§ Mr. Speaker
Before the debate opens, may I remind the House that during the last debate under Standing Order No. 9 I was able to call many speakers because speeches were brief.
I have a long list again today for a debate which is to last for exactly three hours and I again appeal for reasonably brief speeches from both right hon. and hon. Members.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)
I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for your decision yesterday that this subject, namely, the effect of continuing the supply of arms from Britain to Nigeria now that the peace talks at Kampala have broken down, was an appropriate one for discussion under Standing Order No. 9.
I know that some people take the view that this debate taking place now could have the effect of upsetting the very delicate negotiations which are going on in London at the present time, but I do not share that view. I believe that if this debate is approached in the responsible way in which I am sure it will be, it can be very helpful in underlining for both sides the fact that the overwhelming priority now in this war is the earliest possible cease-fire.
I do not believe that it is the job of British politicians to take sides in this tragic dispute, but I believe that it is the job of British politicians to make sure that British policy is fair, just and honourable. I believe that this responsibility is especially heavy in this instance, where we are the former colonial Power and where it is now a fellow Commonwealth country which is involved.
One would have thought that when a civil war was threatening a great Commonwealth country it would have been clear that it was our duty to do nothing to encourage the use of force. I am sure that many people applauded the neutrality implicit in the statement made just a year ago in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, when he said: 244We have, of course, made it very plain to the leaders of Nigeria, to all Nigerian leaders, that we have no intention whatsoever of intervening in the internal affairs of Nigeria."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords; 13 June 1967; Vol. 283, c. 1376.]The United States Government, in August of last year, issued the statement thatthe United States decided, for its part, on the outbreak of the current hostilities in Nigeria, that it would not sell or otherwise supply arms and ammunition to the other side. To have done so would have risked deepening the conflict.I am sure that many people in this country assumed that the British Government's attitude would be the same, but in that same month, August of last year, news began to leak out of the great charter airlift of arms which was taking place by night from Gatwick under conditions of extraordinary secrecy.
It is hard to discuss whether this policy should or should not be continued unless it is clear what the policy was originally designed to achieve, and it is difficult to be clear about that because different reasons for the policy have been given on different occasions. That does not help.
The first reason given for the policy was that because we were the traditional supplier of arms to the Federal Government of Nigeria we had to go on supplying arms so as to remain neutral. To have stopped would have been to take sides with Biafra. That statement was subsequently modified to read that the Federal Government was the only Government in Nigeria which all the world recognised. That was before the recognition of Biafra by Tanzania and because of this, so the argument ran, because we were the traditional supplier we had to go on.
It must be said against both these arguments—such things were said by many of my hon. Friends for months past— that we were in the past the traditional supplier of arms for the defence of all Nigeria and the protection of the people of all her regions, which is very different from what is happening today.
The third argument and the one on which the Government have placed the greatest emphasis is that it was necessary to continue the supply of arms to maintain the influence and good will which 245 we had in Lagos. There has been precious little evidence of this influence being put to the test. The time when it should have been, above all, was surely before the peace talks began at Kampala. If it had been put to the test then, perhaps those talks would not have been the shambles which they were.
The truth is, I think, that British policy has so far failed on this issue, and failed because the wrong decision was taken at the beginning. The Government were given, and accepted, bad advice. This was not a riot which would be put down in a couple of months but a civil war which has now lasted for nearly a year and will go on for many months unless countries like Britain stop supplying arms. It may be difficult and embarrassing for the Government to change their mind now, but, following the breakdown of the Kampala talks, the arguments for so doing are overwhelming.
The war is now entering a guerilla phase and if it is pursued to a military conclusion—who can doubt that the continuing supply of arms from this country is an encouragement to those "hawks", the numbers of whom I do not know, on the Federal side that a military solution is possible?—the civilian casualties are bound to be even heavier and bloodier than they have been so far.
I know that many people think that a unilateral decision by us to stop the supply of arms at this stage would make no difference, because other countries are supplying arms, but those who think that under-estimate the present climate of world opinion. World opinion on this issue is, I believe, overwhelmingly in favour of this senseless war, with all its suffering, being brought to the quickest possible end. A new situation was created by the recognition of Biafra by Tanzania, Zambia, the Ivory Coast and Gabon. Already, Czechoslovakia and Holland have stopped supplying arms, and if Britain were to stop I believe that any country which then continued would be in a very isolated position. This is the quick way to end this war—far quicker than trying now to get international agreement, which might take weeks and months to organise.
It can always be said that there are arguments in favour of policies which continue: the status quo, the traditional 246 policy. It is easy to let things continue as they have done and to reassure oneself that this is realistic or pragmatic, but every now and then in politics principles arise which politicians cannot afford to dodge, and we are faced here with such a principle. It cannot be right for this country to be organising peace talks in London with one hand and supplying arms with the other.
I therefore hope and pray that it may not be many more days before the British Government change their attitude on the supply of arms and recognise the contribution to peace which this decision could bring.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswiek (Mr. Barnes) not only for having sought and gained this debate, but also for the studied moderation of his language and for so courteously considering the interests of other hon. Members by keeping his speech short. I hope to follow him in both the latter respects.
For far too long, in my view and that of many hon. Members, there has been far too little knowledge in this country of what is going on in Nigeria, largely due to the very bad communications and the difficulty of getting any reliable information from the fighting areas. This has, naturally but regrettably, led to an ignorance of and even an indifference to the tragic events there.
The very magnitude of the slaughter left many in this country uncomprehending and lent sense of unreality to the reports coming from Nigeria. Far from being unreal, however, it is quite clear that the accounts of the atrocities are all too true. By whoever they have been committed, all will, I believe, deplore this tragic situation. They have been perpetrated on a massive scale and every hon. Member, including every Member of the Government, must be desperately anxious to see this ended as soon as possible.
I am certain that all of us share the ambition of Ministers to use whatever influence we have to bring an end to this war. Therefore, there would be little purpose now in examining the background of these events or looking too closely at the causes of the initial break-away 247 of Biafra. I do not want to try to apportion blame, but the facts which we must face are that a member nation of the Commonwealth is tearing itself apart and that men are perpetrating acts of a degree of inhumanity which has caused universal condemnation.
The debate is primarily concerned with the Government's decision to continue to supply certain arms and military equipment to the Federal forces. Like the hon. Member for Brentford and Chis-wick, I deplore the Government's decision to continue this policy. The situation has changed so substantially since the break-away as to justify an end to this policy.
I have studied carefully Ministerial statements, notably those in another place by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in the short debate at the end of April. He said:If it were two independent Commonwealth countries which were in conflict, then perhaps there might well be a case for not supplying arms to either side; but this was a conflict within an independent Commonwealth country. It was a recognised Government of a Commonwealth country which had depended on us for much of her military equipment … we should create a serious imbalance … if, because a Government was in a degree of civil war we were to deny it the weapons for carrying out its policy.I understand the reasoning for the Government decision, but I do not think that it is right. To my mind, there is something immoral about the Government continuing to supply arms to a fellow Commonwealth Government when they are engaged in a civil conflict of this nature. This is more than just a civil war. Civil wars in terms of horror, if horror can be measured, are almost more appalling than total wars. This has now become a war leading possibly to the extermination of a race.
The Government offer some hope. The Minister, in his speech in another place, went on to say:Nevertheless, there may be a case for cutting off British supplies if it could be demonstrated that this could bring peace closer."— [OFFICIAL REPORT,House of Lords, 29th April, 1968; Vol. 291, cc. 966, 967.]I would argue that it could be demonstrated, and that the Government should be prepared now to attempt to do just this. In the totally changed situation there is no justification for the Govern- 248 ment to continue to supply limited arms, small arms, grenades and mortar equipment, any more than there is justification for other countries, such as Russia, to supply aircraft or France, or any other country, to supply military equipment to the Biafran forces.
The Government may feel that there would be a certain amount of futility in unilateral action, but I believe that they should endeavour to take it. They have a special responsibility in this. The parties are approaching the conference table, and the Government should now be withholding further support in the supply of military equipment. The Government, and all of us in the House, have a particular feeling towards the Federation. This was not only the child of our own creation, it was the very model of British colonial achievement, in which all hon. Members placed a great deal of confidence, and in which rested many of our hopes for the future of that part of the world. It is very tragic to have to witness now the dismemberment of this great enterprise which had been launched with such auspicious beginnings.
We must face the realities of the situation, which are that there is a major and terrible conflict taking place, that British military equipment is assisting in the continuance and the prosecution of this war, and that it is wrong, in my view, that the Government should be a party to this. I hope that they will change their policy.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) opened the debate so admirably that those following him are placed under an obligation to maintain his high level.
This is not the occasion on which to speak about the background of the conflict. We all hope that the damage is not yet so deep and so bitter as to destroy the hope of the recovery of the Federation. As Colonial Secretary in the early 1950s I played a part in the creation of the first Federation, and I have a special interest in it. I do not propose to discuss either the past or the future. It is the present which must concern us now.
In the B.B.C. programme "The World at One" today, Mr. Michael Leatman, 249 of the Sun, who had just returned from Biafra, spoke of the appalling danger of immediate famine. There are thousands of people in the territories surrounding Port Harcourt who are wandering around the countryside, without food or water, and there is the danger of a tragedy which will shock the conscience of the world unless we take action quickly.
I therefore hope that every effort will be made, while the representatives of Biafra and of the Federation are in London, to ensure that the International Red Cross and other agencies, such as Oxfam and War on Want, should have facilities made available to them immediately to supply food, medicines and relief. Otherwise, we shall have on our hands some responsibility for what may be one of the most appalling tragedies of our time.
The immediate objective must be to secure a cease-fire. The war will drift into a guerrilla war, which will become an endless war as people flee into the bush determined to fight for their lives. The Biafrans, as they call themselves, or the Ibcs, as we like to think of them, are confronted with a terrifying choice, either to die in battle or to surrender and, as they fear, to be massacred. We can argue whether there is justification for this belief, but there is no doubt that the Biafrans now believe that this is the choice before them. These are very gifted and courageous people who have made a big contribution to the development of Nigeria in years gone by, and it would be a very poor Nigeria without the gifts and talents of the Ibos to help them in the years ahead.
The first step to be taken, to allay their fear, is to achieve a cease-fire, and I hope that the necessity for this will be pressed in the discussions which are taking place. But the bitterness and the fears have gone so deep that when a cease-fire is achieved it will be imperative to have a peace-keeping force from outside Nigeria to keep the two sides apart during the negotiations which must take place before a final settlement is reached.
I would urge, first, a cease-fire, and, secondly, that consideration should be given to a Commonwealth or United Nations peace-keeping force. All we can do on that is to seek to influence the parties who are here in London and 250 the two Governments out there. If a cease-fire were achieved, without a peacekeeping force, there may be a gap during which no negotiations are taking place, and the bitterness has gone so deep that we might not be able to create the conditions in which talks for peace could take place.
I hope that the negotiations will succeed, but, if they do not, we ought to press strongly for a cease-fire without pre-conditions. So far, there have been offers of a cease-fire with conditions. But, quite frankly, these conditions will not now be acceptable to the Biafrans for the reason that I have given. They believe that that would mean surrender and, if they surrendered, they fear that they would be massacred. It is essential for us to recognise this and to ask the Federal Government to agree now to a cease-fire without pre-conditions and to a peace-keeping force being established at the crucial points in Nigeria, and then to wait for some time before beginning negotiations.
I have very many close friends who are Ibos. My wife and I know many of them, and it has been our privilege to entertain them when they were students here. We do not know where they are, or if they are alive. I implore my right hon. and hon. Friends to work for a cease-fire. If a cease-fire cannot be achieved, it would, in my view, be an intolerable position for the British Government to continue to supply arms which may be used in the massacre of people for whom I have deep affection.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It would appear that the Government do not intend to reply until the end of the debate. Surely it would be in the best interests of the cause being debated if we could have a statement from the Government earlier. It would put the House in full possession of the latest facts, and our debate would be much more to the point. Is there any way in which you could influence a right hon. Gentleman opposite to make an early intervention?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Government will have listened to the hon. Gentleman's advice. It is for the Government to decide when they want to intervene.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)
The occasion of this debate is an enormously sad and distressing one for me. For years, I have had the closest personal ties with Nigeria. I have friends who are fighting on opposing sides in this savage conflict. I have had friends who have been killed as a result of it. Therefore, this debate is of more than a passing emotional interest to me.
My sympathy is engaged not by seeing the cause at many miles' distance. As a friend of Nigeria, I feel personally involved in what has happened and what is happening today. My small knowledge of Nigeria is not based on the handouts of public relations firms, or a reading of the intellectual weeklies. I returned from Nigeria only last Saturday morning. It was my second visit to that country this year. Last year, I was there four times and, the year before, three times. Perhaps I know as well as any outsider what can have happened to that formerly stable and happy country.
In the present situation, I do not feel that we achieve any useful function by using the sort of emotional language which disfigures reasoned analysis and debate, but I have been angered by the lack of balance which, to my mind, has distorted much of the discussion in the Press and on television. Sometimes it seems to have been due to a straightforward ignorance of what is happening and sometimes to a strangely misplaced sympathy for the seeming underdog in the conflict. But it can more often be traced to the machinations of the public relations firms which have been retained by Colonel Ojukwu at fantastic expense to repair, in terms of so-called world opinion, what his rebel armies have lost on the battlefields.
The immediate tactical purpose of the public relations exercise—which, incidentally, is the sort of exercise that hon. Members opposite are the first to denounce when they think that it is operated by a Right-wing regime—is so to stir up sympathy for the Ojukwu regime that the British Government and others will bow to public pressure and stop shipments of arms to the Federal Government. It seems to be reasonable to conclude that, if Colonel Ojukwu had not been so impressed by the success of the exercise, he 252 might not have withdrawn his representative from the Kampala peace talks.
Let us look at the question of arms shipments in a little more detail. It is said that we supply the Federal Government, our Commonwealth colleagues, with 15 per cent. of their total armaments. I believe that these weapons, in the main, are small arms and ammunition and not heavy armaments, Fills or napalm, contrary to what appeared in another of those mischievous leading articles on the matter in the Spectator, which drew completely false analogies with Vietnam.
These weapons have been purchased by the Federal Government of Nigeria quite simply to restore the unity and integrity of the country. They are not being used in a war between two States, but in what amounts to large-scale internal police action and an attempt to restore law and order and harmony.
To develop the point, it is important to stray slightly from the immediate question of arms and to consider what the dispute is about. We know that there have been atrocities, regrettably on both sides, and it would be neither useful nor instructive to swop atrocity stories. But it is worth pointing out that the slaughter of Hausas at the Imo River in 1966, though played down by the Federal Government for fear of retaliation against the Ibos, was reported on Dahomey Radio and led to the massacre on 1st October of that year.
For every well-publicised allegation against the Federal Government of genocide, I have a handful of well-authenticated stories of war crimes committed by Colonel Ojukwu's rebels. I was even a witness to the bombing of the civilian airport at Kaduna by a Biafran B26 last August. The sheaves of Press hand-outs detailing atrocities explain nothing. The fact is that the first blood which was spilt in the conflict was not Ibo or Biafran blood, but that of a world statesman, the late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a man I was proud to call a personal friend.
Sir Abubakar was assassinated along with two regional Premiers, one of whom was the spiritual leader of the Moslems, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, and others who, although they may have had their faults, surely would 253 not be thought by even the most bloodcurdling Biafran public relations man to have deserved assassination in the Ibo-inspired 1966 coup which overthrew the former civilian Government.
The one element which all these murdered leaders had in common was that they were not Ibos, and, clever though the Ibos must be acknowledged to be, they could not reasonably expect to commit such acts without some reaction, some retaliation, and some retribution. However, during the last 10 months or so, we should be clear that the policy of the Federal Government has not been one of retribution against the Ibos with British arms. That is what the Ojukwu rebels would have us believe, except that they would not concede the word "retribution".
I met General Gowon last week, and he convinced me that I was right to hold a number of firm views. The first is that the Federal Government had been forced to purchase arms overseas in order to wage a grim struggle for national survival. It has never been the main purpose of the Federal Government to win a total military victory, but rather to effect a genuine national reconciliation in the concept of their sovereign Nigeria.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
When the hon. Gentleman has already made the point that both sides are massacring each other, does he not equally make the point that we should not join in that process and that the two ought to be kept apart rather than brought together?
§ Mr. Cordle
I will continue what I have to say and then it will be made a little clearer.
I am certain that General Gowon is prepared to continue to use force, if compelled to do so, to preserve the unity and integrity of Nigeria. He considers that to be his duty, so even if we stop the shipment of arms to Nigeria he will obtain arms just as he did at the outset and as he did when the Ojukwu forces were within striking distance of Lagos.
The fact that the Federal Government have not turned lightly to arms has been well borne in mind. We should encourage every effort by Mr. Arnold Smith, by Her Majesty's Government and others to end this beastly war, but it is clear that by banning the sale of arms to the Federal Government we will not stop the 254 war but, rather, will prolong it. The Federal Government will continue to purchase arms elsewhere whatever the difficulties. By impeding their attempts to restore order we will only encourage Ojukwu to continue to shun the conference table and a negotiated settlement and to continue his own purchase of arms, some of which have almost certainly been bought with the £10 million given him by the Federal Government to settle Ibo refugees in the East.
A case against continuing these small arms shipments to the legal and lawful Government seems to be based on the naive assumption that if General Gowon is denied munitions the Biafran rebels will lay down their arms. The case for maintaining shipments, which comprise only 15 per cent. of the total Federal Government supplies, is clear-cut.
First, we have the argument, put forward by the Foreign Secretary, that to stop the sale of arms would be taken as recognition of the Ojukwu régime and that we would forfeit what influence we still have in Lagos to strive for a peaceful settlement. After I saw General Gowon I said that we should give the strongest possible physical, moral and financial support and assistance to the Federal Government—that is the legal Government acknowledged by Britain—to bring to an immediate end a war which has already consumed countless lives, including many of my friends and, much less important, is estimated to have cost about £150 million.
I do not say this lightly. I believe that it provides the best road to peace, the greatest contribution we could make to the resolving of the conflict. I do not think that this would result in escalation. The promise of support to the legal Government could well be sufficient to end the war, despite the mistaken opinion in some quarters that Britain is a toothless bulldog.
To back down at this stage would be not only to concede to the rebels who prolong the war, but also to concede to the notion that hired public relations firms can order, control and dictate events in the international community.
I conclude by stating an offer made to me by General Gowon. He told me that he would welcome to Nigeria an all-party Parliamentary delegation, and, further, that he was prepared to invite at 255 his own expense editors of British newspapers to go to Nigeria and get an accurate picture of the situation. Those are not the words of a man who has doubts about the legality of his cause, and I therefore hope the Government will not yield to pressure and stop arms to the Federal legal military Government.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
Most hon. Members on both sides would deplore the speech that has just been made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle). Most of us who were prepared in the first instance to treat this debate in a non-partisan way will no longer be prepared to do so.
I should like to correct the hon. Member on a number of matters concerning what has happened in Nigeria. The first thing to be remembered is that what has been happening during the past year in that country is a continuation of something that has been going on for 150 years —that is to say, the conquest of the non-Muslim peoples in West and Central Africa by the militant Muslim movement which started in the early part of the 19th century by Othmar Van Fodio, who was barely arrested when the British came.
Successive British Governments tolerated the build-up of Muslim forces and did nothing to ensure that when we handed over the country to an independent Government that Government was a properly balanced one. The previous Government, and, in particular, Lord Boyd of Merton, Colonial Secretary at the time, bears a heavy responsibility for what has happened.
I have a copy of the minority Report of 1958, just before Nigeria's independence, by a former distinguished Member of this House, Mr. Henry Willink, and a former Deputy Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Gordon Hadow. It consists largely of an exercise of justification as to why they should not hive off a middle belt from the Northern Region of Nigeria and not do anything to adjust the boundaries of the Northern Muslim-dominated region, notwithstanding the fact that nearly one-third of the peoples of Northern Nigeria were not Muslims and were apprehensive of the kind of treatment they would receive after our departure— 256 which the unfortunate Ibos are now receiving.
Of course, we could not safeguard against a country tearing up its Constitution in the way Nkrumah did in Ghana, but the least that could have been done was to ensure that the Federation would not be the lopsided thing it is. The population of Northern Nigeria far exceeds that of the other three regions combined, and in area it is enormous. It is like having a Federation of the United States consisting of Texas, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire.
The effect of permitting the Mid-West Region to be created was to alter the traditional regional boundaries and to weaken still further the peoples in the South, not only the Ibos but the Yorubas as well. Because of their proximity to Lagos they have been less able to do anything about it. As a result, we bear a heavy responsibility for what has happened in the succeeding years. Nobody living in West Africa at that time had any illusions that something of this kind would not happen sooner or later.
I think that I can understand the Government's reticence in this matter, and their reluctance hitherto to say very much. One knows how quickly the Governments of newly-emergent nations can change and how easy it is to give offence, and no country is more open to give offence than the ex-colonial Power. If I may tell a story against myself, I put down a Parliamentary Question last year mildly critical of the Ibos in Biafra, and it caused riots and trouble in Port Harcourt for which I was rightly taken to task by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who had been out there and said that I did not realise the damage that this sort of thing could do.
We cannot claim, as a result of abstaining from saying anything, to have done anything to moderate this horrible war. It is no good saying we would lose such influence as we have with the Federal Government in relation to this war. We have no influence on it. Everybody knows that there have been the most horrible massacres and that it is the avowed intention of a good many people in the present Federal Government to obliterate the Biafrans. One can draw a fair analogy with what has been happening in the Sudan, where a genocidal war has been waged for a number of years. That is 257 the proper analogy, not the analogy with Vietnam which the hon. Member made.
If we now withdrew our support from the Federal Government we would undoubtedly cause offence, but we could be certain that we would be doing something to help the Biafrans to stay in existence long enough for proper negotiations to take place. It is true, of course, that this is not a war between fellow sovereign States. Things would be easier if it were. Even these days it is not often the intention of one sovereign State completely to wipe out another.
The great danger in this situation is that, because Biafra is not a sovereign State—or is not recognised by more than a few other peoples to be such a State— the rest of Nigeria will consider it quite reasonable not to negotiate at all, and perhaps to conclude that if they carry on in the present way for long enough they will destroy Biafra completely, so that there will be nobody with whom to conduct any negotiations.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
Would my hon. Friend explain how 50,000 Ibos are at present in Lagos working peacefully and collaborating with the Government of the Federal Party?
§ Mr. Lee
I do not know whether that gives my hon. Friend much comfort. If he really believes that what has happened elsewhere gives one reason to believe that these people will go on being treated in the same way, this is being just about as naive as those who pointed out, before the Second World War, that some Jews were in Germany going about their business undisturbed while others were being put into concentration camps. I do not share my hon. Friend's optimism in this matter.
I appreciate that other people may step in and try to supply arms, but if we stop supplying arms we will be in a better position to apply diplomatic pressure on others to ensure that they follow our example, and perhaps we will be in a better position morally to give the kind of lead which certain members of the Commonwealth are looking to us to give as proper mediators.
"As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) said, it is no good trying to be a media- 258 tor, on the one hand, and a supplier of arms, on the other. I earnestly beg my right hon. Friend to give a more positive answer at the end of this debate than the answers we have been given so far. I am bound to tell him that if we do not receive a positive reply some of us may be minded to divide the House.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I rather regret having to speak following the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee), because I did not want to be led along the path of party differences in this matter. I have always believed that the House of Commons is at its best when discussing a topic of this sort, an issue which causes genuine concern to all hon. Members and about which there has been little or no party political strife in the House.
I share the hon. Gentleman's view of the speech of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle), who, I know, has close contacts with Nigeria. It might have been fairer had he pointed out that, among those contacts, he has close business interests in Lagos which are bound to make him something less than an impartial observer of the scene.
When we place the right hon. Gentleman's speech in that context we see that it is a valuable contribution from that point of view, but he was entirely wrong to attempt to suggest that the rest of us, whatever our political affiliations, are here simply because we have been brainwashed by public relations firms. That is certainly not the position.
We begin with one basic difficulty. It is that Her Majesty's Government went wrong initially in this dispute in accepting that what was a colonial administrative convenience in the creation of the Federation of Nigeria must necessarily be the right and permanent solution for the country after independence. My feeling is that this was never really accepted by the Nigerian politicians.
Indeed, I have with me a quotation from a speech made by the late Sir Abubakar Balewa, in 1947, in a Legislative Council debate in which he said:Since the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country only on paper. It is still far from being united …".259 It was against that background that perhaps Her Majesty's Government should have more closely borne in mind the threat of cessation and the difficulties, which first seriously emerged last year, between the regions.
I hope that Nigeria will be able to get back to the position when it will be able to operate within some sort of Federal structure, but the basis for operating such a structure must be the recognition that each region desires to participate in such a structure. It may be a much looser federation working within something like the East African Common Services Organisation. Perhaps that is the type of set-up that is required.
I do not accept any of the theories put forward about the one thing that is absolutely essential being the maintenance of the total, 100 per cent. integrity of Nigeria, regardless of the wishes of the people of Nigeria. The really critical period in the dispute, and the point at which Her Majesty's Government went slightly astray in their policy, was the two months from March to May, 1967, shortly after the military coup, when the Eastern Region was faced with the problem of 2 million refugees following the Ibo massacres. The Eastern Government, after a great deal of squabble and dispute with the Federal Government, decided to block the revenues which were due to the Federal Government. The Federal Government then declared a blockade on the Eastern Region, following which we had the declaration of independence by the State of Biafra.
Those were, therefore, the two critical months and at that time several hon. Members were concerned at the deteriorating relations between the Federal Government and the Eastern Region. Several of us appreciated that if this was allowed to go on, civil war was inevitable. I recall that at one stage in our discussions with Ministers about this issue there was a proposal that a small all-party delegation from this House might visit Enugu and Lagos and talk to both sides there in an effort to stave off such a breakdown in relations.
The House should know that we were dissuaded from going by Her Majesty's Government. As one of the hon. Members involved, I now regret that we 260 accepted this dissuasion. In our self-defence, it is fair to point out that we naturally assumed that the Government had superior knowledge of the situation. We accepted their view that the situation was delicate and that the matter was under constant review. We accepted their advice that it would be better if we did not go. I now believe that we were wrong and that the Government misjudged the situation during that critical two-month period.
I do not know the reasons for that misjudgment. When the history of this episode comes to be written, I believe that this will be one of the most important features of it. I do not know whether it was our different commercial interests in different parts of Nigeria. I hope that it was not. I do not know whether the advice which the Government were receiving from their officials in Enugu was being ignored by the office in London or was being overturned by the High Commission in Lagos. Whatever the reasons, that period before the war started, before public interest in this country was aroused, was the crucial time and is at the root of the difficulties from the point of view of Her Majesty's Government.
Inevitably, as we saw, civil war broke out, and the Government were wrong to start to increase shipments of arms to the Federal Government. It was based on a wrong appreciation of the situation in Nigeria at an earlier stage. They were wrong and, in a sense, they knew they were wrong because the operation was carried out in a hush-hush manner, with planes taking off in the dead of night— and the whole thing came to light only when they were found to be refuelling in Cyprus and elsewhere.
When representations were made by hon. Members individually and by groups of hon. Members to the Government, and even later, when Questions were asked, we did not receive satisfactory replies. In March I asked the then Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs:The hon. Gentleman has used the phrase the supply of traditional arms'. Does 'traditional ' apply to the quantity of the arms as well as to their quality?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 215.]We have never really had a straight answer to that question. I refuse to believe that all that has happened in the 261 past year is that the Government have continued to supply roughly the same scale, quantity and type of arms which they had been supplying since independence in 1960. I regret that we are not in the House of Commons in a position to demand more information about the supply of arms.
I accept that General Gowon did not intend that there should be massacres of the Ibo people, but there is ample evidence that the war got out of hand. One does not need to turn to exaggerated accounts by public relations firms about what has been, and is, going on in different parts of the country to learn about the situation. I prefer to consider, for example, an account by the Rev. David Craig, a Canadian missionary, following an incident in which he was involved:A group of Efik people (the local inhabitants) brought two young men in civilian dress to the soldiers. The young lads looked like secondary school students. With the Northern soldiers was an Efik-speaking soldier. It was his duty to question prisoners in the Efik language. His job was to see if any spoke Efik with an Ibo accent. These two young lads did. The soldiers took aim and they were shot on the spot. I made my way back to the house.After this incident he boarded a small coaster used for transport and he says:On board, I met a number of army and naval officers. Thev were interested in my experience but seemed not to share my views about the shooting of prisoners. I referred to the Geneva Convention and one laughed and said, ' They gave us a copy before we left, but I ripped up mine—never read it.' Another had burned his.That is an account not from a public relations firm, but from a credible missionary on the spot who has no interest in distorting the facts. The Government should have taken at an earlier stage some initiative to try to get peace talks going and, as a prerequisite, should have ceased to supply arms to Nigeria and perhaps have taken the initiative among other Governments in trying to get a wholesale ban on the supply of arms to Nigeria, since I accept the argument that a gesture on our part would not in itself have been wholly effective.
In the statement which the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary made to the House yesterday he seemed to imply that the Government were taking the opportunity to talk to Sir Louis Mbanefo because he happened to be in 262 London and that this was a useful time to talk to him. That is not, of course, the entire picture. Sir Louis was in London almost a year ago and he came and spoke to a group of Members in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs. He gave us an account of the situation as he saw it, from the Biafran side. He was here not as a politician or a military man, but as a distinguished Judge of the International Court. Some of us tried to arrange for him to be seen by Her Majesty's Ministers, if not officially, at the Commonwealth Office, at least privately and informally. No one would talk to him or see him and this attitude prevailed right up to yesterday.
I hope that the statement we had yesterday marks a change of policy and that following this change of policy the Government will listen to the demands made throughout the country for the cessation of the supply of arms. Among many people who have been to see me or have written to me, particularly Church of Scotland personnel, who were widespread in that region in the Church of Scotland missions, Doctor Clyne Shepherd, who has now returned to Biafra and is working there, wrote to me the other day. He said:Something like one-third of the population are now displaced persons…. About 95 per cent. of the children we deal with are suffering from protein and vitamin deficiency conditions. Many people do not see solid food for days, and deaths are rising alarmingly.I do not believe that it is up to individual Members of the House to try to put forward glib solutions to what is a really difficult problem; but we do ask, and this would surely be the role of the House in using our procedure under Standing Order 9, that, following this debate, the Government will take account of our representations and make a thorough change in the policy which they have followed so mistakenly over the last two years.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I would like to echo the last few words of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). In the war in Nigeria atrocities are being sufferel by both sides, but even more devastating is the famine which is following in the wake of the war and affecting hundreds 263 of thousands of men, women and children. The Sun this morning carried some photographs which most effectively brought home the results of this famine. These children may have black skins, but it hurts their parents as much as it would hurt us to see our children suffering in this way. The fighting in Nigeria may be thousands of miles away, but our Government have great influence in this sphere. And not only great influence. They are deeply involved, because so long as we are sending arms we are partly responsible for the bloodshed.
We are supplying 25 per cent. of the Federal Government's arms. This figure was given to me from an indisputable source. It is 25 per cent. and not 15 per cent., as has been said in some quarters. Even if it were only 1 per cent., it would be 1 per cent. too much for me. British Ferret vehicles are the main instrument of dscimation. The whole traffic in arms is, as it has always been, an encouragement to war.
But my main point today is not to press for a unilateral stopping of arms supplies, even though I personally believe that this would be the best way to influence the four other countries who are mainly involved. My main object is to press Her Majesty's Government to get a collective arms ban, to take the initiative in approaching the other Governments to stop exports of arms, whether from Government or private sources.
There are powerful reasons for taking this course. First, it would end the mass slaughter which these modern weapons bring about. Secondly, it would put Pritain in a position where she could be respected by both sides as a mediator— which is clearly impossible when she is arming the Federal Government. Thirdly, there are grounds for believing that if we took this lead the Russians, in particular, who are doing just the same as we are, would agree to stop their arms supplies, too, as Czechoslovakia and Holland have already done.
When I put a question on this to the Foreign Secretary at Question Time yesterday he replied that this might be done if itwould be agreeable to both sides".— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1968; Vol. 766, c. 37.]264 But the right hon. Gentleman knew very well that the Federal side would be unwilling to agree to a suspension of the arms traffic which gives it an overwhelming advantage. In other words, it would have to be done by the main suppliers of arms, whether or not it was welcomed with enthusiasm by either of the contending parties.
A fortnight ago I led an all-party deputation of Members of Parliament to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, a man for whom I have great respect, a man of compassion and understanding with long experience in African matters. I wish that he could be here today, but we understand that a previous engagement made it impossible. His arguments on that occasion were so weak, so thin and so unconvincing that I left that interview with the view that he did not believe them himself and that he was rationalising to cover up for a policy decided earlier by the Government.
I do not like to say what I am about to allege. I am deeply suspicious that there is a most unworthy motive for our continuing to sell arms to the Federal Government and for our refusal to work for a collective ban. If I am wrong —and I only hope that I am—then I ask the Foreign Secretary immediately and categorically to deny that there is any truth in what I am saying. It is the suspicion that Her Majesty's Government believe that the Federal Government will win and that, as a result, they would be in a position to place big commercial orders in due course.
It is feared that if at any time Her Majesty's Government offended the Federal Government they might lose the chance of these orders—even if it is doing the wrong thing. It is also keeping in with the Federal Government because of British property interests in Nigeria. But humanity must come first, even before orders and property interests.
Oxfam would like it to be known that it is having great difficulty in getting desperately needed food supplies into Nigeria, especially into the area of fighting where starvation is rife. Only a little can be flown in, and at great cost. It urgently needs sea passage preferably through Port Harcourt. On humanitarian grounds alone, could not the British Government press for this free passage?
265 Lastly, I would make a comment on the British High Commissioner in Lagos. It would be unfair for a Member of Parliament to criticise a civil servant in this House, so I shall not do so. Instead, I shall lay the blame on the Foreign Secretary for allowing things to happen that should not have happened. I remind the House that, during the Crimean War, Lord Cardigan did not travel to the theatre of battle with his troops. He went on an extended cruise with his mistress, calling in at several ports on the Mediterranean on the way.
The British High Commissioner in Lagos has had two months' leave at this time, I understand, enjoying a holiday to which he is entitled. With his wife he spent a fortnight of his leave voyaging back to Nigeria by sea a few days ago. In my view, the Foreign Secretary should have told him in no uncertain manner to jump on the first plane to get back to his scene of duty.
§ Mr. John Lee
Is it not also true that the High Commissioner is married to a member of the Leventis family and very much tied up with the Federal Government?
§ Mr. Allaun
I do not want to enter into that, but I think that the Foreign Secretary has been rather lacking in this matter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) has put forward important suggestions for a solution of the problem. A very broad and important committee, of which Lord Brockway is a prominent member, has put forward four points for a solution which I have not time to go into now. The main and first point is that of a cease-fire.
Many hon. Members feel that the present policy of our Government in this matter is wrong and is prolonging and increasing the bloodshed. The purpose of this debate is to press the Government to change their policy. We will listen carefully to the Foreign Secretary's speech to hear whether there has been any effect of the speeches made from both sides of the House, any effect from the movement outside the House— whether there has been an effect in the direction for which we have asked. If not, I should like to back my words with 266 my vote. That will largely depend on the reply by the Foreign Secretary.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody (Falmouth and Camborne)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask your advice. A series of documents have been circulated in the last 15 minutes to, I believe, every hon. Member in the Chamber.
§ Dr. Dunwoody
To nearly every hon. Member. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) will have his copy coming along soon.
There are two documents putting forward the Federal Government's views on some aspects of the subject we are discussing. One is a statement on Red Cross relief supplies and the other is a copy of an address by the Commissioner for External Affairs in Lagos on Monday last.
Is it normal practice, during a debate on a subject like this, for this sort of material to be circulated in the Chamber? I ask this because my envelope was posted outside the House. It has an outside postmark and was addressed to another hon. Member whose name has been crossed out and mine has been written in in pencil. There is no Speaker's stamp or anything of that sort on the envelope. Is this normal practice? Would you inquire how this situation has arisen?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)
I think that the practice to which the hon. Member has drawn my attention is certainly unusual. I do not think that it is normal practice. I understand the practice and custom of the House is that anybody who wishes to pass communications to hon. Members is entitled to do so. Normally, they are delivered in the Lobby. There are occasions when communications addressed to hon. Members are marked "Urgent". In those cases, I understand that it is the custom for the messengers to try to find the hon. Member to whom the communication is addressed as a matter of urgency, the consideration for that being that it might be something which the hon. Member urgently desires.
I do not think that I have any power to stop the practice. If hon. Members 267 receive these communications they can deal with them as they please, or they may ignore them. The hon. Member has drawn attention to the matter, but I do not think that I have any power to interfere.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
Further to that point of order. Although these documents are marked "Urgent" they were addressed to other hon. Members. It is quite evident that someone has observed who has been present in the Chamber during this debate and subsequently altered the names, addressing the documents to those hon. Members who are in the Chamber. Therefore, this could not be urgent in the sense you meant, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask that this matter should be investigated.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I shall certainly have the matter investigated. It seems that there is someone attempting to put into the hands of hon. Members in the Chamber documents which they consider urgent. Whether they are urgent or of any importance, I do not know. I have just been given one, but I have not had an opportunity of considering it. Every hon. Member is entitled to consider for himself whether they are urgent or relevant. Some hon. Members may wish to read them, but I have no power to deal with them.
Mr. Charles Paunell (Leeds, West)
Further to that point of order. We surely should not spend much time on this. It cannot be improper to receive documents from either side. A great many hon. Members have never been to Nigeria. They have been to the Library to find out about it and are relying on hon. Members with greater knowledge. This is an emergency debate of which notice was given only yesterday and we have been furnished with documents. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am sorry. This is a point of order. What is at stake here is how the machinery of the Letter Board has been used, not the documents themselves. I have had a document handed to me from the board, but it has not my name on it. I wonder whether people are making too free use of the board, I do not think that we should complain about the subject matter in the documents.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
Further to that point of order. Surely this is a more serious matter than has been suggested up to the moment. Obviously, these documents have come through the Members' Post Office. What right have I to the post of another hon. Member? Who has altered the name and readdressed the document to me?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I shall certainly have the matter investigated, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), as I do not think that any useful purpose would be served by pursuing the matter further at this stage.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Not all of us on this side of the House stood yesterday to support the Motion for a debate today for fear that our words might be taken out of context. However, if the careful choice of phrase about a free and independent member of the Commonwealth can produce some pressure for common sense to prevail we shall be grateful to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes). I should have added a cease-fire to common sense.
As I do not often find myself in agreement on any subject with the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), I should like to put on record that as long ago as last August I had a passage of letters in the public Press with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) about the necessity of an embargo on arms from all countries, wherever they may be.
I remember that even before I knew a bit about Nigeria—and I have known Nigeria fairly well for 16 years and should declare an interest, being a director of a company with considerable trading interests there—I heard people argue that those in the North would never accept the Ibo people and that once independence came there would be civil war, particularly because of the dominance of one region.
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. John Lee) is a comparatively new Member, and does not remember the number of us on this side of the House who, when talking about the Federation before independence, argued that it would never 269 really succeed because of the dominance of the North and because there were only three regions. I suspect that if some of us had had our way not only would the civil war not have taken place, but the South Cameroons might still be in the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Tilney
I only wish that we had had our way and that my hon. Friends had prevailed, particularly on the Treasury, which always said that Nigeria could not afford more than three regions. Now it is suffering because of what has happened to the Federation.
It is no use spending much time over the past, but the moment I heard about the coup in January, 1966, when a very old friend of mine, the Sardauna of Sokoto and another friend, Sir Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, were brutally murdered and, unfortunately, from the historical point of view, the Premier of the Eastern Region survived, I remember saying to my wife that I should hate to be an Ibo in the Gabon Gari, in Kano, that night. I was wrong, for it was not for another six months that they suffered massacre.
Soon after I went to Nigeria and met Dr. Dike, whom many of us know well, a very eminent Vice-Chancellor of the Ibadan University. He had just returned from America laden with dollars he had collected for Nigeria and the university. I remember talking to Francis Nwokede, a very eminent civil servant and another Ibo, but I could convince neither of them that Britain did not still want to divide and rule. I did my best to convince them that our major interest was unity and peace in Nigeria.
I went on to see Colonel Ojukwu. At that time, although he appeared almost like a monarch, he still preached the unity of his country. But the killings then— I am talking about the summer of 1966 —were only just beginning. We had an Ibo driver who was sent up with some spare parts from Kaduna to Kano and he never got further than Zaria, where he was bumped on the head. I do not know whether he survived hospital treatment, but within half a mile of where I was staying there were one or two murders that night.
A northern Minister told me, "They have taken the sword. Heaven knows 270 when it will be sheathed." It was a few months before the major massacres in the North. Whether 10,000, 20,000, or 30,000 were killed, it was a horror both for Nigeria and for the world. But despite all that provocation I believe that it was wrong for Ojukwu to secede. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) spoke of how he was invited by Ojukwu, as I was, to go out there a few weeks before secession took place. We were advised not only by the Commonwealth Office, but by many others, with the exception of an eminent shipowner, whose advice I wish that I had taken, not to go. Therefore, one advised one's hon. Friends as well. We shall never know whether, if we had gone, we should have been used as political propaganda, or whether it is just possible that our advice would have been accepted.
The result of the secession has been, in the words of President Houphouet-Boigny, of the Ivory Coast, that more people have been killed in 10 months of the Biafran war than during the past three years in Vietnam. Yet until a few weeks ago there was very little in the Press about it. How many protest marches have there been in this country?
To argue today that the Biafran Government are more popular in their country than a military Government who came to power after two coups, to debate the sanctity of 19th century frontiers, or the knowledge that if African States fragment into mini Balkans it would be to the detriment of all, or even to question Her Majesty's Government's policy of supplying arms to a recognised Commonwealth Government, or to get together with other nations to impose an embargo, is, I believe, almost shadow-boxing. The decision between anarchy and common sense will be taken within the next few days, long before more arms can be shipped and even longer before all arms shipments can be stopped.
For once, we have a twelfth-hour chance. Kampala looked to be the only chance, but now we have it again behind the scenes in London. Therefore, let us concentrate on the present and the future and do not let us haggle over who was right or wrong in the past.
The present position is that Biafra as a military presence is much enfeebled. She made one massive bid for real power 271 and was defeated at Ore, particularly because the Western Region then remained loyal to the Federation. But Biafra can be a strong danger to Nigerian prosperity for years. Countries that have helped her with arms, ammunition and money for their own selfish ends —and we know one or two—will do exactly the same for underground resistance movements, and they already visualise a kind of Biafran Vietcong. Therefore, unless we can get agreement prosperity may take a long time to return to Nigeria.
Anyway, whatever we do now over arms will not be binding on other countries. We may salve our consciences, but save very few lives. Yet it is a major British interest to stop this war for moral, cultural and materialistic reasons. Our interests converge for our mutual benefit and in the cause of peace.
The Ibos today face starvation. They have already faced massive unemployment. I only wish that their military prowess had been as good as their public relations. They are a hard-working imaginative race. They were already over-populated in the Eastern Region. They are now thrutched up in their own east-central State ripe for decimation by disease and the effects of war whatever the Federal Government now do. I say to them and to Colonel Ojukwu, "Surely, to be alive and productive in partnership is better than being independent and dead?". Paris was worth a mass to Henry of Navarre. Surely the survival of these people is worth a Federal or Confederal partnership to Colonel Ojukwu? I would much rather see help—medical supplies, nurses, and all means of rehabilitation—going to both sides rather than arms.
In all this, we in this country have a role because we are a considerable aid power. By civil war, Nigeria has thrown away so much of what she had been given in the past—and she got more per head than almost any other developing country. But let the rich Western nations forget that, and give more for rehabilitation. Let us take the lead in such a mission of mercy.
General Gowon, even though militarily victorious, can have no doubt about the fears of the Ibos and their feeling, as the 272 right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) pointed out, that, if they are to be massacred anyhow, they might as well go on fighting. General Gowon might well say, "Come and look at the Ibos and how they are treated in Lagos and at what we have offered to them in Enugu and elsewhere." But it is not truth that matters in the immediate future but what is thought to be the truth.
Enugu and Onitsha remain ghost towns. The Ibos have left their villages and "gone bush". Many will die there, but those that survive will carry hatred of their overlords from one generation to another, and this will bode ill for the ultimate unity of Nigeria. We who misgoverned Ireland, and, therefore, have had great difficulty over the centuries about the unity of these islands, should know.
Could not General Gowon carve his way to fame by saying, "We regard the Ibos as full Nigerian citizens. I have split the North so that there is no need to fear that colossus any more. So that both sides need not fear a build-up of arms I am prepared to accept a Commonwealth peace-keeping force on Nigerian soil, to be stationed roughly along the cease-fire line and to check for newly supplied arms at all likely points of entry."? Such a force would only consist of four battalions or so and would, therefore, be a threat to none. The rain forest may not be ideal as a training ground and compare ill with Sinai or Cyprus, but by not forcing Federal troops to garrison Ibo territory and by using a Commonwealth force, as an agent of Lagos I believe that General Gowon would find a special place in the history books.
But I doubt whether such a force could be temporary. If the Ibos are prepared now to lay down their arms, they must be sure of their survival and it will not be easy to make them surrender even with the prospect of a Commonwealth peacekeeping force there. We all know how many words and treaties have been disregarded by man in our lifetime. Many of us who have witnessed what Europeans have done to each other have no right to say that Africans are any worse or that they are any better either.
The office of Secretary-General of the Commonwealth—and I want to pay tribute to him for his hard work behind the scenes and for his imagination—was brought into being at the suggestion of 273 the African members of the Commonwealth. Having to organise such a peacekeeping force might consolidate that office if not increase its power. I believe that until an individually directly recruited force is brought into being, contingents from Commonwealth countries—and I hope that Britain would be one—would be accepted. General Gowon should be able, if need be, to refuse any particular national contingent.
But those countries supplying such contingents should not withdraw them except after very considerable notice. We do not want the same thing happening in Nigeria as happened with the United Nations force in the Congo. Ultimately, I hope that the national forces would give way to an integrated multi-racial, multicoloured corps d'élite, but that is for the future. The job for the Foreign Secretary now is to get a Commonwealth force on the ground. It would be paid for by the restoration of confidence and the re-expansion of trade, so let the maximum British pressure be used to that end.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) who made a moving speech. No one on the benches opposite knows so intimately the territory of Nigeria.
We have a very confused picture of the war situation. No one in Nigeria can be objective about it and no one appears to be. Many of us have old friends on both sides of the battle and all we can do is stand aside at a distance as calmly as we can and think what best can be done. We should be thinking not of what is best for Britain but of what is best for the Nigerian people.
It has been said that we should not drag in the past but I believe the conditions in Nigeria need some examination. This is a very complex situation. I have a daughter out there working for the Lagos Government. She has told me in intimate and graphic detail of some of the massacres of 1966 and they are horrifying. There is no doubt that the Ibos have had a terrible time and it is obvious that there was political inspiration behind all this slaughter. But, of course, when this sort of thing occurs, whether it be in Chicago or in Paris or in Nigeria, hooligans and villains move in with looting of property and the butchering of people.
274 The Ibos are not a usual type of African. They have in many ways the attributes of the Jews and the Lebanese. Their chief export is men and they have gone all over Nigeria. They have not been popular in the past. It is not just a simple issue of the attitude of the Moslems of the North. There is more to it than that.
I was in Nigeria a year or two ago trying to organise African workers in municipal Government. We could form trade unions in the south with the Ibos and other tribes. They could organise on British lines and have a T.U.C. in Lagos. But it was a different matter in the North. There, the Ibos were ostracised as union organisers and, among the Hausas—the elite—there were the house and staff associations. The Ibos were not living quite in ghettoes but they were physically ostracised and lived without the city walls, in the Sabon Gari.
So the history of the North and the South in Nigeria is complex. This was not so in the mid-West—or in Lagos and Ibadan. This is why I intervened earlier to ask why in the mid-West and in Lagos there are tens of thousands of Ibos mixing with Westerners and Northerners and working together with them trying to build up one Nigeria to a better set-up than they had previously.
The Lagos Government are a fellow Government in the Commonwealth. They came to power by military coup. But we recognise such Governments constitutionally. No one denies that the Ghana Government are a fellow Government of the Commonwealth and entitled to have help in any difficulty, internally or externally.
The Government in Lagos—let us make no bones about this—are facing a secessionist movement by any judgment. I do not think Colonel Ojukwu should have seceded. I will be quite open and honest about this. The Ibos belong to Nigeria, I believe in one Nigeria, and I think that he made a mistake in seceding in this way.
I have listened both in this House and outside to spokesmen for both sides. Outside the House we have had some first-class public relations officers for the Ibos. They have mounted a massive campaign; they have been efficient; and the image in the minds of many of my colleagues both inside and outside the 275 House is of a Biafra which is facing total extermination. That image has been built up by speeches, efficient speeches, inspired speeches, impassioned speeches by leaders in Eastern Nigeria, Iboland. They have had an effective machine outside. But we have listened in this Chamber today to some very efficient exercises on the other side too—by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle). I do not blame him for doing this. The balance has been slightly adjusted.
I have listened to both sides, to the former Chief Justice Mbanefo, and to the former Federal High Commissioner, Chief Toye Coker, who was with us at the beginning of independence. I certainly believe that General Gowon and Lagos are willing to give concessions to keep Iboland, or Biafra, call it what we may—indeed, the East Central Province—within the Mother State of Nigeria; and I think we ought to attempt to do this and not take sides, as apparently some people do, quite rightly, in this terribly sad tragedy for literally millions of people in Nigeria.
I want to be as calm about this as I possibly can, and I am faced with the conclusion that Biafra will make no concessions at all. Let us look at it as clearly as we can, for the former Chief Justice Mbanefo left the Kampala talks. I would be the first in this Chamber to attack Colonel Hassan or any other fanatical Moslem leader out of Kano who goes into the mid-West and loses control of his battalion or company so that they commit atrocities. This has happened, I know, in the field. There are battalion and company commanders who have lost effective control of their men. There can be no doubt about it whatever. They are not conscripts in the Nigerian Army, but are volunteers, and, perhaps, this sometimes makes it even worse.
I put this to the former High Commissioner, Chief Coker. He says, "They are not all of this calibre, and General Gowon has not lost liaison and not lost touch with his commanders in the field". He will go on to say, indeed, that many of the Nigerian Army are genuine Nigerian men—that is, they are men who do not take sides with the Hausa Moslems against the Christian leaders of the south, but are Tivs and Middle 276 Belt men, who are attempting to build up one Nigeria; one State. But there is no doubt whatever that there is a sad lack of discipline, and there are things happening in the field which in other theatres of war would not be tolerated for a moment, at least where we the British had any influence at all. The Ibo people have experienced bloody behaviour on the part of the Hausa Muslims. We are faced with the position that Colonel Ojukwu, the leader of the Ibos, is convinced that his people have no hope of survival and that they must fight to the bitter end. They are now fleeing into the bush.
I am a little perplexed at the position taken at the moment by Zambia and by Tanzania in their recognition of Biafra. We have not recognised Biafra. Why are they doing this? Why are they supporting Ojukwu? It is very significant for us in this Chamber this afternoon. Formerly, no African leader would ever dare openly to support any secessionist movement, any claim to a territory which was left to the independent nationalist State at the time when the imperial Power left: because once that starts and secession is allowed and accepted, and boundaries are changed; the whole of Africa is on the move, on the slide. Indeed, Kenneth Kaunda, whom many of us claim as a personal friend, two years ago was making speeches saying, "No one shall secede in Zambia, and if secession starts I will put it down". Now we are in the position that African leaders, whom we all support, are now accepting secession by Eastern Nigeria; by the Ibos of Biafra. Why is this? I suggest that the reason is that they have now come to accept, as Africans who know their own continent, that there are certain problems one cannot solve by war. If millions of Ibos will take to the bush and fight on and on to save themselves from extermination, African leaders like Kenneth Kaunda deem the lesser of two evils to be the political recognition of those people. Indeed, they would have us in this Parliament also move towards that position.
I have not moved that distance yet, and I am hoping that the talks now in London will be fruitful. We must do our best to get the two sides together, whatever Colonel Ojukwo may say in his beleaguered territory to lift up the morale 277 of his own people. The position is not quite so simple as is sometimes stated, with a head-on collision likely between 10 million or 12 million Ibos facing the north and the west.
In the same way as we are lobbied by the Ibo peoples about their difficulties and the dreadful massacres by the Federal forces, in the same way one is lobbied by minorities in the twelfth State, the Rivers State. These are the peoples of Calabar, Ijawes, Efiks and others right down in the south near Port Harcourt, who are now claiming that they wish to be out of Biafra if Biafra becomes a sovereign State in the future. So it is a very difficult and complex position indeed. I have much sympathy with these people who lobby me against Eastern Nigeria, in the same way as I have sympathy with Ibo people who lobby me against the Lagos Government, and protest against the bloody behaviour of the Hausa Moslem soldiers in the field. We are all aghast at the continuing slaughter which is going on of tens of thousands. I am even more aghast at the fact that there are millions who are; starving, suffering malnutrition of the worst kind, leading to the disease of kwashikor as they live on starchy foods in the bush in Eastern Nigeria. It is a terrible future to contemplate.
No white man can tell an African what the solution must be. All I hope is that my Government will do their very best to bring together the two men now in London negotiating, and I hope that in some way we can bridge the gap. I firmly believe there should be a moratorium on arms. Some of us have asked for this for some time—that we should have a moratorium while the peace talks are going on. If our Government cannot say they will stop it completely, I think they should at least allow the two leaders, Mbanefo and Enahoro, to have a climate of opinion here during a moratorium to allow them at least to think more calmly, and to come together for the future of Nigeria.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) for having set such a sober tone to the debate and having kept his speech short so that others may take part.
278 I cannot claim the special knowledge of many hon. Members who have spoken. The last time I spoke on Nigeria was in connection with Enahoro and deciding what should happen about his legal position. On that occasion I took a line not altogether in complete tune with that of my party. It seems that just as in that case there was a strong matter of principle involved, so today there is a very important principle that has had all too little attention paid to it in the course of the debate.
I believe that one of the keystones of constitutional government is that in our relations overseas we deal with the de facto and preferably the de jure Governments of the different countries. We recognise that the de jure and the de facto Government is the accredited Government which we must regard as representing the sovereignty of the country concerned.
If we were to follow completely the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) without qualification we would be in grave danger of compromising that principle. So long as the Federation can claim to be the Government of Nigeria we have to be very careful before we start treating it as though it were not. This to me is the cardinal constitutional issue that is raised by the debate.
No one dislikes war more than I do. I have seen quite enough of it. I have-enough personal experience to make me realise that some of those who assume that conventional war is paradise compared with what nuclear war might be perhaps do not always recognise the ghastly wounds that can be caused by conventional weapons. Never has this been more clearly displayed than in what has been happening in Nigeria over the last year.
We have also seen in the last year that sometimes it is not the colour of a man's skin so much as his tribal affiliation that can divide mankind. I am not sufficiently expert to know the rights and wrongs as between the Ibos and the other inhabitants of Nigeria. I have Nigerian friends living in London. Concerning the one that I know best, the most aggressive act that I have ever seen him perpetrate is to put an offertory plate in front of a retired Indian Army colonel. Of all the 279 African people, from none did we expect a more peaceful development, when they got self-government, than the Nigerians. But I recollect that speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), whose knowledge of the conditions is considerable. I endorse the warnings which he gave of the difficulties which might arise following independence. Once we accept Nigeria as self-governing and that the Federal concept for Nigeria was to be embodied in a new sovereign State, recognised de facto and de jure as governing Nigeria, it seems to me that we must be very careful before we suddenly start behaving as though they were no longer in that position.
This war is vile, and it has to be stopped by every means open to us. In this paper which has been circulated today we have the Federal point of view about why the negotiations to bring about a truce broke down. This is not the time to start giving new evidence. But this paper is worth reading, because at least it gives one point of view. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be in a position to comment on it when he replies to the debate.
As the debate has gone on I have become increasingly aware of one thing. I do not believe that either the Federal part of Nigeria or Biafra are in a position now to stop the supply of arms to Biafra. Therefore, the most valuable role that the United Kingdom can play is to offer her services here to negotiate—informally presumably—with those supplying arms to the Biafrans to see whether some sensible agreement can be reached to stop the supply of arms to enable a truce to begin. As long as either side assumes that if arms are cut off from it and the other side will go on getting supplies, I cannot see a truce being brought about very easily. Therefore, I think that the good offices we can still offer towards a truce would be of extreme value.
I support what was said earlier by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). I think we should do everything we can from the humanitarian point of view—through the Red Cross, Oxfam and other organisations—to ensure that every possible opportunity is given for rehabilitation to take place and 280 for starvation to be prevented. Heaven knows, this risk is very great indeed. But I think we can do one more thing. We can try, through ordinary diplomatic channels, to stop the other side receiving arms as well. Who is supplying them? To the best of my information, it is largely France and Portugal. I do not know whether there are others. [An HON. MEMBER: "Russia and Czechoslovakia."] It may be that the Soviet Union is supplying arms. I do not know. The Government would probably know this better than most of us. I hope that we shall be told who are the principal suppliers of arms to Biafra. I would strongly urge that we offer our services, through ordinary diplomatic channels, to try to get an agreement between all the countries supplying arms to stop supplies until a truce has been achieved. We can then all think again, but let us hope that we go on a more peaceful basis from there.
I cannot believe, from what I know of the success that the rest of Nigeria is having in absorbing and giving good employment to the Ibos, that it is their desire to see the complete annihilation of the Ibo population. Reassurances on these matters can only be given as a result of a truce. What is said in advance of a truce will simply be pushed to one side and the battle go on. Therefore, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to try to bring about a truce by negotiating, through ordinary diplomatic channels, with a view to stopping the supply of arms to both sides. We must show ourselves ready to stop if the other side will stop.
Unless we do something like this we shall be in danger, by cutting off arms supplies ourselves without having made sure that the supply of arms to the other side also stops, of having said to the Federal Government of Nigeria, "You are no longer fit to be treated as the constitutional government of your country." This is a very dangerous step for us to take at this stage because it is making a deep inroad into the keystone of international relations as I have always understood them in a Parliamentary and democratic sense. Once we depart from recognising, with full rights, those who are de jure and de facto in control of their country, we are putting everything into the melting pot, and surely there is 281 enough in the melting pot in Africa already without us doing that.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I find myself in agreement with some of the things said by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), but by no means all.
My main purpose this afternoon is to express the hope that the Government will change their whole approach to this problem Ever since the period of tension began a year ago I have felt unhappy about the policy they have pursued. They seem to have taken the view—and no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that the Federation of Nigeria as it existed in 1966 must at all costs be preserved; that Colonel Gowon is the constitutional leader—should we say the Prime Minister of Nigeria?—that Biafra's secession was an illegal rebellion against the constitution; that, therefore, it was right to support Colonel Gowon and to give him arms; that with these arms he would be able to crush the rebellion in a matter of weeks; and that if we did not give him arms we should lose all our influence with him to persuade him to agree to a peaceful settlement.
I think that nearly every point in that argument is wrong. But most wrong of all was the Government's acceptance of Colonel Gowon's assurance that he could wind the conflict up in a matter of weeks. I believe that that error could have been avoided if, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) said, the Ministers then at the Commonwealth Relations Office had been wise enough to meet Sir Louis Mbanefo, when he came to this country a year ago. He told me then that if war broke out it would be a long war, that Biafra could resist for many months, and that if their formal military resistance was beaten they would go into a guerrilla effort which would last indefinitely and cause appalling suffering not only to Biafrans but to all Nigerians as well. I wish that the Government had listened to Sir Louis Mbanefo, instead of refusing to meet him, as they did then.
I think it is right—and I am venturing on dangerous ground—to ask whether the Federation of Nigeria is really sacrosanct? We had the Central African Federation. The Government who made it had to 282 break it up. It proved to be an unworkable failure. We had the West Indian Federation, but it was broken up. We had the Aden Federation, but it was totally destroyed in the form in which the Tory Government made it. Why should only the Nigerian Federation be sacrosanct today? And was the Federation in its previous form worth the appalling price of a war?
I venture to quote what was said by Dr. Azikwe, the first President of Nigeria, a man who more than anyone else won Nigerian independence.
In December, 1965, he said:If this embryo Republic must disintegrate, then, in the name of God, let the operation be a short and painless one. Let it not be featured by violence, which we shunned during the dark days of our national humiliation. And I have one advice to give our politicians—if they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office. I make this suggestion because it is better for us and for our many admirers abroad"—and they had many admirers—that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed this warning, then I venture the prediction that the experience of the … Congo will be child's play if it ever comes to our turn to play such a tragic role.I wish that the Government had acted a year ago in the spirit of Dr. Azikwe's statesmanlike appeal, and had used their influence, publicly as well as privately, to work if necessary for whatever arrangements were required to secure that the war should not take place.
I do not believe that it would have required a total separation. The Biafrans have never asked for that. They are still offering to remain in a confederation which will give them the right to assure the protection of their people from the injustices and oppression which they believe they have suffered in the past.
I ask, next, whether Col. Gowon is really the constitutional Government of Nigeria, whether he is the successor of the murdered Prime Minister. By what constitutional process did he come to power? Everybody remembers the cruel facts. In January, 1966, the Nigerian Prime Minister and three regional Ministers were murdered. General Ironisi took over. He was an eminent man. He had commanded a United. Nations force 283 with distinction in the Congo. He took over the Government after the death of the Nigerian Prime Minister. He then formally abrogated the Constitution. That being so, I do not understand by what legal or constitutional obligations the Biafrans are now bound.
Perhaps if he had lived, General Ironisi would have been able to do what he planned. Perhaps he could have made a new constitution which would have brought unity with sufficient liberty and with peace. Alas, he did not live. Six months later, on July 29th, mutinous units of the Nigerian Army seized Major-General Ironisi and killed him. Col. Gowon then took over. I submit that that is the story of the constitutional authority which Col. Gowon wields today.
Then there happened the tragic massacre of the Ibos. At last Colonel Ojukwu declared Biafra's independence, with the overwhelming support of the people of the East. The Biafrans still offered negotiations. They still offered to stay in a looser confederation, to avoid moving towards a conflict. Colonel Gowon resolved to crush what he called the illegal rebellion, and then there arose at once the crucial question for Her Majesty's Government, the supply of arms from Britain.
I venture to read an extract from Keesing's Contemporary Archives about what happened 11 months ago. It says:The United States State Department disclosed on July 11 that it had refused a request by the Nigerian Government for military aid on the ground that the dispute with Biafra was a purely internal matter to be settled by the Nigerians themselves. At the same time the British Government was considering a Nigerian request to purchase arms from Britain as a commercial transaction.The British Government confirmed on August 9 that 'a small purchase' of arms was being sent to Nigeria by air. On August 15 two British aircraft flew arrns to Lagos, one with a consignment of 930 Belgian FN rifles from Birmingham, and the other with 60 mm. and 90 mm. ammunition made in France. Twelve newly arrived anti-aircraft guns (according to diplomatic sources also part of an arms consignment from Britain) were being emplaced around Lagos on August 10.Two Czechoslovak-built jet fighters were reported on August 8 to have left Accra for Lagos; on August 16 a Polish and a Norwegian ship were reported to be unloading five jet aircraft and supporting armaments from unknown sources at Lagos; while on August 19 a total of 15 Soviet Antonoy transport aircraft carrying inter alia six MIG fighters and six MIG trainers, were reported to have landed at Kano 284 airport with about 170 Russian technicians for assembling the aircraft.The first paragraph is the important one: the U.S. had refused arms—
§ Mr. Cordle
But on 17th August, in Kaduna we were bombed by B26s of the Biafrans, so they had already bought their arms from another source. What were the Federal Government expected to do?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am not saying that it is wrong to have anti-aircraft guns or fighters if one is being bombed, but that I wish that our Government had made it their major purpose to try to stop the supply of arms from all sources to both sides. That would have been a practical policy. If we had acted with the United States, and had said what they said, and had called on the Russians to join us, I believe they would have done so, which would have meant that the Czechs, the Poles and the Norwegians would have done so as well.
I find it very difficult to accept the Prime Minister's argument that, if we had refused to send these arms, we should have lost our influence with Colonel Gowon when we urged him to make a peaceful settlement. We have had no influence. Lagos has not listened to London. We could have had far greater influence had we acted with the United States and told both sides, "Our British people simply will not allow us to send arms to be used in a ghastly African civil war. There must be a settlement by peaceful means." That would have given us real influence for peace.
I venture to recall an experience through which I lived and which is relevant to the problem we face now. In 1932, there was a war between Bolivia and Paraguay. People will say that that was an international war and no analogy with Nigeria. But every war in Latin America is a civil war. In this Chaco war, the League of Nations did not at first intervene. It had lamentably failed to take any action about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and people used the fatuous argument that what one could not do to Japan, one could not do to little nations like Bolivia and Paraguay —as though it were a great privilege to be allowed to make a war which was disastrous to all.
However, after some months, consciences began to stir and I am glad 285 to think that it was under a British lead, by Sir Anthony Eden, that negotiations for an all-round embargo on arms were begun and, finally, after many months, were successful. But the lesson is this— no sooner was the arms embargo made effective, than both sides decided to end the war.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). We need, negotiated in London,. I hope, a truce; but a truce without conditions. We need a Commonwealth force to maintain order. That should be very easy to obtain. We need a fair negotiation without warlike operations going on. But the first step to all this, I believe, as I said yesterday at Question time, is a major effort by Her Majesty's Government to stop the supply of arms from all the sources in the world.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Psrthshire)
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) for the responsible tone which he set at the beginning of the debate and which has been maintained by all the speakers. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be equally grateful for the fact that there has been no lack of realisation, of the delicacy of the situation or of the dilemma which Her Majesty's Government face in this Nigerian civil war. I emphasise the phrase "civil war" because this is its character; and this seems to me to be relevant to some later remarks that I shall make.
What is essential to the understanding of this war is that Africa is still essentially tribal, that the inherited differences have deep roots and that, when passions are let loose, as the missionary correspondent of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) witnessed, human rights and Geneva Conventions have no relevance in the minds of the combatants. That is true of either side which might get on top in a hereditary dispute of this kind. Therefore, I too think it unprofitable to take sides.
This is a very crucial war, as one might expect in the circumstances. Therefore, it is right that the outside world recognising the strict limitations on the ability of anyone to intervene in such a dispute, should react in the sense 286 that we seek ways to minimise the slaughter, to alleviate the suffering and, if possible, to stop the fighting.
I would interpolate that humanity requires of the Federal Government that they should give access to the Red Cross. There should be no doubt in their minds about the feeling of the House on this matter. There are thousands of refugees in Nigeria, large numbers of women and children, who are suffering dreadful hardships because of the war. The record of the Red Cross for impartiality in such circumstances is well known, so the Federal Government should be willing to admit the Red Cross. There is some contradiction between Press reports today and an answer by the Foreign Secretary yesterday about whether or not the Federal Government are willing to admit the Red Cross. I hope that he will be able to tell us the true position and that he will at least persuade the Federal Government that this is certainly necessary.
Yesterday—the House will understand why—the right hon. Gentleman put the Government's priority on another attempt to get the Federal Government and the Biafrans to join in a truce and to establish a peace conference designed to achieve a constitutional settlement. Of course, as many, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), have said today, such a settlement bristles with difficulties. If Biafra insists on secession and nothing less—let us remember that, in Africa, the seceders, on the whole, have succeeded —and if the Federal Government refuse to concede any autonomy or to divest themselves of any sovereignty, we may be face to face with the irreconcilable, and the war will be endless. By taking to the jungle and the water in Biafra guerilla warfare could be carried on for an indefinite time.
There is surely in this situation a way of statesmanship in which the Federal Nigerian Government must take the initiative. It is that they should indicate unmistakably and solemnly to the Ibo people that, if they lay down their arms and engage in constitutional talks, their lives will be safe and, as a guarantee of the safety of their lives, that the Federal Government will accept, between their own troops and those of the Biafrans, a Commonwealth force which would keep 287 the combatants apart and would guarantee the security of the Ibo people as long as the constitutional talks lasted.
I do not want to take long; hon. Members have been exemplary in the short speeches that they have made. We come in this context to the issue of the supply of arms to the Federal Government or the Biafrans. What part does it play, and how is a cessation of arms to help towards a settlement? The Foreign Secretary yesterday argued for the continuation of the present policies on the ground that, if arms shipments were stopped, Britain would lose all influence with the Federal Government in Nigeria.
The House must give weight to this argument, although I do not in certain circumstances completely accept its validity. Nevertheless, the influence which any country can bring to bear on the Nigerian situation is very little; even our own is very small, and the Foreign Secretary obviously does not want to forfeit the chance of bringing any influence he can to bear on the situation.
I confess that I am not much attracted —and I do not think any hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have been—by a unilateral gesture. Britain is always asked to make a moral gesture and no one else follows suit, and that does not make much contribution to peace.
After listening to the debate with, I hope, an open mind, I have come to some conclusions as to what we might try to do to help in the present situation. I hope that my conclusions are free from party political considerations, which has been the feature of our debate. Both sides of the House have been willing to give full credit to the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, and also to the Foreign Secretary for the help he has given to Sir Arnold Smith, but both sides of the House have perhaps felt that the Government have not quite appreciated up to now that a final and terrible massacre of the Ibos would be intolerable and that, if that situation came about, it would be even more insupportable to think that this had been achieved with the help of British arms.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said, and he is right, that we cannot intervene in the internal affairs of an independent 288 Commonwealth country. If we tried to do that, or if other Commonwealth countries tried to interfere with us, the Commonwealth would very quickly disintegrate. This is one of the dangers which we have faced. Even so, there is surely a duty of friendship from Britain to the people of Nigeria as a whole, both Biafrans and those who are represented by the Federal Government. There are certain suggestions in the context of friendship which I would advance. They are these.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will increase his efforts, with an even greater sense of urgency, if I may say so, to create a Commonwealth force which would be ready to go to Nigeria to take advantage of a political truce, to police that truce and keep the peace in that area. I believe that might have considerable attraction both to Biafra and to the Federal Government.
There is another possible action, and suggestions for this have come from both sides of the House. The intervention of the United Nations is not justified in this case. There is no threat to the external peace. This is, or might be, an unhappy break-up of a country simply through tribal and civil war. Nevertheless, although we may not use the United Nations, I believe that the Foreign Secretary could take another initiative. He could make an urgent effort to get all those who supply arms, either to the Federal Government or to Biafra, to stop doing so. I hope that he will do this.
Lastly, while appreciating all the difficulties in this final course, it is justifiable in the circumstances, if the Federal Government will not agree to a truce, and if they turn down the idea of a Commonwealth force to preserve the peace between the two opposing armies, to give them warning that no British Government could possibly resist the clamour that there would be to stop arms altogether from this country.
We have had a debate which has been very responsible. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will be able to give to the House an assurance that he is conscious of the urgency which is required by hon. Members on all benches. If so, I hope that we shall be able to leave the matter for today on the understanding that these openings that have been suggested are pursued urgently. I hope that he will 289 be able to convince the House that this is very much in his mind.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)
No one could have listened to this debate without being moved and without sharing the deep anxiety which has been expressed by every hon. Member who has spoken, some of whom have a detailed and intimate knowledge of the part of the world we have been discussing and the problems involved.
It would be true to say that, although there have been differences of view, there is very wide general agreement that the objectives of policy should be to stop the slaughter, to avert massacre and famine and to promote, as far as this country can promote, a settlement which would involve both the preservation of the unity of Nigeria and effective and certain assurances for the Ibo people.
This was a view that was expressed particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffths), the hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). It is against the background of a common desire for such a policy that we must approach this question.
I realise that hon. Members have said that we are specially concerned about the present, more than about the past and more than about what may lie in the future if the present situation can be led into more hopeful paths. But, so that the House may understand how the Government have approached the problem, it is essential to say something about the past history of it.
The immediate matter which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) had in mind in asking for and securing this debate was that of the supply of arms. The question will naturally be asked, therefore: how did it come about that we were supplying arms at all to the Federal Government? It is important for a proper judgment of the question to see why that was so.
Before independence, it was natural that we were the traditional suppliers not only of arms, but of military training to Nigeria. She was heavily dependent on us, therefore, in all her defence 290 arrangements. It was we who helped to bring forward Nigeria to independence, so that she took her place in the world as an independent State and was recognised as such by all Governments.
In view of that, I must maintain— though here I am at variance with some, but by no means all, hon. Members— that it would at any rate have been wrong at the outset of the secession for us to have cut off supplies completely from the Federal Government. That would have been to have said to a Government, in effect, "We have put you in a position where you are very heavily dependent on us for the instruments of power. Now, when you are faced by a challenge to your authority, we will put you at a very serious disadvantage." At that time, supplies from this country accounted for 75 per cent. of Nigeria's supplies of arms from all sources. The proportion of current supplies which we provide is, of course, very much less than that.
I do not think that one can avoid the conclusion that if we had taken that action it would have been, and would have been interpreted as being, giving in practice approval, and substantial practical help to the movement for secession.
Apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), not many hon. Members have stressed the great importance of the issue of secession not only in Nigeria but throughout Africa. It has been a difficulty facing many African States whose boundaries originally were drawn to meet the rivalries of European Powers rather than on any ethnological principle or principle of self-determination.
It has been difficult for such States to weld different tribes into one people. But I believe that African statesmanship expressing itself in the Organisation for African Unity, has been right to maintain the principle that African States should endeavour to weld different tribes into one nation and should regard as a counsel of despair that, whenever it is difficult to bring different tribes together in one nation, the remedy should be secession and disintegration. If that were accepted as a general principle, it would be a very dark outlook for the future of Africa as a whole.
291 I have laboured that point because, if we do not grasp it fully, we do not understand the attitude of the Federal Government to the question of secession. If If we do not understand that, we put ourselves in a position where any actions that we might take are likely to fail in their effect.
I should make one other general point about the question of secession. If it were held right for what was once the Eastern Region of Nigeria to become the independent State of Biafra on the grounds that that is the wish of the Ibo people, is the same thing to be advanced by the very numerous non-Ibos living in that State of Biafra? Once the process of secession is admitted, there may be no end to it without tribal disintegration.
I believe that these considerations are weighty, and that is why I must disagree with some but not all hon. Members and maintain that Her Majesty's Government were right to decide that they could not and ought not to cut off supplies from the Federal Government when the secession began.
Clearly, the British Government would have failed in their duty if they had merely stood there. In view of our past connection, and as a matter of common humanity, we had a duty also to do what we could to help towards a peaceful settlement and, as an essential part of it, to try to remove the understandable fears of the Ibo people.
May I give the House a brief record of what the Government have been doing? In January, 1967, there was the little noticed and inadequately praised work of Mr. Malcolm MacDonald which led to the meeting at Aburi, in Ghana. It has been one of the tragedies of this story that the undertakings entered into at that meeting were given different interpretations by both sides and did not come into effect. But that does not lessen the value and merit of what Mr. MacDonald did, with the Government's support and approval.
Then, throughout the period between March and May, 1967, to which several hon. Members have referred and which has been the subject of some criticism of the Government's attitude, the Government were counselling restraint, a renewal of negotiations between the two 292 parties and, above all, the settlement of the dispute by peaceful means. Indeed, it was during this period that the Federal Government floated the idea that we should guarantee the security of a neutral place in Nigeria at which the leaders could meet. Unhappily, that idea came to nothing, because it was vetoed by Colonel Ojukwu. But, at this point, London was speaking and Lagos was listening. I cannot accept the suggestion that during this period we were failing in our duty or that a deaf ear was turned to us in Lagos. Unhappily, that idea was not acceptable to Colonel Ojukwu.
When the secession occurred in May, 1967, although we could not recognize what claimed to be the independent State of Biafra none the less, in order to make it clear that we were not taking merely a barren legalistic view but wanted to maintain contact despite the fact that we could not recognise Biafra, our Deputy High Commissioner, Mr. Parker, remained at Enugu until the action of the Biafrans in interfering with his communications and molesting his staff made it impossible for him to stay there any longer.
Throughout the autumn and winter of 1967 we gave full support to the work of Mr. Arnold Smith which has been praised by more than one hon. Member during this debate. Despite his efforts, when it appeared that there was not to be any meeting or progress, in April, 1968, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister took the initiative with Dr. Arikpo, the Federal Commissioner for External Affairs. There was a meeting between Dr. Arikpo, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary, and that helped to make possible the start of talks at Kampala.
The Kampala talks are now—some hon. Members have said broken down— I hope in a state of suspense, but until recently our main hopes for success were in those Kampala talks, and the fact that they were being held at all was due to the efforts which Her Majesty's Government made during the period that I have described. These talks may well be resumed through the talks my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Shepherd, is now having and will be resuming at the end of this week with the leading figures on both sides.
293 I thought it right to set out that record so as to make clear that the Government have not; been idle during this period. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that in every field in which there has been any approach to, or hope of settlement, it has been our action which has pushed things forward, and any hopes there are of settlement spring in the main from action which we have taken.
I must add to that that if we had taken a decision to cut off the supply of arms to the Federal Government none of those actions could have been taken and we should probably not even have the Kampala talks and the possibility of a resumption of them which we now have. I thought it right to set out those facts from the past.
We must turn now to what is in the minds of so many hon. Members, which was foreshadowed yesterday by a Question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maud-ling) when he suggested in column 36 of yesterday's HANSARD, that the Government should reconsider their policy on this point—that is the point of the supply of arms—when dangers of massive slaughter appeared to be brooding on the scene, and the same thought was put again emphatically in the speech just made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), when he emphasised what the feeling would be throughout the world if, at this juncture, there were a massacre of the Ibo people, and, in particular, what feeling there would be in this country knowing that we are one of the suppliers of arms to the Federal Government. This one must take into account.
If we make the supposition that it were the intention of the Federal Government not merely to preserve the unity of Nigeria but to proceed without mercy either with the slaughter or the starvation of the Ibo people, or if we were to make the supposition that it were the intention of the Federal Government to take advantage of a military situation in order to throw aside with contempt any terms of reasonable settlement, then the arguments which justified the policy we have so far pursued would fall, and we would have to reconsider, and more than reconsider, the action we have so far taken.
294 In that sense I do, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) asked me to do, take into account—and I give that phrase the same seriousness and weight as he did—the facts, the evidence and the feelings that have been expressed by so many hon. Members during this debate.
But it is fortunately a supposition that the Federal Government would behave in that manner. It would not be right to treat that supposition as if it were a fact and for me to declare now that it is our policy to stop supplies. I notice that throughout the debate there were many hon. Members who did not want me or urge me to take that rigid and unconditional step.
This is the proposition that I want to put before the House and I shall give certain further reasons why I believe it is the right proposition. As I said, we should reconsider, and more than reconsider, the policy, but I do not believe that it would be right now to treat that supposition as a fact. Indeed, as I shall show there are substantial reasons for not doing so. It is perhaps invidious to single out particular hon. Members in a debate that has been so distinguished by the quality of all the speeches made in it, but I noticed that some hon. Members who spoke most movingly and with great knowledge of the subject refrained from asking me to take what I have called that rigid and unconditional step. I think that they were right, particularly as there are better hopes and possibilities than the, grim supposition which I made a little while ago.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
It is true that nobody asked for unilateral action. Is the objection which my right hon. Friend is now taking to immediate action against collective action by suppliers of arms/
§ Mr. Stewart
I am coming to that point. I wanted to draw the attention of the House to some of what I call the better hopes and possibilities.
What should be the object of our policy—cease-fire, unity of Nigeria, the complete assurance of safety for the Ibo people so that they shall feel delivered from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly called the terrible choice that they feel sometimes faces 295 them, either to die fighting or to die passively? I do not underestimate the difficulty of reconciling the three objectives of stopping the slaughter, of holding Nigeria together and of giving effective and decisive assurance to the Ibo people, and I think the House will understand that it is not possible for the British Government to set out a blueprint as to how all this should be reconciled or what the terms of settlement can be.
We have offered and continued to offer our good offices, but we are not and should not be accepted as an arbitrator or a mediator. It would be absurd to try and set out a blueprint for a settlement, but there are some matters that bear on the settlement that are worth mentioning and that link with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me.
Assurance to the Ibo peoples is bound to involve, in my judgment, some kind of international force to give them some degree of security. Indeed, it is interesting and encouraging to note that at one point General Gowon suggested that part of a settlement could be—I think that he used this term—an international observer force to see that if there were a cease-fire, the Ibos were not impossibly at a disadvantage.
The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire spoke of a Commonwealth police force. The House will understand that we could not impose such a force except with the consent of the two sides. We have, of course, examined the sheer practicalities of such a thing and I believe, now that discussions are actually going on, that this is one of the matters for which, if consent could be got, we should work as steadily as we can.
The only word of caution I must give is that we cannot impose anything. We are not invited or authorised to act as arbitrators here. We seek with all the resource and imagination we can summon, and with the help, as in this debate, of the collective wisdom of the House, whatever means may bring a settlement, and it is our job to see if we can get the parties concerned to agree to it. It is in that sense necessarily qualified—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will feel not unnecessarily qualified—that I accept his suggestion.
296 I now wish to mention a recent statement by Colonel Ojukwu in which he put forward a proposal for an embargo on the supply of arms all round on both sides. It is in this connection that I wish to take up the question of international action to get a cessation of supplies all round. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) intervened about this and the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire stressed it. I must tell the House that the practical difficulties of getting such an agreement would be very great indeed. In many cases, of course, supplies to both sides are not direct governmental supplies; the action taken by a government is often simply that of permitting, or of not bothering to stop, supplies being sent by private suppliers.
One would, therefore, be dealing with a very wide range of people concerned in this, and to make it effective one would have to require all the Governments concerned, not merely that they should pass some law, or issue some fiats, but that they should be continually active to see that their prohibition on the sending of arms to either side by their subjects was obeyed. I am sorry to have to tell the House that my estimate of the possibilities of reaching agreement on this is not as optimistic as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East.
When I say that we will look again at this, I would be misleading the House if I said it in a way which gave the impression that it only needs a round of diplomatic activitiy to get the result. I am afraid that the practical difficulties would be much greater than is sometimes supposed and that there would be the complication that since the sources of supply to the Biafrans are far more —if I may use this word—miscellaneous than those which go to Nigeria, it would perhaps be all too easy to work out an international agreement that would be imperfectly administered and the effect of which would be totally one-sided in operation.
I have, therefore, considered whether one could possibly make this effective by working at the other end; by getting not so much a universal refusal to supply as an effective agreement by both sides not to receive. It is in this connection that Colonel Ojukwu's statement is interesting. It was made very recently 297 and we will have to study it to see if progress can be made on those lines.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
In view of what my right hon. Friend said earlier about the great fear that there might be a massacre of the Ibo people, and of what he said following that, about any action along the lines of an international force depending on the agreement and approval of the two sides, can he not go further and say firmly to the Federal Government that unless they accept a policy of such an international force to ensure that there will not be such a massacre, Her Majesty's Government will not continue with their present policy?
§ Mr. Stewart
In the light of what has been said in the House, it will be entirely right for us to draw the attention of the Federal Government to what feeling is here and to what not only this House but humanity expect of them. However, I do not think that I should tie myself to particular items like that at a time when discussion with the Federal Government is actually going on and 1 do not think that I could say more than that I note and sympathise with what my hon. Friend has said.
Having mentioned the statement made by Colonel Ojukwu I should also mention certain words and actions by General Gowon which, I think, may put the Federal Government in a more favourable light than some hon. Members were prepared to view them. I believe that we all know that if we start retailing all the fearful happenings in this war, there is much with which both sides and many individuals will feel that they must reproach themselves.
The words and actions of General Gowon to which I draw the attention of the House are these. He has made it clear that he does not desire to invade the Biafran heartlands and that he will try to avoid that step. The Federal Government are not, as it were, poised for an immediate advance upon and destruction of the Ibo people. Next, he has put forward the concept—I referred to this earlier—of an international—I do not think his use of the word would rule out Commonwealth—observer force for the security of the Ibos.
I wish next to mention the action which he has taken on the question of Red 298 Cross supplies and food, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire and others expressed interest. General Gowon has assured the International Red Cross of the willingness of his Government to acept deliveries of Red Cross supplies to Enugu, Port Harcourt or any other airport under Federal control for onward transport by road to an agreed point in Biafran-controlled territory, to be decided with the Biafran authorities.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed its satisfaction with this proposal as being the best practical means of delivering bulk supplies where they are most needed and it is engaged at present in obtaining the agreement of the Biafran authorities. General Gowon has also offered to supply transport and any assistance the Red Cross might need. This, I think, answers the question which the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire put. It is important because this is a question not only of medical supplies but of food supplies and of doing what can be done, I wish I could say to avert hunger, but at least to reduce and mitigate it.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
Arising from my right hon. Friend's statement about the prospect of Red Cross supplies being able to get through, would it be possible for Her Majesty's Government to make additional supplies available, bearing in mind the number of men, women and children who are starving in this war? In other words, will the Government be able to lay on special plans to provide food which is urgently needed by these people?
§ Mr. Stewart
We have already made a gift to the Red Cross for this purpose and I hope—I speak without commitment —that we may be able to do more than that.
I must now return for a few moments to the arguable side of the matter. I would ask the House to believe, in the light of what I have just said about the attitude of General Gowon and of the possibilities—and I would not put it more highly than that—there are of reaching an agreed settlement, that if we were now, particularly in the light of what has been said by General Gowon recently in connection with the Red Cross, to reply by 299 taking the action of stopping arms supplies, that could, I believe, have no other result at present than an estrangement between us and the Federal Government in which the actual power of the Federal Government to do evil if they wished would in no way be lessened; for we are only one among many suppliers, and their will to do good might well be weakened if they received at this stage a rebuff of this kind.
There are not only three possibilities. There are also the contracts to which these possibilities might be turned into facts. The purpose of the talks which my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Shepherd has been having and will shortly be resuming is to make it easier to get back to the real conversations at Kampala. Those lines of contact are still open and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself will be meeting Chief Enahoro immediately after the conclusion of this debate. I hope that the House will believe that the Government have not dealt with this matter without understanding or compassion. But if we have not on all points been able to satisfy some hon. Members, this has not been due to ignorance of the problem. Certainly, it has not been due to lack of feeling or lack of desire to end the war and to avert the fearful danger which some hon. Members have foreseen and dreaded.
I would hope in the light of this, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, that the House might be prepared to leave the matter there, conscious that thanks to the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chicwick there has been this opportunity to see that the Government are fully and clearly informed of the wishes of the House.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I believe that the whole House would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend for the admirable logic which he has demonstrated in this case. I believe that it is a logic not untinged with a realisation of the human emotions involved. It is the kind of speech I 300 would have expected my right hon. Friend to make, and largely I agree with him. But in one respect at least I would wish to challenge him. That is when he implies that, as far as this country is concerned, one object of policy should be the unity of Nigeria. It seems to me that the boundaries of States in Africa are the artificial creations of European Powers. This has been the trouble with other States in Africa and I believe this is, in part, the trouble in Nigeria now.
We cannot anticipate or expect that those artificial creations should necessarily prevail for the rest of history; and I would hope that when my right hon. Friend says that that is one object of policy he merely means that it is one object of policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria and not necessarily an object of policy of the British Government.
I believe that we must all surely agree with my right hon. Friend on the essential point that a unilateral cessation of arms shipments or a supposed collective cessation which could not be adequately enforced is not just a moral gesture, but is, in fact, a decision as to whom one wishes to prevail. The perfect example of this before the Second World War was Spain. Surely, nobody now feels that any decision not to provide arms for that particular civil war had any other than purely a political as distinct from purely a moral purpose.
My right hon. Friend said he did not take a barren, legalistic view. I am glad that he did not. Certainly, that is not the kind of view that the House would have wished to hear. But the trouble with this particular case is not the old adage that hard cases make bad law, but that international law in respect of what other States should do towards States which are suffering from civil rebellion or disorder is archaic.
It being three hours after the commencement of the proceedings, Mr. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings pursuant to Standing Order No. 9 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration.)