HC Deb 22 October 1968 vol 770 cc1072-5
22. Mr. Hugh Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs why his officials sent for the Dutch Minister and advised him as to how the £1,000,000 privately raised in Holland for Biafra famine relief should be employed.

Mr. M. Stewart

The Netherlands Minister was not summoned by officials. He called, at his own request on 16th September on a senior official of the Commonwealth Office, but he neither asked for nor was given advice on the expenditure of relief funds.

Mr. Fraser rose

Hon. Members


Mr. Fraser

I will not withdraw. Is the Minister aware that I have information from Holland to the effect that a message was passed to the Dutch Relief Committee offering Lord Hunt's services and that it was rejected for the reason that many Dutch people believed that our policy of giving food where there is a surplus and giving advice to such organisations as the Save the Children Fund and Oxfam to land food in Lagos when it cannot be taken to the real famine areas is utterly derisory?

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman began with an allegation that the Netherlands Minister was summoned to the Commonwealth Office. That is quite untrue, and he should withdraw it. As I understand it, he is now making a different allegation. If he offers me evidence to support it, I will look at it.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

While we understand the position of the International Red Cross, there are a number of Governments contributing to famine relief. Is there any means by which contributing Governments, such as that of the Netherlands and our own, can have a clearing house in which they share ideas and see that the money gets to the right people in the best way?

Mr. Stewart

The International Committee of the Red Cross is one instrument to that end. But I will gladly look at what the right hon. Gentleman has said and see if anything further is needed.

24. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to ensure the safety of British subjects engaged in relief and other work in Biafra.

Mr. M. Stewart

We have impressed on the Nigerian Federal Government and the military authorities their responsibility for giving protection to, and for preventing attacks on, British nationals who may find themselves near the fighting lines in the course of their work on relief and social welfare, or in hospitals. We are discussing with the Federal Government how they, with the assistance of the team of international observers—on which Britain is represented—can best ensure the safety of workers. The International Committee of the Red Cross are also considering with the Federal Government what steps can be taken, particularly in the light of the recommendations of General Alexander.

Mr. Taylor

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, after the recent tragic killings, there is concern in Scotland about the fate of three Marist Brothers who were in Uturu, which has now been over-run by the Federal authorities? Have the energetic efforts by the present Minister without Portfolio resulted in revealing that these men are safe and well?

Mr. Stewart

I understand the concern about the three Marist Brothers. To the best of my knowledge and most recent information, the three Marist Brothers are safe, two of them in Uturu and one in Orlu. The Marist Brothers of other nationalities, according to my best information, are now back in Europe.

Mr. Dean

Following the tragic killing of two of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Savory, who rendered distinguished service over many years, can the right hon. Gentleman go further and say whether he hopes to get specific assurances from the Federal Government that they will take all possible steps to see that this sort of thing does not happen again?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. I understood that the hon. Gentleman would wish to raise this very tragic case. It has been a subject already of international investigation. The Nigerian Government are conducting their own inquiry. I took the opportunity in New York to speak to Dr. Arikpo about this, and I urged that anyone responsible should be brought to justice. In addition our High Commissioner has made similar representations.

26. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in accordance with the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the Governments of Canada and Sweden, he will seek to arrange for British observers to be sent to Biafra and not as at present limited to Nigeria, to see that there is; no genocide by Federal troops.

Mr. M. Stewart

The international observer team, on which we are represented, is in Nigeria at the invitation of the Federal Government. Any extention of the team's activities would be a matter for consideration by the Federal Government, but I am confident that the team is already being given every opportunity to study the conduct of Federal troops and they have reported that the allegations of genocide by Federal troops are groundless.

Mr. Allaun

Would it not help to have observers on both sides? How can 10 men observe the activities of a Nigerian army of 80,000 soldiers, particularly when their itinerary is provided by Lagos and it may be that their visits are stage-managed?

Mr. Stewart

We cannot accept the accusation of stage-managed visits against a team of distinguished, experienced and competent men who have given a report on this matter. If we are examining the allegation of genocide, clearly their business is to be where the Federal troops are. Their presence in areas entirely held by the Ibos where there are no Federal troops would have no relevance to allegations of genocide against the Federal troops. They have been, with the Federal troops, right up to the fighting line. They were in Owerri at the time that the hospital there was mortared by the Ibos, and they have given their report on the incident.

Mr. Fisher

For the record and because of the rather exaggerated emotion generated in this House in our August debate and, to some extent, today, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that there is no evidence so far of mass or intentional genocide by the Federal forces?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, that is entirely so. No one should underestimate the killing and the misery that must result from warfare in all circumstances, but there is no support for the allegation of anything in the nature of genocide.

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