HC Deb 03 April 1996 vol 275 cc373-4
4. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he makes of the progress of the transition to democracy programme in Nigeria. [22613]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

We remain concerned at the continued lack of substantial progress by the regime, even in meeting its own timetable. Human rights abuses continue and political freedoms are denied.

Mr. Martlew

Is it not the case that in the past we have hidden behind United States policy with regard to taking a sterner line against the military regime in Nigeria? Now that the United States National Security Council has called for a freezing of the military regime's assets, will we stop dragging our feet and take the lead in placing tighter sanctions on this despicable junta?

Mr. Hanley

It is unfair, indeed untrue, to say that we are hiding behind anyone else's policy. We are at the forefront of not only the united policy of the Commonwealth but the united policy of the European Union. As members of the Commonwealth ministerial action group, we are taking urgent steps. The next meeting will be on 23 April. We are considering a wide range of issues while waiting to see whether Nigeria takes the opportunity of going down the path that it has already declared that it will follow towards civilian rule.

The European Union has set up a series of sanctions against Nigeria and we are considering any other sanctions that might be considered by the United States that are effective and do not hurt the ordinary people of Nigeria. Therefore, it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to say that we are dragging our feet. Quite the reverse: we are at the forefront in trying to make Nigeria see sense and come into the real world.

Mr. John Marshall

May I ask my right hon. Friend to think long and hard before imposing further economic sanctions? Does he agree that economic sanctions often hurt the people of the country without hurting the decision-makers? Does he remember the late Lord Wilson saying that economic sanctions would break down Ian Smith in a matter of weeks rather than months, and that they took 15 years to do so?

Mr. Hanley

What my hon. Friend says is worth seriously considering. There are no economic sanctions on Nigeria at present, but the Department of Trade and Industry continues to keep the level of activity under review in the light of the prevailing political and economic circumstances. We shall continue to support British exporters, but we must consider whether sanctions are an effective remedy.

If it is suggested that sanctions need to be imposed and the main sanction is, let us say, oil, those sanctions will have to be properly policed. That may require a naval blockade and a considerable cost not only to us but to the broader community within the United Nations. My hon. Friend is right that the interests of the ordinary people of Nigeria must always be kept in mind.

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