§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Maurice Foley)
We are all aware of the concern and genuine anxiety about the situation in Nigeria, and it is for that reason that the Government have given a day in which to debate the matter, which touches and affects us all.
The years since the beginning of decolonisation in Africa have brought progress towards maturity but also the instability which must always be a risk in independent States as they are rapidly formed from societies with marked tribal and cultural differences within themselves. It is in (his broad context of African development that we must see Nigeria's present problems.
Nigeria could not be immune from these nation-building pangs. Like much of Africa, Nigeria is a complex grouping of interlocked peoples and cultures. Her tribal pattern poses special problems of balance and imbalance which are at the roots of the present conflict. At the time of independence, Nigerian politics were based on regionalism. There were no national political parties, but three main regional ones based on the three main tribal groupings.
Under the regional arrangements embodied in the Constitution, there were in each of the main groups substantial minorities who felt that the system did not adequately reflect their own interests. Yet for six years these groups were able to work together and had time to adjust for themselves, had they wished, the basis of their independence. During this time, many Ibos were prominent in central Government in co-operation with the Northerners and favoured a firmly united Nigeria.
I remain convinced that despite all the harassment a peaceful solution to Nigeria's tribal problems was always possible. There was no need to go to war. In looking at what went wrong, we find faults and atrocities on both sides which have resulted in mutual fear and suspicion and a lack of trust. Yet in this, too, there are certain contradictions.
I had occasion to visit Nigeria many times in the mid-1950s, and I witnessed in the North, at Jos and Kano, incidents 1572 involving Hausas, Fulanis and Ibos which were not very pleasant. This has been known for a long time. Yet at the same time as there was this friction, this abrasiveness, between the tribes, the Ibos were working and forging the Constitution of Nigeria. It was the Ibos, with the Northerners, who formed the Government at the time of independence.
What was true then is, I believe, true today, that Nigeria needs the Ibos and that the Ibos need Nigeria. This sentiment was reflected in a speech last November by General Gowon, at Zaria, when he said:I sincerely believe that our reconciliation in this country will be achieved in a comparatively short time … it is now up to all Nigerians in privileged positions to do their best to heal the wounds of the Ibos as a people. On the other hand, our Ibo brothers must also learn from their past mistakes and strive to live in harmony with other Nigerians as equal partners for national progress.Here, I must introduce a brief note of caution into our debate. We must remember that we are discussing the internal affairs of a sovereign, independent State. In many respects—and I make no apologies for this—we are intruding into the grief and private agony of Nigeria.
§ Mr. Foley
I shall come to that later.
Our present debate will be bitterly resented by many in Nigeria. Yet, despite all this, we cannot turn our backs on what is happening there. We are involved in it through our concern for the suffering, our links with Nigeria over the years, our interests and our people there. But we must remember that we can never turn the clock back. Independence is independence, and we cannot behave as a colonialist Power now that the Nigerians have their independence.
Our position should not be misunderstood through facile comparison with the neutrality adopted by some other countries. It may well be right for such countries to adhere to a policy of non-involvement, but we are the former colonial Power. We have links extending over 100 years. We have 16,000 of our people in Nigeria, great investments and much trade of enormous mutual benefit to Nigerians and ourselves. We could not avoid involvement; we had no other honourable option.
1573 When Kenya and Tanzania appealed to us, we responded not just with arms but with troops to put down an internal rebellion, and most hon. Members applauded our action. When Nigeria is faced with a comparable threat, what do we do? Neutrality was never open to us. At the time of the independence of Nigeria, and other former Colonies, we handed over responsibility for defence. We were asked to help train its Army, which we did, and to provide the equipment and arms for that Army, which existed to preserve the nation of Nigeria.
Throughout the war of secession we have continued to allow the Nigerian Government to purchase arms in this country. Hon. Members know that we have limited the supplies of arms that we have allowed to be bought here. People will also know that the Federal Government have turned to other suppliers for aircraft and aerial bombs, and that the secessionists have also found no difficulty in finding suppliers of arms.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in winding up the debate, will discuss more fully the implications of our arms policy. I ask the House only to bear in mind these facts when considering our policy, and that other Commonwealth countries in Africa have had, in their times of stress, the wish, desire and necessity to turn to us for help.
Perhaps I should immediately take up the burning issue which has probably animated many hon. Members in asking for this debate—the Federal bombing of civilians. We have all read the reports that have appeared on the bombing of civilians in Nigeria. We take them very seriously indeed. I receive, as we all do, propaganda from both sides, and it is often difficult to sort out fact from fiction. I want to repeat that there are no British planes bombing Biafra and no British pilots in those bombers. There are no British bombs being dropped on Biafra. But what is happening is cruel and militarily useless.
My right hon. Friend instructed our High Commissioner in Lagos to make representations to General Gowon. My right hon. Friend has twice seen the Nigerian High Commissioner. Sir Denis Greenhill has also been to Lagos to see General Gowon. They pointed out that 1574 these attacks are seen as indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and pressed that immediate steps should be taken to ensure that the instructions to pilots to attack military targets only were scrupulously obeyed and publicised.
General Gowon replied that he had never approved indiscriminate bombing of towns; that the state of captured towns now in Federal hands proved this; that he regarded the ordinary people in rebel areas as fellow Nigerians; that the only bombing authorised was against military targets; and that the Federal authorities had had detailed information about numerous targets on the edges of towns and areas with large populations.
Hon. Members will have read in the Press extracts from the orders given to the Nigerian Air Force, which have been made public. General Gowon has said that he has never contemplated, and would not now contemplate, an attempt to break civilian morale by bombing. He does not believe that all Ibos are on the side of Ojukwu, and he also takes the view that bombing does not break civilian morale but makes the population more stubborn. He has further told us that anyone contravening these instructions would be ruthlessly dealt with, and that several have already been disciplined.
When Sir Denis Greenhill saw General Gowon, the General said that it was the Federal Government's policy, as far as was humanly possible, to limit air attacks to rebel air strips. I know from personal contacts with "Members of Parliament, missionaries and relief workers that there has been clear evidence of indiscriminate bombing. It is for this reason that we have made our representations and made it known quite clearly how much we refuse to condone this kind of action in Nigeria.
It is far from my intention to condone indiscriminate or avoidable bombing of civilians by either side. It is no consolation to say that there has been bombing by both sides, and that it was started by the Biafrans in bombing Lagos. A missionary priest told me that his church had been bombed by the Biafrans, and only four weeks ago in a village near Benin four people were killed by bombing by the Biafrans. But it is no consolation to us to talk about this. The plain realities are there for us all to see, 1575 note and understand, and then bring what pressures we can to bear.
We must, of course, recognise that the war is largely a war on the ground; it is not an air war.
§ Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)
Will the Minister differentiate between discriminate and indiscriminate bombing? One would think that the larger proportion has been indiscriminate.
§ Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)
Will the Minister tell us the nationality of the pilots of the planes which are flying in the Federal forces?
§ Mr. Foley
It is very difficult to answer the first question. Anyone who was involved in the Second World War will know how difficult it is to try to describe the differences between discriminate and indiscriminate bombing. It is an arbitrary division which it is very difficult to make. The plain fact is——
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
On a point of order. A great deal has been said about the interests of hon. Members in this matter. There has been one or two interventions. I think that the interests in Nigeria of those hon. Members who have intervened should be declared in such an important debate as this.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is no need for an hon. Member to declare an interest when he is making an intervention. We are on a very serious debate, and I think that we should get on with it.
§ Mr. Foley
I am quite ready to declare my interest. I want to see an end to this war, and the restoration of peace in this ravaged country.
In reply to the intervention of the hon. Member for Sudbury and Woodbridge (Mr. Stainton), I cannot differentiate, but the reality on the ground is that there has been bombing of hospitals, schools and churches and probably, too, of military targets.
In reply to the question of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor), about the nationality of the pilots, I am informed that the pilots who fly the Ilyushin bombers are U.A.R. pilots. This is the information that I have at this moment.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does not this fact contradict the point made by my hon. Friend earlier, that General Gowon had given instructions to the pilots? I am assuming that, unless the instructions were given in Arabic, they would not be understood.
§ Mr. Faulds
This is very relevant. The accusation has been made that U.A.R. pilots are involved in the bombing. A statement was made over a year ago by the U.A.R. Government that this is simply not true——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has not got the Floor. He is intervening, and interventions must be brief.
§ Mr. Faulds
Will my hon. Friend accept that only last night I was talking to a member of the Egyptian Embassy and that this accusation was denied. There are no pilots seconded from the U.A.R. Air Force.
§ Mr. Foley
I do not want to go into detail on this. I am informed that the nationality of the pilots of the Ilyushins which are dropping the bombs in Biafra is U.A.R. But I do not want to take this any further.
Before I was interrupted, I was talking about the major part of this war being an infantry war. At the time when there was great pressure in the House and a great deal of publicity about genocide. General Gowon invited a team of international observers to go out and look for themselves and make their report. They have just issued a further report, the findings of which are consistent with their earlier reports. They report that they have not found evidence of genocide, and that the recent reference to atrocities in Port Harcourt and Ilele are without foundation. There is a great deal of rehabilitation work to be done in all the bombed areas. The tragedy is that war is war, and often it is the innocent people who suffer.
Reference has been made to arms. I have said why, for historical reasons, we 1577 could not avoid being involved, and I will briefly deal with the question of an arms embargo. It was explained in the House that we stood ready to co-operate in any internationally enforceable arms embargo which could be arranged in the context of any agreement to end the fighting. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, when he winds up the debate, will develop this point and weigh up the pros and cons of possible lines of action.
§ Mr. John M. Temple (City of Chester)
Before leaving that point, will the Minister be good enough to say whether these arms are being sold for cash or on credit terms?
§ Mr. Foley
I am not sure which arms we are talking about. If we are talking about arms which the Biafrans are purchasing, I do not know. In terms of the arms that we are selling to Nigeria, they are for cash. I cannot say what the position is about the arms which they acquire from other areas of the world.
If I may now turn to relief, during the last few months some hon. Members have had a chance of visiting both Biafra and the Federal held areas, to see for themselves the conditions. There is no doubt, from their reports and their observations, and from what we ourselves know, that starvation, and especially malnutrition, were severe in the summer, particularly in the Biafran areas. How severe, no one knows for sure. Since then, the relief effort has produced a dramatic improvement, but there is likely to be a serious carbohydrate shortage soon, even if it proves less catastrophic than was recently forecast.
Precision on the extent of the problem is impossible; all figures are largely guesses. This uncertainty over even the basic questions like the total population of the rebel areas makes planning difficult. The International Red Cross recognises the need for a proper impartial survey of the food situation in Biafra, and we have discussed this both with the Red Cross and with the United States Government. We hope that it will soon be possible to mount such a survey to establish the facts and figures.
One thing is universally recognised. The existing night flights into the rebel area are inadequate to provide the food and 1578 medical supplies that are needed. A carbohydrate shortage will intensify the imperative necessity for an agreed surface route or at least for daylight flights.
Unfortunately, so far, the Biafran leadership have always imposed conditions on their willingness to accept a surface route or daylight flights, and this has made agreement impossible. Indeed, only recently Colonel Ojukwu said that he would refuse to accept supplies coming through Federal territory.
The Federal Government have agreed to and supported daylight flights carrying foodstuffs and medical supplies into the airfield at Uli, and they have recently expressed their willingness to let relief supplies be taken into the rebel area by a land route, under international supervision by observers of the O.A.U. and the relief organisations.
Most important of all, the Federal Commissioner for External Affairs has announced his Government's readiness to hand over their airstrip at Obilago for the exclusive use of the relief organisations. Under this offer the relief supplies would be flown by day to this airstrip, which is roughly six miles from the Federal front, subject to impartial international inspection. The foodstuffs would then be carried by the relief organisations by road into Biafran territory.
Clearly, this would meet all possible fears about the risk, real or imaginary, of Federal tampering with relief supplies and, above all, it would allow a far greater volume of supplies to be carried into Biafra than the night air lifts can handle. The offer has been widely welcomed, and we fervently hope that Colonel Ojukwu will accept it so that there will be the possibility of a much greater increase of relief for his people which will turn this hope into a reality.
The Federal Government's attitude throughout has been consistent in this matter of relief supplies. They have combined a military blockade with a willingness to allow relief supplies to be provided to those who are involved in the rebel held areas. I can think of no precedent for such action in what may be called a civil war or a secession. While imposing a military blockade, the Federal Government are willing to allow relief supplies of food and medicine to all those in need.
1579 We must recognise that for the Federal Government and for Colonel Ojukwu the problem is how to devise a formula whereby a surface route will be acceptable and be fair both politically and militarily. This has been the dilemma for many months. Suggestions have been made which have made military nonsense to one side or the other. We think that this proposal for the Obilago air strip offers the greatest possible hope for being able to supply relief in the quantities needed throughout the whole of Biafra.
I should like now to deal with the contributions which we are making to this relief. Since last June, the contribution by the Government has been almost £1 million. Of this amount, £700,000 took the form of a contribution to the International Red Cross in response to its appeal for funds to finance the relief operations up to the end of the year, and then up to February. Our contribution was the second largest Governmental contribution made so far to the International Red Cross. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which was the largest?"] The United States. In making it, we suggested to the Red Cross that part of it might be set aside for requirements up to the end of February. Voluntary organisations in Britain have themselves contributed more than £1 million in addition to the Government's equal amount.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)
Will my hon. Friend tell the House how much this country has gained from the sale of arms while we have been giving out the food?
§ Mr. Foley
Last month the International Red Cross prepared a new relief plan for the period from March to August. This plan envisages total expenditure of £84 million over the six months compared with £6 million spent by the Red Cross during the immediately preceding six months' period. The plan envisages that the numbers of people receiving relief in the Federal areas should be increased from 1 million to 1,250,000 and that the amount of food and medical supplies being taken by the air lifts of both the church organisations and the International Red Cross into the area controlled by Colonel Ojukwu should be 1580 stepped up from 6,500 tons a month to about 7,500 tons.
The plan recognises that the amount that can be sent to Biafra is limited by the capacity of the night air lifts and there is accordingly to be provision for large stockpiles of supplies in the Federal areas which would enable greatly increased quantities to be sent immediately into the rebel areas the moment there was an end to the fighting. The plan is, therefore, for a series of stockpiles of food around the perimeter of the fighting lines so that there can be an immediate reaction as soon as progress is made and we have political discussions on a cease-fire, or a complete and total settlement.
In response to the new appeal of the Red Cross, we now propose, subject to the approval of Parliament, a further contribution of £250,000 as a cash contribution to the International Red Cross to supplement any balance remaining from our last December's contribution of £700,000. At the same time, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development has agreed, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that we should offer to the Nigerian Federal Government a grant of £500,000 for the purchase of food grains, in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Food Aid Convention. The intention would be that the food grains would be devoted to relief purposes in the Nigerian war area, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as the body responsible for co-ordinating all relief, would be responsible for arranging the distribution of the food.
In accordance with the provisions of the Rome Food Aid Convention, the £500,000 grant will not include the costs of freight and insurance for the food grains. I therefore propose, again subject to the approval of Parliament, that in the special circumstances of this case provision should be made for a special grant of £100,000 to the Nigerian Federal Government to enable it to meet the freight and insurance charges.
Finally, as Parliament was informed on 5th March, we have given an assurance to the Save the Children Fund that, again subject to Parliamentary approval, the Government will continue to underwrite the costs of the Fund's Nigerian relief 1581 work in the next financial year to a total of £90,000. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that we should continue to make a contribution to enable the work of the Fund's teams to continue.
It will, I think, also be the wish of the House that provision should be made for other kinds of direct assistance or relief by the British Government of the kinds which we have undertaken in the current financial year. I therefore propose that there should be additional provision of £250,000 for our own direct relief assistance, including the £90,000 for the Save the Children Fund teams.
To sum up, we propose that, as the Government's new contribution to Nigerian relief, we should give a total of £1.1 million, comprising a grant of £500,000 for food grains and £100,000 to cover the associated freight and insurance costs, £250,000 as a cash grant to the International Red Cross and £250,000 for our own direct expenditure on relief, including assistance for the Save the Children Fund medical teams.
§ Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)
Does not my hon. Friend agree that these humanitarian aims, welcome as they are, are mainly concerned with the perpetuation of this horrible war? Would not our Herculean efforts be better directed to terminating this holocaust?
§ Mr. Foley
I am not sure that one desire contradicts the other. We are dealing with the reality of needs and how we can meet them, and with the reality of the war and how we can solve it. They are entirely distinct and I hope that we shall not confuse the two issues.
In conclusion, I turn to the Motion which has been signed by so many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. It is in three parts. It refers particularly to increasing the relief effort. I hope that from what I have said the House will respond and endorse the proposals which I have made. The Motion also calls for an international embargo on the supply of arms. I have already touched on this subject and my right hon. Friend will deal with it at length.
Thirdly, and most important, the signatories have asked the Government to use their good offices to bring about a meeting between General Gowon and 1582 Colonel Ojukwu. Everyone must wish that such a meeting could come about and result in a political settlement. Unfortunately, however, the history of attempts at mediation—too many to recount now—shows no lack of mediators, but only the lack of a basis on which the two sides could talk constructively.
When it has proved possible to bring the two sides together, as happened in Kampala, Niamey and Addis Ababa, it has still proved impossible to bring them to an agreement. This has not deterred us and others from further attempts at mediation. Most recently, during the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, we had some hope that we might bring both sides together. The leader of the Federal Delegation, Chief Awolowo, made a public statement in which he said that he was willing to meet, without condition, the leaders of the Biafran side who were present in London.
This was a great chance—talks without preconditions—which may have helped to get everyone off the hook. Unfortunately, the representatives of Biafra here were unable to agree and were unable to participate in this discussion. I believe that it is in contact with both sides that we will ultimately effect the change. We ourselves must continue to hope and to work for a peaceful settlement and not a military solution.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
In this context, will the hon. Gentleman speak of the initiative of Colonel Ojukwu, which was announced this morning, about the possibility of a month's truce?
§ Mr. Foley
I read it on the tape, but I have not seen the detailed text and I should not like to comment before knowing that this was a serious proposal. I am sure that it will be examined. It is one of the many proposals which must be looked at.
We must hope and work for a peaceful settlement and not a military solution, a settlement which recognises the need on each side for a sense of security for the future, a settlement which provides a basis for national reconciliation.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
It was right for the Government to concede this time for a debate on the Nigerian war, because both 1583 sides of the House have been impatient for it. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was given a difficult task by the Foreign Secretary in opening the debate. He has done it with the usual care and courtesy which we expect from him. For that we are grateful and for his account of the extra financial assistance which the Government are willing to give for Nigerian relief, and for seeking to disentangle some of the facts from the welter of rumour which comes out in the propaganda of both sides of this unhappy civil strife.
In this House the feeling, naturally, is high. The bombing of civilians and a denial of food to women and children put man to shame; and our knowledge and conscience in this House is sharpened because we have so lately been at the giving and receiving ends of a modern war. In a civil war, in particular, chivalry dies. Everybody has been deeply exercised by the accounts of the bombing in Biafra substantiated by newspaper correspondents who, of course, report what they see, though there is a lot they do not see.
I believe, therefore, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary would also feel, that it would be wise to ask Colonel Ojukwu—because nobody can form policy on newspaper reports however well they are documented—whether he will not accept trained international observers in Iboland from the United Nations. This ought to be done, and done quickly.
The reason why we are debating this matter—and I believe that the hon. Gentleman was right to stress this—is not that Britain has intervened in one side or the other in a Nigerian civil war. It is because Nigeria is a country—and there is here a situation worth marking—to which Britain, by tradition, has been a supplier of arms, and that country has been caught up in a civil war. There is quite a valid distinction between those two positions.
It must be said at once that no planes, no bombs and no pilots have been British. The question the House has to decide, therefore, is whether a cutting off of such supplies as are given to Nigeria, and have been given for a number of years, will be a contribution to peace for all Nigerians, 1584 for all Africans living in that country, not just in one part or the other.
We could, of course, make a gesture to salve our conscience, but before we do so we have a duty to examine, as a House, the implications of our action in the wider context of the Commonwealth, of the continent of Africa and of the organisation of peace. But, first, the House will be interested—and this took up part of the hon. Gentleman's speech—in two particular aspects of the matter: first, the organisation of relief to the hungry and the prevention of starvation; and, secondly, the establishment of a cease-fire during which political solutions for Nigeria's constitutional problems may be found.
The hon. Gentleman has told us, and we are grateful for the information, what the British Government can do. We do well to pause to pay tribute to what has been done by the Red Cross, the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic organisation. All of them have done work which cannot be too highly praised in the cause of human relief.
When we come to concentrate on the question of food, the conclusion to which the Foreign Secretary originally came is, I believe, still valid: that a complete solution to the feeding problems of this large area can be reached only if an open corridor can be created by land and water. But pending this, there are two things that can be done. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one of them. He says that the Federal Government have now agreed that Obilago Airport should be made available and land transport can take food from that field into Ibo-held territory.
That would do a great deal to supplement the food that is now able to arrive only by three or four flights by night, by reason of war. If that should at any time fail there is an alternative which I was going to suggest had the hon. Gentleman not told us of it.
It is that there should be an area of land designated into which air drops could be made, and that both sides should agree that these flights should not be molested by day or night. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is rather better; should we have to fall back on something else, this is a possibility. It would make a considerable contribution to relief and particularly to the immediate need 1585 of carbohydrates pending the organisation and supervision of a land and water corridor.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman turned to the Motion on the Order Paper, which we are not debating, but of which, nevertheless, we now take notice, and which expresses the instincts, in part at any rate, of a great majority of the House that there should be an international ban on armsfrom all countries outside Nigeria. The Government are almost certainly right in anticipating a refusal by the Russians to co-operate, and in expecting a veto to be applied in the Security Council of the United Nations. But I must say to the Foreign Secretary that I do not quite understand why he has not sponsored a motion to this effect in the Security Council.
I was not convinced by the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister the other day when he said if such a ban were applied to supplies by all the great suppliers of arms in the world this would be undermined by private sales and a black market. In those circumstances, of course, arms would somehow come across the frontier; but if the Russians did agree, and if the Security Council gave the directions and arranged for the inspection of the reception centres in both territories, I believe that an international ban on arms, accompanied by policing, would see to it that the great majority of arms did not get through into this territory.
I hope, therefore, that the Foreign Secretary will put a motion before the Security Council on this matter, a matter which, in this respect, is external to Nigeria's domestic afairs. It will probably be vetoed, but if it is, why not expose the position? At any rate, that would do something to help people to realise the sinister realities there may be behind this Nigerian civil war.
Thirdly, there is the desirability of a cease-fire and a truce which Nigerians can use to settle their own political structure, something so simple to say and so difficult to do; because I take it that a truce would not be valid as a reality unless it were accompanied by the supervision of the reception of arms in both parts of the territory.
If there were not such an arrangement, a truce could simply be a recipe for a 1586 renewal of the war on rather a larger scale after a certain time. There are three possibilities for the provision of a policing force for a cease-fire or truce. There is the Commonwealth. I had understood that, at the earlier stages, when the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat was trying to negotiate a peace, Colonel Ojukwu at one time came near to accepting a Commonwealth force. Now he is said to object to it. Could the Foreign Secretary tell us whether this is true?
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
My right hon. Friend says that he does not blame Colonel Ojukwu, but the Commonwealth is no longer British in direction. It is now directed by a Secretary-General and we are only partners in the association. The Commonwealth has great experience in diplomacy and negotiations, experience which would not be found in the Organisation of African Unity, although this is another body that might be used.
There is the United Nations. In general, there is an objection to the United Nations interfering in the internal affairs of a member State, and it is one to which I subscribe. If the United Nations once began to do that there could be no peace anywhere—if such a procedure was countenanced. But, if the United Nations was invited to Nigeria by the parties for the purpose of supervising a truce, it would be a different matter. General Gowon should be asked whether he would agree to this proposition, on the basis that such a force would be withdrawn upon success being achieved, or in the event of a breakdown of negotiations.
It would be interesting for the House—because we must think in terms of peacemaking, of a cease-fire, of a truce—to know which of these organs of international conciliation the Foreign Secretary thinks might be used. The question which must not be shirked is: if the only service that Britain can render to all Nigerians is in some way, through international help, to stop the war, would the unilateral cancellation of arms contracts do anything to serve that end?
There are several considerations which have to be weighed, all of them political. It must be understood that this would not be a negative act. These contracts with the Nigerian Government were made 1587 upon independence, they have been running for a number of years, and to deprive the Federal Government and the Federal forces of the assistance of British arms would be a positive act. It would put them, at least for some time to come, at a short-term disadvantage. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that this would be a negative act of no importance.
In the long term there is another and very political consideration which the House must face. If Britain were to cut off her arms supply, not in a matter of weeks or months, it is true, because the turnover would be difficult for the Nigerian forces, then the Soviet Union is ready and eager to take over the whole of the arms supply of Nigeria. A situation in which Nigerians would be forced to look to Communist Russia as the sole champion and sole friend of all Nigerians is not one which anyone can contemplate without dire foreboding.
The second consideration with which the House ought to be concerned is that there is scarcely an African country—perhaps the blame for this lies with the former colonial Powers, but let us leave that on one side because it is history—which does not contain within its borders strong tribal minorities. The actual constitutional pattern on the ground in Nigeria is no longer Britain's concern, nor is the degree of autonomy that it might be able to arrange within a federation. There is no doubt, leave Britain out of this at the moment, that among many African countries and the Organisation of African Unity, there is the most acute concern lest the break-up of federal Nigeria should be the signal for fragmentation on comparable lines throughout the continent of Africa.
That may be Africa's fate. The roots of national government, of modern administration, are a very recent growth. They are too shallow to take much of a strain; they have to be nourished all the time. Fragmentation may set Africa back to its beginning. That may be so, but let us not consciously contribute to it.
We must place in the scales of judgment the fact that Nigeria is a Commonwealth country. The Government in Lagos have lately been accepted as the proper representative at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. Within the context of Commonwealth cooperation it has been the practice of 1588 successive British Governments to foster contact between the military services in Commonwealth countries.
We set great store by this. Through the years we have tried to maintain the supply of arms which such Commonwealth Governments decide are needed for their security. We have only to look down the roll at the Imperial Defence College, something in which all parties in this House take considerable pride, to see the importance attached, in the past at any rate, to this aspect of Commonwealth co-operation.
Some will weigh these matters—and this is a very individual matter when we are concerned with moral values of this kind—and conclude in the name of realism that the Commonwealth will, anyhow, disintegrate, that Africa was tribal, will return to tribalism, and why not? They will say that Communist Russia, if not beaten to it by Communist China, will penetrate and obtain mastery over a number of African countries as she has already done to some extent in Egypt. They will accept all these things as inevitable, and maybe they are right. Realism has the unfair advantage that it sounds real.
I have been considering these questions. I have seldom been the prey of more varied and conflicting emotions than in trying to decide the rights and wrongs of this matter, in this cruel Nigerian war. My first feeling, and I think that it is shared by a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, is frustration that the cards we hold to exercise any influence are so few, and their value so small. That being so, there comes, secondly, a desire to throw in our hand, to wash our hands of the whole dirty business and to present them as clean.
However, I ask, if we do this what is our motive? We have to ask ourselves honestly, are we more concerned with our reputation for righteousness, or are we more concerned with the future of Nigerians and Nigeria? If, after having made a gesture and shown our hands to be clean, there were even a suspicion left that this gesture was empty, our conscience would soon begin to prick us as sorely as it does today. No one can forecast the course of this war, but I want to see one more supreme international effort made to see if the parties 1589 in Nigeria cannot be brought together in the interests of one whole Nigeria, however the boundaries of the political structures may in future be built.
I do not disguise from the Foreign Secretary that I think there have been shortcomings in the Government's handling of this matter in the past. They were slow off the mark in recognising the danger signals; their information has been faulty and misleading. I am not sure I see in the Prime Minister a sort of super-charged dove, if he intends to go to Nigeria to try to work a miracle. I hope that this will not be trotted out at the end of the debate as the kind of gimmick which we come to expect from the Government on these occasions.
Suppose, as the House must do, we take the Government's policy as it is presented to us now and we weigh the wide political considerations concerning the Commonwealth and the Continent of Africa which are all part of this question. If I am asked to leave tomorrow aside, because nobody can forecast what will happen in this war, and asked the direct question "Should we stop the supply of arms to the Federal Government?", I should say, "No, not for today".
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
We have listened to a very interesting speech made by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), who always approaches these problems in a constructive manner. I agree with him in many things, but I also disagree with him.
I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for the way in which he opened the debate and for the courteous way in which he has received representations from Members regarding both Nigeria and Biafra. I thank him for what he has said about relief and join in expressing the hope that on both sides, Biafra and Nigeria, there will now be real co-operation to ensure that these plans are carried out successfully.
There have been genuine, legitimate fears on both sides and I hope that they will be put aside and that the plans the Federal Government have announced will be accepted by Colonel Ojukwu. I hope that there will be full co-operation 1590 and that no side will seek to take military advantage, because this has been the real problem.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will accept the suggestion which has been made that a motion should be tabled at the Security Council.
This war ceased to be just a civil war some time ago. We should have illusions if we thought it was. This war is being fought by arms supplied from outside Nigeria. If the combatants relied upon their own arms it would be a very small war indeed. There would be none of the bombing and casualties. We have supplied arms. I will not argue about the history of this. My own view is that one of the great disadvantages of the fact that we supply arms to one side is that we are inhibited from acting as we should be acting, as mediators in this dispute.
I should like to see a Minister visit Biafra. Why not? I am not sure that he would be welcome now. This is something over which we should ponder. An intervention of this kind in civil war, where we are friends to one side and regarded as enemies by the other, inhibits us from acting as a mediator. We ought, as the centre of the Commonwealth, be a mediator, but we cannot because it will not be accepted.
When the civil war broke out there was no legitimate democratically-elected Government, either in Nigeria or Biafra, but military régimes, coups d'etat, revolutions. Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania have been cited. They are democratically-elected Governments chosen by the people, where sections of the Army were proposing to strike against the legitimate Government. That has not always been the view of this House. I remember a time when another legitimate Government, elected by the people, 30 years ago, was attacked from outside, and the party opposite adopted a policy of non-intervention.
Mr. James Thin (Cleveland)
On the point about our supply of arms to the Federal Government inhibiting our action as a mediator, would my right hon. Friend not agree that if we were to go back on a long-standing agreement to supply these arms we would compromise our position with the Federal Government as a mediator without support?
§ Mr. Griffiths
My own view, and I hold this very strongly, is that when the legitimate Government of Nigeria were overthrown by sections of the Army there ceased to be any legitimate, democratically-elected Government in Nigeria.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Hamilton)
Would the right hon. Gentleman give some support to a proposition of mine that an all-party delegation of women M.P.s should visit both sides?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I want to devote myself to the future, to what happens from now on.
All bombing in war becomes indiscriminate. It is particularly indiscriminate in Biafra, as I found from my own experience and as my hon. Friends have found. There are Russian Ilyushin and MiG planes, and Egyptian pilots, and now, I am told, there are also mercenary European pilots flying Russian planes. I am not a militarist, but most of the bombing in market places, roads and towns is by awful anti-personnel bombs.
Biafra is an ever-shrinking territory, crowded with 8 to 10 million people. Millions of them are homeless and many are starving. Those who have been to Biafra know the scenes. The roads, the markets and the villages are crowded. I have seen the bombing there and, inevitably, there has been a heavy loss of life.
Some of my hon. Friends have been there quite recently and have seen the escalated bombing of the last weeks, which has incurred heavy casualties. There is a pattern to it. It is quite clear from what I saw, or the evidence of bombing where people have been killed, that bombs fall near big buildings. Bombing is pinpointed by the pilots, saying, "Find a big building and drop a bomb near to it". So, one sees evidence of bombing of villages close to a church, a hospital, or a convent.
I went to a convent in Nuguru. There, a bomb had fallen on the edge of the building and the sick bay had been hit. Children were killed. I saw a church on the road to Umuahia, and the little villages round the church, almost like countryside villages in this country. Bombs had fallen there, too.
We talk about discrimination in bombing. There can be no discriminatory 1592 bombing in a place like Biafra, in which there are so many people roaming about. Stop it altogether; that is the only thing to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] I will come to that. The United Nations should have stepped in. The three countries which are maintaining supplies of arms in the civil war are all members of the Security Council: Russia and Britain to Nigeria, and France, directly or indirectly, to Biafra.
There is something else which I hope the United Nations will note. Lord Brockway and I saw arms in Nigeria which had been manufactured in eight European countries. They were supplied not by Russia, Britain or France, but from the black market, financed and organised from Europe. As a continent, we should be ashamed of it. This matter has been raised in the Council of Europe. I hope that it will be raised in the United Nations and that it will be said that this was is in danger of escalating into a conflict between the Great Powers. It is a threat to the peace of the world if it continues.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
My right hon. Friend has just said that this matter has been raised at Strasbourg. That is so. But is it not a fact that in New York U Thant has said—and I accept what he says—that it was not within the purview of the United Nations?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I accept the view of the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire that the motion which we have tabled should go on the agenda of the Security Council. If anyone vetoes it, let it be vetoed. At least let us take a step towards an arms embargo and attempt to bring peace to Nigeria.
Lord Brockway and I proposed—and I still think that this is worth considering; we hope that it will be accepted—first, that there should be a cease-fire at once; secondly, that there should be a peace-keeping force; and, thirdly, that during that period there should be massive aid for the ports, rivers and roads which are essential for carrying supplies to the remote villages in Biafra. Then there should be a fairly long cooling-off period so that the bitter memories may begin to die and the hatreds grow less before there is talk about the future of Nigeria.
1593 The first and most important thing is a cease-fire. We must stop the war. Colonel Ojukwu has said, "I am willing to have a cease-fire without raising the question of secession and Biafran sovereignty". General Gowon has said the same. But the two sides must come together. Part of the tragedy of the visit of my noble Friend and myself was to see people on both sides whom we knew in former days, old colleagues who had fought for the independence of Nigeria, who were now bitter enemies. There are experienced men on both sides outside these two young generals who realise that if the war goes on to an end it will be the finish of one Nigeria and that it may have serious repercussions all over Africa.
It may be sentimental and emotional to say so, but I fear the final stages of the war. I have seen the crowded villages and roads of Biafra, with its children being fed at six o'clock in the morning because it is essential to get them home by half-past seven before the bombing starts, with the markets opening at half-past five and closing at half-past seven so that the people can be dispersed. We have had illusions about the war going on to its bitter end. Do not let us have any more.
Some of the miscalculations of my right hon. Friend's advisers have proved disastrous in the past. When the civil war began, the advice was that it was a bush fire which would be extinguished in a couple of weeks. It has lasted 20 months. It was said, "If we can get rid of this man Ojukwu everything will be all right." That is a colossal mistake. No one who has been to Biafra believes that. It was suggested that there would be a quick kill. But it will be a long kill—and what a kill!
I do not say this light-heartedly, but, realising what the final stages of the war may be like, I cannot vote for the continued supply of arms to Nigeria. If we continue to supply arms to Nigeria, we shall be partly responsible for the final stages of the war. It may be sentiment, call it hypocrisy or what one likes. I speak only for myself: I cannot stand for it.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)
On this issue, there is no right hon. Gentleman whom I regard it as a greater privilege to follow than the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). If I may respectfully say so, I think that the mission of himself and his noble Friend, Lord Brockway, cannot have failed to have moved all of us in the House. It showed that if they were perhaps of a more advanced age than some of us they were still very youthful in spirit. The compassion and humanity which they have both shown over the years, particularly in their record in different parts of the Commonwealth, were richly underpinned by their visit. It is, therefore, a privilege to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the debate.
The House is, I am sure, grateful for this opportunity to discuss the affairs of Biafra. I pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who must have reported to his colleagues with some success the intensity of feeling on both sides of the House which has resulted in this debate.
I do not want to inflame passions, because I believe that there are many factors which are common to every hon. and right hon. Gentleman, whether he agrees or disagrees with the Government's policy. I accept the sincerity of every hon. and right hon. Gentleman. We are all united in wishing to see the end of a ghastly war which has gone on between two military régimes for nearly two years and in which 1 million people have died—more, I believe, than in the whole of the Vietnam war. We want to stop the killing and to see peace.
I agree that all peace initiatives so far have failed. The Commonwealth Secretariat mission of Mr. Arnold Smith, the Secretary-General, was followed by the talks in Kampala, by the secret talks in London, by the preliminary talks in Niger and, finally, by the talks in Addis Ababa. All of them failed. I hope that we can also agree that there is unlikely to be a military solution of this problem—at least, not a permanent settlement by military means—because even if a military solution were imposed the guerilla activity which would occur afterwards would ensure that there was no peace in that part of West Africa for many years.
1595 When the first Federal attack was made on 7th July, 1967, I believe that it was the Government's view that there would be a quick kill. I am sure that that was the view of our High Commissioner. I regret to say that on these matters I am also sure that, for the most part, he has always been wrong.
I sympathise with those who want to see one Nigeria. I know Nigeria and the regions of Nigeria. But we must be very careful that, in our attempt to prevent fragmencation happening in the Continent of Africa, we do not at the same time try to perpetuate frontiers drawn by colonial Powers which might themselves now be totally irrelevant. The recognition of that was when, before independence, there was a referendum in part of what was then East Nigeria to decide whether a particular area wished to join the Cameroons or remain witthin Nigeria.
Although they were English speaking, they opted to join the French-speaking Republic of Cameroon. Although partition can produce some appalling results and although very often the economic and political arguments against partition are very strong, surely the lessons of India, of Ireland and of Central Africa itself indicate that it is the will of the people which must be taken into account.
I think that the House will also agree that it is not for Britain to try to impose a settlement. Therefore, I ask two questions: first, what should be the attitude of this House to the continued supply of arms to one side; and, secondly, what, if any, additional initiative can this country take?
I must confess that I was as delighted to listen to the references by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) about the need for this country to take the initiative in the United Nations to try to get an embargo on arms, as I was saddened and surprised by the lack of any reference to any initiative in this matter from the Under-Secretary of State, when he opened the debate. As a country which is actively supplying arms to one side, I should have thought that even in our own interests we would want to see whether there could be some form of international control. However, there was not a word in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and it was left to the Opposition Front Bench 1596 for the first time to raise the matter in this debate.
I want to be fair to the Government in the matter of arms, if I can. Although I believe that our policy of supplying arms is profoundly wrong, I can sympathise with and see how the Government started to travel along this road. The desperately difficult fact remains that one can start to travel along the road of supplying arms in what are justifiable conditions, but one comes to the stage where the road changes direction, where the terrain is very different, and where that policy has to be reconsidered, right though it may have been initially but possibly wrong as it becomes subsequently.
I suggest that there is a complete difference between a rebellion and a civil war. It may be only a difference of degree, but it is in that difference of degree that there is all the difference of policy. We are saying that it does not matter whether this is a civil war or a rebellion, the arguments for the justification of the supply of arms are the same.
However, I want to ask the House this question. I did not like the régime of Presient Nkrumah, whom we recognised and to whom, before his overthrow, we supplied about £900,000 worth of arms a year. On 24th February, 1966, he was overthrown by a military coup, and the National Liberation Council took over control of the Government. Although I do not hold any great brief for them, they are a distinct improvement upon the Nkrumah régime.
But, supposing there had been a transitional stage of six to nine months while these matters were in doubt, and there was fighting, would we say, on the basis of the Nigerian precedent, that it would have been our duty to a friendly Commonwealth country to have supplied President Nkrumah with the necessary arms to put down a rebellion? Would we have thought it our duty to take a political stand of that sort in defence of the status quo? That is the logic of the Government's argument.
It is one thing to put down a rebellion, but when the situation is reached that the whole future of a Government is being challenged by conditions of civil war, then to provide arms to one side is taking a clear and unequivocal side in a civil 1597 war and, whether it is a Commonwealth or a foreign country, that should not be an aspect lightly accepted as part of our foreign or Commonwealth relations policy.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Is not the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument that, any time that the Government of a country is menaced by internal uprising, it is the duty of those external to the country to deny support to that Government?
§ Mr. Thorpe
I said nothing like that, and I am sorry if I led the hon. Gentleman to that different conclusion.
What I have said is that in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania there exist established Governments returned by the free will of the electorate. They were faced with rebellion, and initially we supported them in putting down that rebellion. I had doubts, but I can see the logic of the case. However, if in those countries the rebellion had turned into civil war, if, for example, in Kenya the Kikuyu were fighting the Masai and the Luos and there was civil war cutting the country in half and threatening the whole future of the country, could we continue to give support and become embroiled in civil war? It is a difference of degree, but it is a difference which should lead one to a different policy, and I do not believe that it is our job in the world to take part in civil wars.
Initially, that was the view of the Government. Before the outbreak of the war, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, made it plain in another place that we should be neutral and there was to be no intervention. On 25th January, 1968, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in another place, again said that we should be neutral to both sides, neither helping one side nor the other. That was the Government's initial position, and it was a proper one.
By 13th February, 1968, the same noble Lord said that if we were to stop supplying arms to one side, Lagos would interpret that as being un-neutral. So we arrived at the situation where the former Commonwealth Secretary said on 21st May, 1968, that those who were suggesting a cut-back in arms would be asking us to do something which was tantamount to supporting a rebellion. By 1598 12th June, when eventually facts were got out, the Government's position was that we were a traditional supplier, and supplies must continue. They took the view that this was the legal Government and that arms would be bought elsewhere, whereas our arms supplies gave us some influence which otherwise we would not have. I think that that is a fair summary of the Government's attitude.
Before the military coup d'etat, the amount of military aid that we were giving was not very great. Certainly, it was a very small percentage of what we were giving to Ghana. The build-up came before the secession but after the Federal coup d'etat, and, therefore, it is on the basis of the increased supply of arms that we are now saying that we supply only 15 per cent. of their requirements.
The Prime Minister went further when I questioned him on 16th May, He said:… we have allowed the continuance of supply of arms by private manufacturers in this country exactly on the basis that it has been in the past, but there has been no special provision for the needs of the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1968; Vol. 764, c. 1397–8.]All I can say is that the only difference is that before the war those bullets were not fired at fellow Nigerians and now they are.
I believe that we are entitled to ask the Government, "Very well. If you are to continue to supply arms, and you tell us that it gives you a particular influence, where has it been successful?" It did not succeed in getting General Gowon to Addis Ababa where there could have been a meeting between the two combatants. It has not succeeded in preventing the strafing of the civilial population by Federal bombers. There is no doubt about that issue now.
So what have we achieved? We have a situation, as the right hon. Member for Llanelly pointed out, in which we are bringing into this area all the pressures of the cold war. We are seeing a conflict between France and Russia—and indeed ourselves. We are seeing a clash between European Powers as well. We are certainly finding ourselves at variance with the views of our European allies. That is why the British Week was cancelled in Switzerland. That is why there have been posters up in 1599 Berlin saying "U.S.S.R. and G.B. Volkmord", which means genocide—[Interruption.] It may not be right. But I refer the House to President Nixon's campaign speeches on the great danger of two narrow a definition of what is meant by genocide. We are seeing at the moment——
§ Mr. Thorpe
I will give way in a moment. I do not believe that the Federal authorities have the remotest intention of committing genocide. I do not think that anyone in this House would suggest it. But I suggest that there are conditions in which we can see, through starvation, through the continuation of bombing and through the strafing of the civilian population, a very large proportion of a particular race being wiped out.
§ Mr. James Johnson
Many Nigerians believe that our influence has perhaps been too successful in that it has deterred General Gowon and his advisers from pushing on with what we might term a successful conclusion. Indeed, fighting commanders like Adekunle at Port Har-court have been held back in the field. This is a negative factor, but has the right hon. Gentleman thought about it?
§ Mr. Thorpe
I do not know whether that is the hon. Gentleman's view. If his view is that because we have supplied arms we therefore have an influence with the Federal authorities which has prevented genocide, then he has a very low opinion of those to whom we are currently supplying arms.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
The right hon. Gentleman says that nobody in this House is making any accusation of genocide. Therefore, I do not think that we need pursue that. But does he agree that the Government's influence may have had some effect in securing the presence of international observers in Nigeria, which surely, on the report of Sir Bernard Fergusson, has assisted in preventing a certain amount of killing? Perhaps I may put the question that the right hon. Gentleman put the other way round. Many of us believe that the way to get peace is to get a cease-fire, to stop the bombing and to get an international force, if possible. Surely our influence 1600 can best be used with the Nigerian Government to secure that. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the preliminary announcement that we were cutting off all arms supplies would assist in securing those purposes? I should like his answer, because this is one of the most difficult questions that we have to decide.
§ Mr. Thorpe
The hon. Gentleman puts a very fair question. Whatever action is taken, I think that it is extremely difficult. It is a very high price to pay to supply arms to one side if the only dividend at the end is that we happen to get in some international observers.
I should like to draw another comparison with which the hon. Gentleman will be familiar. At the time of the Indo-Chinese war this country was neutral. We were not involved. We were not associating with the French at the time of Dien Bien Phu. We were neutral, and so regarded. Therefore, this country, to its great credit, played a major part in bringing about the Geneva talks which brought that war to an end.
But looking at Vietnam today, because this country has associated itself so clearly and indelibly with one side, we are in no position to negotiate or to be a mediator. Indeed, when that very distinguished public servant, Lord Hunt, went to Nigeria on a mercy mission—1 do not say the Biafrans were right—he was not able to gain access to Biafra because he belonged to a country which was regarded as being exclusively associated with one side.
We are in the realm of conjecture. If we were in the position of not having supplied arms to either side, I believe that we would have been in a stronger position today. If we had said, with all the unpopularity which it would have prompted from the Federal Government, "There is a condition of civil war. We believe that our job is to act as mediators. We do not want it to be thought that we are taking sides. Our job is to get peace." I suggest that our chances of getting an international observer force, and possibly our chances of taking the initiative at the United Nations, as we did successfully in the Security Council after the six-day war, because we had genuinely tried to understand both points of view, would have been much better 1601 and we would have been in a stronger position today.
But there is another reason. I believe that the Government's maintenance of the supply of arms to Nigeria would be far more convincing if they could come to this House and say, "We have taken every initiative to get an international embargo. We have raised it at the United Nations, we have raised it with the Commonwealth and we have raised it in W.E.U." But no such move has been publicly made and at no stage have the Government told the House that that is what they will do. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will tell us what he has in mind.
I believe that the supply of arms, for that reason alone, becomes even more cynical. It has not achieved the quick kill. It has not—and here I disagree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot)—given us this great influence, unless all that we have done is to prevent a holocaust occurring. That seems to me to be an even more important reason for getting international control.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he thinks it is important to have had international observers who have gone through the areas liberated or taken into the Nigerian field from the Biafrans? Does he not think that it is important in saving lives that we should have had international observers there? However strongly the right hon. Gentleman may hold his views, does he not think it is right that he should acknowledge the importance of that matter, because it is as important to save lives on that side of the line as on the other side of the line?
§ Mr. Thorpe
Of course it is important. It is important, as the Minister has said, that we are to give aid—that we are granting money and supplies. These things are invaluable. I am merely saying that it is a pretty odd equation for the hon. Gentleman to say that we can take the credit for having played some part in getting international observers in because we had influence with the Nigerians since we supplied arms. If that argument is taken to its logical conclusion, there will be some pretty crummy régimes in Western Europe to whom we should supply arms in order 1602 to have official observers going into General Franco's jails.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
I said that because the right hon. Gentleman said that we had no influence. I was pointing out that we have had some influence in saving lives. I wish to see our influence used further to save more lives by getting a cease fire. I do not believe that the course that the right hon. Gentleman recommends will assist us in that purpose.
§ Mr. Thorpe
That is a matter of opinion. I believe that what is past is past. But had we not supplied arms our influence would have been very much greater in saving many more lives. As it is, we can claim to have produced about 80 per cent. of the killing power on the ground, as the Minister rightly said, "This is a war on the ground". I want to see the Government in a position to take some initiative. I face the fact that if we stop the supply of arms tomorrow we would not have very much more initiative, because I think we are committed to the hilt, and to me it is tragic that this country is not trusted by one side or the other.
When the right hon. Gentleman asks, "What do we achieve by giving up the supply of arms?", are we washing our hands as Pontius Pilate did? I do not think that we are. I do not think that it is any part of the foreign policy of this country, in its own interests, to be the supplier of arms in a civil war. I think that it is morally wrong that we should do so, and to say that if we do not somebody else will is the argument of the prostitute, of the dope pedlar and of the black marketeer through the centuries. I would be more convinced with the case for the supply of arms by this Government if they had taken some initiative to try to get some international negotiations going at the Security Council.
We are in the almost impossible position that Umiaha will not surrender any of its sovereignty to Lagos, and that Lagos in turn will not agree to any settlement in which Umiaha does not come under its suzerainty. The nearest equivalent was that of Cyprus, where the people of Cyprus were given independence, and the President of Cyprus promptly recognised the Queen as the Queen of Cyprus. There was a constitutional formula which worked.
1603 I believe that probably the only political settlement will be one rather along the lines of Malaysia. I think that we shall have to see a completely new Nigeria, a Commonwealth of Nigeria. It may well be that it will have to start with a new Nigerian flag, and that each of the consituent states of Nigeria will have its own national flag, but it will be part of the Nigerian Commonwealth, with a rotating head of State as we have in Malaysia at the moment. This is one of the ways in which the different and competing ethnic groups and nations have managed to have some confidence, but we are in the position that the only legal constitution, certainly in the courts, will be the lour region constitution which was in operation before the coup d'etat of General Gowon and General Ironsi.
I do not think that this is something that we can do. I think that this will have to come from the United Nations, or from the O.A.U., or from the Commonwealth as a whole. Unfortunately, I think that we are too tainted. I hope that the Government will not think that they are taking useful initiatives by sending—[Interruption.] This is a serious problem. Malaysia had precisely the same problem, and precisely the same possibility of civil war between individual states. That is one reason why it was difficult to negotiate an independent settlement, but it has worked.
I believe that the Government must not think that they are taking an initiative by sending out missions, however distinguished, to one part of Nigeria to bring back reports. I do not query the faith of the Prime Minister in this matter, but it is extraordinary how many missions have been dispatched at hours' notice the day before difficult debates. We have seen it in Rhodesia. We have seen it in Vietnam, and we have seen it now in Nigeria.
But even if I accept that every one of those initiatives has nothing to do with any tactical consideration—[An HON. MEMBER: "Do you oppose these Missions being sent?"]—in the case of the right hon. Gentleman going to Salisbury on certain occasions, my view is that he should not have gone because it was far too humiliating for this country. Even if these initiatives can bring back new information, because the Government are committed to their support of 1604 one side in a civil war our initiatives will not be very great. All I hope is that we shall be able to say that at least we have some honour left, and that we have stopped trafficking in blood. For that reason I believe that it would be right tonight for the House to have an opportunity to express its views in the Lobby.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Bosworth)
I am glad that we are having this debate on Biafra and Nigeria, because it will give the Government a chance to clear up some of the misconceptions which have been very much at large in this country and are still at large in this House. I am looking forward to hearing one of those robust, forthright, lucid expositions from the Foreign Secretary in which he firmly attaches himself to his own policy and explains why it is necessary not only in the interests of Nigeria but in the interests of this country, something which we seldom hear about.
Much of the misunderstanding is due to reporting on B.B.C. and Independent Television. It is because they have elected all the time to produce the sensational elements of the bombing, which is horrible in any aspect, and they have neglected to point out the other aspects of the situation, for example the great work of rehabilitation that has been going on in the areas recaptured by the Federal Government. They have not found it news to give shots and descriptions of pacified areas where people are quietly going about their work. They have not interviewed the 20,000 Ibos in Lagos who are still happily employed without any persecution. They have selected only those horrifying incidents which must always be connected with war.
Lately The Times, in an attempt to increase its circulation in a very cheap way, has prominently displayed, in far larger terms than it has ever done before with a writer in The Times, the name of the author. The first was put on the front page, and all these articles have concentrated on the sensational aspects of the horrors of war at the receiving end, which all of us who have ever been in a war know must always occur.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I did not say they were not, but they are only partially true 1605 because they do not give the other side of the picture, and that is most important.
The country has been given the impression that when the British Government are not actively engaged in bombing Biafran children they are engaged in starving them. A more ludicrous travesty of the facts could hardly be imagined.
In the first place, we have not even supplied them with any bombers, or pilots, or bombs. Secondly, there is not such tremendous pattern bombing in Biafra because the Nigerian Government have fewer than six bombers. Even if they missed a military target every time they bombed they could not be bombing on the scale that we bombed Dresden. Who are we to tell the Federal Government of Nigeria that they have no business to drop bombs in case any of them should hit a civilian? Was not it out side which used the atom bomb on Hiroshima? Nothing more disgusts our potential friends in Nigeria and Africa than our hypocritical, nauseating, sanctimonious approach, as though we, the Europeans and the British, have lily-white hands and apparently fight wars only with bows and arrows while they, because they are Africans, know no better.
If it it true that the bombs frequently miss military targets—and I am prepared to believe it—whose fault is that? It is because we refused to allow them to have British trained bomber pilots. We refused to train their pilots, and it is no good saying, "Well, they have Egyptian pilots there." I would much rather they had Israeli pilots, because they would be more likely to hit the right targets.
What is forgotten in the propaganda which is flooding this country is that it was the Ibos who began the whole thing. First, they murdered the Federal Prime Minister. They murdered the Prime Ministers of two of the other regions. They murdered the Finance Minister, and later they started the actual fighting, even though the Federal Government had gone on being immensely patient and paying the salaries of dissident officials in the Ibo areas.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Who told the hon. Gentleman that?"] The facts are there. The trouble is that nobody wants to know.
Before General Gowon began the war—[Laughter.]—sorry, before Colonel 1606 Ojukwu—[Laughter.] I do not know why the war in Nigeria is such a laughing matter. I thought that those who are laughing affected to be so tragically moved by it. When Colonel Ojukwu started the war he said, "This is going to be an all-out war, a total war, in which no quarter will be given". He immediately started bombing Lagos. If he had the bombers he would be bombing civilian targets right now. On 31st January last, as the Under-Secretary has said, indiscriminate bombing by Biafrans took place of a village called Obaje in which civilians were killed and there was no pretence of any military target in the place.
We are talking about the complaint of one side that they have not got the bombers to do to the other side what they began doing themselves. Everyone who has bothered to study the matter knows that in those areas which the Ibos and Biafrans overran to begin with they committed untold atrocities. There were piles of corpses of non-Ibos outside every cemetery. There were most horrible murders, but, apparently, because they were done by the rebels, this does not matter. None of my hon. Friends who make such a commotion now bothered to take that up, any more than they agitate about the rocket firing by the Vietcong on civilians in South Vietnam, which is far worse than anything that General Gowon can do and is killing far more people—[Interruption.] Obviously, the British Government and everyone in this House do not want to see bombing of civilians or children in Biafra. The whole time, the Government have been using their influence to try to ensure that this is prevented or, when military targets are attacked, cut to the absolute minimum. I respect them for that, and I think they have done their best.
One of the answers to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), who seemed singularly misinformed on the whole subject, is that, of course, the British influence has helped to maintain throughout the highest conceivable standards in the Federal Government areas. Because of the public opinion effect of the British Government, I am sure that more care has been taken than would otherwise have been taken. Anyone who reads General Gowon's instructions to the pilots can see that he does not intend that there 1607 should be indiscriminate bombing. Indeed, he speaks movingly of the need to maintain one Nigeria and not put one Nigerian against another, and, therefore, he says again and again, "Do everything you can to avoid civilian targets", but he cannot fly every plane himself.
Threatening to stop the supply of arms is useless, because the first thing that would happen is that they would go straight to the Russians for them. It will do no one any good in Nigeria——
§ Mr. James Griffiths
My hon. Friend says that, if we stopped the supply, they would go to the Russians. But the Russians are there already.
§ Mr. Wyatt
But my right hon. Friend fails to notice that, whereas we also have influence in Nigeria, along with the Russians, today, in the case that he puts, only the Russians would have influence, and that is not a situation which I want.
The Russians have already told the Federal Government that, come what may, they will see them through to victory, and it does not matter how many Resolutions are passed at the United Nations and how many Motions are put on the Order Paper of the House of Commons, the realpolitik of the situation is that the Russians have said, "If the British let you down, we will see that you finish the rebellion."
Why should we cut off the arms in any case? They are the legitimate Government. Surely they have a right to defend the integrity of their country against internal rebellion—[Interruption.] They are just as legitimate as many of the Governments which many of my hon. Friends support in Eastern Europe, if not more so——
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
Could my hon. Friend tell us who gave Colonel Gowon his constitutional mandate to assume power, after the murder of General Ironsi?
§ Mr. Wyatt
I can tell my right hon. Friend this much. At the conference in Ghana, it was agreed by Colonel Ojukwu that General Gowon should be the head of the Federal Government of Nigeria—[An HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It certainly was, and in a situation which has been a series of miltary coups, begun by the Ibos and Colonel Ojukwu himself, it does not lie in his mouth to criticise or 1608 query the legitimacy of General Gowon or in that of any of his friends. In fact, many of Colonel Ojukwu's friends do him much disservice in this House and elsewhere.
Of course the Federal Government are entitled to go on getting arms from us. They have to put down a rebellion which is affecting only a comparatively small part of that vast country. At the moment, I suppose there may be 5 million people in the area held by Biafra, but there are nearly 60 million in Nigeria, and the rest of them are working peacefully and hoping for this miserable war to be brought to the quickest possible end. They want to go on building a united country.
To that end, a new constitution has been promulgated, about which we have heard nothing this afternoon and in which there are to be 12 states, and about which no doubt the Ibo leaders may complain, because it confines them to East Central State in which their boundaries would match their majority areas. This, of course, would mean that they would have no access to the sea. The fact that Port Harcourt happens to have a majority of Ibos in it does not make the whole of the Rivers area an Ibo area. There is 50 or 100 miles of entirely non-Iboland after Port Harcourt before one reaches the East Central State——
§ Mr. James Johnson
Is it not a fact that there are twelve States in being, or eleven plus what is now East Central or Iboland, each of which has its capital city—civil servants have left Kaduna in the North and Lagos—and those cities are functioning as provincial capitals at the moment?
§ Mr. Wyatt
I am grateful. My hon. Friend, with his considerable knowledge and great experience of Nigeria, has underlined what is happening. All those people who keep saying, "Stop supplying arms to the Nigerian Government," are trying to keep alive a rebellion which is not only dying but which should die——
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I take my hon. Friend's point about the legality and morality of supplying arms to the Federal Government, but would he not also agree that those who supply 1609 arms to the rebels are acting both illegally and immorally?
§ Mr. Wyatt
Of course; I ws coming to that. I absolutely agree. The Federal Government continually offer Colonel Ojukwu fair and reasonable terms, including an amnesty for himself and a reinstatement even of Ibo soldiers in the Federal army. Nothing could be more reasonable and fair, if anyone bothered to read them, than the terms issued by the Federal Government to end this war. But, of course, Colonel Ojukwu will not give in, because he wants the idea of an independent nation accepted before he will start talks. Of course the Federal Government cannot agree to that, any more than Abraham Lincoln could agree to the secession of the Southern States in the American Civil War——
§ Mr. James Griffiths
It is all right to go over the whole history, but there was a settlement at Abori which Colonel Ojukwu repudiated after he had signed.
§ Mr. Wyatt
But he did not. That was repudiated by both sides. And one of the main features of the agreement was that General Gowon should be head of the State, so I do not know why everybody says that his is not the legitimate Government.
To say that we should pressurise the Nigerian Government into agreeing to a cease-fire and that then talks should be held is utterly wrong. It is taking one side, because it means, first, that the validity of the rebellion is recognised, together with the claim for separate nationhood, and, second, it merely gives the rebel areas the chance to rebuild and recoup their forces, and, of course, they are getting plenty of arms from General de Gaulle. It is not reasonable to say that a ceasefire in advance of talks would be fair to both sides, because it would be absolutely hostile to the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Reference has been made to the failure to acquire what is called a quick kill. The argument appears to be that as the civil war was not finished immediately, it should be prolonged indefinitely. If we and everyone else stopped supplying arms to the Federal Government the Biafrans would continue to get arms from General de Gaulle and the war would drag on for 1610 ever. Civil wars and rebellions of this kind tend to last a long time. That is the sad thing about them. The American Civil War lasted for four years; but nobody says that Abraham Lincoln was unreasonable in saying that the rebellion must come to an end before talk about terms could occur.
Pressure should not be put on the Federal Government to agree to all sorts of arrangements which would break up the unity of Nigeria because that, in any event, is the hope of Africa. There are 2,000 tribes in Africa and if we were to start embarking on the sort of policies that some have put forward, goodness knows what would happen. Are we to abandon all our ideals and hopes for Africa. If so, we cannot imagine what would be the result. That is why I am amazed at some of the extraordinary attitudes which some people adopt over this question.
Pressure should be brought to bear on Colonel Ojukwu to agree to what must be regarded as the very reasonable terms that have been put forward. He is one of the most unreasonable men in history. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] He almost got himself to the gateway of Lagos, and at that time he was definitely not speaking in friendly terms to the non-Ibos. He set up a puppet republic in Benin. I suppose it was meant to be his kind of Czechoslovakia. He treated the people of Calabar and the Rivers area in such a terrible way that they have been immensely pleased to get rid of him. Even the Ibos of the mid-western areas no longer want to have anything to do with him. It was only because of what he claimed the Federal Government would do to them that so many Ibos and non-Ibos were persuaded to track back into Biafran territory with him.
In this case not only is right on the side of the Federal Government of Nigeria, but it is also on the side of Her Majesty's Government. It so happens that this Tightness coincides with our interests. "British interests" has become a dirty phrase, but I am not ashamed of using it. It so happens that in Nigeria, outside the rebel area, live 16,000 British citizens, and they are at work there this very day. We have investments in Nigeria worth at least £400 million, and the oil in Nigeria will have a value richer than even that of Kuwait. 1611 In the end, British investment there will be worth about £2.000 million.
I would not even consider mentioning these interests if I believed that Her Majesty's Government were in the wrong. If I believed that we should stop sending arms to the Federal Government of Nigeria, then no consideration of our personal interests would interfere with the situation. But to change sides on the wrong side and, in so doing, totally wreck the interests of our country seems to be the politics of utter lunacy. We are right. Why, therefore, should we change to the wrong side?
§ Mr. Wyatt
If we were to change to the wrong side the Russians would be only too delighted to take over our oil interests and our other interests in Nigeria. In that event our influence for democracy and fair dealing throughout the Continent of Africa would disappear.
If I have a criticism of Her Majesty's Government it is that they have been too lukewarm in their support of the Federal Government.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
If the hon. Gentleman had confined his argument to the last economic one, his remarks would have been more impressive. The Government changed their mind when our oil supplies were stopped because of the Israeli war.
§ Mr. Wyatt
I cannot hope to make as good a speech as the hon. Gentleman. I am just doing my bit to state the facts as I have seen them.
As I was saying, if the Government had been less lukewarm in their support of the Nigerian Federal Government the theory of the quick kill might rapidly have become a reality. As it was, they waited until after General de Gaulle decided last July, when the rebellion was nearly over, to send the rebels large supplies of arms, and, of course, money. After all, where do people think all the cash that is necessary for the Biafran propaganda machine is coming from? It is coming from Paris, although after recent events in France General de Gaulle may have to curtail this supply.
1612 Nothing was more cynical than the intervention of General de Gaulle on the side of the Biafran rebels, first, in an effort to get hold of some oil in Nigeria if he possibly could, and, secondly, to follow his usual obsession with the British. Anything that he can do to harm, damage or maltreat the British he will do. If the British can be harmed as a result of French action in any matter, that is where General de Gaulle will be found.
Not only have we been too lukewarm in supporting the Federal Government, but we have been interfering too much in our insistence on the manner in which they should conduct the war. We are, of course, talking about an independent country. We are not running Nigeria How should we feel if a similar debate were taking place in a Nigerian Parliament about the way in which, for example, the Home Secretary treats Welsh Nationalists? We should regard it as the greatest impertinence.
We have been overstepping the bounds of good manners in our treatment of General Gowon and the Federal Government. They have been doing their best to conform to British standards, and I believe that they are sincere in their desire to see a peaceful Nigeria in which all Nigerians have the same rights and privileges. What some of my enthusiastic hon. Friends do not realise is that although they are great levellers, the Ibos are not. They want to dominate Nigeria.
It is our duty to support the legitimate Government of that country, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will say that he does not intend to take the slightest notice of all this ill-informed clamour.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I am sure that the Foreign Secretary is familiar with the old Sicilian phrase, "God protect me from my friends". Although he appears to have only one friend today, his prayers must nevertheless be fervent.
Many hon. Members regret that the Foreign Secretary did not open the debate, since we are waiting to see whether there is to be a change of Government policy in this matter. There are unconfirmed rumours that the Prime Minister is about to fly to Lagos. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm or deny those rumours?
1613 Many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, and as their activities have forced the Government into having this discussion, I will be brief.
During the last 18 months we have seen a growing failure of British policy, and this must have alarmed hon. Members. We have seen the quick kill failing. We have seen that the unitary State in Nigeria is no longer achievable except at costs which would be unacceptable to the civilised world. We have seen that a military solution is no longer acceptable or possible and that, therefore, there must be a political solution.
It is difficult to achieve a political solution, but I believe that towards that purpose there must be a change of British, European and Russian policy. That change can best be triggered off by an unequivocal cessation of British arms supply to Lagos. That is my theme, and I wish to develop it. I wish to say something about the failure of our policy. What did we set out to do in major policy? I suggest it was to press for a unitary State in Nigeria. It is quite clear from evidence now to hand that the British High Commission in Lagos, after General Gowon had signed the Aburri Agreement, exerted maximum pressure through Permanent Under-Secretary Mr. Ayeda and Mr. Atta to renege on that agreement so that the idea of confederation was lost at that time.
This was the first and gravest possible error. It showed the first disastrous mis-appreciation of what is likely to happen in that part of the world. Secondly, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and others, we very quickly fell into the error of declaring what was in in fact a civil war a rebellion, with all the unfortunate results which followed from that.
We are now reaping the whirlwind of these follies and the legal fiction to which the right hon. Member referred in the bloody deadlock round Owerri and Abba and in air attacks on civilians. It is fair to say that without wiping out 7 million people the military policy of a unitary State is as dead as its million victims. That is a fact which this House has to face. That is the main objective of our policy. The main objective of a unitary State has quite clearly failed.
1614 I turn to what the subsidiary objectives of British policy have been. These are perfectly respectable, perfectly proper objectives. First, they were to keep out of Nigeria elements which might have been hostile to our interests—the Russians and the French; second, to get the oil flowing; third, to protect our other interests; fourth, to relieve starvation; and, fifth, prevent the atrocities of war. On none of these subsidiary objectives of policy can we be shown to have had any success whatever with the Russian Fleet in Lagos, with the French becoming more important in Biafra. With atrocities which naturally follow, as the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) admitted must happen in war, we see in the major parts of policy and all other parts of policy, failure.
If this present policy continues things will not get better; there will be a fairly sharp deterioration. If it continues the British policy of striving for a unitary Nigerian State we shall be heading for a situation which will combine many of the features of the Congo in the 'sixties with those of Vietnam. We are in great danger of creating a situation around Biafra not dissimilar to the horrors of the Congo in an earlier period. We are in great danger, if this policy should continue, of creating in Lagos a sort of Saigon where puppet régime succeeds puppet régime and where influence of Powers outside becomes more and more important. While the cost of war mounts——
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
I shall not give way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because it takes so long to put a case if there are so many interruptions.
While unwilling soldiers are sent to the front and taxation goes up, the Northern Region, at this moment unconsulted, broods and the Western Region and Middle States begin to repine and plot against the régime. If this policy is pursued it will head straight for the destruction of any chance of any form of unity in Nigeria. This is the policy on which we are embarked.
To press on with this sort of policy is the final madness of a post-colonial stage when somehow somewhere in Whitehall it is believed to be the duty to see that 1615 the frontiers made by dead men of Potsdam, dead men of Whitehall, and dead men of the Quai d'Orsay should be protected for ever.
People talk about the problems of a policy east of Suez. If we are not careful we shall embark on a policy of maintaining thousands of frontiers south of the Sahara. This is a policy which is beyond distraction. One feels that King Lears are going about in the corridors of power. This must stop. We must see tonight a change of policy from that which is being pursued at the moment. This is why we regret very much that the Foreign Secretary has not spoken. We regret it because the policy which has to be put forward is one which means four things which are profoundly necessary to do all the others things such as supply of food and relief or commercial activities, which must be subsidiary.
First, there is the cessation of arms supply; secondly, an embargo on all arms supply; thirdly, a cease-fire; and, fourthly, negotiation, not between the Government and the rebels, but negotiation between two sides in a civil war. Unless this is undertaken there can be no peace. When so much is at stake and when other Powers are jockeying for position, it is essential that someone should take the first step. It is no use referring to the United Nations. It is no good referring to the Organisation for African Unity. Unless someone takes the first step there will be no move towards an arms embargo. I suggest in all seriousness that that first step must be the cessation of British arms supplies.
Of course there are arguments against this; there are most obvious arguments against it. There is the British population in the Federation area. But there is also the British population in Biafra. Are they to be massacred by Biafra because they regarded the Foreign Secretary as an angel of death?
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser
No I am not giving way.
We have listened so far to the most unrealistic policy of all. There is the question of others stepping in. If it is a question of others stepping in, as the 1616 Leader of the Liberal Party said, there is no moral argument about this but a political argument. This is a question of maintaining influence by arms, and the only way to do that would be, for every Ilyushin bomber, to give two other bombers and for every bomb to drop, three others. That argument falls to the ground. Such a unilateral move, perilous though it might seem, could achieve three things. It would put the Lagos Government into a position in which it could rely only on the Soviet Union for the supply of arms. This would be acceptable neither to them nor to us, nor to the United States of America. I believe that this is a bit of a myth. Russian penetration has failed again and again over Africa. What we are certain about is that the Powers of the West and their contacts and their hold on the Lagos Government would put this in an impossible position.
Next, I believe that if we were to take this step we could take this up forcefully with Europe—with France, Germany and other countries in which there is much stronger feeling about the Biafran situation than there is in this country—and insist that there should be a genuine embargo on all arms shipments. This could be policed and enforced.
Lastly, I believe that the shock of this gesture, which would move quickly into an arms embargo on all sides, would make it possible for those to arise, both on the Biafran and on the Federal Nigerian side, who believe in, who want, and who long for, peace, but who at the moment, because of the military régimes in both areas, cannot raise a voice. There are these people. I can give the names of such people. There are hundreds of leaders who at the moment are kept down.
I believe that it is this, difficult though it may be, that is the only great chance that lies before the Government. It means a change of policy—not change of gimmicks, not a question of individual men, but of measures. This policy as defined now can lead only to further escalation, to a further destruction of our interests and that stability in Nigeria which we wish to see. This has been a shameful episode not just against humanity but against every interest of Britain abroad.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I shall speak briefly on two points—first, on what I am sure is the vital issue, a ceasefire; and, secondly, on what I saw myself in a visit to both Biafra and Nigeria at the invitation of both Governments and from which I returned last night, particularly about the bombing of civilians by Federal planes, which is, as I shall show, incontestable.
My wish is not for a victory by either side in this terrible war, but for its ending. There are rights and wrongs in the case presented both by Colonel Ojukwu and by Major-General Gowon. There is also intense bitterness on both sides. So the eventual negotiations will be prolonged. Meanwhile, the killing and starvation continue. So the key factor is an immediate cease-fire.
I put this question to Colonel Ojukwu when I met him for an hour last weekend. I have a tape-recording of the interview. Here is the relevant part. I asked him:You made an important statement to the three Scandinavian leaders some time ago in which I understand you said that you would agree to an immediate ceasefire without preconditions. Is that correct? Is it still your position? Will you elaborate a little on it?Colonel Ojukwu replied:It is correct. It remains my position. I believe this war is futile. Lagos cannot win the war. We can continue our resistance for as long as the Nigerians wish to attack us, but to win total victory for either side is impossible. The past six months have shown that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the next months will change the situation in favour of one or the other. By accepting this fact that the war is futile, then, of course, the only way to get about achieving peace is around a table. That has been the position of the Biafran Government ever since the war began. We want to get round a table because weapons can never win this war. We cannot get round the table when there is bombing, where there is military activity all round, when in fact some of the delegates cannot get out and friends cannot consult. We would like to see a discussion in a comparatively peaceful atmosphere. So from the end of last year I kept repeating that ceasefire without conditions would be the answer to our problems.Colonel Ojukwu continued:What do I mean by ceasefire without preconditions? Lagos says that Nigeria is one and that it includes Biafra. Biafra says we are separate and not part of the Nigerian Federation. I suppose everybody has a right to certain beliefs. All I say is that Lagos 1618 should not give up anything completely and we do not give up anything. Whatever emerges from our dialogue across the table shall probably have a better chance of finding a solution to this problem. What I ask for I accept for myself. What I offer Lagos I would accept—no more, no less.When I got to Lagos I had talks with four members of the Federal Government. Their attitude on the ceasefire issue is this: "We want a ceasefire, too, on one condition, and only one condition, that Colonel Ojukwu agrees to one Nigeria, a united country". Otherwise, they said, it would mean that the Federal soldiers would have given their lives for nothing.
In my view, this means that the Federal Government are asking the Biafrans to give up their whole case, the issue over which the war is being fought. The Biafran leaders could equally well say that to accept this condition would mean that their own soldiers had given their lives in vain.
To summarise on this point, the Biafrans say—ceasefire, and then negotiations. The Federal Government say—negotiations, and then cease-fire. I am certain that the former approach is more likely to succeed.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Did my hon. Friend, in asking Colonel Ojukwu these questions, go on to ask him what he was going to negotiate about? That is what I asked Colonel Ojukwu, and I got quite a different reply.
§ Mr. Allaun
Yes, I certainly did ask Colonel Ojukwu about that. I will come to it in a minute. In includes the question of plebiscite among the Rivers people. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen want peace rather than victory for either side, as I believe they all do, this is what they should press the Government to urge on the two Governments.
I come now to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). The most difficult of the subjects for negotiation is that of the fate of the Rivers people who were incorporated in Biafra and, now that Biafra's area has shrunk, are in the Federal area. I was told by many people in Lagos that overwhelmingly the Rivers State people would prefer to be as they now are. If so, then this minority within a minority are entitled to security. I think 1619 that on this point the Federal Government have justice on their side.
However, may I point out that if a ceasefire or truce does take place it will take place on the present areas of control. The Rivers State would remain where it is during the talks—that is, in the Federal State. Moreover, the Biafran attitude is that it would agree to a plebiscite to decide which way these people wished to go. My own belief is that a neutral observer or police force would be required to ensure that neither side tool: advantage of the truce. I questioned the Biafran leader on this point. I ask the House to forgive me for again quoting, but I think it is of some importance. This was his reply:I have already suggested that, in the event of a cease-fire, there would be need for a small force, an observer force, to ensure that there is no further outbreak, and not only that, but the force to be available at short notice so that if something went wrong it would be able to say whose fault it was. I will not go for a Commonwealth force; neither would I go for the O.A.U. I think in the present situation of the struggle, the more likely, the most likely, would be the U.N. force with certain guarantees and limitations. Il would be necessary for the forces of the two sides to be represented.The British Government's attitude today, I regret to say—it has been expressed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who, I am sure, is sincere——
§ Mr. Allaun
I am not questioning that. The British Government's attitude today, I regret to say, can be summed up in two words, "No change". I am bitterly disappointed.
§ Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)
Is my hon. Friend speaking of a temporary cease-fire or a permanent cease-fire in saying what he does? If he is talking of a permanent cease-fire, as appears from what he says about an observer force, is that not to concede the whole Biafran case?
§ Mr. Allaun
No. The immediate proposal is for a cease-fire, and during the cease-fire the talks could continue. I fear that the talks might be prolonged because of the difficulties between the two sides, but, so far as I am concerned, the longer the truce the better.
I entirely support the Motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster 1620 (Mr. Henig) and signed by 159 right hon. and hon. Members. This is why it seems to me best to oppose the Government's Motion on the Adjournment at 10 o'clock tonight. For the British Government cannot consistently give arms to one side and then say that they are trying to achieve a ceasefire. Her Majesty's Government cannot bring effective pressure for a truce until they stop the arming of one side. Only if that step is taken will the rumoured visit by the Prime Minister to Lagos be of the slightest use. I want to see that visit not as a bit of window-dressing to placate his critics but as a really serious move to end the war. Let the Government say that they will stop arms supplies themselves, and let them ask the three other Governments still supplying arms to do the same. They will then be in a real position to help to bring peace.
Now, a word about the food situation. The Biafrans say that, at least temporarily, it has improved. The Churches and relief organisations are saving hundreds of thousands of lives. But there is a new and serious development. It is not only the young children who are suffering from kwashiokor—I saw many of the victims—but the elderly, those over 50, are now beginning to succumb.
Last, the bombing of civilians. Despite the denials, I have seen with my own eyes, as some of my hon. Friends present today have seen, the bombing of civilians by the Nigerian Air Force, and this well after the Foreign Secretary's talk about it with the Nigerian High Commissioner in London. I visited more than 20 bomb sites in Umuahia alone, and others at Orlu, a town some distance away. Nearly all involved ordinary houses, usually near the market place. This morning, I received a cable from Dr. Middelkoop. Dr. Middelkoop is the chief medical officer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Umuahia, representing the World Council of Churches. I had two long discussions with him, and I am convinced of his tremendous integrity and courage. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Dr. John Dunwoody) will confirm that. Here is the cable:I am asked to inform you that one Ilyushin bomber dropped seven anti-personnel bombs on Umuahia township on Tuesday 11 1621 March at 12.14. Bomber dropped four bombs in first instance and returned for a remainder. All but one on residential and market areas. 48 killed outright including one Catholic priest. Further 30 admitted to hospital of whom four died. Same plane dropped one bomb on village Hamaba/ a /Borro about eight miles from Umuahia but no specific information on casualties there.I was taken round the wards of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital by the matron, Miss Ann Bent, of Lancashire, who has been in the hospital since it opened 15 years ago, also by Dr. O. Bourke of Bury, Lancashire, by the hospital administrator Mr. Cochrane, by Dr. Bakker, international adviser to the International Red Cross, and by several Biafran consultants and professors of medicine. The staff reported that the previous weekend they had operated on 60 civilian air-raid victims. They were so over-stretched at times that they had to have five operations in one theatre simultaneously. They have to operate without oxygen.
I remember one little boy of six who had been terribly disfigured for the rest of his life by the bombing on 25th February. The doctor showed me the piece of jagged shrapnel as big as a matchbox which he had removed from the boy's eye socket. The other eye was all right. I spoke to a beautiful 18-year-old girl, married and two months pregnant, who had suffered a compound leg fracture. At 10 o'clock one morning—the raids usually occur at about 11 or 12 o'clock, when the light is brightest and it is easiest for the pilots to get a good view—she had been selling soap in the market, which, as hon. Members will understand, would have been crowded at that time. Without warning, several bombs landed on the market. She did not even attempt to run away. She told me that she had seen people cut in two or decapitated. Others were terribly burned by the hot shrapnel. I saw these people myself. The aeroplanes were just above rooftop level, and that was why the people had no notice.
The matron told me, "Nearly every day a plane comes over, but it does not always drop bombs. The last raid was Sunday. Sometimes we go four or five days without bombs, and then we get them every day. Across the road in one house alone five brothers and sisters were killed".
1622 I have taken 130 pages of notes about this and other aspects of the matter, and I have brought back scores of photographs. The evidence is absolutely incontestable. It is no use saying that there may be military targets in Umuahia. I cannot guarantee that there are none. All I can say is that I went round the town for four days on foot and by car and I did not see any. The biggest arms I saw were rifles and sten guns used or carried by the sentries at the road blocks.
It may be said that Umuahia is, after all, the capital. All right. At another town, Orlu, half-way between the capital and the Uli airport, ten yards away from the market place which, I was told, was crowded at the time of the raid, the houses were down; they were flat. There are no military targets there. So it goes on. I do not care what the nationality of the pilots is. It is wrong and should be stopped.
I could go on for an hour giving evidence of these cases. For instance, when I flew from Uli airstrip a few days ago, sitting next to me in the aeroplane was a European surgeon who himself had been operating the previous night on women and children who were civilian victims of an air raid which had taken place.
I say that this must stop, but that is not enough. I do not want merely to stop the bombing. I want to stop the war. If we want to stop the war, we must press for a cease-fire. There is a reasonable position adopted by one side, and Her Majesty's Government should exercise their pressure and influence with the other side to get a cease-fire, and they will be in a stronger position in every way to help bring about peace if they are not supplying arms and they try to get the three other nations still involved to do the same.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)
This tragic war has lasted now for 20 months with immense suffering on both sides but especially, no doubt, in Biafra. Until recently, it seemed that the quickest way to end the war and ultimately the most humanitarian way would be by a Federal military victory. But, reinforced by large supplies of arms from mainly French sources, the rebels have regained ground in some areas and the Federal advance 1623 has been effectively stopped since the end of September.
I readily agree that this calls in question the proposition which I have advocated and still advocate of a military solution. But what other solution is there? Of course, one would like to see a ceasefire and a negotiated peace. We would all prefer that. But I believe that it is unrealistic and that we are deluding ourselves if we imagine that there is any basis for a political settlement.
Many conferences have been held and many people have tried hard to achieve this. Indeed, attempts through the O.A.U. are still being made. But the gulf is very wide, and I am afraid that the prospects are poor. As the Under-Secretary of State said in his opening speech, there is no lack of mediators. The problem is that there is a total lack of any proper basis for mediation. The gulf between the two sides is too wide to make bridges. Colonel Ojukwu insists upon the secession of Biafra, whereas, to the Federal Government, everything is negotiable except secession.
One of the main problems is that Biafra is just a name. It is not a nation. A Biafran Republic of the East-Central, South-East and Rivers States as such cannot continue to exist, because except for the very small Ibo heartland, it has been incorporated into Federal Nigeria. The minority tribes, consisting of 5 million people, their land, oilfields and ports will remain in Nigeria, not because they are forced to do so but because they want to do so. The last thing that the vast majority of Etiks, Ijaws and Ibibios want is to fall again under Ibo domination. They have experienced that once, and they do not want to experience it again.
The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) spoke about self-determination for the Ibos. But what about self-determination for the minorities? Without the minorities, Iboland—if it can be called that—is a very small over-crowded area containing up to 7 million people, cut off from the sea and from the oil, and economically unviable as a separate State. Yet they fight on because Colonel Ojukwu has persuaded his people and perhaps himself that they must win the war or die.
If Colonel Ojukwu was really concerned to save Ibo lives, he would stop 1624 the fighting, and the danger of mass starvation would end immediately and almost automatically. Indeed it would be greatly eased if he would agree to the use of the Obilagu airstrip or a land corridor for food and medical supplies, both of which General Gowon has offered. Colonel Ojukwu has a grave responsibility and much to answer for to his own people for refusing these offers. It is not possible to fly in enough of the carbohydrates which are needed if only night flights are allowed.
Recent Red Cross reports indicate that there has been a substantial reduction in the death rate from starvation, but there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the reports of starvation in some parts of Biafra. What I do suggest is that the blame for this is attributable much more to the policy of Colonel Ojukwu than to that of General Gowon. This is not genocide by the Federals; it is, almost literally, a case of suicide by the Biafrans.
The only battle of importance that Colonel Ojukwu has won in this war has been the propaganda battle, both internally and externally. It has been an expensive and tragic victory for his own people, because the proposition widely believed by the Ibos is that they must fight on to survive.
I believe that there is no question of genocide, and no outside observer any longer seriously believes that there is any question of genocide as a policy. The international observers have stated again and again that there is no truth in it whatever. General Alexander has said:the use of the term genocide is in no way justified.On returning to London in December, Sir Bernard Fergusson reported thatthere is not one shred of evidence of genocide",and he confirmed this in an article in The Times the other day.
It should be remembered that the team of observers is given complete freedom of movement and investigation, and its reports are not seen in advance by the Federal Government. It is probably the first time in the history of war that a combatant nation has actually invited umpires to observe and, if they like, criticise the conduct of its troops. It is a most extraordinary state of affairs to have accepted, and it is significant in that it indicates that the Nigerians have nothing to hide.
1625 After spending several months visiting the battle areas on each sector of the front, it is remarkable that the team of international observers has seen nothing to which it could object. Indeed, the observers have found considerable evidence that the Federal troops are doing all they can at some sacrifice of fighting manpower to look after the Ibo people and their property in the territory that they have taken over. Prisoners of war are adequately fed and well treated. Nigerian troops are aware of the code of conduct laid down by General Gowon. Their discipline is good, and they are under the firm control of their officers.
I am talking, of course, of the Nigerian ground troops. There has been evidence, reported by Mr. Winston Churchill and others, of the bombing of civilian targets in this war. That must be taken seriously. However, it is contrary to the orders of the Nigerian Command. I do not mind what nationality the pilots are. There are those who say that they are Egyptians. Whoever they are, it may be that they are not very accurate and not very brave.
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Some of us sympathise with many of the opinions that the hon. Gentleman expresses. However, does he not think that the indiscriminate bombing has reached such a scale that those who adopt his attitude towards the Nigerian Government should make an appeal to that Government to stop all the bombing raids for a period? Indeed, we should like to see them stopped altogether. If that appeal was made from this House, would it not have some effect?
§ Mr. Fisher
Yes, and I was about to make it. It may be that the objective of some of these pilots is to get rid of their bomb loads as soon as possible and as far away as possible from anti-aircraft fire. Probably that is one of the explanations. It is likely, therefore, that mistakes have been made. But I submit that the mistakes have been despite and not because of Federal policy. In fairness to the Federals, I believe that Mr. Churchill in his article should have made crystal-clear what I know he knows to be the fact—that it is the individual pilots and not the Federal Government who are to blame for these regrettable attacks.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)
Those of us who have had some experience of this know that the military commanders are responsible. They must take the responsibility for what their pilots do. This sort of thing happened in the Second World War. If they cannot control their pilots, then the pilots should be grounded and the bombing stopped.
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not know why hon. Members get so indignant. I was just coming to that point. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are not."] You do not know what I am going to say. How can you? I am just coming to that very point.
§ Mr. Fisher
On his side, General Gowon should discipline and instantly dismiss any pilot who has disobeyed the orders of the Federal Command. Personally, I would go further. As I ventured to suggest in a letter to The Times, I would stop the bombing altogether. If it is not accurate, and clearly a lot of it is not, it is largely ineffective from a military point of view. It is certainly very bad for the international reputation of Nigeria from a propaganda point of view. And it is almost certainly counterproductive in Biafra because it rallies the Ibos behind Colonel Ojukwu and reinforces their fears of genocide, which I believe to be groundless but which they believe to be real.
As a friend of Nigeria, I believe that the bombing is doing more harm than good and should cease, so I respond entirely to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) in making that appeal to General Gowon. But if we ask a man to throw away one weapon he is unlikely to respond unless we give him another to replace it. I do not think for one moment, as I have said earlier, that there can be a negotiated end to this war. So we must get a military end to it—quickly, quickly, quickly—to save further starvation among the Ibos. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Some people are always shocked when those who share my view ask for a quick military solution, but it is obviously much the most humanitarian way in the end.
§ Mr. Fisher
I do not think that intervention was worth making.
The only conceivable military end to the war is a Federal victory. Everyone knows that. So I say: "Make this possible by increasing our supplies of ground weapons, especially of armoured vehicles." All this talk of an arms embargo is—I was about to say sanctimonious nonsense, but I do not want to say that because it would be unfair to hon. Members who advocate it, and I know how sincerely they feel about this matter. My complaint is not that they are not sincere, because I know they are, but that they are talking today with their hearts and not with their heads.
We are not going to end the war by an arms embargo. We should only prolong it. What sort of arms embargo do hon. Members want? Presumably a multilateral embargo. Of course, if it was total, it would be desirable but it would have to include France and Russia—and what real hope is there of that? I personally accept what the Secretary of State said on an earlier occasion—that it would be virtually impossible to organise or to enforce a total embargo. I believe that it is unrealistic to believe that one could organise it.
What is the alternative?—a unilateral embargo by Britain alone; but that would make no difference at all to the outcome of the war. Any deficiencies, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) said in his remarkable opening speech, and as other hon. Members have pointed out, would be made up by Russia. It cannot be a British interest to increase Russian influence in Lagos, which is no doubt already greater than we in the West would wish. An embargo by Britain alone would simply have the effect of doing immense damage to Anglo-Nigerian relations; and most other countries—a factor which has not been sufficiently stressed on this or on previous occasions——
§ Mr. Simon Mahon
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we, with all our history, and after all these years, should have exactly the same sort of morality and moral judgment as the Russians?
§ Mr. Fisher
No. But I cannot take up that point now. It must be done on another occasion. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not suggest that I am wrong in saying that an embargo by Britain alone would do immense damage to Anglo-Nigerian relations. What I want to stress is that most other African countries would regard such an action as hostile to Nigeria and as encouraging tribal fragmentation in Africa. The O.A.U. voted by 33 votes to four last September in support of the territorial integrity and unity of Nigeria. We cannot overlook that. It is the opinion of the African nations by an almost 10 to one vote.
We created Nigeria. We trained and equipped its army. We are the traditional source of its arms supplies. The Nigerian Government are recognised by Britain and by the United Nations. It is a fellow member of the Commonwealth. Britain has very large investments in Nigeria, and 16,000 British people live there.
The Under-Secretary of State is a very good Minister and knows a great deal about Africa. But I suggest to him that it might have been wiser to rely upon these arguments of moral obligation and self-interest than to suggest, as the Government have done for so long, that if we ceased supplying arms we should lose our restraining influence in Lagos. It is better to recognise the British interest and our special obligations towards Nigeria.
My plea to the Government is to be brave and to disregard the well-meant but woolly words about being neutral in this civil war. We are not neutral in this war and we never have been. I say to the hon. Gentlemen, "Back your friends and back your convictions. Back Nigeria not 50 per cent. but 100 per cent. Furthermore, if you do that, you will be doing what is right because only in that way can you end this tragic war quickly and so save the lives of thousands of Ibo people."
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
I appreciate that many of my hon. Friends hold deep and fervent views about this tragic situation. I respect those views but, unfortunately, I find myself in disagreement with them. If there were any possibility whatever of stopping this war by ceasing to send arms to the Nigerian 1629 Government, I would unhesitatingly declare for it immediately and vote for it. But I do not believe that there is that possibility if we make a unilateral stoppage.
I find myself in agreement with many of the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) and by the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher). If we did stop sending arms others would continue to do so. Of course I agree that if we could get a total embargo it would be most desirable, but are we likely to get a total embargo by unilaterally stopping the supply of British arms? I do not believe that we can, and so the position is rather a curious one.
I am a little bewildered by some of the arguments, because supposing there was, for example, an armed uprising of Maoris in Australia—[Interruption.]—I am sorry, in New Zealand—would anybody declare that we must not send New Zealand arms? Or supposing there was an armed rising in Quebec—and there has been some talk about "Quebec libre"—would we be wrong to continue to supply Canada with arms? Supposing Welsh or Scottish Nationalists were to create an armed uprising here, would not we expect our allies to be able to send arms to quell the rebellion?
I recoil with horror, as all hon. Members do, from the bombing of civilian targets and, in this respect, I welcome the sending of Sir Denis Greenhill to Nigeria to acquaint General Gowon of the possible dire consequences if this continues. We have heard a great deal about the atrocities on both sides. I have had daily the Markpress propaganda from Biafra.
§ Mr. Tuck
I have had it daily. This must be costing an inestimable amount of money, and it is my suggestion that that money could be far better used for food for those who are suffering from malnutrition and for relief. I have had no propaganda whatever from the Nigerian Government. I have not had the advantage of being in Nigeria, as the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) has, but I have had the advantage of seeing in Watford last week 1630 Dr. B. W. T. Richardson who has been to Nigeria not for three days, as has my hon. Friend, but for three months. He was for two months in Afikpo and one month in Iburu, which is about 25 miles from Umuahia. He was also in Enugu, at the headquarters, to report to the field co-ordinator. Dr. Richardson was the head of a Red Cross relief team sponsored by the Adventist Mission. The greater number he dealt with were women and children suffering from malnutrition and the diseases that go with it. Each day his team went to a village and set up a mobile clinic and took back to base the very seriously ill women and children. This doctor said there was no sign whatever of genocide on the part of the Federal troops.
Father O'Brien, a Roman Catholic priest, has been there since last April. He was the only European to stay, and he gave evidence to the International Investigating Committee that there was no thought of genocide or anything like it on the part of the Federal troops. Dr. Richardson's experience is that the Federal troops showed every sympathy, pity and compassion for the local population. They would often bring children in from the bush to the team and also inform them where there were more groups in need of medical treatment. In addition, they defended the team from attacks of Biafran guerrillas who seemed little concerned with compassion and tended to terrorise the local people.
The Ibos came in from the bush and tried to discourage the local people from assisting the Red Cross team, whom they have described, particularly in the last few weeks, as "white mercenaries". Dr. Richardson says attacks were made on the local population merely because they helped the Red Cross. Some of the helpers were so terrorised by Biafran guerrillas that they actually left the compound and went into the bush. Some of the native helpers of the Red Cross were even shot while others were taken into the bush and mercilessly beaten because they had helped the Red Cross.
I am informed by Dr. Richardson that apparently the Ibos cannot appreciate the word "neutrality". Unless one is helping them one is against them. I know that it is dangerous to make a generalisation from the particular, but the House 1631 should know something of the attitude and conduct displayed by the Federal troops on the one side and the Ibos on the other. After all, this was a Federal-occupied area of Ibo territory; and the House should know something of what the Federal troops were doing and, on the other hand, what the Ibos were doing against the Red Cross.
Her Majesty's Government have been placed in a well-nigh impossible position Whatever they do they will be cursed by one side or the other. They can only do their best on the information before them. I would ask the House, therefore, to give the Government sympathetic consideration in the unfortunate dilemma and situation in which they find themselves at present through no fault of their own.
§ Mr. Speaker
May I remind the House that many hon. Gentlemen wish to speak. Brief speeches will help.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Lambton (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
In this debate we have seen the House of Commons moved by very deep feelings. War is, of course, an agonising experience. Nobody can like anything to do with war; and with all the modern weapons it becomes increasingly unpleasant. Therefore, the natural wish and thought of everyone in this House must be to see how quickly we can end this war and bring some kind of lasting peace to Nigeria. At first sight, the moral argument seems to point to the fact that everyone should support an immediate cease-fire and support Biafra against the Nigerian Government. But surely the true morality of the situation depends upon what results from the decision which we make today.
In this case, if we stop the flow of arms to Nigeria, we can, I suppose, hold our heads high and pride ourselves on the Tightness of our conduct. But, in the long run, is it likely that we shall be satisfied with what we have done? As was said by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck), arms will almost inevitably continue to go to Nigeria, perhaps at an even greater rate than they are going today. Fragmentation, which surely must be the enemy of all progress in Africa, will have been encouraged. Soviet penetration and intrigue into the continent will also have 1632 been encouraged, and the war will not be one day nearer its end.
I suspect that hon. Members opposite have been influenced by the fact that the Government have themselves been influenced by our great trading interests in Nigeria, but how could they not have been? Merely to make a fruitless gesture and to snap a long association and friendship would suggest an irresponsibility that I am glad to say they have not shown. This is an occasion when the House is motivated by genuine feeling. Every inclination must cause us to desire an end of the war. The Government, therefore, are in the most difficult of positions. In my view, they have shown great courage in facing facts as they actually are and in resisting the temptation to take a synthetic moral view which in the long run will be disastrous for Africa and Nigeria.
It would be wrong, however, not to have reservations about the present situation in the war. After all, the war cannot be allowed to drag on for ever. But today there seems to be a chance, a hope, that we may yet play a part to end it. Although why the Prime Minister cannot announce his visit in an ordinary manner I cannot say. There also remains a chance for us to ensure that medicine and food continue to be flown to Biafra. How can we be certain that this would happen if we withdraw and the Russian tacticians take our place? They might well regard such kindness as being mistaken. Therefore, tonight I support the Government's action. Not to do so would be to indulge in the luxury of the false morality that might in the short term bring a feeling of unctuous satisfaction, but which would in the long term be disastrous for Nigeria and Africa.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) has put his point of view with great force. When the civil war broke out in Nigeria 18 months ago I tried to avoid taking sides politically. If anything, I had a certain amount of sympathy for the Federal Government's viewpoint, the desire that Nigeria should remain one country. As has been pointed out, we know the likely effects of secessionist movements in various parts of Africa and the havoc that 1633 would be caused to independent African countries if such movements were to succeed.
It is perfectly understandable that when the war broke out in Nigeria 18 months ago the Government took the line that arms shipments should continue. Nigeria was an independent Commonwealth country, faced with a rebellion, civil war, call it whatever one likes. It should also be said that there were very few in this House, on either side, who criticised the Government for continuing arms supplies when the war started. I am speaking, however, tonight because I have many doubts about the way in which the war is proceeding and the attitude of the British Government.
I have been unhappy for some months, even before recent reports of the bombing raids, because it seems that in many respects the Government have made a wrong analysis of what is happening in Nigeria. I do not belong to either Lobby. Some hon. Gentlemen will say that I am speaking tonight on behalf of the Biafran lobby. People outside the House who are—and there is no shame about it—part of the so-called Biafran lobby know that I am not part of their movement. We have a determination on the part of the Ibos to maintain their independence, to refuse in any circumstances to return to a situation where they will be part of Federal Nigeria. Of course we can deplore it. We can see the likely effect if the civil war ends with Biafra becoming independent.
It cannot alter the situation that there is a fierce determination on the part of the Ibos to continue the war unless they can win recognition earlier. Some have said that if only Colonel Ojukwu and his close colleagues in the Biafran leadership went, the war would virtually come to an end. I do not believe that. The Biafrans to whom I have spoken here have made it clear that, with or without Colonel Ojukwu, the Biafrans, as they consider themselves, would fight on because they believe that they are right. It is no good going back to what happened in the Congo in 1960 or 1961 or what happened in Spain before the Second World War. Each situation is different.
I do not believe that the Ibos are likely to be defeated in the near future. 1634 The question must be asked, even if the Nigerians can win: is the price worth paying? There is mounting anxiety in Britain about the bombing raids and the high civilian casualties. At one time when it was reported that civilians were being bombed and killed in Biafra it was dismissed as being part of Biafran propaganda. No one has suggested that today. It has now been confirmed that it is a fact that such raids are taking place and civilians are being bombed. I do not have a great deal of confidence in the ability of Egyptian pilots to be able to distinguish, or wish to distinguish, between civilian and military targets.
The reports in The Times by Mr. Winston Churchill have been referred to. Last year another Times correspondent, Mr. William Norris, reported at the time about the bombing raids. I have one cutting from The Times article by Mr. Norris, dated 27th April, 1968. He reported that 79 people were killed outright and many were seriously injured in a bombing raid. I take a certain amount of responsibility not for questioning the word of Mr. Norris and other such correspondents, but believing, nevertheless, that the Nigerians were waging a war and it was right to carry on. I have now come to a different viewpoint.
In the Observer of last Sunday the correspondent writing from Ibo-land, David Robison, reported a Father Bernard Murphy describing one such bombing raid. Father Murphy said:Burned out bodies and charred pieces of bodies were lying in every possible shape and angle. All clothes had been blasted off by the explosions. Mangled lumps of flesh … severed limbs and heads were lying over an area of about 100 yards by 100 yards. Between the bodies were 6-ft. craters.The correspondent added:Without exception, foreigners who have been here for months say that the Nigerian jets have hardly ever bombed military targets. Troops in different sectors say that the safest places from bombing are the camps and the front.In view of such reports, as a Member of Parliament I must say that I do not believe we should be silent or indifferent. Neither, in my view, should we carry on with our present policy.
What can we do? It has already been said, rightly, that Nigeria is an independent country and that we are virtually foreigners; that if Britain was faced with a civil war we would not expect Nigeria 1635 or Canada to be able to intervene with much success. Because there is no guarantee that if we change our policy we can end the war, I do not believe that that can be an excuse for carrying on with our present policy. When I tried to get an emergency debate last week I said that no one has accused Britain of being responsible directly for the raids. No British plane and no British pilots have been involved. We know that they are Russian planes and Egyptian pilots. However, as long as we continue to send arms to Nigeria we have a moral responsibility for what is happening.
§ Mr. John Fraser
Would my hon. Friend not concede that small arms create much less loss of life than bombing and that if we were to cut our arms supplies it might result in a greater reliance on bombing?
§ Mr. Winnick
Yes. I am also saying that the analysis of the war is wrong. There must be not a military solution but a political solution. I do not urge that arms supplies should be cut off immediately, but what I should like our Government to say to the Nigerians is that unless the bombing raids stop, then the arms supplies will be cut off. It seems that our Government are refusing to say as much in such terms to the Nigerian authorities.
Unless we have such a guarantee it will be impossible for me tonight to vote for the Government. What I hope we are trying to do is to urge the Nigerian Government to accept that there cannot be a military solution to the war, to recognise that there must be a cease-fire leading to negotiations, that they cannot go back to the status quo. It seems that the Nigerian Government are still hoping for a military victory, and in those circumstances it is understandable that they should refuse to cut bombing raids. I should also like to see a position come about where we, publicly in the United Nations and elsewhere, take up with the Americans, the Russians, the French and the West Germans the whole question of international arms supplies to both sides in the civil war.
Let me say a word about the Soviet Union. I may be wrong but I have seen very little justification from the Russians for what they are doing in Nigeria. We know that planes and arms are being 1636 shipped from the Soviet Union to Nigeria, and I do not believe that the Soviet Union and its people should be proud of what they are doing. Neither do I make excuses for France or Portugal, or even South Africa, who may be supplying Biafra. I am well aware of the arms supplies which are being sent to both sides other than those from our own country. In conclusion, I hope the Government will adopt the same attitude as that advocated by a noted British authority on Nigeria, the very distinguished lady, Dame Margery Perham.
§ It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.