HC Deb 18 November 1968 vol 773 cc882-6
18. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement about the Nigerian civil war; and what action he is taking to end it.

22. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement regarding his efforts to promote a settlement in Nigeria.

64. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the efforts made by Her Maejsty's Government to secure an end to the war in Biafra.

66. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he is taking to help in bringing to an end the Nigerian civil war; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. M. Stewart

Since my statement of 22nd October, I have discussed the position with Chief Enahoro, General Gowon's special representative, who has also seen my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Chief Enahoro confirmed to me his Government's willingness to begin negotiations at any time provided that the principle of an undivided Nigeria was accepted. We continue to support the efforts of the Organisation for African Unity Committee on Nigeria in seeking to bring the two sides together. By contributing to the team of international observers we are also trying to re-assure the Ibo people about the intentions of the Federal Government towards them and thereby to make a solution easier.

Mr. Tilney

Is it not possible for at least some of the world Powers, including Britain, to say to both sides, "You must stop this bloody civil war and accept in a limited area and for a limited time an international force"?

Mr. Stewart

We have on two occasions promoted talks with a view to a settlement. It has not been through lack of interest on our part that they have not been successful. I believe that the Powers in the best position to do this are those in the Organisation of African Unity.

Mr. Lane

What recent talks have Her Majesty's Government had with the French Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman in any case consider taking a fresh initiative for urgent discussions with the French and Russian Governments in the hope that at least some voluntary limitation of arms supply can be secured as soon as possible?

Mr. Stewart

This matter was discussed not long ago at a meeting of Western European Union. The question of getting a joint agreement on the supply of arms presents very great difficulties indeed.

Mr. Allaun

Since the policy of subduing Biafra quickly has manifestly failed, and since Biafra may grow into another Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend immediately ask the three other supplying nations to stop arms to both sides and to enforce a cease-fire?

Mr. Stewart

Unfortunately, this is not only a question of Governmental supplies of arms but also of arms from some very miscellaneous sources. Inter-Governmental agreements on this would not, I am afraid, result in a general stoppage of the supply of arms.

Mr. James Johnson

With the efforts of Chief Enaharo, is it not a fact that the war could have been nearer an honourable settlement on both sides but for the mischievous intervention from French sources in Gabon and the Ivory Coast? Will my right hon. Friend squash for all time the mischievous claim "genocide" in this case and place in the Library the statement by international observers?

Mr. Allaun

Ten thousand a day dying.

Mr. Stewart

I believe that the statement by the international observers is already to be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but I will make sure that it is indeed available to hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson) is quite right. The story about genocide has been proved beyond doubt to be completely false.

Mr. Braine

Is the Secretary of State aware that the questions which have just been asked reflect the deep feeling in this country and the Commonwealth about the protracted nature of the war? Is he further aware that the war and the suffering are being protracted by the supply of arms which is said to be coming from France? Whatever the difficulties, will he not now exercise some initiative and endeavour to get international agreement on the question of arms supplies?

Mr. Stewart

I am sure that there is not a single right hon. or hon. Member who does not share the concern about the prolongation of the war and the suffering it involves. If I could see that an approach of the kind suggested would be useful, I would make it. If I am cautious, it is because I do not wish to raise hopes which might be disappointed.

Mrs. Anne Kerr

Why will the Government not plainly state that they will not send any more arms to the Federal Government? Does my right hon. Friend recognise the great fear among Nigerians and the horror of our people when they read in their newspapers not long ago that we were being asked for more arms by the Federal Government?

Mr. Stewart

The reason why Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to refuse to supply the Nigerian Government with arms has been stated on several occasions in the House. I will state it briefly again. We believe that this rebellion was a disastrous and tragic error and that it would not have been right for us to cut off arms to a Commonwealth country whose traditional supplier we were because it was faced with a rebellion. To have done so would have amounted to giving support to rebellion and thereby to all the suffering for which it is responsible.

23. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what requests he has received from the Federal Government of Nigeria to authorise increased shipments of arms to Nigeria; and what reply he has given.

Mr. M. Stewart

The Federal Government continue to seek part of their requirements for military supplies in this country, and it remains our policy to approve the export of carefully controlled quantities of weapons of the kind traditionally supplied to the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is not in the public interest for details of such requests to be disclosed.

Mr. Barnes

Is my hon. Friend saying that if the Federal Government of Nigeria requested supplies of offensive weapons of a more sophisticated nature than those previously supplied, we would not agree to supply them?

Mr. Stewart

As I have said, our policy is to continue the export of carefully controlled quantities of weapons of the kind traditionally supplied.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Surely the right hon. Gentleman realises that his reply means nothing at all, that he could go on supplying arms and possibly try to match the Russians, that the formula which he has produced is a formula which permits unlimited supplies? Has not the time come for the Government to re-examine the whole matter morally, politically and from the point of view of power politics? When they have made a complete nonsense of so much of their policy, is it not time to think again?

Mr. Stewart

If the right hon. Gentleman will study the terms of my reply, he will see that the supply is very carefully limited. The reasons for the policy-have been given to the House on more than one occasion, and I see no reason to depart from them.

Dr. John Dunwoody

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there is now a European initiated arms race in this part of West Africa and that this will inevitably result in military escalation? Does he not agree that in the new circumstances our position is becoming increasingly untenable? Will he consider the whole subject of arms supplies to this part of West Africa, preferably in consultation with those other European countries engaged in this traffic?

Mr. Stewart

I refer my hon. Friend to my earlier answer to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine). Her Majesty's Government's part in this matter has not been confined to the traditional supply of arms to the Nigerian Government. We have been instrumental in carrying out a great deal of relief work, in interesting the United Nations in this matter, and in promoting negotiations between the sides, negotiations which have failed for reasons unhappily beyond our control.

Mr. Thorpe

Accepting that Britain has played a great part in supplies of relief, particularly to those whom British bullets have driven into the bush, can the Foreign Secretary assure us that the Government are satisfied that they have derived all the political advantage and have been able to exert all the undoubted influence that they have always claimed the shipment of arms has made possible?

Mr. Stewart

I do not know whether that is how the right hon. Gentleman regards it, but that is not how I regard it. I believe that this rebellion was fraught with dangers not only for Nigeria, but for the future of Africa as a whole. It was that consideratoin rather than those things mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman that underlay our policy.