HC Deb 21 July 1969 vol 787 cc1232-5
32. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on the Government's latest efforts to achieve a cease-fire in Nigeria and to assist relief work.

Mr. M. Stewart

Our objective is an end to the fighting which would lead on to an agreed and durable peace and we are constantly seeking opportunities to help to bring this about. The Federal Government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to negotiate without pre-conditions. We will give any further help we can to obtain agreement on means of supplying relief and some progress has already been made.

Mr. Lane

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many of us on both sides of the House are looking for a successful intensification of the Government's efforts during the Recess? In particular, will he make an opportunity in a United Nations context to try again for an international agreement to stop or at least reduce the flow of arms?

Mr. Stewart

The fact that the recess is approaching certainly does not mean that Her Majesty's Government will relax their efforts in this direction. As I have explained to the House, an attempt to raise this in a United Nations context might encounter greater hostility from African States, which take the view very strongly that this is an internal matter. I am anxious to pursue this in whatever context is most likely to produce success. I believe that an African context is more likely to be successful than a United Nations one. If anything happened to make it right to alter that view, I would take account of the new situation.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

In view of the fact that the O.A.U. has failed over the last two years to secure any success whatever either in respect of a cease-fire or of relief, will my right hon. Friend consider whether an initiative by the great powers which have permanent seats in the Security Council might not persuade the Assembly to take this matter up?

Mr. Stewart

I have considered this repeatedly but I am bound to say that I think it is a matter for Colonel Ojukwu to ask himself seriously whether, in view of the general view of Africa towards this matter, he should not pay more respect to the initiatives which have been taken through the O.A.U. in Monrovia.

Mr. Braine

Ten days have elapsed since both sides of the House expressed the deepest concern about the relief situation in Nigeria. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the latest position is about sending in relief by air and by river? In particular, can he say whether any special support has been given to the strenuous representations made by the American Government about the Cross River route?

Mr. Stewart

There has been progress on all this. The International Red Cross and the Nigerian Government are, I think, now in agreement on how to proceed in this matter. There are flights pro- ceeding by Joint Church Aid. But I must say that, until agreement can be reached on land routes, the larger part of the relief problem will remain unsolved.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be a loud outcry from world public opinion if the few relief planes going into Biafran territory are shot down by Federal forces? Will he make any comment about the fact that the United States has been asked to use its good offices to try to bring about a settlement of this terrible civil war?

Mr. Stewart

Without further information, I could not comment on that second question. I think that everyone understands the difficulty which the Nigerian Government has with night flights—that they could be used as a cover for the supply of arms. It would be entirely possible for flights to go in by day. This is agreeable to the Nigerian Government and to the International Red Cross and I hope that it will be agreeable to Colonel Ojukwu.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

As the war is far from diminishing—both sides are claiming new victories and more people are being killed—will the right hon. Gentleman see that when his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister meets the President of the United States on his visit to this country, he tries to get an international arms embargo off the ground? He must know that the American Press is extremely hostile to the attitude of the British Government.

Mr. Stewart

I cannot give a pledge in advance as to the content of the conversations between my right hon. Friend and the President of the United States. I have explained to the House that we have already made efforts to try to secure an international agreement on arms supplies and we shall certainly not set aside any opportunity to renew them.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will Her Majesty's Government ask Lagos to accept the Biafran proposal, which is backed by the United States Government and Joint Church Aid, for direct daylight flights from the three existing airports, subject to international supervision?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that my hon. Friend is quite correct about that. But the Nigerian Government has indicated its willingness to accept these to a limited extent and for a limited time. I must point out that the Nigerian Government has taken the unusual step of being willing for supplies of food, drugs, medicines and seeds to be flown from its territory into the blockaded territory. If Colonel Ojukwu has any regard for the people whom he represents, he should accept this offer.

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