HC Deb 24 March 1969 vol 780 cc1018-24
4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent action has been taken by his Department to help to achieve a ceasefire in the Nigerian civil war.

25. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what action he has taken this month to bring about peace in Nigeria.

Mr. M. Stewart

We have consistently made known our readiness to help both sides to reach a peaceful solution, including a ceasefire, most recently through our efforts to arrange a meeting between them during the recent Commonwealth Conference. Action to achieve a ceasefire alone would not be helpful unless it were supervised and arranged under conditions that could lead on to a lasting peaceful settlement. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be discussing our efforts to promote peace in his talks with General Gowon in a few days' time.

Mr. Winnick

In view of the resumption of bombing in Biafra, involving a number of civilian victims last week, would the Foreign Secretary consider making further representations to the Nigerian Government on the whole question of bombing raids?

Mr. Stewart

I will consider that, but I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to the fact that my right hon. Friend is going to see General Gowon very shortly.

Mr. Lane

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that some of us who just gave the Government the benefit of the doubt in the debate 10 days ago are very impatient that Britain should be seen to make further efforts to achieve some kind of arms limitation soon inside or outside the United Nations?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. The hon. Member will remember what I said about arms limitation in that debate. For this to be effective—and I should like to see it effective—it will have to be supervised inside both parts of Nigeria. That would be bound up with the possibility of a cease-fire and the opening of discussions. I earnestly hope that we shall be able to make some progress in that direction.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that it would be a good idea when the Prime Minister visits Nigeria if he plucked up his courage and made every effort to go into Biafra to see what other hon. Members have seen for themselves?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Member will realise that to visit the territory of someone who in law is a rebel leader is an unusual step. My right hon. Friend would not be averse from this, but, of course, it would clearly depend on whether Colonel Ojukwu was ready to receive him. On many aspects of this subject it has been the unwillingness of Colonel Ojukwu that has obstructed attempts for peace.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

When the right hon. Gentleman talks about supervision of a cease-fire, will the Prime Minister be raising with the Prime Minister of Nigeria the possibility of a United Nations supervision of a cease-fire and also the limitations of arms by the main suppliers?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot predict exactly the course of the talks, naturally, but I believe that if we could get this done through the Organisation for African Unity there would be more hope of getting action than through the United Nations, which, for a number of reasons, is averse to handling this matter. There is a considerable view in the United Nations that this is an internal matter and outside its competence. I do not rule this out, but I believe the Organisation for African Unity is the body with which we ought to keep chiefly in touch.

Mr. Luard

Has our delegate to the United Nations been instructed to raise this question with other delegations there with a view to having a resolution passed imposing a total embargo on sales of arms to Nigeria?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. For reasons which I have explained, we have not given instructions of that kind.

11. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement redefining the present objectives of British policy towards a settlement in Nigeria, in view of the protracted nature of the war against Biafra.

Mr. M. Stewart

I gave a full account of our policy during the debate on Nigeria on 13th March. Her Majesty's Government seek an early end to the fighting, effective relief of the distress occasioned by the war, and a settlement by negotiation which will provide a basis for lasting peace and progress for all the peoples of Nigeria.—[Vol. 779, c. 1689–94.]

Mr. Barnes

Despite what my right hon. Friend has said about Britain's efforts to get peace, does he not agree that, given the present total stalemate between Nigeria and Biafra, it is implicit in British policy, as it has been so far, that there should be a federal military victory? Surely he should not raise hopes of peace if the Government are not prepared to back a negotiated settlement wholeheartedly?

Mr. Stewart

I have said very often that this is Her Majesty's Government's policy, that we do believe that the unity of Nigeria should be maintained, but that this should be a unity on the basis of a federal State which will give a proper place to the Ibos as to the other peoples of Nigeria.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Since a principal justification of the Government's policy in sending arms to Lagos was that this would lead to a speedy end of the war, and as precisely the opposite has happened, is not the time now ripe for a review of both aims and means?

Mr. Stewart

No. The hon. Gentleman is misinformed. Every humane person would have hoped for a speedy end to this war, but the hon. Gentleman will not find that the Government have ever based their policy on that assumption. We have based our policy on the belief that tribal secession would be a great danger both to Nigeria and to Africa as a whole. We hope that the Ibo people will realise that, short of the dismemberment of Nigeria, a settlement is possible that gives them their proper place.

20. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what inquiries he has made of the Federal Government of Nigeria about the bombing of civilian targets in Biafra; what reply he has received; and if he will make a statement.

26. Mr. Hordern

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what request for information has been made by Her Majesty's Government to the Federal Government of Nigeria concerning the bombing of civilians in Biafra by aircraft of the Federal Government; and what reply has been received.

31. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further inquiries Her Majesty's Government have made of the Federal Government of Nigeria regarding the bombing of civilians in Biafra.

37. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what information he has received from the Federal Government of Nigeria regarding civilian damage caused in Biafra by bombing.

Mr. M. Stewart

I have nothing to add to my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) on 17th March.—[Vol. 780, c. 31–2.]

Mr. Barnes

Could my right hon. Friend say whether he has made any inquiries about the attacks by MiG fighters on the airstrip at Uli reported by the International Red Cross? As this appears to be a stepping up of the harassment of the relief operation, does not be think that this is something on which the Government ought to make representations?

Mr. Stewart

I do not believe that that incident can be represented as my hon. Friend represents it. I would draw his attention to the fact that instructions to the Nigerian Air Force include these words: Efforts will be made to preserve as many lives as possible. You will not bomb any non-military targets. Any gathering of any civilian population will be avoided. As has been made clear to us by the Nigerian Government, if there is any breach of these instructions disciplinary action will be taken.

Mr. Hordern

If the instructions given to the Federal Government with regard to bombing are, in fact, supporting British policy, why are we pussy-footing around supplying small arms and ammunition and why is not the R.A.F. itself in action in this affair?

Mr. Stewart

I think this has been explained many times to the House. When Nigeria became an independent country it was understood that she would be able to rely on supplies from this country of the kind of arms which she had previously received. I think that was the right assurance to give her. We are under no obligation to do more than that. To do less would mean a condonation of the secession.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the bombing of civilians continued after his meeting with the Federal High Commissioner, as I know, because I was in Biafra at the time? As to the instructions to which he referred, will Her Majesty's Government now ask Lagos not merely to stop the bombing but to stop the fighting and negotiate, as the Biafrans have offered to do?

Mr. Stewart

I have already answered a Question about the possibility of a cease-fire, which must be bound up with the stoppage of the supply of arms. We must understand that a solution to this problem must rest on the position of one Nigeria, not two Nigerias.

Mr. James Johnson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many on the benches behind him support him to the hilt in whatever help he gives to the Lagos Government? We know that Egyptian pilots flying Soviet planes are doing the bombing, but this indiscriminate bombing gives the Lagos Government a bad image with world opinion. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister be conveying this view on his visit to Lagos?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. I agree with what my hon. Friend says, and we have already made this point very clear to the Nigerian Government.

Mr. Braine

Surely the right hon. Gentleman is by now seized of the deep anxiety on both sides of the House and in the country about this aspect of the Nigerian civil war? Does not this reinforce the suggestion made the other day by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas Home) about the need for international observers—it does not matter whether they are from the United Nations or the O.A.U.—in Biafra?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, Sir. I think that I made this clear in the concluding part of my speech to the House the other day. But I gave my reasons then for believing that action through the Organisation for African Unity is more likely to be successful than action through the United Nations. I would not want to be dogmatic about this, but I believe that the evidence is all in that direction.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

While I recognise the importance of the question of bombing, may I urge my right hon. Friend to consider that the stopping of the war is what matters? Will he press on the Nigerian Government that Colonel Ojukwu has said many times that he is ready for talks about a cease-fire and negotiations without any pre-conditions?

Mr. Stewart

It would have been possible for Colonel Ojukwu's representatives in this country to take part in talks at the time of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, but, unhappily, they refused.

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