. I do not think that any useful purpose is served in our not facing the moral issue. If there were an invasion of the Ibo heartland with the inevitability of mass slaughter added to the present mass starvation it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for any British Government to continue sending arms.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Would it not be too late then?

Mr. Braine

I am not convinced as yet that the Government's policy in this matter is wrong. The onus is on the Commonwealth Secretary to show that the policy of Her Majesty's Government has resulted in British influence being exerted in a useful way. But in my view the point has now arrived when this nettle must be grasped. Only yesterday a distinguished Nigerian Christian leader told me, sadly—if there was bitterness in his heart he kept it to himself—"Our people have always looked to the British Government for fair treatment, but we see that in this quarrel they have chosen to take sides. We have looked to them for conciliation; instead, they have chosen to provide our enemies with arms. Is it so unreasonable that we should refuse to accept aid from the British Government?". I thought that that was unfair, but it was certainly sincere and honest. One cannot brush it aside.

I am not criticising Her Majesty's Government for the stand they have taken so far. My hon. Friends understand their dilemma, but the Commonwealth relationship has no meaning at all unless in a situation of difficulty of this kind we do not seek a reconciliation of differences. There must come a point when supplying arms to one beligerent makes the solution difficult if not impossible. It is our earnest hope that this point has not been reached, that the talks in Addis Ababa will bring a peaceful settlement and that peace will soon return to Nigeria. But there is no immediate guarantee of that and, in the meantime, hunger takes its toll and people die. The Government have moved quickly in response to the recommendations of Lord Hunt. That is good and the Government are to be commended. But we now need an assurance that the relief programme now being mounted will meet the real needs in all Nigeria. I invite the Commonwealth Secretary to give us that assurance.

6.46 p.m.

Mr. George Thomson

With permission, I will reply to the points made in what has been a very good debate in which hon. Members have shown themselves to be gravely concerned with the situation in Nigeria. I confess that of all the international problems with which I have had to deal, both before becoming Commonwealth Secretary and since being in office, I have found this the most agonising, and I therefore echo some of the words uttered by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) about the nature of the problem we face.

It is not the scale of the war that appals. It is the scale of human suffering.The Times remarked today that … it is an indication of the small scale of the war militarily that all the prisoners of war in Biafra can be accommodated in one dormitory. Would that all the prisoners of want—all the prisoners of malnutrition and starvation in this terrible war—could be housed in one hospital ward.

The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) expressed fears of genocide. It is important to try to get this matter in perspective. My view is that these fears are exaggerated and that it is unjust to talk of genocide in connection with this conflict. The military casualties have been bloody but limited, marred by terrible atrocities. The civilian suffering, on the other hand, has been massive and has affected Ibo and non-Ibo. It is to them that our conscience has been directed. Sir Colin Thornley has told me that near Awgu large numbers of Ibos who have been living in secessionist areas are returning to their homes in Federal-held territory. This does not fit in with allegations of genocide.

None of us can read the harrowing accounts of human suffering on both sides without wishing to do all that we can to assist all Nigerians to find a way to live at peace with each other and concentrate on binding the wounds of the suffering. The whole House will agree with these aims and the necessity, whatever our differences, to address our minds to the question of how best we can achieve them. In particular, we all agree that we should like to see the discussions initiated by the O.A.U. lead to a ceasefire. Her Majesty's Government have tried to help in every way they could to promote talks and Mr. Arnold Smith, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, has worked indefatigably, and will go on doing so, to this end. The best outcome would be, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) pointed out, if Africa's own inter-Governmental organisation could bring about a solution to one of Africa's most tragic conflicts and a conflict which has immense dangers for the Continent of Africa as a whole.

The main criticism during this debate of our policy has been over the difficult question of the sending of arms to Nigeria. I emphasise again that the arms we send form only about 15 per cent. of Nigerian supplies, and in our view their cessation would not affect the continuation of the war.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) cast some doubt on whether this figure of 15 per cent. was meaningful and said that his calculation was that 80 per cent. of the infantry weapons and ammunition that were causing the casualties were coming from us. I remind the House, first of all, only that it is not so long ago that the anxiety of this House was that we might be providing bombers and those sort of weapons of war, and that we have deliberately limited the arms to the more conventional types of weapon that we have provided over a long period. With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I thought that, with his record of advocacy of the use of force in some other parts of Africa, his expression of abhorrence of force in this case was not quite as convincing as it might otherwise have been.

Mr. Thorpe

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is a difference between the use of force against civilians and the use of force against a railway line in a desert.

Mr. Thomson

What I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman is that his figure of 80 per cent. is not remotely accurate. The proportion of infantry weapons and ammunition we have supplied is calculated by our defence experts to be a great deal less than half of what is going there. I do not wish to minimise the amount, but I trust that the right hon. Gentleman's figure of 80 per cent. will not gain wide credence.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone asked about Saladins. I should like now to give him and the House the facts as I know them. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is not the case that there are large numbers of Saladins awaiting shipment to Nigeria, as he seemed to fear. The position is that we have always said that we would supply the Nigerian Government with reasonable quantities of arms of a conventional type. In accordance with this policy, there have been supplies of armoured cars to Nigeria since before the civil war broke out. We have been careful not to add to the armoured car strength since the civil war began, but some months ago a small number of replacements were authorised. It may very well be that it is to those that the right hon. Gentleman's information related. I assure the House that no more have been authorised nor, indeed, have any more been requested by the Nigerian Federal Government.

The practical question in this difficulty is that put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home): whether unilateral suspension of arms would help to end the fighting and make the relief supplies flow more easily. I can only say, after the most earnest heart-searching on the matter, that all the evidence at the moment seems to me to be to the contrary. Indeed, in the light of the tense situation that now exists in Nigeria, with the very natural sensitivity about the national sovereignty of a new and developing country, I wonder whether the Hunt mission which we have all welcomed, would ever have been able to do the magnificent work it has achieved if we had followed the urgent demand of some hon. Gentlemen to stop sending arms when they asked us to do so.

I was asked about our influence in Nigeria. I do not want to exaggerate our influence—Nigeria is a proud and sovereign independent country—but it is worth remembering this about the the Nigerian Federal Government. There has been recently, although they are on the edge of a military victory, virtual cease-fire—an act of considerable self-restraint. There has been an acceptance or a willingness to have an external international observer force. There has been a readiness to see that the relief supplies go in by land, and now by air. Can anyone doubt that if at this period of time we had followed the advice of those who urged on us unilateral suspension, these achievements of restraint would not have been at peril? This is the real issue.

But I should like to put to my hon. Friends, whose anxieties I understand perfectly, one or two general points about the supply of arms. I think that some of them start from the unspoken, though perfectly honourable proposition, that Britain should not engage in arms trade with anyone. It is worth emphasising that in any case our arms trade is very carefully controlled and individually licensed.

But I should like to ask the House and my hon. Friends to examine what the proposition would mean. It would mean that amongst our friends in the world only those who had an arms industry would have a right to national defence. It would mean that to make arms was all right, but to buy them was all wrong. If it is urged simply as a national policy, it means that it is wrong for Britain to help her friends to defend themselves, but all right for Britain's friends—if they remained friendly to us in those circumstances—to get other people to provide them with the necessary defence.

A more limited argument is that it is wrong to provide arms in a civil war situation. A civil war against secession is an agony through which a number of countries have passed. The historic example is the United States, and in those circumstances those of the British Left were very strongly behind the Federal Government of that country in its fight against secession. But more recently in Africa the Congo passed through this tragedy, and I am genuinely puzzled that some of those who argue that Biafra should have the right to secede are those who argued so passionately that it would be a crime if Katanga were allowed to secede.

I do not want to minimise Ibo fears or to ignore Ibo grievances, but I would ask the House whether, if it was right to resist the attempt of sinister outside forces to break up the Congo, it is not also right to help the Government of Nigeria to resist similar attempts against the unity of their country. It is right to remember that we in this country—and particularly those on the political Left— supported the United Nations action in the Congo, and that we helped to pay for United Nations soldiers to go there to fight against secession.

Finally, there are those who argue that it is hypocrisy and humbug to send arms and relief supplies to the same people at the same time. I find this a very puzzling argument. If I may say so to my hon. Friends, whose sincerity I acknowledge, I became involved in politics during the Spanish civil war, when the British Government of the day supported non-intervention and the Left supported the Spanish Republican Government. But no Socialist ever suggested in those days that there was any inconsistency in gathering money both to strengthen the Republican Army and to succour the victims of war, whatever side they came from.

Of course, the supply of arms must always be watched anxiously to ensure that it is consistent with our policies, and in this case our policies are to see an end to the fighting and to bring maximum help to the suffering.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last month laid down very carefully the circumstances which would require a revision of our arms policy. I do not wish to repeat them just two minutes before the debate is due to end, but those conditions still stand, and are worth examining closely. We believe that none of the circumstances that my right hon. Friend mentioned has come to pass. The Federal Government have responded with great restraint in the search for peace.

The hon. Member for Essex, South-East asked some questions about the airlift. First of all, our advice to voluntary societies is to follow the advice of the International Red Cross, backed by Lord Hunt's mission and the Federal Government, to co-ordinate efforts through the International Red Cross and the efforts, particularly, to accumulate stocks at Fernando Po. The hon. Gentleman quoted Colonel Ojukwu as being prepared to see an airstrip in Biafra under International Red Cross control. If that is so, I profoundly hope that the Colonel will quickly give the answer to the International Red Cross, which is now in communication with him.

Her Majesty's Government have been criticised by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) and others for having a biased attitude towards Biafra's claim to secession. I only have to say that at the end of the day it is the people of Nigeria who must decide how they can live at peace with each other. I do not think that there is anything unreasonable or dishonourable in Britain, the creator of the original Nigerian union, hoping passionately that the people there will find that way of living with each other.

Whatever differences we may have in this House on this question, whatever differences of opinion there may be about what is the wisest British policy, I am sure that at this point in time we will all hope that at these meetings now under the patronage of the Organisation of African Unity, all the Nigerians will find a way of living at peace one with another.

Mr. Alan Fitch (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.