HC Deb 03 April 1969 vol 781 cc651-4
Q3. Mr. Barnes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to Lagos.

Q6. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the latest move to secure a ceasefire in Nigeria.

Q9. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement upon his visit to Federal Nigeria.

Q12. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to Nigeria.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friends to the statement which I made in the House yesterday.

Mr. Barnes

My right hon. Friend will appreciate the great interest that there is in the moves that took place to try to get a meeting between himself and Colonel Ojukwu. Can my right hon. Friend say why Mr. Malcolm MacDonald and the Under-Secretary of State did not visit Biafra to discuss the arrangements for a meeting face-to-face with the Biafrans, in view of the fact that this visit was requested by the British Government and agreed to by the Biafrans?

The Prime Minister

That was not proposed by the British Government. I have seen a full record of what was said. It was suggested that this might be one way of setting it up, but by the Sunday after my consultations with the Federal Government it became clear that the speediest method would be to make proposals for a meeting on the Monday or the Tuesday. On Monday morning I said that I would fly back on the Wednesday. This would only have taken more time. Also, on examining the situation on the spot, I was not satisfied about the security and other arrangements which would have been appropriate for such a visit through the fighting lines.

Mr. Johnson

I welcome 100 per cent. what my right hon. Friend said yesterday, but may I ask him whether he found that General Gowan was fully aware of the dangers implicit in this indiscriminate bombing and the impression that it is making on public opinion outside?

The Prime Minister

I referred to that point yesterday. As my hon. Friend knows, I pointed out that I made these representations in the strongest terms because I think this a matter of deep concern to the House. I do not think that one can say, in a hard-fought war, that no bombing should take place. It is a question of weighing the military advantage of bombing against severe political damage in Nigeria, and more widely, resulting from incidents which involve the death of innocent civilians.

Mr. Braine

Is the Prime Minister aware that we all recognise the formidable difficulty of getting a cease-fire accepted by both sides, and that this is unlikely unless there is an acceptance of the sincerity of both sides, including the Biafrans? Is he further aware that we all regret the fact that for one reason or another he was unable to see Colonel Ojukwu? Is the position still that he would welcome such a meeting if it could be arranged?

The Prime Minister

It is certainly not ruled out. One of the big difficulties here undoubtedly was—on the side of Colonel Ojukwu—the relatively short time in which a meeting in West Africa could be arranged. I certainly would not rule out a meeting if I thought that it would be helpful. The Federal Government raised no objection in principle to my proposals.

Mr. James Griffiths

In reply to a Question of mine yesterday my right hon. Friend said that the best next course for Colonel Ojukwu and everybody would lie in the meeting being held of the O.A.U. later this month. Would he feel disposed to make representations that it would be a good thing if the O.A.U. invited Colonel Ojukwu to attend that meeting?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to interfere in the internal arrangements of the U.A.U. One knows the great sensitivities which operate here. I have discussed these matters in considerable detail with the Secretariat of the O.A.U. and with the Emperor. My impression is—I do not want to speak for them or to put words into their mouths—that they look forward to the possibility of getting both sides round the table as a result of the meeting in Monrovia.

Mr. David Steel

The Prime Minister said that he would not rule out the possibility of a meeting with Colonel Ojukwu, but yesterday he referred twice to matters that he would have wished to discuss with him. Could not he therefore show greater determination to seek a meeting between Colonel Ojukwu and the British Government, if it could be arranged?

The Prime Minister

It is important to try to assess the reasons why this meeting did not take place. That is one of the factors which would have to be taken into consideration in deciding the Government's attitude to the hon. Member's suggestion.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that what he will forgive me for calling his some facile pessimism about an arms ban is deeply frustrating to many hon. Members and to many people in the country? Is he aware that general arms bans have been imposed in the past and have succeeded? If the Consultative Committee provides no result in two weeks' time, will he consider going himself to New York, inviting Mr. Kosygin to go with him, and trying to secure the only measure which is likely to bring the war to an end?

The Prime Minister

There is no pessimism in this matter, facile or otherwise. There is realism. My study of this question goes back to reading a book by my right hon. Friend more than 30 years ago on this very question. He will remember what he said about the private traffic in arms. Despite the efforts of many Governments to stop it, the private traffic in arms is now on a far larger scale than when he wrote his book. That is one reason why, to be realistic, I feel that a Resolution of the Security Council, even if it could be obtained, would not be effective in stopping what would probably be a one-sided arms supply. Large arms supplies appear to be reaching Nigeria by a somewhat circuitous route, and I am not certain that it would be possible to deal with that by way of a resolution.

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