HC Deb 12 May 1998 vol 312 cc135-7
1. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What actions he is taking to help Nigerians establish democracy in their country. [40490]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Tony Lloyd)

We are pressing the Nigerian regime to respect human rights and restore a credible and democratically elected civilian Government. We have measures in place against the regime and, with our European Union and Commonwealth partners, we are keeping the situation under close review. At the same time, we are supporting activities that promote human rights and democracy in Nigeria and strengthen its civil society.

Fiona Mactaggart

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government's policy to promote democracy in Nigeria and other countries in the region, including Sierra Leone? Will he confirm that it is no part of the Government's policy to countenance any breach of the United Nations arms embargo?

Mr. Lloyd

Our policy in Nigeria, and more widely in the region, is to promote democracy. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday that the United Kingdom and the United Nations were trying to help the democratic regime of Sierra Leone against an illegal military coup. He also stated, quite clearly, that no one should breach a UN embargo.

It may help the House if I quote briefly from a letter sent to the Prime Minister by President Tejan Kabbah, who said: I recall during the Commonwealth meeting in Edinburgh, Mr Tony Lloyd remarking that while the British Government would continue to give diplomatic and other support to my Government, it could not provide it with lethal materials or weapons. As far as I was concerned the matter was closed".

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Is it the Minister's assessment that the arms supplied to the Nigerian-led military observers group of the Economic Community of West African States—ECOMOG—which was working to restore democracy in Sierra Leone at the specific urging of section 18 of Security Council resolution 1132, could possibly also have been supplied in breach of that resolution?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question. There is a real question about whether arms that go from anywhere into Sierra Leone are in breach of UN embargoes. I assure the House that the British Government, who were at the forefront of the UN move to establish an arms embargo in the first place, will also be at the forefront in ensuring that the legal position is rectified to allow the Government of Sierra Leone to conduct their business properly.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the essential ingredients of democracy is the rule of law? My constituent, Mr. Mark Davey, a welder in the oil industry, was murdered in Nigeria last month while he slept in a so-called secure compound. Since then, the Foreign Office has received no response from the Nigerian Government to requests for a copy of the police report and for the matter to be investigated by police at the highest level. Does my hon. Friend agree with me, and with my constituent's family, that that is unacceptable? Will he press the Nigerian Government at the highest level? Will he also try to enlist the support of the oil companies that employ people in Nigeria, as there are issues concerning the safety of British citizens working in the industry, as well as an obvious need to bring the murderers to justice?

Mr. Lloyd

The whole House will join my hon. Friend in commiserating with the family of Mr. Mark Davey. The high commissioner has not yet received any response, or a copy of the police report on Mr. Davey's murder. He has been asked to arrange a visit to the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry to press for news on progress in the case. I shall certainly ensure that we continue to press the matter from both London and the high commission until we reach an acceptable conclusion.

Mr. David Faber (Westbury)

On 1 April, the Minister met representatives of non-governmental organisations to discuss democracy and human rights in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. On 19 March, he met the Foreign Secretary's special representative, Mr. John Flynn. Was Sandline International mentioned at either of those meetings?

Mr. Lloyd

The best thing that I can say is that while many allegations have appeared recently, the hon. Gentleman should reflect on what I have already told the House today. I say again that no Minister had prior knowledge of or gave prior approval to any breach of the arms embargo. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is to establish an inquiry that will examine every aspect of the case. Unlike the previous Government in the case of Matrix Churchill, there will be no cover-up by this Government.

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)

Is my hon. Friend aware of the harrowing case of Elizabeth Siah-Vandi, the 14-year-old daughter of a constituent of mine who is in hiding following the beheading of her uncle by the despotic regime of Johnny Paul Koroma in Sierra Leone? Does he agree that the removal of that regime has been welcomed by human rights campaigners? What steps does he propose to ensure that Elizabeth is reunited with her family?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot comment on the specifics of an individual case, except to promise my hon. Friend that I shall look into it. I make the point solidly: the British Government worked hard for the restoration of democratic government in Sierra Leone because of the outrages committed by the junta. That is different from the arms-to-Iraq scandal, when the previous Government supplied arms to a regime engaged in torture and repression of its own people. That is the difference.