HC Deb 26 January 1970 vol 794 cc1005-66

3.31 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

The House, and perhaps even more the public, are grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing this debate on relief measures to be taken by Her Majesty's Government in Nigeria. Seldom during the last few days have the people been more confused. This applies to many hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country as well as the Dean of St. Paul's and others of great distinction.

Seldom, I think, has there been a greater conflict of evidence produced, on the one hand, by optimistic official statements, including the main body of Lord Hunt's Report, and, on the other, the far more pessimistic account of a host of eye-witnesses, international journalists of repute, relief workers and missionaries of great devotion.

Such are these contradictions that out of them has arisen a serious credibility gap. To allay these fears and close this gap Her Majesty's Government, this afternoon, I hope, will take the opportunity. There is another anxiety. That is that some Government statements seem almost to give the impression that the partial moral responsibility for what was happening in the war has with peace ended. This is neither logical nor, I believe, acceptable to the great mass of the public.

"The phenomenon of human caring" is not a new emanation of television and permissiveness; it is simply the deep sense, both common and moral, of our people which realises that a decent settlement after a war is not only in the interests of conscience, but in the interests of peace, stability and trade. If this sense is heightened and quickened and given power by modern communications, I, for my pan, thank God.

Here again, the Government have an opportunity to express their will, their intention and influence this afternoon. It is not good enough for the Prime Minister to boast on "Panorama" that his influence in Lagos could stop the bombing of villages and a few hours later Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries whimper on the same medium that they cannot start the feeding. In Lord Hunt's Report there seemed especially three areas where his Lordship's findings are, to say the least, questionable and certainly, to my mind, seem to minimise the area and size of the problem. In these three subjects which I propose to discuss, I believe that there is a conflict either of known fact or with the views of other reputable witnesses.

The first area is on the size of the region afflicted and of its general background. I think that this is vital to consideration of the problem of relief today in Nigeria. If the areas where the military control of the Nigerian Federal Army run along main roads is included, and those great areas north of Onitsha-Enugu road and the road out towards Calabar, the size of the afflicted area is far more like that of Yorkshire than of Hampshire, which he used for his description.

Also, in his general background Lord Hunt does not lay any score on the fact that before the civil war the whole Eastern region was a net importer of food on a very big scale, protein to the extent of 50 per cent. and of carbohydrates about 30 per cent. Nor does he mention that the yam harvest collected in September was one of the worst on record. Nor does he mention that the price of garry, that is to say, cassava for human consumption, has risen by no less than 300 per cent. within six months, which shows that there was a considerable shortage of cassava in the district. So much for the talk about "geraniums". So, also, for the talk about happy refugees, suggesting that they were returning to some sort of harvest home.

The next area of dispute must be about numbers. This is of the utmost importance. Lord Hunt's Report, in paragraph 12, seems to contain fairly odd composition. The paragraph reads: We have no present means of assessing the actual numbers but we can say with conviction that they do not come to more than 1.5 to 2 million. That is a very strange piece of logic and language. These figures must be probed by the House. I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate he will tell us by whom these figures and statistics were composed, how they were composed, and so forth. It is fair to say that the census of 1963, which, as hon. Members familiar with Nigeria know, was not particularly accurate, showed that in the four central provinces of the East Central State, using Lord Hunt's analogy of Hampshire, the population was 31 million; and it is also fair to say that 750,000 refugees came from the North and another 750,000 from other areas over-run by the Federal side.

Far more important and far more recent are the figures collected by the Protestant side of Joint Church Aid, the Rev. A. G. Somerville of the Church of Scotland. If the House will bear with me, it is worth my pointing out how these figures stood in November: about 1½ million people in 1,757 camps; 951,000 needy persons at 1,536 feeding centres; 10,000 patients in 19 hospitals; 7,400 children in 107 sick bays; in addition, a calculation of about ½ million people receiving assistance. This last figure was guesswork, it has been made clear to me.

Further, there is bound to be overlap. In any place where there are famine and distress, people will try to draw their rations, or their topping up—whatever phrase one uses—of protein diet from as many centres as possible. Allowance must be made for that. If these figures are correct and if, as Mr. Somerville assured me, the Roman Catholic organisation was looking after the same sort of numbers, even when 33 per cent. is knocked off for probable duplication of feeding and for people trying to have a second go, a figure of about 4 million is left.

In addition—this is the key figure—according to Mr. Somerville 1 million of these people were not receiving topping up rations, but were totally dependent for their existence on the food given to them by the relief organisations. It that be doubled, or even if it be halved, the numbers of people in a really severe plight, perhaps in the bush, must be very large indeed.

Finally on figures, an American official source has given a figure in the enclave of something nearer 4 million than 3 million, 1 million of whom were suffering from oedema which, as medical Members in the House will know, is not visible even to the trained eye, but can be discovered only by medical examination, be that examination one of the most simple kind.

Therefore, these figures must be examined further, and especially Lord Hunt's rather throwaway statement, "Although we have been able to establish no "—whatever the phrase was—"we nevertheless are convinced that …".

I turn next to the question of the conflict of evidence over needs and methods of distribution. Lord Hunt does not mention a figure of the need for distribution. When I was in Uli I met Dr. Lindt, the then head of the International Red Cross, who expressed his belief that, with an efficient distribution system and with a cash economy still functioning, the desirable figure was about 800 tons of largely protein food per day. After the shooting down of a Red Cross plane, that average landing dropped to about 300 tons, which is totally inadequate and which was a prime cause of the collapse of the Biafran State.

Miss Bloom, who is obviously a very reputable journalist, has stated in the Financial Times that Lagos hoped to get in an average of 2,000 tons a week—let us say slightly under 300 tons a day. Lord Hunt merely says that the situation is improving daily, but Mr. Tony Lewis, of the New York Times, who spent three times as long in the distressed areas as Lord Hunt, reported yesterday that 14 days after the end of fighting one truck had reached Orlu and, on cross-questioning about relief south and east of Uli, his answer was, "Zero". Here again, the House requires some explanation.

There must be a fear that the magnitude of this problem has not been assessed and that, for fear of giving offence, the point has not been put with sufficient vigour that perhaps one nation alone cannot cope with the size of the sort of problems that lie ahead. No one questions the devotion or the dedication of the Nigerian Red Cross. The danger is that the plan is not on a sufficient scale.

My personal fear is not only that this Government have not done enough, but that they have done it the wrong way. With the sudden surrender, with the sudden breakdown of a State, which Biafra was, with the collapse of a currency, there simply was no contingency plan of any size at all, except for that one pathetic aeroplane which kept being loaded and unloaded and loaded and unloaded at Lyneham.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

This is a sovereign State. How can we interfere?

Mr. Fraser

I am coming to that point.

The fact is that it was not an observer who should have been sent, but a senior Minister who should at once have flown to Lagos to persuade and cajole, and even go to the length of insisting on an effective plan for relief rather than the halfhearted under-powered schemes to which Lord Hunt and the Joint Under-Secretary acquiesced.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) said that this is a sovereign State. Of course it is. But we have a moral responsibility as a supplier of arms on an unprecedented scale unchallenged by the Government. The article which appeared in the Sunday Times last week made it clear that we have not what the hon. Gentleman once called a residual colonial responsibility, but a residual human responsibility; and that should be discharged.

I believe that any such plan would have to be based on Uli. It is useless for British official sources to go on so resolutely propagating the idea that distribution by road is the most efficient method. Enugu is three to four days by road from Lagos. There is no direct road to Harcourt. The House knows the problem of shipping at the moment in the main Lagos harbour. One needs only to read the Scott Report to understand the road conditions. Only yesterday two C97 aircraft found it impossible to land at either Harcourt or Enugu Airports. Yet next week, according to the Press, there will by 20 large aeroplanes per day arriving in Lagos's overloaded airport.

We have here a mystery which I believe a senior Minister rather than the Joint Under-Secretary or Lord Hunt could have perhaps solved with General Gowon. When General Ojukwu was still in power and at war, General Gowon was, in principle, prepared to allow Red Cross planes to land at Uli. Now, when there is peace, when the Ibos have totally submitted, when the need for rapid reconcilliation is paramount, when lives and time are at stake, why does the General refuse? In view of his clear will to concil ate, in view of his amnesty, his attitude is inexplicable. I believe that a senior Minister could have made this point more effectively, with that pleni- potentiary power which exists in a senior Minister but denied to Lord Hunt, whatever his other attributes. That is my first suggestion.

Lord Hunt speaks of a crash programme. I believe that the essence of that crash programme is to make it effective by air. This I believe even more after one reads today about the possible disorders which are running in the Owerri area against the movement of food. As a first and immediate step, that is what should be done. The idea that General Gowon is adamant in his attitude is nonsense. Only today there has been a change, and he has allowed Dutch relief, which has been prohibited previously, to come in.

I believe that that is the first thing that should be done. But I also believe that there are other things which would be of value. For example, the outside world could help the Nigerian Red Cross in areas of transport, communications and moves to get the cash economy going again. There is a shortage of trucks and communication and light transport aircraft.

I believe that the programme in Lord Hunt's schedule could be speeded up and that a great many of the things which are proposed to be sent could be sent by air more swiftly than they are today. Transport Command crews and aircraft with suitable markings should be offered to the Nigerian Red Cross. If there is a need—and there may well be one—the food which is deteriorating in San Tomé, about which I have just had a telegram from Joint Church Aid, should be offered to the Nigerian Red Cross. Medical teams should be offered not for service in old Biafra, but to allow Nigerian doctors and nurses to go into the relief zones. Communication networks, which are so lacking at the moment, and personnel, should be loaned to the Nigerian relief agency.

To restore the cash economy, which is perhaps the most important thing we can do today, the World Bank should be asked to take some action to purchase Biafran currency, whatever the discount. The International Postal Union should facilitate remittances from Ibos overseas, and British firms in the east central State should be encouraged and helped to re-establish salaries and pension schemes and give employment, and Treasury control should be relaxed. These are things that we can do. I believe that the situation has been under-assessed by the Government and that it must be assessed again.

In this House over the past few years I have differed from many in believing that this was a meaningless and unwinnable war in any true sense of the word. I believed that negotiation was possible. I have believed that the Ibos and their kin merited an international personality. There are others who believed that only a military solution was possible to prevent the balkanisation of Africa at almost any human price. History will judge which of us was right, but in one thing we are united—in the need to prevent further needless suffering. More can and should be done by our Government, for I believe that over-insurance now is the one sin that posterity will forgive.

3.54 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Maurice Foley)

I should like to give the House a brief account of the relief which the Government have provided to the war areas at the request of the Nigerian Government. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will speak at the end of the debate to answer points raised during the debate, and both of us will restrict our contributions to give the maximum time to those who want to intervene.

I do not think that anyone would deny that we are all torn by the tragic consequences and aftermath of this civil war and are moved by the compassion and desire to help those who have suffered. This desire has been evoked in the House and throughout the country. But we must recognise that the responsibility for handling the situation lies with and has been fully accepted by the Federal Government of Nigeria.

I need hardly remind the House, although I must in the light of what the right hon. Member for Stafford arid Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) has just said, that Nigeria is a sovereign independent State and has been since it was granted its independence about 10 years ago. Indeed, hon. Members may have seen reports of the anger which has been reflected in the Lagos Press by the appearance that in this debate the British Parliament might be taking it upon itself to debate Nigeria's internal affairs.

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

When we were providing them with arms they did not object to any debate in the House. Surely the argument used by my hon. Friend—who, by the way, has done a great deal to solve the problems confronting Nigeria and the former Biafran people—that we have no right to intervene or try to use our influence with General Gowon because Nigeria is a sovereign State, is invalid, because we enabled Nigeria to win the war.

Mr. Foley

I want to clarify this point and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising it. It has never been suggested that we should not discuss in this House our policy vis-àvis the civil war in Nigeria. But there is now no civil war. The point for us to bear in mind is this: yes, make our proposals to the Nigerian Government for assisting them in their relief work, but do not lose sight of the fact that it is their problem. To discuss our rôe in helping them to solve their problem is proper, but to suggest that we can override their sovereignty is something that we must look into closely.

Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)


Mr. Foley

No, I cannot give way again.

Their reaction may be partly due to national pride, but it is more than that. General Gowon and his colleagues have undertaken an historic act of national reconciliation. They believe—and who in the House or anywhere else can deny it?—that it is the very heart and kernel of the programme of reconciliation, on which the whole future of Nigeria turns, that it should be the Nigerians themselves who bring to the needy in the former secessionist area the help and succour of which they are in such dire need.

National reconciliation has been General Gowon's proclaimed intention. None can fail to have been moved by the sincerity and magnanimity with which these intentions were at once implemented. We have all seen on television the reconciliation of the leaders of the armed forces and are aware of the immediate acceptance of former secessionist leaders, military and civil, and their incorporation into the pressing tasks of bringing order and relief into the affected areas.

This is the background—a background of a supreme effort at reconciliation between Nigerians themselves—against which we must consider our contribution. The Nigerian Government have not spurned outside help in the awesome task before them, but they have asked that help from outside should be in support of the massive operation that they, the Government, and the Nigerian Red Cross, have launched, and in accordance with their specific needs and requirements as made known to us and other countries. They have asked for co-operation, not instruction.

Indeed, the first task was to establish the right kind of machinery to co-ordinate their relief effort. This was clearly necessary to avoid the well-meaning anarchy which could have developed to the total confusion and seizing-up of any directed and effective relief programme, if there had been an open door to the rest of the world to invade Nigerian airports, roads and resources with every kind of outside aircraft and organisation.

The Nigerian Government have given primary responsibility for all relief and rehabilitation to the Ministry of Economic Development and Reconstruction. The Ministery has assumed responsibility for the affairs of the Nigerian National Rehabilitation Commission and works through the Nigerian Red Cross—which itself has the full backing of the League of Red Cross Societies—on questions of immediate relief.

The Nigerian Red Cross has in Lagos a liaison committee which meets regularly and on which are represented, under Nigerian Red Cross chairmanship, the main voluntary organisations, both Nigerian and expatriate, and the British High Commission, the American Embassy and many other diplomatic missions. This is an invaluable way of sharing information, making known possible offers and availability of supplies, and co-ordinating requests to Governments and organisations.

Our High Commission in Lagos has been in regular—indeed, almost hourly—touch with the Nigerian Red Cross, the Rehabilitation Commission, the Ministry of Economic Development and Recon- struction and the Permanent Secretary responsible, as well as representing Her Majesty's Government on the Liaison Committee. Indeed, in this work, Sir Leslie Glass, the High Commissioner, and his staff have done an outstanding job during this very difficult period, and deserve all the support and encouragement we can give them.

I should now like to give the House some facts and figures about the relief effort and the part we are playing in it.

There are 13,000 tons of food on hand in Nigeria as a whole, with another 6,000 tons due to arrive next week and 1,500 tons have been bought locally. Another 6,500 tons of imported food is in the pipeline and this can be speeded up if necessary. A further 16,000 tons are being purchased locally.

Up to 1,500 tons of food are actually reported to have been distributed last week in the forward areas by the Nigerian Red Cross, and this amount is being rapidly built up to a target of 4,000 tons a week. The I.C.R.C. stockpile at Cotonou, in Dahomey, has been handed over to the Nigerian Red Cross and the United States Government have arranged for the four C97 aircraft which they had chartered to the I.C.R.C. to be made available, with crews, to the Nigerian Red Cross, also.

There is ample food available. The most pressing problem is transporting it to the areas of need and distributing it there. The shortage of vehicles is already being overcome. The British Government were asked to provide urgently 50 Land Rovers and 110 4-ton trucks, and to finance the local purchase of eight 10-tonners. The purchase of the 10-tonners was immediately authorised. The 50 Land Rovers had all been sent by our civil airlift by 21st January. So far, 40 4-tonners have been sent. The rest are following at the rate of about eight a day.

When the fighting ended, the Nigerian Red Cross had about 250 vehicles in the field and 59 more have arrived in the forward areas since then, including 22 4-tonners and 22 Land Rovers, all supplied by Her Majesty's Government, and four 10-tonners, whose purchase we financed. The rest of the vehicles which we have sent are on their way to the areas of need, together with 25 jeeps supplied by the United States Government and other vehicles which have been purchased locally.

A Norwegian coastal vessel, specially chartered for the run between Lagos and Port Harcourt, arrived at Port Harcourt yesterday with 21 vehicles including 12 of the Bedfords and five of the Land Rovers flown to Lagos by the British Government.

Our response to the medical needs in the new situation has been equally prompt and effective. We have already supplied over 31 tons of medical supplies and more is on the way from the Canadian Government. An I.C.R.C. shuttle air service has been started carrying medical supplies from Lagos to Enugu; in addition two DC6s from the I.C.R.C. have arrived in Lagos. We were asked for 15 doctors and 20 nurses. All but one of the British doctors are already in Nigeria, and 16 of the nurses.

British doctors and nurses who have already been deployed, are actually at work at Ihiala, Owerri, Awka, Afikpo, Umuahia, Aba, Port Harcourt, Orlu and a new centre south-east of Orlu. Already, over 20 Ibo doctors and 50 Ibo nurses have joined the relief operation. Mr. Iloh, who was head of the former "Biafran" Red Cross, is co-operating with the Nigerian Red Cross in recruiting in all 50 doctors and 200 nurses, as well as first-aid auxiliaries.

The Nigerian Red Cross has made a number of requests for mobile hospital units and the first of these has already arrived from the United States, with two more on the way. The Canadians are providing another and the Nigerians are considering what further requirements they might have which may be put to us.

More recently, we have been asked for tents and marquees, and arrangements have already been made to supply a total of 534 tents and 153 marquees, enough to accommodate about 10,000 people. This request is designed to facilitate and accelerate Nigerian plans for the withdrawal of troops from the forward areas. This will make it possible for Ibo civilians to return to their homes by providing new accommodation for the troops. Already, 170 of the total of 687 tents and marquees have been flown out and more are following daily.

Gradually, the emergenscy relief operation will phase itself into a rehabilitation and resettlement programme. The Nigerian Red Cross is registering returning refugees so as to provide them with two or three weeks' supply of food and an issue of seed to help them re-establish themselves. To help this process, we have already air-freighted 85 packs of farm tools.

As Dr. Henrik Beer, the Director General of the League of Red Cross Societies, has said, it is impossible to repair in 10 days the ravages of 2½ years. But what I have said demonstrates that a solid start has been made.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

In paragraph 70 of his report, Lord Hunt says that on 14th January we were asked to send an unspecified amount of listed drugs. Since that date, have we got closer specification of the quantities required, or is there still a grave degree of doubt?

Mr. Foley

The answer is that the Nigerian Red Cross did clarify what it wanted and gave an order of priorities, to which we have responded. All the drugs are there.

The Government are as acutely aware as any hon. Member of the House of the tragedy and suffering which this civil war, like every civil war in history, has brought. Compassion and concern gives us the right to offer our help in any way it can be used, not a right to dictate or take over.

4.10 p.m.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)

No one in the House will doubt for a moment the deep sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), who has raised once again this issue of Nigerian relief. I think that all of us would like to pay tribute, as this may, we hope, be one of the last occasions on which we debate this subject, to the patience and sympathy which the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs showed in all his efforts to bring peace while the war lasted.

Today, the hon. Gentleman has given statistics as to the supply of food and vehicles and medicines—indeed, assistance of various kinds—and I think that the list he has just given demonstrates that at least most of the countries which have shown concern over this matter are aware of the scale on which relief may be necessary. That will be some comfort to my right hon. Friend. This is an international effort. The hon. Gentleman has told us that the Canadians, the United States Government, the Norwegians and ourselves, among others, are contributing to the joint effort.

I hope that, in this debate one distinction will be made clear—that is, the distinction between British concern and the concern of others about the suffering and the relief of the suffering and the responsibility for the conduct of affairs inside Nigeria. There must be no blurred lines here at all. The first can properly be expressed and can be expected to make an impact on the Nigerian Government; the second—that is, the conduct of operations inside Nigeria for relief, resettlement and reconstruction—must be the responsibility of the Nigerian Government representing the majority of the Nigerian people. There has been some reluctance in the House and outside to concede that independence means what it says.

It is not surprising to me that, in this context, the Nigerian leaders have shown some sensitivity at criticisms which, in the new circumstances of peace, seem to be aimed at them, and I think that they are entitled to remind people outside Nigeria that it was not the Federal Government who started the war or appealed to arms, that it was not the Federal Government's decision to prolong the war when people were starving, and that it is the Federal Government—this they are certainly entitled to say—who are trying hard to save the starving, feed the hungry and resettle the refugees.

I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman today, have read the report of Lord Hunt, and have also read all that was said in the newspapers over the weekend. Personally, I do not find surprising the discrepancy between the findings of Lord Hunt and the international observers and the reports of the correspondents—what my right hon. Friend called the "credibility gap" between them.

Right hon. and hon. Members like me remember the Spanish civil war. We remember the pictures of the suffering of the ordinary people of Spain at that time. We have seen the refugees pouring out of Eastern Germany into West Germany. We know that, when such things are photographed and portrayed, they present the most harrowing picture.

In this civil war, 2 million and more people were crowded into an area which could only support a tiny fraction of that number and in such circumstances there were bound to be the most dreadful and harrowing accounts and pictures of the horror to be found in that area. It is easy to record—and they should be recorded—death, starvation, hunger and misery, overcrowded hospitals and fighting for food, with occasional examples of rape as one will find from soldiers of a victorious army, or indeed from soldiers of a defeated army. All this and its horror can be recorded, and it is true.

But where Lord Hunt and the official observers were undoubtedly right is in this: whereas, if the civil war had continued, many thousands more would have died, now the huge majority will be saved, and it is possible to be categorical on that. So there is a revolutionary change, so to speak, between the occasion on which we last debated the Nigerian question and the debate today—and that is that countless thousands of lives will now be saved and these people will be resettled in their own homes, whereas if the war had continued for another two weeks they would have been dead. It is not to be complacent to say that it is a matter for rejoicing that these people will live.

I would contribute to the flood of information which has come in one piece of news which came to me this morning, unsolicited, from a well-known company which wishes to be anonymous because it does not like the publicity which would be bound to be attendant upon its giving its name, and whose chairman said: We are in increasing contact with individuals both employees and traders from the very centre of the rebel enclave. Close questioning reveals information indicating that situation exposes them to much less privation than originally feared. Survival rate is high and we must expect gradually to make contact with the majority former employees. One should not generalise from the particular, but here are representatives of a firm, with no axe to grind, who are reporting that they are able to make contact with former employees and are hoping to re-employ them. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone will take some comfort from this.

The important sentences from this report from this firm are contact with individuals … from the very centre of the rebel enclave implying an ability to reach these people, and "survival rate"—of employees—"is high", indicating that this may be repeated in the experience of other firms operating in that part of Nigeria.

One may expect that the lives of the great majority of these people will now be saved and that there is a good hope of restoring them in their homes and at their work. The question is: how soon?

Mr. Shinwell

That is the whole point.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

That is not the whole point. The whole point is that their lives are now saved.

Mr. Shinwell

The right hon. Gentleman is missing the point. He has just referred to a communication which refers to "gradually" doing this, and he himself said that something would happen soon. It is a question of administration. I am not complaining about what the Government have done. They have sent a magnificent supply of medical and other materials to Nigeria. But it is a question of time and of administration. As we provided the Nigerian Government with arms to succeed, which was undoubtedly our position, we are entitled to ask General Gowon whether we can succeed in administration, even if it means, as the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) suggested, sending aircraft to particular areas so as to provide succour at the earliest possible moment.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The right hon. Gentleman has almost anticipated the next part of my speech and made it unnecessary for me to make it. I was coming to that question.

I said that the question was: how soon? The situation with which the Nigerian Government are faced is not static. To the numbers already in the redistribution centres are coming more from the bush and the numbers who can be resettled are being overtaken by the numbers coming into the redistribution centres. The strain on the administrative machine is very great.

I was about to suggest that as a result of the wars which we have fought we have people who are very experienced in resettlement and all the problems connected with it. If there are such people in this country and the Government would make the offer to the Nigerian Government, there may be work that they could do. I would go further and say that we have people who are very skilled in retraining individuals for civil life. Here is an offer which might be made to the Nigerian Government and which might be accepted.

But there is no getting away from the fact that all the analyses have proved that what is wanted is transport and more transport and doctors and hospital staff and more hospital staff. These are the two priorities. I take it, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster can confirm this, that if these are requested they will be supplied. There certainly was a time when what the right hon. Gentleman suggested about air transport was true, and if Colonel Ojukwu had only allowed it an airlift could have saved many lives long ago. But now, when we have the evidence of firms operating in the very centre of rebel land and able to get there, so that access is proved to be comparatively easy, the most effective means for relief are lorries, trucks, Land Rovers and jeeps, and boats on the waterways which are countless, which could get to the people who are afflicted by hunger and who want sustenance.

To sum up, while, during the war, the atmosphere was despair, we can now say without complacency that it is hope. The needs are for transport and for hospital staff and these can be supplied by the joint efforts of the nations—it is not only the British Government who are offering supplies. I hope that the administrative machinery in Nigeria can be reinforced and we can certainly make a contribution with technicians. It is not unreasonably hopeful to say from the House today that while administration may from time to time break down—and the Nigerian Government face a daunting task which would have been daunting for nations much more experienced than Nigeria—we can be reasonably confident that the Nigerians can put conflict behind them and bui d a new trust and unity within that country.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that this debate lasts for only three hours. Reasonably brief speeches will help to permit more hon. Members to participate.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middlesbrough, East)

It affords me pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). Not for the first time in discussing Commonwealth affairs, I find myself in agreement with him, particularly in his kind references to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State.

This is the first time that I have spoken in a debate on Nigeria since the unhappy civil war was begun. The reason for that is that as Chairman of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration I have been engaged on parliamentary business elsewhere. However, on the radio and television I have had an opportunity to make my views known.

It has been my privilege to be associated with many of the leading Nigerian politicians for many years. One of my close personal friends was that great Commonwealth leader the late Prime Minister of Nigeria, Abubakar. I once stayed with him on his farm, and staying with a man is the best way to get to know him. It is my belief that if he had been alive today, we would not have had this unhappy situation in Nigeria.

The initial mistake of British colonialism was to try to federate the country, as though the Hausas, the Yorubas and the Ibos were Nigeria, when, in fact, they were less than half the total population. This meant that many of the other tribes were not given a chance to take part in the government or the running of their affairs.

The late Prime Minister Abubakar told me that it was his intention to try to remedy this situation. He wanted a better re presentation in Nigeria, and in his quiet way he was gradually getting an ascendency in the North and was getting general support from all Nigerians When I met General Gowon in 1968 he told me that this was his objective. He said that that was the reason for dividing Nigeria into 12 regions. It would enable all the tribes to take a share in the government and the running of the country. It is significant that all the army commanders agreed, except Colonel Ojukwu, a very able and conceited officer, who wished to run his own affairs and who saw himself as the head of the richest part of Nigeria.

In this, he was aided and abetted by foreign Governments who were interested in obtaining control of the oil resources in the area. A very powerful propaganda machine, financed out of the money received from the sale of oil, helped to exploit the poverty and suffering of the people acutely aggravated by the civil war. By these actions the rebels were given baseless hopes and foolish encouragement, thereby prolonging the war and causing even greater suffering.

Those of us who know Africa and Asia know that poverty and misery are the lot of the peoples. It is for this reason that some of us have been in the forefront of pleading for development aid. I hope that many who plead today will come out more strongly than before in saying that there is a need for all of us in the Western world, especially in this country, to help the impoverished people in the two-thirds of the world who have little hope of leading a reasonable life.

General Gowon is a man who is made in the mould of Abubakar. When I was in Nigeria, he arranged for me to visit the war zone and to go to Kaduna and Kano. In the zone I saw Ibos running relief centres. I doubt whether the Germans would have been so trusted by the allies when we were fighting to relieve Europe. They would not have been given the same opportunities. In Kano and in Kaduna I saw houses left by fleeing Ibos still empty, but nevertheless protected and waiting for the Ibos to come back. I had a chance to talk to bank managers who assured me that money left behind by the Ibos was there ready for them upon their return.

What Nigeria wants now is all the help that we can give. When Berlin was blockaded, Ernest Bevin conceived the airlift to relieve that city. We now need the same determination and spirit to send to Nigeria the supplies so urgently needed there. Food supplies we are told, are now going in and the most urgent supplies are medical personnel, means of communication, and transport. Failure to help now would be on the consciences of all of us for the future.

The House and the country must resolve that our main concerns are to help those who are now suffering from the civil war and to let Nigeria run her own affairs.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

The House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) for procuring this opportunity to debate this matter. It is also an improvement in our procedures that we can debate this matter much more quickly than we were able to do a year or so ago.

I should like to begin by paying tribute to General Gowon. His magnanimity and wisdom in the aftermath of the civil war have been quite remarkable. They contrast very favourably with the behaviour of some Europeans in similar situations.

This is not an inquest into the war. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) touched on the situation in Nigeria. They are important questions to be asked. There is the question about the ethics of European countries supplying arms in these circumstances. This war was won by a supply of arms from Britain, Russia and Egypt to Nigeria. There is also the question of how far we are prepared to maintain what was originally an imperial pattern in Africa.

There is the question, too, of the serious discrepancies between what some Ministers have told the House and what has been alleged in some newspapers about the supply of arms. I do not think that these are matters for investigation today. Today, we are concerned with relief and I want to deal primarily with immediate relief to ease the desperate situation.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone that from such inquiries as I have been able to make that the Government have been too reassuring in their statements to the House. Even if we put the degree of suffering and starvation at the lowest estimate, it is quite appalling. Great doubt must remain as to what is happening in that country. Some questions have been raised about the figures, particularly with regard to paragraph 12 of Lord Hunt's Report. I, too, want to ask some questions about these figures, although I am not quite certain why the right hon. Member found the first and second sentences in that section so wholly at variance.

As I understand, in the first sentence Lord Hunt is referring to those in dire need and saying that he cannot tell us how many there may be, and in the second sentence he is referring to those who were receiving relief. It is on the second point that my information differs from what is stated there. I am told that about 4 million people were receiving relief. If it is true that now within the Biafran enclave there is much less than that, what has happened to the balance? If they are not there—this is not a reason for congratulation, but for anxiety—they may have gone into the bush.

My second series of questions relate to what the Minister has told us this afternoon. He said that 1,500 tons of food have already been distributed. It would be useful to the House, in gauging the success of this operation, to know at what rate it is considered food ought to be distributed to allay the famine that undoubtedly exists. Is 1,500 tons up on the target?

Mr. Foley

If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening to me he would have heard that the target was 4,000 tons a week. They distributed 1,500 tons in the first week and are working towards the target of 4,000 tons per week.

Mr. Grimond

I am sorry if I misunderstood the Minister, to whom I listened. I had it down that 1,500 tons had so far been distributed, which he confirms, and that the rate of distribution was to be higher. That, however, is not an answer to my question.

Is this a satisfactory rate? This must be relevant when we are talking about starvation. Some of the figures that the Minister has given and which are given in the Hunt Report about transport are similarly open to question. I think that he said that 40 four-ton lorries had so far been sent to the forward areas and that there were another 50 Land Rovers, and 70 four-ton lorries, of which seven have been sent and three are to follow. Are these figures satisfactory? I know that they are what the Nigerian Government asked for, but it would be useful to know whether they are part of a much larger consignment supplied by other countries, or what the total situation is.

The same is true with doctors and nurses. When my right hon. Friend asked about drugs, which are extremely important, I cannot say that he got a very specific answer. The House is entitled to know whether we now have a firm order for a specified quantity of drugs and, if so, whether this is being met. I have been informed by a doctor working in the area that certainly a week or so ago they were wholly out of drugs. He suggested that it would certainly have been possible to have dropped drugs if it was impossible to get them there by lorry.

Lord Hunt says that it is a curious proposal that there should be an airlift in an area of the size we are discussing. However if there are no roads then it seems that this method of dropping drugs, which Las been raised in the House before, should certainly be considered.

Further, can we be told what is the position about Uli airstrip? Is it in use? There are many people who feel that if it can be used—and as its physical condition does not prevent this—that it should be used. The Government have said that they are giving £5 million to the Nigerian Government. I notice that in answer to a Question last Thursday it seemed that this is not an addition to the aid programme, but is coming out of the general aid programme.

I regret this and I hope that it is wrong. However the Answer seems to indicate chat it would not be additional amount. If this is so I do not think that the Home would feel that this is the most that Britain should do, bearing in mind her ties with and responsibilities to some extent, to this area.

The main burden of my speech is that even if the figures are taken at the minimum they are savage and serious. Rehabilitation and reconstruction will be of the greatest urgency, but if there are diseased and starvation-ridden people to whom we owe a duty, because of our ties, no delay in helping which can be avoided should be tolerated. The newspaper Le Monde has said: It is a sad commentary on this century of technical revolution and 2,000 years of Christianity that hundreds of thousands of civilians can die by starvation and the sword at two hours' flying time from the banqueting halls of Europe. I cannot help feeling that if it was a question of destruction the whole efforts of technology would be turned towards achieving the aim. I would like to see the same urgency brought to bear on the problems of relief and construction. Only one good thing may emerge, and that is that we shall realise the endemic and appalling poverty and disease which afflict many parts of the world.

We get very roused in the aftermath of a war and this has been a very rousing, distressing situation. However, in between we accept all too easily the endemic troubles of areas with a very low standard of life. I hope that we shall hear more from the Government, making clear whether these measures are really effective and whether they are up to the needs facing us; and I also hope that in due course we shall debate the other lessons arising from this tragic affair.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Woodrow Wyatt (Boswell)

I hope that this will be the last time that we will debate the internal affairs of Nigeria. It has become distressing to hear the patronising neo-colonialists from both sides of the House trying to tell the Nigerians what to do and how to do it, as though black people were always to be under instructions, either from the extreme Right wing or from the do-gooders of the extreme Left wing. That is not a combination I find very pleasing.

We have the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) saying that a Minister should have gone to Nigeria, insisted on them doing this, that and the other, telling them that they must use this airfield and not that airfield. We had my old friend the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) saying that because we had supplied arms to the Nigerian Government that gave us the right to tell them what to do.

Mr. Shinwell


Mr. Wyatt

I never heard my right hon. Friend, as Minister of Defence, when ordering arms from America, saying that that gave the Americans the right to interfere in our internal affairs.

Mr. Shinwell


Mr. Wyatt

I never heard him suggest that at the end of the war the American Government, who obviously much preferred Winston Churchill to Mr. Attlee, had the right to insist on the election of Mr. Churchill because they had given us arms and Lend-Lease.

Mr. Shinwell

Will my hon. Friend give way, or must we listen to these irrelevancies? What I said in my intervention was that we had supplied arms to Nigeria which enabled them to win the war. All that we were asking was, because of the urgency about which everyone agrees, that we may use our influence with General Gowon to assist in the administration. It is administration that is required. That is all that I ask. The hon. Member seeks to indulge in irrelevancies about what I was thinking when I was Minister of Defence and he was my junior Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. Wyatt

I must insist to my right hon. Friend that the parallel is exact. He ordered arms from America and would not in the least dream of their interfering with our affairs. He did not just say, "Let us use our influence in Nigeria." He said that we had the right to intervene. We have not got that right.

One of the great troubles in this whole affair has been the extraordinary bias shown by some of the media of communication, in particular, the B.B.C. and to a lesser extent the I.T.V. They have continually painted General Ojukwu as a hero and General Gowon as a villain. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense".] They have weighted all their selection of material to present the Nigerian Government in the worst possible light and the rebels in the best possible light.

I believe that this has been a serious matter. The public have been misled to such a great degree by the people who have those instruments in their hands that we should now consider setting up a Television Council on the lines of the Press Council, so that one may make complaints not merely to the chairmen of the authorities who run television, but to an independent body which can adjudicate on them.

I have complained to Lord Hill and I was told by him that he sees no bias in the B.B.C. programmes. All I can say is that that must be the reason there is so much bias, if he cannot see any. For example, on the "24 Hours" programme—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with the relief".] I know that it is a complete novelty to many of my hon. Friends to hear a fair-minded account of events in Nigeria, but they should not be so horrified as to try to prevent me from giving one.

On "24 Hours", directly after the fall of the rebel cause, we had Mr. Dimbleby—who is by no means as impartial as his father was—presenting on the Monday a programme which almost entirely consisted of people attacking the Nigerian Government. He had one person from the Save the Children Fund who had been there a week before and who was giving high praise to what the Nigerian Government authorities were doing and what the Nigerian Army was doing. But he was cut short and double the amount of time was given to a relief worker who had not been to Nigeria for two years to discuss again the horrors of starvation, and so on, as if it was in some way the Nigerian Government's fault.

We had the B.B.C. all that week not merely in the programme saying that there were 15,000 tons of food at Sao Tomé, 10,000 tons somewhere else outside Nigeria, and so on, as if that was part of the problem of relief when it never was; and that the Nigerian Government were refusing it. There was always plenty of food in Nigeria, but the problem was to get it by road and distribute it to the people who needed it. It was not a problem of using Uli airfield, because the organisation which had been distributing supplies from Uli had completely collapsed and vanished and there was no point in dropping food on to an empty airfield when there was no one to deal with it there. It was more sensible to do what the Nigerian authorities were trying to do.

The reporters who recorded last week, with a high degree of unanimity, the horror stories which we read in the Press last Thursday recorded, I am sure, exactly what they saw. I do not impugn any dishonesty or inaccuracy to any of them. But they looked for the bad things. They did not look for the good things. For example, they did not look at the camp for 35,000 refugees, described by Sir Colin Thornley, which was being run by two Ibos and where everyone has been fed in a remarkable and efficient manner.

It was very strange that most of the reporters, during their 12-hour tour, saw the same incidents because we had the same incidents over and over again in each different newspaper. The only balanced account that I saw was in the Financial Times, where credit was given for the good things which the Nigerian authorities had done as well as for the unfortunately bad.

I believe that these reporters went in there either very prejudiced and determined to find the bad things because they had all been supporting the rebel cause, or that they were exceptionally naïve. One cannot go into an area just after it has been devastated by a civil war and expect to see the area run like a Butlin's holiday camp. That would be naive arid foolish. I think that the real explanation is prejudice, because the Press, as well as the B.B.C., has, on the whole, departed very much from its normal fair standards of accuracy and reporting.

There have been some honourable exceptions such as Colin Legum in the Observer, the Sunday before last, who alone described the terrible prison conditions in which Colonel Ojukwu's past opponents had been kept. We have not heard much about that from Colonel Ojukwu's fans in this House. We had fairness in the Financial Times as well. The Press is very quick to criticise other people, but it is very quick and very sensitive to resent any criticism directed at it in turn.

Mr. Shinwell

What is my hon. Friend talking about?

Mr. Wyatt

I am trying to be fair-minded. I know that it is an attitude which is foreign to my right hon. Friend, but it may be possible for others of us to try to be balanced in this matter.

The Press is over-sensitive when it is attacked itself. It immediately starts crying, "Freedom of the Press", or "Censorship", and all that kind of rubbish. But there is no reason to suppose that Lord Hunt, Sir Colin Thornley and the international observers who went for much longer and deeper into the area were more wrong than the reporters, who went on a brief, 12-hour visit without much experience of the situation at all.

It is remarkable and disturbing how the Press and television have fallen for little pressure groups and propaganda put out by them—by Markpress and other organisations all this time. Indeed, they behave as though the Federal Government had no right to win the war and they are dismayed that the end has occurred and think that the Federal Government ought to be punished because they have won the war.

I fear that one of the main causes of this has been the Roman Catholic missionaries in the Biafran area who have been putting out this propaganda which is sometimes believed by the Pope. It was only when another good Roman Catholic—the Minister—went to see the Pope and put him straight on some matters that there was a change. I am glad that His Holiness—and I hope that I have got his title right—then issued a very different statement the Sunday following from the one he issued the previous Sunday.

I fear that some of the organs of information have been in the hands of Roman Catholics. It is a serious matter. It does not seem to me to be any conicidence that the Director-General of the B.B.C. is a Roman Catholic—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] And it does not seem to me to be a coincidence that the Editor of The Times is a Roman Catholic.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)

The hon. Member ought to join Paisley.

Mr. Wyatt

The Editor of The Times has run a very different policy in his paper from that which has been run by the Sunday Times, whose editor does not happen to be a Roman Catholic. The Editor of the Sunday Times has maintained throughout an objective and consistent reporting of the situation which has not been shown by The Times.

Mr. Winnick

Baseless and disgraceful.

Mr. Wyatt

I wish that my hon. Friend would not get so angry. I have had to listen to an awful lot of rubbish from him in the past.

Even this morning, The Times put the Hunt Report at the bottom of page 4, compressing the 8,000 words of that report into an 800-word tendentiously selected and slanted account of what the report says. It puts it under a sneering headline, "Optimistic Hunt", as though the man was off his head. The Times is supposed to be a paper of historical record. In the ordinary way, it publishes very nearly in full, if not in full, all Government White Papers. But, because of its prejudice—here is another example of it today—against the Nigerian Government, it once again plays unfair and dirty this morning.

Newspapers have enjoyed themselves during the past few days publishing pictures of a wedding party which took place in Port Harcourt, I think, with people drinking champagne, side by side with pictures of starving children. Is it the suggestion that no further weddings are to take place in Nigeria until relief has been completed? Is it the suggestion that in the vast majority of the country, the life of which was never disrupted, people are not to eat and drink or perform their natural functions any more?

I do not notice people in London who are so very keen on supporting the Biafran cause reducing their consumption of champagne. Yet this is the kind of tendentious and unfair reporting which one sees in the newspapers, as though the Nigerian Government were swilling away, eating the fatted calf and drinking champagne which ought to go to the starving children. If one gives champagne to starving children, the result will not be very good, anyway.

All this sneering and interference—[An HON. MEMBER: "Disgusting."] I agree; this kind of reporting is disgusting. By such juxtaposition to suggest that in some way the Nigerian Government are merrymaking and using food and drink which should go to starving children is extremely unfair. All this sneering and interference is greatly resented in Nigeria. Nigerians are sick to death of our debating their affairs and telling them what to do.

Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)

Why is my hon. Friend debating them, then?

Mr. Wyatt

Because I am trying to answer some of the silly things which are said.

Mr. Rose

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Wyatt

No, I will not give way again.

This sort of interference will not help aid. We shall only put up the backs of the Nigerian authorities. It could create in their minds the attitude, "To hell with it and to hell with them. We shall not do anything about aid". That would be the attitude if it were not for the fact that General Gowon is a remarkable man, a great statesman, a generous and magnanimous person who is obviously filled with far more Christian principles than most of those who attack him. He has done his utmost from the start to end the war, to send mercy flights into Biafra, which were refused by his opponents, to feed his enemies while the war was on, and at once to rush relief to the front.

We know that there are cases of rape and looting. There always are at the end of a civil war. What about the Germans and the Russians in Europe at the end of the last war, only a few years ago? How well have we behaved quite often in Ireland? None of us can say that we have a perfect record in these matters. What surprises me is not the amount of indiscipline, but how little there has been, considering that there was a scratch Army built up from a few thousands to 100,000 in a couple of years. We should try to offer a bit of congratulation to the Nigerian authorities and encourage them in what they are doing.

Never before has relief come in this way from the victorious in a civil war. It certainly did not come in the American civil war, when the carpetbaggers were sent in to exploit and to destroy the opposition. Should we not remember that only in 1947, when partition took place in India, and we were responsible for that, millions of people starved and were slaughtered as a result of our action? We have nothing to be proud of in these matters. Even during the war itself, in the Bengal famine, when the British administration was in control of Bengal, 2 million people were destroyed, starving in the streets of Calcutta and other towns of Bengal. It is not for us to take a holier than thou attitude, ticking off the Nigerians because in two weeks from the end of a war they have not cured the malnutrition which takes months to remedy in its victims.

I make one respectful suggestion to General Gowon, without in any way wishing to interfere in the affairs of Nigeria. He has achieved such a high standing in the world as a result of his conduct of the war and his behaviour since that I am sure that, if he could feel able to visit the particular rebel areas now recaptured by his troops, going there to see far himself and to reassure anyone who may still be in doubt among the Ibos by his presence there, this could, I believe, do more than anything to allay anxiety and raise the prestige of himself and his Government. I do not suggest that he has not many other things to do in Lagos in organising to remove the chaos at the end of civil war, but I think that, if he could do that, he would find that it would pay very good dividends indeed, both in world opinion and among the people now restored to one Nigeria.

For our part, let us offer all the help we can, with lorries, transport, medical supplies, and so on, but let us stop telling the Nigerians how to deal with their own situation. Quite apart from damaging the cause of the starving by this unwarranted interference, all the carping is harmful to Britain. I do not deny, and I have never denied, that there are great British interests in Nigeria. We supported the Federal Government partly because of those great British interests, but we had a just cause, and they had a just cause. We put our trust in men whom we thought honourable and who have proved to be honourable. Let us not throw away the advantage of being good friends, as we have been, over two and a half years, by becoming superior white critics of supposed black incompetence.

We should remember that only France, Portugal, South Africa and Rhodesia wanted the break-up of Nigeria. They wanted it because they wanted Nigeria to split into small parts, and other States in Africa to go the same way, because the more weak, feeble and defenceless African States there are the better For those four countries.

That cannot be in our interest. It cannot be in the interest of Africa. Even the Russians—this ought to appeal to some of my hon. Friends—have behaved correctly in this matter. There seems to me to be no reason why we should behave less correctly and make enemies in Lagos, where we now have friendship and where, if we make enemies, we cannot provide the necessary influence to assist and speed the relief.

I congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having stood steadily by a sound, wise and humane policy in the face of some very ill-informed criticism and of distorted reports against them throughout by most of the media of public communications.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), for I agree almost entirely with every word he said. I shall, perhaps, put my endorsement in a somewhat less colourful way, but we greatly enjoyed his contribution. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that this will be the last debate we shall have in the House on Nigeria. I must frankly say that I think it a mistake to be debating it again today at all. I believe that it gives us the worst of both worlds.

We irritate the farmers, who are justifiably concerned about their position, and who may well resent having their debate on agriculture relegated to the last four hours of the day. Also, we run the risk, perhaps, of irritating the Government of Nigeria by seeming to interfere yet again in their affairs. I think that this is the seventh time we have debated Nigeria since the civil war began. I very much doubt whether any other Parliament in the world has debated this problem half as often, although the same humanitarian feeling exists in other countries just as it does here.

As the Under-Secretary of State reminded us in his opening speech, Nigeria is an independent sovereign country. Continually to offer our advice, and often our moral strictures, on how she should have conducted this war and, now, on how she should organise relief and rehabilitation, must often make it appear to her as though we still regard her paternalistically, almost as a colony for which we have some special responsibility. General Gowon has shown again and again that he is a humane and statesmanlike leader of very unusual magnanimity, but I should not blame him if he resented the fact that we are again apparently interfering in Nigeria's conduct of her own affairs this afternoon.

I regard this whole debate as a psychological error, and as counter-productive in its possible effects. Presumably we are having the debate because of newspaper reports of the situation in "Biafra". There is a certain amount in what the hon. Member for Bosworth said, but I do not go quite as far as he did in criticising these reports. I do not think that they are actually untrue; but it is the very essence of journalism to single out the sensational and then to highlight it. A quiet success story is very seldom publicised because it is thought not to be news. But, if anything goes wrong, it gets large headlines and maximum coverage.

I do not think that any of the stories that we have seen in the newspapers have been fabricated, or even much exaggerated, but I do think that the impression which they give, that particular incidents of rape, looting and starvation are typical of the whole picture in the former enclave, is a very misleading one indeed. I should much prefer to accept the report of Lord Hunt, himself a humane and experienced observer, because he has no axe to grind at all and no motivation, except to report the truth and the picture as a whole as he and Sir Colin Thornley and others have personally seen it. It is, therefore, important that hon. Members should resist the temptation to highlight this tragic situation and make it appear worse than it is.

Those who talked for so long about genocide, and who have now had to eat that word, are the last people in the world to criticise General Gowon and his Government today. We all want the food and medical supplies to get into the Ibo heartland as quickly as possible. We all feel deeply about those who may be dying of starvation at this very moment, but this debate is not the best way to help them. The best way to help them, as the Government are doing, is to send the supplies, especially the trucks, for which the Federal Government have asked.

We cannot, from this House of Commons, organise the Nigerian relief work. If we try to do so by our advice it will not only be ineffective, but will lead—and is now leading—to justified resentment, just, indeed, as we would have strongly resented outside interference in the troubles in Ulster last summer. My view is that Her Majesty's Government are doing all that they can do in this situation, and I believe that the House of Commons is mistaken to advise and moralise on a matter which it cannot influence except for the worse.

The 3rd Division has now been withdrawn from most of the enclave, and the better-disciplined 1st Division has taken over. Individual soldiers have been punished for their excesses which, as other hon. Members have said, have taken place in the aftermath of victory in European wars as well as in Nigeria. I have myself seen such incidents in Europe, committed not by the best units, but by the worst, of which I was greatly ashamed.

As the Under-Secretary of State said, there is no lack of food in Nigeria. The problem is simply to organise the transport of it, especially to the worst affected areas like Owerri, and we cannot do that from the House of Commons. Obviously, it would be wrong to be complacent. Clearly, there is still much to be done, and many lives to be saved, but there has been no massacre of the Ibos, as was predicted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) and others in this House, and there has been no spirit of revenge.

On the contrary, it is clear that the Federal authorities are trying their best to organise relief as quickly as possible. We can help from outside by sending trucks, drugs, and medical supplies, but we shall help no one by dramatising the situation or by criticising the Federal effort. We must leave the organisation of relief to the Federal Government.

I agree very much with one of the last remarks made by the hon. Member for Bosworth, in his excellent speech. I endorse his suggestion because he and I make it as friends of Nigeria and as sincere admirers of General Gowon. I believe that General Gowon should consider personally visiting the East Central State as soon as possible to see the conditions there. I have absolute faith in his integrity, and in his good will towards the Ibo people. I am sure that if there are organisational defects or shortages he will be more anxious than anyone to put them right, and that he will do so with a sense of urgency, particularly if he has seen them for himself.

In my view, it is not for us to carp and criticise in this House. It is for General Gowan, as he has done hitherto, and will I am sure continue to do, to lead the way in his own country.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)

What worries me about the present situation is the lack of discussion which there seems to have been between Britain and Nigeria before the end of the war about the kind of help which we could provide in the present situation. We may have had our own plans in this country, but there does not appear to have been much prior discussion with Nigeria, for example about the kind of planes which could be used, whether they should he military planes, or whether they would have to be civilian planes. Nor was there any discussion about the rôle of the relief organisations, the use of Uli, and, most important of all how, in the short-term, to fill the gap which was bound to exist with the cutting-off of the Joint Church Aid airlift of food.

I do not accept that relief had to be left to Nigeria, and that we could only wait and do what we were asked to do. The situation was not as simple as that. It is now clear that British involvement in this war was far greater than has so far been admitted. If Ministers dispute the figures given in the Nigeria Trade Summary which has been widely quoted during the last week, let them put the record right and tell us that these figures are wrong. It appears that in 1968 500 armoured vehicles were shipped from the British Army of the Rhine via Belgium to Lagos, at nil cost to Nigeria, the only charge made being for carriage. With that kind of involvement, there must go responsibility. If Nigeria looked to us for the colossal military and diplomatic backing which she received, she must accept that we, too, have responsibilities in the aftermath. The interventions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) on this matter were right.

The question before us today is whether the plans which the British Government have, and the attitude which they have taken, adequately reflect those responsibilities. The Prime Minister's statement a week ago was reassuring, and it was widely accepted as such by many hon. Members, but on the key issue it gave very little information, indeed. The key issue was what was going to happen to the large number of people—surely it matters not whether it is 2 million or 4 million—who were concentrated in the area round Owerri, Orlu, and Uli following the cutting-off of the Joint Church Aid airlift which stopped on Saturday 11th January, and which prior to that date had been bringing in close on 300 tons of food a night.

Those hon. Members who have been to Biafra, as it was, who saw the scale of that Joint Church Aid airlift and who have seen the density of the population in the area, knew that this was the immediate problem. One accepts that there has been no genocide. That is a word which I have never used throughout this whole affair. One accepts all that one was told by the Prime Minister and others about what was being done in Port Harcourt, Enugu and round the periphery.

The key question, however—and surely this must have been foreseen; it is astonishing that it was not discussed with the Nigerians before the war ended—in the short term, in the first two weeks, which have now passed, was what would happen in the Owerri-Osrlu-Uli area if and when the Joint Church Aid airlift was cut off.

When the Biafran surrender took place, there were some of us—the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) was one, and I was another—who tried to bring home to the Government that this was the immediate, the only, question which mattered during that first week. That evidence was backed up by the reports of priests and relief workers who came out of Biafra on almost that last night when people got out—Saturday, 11th January.

The Government played down those fears. One understands the desire to give a reassuring account. The British Government's policy has been bitterly attacked throughout this whole affair and it will be argued about for a long time. Even by last Thursday, however, it was clear that very little food had gone into the Owerri-Orlu-Uli area. It is not the point that the food was 50 miles away. If the food was not actually there, it could have been 500 miles away.

I believe that we could have taken, we should have taken, and we can still take a more robust attitude with the Nigerian Government about moving food efficiently into the area. The talk, of which we have heard so much today, about Nigeria's sovereignty and independence misses the point. Of course Nigeria is a sovereign, independent nation.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

How would the hon. Member do it?

Mr. Barnes

Let me answer by putting this to the hon. Member. If Nigeria can be persuaded to accept Lord Hunt, to have Lord Hunt going round the country and producing his report, surely it would have been possible for the Prime Minister, together with the President of the United States, if need be, to do no more than urge, but to urge in no uncertain terms, that Britain and America should be allowed to help in mounting a more effective crash programme than has been mounted so far.

I believe that in international affairs the personal element is extremely important. If politicians are not prepared to use their personal influence when it could be decisive, they might just as well sit back and leave politics to diplomats, who are better at these routine exchanges. Risks are, of course, involved. There is always the risk of rebuttal if Britain and America had made such a request and urged this on General Gowon. This, however, was surely an instance when such a risk was worth taking.

I am not satisfied that enough was done by this country to bring aid to those who are suffering and I do not believe that our responsibilities in this matter have so far been adequately discharged. For me, the whole thing—the war and, now, the aftermath—in so far as it concerns us remains one of the most tragic episodes in which this country has ever involved itself overseas.

5.14 p.m.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)

I am particularly glad to follow the hon. Member for Brentford and Chis- wick (Mr. Barnes). In spite of all that has been said in the Hunt Report, I feel that it is painfully obvious to anyone who has studied the reports in many different newspapers from so many journalists who have visited the area that the food is not getting in quickly enough. Other hon. Members have spoken briefly and I intend to concentrate shortly on this one point. The main concern must be not only to get food in but to bring out quickly those who are sick and the starving women and children, who are referred to with such compassion in paragraph 16 of the Hunt Report.

I feel that the Government have not paid enough attention to the suggestion put forward earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) that helicopters or light aircraft could be used to assist in this task. Here we are in the year 1970. We have terrific lift power. This is seen in places as far away as Vietnam. We know that the roads in the area are bad and overcrowded; the bridges have been damaged and it is impossible to put large trucks, as has been suggested, through in adequate numbers and bring out the sick and the injured.

Uli airport is in a state of disrepair. It is, however, possible for modern light aircraft to land on short unprepared strips. If helicopters cannot lift enough, I know that the aircraft are available. I refer particularly to the aircraft about which I got in touch with the Foreign Secretary, the Skyvan. This is an aircraft which is being used in similar rough conditions throughout the world in places as far away as Alaska and New Guinea. It has shown by its performance that it can carry a load of 5,000 1b. over a short distance of 100 miles, a distance ideally suitable for these conditions. It could land either in bad conditions at Uli or on any other unprepared strip.

I should particularly like the Minister to think of one aspect of this. The need is not only to bring in food and supplies, but also to bring in medical staff and medical supplies, to take them where they are needed and to ferry out those who are sick and injured. How better to bring out people who are critically ill, whose photographs we have seen in the Press and of whom we have read in the report, than to carry them out by aircraft or helicopter, which is much better than taking them by lorries over bad roads? I suggest, therefore, that the Government should pay much more attention to the possibility of using the light aircraft which are available in this country.

I got in touch with the manufacturers of the aircraft which I have mentioned and I am told that up to 12 of them could be made available at short notice. The Government were not slow in making available British arms when they thought it wise, to bring the war to a quick end, that they should be supplied to the Nigerians. I suggest, as other hon. Members have done, that British light aircraft could be used to discharge the moral obligation that lies on this country to bring relief as quickly as possible to those who need it so desperately.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I am very sorry that the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) is not in his place, because since his amazing speech the debate has taken an unusual turn. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman expected this, but, save for one speech from the benches behind me in his support, no hon. Member who has spoken has not brought what I believe to be, in this delicate post-war situation with Lagos, a sensible balance of tone to the debate.

We all know it to be the fact that the war has finished. That is the important thing. Had it still been going on, possibly, according to some figures, anything up to 40,000 or, perhaps, 80,000 men, women and children could have been dead or dying during this short time. So let us give heartfelt thanks for this. Those of us who have been emotionally involved in this and deeply committed certainly do.

We have heard a lot about newspapers. Yesterday, the Sunday Times carried one of the best leading articles I have ever read. It said: Anyone in the Commons debate tomorrow who seizes on the suffering to re-open the anti-Federal argument would be guilty of playing politics and outside politicking has bedevilled Nigeria enough. Before I entered the Chamber, I took down from the tape the words of the Government spokesman, a Minister whom some us know, in Lagos. I was not surprised to find that he said that a debate in this Chamber is an unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. I say again that I have been deeply committed and emotionally involved here. When I was a humble student long ago, I read in a book by George Trevelyan that "disinterested enthusiasm is one of the nobler attributes of a good citizen". I have certainly not been disinterested, but I can fairly claim that my motives have been worthy.

In their battle for existence against the secessionists of Eastern Nigeria, those of us who have known the Federal leaders are not surprised at the tributes paid today to General Gowon for his magnanimity, his honour, and indeed his whole behaviour in this difficult post-civil war period. He is the son of a well digger on the Central Plateau and was educated in Church Missionary Society schools. He is a seven-days-a-week Christian who does not go to church only on Sunday.

I fully understand and support his attitude to Uli Airport being used in the past by alien elements ferrying in certain materials of war by night. In any case, can that airport be used today? When the conflict finished, I understand that all the landing equipment was torn up, and the airstrip is useless today except for emergency crash landing. There is no sophisticated gear there. There are three good airports elsewhere: at Enugu, Harcourt, and Calabar. I accept that there are thousands of tons of stuff still waiting at San Tome to be ferried across to what was formerly the hinterland of "Biafra", but in this matter we should make an effort to understand the feelings of the Nigerian Government.

I was in Port Harcourt when the Marine Commando division was there, just before the junction town of Aba fell. Many of us know that the war could have finished at that time, over 12 months ago, but for the influence of the French with their arms aid—and the relief organisations also played their part. History will pass its judgment on this war. There was at this time a conflict of hawks and doves, but let us all thank Heaven that the war has now been finished, and that on television we all saw Lt.-General Effiong embracing General Gowon at the peace talks.

I do not understand how people like Group Captain Cheshire and others, some even in this Chamber, can say that we should fly in supplies without Federal permission. This staggers me. In the '50s, when certain present-day dominions were then colonies, they had champions in this Chamber. Some of those hon. Members, like Fenner Brockway, are today in the Lords. Now that former colonies have become dominions and independent sovereign States, they apparently still need champions against some of the "neo-colonialists" we have on these benches.

The situation today is quite clear. There is plenty of food in Eastern Nigeria. The exercise is to get it to those poor refugees in need. How far has it to go? Anyone who knows the local terrain knows that no Ibo can be more than 20 miles from any stockpile of food—even ignoring any local cassava or yams in the bush just off the roadway. So we must get these foods to them.

In my weekend newspapers, I read both Lord Hunt's account and that of the international observers with him alongside the account of some Press reports. I do not believe that either is giving false witness. But I believe from my own knowledge of the situation that Lord Hunt has the overall picture correct. I would sooner believe Lord Hunt—I say this calmly, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt)—who does know Africa, than some journalists who have never been nearer to the bush than London Airport, but who nevertheless go on television and almost pillory a man like the noble Lord when asking him loaded questions.

I do not understand the motives of interviewers on the B.B.C. or I.T.V. who behave in this fashion. I have been on television trying to give my point of view in answer to some of these people. The most charitable thing that I can think is that some of these men had not been out to Africa before. Perhaps they do go out, stay in a Lagos hotel and then go to what was the battle zone. They have been born in Manchester or London and have European standards, and they judge the bush by standards which have been acquired in Tooting Bec or Surbiton. This is completely out of order and most unfair to people living in a developing society.

What about the good deeds in the enclave? We have bandied the name of a certain Church across the Chamber today. I have perhaps said hard things about Caritas elsewhere, but I say here and now that 90 per cent. of the Irish Catholic missionaries and their helpers stayed behind with their flocks and did a service to their cloth and calling. They did and are still doing a wonderful job. There must be 500 or 600 of these Irish or other missionaries and Catholic workers doing this job. They stayed behind in what had been "Biafra", and a small percentage have gone on television to make propaganda against my Government, or the Lagos Government, and those trying to bind up the wounds in difficult conditions today in Eastern Nigeria.

I turn to this stuff that we are told about soldiers raping and looting. It has been said that the Federal Army was swollen from little over 8,000 in peace time—when Colonel Ojukwu himself was a distinguished member of the forces with General Gowon and General Hassim—to 104,000. Many of these are young men from the slums of Lagos and Ibadan and many have not been in the army so many weeks. Therefore, it is not unusual to find these cases of disorder—when fighting ceases.

Why do the journalists highlight this stuff, with pictures and all, to the exclusion of all else? General Gowon has pulled out and is pulling out any awkward units, of which there has been only one—perhaps two—in the Third Division. It has been pulled out at the first possible opportunity. Why is the good side not emphasised? Why do newspaper reporters think that they have a divine right to go into any State like Nigeria and ask any questions in any situation and come back to highlight the bad? This does a disservice to our democratic society and immense harm with Lagos at this time of post-war settlement. These men seem determined to paint as black a picture as possible. Indeed, some of them apparently get the freedom of the B.B.C., on "Panorama" or "Twenty-Four Hours", to put their views before the public. I believe that the Lagos Government has had a bad deal here in public relations.

But God helps those who help themselves. The weakest feature of the Federal machine to my mind has been its information service. It has been quite bad. Maybe the Federal leaders thought that a just and honest cause would speak for itself. Maybe now they have discovered just how naive they have been in the face of the international media, television and newspapers. They have sometimes handled journalists tactlessly, but even if this were so, these journalists had only just left London, a developed society, for a developing one. Why cannot some of our Press people keep their heads, and try to give a square deal to Nigeria, even though they may have been disturbed and even embarrassed by a young information officer in Port Harcourt?

I would support one thing mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth, in that I would welcome anything which led the Head of State to go east of the Niger to inspect these areas. I think I can say this without presumption, since many like me have been committed, in the last two or three years, and are now delighted that the war is finished and that thousands of lives are being saved each week.

Our job is now to help this potentially great nation, this sleeping giant of nearly 60 million people, to build for the future. There has been talk of the Hausas and many other tribes, and that this is a land of diverse peoples. I believe that they can all live together: if I did not, I would not believe in human nature. These African peoples are as good as and many of them are better than we are. They can live together, just as Europeans must live together. They need more charity in this House—and they deserve no less than that.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I appreciated very much the remarks of the hon. Member hon. Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt), who virtually made my speech for me, better than I could have done myself. I also should like to congratulate the Government on their firm stand throughout this whole conflagration. Perhaps it is not quite the right thing for one on this side to congratulate the Government, but there is no doubt that it is their firmness in handling the situation which has brought the war to a close. I am also glad that my party has been firmly behind the Government's line in this very difficult and terrible situation.

I suppose those of us who are constantly in and out of Nigeria appreciate the difficulties more than others. Whatever we suggest in the House this afternoon will make absolutely no difference to the good people in Nigeria. Hon. Members who go there will realise that they think it audacious on our part to hold such a debate this afternoon, and I suggest that it is audacity and a waste of time. We have heard enough of Nigeria.

My one plea is that we should leave Nigeria alone and let the Nigerians get on with their own work. They are fully aware of their duties. They understand perfectly what is required of them, especially as they deal with the problem of starvation. General Gowon throughout has shown an unswerving concern for the men and women of his country. When we pushed him to try to get on with the war and to finish it, he told us that his policy was clear—to minimise casualties by moving slowly. He said, "These people are my people. We do not want them to suffer."

Mrs. Anne Kerr

Would the hon. Member explain what he means by "we" in that statement?

Mr. Cordle

Those of us anywhere who have at heart the interests of Nigeria as a whole. We know—my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) fully appreciates this—that the viability and the prosperity in peace of Nigeria will remain only if Nigeria is one. That has been the underlying motive of the Federal Government throughout and it is a policy which we should follow.

There is little more that I should say, because the case has been put so well from both sides of the House this afternoon. I hope that we shall not again be bedevilled, as we have been bedevilled in the several debates in the House—and I hope that this is the last—by more exaggeration from the Press and by more inaccurate information and hoodwinking of the public by thoroughly disreputable public relations people both in this country and outside. I recommend to the House that they leave Nigeria alone and trust General Gowon, who is running a sovereign State and running it well.

5.37 p.m.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

While I sympathise with the objectives of the arguments of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle), I cannot associate myself with one argument which he advanced. In view of our involvement in the crisis in Nigeria—and the degree of that involvement has been spelt out by several hon. Members—it seems to me clear that we have a right and a responsibility to discuss the issue in the House if we so wish. Those of us who understand the Federal position must nevertheless be permitted to make this observation to our friends and Commonwealth colleagues in Lagos; it is our feeling of responsibility and concern for their problems which have led us in the best sense to discuss and review this situation.

May I take up two points made by my parliamentary colleague and great personal friend, the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes)? He argued that because of the degree of military support which we have given to the Federal Government we have a responsibility in the aftermath of the war which we must exercise fully. He also argued that because of the degree of military support which we have given them, the Federal Government must accept that we have this responsibility and must be willing to listen to the arguments which we wish to put forward about the organisation of relief.

Looking objectively at the events since the end of the war, I cannot see his grounds for criticism. It seems to me that no Government have been more actively involved in demonstrating their sense of responsibility and that the Nigerians could not have been more willing to listen to the various emissaries who have been sent from London or to the arguments which they have advanced about the organisation of relief.

One of the tragedies about the Nigerian crisis while it has lasted—and it has lasted far too long—is that there has been an unfortunate and over- simplified polarisation of the argument. Often people who have taken largely the Biafran point of view and others who have taken largely the Federal point of view have not been as far apart as might sometimes have seemed in the debates in the House. No one will under-estimate—indeed, no one has under-estimated this afternoon—the scale of the disaster, dislocation and suffering during and immediately after this dreadful civil war, but in some ways it is surely rather sordid to become pre-occupied, as some commentators have become preoccupied, with equations about total numbers or proportions of the population in dire straits. If a child dies a lingering death from malnutrition or untreated wounds, he is a child who was in desperate need. It makes little difference whether that child is one of 10 or one of 10,000. We ought to be concerned with each case. It casts doubt on our integrity, in view of our self-claimed civilised values, if we are not so concerned.

The response by the Press, by volunteers and in public opinion as a whole in terms of cash and of Government assistance has been impressive. What we have seen in the aftermath of the war has demonstrated the values of British life at their best. But if we recognise the scale of the problem in terms of individual tragedies, we must think through the problem logically, and we must avoid the arrogance of assuming that those more intimately involved, on the spot, do not share our degree of concern. There is plenty of evidence that those on the spot in the Federal Government share our concern at least as strongly as we have expressed it in the House this afternoon.

We have seen an example of compassion—this has been said already today but I want to reinforce it—on the part of the Federal leaders, and a desire for reconciliation, perhaps unrivalled by European nations such as our own in the aftermath of wars to which we have been parties.

Both the Federal Government and ourselves want to see effective immediate relief. To be effective it must be coordinated. As my hon. Friend said in opening the debate, however well-meaning the enthusiasm, without such co-ordination there would be anarchy, and in some respects the results might be counter-productive. Quantity is not the only issue in a desperate situation such as this. Organisation and the means to cope, and the absorbtive capacity of the administration at ground level, are at least as important. If we are being logical, objective and honest with ourselves, we must admit that the only effective co-ordination which can be achieved, without establishing what would in effect amount to a complex international colonial régime, is through the existing administrative structure provided by the Federal Government.

Moreover, in the long run reconstruction and development will be every bit as important in terms of the life, death and health of the Ibo people as the immediate relief operation. To achieve that reconstruction on a sustained basis, the responsibility must clearly be with the Federal Government. Our continuing rôle will be to work with the Federal Government and through them for years to come on the basis of the effective co-operation which is now established.

There is one other argument at which we must look carefully. It was mentioned briefly during Questions the other day by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). It is that simply because of the degree of passion and bitterness which has existed in the civil war, if there is to be a hope of a stable future for Federal Nigeria it is essential that the Federal Government should be the authority now which demonstrates its willingness, determination and ability to cope with the dreadful problems which we have been discussing.

Some harsh remarks have been made about mass communications—radio, television and the Press. I pick up a point which was made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). As one who has consistently advanced the importance and relevance to British politics of a commitment to overseas aid and development, I have found one of the most nauseating aspects of the Press reporting in the last few weeks to be the way in which some newspapers which have never missed an opportunity for a snide comment at the principle of overseas aid and development have been so ambitiously promoting their sales with stories of horror, of children in distress, of suffering individuals and of disease.

Whatever the causes of these problems—and every hon. Member has been moved by what we have seen—they are not unique. I could take the individual journalists, who have been writing with such sincerity, to many other areas of the world, where they will see exactly the same thing. The plea which I make is that if we can learn anything from the traumatic experience through which the world and the people of Nigeria have passed, it is that we should make a general commitment to provide more aid.

Some journalists have been writing with a wonderful sense of dedication. Let them take the sense of dedication in which they have been writing, take this sense of commitment, and recognise that what we are fighting is a problem of suffering and horror which we must fight with equal resolve whatever its specific causes wherever it occurs, not only in Nigeria.

5.46 p.m.

Mr. Richard Hornby (Tonbridge)

There have been two main themes to the debate. One has concerned the attitude of the mass media and the reaction of hon. Members to their reports and the other has been our view on the degree to which this debate infringes the sovereignty of the Nigerian Government.

I share some of the disquiet which has been expressed about some of the reports received through the mass media. At the same time, we must recognise that the Press has a rôle to point an uncomfortable finger when it sees disagreeable things. Sometimes there is not sufficient time to paint the whole picture, and I think that there has been a grave lack of perspective in some Press reports.

I should like to think that improved communications made it easier for nations today to understand each other's problems, but the fact is that the half-truth of the camera and the headlines are making it more and not less difficult for us to improve our international relations. To that extent I regret the nature of the coverage which much of the mass media has carried on this subject.

The second question concerns the sovereignty of Nigeria. When I looked at the Order Paper I found it hard to see what useful purpose this debate could serve. The terms of the Motion seem to suggest the degree of intervention in the internal affairs of another country which we should not support. To an extent, the hon. Members for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Rudd) and Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) took a different view. They thought that the degree of our involvement in arms supply left us a residue of responsibility which we could not altogether avoid.

To my mind, the situation changed as soon as the war ended. Up to the end of the war, our supply of arms to the Nigerian Government, meeting requests which they made to us, was a legitimate cause of debate in the House. Every time we debated the subject we were asking ourselves whether we should say "Yes" to these requests, which were directly concerned with the pursuit of a military ending to a civil war. I thought that we were right to say "Yes" because for all the suffering caused by war and the events leading up to it, I can see nothing but further suffering, greater chaos and more strife coming from the dismemberment of Nigeria, which might well have been the case if we had not granted support.

Now the war is over, and in that sense the position has changed. The fact that we said "Yes" to requests for arms during the war does not mean that we are in duty bound to state our views about the terms of the resettlement in Nigeria. If we are asked for aid and relief we can do our best, as our conscience will direct, to meet those requests. But there is no connection between any answers to requests for relief now and the response which we gave earlier to different requests.

The immediate tasks for Nigeria now are relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and afterwards will come a political settlement which the Nigerians themselves will be discussing. All these tasks are for them, not for us, to decide, and they themselves have made crystal clear that they honourably accept the responsibility of trying as generously as possible to arrive at a reunited country of Nigeria. If that is so, we can do nothing but harm in suggesting, to the Ibos especially, that credit for generosity belongs here, or with the Pope, or with anyone else, and not with the Federal Government, who are trying to bind the country together. We would do well to remember that fact in the cause of constructive peace making.

In those circumstances, what, if anything, is left for us to do? I turn to the two points that have been mainly covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home). The first is to offer—and I emphasise the word "offer"—to supply as quickly as possible as much help as the Nigerians may immediately need for the relief of suffering. Medical supplies, medical personnel and transport have been the main items emphasised. To those I would add, if wanted, administrative personnel.

The second is to offer—and again I emphasise that word—through diplomatic channels, which are very much less public than political channels, advice on ways and means of dealing with the very difficult administrative problems, again should the Nigerian Government ask for such help. The administrative problems are mainly those of resettlement and training and they present the most difficult task which the Federal Government have to resolve. The second stage of rehabilitation is putting people back into jobs. Jobs have been filled and there will be this further problem resulting from demobilisation.

We should also do our best to look after the interests—and this is not dishonourable—of our own nationals of whom there are, perhaps, 15,000. We can best serve their interests by stopping the reading of lectures to the Federal Government, by offering help, by identifying our minds with their problems, and, when asked, by helping to solve them. For the rest, if we could understand their problems and look at them in this way, we should congratulate General Gowon on his magnanimity and, beyond that, mind our own business.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)

I have been anxious to take part in this debate because I have so far broadly supported the Government's policy in this tragic civil war. I voted for the Government when we last divided on this subject. What I was particularly anxious about was that this present debate should not be merely a continuation of speakers on the two sides: those, on the one side, who throughout the three years have supported the Lagos Government and have identified themselves with them and, on the other side, those who have broadly supported the pro-Biafra cause. That is not the issue today. I am very critical of those of my hon. Friends who have spent so much time in merely repeating their reasons for supporting General Gowon and the Lagos Government, because all that became wholly irrelevant the moment the fighting finished.

The hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby), with whom I shall disagree very sharply in a moment, found me during the last debate in constant approval of what he then said, because it was common sense. But because he was then so much supporting our Government's policy, I am quite at a loss to hear him say now, in this tragic situation, that the moment the fighting finished we had no further responsibility.

The House must know that our involvement was not confined only to the supply of arms, but went much deeper. We had time and again, through Government spokesmen in this Chamber, and outside, supported and approved the general conduct of the Lagos Government. We were politically identified with the conduct of affairs by the Lagos Government. It would be monstrously unfair now to suggest that we have no continuing responsibility, and that those who argue that we have are introducing an attitude of neo-colonialism. I have found it amusing that several hon. Members should accuse me, of all people, of adopting a neo-colonial approach. It is not worthy of the tragic situation that so many people still face. I therefore hope that the Government will understand that I confine myself quite deliberately to points dealing with relief from the moment the fighting finished.

The House is entitled to a clear view of the facts. I believe that the stories we have heard out of Lagos have been far too optimistic. The House has a right to examine some of the political reasons for relief not having started more quickly.

I start with a point to which I attach the greatest importance, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), and that is the use of Uli Airport. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, with the best intentions in the world, keeps on saying that there are 13,000 tons of food in the country not very far from the area concerned; yet we have the reports in the world Dress. I have here that most respec- table Zurich newspaper the Nene Zuercher Zeitung of last Friday, when these 13,000 tons of food had been lying about for the time suggested, saying without qualification that it was the assumption of monopoly in relief by the Lagos Government which made all the more difficult the relief which should have started within two or three days of the end of the fighting.

It is quite clear that if even a few days after the fighting had finished permission could have been obtained to use Uli airport there would within a week have been a situation completely different from that which now obtains. There is food on the other side of the border and in other parts between Lagos and the area most affected; yet it has not been possible to take it where it was most needed in the fortnight which has since passed.

I want to put on record, because our Press has been mentioned as being biased, a neutral voice, a Swiss voice, and a voice that cannot be suspected of taking a particular viewpoint. I have the report of the Lagos correspondent of this very respectable Swiss journal. I shall make a free translation as I go along; so it cannot be perfect. It states: One can see on the airport at Uli no signs of destruction. It would have been possible to start operations there, but we have officially been given the argument by the Lagos authorities that Uli cannot be used because it is not an airport which belongs to the Federal Army or the Federal Air Force. So it seems that the possibility of using this airport has nothing to do with efficiency. The reason given is a purely political reason.

When, last Thursday afternoon, I disagreed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about the reasons for Uli not being used he said that I was unusually ill-informed, but an hour before he said that, his own representative, Lord Hunt, had given a Press conference. I checked on the timing, and that Press conference was held just an hour before my right hon. Friend and I had our exchanges. This is the report of what Lord Hunt said about Uli Airport: Nigerians are too sensitive to memories of Uli as an arms supply centre of Biafra during the war. Lord Hunt claimed that with every day that passed the situation gets better. He went on: I suggested to the Federal authorities to use Uli airstrip to fly in relief supplies from the key areas but I was unsuccessful. It was a political decision". That is Lord Hunt saying that it was a political decision.

Who was ill-informed? The Government, or those of us who made the same point as was made by Lord Hunt? It is monstrous that there should be any attempt to play down what is a clear fact of life: that on purely political grounds an airport that could have been put right in 48 hours to receive airborne supplies has not been put right, and is not being put right even today.

I move from that to an American view. The London correspondent of the New York Times, Mr. Anthony Lewis, who has been accredited for his newspaper in London for many years, is probably known to a number of hon. Members. He was interviewed yesterday on the radio. According to reports in other newspapers he is the only one who has seen both areas to the south and east of Uli Airport. He said categorically that what is urgently needed is supplies directly east and south of Uli Airport. He underlined the point which the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone and I have been making for a fortnight, that the airport should be used and that could solve a large part of the problem.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Will the hon. Member allow me—

Mr. Mendelson

I do not think so. We are nearing the end of the debate, and the Government must have time to make a full reply.

The Swiss newspaper that I have mentioned also reports a point which has not been made so far. People were appalled when they saw on television a hospital where 50 children were congregated. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary well knows, I do not charge the Government with lack of information. I did not do so on Thursday, and I do not do so today. But, as he well knows, there were reports about one or two hospitals reaching the Government. The Government did not waste time in trying to get the latest information from hospitals in the area concerned.

What has not yet been reported here is, according to this same Swiss newspaper, that the tragedy was made greater because when some of the Federal troops reached the hospital the doctors and the nurses were separated from their patients. Otherwise it would be inexplicable that there were so many children and only three nurses there. It is not correct, as has been implied, that all the people doing relief work and missionary work remained. Only a few remained. According to the Swiss journal, they were forcibly separated from their patients. These are the facts of the situation, and they have nothing to do with any view one takes about the desirability of the Federal Government being seen to do the job of reconciliation. Of course, everyone agrees about that.

It is the bounden duty of our Government, who have been so closely identified with the political as well as the military effort of the Lagos Government, to say openly, "We accept that there is a job which you are trying to do. We also have some responsibility, and we are urging you now to agree that this airport should be reopened". The Lagos Government have already agreed with the American Government on the use of two other airports. The Government in Lagos are not a monolithic group who will not listen to advice from its own ranks or from other quarters. I do not agree with those who lecture us and say that the worst thing the House can do is to give advice to the Lagos Government. Our Government are not beyond receiving advice sometimes, and Governments abroad are not beyond receiving advice.

I was sorry that both Lord Hunt and U Thant made such easy statements in Lagos after the limited infomation which they received. Our Government have not only a right but a duty to listen to the view of many people in this country. They do not necessarily represent the same view as that expressed in this debate, when speeches may be made on one side of the subject and not necessarily on the other.

Many people in this country are deeply disturbed about events particularly since the fighting finished. It is a question not of propaganda but of things which people see with their own eyes through the modern means of communication. The Government ought to respond to this debate by advising the Government of Lagos of the general reaction to their views and that Uli Airport ought to be opened urgently. Food should be flown in directly to Uli from both sides—from outside on the one hand, where food is rotting away, and from within Nigeria where food stocks have accumulated—to help the relief organisation there in the afflicted area. This should be speeded up, and we should urge the Federal Government to approve this operation.

6.5 p.m.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)

The remarks by the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) I think adequately summed up the view of those who pressed for this debate. The notice of Motion given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) carried an implied criticism of the Lagos Administration. I disagree entirely with what the hon. Member said at the beginning of his remarks, since I believe that it is certainly right and proper that tonight we should once again give full support to General Gowon and his Government.

The trouble about this debate is that many hon. Members who have spoken against the Government's attitude and actions have had a desire to tell the Lagos Government what to do. We are talking about a young, independent, sovereign nation which is trying desperately to deal with a very tragic problem. It will not make the solution of that problem any easier if dictatorial lectures come from this House of Commons. We certainly must give advice, and we must give help, but we ought not to order or command.

I do not want to rake up the past, but the war which has just ended was not a war of the Federal Government's choosing. They asked us, as a loyal member of the Commonwealth, for help. I believe it was as a result of British help that the war was brought to a much earlier conclusion than some wiseacres predicted it would be. It came to such a speedy conclusion that even the most highly organised Government could have found itself caught off balance. The speed at which the Federal Nigerian Gov- ernment have been able to react to the problem of a war which literally collapsed overnight is remarkable.

It is untrue and wrong to suggest, as some hon. Members have done, that no real contingency planning was done. I was in Nigeria recently, travelling from Kano in the North right through Lagos to Port Harcourt and most other major centres, and I saw the work going on then to prepare for peace. I saw the Abandoned Property Commission, which was looking after property abandoned by Ibos who had gone off to the war, I saw refugee camps and the work being done for rehabilitation, I saw the planning of supplies of food and other planning which was actually going on while I was there. I was not shown this merely as shop-window propaganda. I was enabled to meet military governors from all over the country who were helping with this work. It is quite wrong to suggest that the Nigerian Government were caught off balance in their contingency planning.

I believe that General Gowon is so confident that what he is doing is right that he may have been led immediately after the war was over to arrange for a visit by the Press and other individuals to see the situation for themselves. This was not the action of a man trying to hide something, but the action of a man doing his best to deal with the situation and wanting the outside world to see how it was being dealt with. I was hardly surprised that he was disappointed by the reaction of some experienced journalists and others to the work going on. I never saw a photograph showing the story of compassion and success in the campaign of help in the ex-Biafran enclave. I did see television programmes showing sensational stories which could seriously damage the effort being made by the Nigerian Government and delay the efforts of that Government in doing their best to deal with the situation.

Although I am convinced that those reporters were experienced as reporters or journalists, I am less convinced that their knowledge of West Africa was such as to lead them to a balanced judgment of what is likely to be found in the aftermath of a war. In view of the confusion which occurred after World War II and in the Middle East recently, or even in Northern Ireland last summer, we should be very careful before we start criticising those in West Africa who are dealing with the terrible and tragic problem which has been forced under the spotlight for over two years.

What can Britain do? I have pointed out that I believe that we must not try to dictate. The idea of the United Kingdom Parliament trying to cram the imperial crown back on its head and tell the Nigerians, to whom we have given independence, what they should do is both ridiculous and unhelpful and could lead to the giving of succour to Nigeria's enemies. Do not let any of us go away tonight without realising that there are some problems of a political nature to be faced by the Federal Government. I want the message to go out from here tonight, if any message is to go out, that we are wholeheartedly in support of the Federal Government.

So, we must not dictate. The eventual solution must be a Nigerian solution. That is why those who talk about the reopening of Uli Airport are simply not facing the facts. It is for the Nigerian Government to decide whether to use Uli Airport. It is not for the British House of Commons. It may well he that Uli is such an emotive word in Nigeria that it would be wrong to use that airstrip.

Then, as was pointed out by the Joint Under-Secretary—to whom I, too, want to pay a tribute for his work in this regard—there are the supplies which we can send and which we are ready to send. The hon. Gentleman gave an encouraging picture. I know that the British Government and other agencies are ready to send what supplies are required. There is no shortage of food in Nigeria at present. It is a question of getting it to the right place.

I would also like to think that the British Government would offer technical assistance—of a managerial type or whatever—to the Lagos Government in their need now, perhaps, to get transport and other services running. When I met the High Commissioner and his colleagues in Lagos, he said that this might be an area which would require help when the war was over, because they had a major managerial problem.

Finally, I believe in General Gowon and in the Federal Nigerian Government. I believe that those under him are doing their best. I have met the General's colleagues. I have seen the work that they are trying to do, and I am encouraged. I believe that with a new nation, as with a young person, what is required is encouragement, advice and help, but not carping criticism or cajoling.

I believe that the Ibos, who now will have to take their place again in the society of a united Nigeria, will be welcomed back. Certainly, in those areas to which I went, with one or two possible exceptions the Ibo will come back and find his job waiting for him. It will be less easy, perhaps, than it was in the past, but this is something that can be overcome.

I believe that we must pledge our support at every level to General Gowan and his Government. We must not order. We must not command. We must encourage the Nigerian Government and give what assistance we can personally to make sure that once again the dream of a united Nigeria can come true.

6.14 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. George Thomson)

The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser), who initiated this debate, talked about there being a conflict between reputable witnesses over what is happening inside Nigeria today. Although I personally disagreed with much that the right hon. Gentleman said about his view of what is happening inside Nigeria, I think that this was a fair summary of the main theme of this debate and, indeed, the main theme of the debate that spreads far outside the House. It is very difficult to make a fair and balanced judgment of a situation as confused and complex as the ending to a sad civil war. Honest observers can have perfectly honest differences of view, both about what they saw and, even more so, about the real significance of what they saw.

There are two broad standards of judgment that it is fair and helpful to apply to the present situation in Nigeria. First, I think that it is fair to try to compare present anxieties—they are deep and sincere anxieties—about the situation with the widely expressed fears of only a short time ago. Secondly, I think that it is fair to compare the problems and suffering at the end of this tragic civil war, as a number of hon. Members on both sides have done, with the suffering at the end of other conflicts.

Taking the first comparison, not so long ago there was a widespread fear that this civil war would end in genocide. It has not done so. No one has yet reported the killing of a single Ibo after the hostilities ended. It was feared not so long ago that Biafran resistance would go on endlessly as a guerilla campaign in the bush. That, indeed, was a fear only ate or two weeks ago. Blessedly for the Ibo people, that has not happened. It was feared that, after the bitterness of civil war, reconciliation between Ibo and non-Ibo was inconceivable. All the evidence is the other way.

Surely not even the strongest critic of the Federal Nigerian Government can fail to give them credit for the way that they are keeping their promise to promote reconciliation. The Administrator of the East Central State, for example, himself an Ibo, is reported to have declared the other day that all Ibo civil servants in the rebel enclave were being brought back to their posts in the public service, Not long ago it was widely said that millions would be bound to die if food was not brought to them within a few days. I think that most hon. Members would accept that nothing remotely on that scale has been discovered, though I do not want for one moment to say that there is not a serious and grave problem to be dealt with.

Finally on this theme, it was widely alleged that the conclusion of this civil war, if it came to an end—some people in the House said, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, that it was unwinnable—it would be marked by ugly political trials. What has happened is that General Gowon has declared a general political amnesty.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)


Mr. Thomson

My hon. Friend will forgive my not giving way. There is only a short time left for the debate.

I do not think that we should underestimate the difficulties of reconciliation. There will be many setbacks and many individual acts of discrimination and distrust on both sides. I think that there was a general feeling in the House tonight of admiration for the striking magnanimity that has been shown by General Gowon personally. Many hon. Members on both sides mentioned the comparison between the end of this civil war and the ending of the great European civil war which began in Spain, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and ended in Central Europe in 1945. I would merely quote the words of a wise editorial in the Observer on Sunday: before anybody here lectures the Nigerians about their general treatment of the defeated Ibos, let him consider what other civil war in history, in Europe or elsewhere, has ended with as little revenge. Whatever the arguments about the best methods of distributing relief—I will come to them in a moment—again, no one can question that only Nigerians can bring about Nigerian reconciliation. The Nigerians have been urged by a number of people, including some hon. Members in this debate, in effect to open their air space to an international free-for-all in relief. That was the demand of many decent, deeply concerned people, faced with the agonising pictures that came out of the human suffering in the enclave

If the Nigerians had done so, I suspect that the result would have been chaos rather than reconstruction. Supplies would have gone in that were not those that were needed most urgently, and the priorities of Nigerian needs would have been sacrificed to satisfying the desire outside Nigeria, which all of us share, to feel that we were doing something to help. I am sure that the decision to channel all relief through the Nigerian Government and the Nigerian Red Cross was the right one in relief terms.

Equally, it was the right one in terms of promoting reconciliation. As one of my hon. Friends said, if there had been an unco-ordinated invasion by an army of outside relief workers—some at least passionately pro-Biafran partisans—the Ibos in the enclave, with their carefully fostered fears of genocide, would have felt that they were being rescued from persecution by outside intervention. At the moment non-Ibos are bringing succour to their Ibo brothers. That is more important than anything else that is happening today in Nigeria.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has shown that so far as Britain's direct responsibility is concerned in urgently providing the relief that Nigeria needs, we have done everything humanly possible. Money has been no problem. Before and since the war ended British authorities in Whitehall and Nigeria have worked all out in playing their part. I assure the House that the planning of this was actively under way in Whitehall, so far as it applies to our obligations and the matters which are our responsibility, before the civil war came to an end.

There have been complaints that there was not enough contingency planning on the spot in Nigeria. I might be tempted to make the point that it hardly lies in the mouths of those who said that the war would go on and on to complain that there were not adequate preparations for its sudden ending. All I say is that so far as British responsibility is concerned—I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one must draw a sharp line between our responsibility for contributing what the Nigerian Government say they want and the Nigerian responsibility for looking after their own problems—we have done our best with the maximum urgency.

Mrs. Anne Kerr


Mr. Thomson

I am sorry, but I cannot give way now. We have only a few minutes left for the debate.

On the question of relief, I should like to answer one or two of the particular points which were raised. The right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) asked about the population figures inside the enclave. The truth is that there are no absolutely reliable figures. The census figures to which the right hon. Gentleman referred go back to 1963 and amounted to 12,400,000 people in the former Eastern Region. But the most recent figure that one can give is from a sample survey made by an American team in October 1969, and that gave an estimate of 3.2 million in the enclave as it was then. That is before it was split in two by the developments of the civil war.

Since then, many in the enclave who were refugees from elsewhere have properly been going back to their own villages and I think, therefore, that in the circumstances the figures given by Lord Hunt are the best expert estimate that can be made of the actual population figures in the enclave. If we put that against the figures which my hon. Friend gave about the supply of food, I think it is basically a reassuring picture, although in the short run there are, of course, a considerable number of very difficult problems to be overcome.

The right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) asked in this connection if we would make sure that we were ready to offer to the Nigerian Government, if they wished them, skilled personnel of various kinds. I can assure him that this is certainly so. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development has opened a register on which people can volunteer for service in Nigeria, particularly in the medical field. I can say that in the medical field we can guarantee to meet any request from the Federal Government within 24 hours of its being made. At this point, I should like to pay a tribute to those who have so readily volunteered for this kind of service.

I have sought to put this British contribution against a background of the wider considerations which we ought to bear in mind, and I am sure that those who have had a chance to read in full the report of Lord Hunt and his colleagues will accept that it was a fair and balanced account of a confused situation by three observers of great experience and of unquestioned integrity. It shows how mean and ill-informed were the charges of whitewashing that were thrown around in some quarters of the Press. I speak as an old journalist. I do not think there was any basic discrepancy between what was reported by the Press and what was reported by Lord Hunt. They were doing different jobs. The Press gave an eye-witness account of a bad situation as they saw it. Lord Hunt had the task not only of reporting on what was bad as he saw it, but of using the immense experience of himself and his colleagues in putting it into a fair and proper perspective.

I was happy to see that Dr. Beer, the Secretary-General of the League of Red Cross Societies, said in Geneva at the end of the week that he completely backed up the report which Lord Hunt had made on the situation in Nigeria and that he himself would have said exactly the same. The Secretary-General himself had made a quite independent survey of the territory, taking a different route from that taken by Lord Hunt and his colleagues, and he said that he shared the feelings and observations of Lord Hunt in relation to the situation on the ground in the former secessionist area.

The situation on the ground is, of course, always changing. The international observer team is returning to the former enclave later this week, to produce an up-to-date report on the latest law and order position. In a situation where law and order can only be gradually restored it would be rash to prophesy how quickly the acts of misbehaviour by individuals, whether soldiers or civilians, can be brought completely under control.

Mrs. Anne Kerr


Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving way.

Mrs. Kerr

He might. You never know.

Mr. Thomson

How difficult it is to apportion blame in confused circumstances of this sort is illustrated by one interesting report that we received from a leading Roman Catholic source within the enclave. This eye-witness describes how, when the Federal troops entered Owerri, there was a good standard of behaviour at that stage, but he said there had been considerable looting by retreating Ibos. The latter had also looted several Catholic missions. I mention this not to pick on any particular example but to show that inevitably in this sort of confused situation bad things happen on both sides. What one wants is the maximum sense of urgency and progress to get these things put right.

Nothing aroused feelings more, or more naturally, than the pictures we have all seen as a result of the Press visits last week, of the pathetically starving children. I would only draw attention to what I thought was an extremely interesting article by an experienced journalist, Mr. Nicholas Carroll, of the Sunday Times, who said: … It took weeks and months for these children to reach this degree of physical distortion through starvation, and yet the Biafran ex-officers and ex-soldiers I was to meet in large numbers later were not at all emaciated. How could the Ibos have let it happen? He admits that he did not find a very satisfactory answer to that question.

I believe the overall picture—sombre, uncertain but shot through with hope and light—is best summed up in Lord Hunt's own words: We do not consider the overall situation to be at all satisfactory, but it is not as serious as earlier reports suggested. We found a few cases of great gravity and there are likely to be others which may come to light in the next few days. We were impressed with the overall plans of the Nigerian Red Cross. Lord Hunt goes on to say that the immediate period ahead will be critical, and that success will depend on the ability to overcome transport difficulties and to ensure having adequate food and medical supplies where they are required. I repeat that Her Majesty's Government are supplying all the transport and medical supplies that they have been asked for, and, as my hon. Friend said, we are now supplying enough tents for 10,000 people to assist troop withdrawals and to ease the situation inside the enclave. Almost £1 million has already been spent on getting these immediate supplies out by the speediest methods.

We stand ready to do whatever is required to meet what the Nigerians tell us are their immediate relief needs. Afterwards, we look forward to cooperating with the Nigerians not in relief but in reconstruction, in the reconstruction of a unified Nigeria that will take its rightful place amongst the leading nations of Africa.

Mr. Speaker

Does the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) ask leave to withdraw the Motion?

Question put and negatived.