HL Deb 29 April 1968 vol 291 cc948-72

6.48 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, through the Commonwealth Secretariat, they will urge the Federal Government of Nigeria to accept the proposal of President Leopold Senghor of Senegal and President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania for an immediate cease-fire and a referendum of the population of the non-Ibo areas of the Eastern Region (Biafra) on the establishment of separate regions within the Federation. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Unstarred Question on the Order Paper in my name.

My Lords, the war in Nigeria and Biafra has now lasted for ten months. I am quite sure that every Member of your Lordships' House regards it as a disaster. The estimates are that during this war 70,000 people have died; and most of them have been civilians. In a sense, this war began before ten months ago. The hostilities were opened in September, 1966, when there was the appalling massacre in Northern Nigeria of the Eastern population. The Biafran estimate is that 30,000 were massacred; the Federal estimate is 10,000. Even if the number be 20,000 it was one of the most cold-blooded massacres that has occurred since the Second World War. Men, women and children coming out of the churches were slaughtered as they left. And in addition to those who were killed in the Northern Region it is estimated that there were nearly 2 million refugees into the East and into Biafra. In every third home there was a refugee from the North.

I make no excuse for raising this issue again. On the last occasion, in February, when I initiated a debate, I was criticised for calling this the "forgotten war". I meant by this that although this terrible calamity is occurring in one of our Commonwealth countries, until quite recently the Press, television and the public generally have paid little attention to it. Perhaps, instead of saying "the forgotten war", I should have called it "the unknown war", or "the ignored war".

I want to correct the phrase, "the forgotten war", in two senses. In the first place, it has certainly not been forgotten by Mr. Arnold Smith, the Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat. I wish to pay as high a tribute as it is possible to pay to him for his services. Not only has he been utterly dedicated to seeking peace; he has also shown an ability and energy in endeavouring to bring about mediation which is beyond ordinary words to express. I acknowledge also that it has not been ignored by Her Majesty's Government; I acknowledge that they have supported the efforts of mediation which Mr. Smith has made. But the Government have not ignored the war in another sense which is not so much to be commended: they have stepped up—indeed, I might say, "steeped up"—the supply of arms to one side in this conflict, and this has been responsible for the death of a large number of people.

We have been assured that the weapons and arms which the Government have contributed have not included the "deadlier lethal weapons" and that they have been a continuation of the ordinary contribution of arms which the Government have sent in times of peace. But I do not think that the spokesman for the Government will deny, even if the arms have been limited to that character, that they have beer enormously expanded. Unfortunately those who live in the old Eastern Region, now termed by them Biafra, do not believe that Her Majesty's Government have limited the arms sent to these conventional kinds.

There was a remarkable article in yesterday's Sunday Times by William Norris, and I propose to read two paragraphs from it. He writes: I have seen things in Biafra this week which no man should have to see. Sights to scorch the mind and sicken the conscience. I have seen children roasted alive, young girls torn in two by shrapnel, pregnant women eviscerated and old men blown to fragments. I have seen these things and I have seen their cause: high-flying Russian Ilyushin jets operated by Federal Nigeria, dropping their bombs on civilian centres throughout Biafra. These bombs, the Biafrans firmly believe, are British. They produce photographs of unexploded specimens to support their case and experts to declare that the dismantled fuses are of British pattern. They may or may not be right—too many Biafrans have a regard for truth which would make Ananias sound like George Washington—but this is not important. What does matter is that the people believe it implicitly, and with Britain openly permitting the supply of other arms to Nigeria, they have no reason not to do so. I have had the assurance of my noble friend Lord Shepherd that these deadlier lethal weapons are not being sent. I believe him, and one of the reasons I have made this quotation to-night is to give him an opportunity to make an emphatic denial.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity. It is a lie—and I shall explain why I say it is a lie. I came to this debate on the understanding that we were looking for peace, looking for ways and means by which we can get both sides to a table. I hope that at this moment we shall pick our words with the greatest possible care.


My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that I will lay the emphasis of my speech there, because that is my main purpose. But it was important at this moment, when we are approaching circumstances which may lead to peace, that there should be the denial which my noble friend has made. May I just ask him to tell us, when he replies to my speech, whether it is true, as stated officially in Biafran circles today, that Britain has offered a gunboat to the Nigerian Navy? That may not be regarded as a "deadlier lethal weapon", but one would like to know.

There has been an extraordinary coalition in the provision of arms to Nigeria. Britain has provided arms; Russia has provided jet planes. Egypt has provided pilots. On the other side, arms have been sent from France through Portugal, because that is the only, and rather dangerous, route by which arms can reach Port Harcourt. In an earlier speech, I made an appeal to my noble friend that Britain should take the initiative in appealing to all Governments supplying arms to stop sending these arms. I repeat that appeal to-night. The very fact that we may be on the eve of peace negotiations makes it most desirable that all the Governments which are supplying arms should exert united pressure in order to bring peace.

I want to ask my noble friend to clear up one strange anomaly which I cannot undersand. It is in relation to the Crown Agents. The Crown Agents, I believe, supply orders from Commonwealth Governments and the British Government have the duty of issuing licences for any orders which they give for British arms. But while the British Government do not send deadly, lethal weapons, can my noble friend answer this: do the Crown Agents have the power to order these deadly, lethal weapons from other countries for the Commonwealth countries?

I have in my hand at this moment the Crown Agents' Bulletin for January of this year. It gives the orders of over £50,000 in value which were placed in December last. Out of 14 orders which the Crown Agents supplied, 10 were for the Nigerian Federal Government, and they amounted in that one month to the sum of £1,956,181. It may be said that the British Government are still maintaining what they had previously sent, but those orders through the Crown Agents (and I do not know whether they are included in the British Government's figure) indicate an extraordinary expansion of the arms which are being sent to Nigeria.

What I want to ask—and it is a question of real difficulty—is: Who are the staff at the Crown Agents? Who meets the cost of their offices? Who meets the cost of the staff? Are they British civil servants? Have they any responsibility to the Houses of Parliament? If they have, then we have a right to a knowledge of the arms that they are ordering, even if they are being ordered from other countries than Britain.

The next point I want to make is this. It is now quite clear that the war in the Eastern Region, Biafra, is much more than the police action which the Federal Government indicated, and certainly has not concluded by March of this year as they said it would. Despite the overwhelming modern arms on the Federal Government's side, Biafra is doing much better than one would have believed possible. The Federation has suffered a series of losses in the last few months which have perhaps cost 20,000 lives. Therefore this is not just a temporary police matter, and unless we now go forward to negotiations it may be a war that will last for months, and perhaps even, in a guerrilla form, for years.

There are now new hopes of negotiation. Both the Biafran Administration and the Federal Government have indicated that they are ready to begin talks. The Biafran Government has appointed four negotiators who are prepared to leave for these talks in 48 hours. But disappointingly, a very similar situation is developing to that on the proposal for talks in the Vietnam war. There seem to be different views in London and Lagos. Dr. Arikpo, the Nigerian Federal Commissioner for Foreign Affairs has apparently said in London that the Federal Government is prepared to enter into negotiations immediately and without conditions.


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend wishes to observe the purpose of this debate. He said "apparently". The words were perfectly clear, and what was said was "without conditions."


I very much hope that my noble friend will not think that I am deliberately using the term unfairly. I am saying "apparently" because a different view has been expressed by the Federal Government in Lagos, of which Dr. Arikpo is the Foreign Minister. Therefore, I should be a little unfair to the Minister if I definitely put words into his mouth which, again I say apparently, are being denied by the Government of which he is a Minister. That illustrates the difficulty. While in London he is saying: "We will enter into immediate negotiations without conditions"; at the same time, on the same day, in Lagos the Federal Government is saying that it will enter into negotiations only on certain quite definite conditions: the condition that Biafra will end its secession and the condition that Biafra will accept the twelve States. I very much want this contradiction to be cleared up, and I hope the Minister will not think that I put it in a way which raises any doubt as to the truth of any statement which has been made.

There is not only the difficulty about the actual conditions as to whether the talks will be unconditional, but also the same difficulty as there is in Vietnam—whether the venue is to be London or Dakar. I very much hope that the talks will not be delayed because the two sides are debating where they are to take place. London is rejected by Biafra because London has been supplying arms. Dakar is rejected by Lagos because Leopold Senghor seems to have indicated sympathy with Biafra. I should like to make this suggestion to my noble friend, and I hope that, if necessary, he will put it to Mr. Arnold Smith. The African Governments which were members of the Nigerian Peace Committee of the Organisation of African Unity (I am speaking from memory) are Ethiopia, Niger, the Congo, Ghana, Senegal and the Camcroons. One of those Governments might easily provide the place for such a meeting. I think my noble friend knows that I am not always sympathetic with the Government of Ghana, but in view of the fact that the earlier talks took place there and in view of the very sincere efforts which that Government has made towards peace, I should have thought that Ghana might well be made a place for this meeting.

The situation in Nigeria has fundamentally changed by the recognition which the Tanzanian Government has now given to the Biafran Government; and I think one can say that three other African States are likely to follow that recognition if peace talks do not begin. This is a tremendous change. At the beginning the Organisation of African Unity and African Governments generally were opposed to the recognition of Biafra because they had in their own countries the difficulties of secessions. Now that African Governments are prepared to recognise Biafra the situation has changed.

I was very interested in the attitude of the Czechoslovakian Government about this. In Prague, Mr. Kohout, the Foreign Minister, this week said that Czechoslovakia had agreed to supply six training aircraft to Lagos last year at a time when all the African States supported. Nigeria. He added: I can affirm that since then there has not been, and there will not be, any further deliveries to the Nigerian Government". This is a recognition that the whole situation in the African Continent has changed; where before there was universal support for the Federal Government, now Governments are beginning to support Biafra.

I believe that the possibilities of a settlement are great. Both sides must contribute towards it. I would say to my noble friend that Colonel Ojukwu of Biafra has gone very far towards making concessions. He has accepted common services throughout Nigeria, including joint diplomatic representation abroad; and that is a real dent in the suggestion of claiming complete sovereignty. If agreement is to be reached, the Federal Government must be prepared to make concessions as well. I do not believe it can any longer insist upon a union within Nigeria which is to be absolute and which is to be rigid.

There was in yesterday's Observer a quite extraordinary article by President Nyerere of Tanzania. I will read one passage: Unity can only be based on the general consent of the people involved. The people must feel that this State or this Union is theirs; and they must be willing to halve their quarrels in that context. Once a large number of the people of any such political unit stop believing that the State is theirs and that the Government is their instrument, then the unit is no longer viable. It will not continue to receive the loyalty of its citizens. My Lords, much as we regret the fact, I do not think there is any doubt that that is the situation in Biafra to-day. I accept that there is the difficulty of the minorities in the East. I have been a little surprised that there has been quiescence among them. I would suggest that one of the decisions by any peace conference should be as suggested by the Heads of State of Senegal and Tanzania, that a referendum should take place among them.

My Lords, I conclude by saying this. This is one of the greatest tragedies, perhaps the greatest tragedy, that has happened in the Commonwealth since the conflict between India and Pakistan at the end of the war. It is a tragedy for Nigeria, which we regarded almost as a model colony and which has now become divided. It is a tragedy because Africans are killing Africans. It is a tragedy because it is another illustration of one of the most terrible things today: the intensification of feelings of race and the antagonism of one race to another. It is a tragedy to Britain because of Britain's large part in creating this colony, and also because British interests are going to suffer very seriously if this war goes on. It is a tragedy to the whole human family. I am asking my noble friend who is the Minister not merely to give the kind of support which the Government have given in recent months, but to give it with urgency and determination so that the horror which is taking place in Nigeria shall be ended. I ask this Government to make a contribution of support to Mr. Arnold Smith and the Commonwealth Secretariat so emphatic as to enable this to come about.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for giving us this further opportunity of discussing the deplorable situation in Nigeria, even if I feel, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that perhaps the least said at this moment, soonest mended. But I am glad that Lord Brockway has put down this Question, because it will give the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, an opportunity of clarifying what is a most confusing situation and the many conflicting reports which we have seen lately in the Press.

We read not only the reports to which the noble Lord has referred—Ilyushin jets dropping bombs, which I am very glad to hear are not British bombs—but also reports of the French, and I understand even the Chinese and the Russians, too, arming the other side. These are extraordinary reports. There are rumours, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us that many of them are greatly exaggerated, wildly exaggerated, reports, and I hope he will be able to tell us what really is going on, not only for the humanitarian reasons which the noble Lord has so well expressed, but also because there are many British interests in Nigeria.

Like the Government, we on this side of the House deplore the continuation of the war, and we are glad that Her Majesty's Government are playing their part in trying to bring about a ceasefire. It is clearly essential to bring the two sides together for this purpose. After all, they met last year, I think it was in August, three from each side; and we on this side of the House welcome any idea which is likely to help in this respect and which is acceptable to both sides, whether the proposals are made by the Commonwealth Secretary-General or by others such as those to whom the noble Lord refers in his Question.

In regard to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, I am sure that we should all like to give unqualified support on this issue to Mr. Arnold Smith—I should like to join with the noble Lord in this—and also, incidentally, to his Deputy Secretary-General, Mr. Adu, who comes from Ghana and whom I have known for very many years. I am very glad to note all the efforts that Mr. Smith and his colleagues are making in trying to get the two sides to meet again without preconditions. I saw Mr. Arnold Smith this morning and I know—I will not go further than to say this; I will not go into the details, although I had a long conversation with him—he is doing everything he possibly can to achieve this end.

I gather from the speech by Dr. Arikpo last Thursday, which the noble Lord mentioned (Dr. Arikpo is the Nigerian Commissioner for External Affairs) that he has confirmed that the Federal Government are prepared to embark on such talks as soon as the other side are ready. I think his are the true words, because that must surely be the first essential aim; and the question of a peace force or questions of sovereignty and details about any possible referendum or whether there should ultimately be a federation of twelve States, are in a sense secondary matters. The first essential is to get the two sides together as soon as possible. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to tell us what the situation is and what the prospects are for a meeting to be held in the near future, either in London or elsewhere—or perhaps in London and elsewhere. I notice that on Thursday Dr. Arikpo said that it should be possible to arrange a meeting by May 1 at the latest. However, in the present delicate circumstances I would rather not say anything more on this subject this evening, since naturally we on the Opposition Benches cannot be as fully informed or as up to date as the Government. Therefore, I will only repeat that we would support any proposals which result in talks and which, as The Times said in a leading Article on April 26, begin honourably on both sides".

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, I do not apologise for speaking on this subject, even at this late hour, because it is one of great importance. Although it may not be a "forgotten war" it is one that very few people know much about. I have often asked people what they know about Biafra, and they have said. "Isn't that an Italian football club?" That is about as far as the large majority of people can go. Yet this is not just a tribal internal matter; it is a matter of a large number of people.

I know it is difficult to get at the truth, and that people use the words "truth" and "liberty" for base and ignoble ends. I know there are many rebels against just law and wholesome moral restraint who have masked their caprice under the name of "liberty". On the other hand, we should have to blot out half the pages of heroic history if we are to erase the deeds done, the suffering endured, in the name of liberty. I am sure Biafra comes in the second category. They are heroic people. Some may regard them as wicked because they defend themselves, but I was there last month and I spent.five days, not only with the Ibos who are the main body in the central part, but also with the minorities, and there is no doubt whatever that they are strongly Biafran—the minorities included. I will speak about them later.

I do not want to raise too many difficulties about the question of bombs. It is quite certain that people believe that the bombs are British, and I said to them: "If I am going to be briefed as an advocate I must have the truth, and I must have evidence which would stand up in a court of law". They did not give me the evidence that would satisfy me in a court of law, but I did see the outside shells. I saw the casings which said, "Made in Britain" and I saw "GE" cut off—and it could not have been stuck on, because every dent and every cut corresponded with the other half of the casing underneath it. If it was faked it was done by a highly skilled person who had come from China, or somewhere like that. But it was not faked; it was definitely what it purported to be. When we put it to them that these may have come from another nation to which Britain had sold them, their answer was, "No, Britain makes a stipulation that they are not for re-sale". Of course that does not mean that the stipulation is kept.

I also argued—and I hope genuinely, because I believe what I have heard—that there was not an escalation. I dislike the fact that we went on sending arms, but I do not think we had escalated the war to that extent. When I asked whether these bombs might have been there before, the man in charge of the ordnance gave me his full assurance that he was there before this war broke out and therefore he could certify that they were not there because there was nothing of that kind among the ammunition which had come from Britain. However, there were the markings and sufficient superficial evidence for a large number of people to believe this story. It is easy for these things to be exaggerated, and I hope there may be some way of convincing them by an assurance that it is a lie. For instance, one might have suggested an examination by Crown Agents, or something like that.

I want now to address myself to the question of minorities, because this is an important and delicate question. It is true that many of the minority peoples were in positions of responsibility in the Biafran Government. It is true that there had always been peaceful relationships, cultural exchanges and a goad deal of inter-marriage between these peoples. But the main brunt of the destruction in the war fell on these areas and had the effect of stiffening their loyalty to Biafra rather than the reverse. It had been pointed out that we could only meet the leaders, who were unquestionably loyal to Biafra—the others might be far away. It is true that one cannot examine every witness, yet the crucial test was the force of the argument put to me by Colonel Ojukwu: what happens when the minority areas are invaded? Instead of falling into the arms of the Federal soldiers and greeting them as great liberators, the inhabitants retreated towards Biafra. I went to meeting after meeting which was crowded by various minority groups who gave me "large welcomes", as they put it, a little tempered by their dislike of Britain, but still thinking that the Church of England was the Government of England. I tried to disillusion them on that point, and said that we had very little influence whatsoever but that I would do my best to put their case forward.

These were people from minorities, who said that they would be loyal as Biafrans. In some cases they were critical of individual leaders, but still they were more loyal than the other Biafrans. So I do not think there would be a great deal of trouble with the minorities. There is no doubt that some kind of a nation has been formed and, as I said out there, I consider it is a crazy way to try to get people into a Federation—bombing their civilians; and I know it was civilians because time after time I was shown the hospitals, the market places, the colleges that had been bombed. Of course there may have been military objectives as well to which they did not take me, but I went up as far as Onitsa and I saw what they were doing. I definitely saw a large number of market places that had been bombed. How can we expect people, 30,000 of them, or even if we amend it to 20,000, being massacred not in war but definitely being massacred, chiefly as they came out of the churches, right through the North, to federate? Between 1 million and 2 million were scattered from their homes—and these are true facts which are accepted generally.

To go on bombing their peoples and then say, "You will come into the Federation whether you like it or not, and it is one of the conditions that you must come in and can never have your independence", is asking for trouble. We have asked for it in our own British history, and had it for years, with a certain country that used to be part of Great Britain and is now a republic. You will never get these people working together for a very long time unless there is far greater mutual trust. They definitely believe that it is genocide; that the others want to wipe out the Ibo people. They think it is also a religious war. I tried to calm them down. They think it is Moslems against Christians. There are no Moslems among the people in that western part of the Eastern Region; they are nearly all—95 per cent. of them—Christians, chiefly Roman Catholics, though there are a large number of Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists, with great names like Mary Slessor of Calabar, whose great work is remembered with love and affection by the people she cared for and thought of. And now so many of them are being killed by arms which they think are coming from Britain.

I know it is true to say that "If you stop your supply other people will supply bombs". But the psychological effect would be tremendous if Britain said, "It is time you got together, and until you do we are not going to send any more arms". I doubt whether one could say that it was a de facto Government, let alone de jure, of the Federal Army. The main thing, if we are to get them to come together, as I hope we shall (I do mot think it will be in London, because of this deep feeling: I wish it could be, because I think Ojukwu would be safer here) is that they should come together without conditions. When I say "without conditions" I mean just that. I pressed Ojukwu on this question. He had at first said a cease-fire and peacekeeping forces on the borders. But later on, I understand, it was to be entirely without conditions, though the cease-fire would be at the beginning of the agenda. Let us try to get that. But do not let 'us British try to force them back, because we had a wonderful blueprint of a great union of Nigeria. Do not let us press them too hard to go back into something which will cause more and more difficulty in the future. I am grateful to the Commonwealth Secretariat. They have done fine work. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for introducing this Question, and giving us a chance of clearing our minds as to what are the real issues.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, I had not originally intended to take any part in this debate, but I came here with the intention of listening to see whether I ought perhaps to intervene, and I intend to be very brief. I am handicapped by a very considerable knowledge of Nigeria, which I have kept up to date since I left it. I think that the views to which we have listened to-night are so very much modern views, based on recent modern evidence; and they ignore some of the basic characteristics out of which these troubles have arisen. I am going to mention, in a sort of headline way, one or two things. For instance, the Ibo, the intelligent, thrusting, ambitious man, is very respectful of education and is anxious to have it; and from 25 years ago there has always been an Ibo ambition to run the show, wherever he was. That was what he always wanted to do. So it went on. I could enumerate quite a lot of subsequent years, but I do not want to take up too much time.

One has listened with due respect to the three previous speakers, to two violently pro-Biafran speakers and to one speaker who is anxious not to pre-judge. As he says, one cannot know as much as one ought to know to be dogmatic about it, and we certainly cannot know as much as the Government are in a position to know. I personally also feel that this debate is not making much of a contribution to the matter. It is true, as the noble Earl said, that "The least said, the soonest mended". May I at once say that in my opinion the Government's handling of this question up to date would receive my full support, and I deplore the idea that they should have stopped supplying any arms to the Federal Government. Amid all this we must remember, as the Government representative said in our last debate, that there is only one internationally recognised Government of Nigeria, the Federal Government, and we are dealing with the fact of a section which seceded and the bloody results of that secession. It is so easy to deal with the bloodstained details of a war and to give, quite without meaning to, a false impression. It is not going to further anything to talk like that about it.

For instance, there was an exceedingly good article this morning from somebody who has also recently returned from Biafra. I want to quote only one or two sentences from what he wrote, just to show that all the brutality and all the terrible murders and things have not been done on one side. Do remember, too, my Lords, that two years ago it was the young Ibo officers who started this game of murder. They murdered all the Northern leaders, and their ambition was to eliminate every officer in the Army above the rank of major. That sort of habit spreads. I do not want to go into some of the details which I could mention, and which would give a very different picture from that painted by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and, with due respect, by the right reverend Prelate. This is what this article said: Not all the barbarity in this war has been on one side, however. While in Biafra I was given an eye-witness account of 200 minority tribesmen—Ibibios—who were beaten to death outside the Progress Hotel in Umuahia on the morning of April 2. The Ibibios, who included some old men and young women, were apparently suspected of collaborating with the advancing Federal forces. They were frog-marched across an open space while the local population attacked them with sticks and clubs. Then the bodies, the still living as well as the dead, were thrown into a dumper truck and taken for burial. The whole problem of the minorities, as has been said by one noble Lord to-night, is a very important one. With the greatest respect, I would say that if the picture painted by the right reverend Prelate, of the minorities being friendly and undoubtedly siding with the Ibos, is true, then there must have been a vast change in recent years in their attitude. My own information, based on five years of living in Nigeria, and many visits since, right up to only two or three years ago, is very different.

If we may for once go back to the Question on the Paper, what sort of offer really is it that we are asked to press Mr. Smith to support? The President of Senegal is reputed to be a great friend of or sympathetic with the rebellious State, and President Julius Nyerere is the head of the only African State which has declared itself as recognising Biafra and is a declared friend. Naturally, any suggestion coming from them would not be received with the greatest enthusiasm by the Federal Government. But, on the surface, this idea that there should be a referendum of the minor tribes in Eastern Nigeria and Biafra sounds so splendid. It sounds a splendidly fair idea. But what would be the result? Anybody who knows Nigeria could tell you that they would all vote in favour of the Ibo, because they would be frightened to death of what would happen to them if they did not.

There is bound to be intimidation in present circumstances. In any case, that is a matter which those responsible for dealing with this question would have to answer. But I think that it is not fair to the Federal Government to paint this picture of Biafra. I know there have been faults on both sides; but do let us remember as often as we can that we are dealing with a rebellion from a properly internationally-recognised Government, and in that case we should realise that the less we interfere the better, if it can be settled domestically. The ideal thing would be to sit round a table with no one from outside, if that were possible. But if that is not possible, and if somebody from outside is to be asked to help, then, for goodness sake! let it be somebody who is remarkably qualified for the post, as Mr. Smith is acknowledged to be.

I do not wish to add anything further to this debate. I can only say that I wish the debate had never taken place, because I think it will be better if we leave this subject alone until the issues are clearer and until any hope that the Government can give is more clearly seen. I do not think it is of any help to the Government to offer these suggestions from what must be imperfectly informed people, including myself.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord who has just spoken for having put a lot of the other side of the case, because I think we all acknowledge that there have been atrocities on both sides and some faults on both sides. If I still think that we should probably do better not to supply any arms to the Federal Government, it is because I believe that in the long run you cannot possibly force a large part of any country with certain racial origins and religious features to be part of a Federation, if it really does not want to be and if it will not be.

My reason for rising is to ask two short questions of the Minister. I apologise for not having given him notice, and I quite understand if they cannot be answered immediately, although I think they should be answered at some time, because, while I accept that there is a great deal of dangerous and difficult ground which it is possibly better not to tread at this particular moment, it seems to me that the more we can clear up the situation and responsibility of the British Government the better it will be for any form of negotiations and for Britain's influence in it. This is why we are all grateful for the denials that we have already had about bigger armaments being shipped, and by the even stronger denials which I am quite certain that the noble Lord the Minister will be giving.

But there are two things which we would like to know, the first in extension of something that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked. It is, not just what is the responsibility of the civil servants in the Crown Agents Office to Government and to Parliament, but do Her Majesty's Government have any control, direct or indirect, over the Crown Agents, and in what circumstances do they use it, or are prepared to use it? The second question is, what governs the level of small arms to the Federal Government? The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that we have been supplying small arms to the Federal Government on a larger scale than we supplied them before hostilities broke out, but that we have not been supplying them to the amount which the Federal Government requested. I could quite understand and welcome it if we supplied them with no arms. I could quite understand it if we supplied arms at the level at which we previously supplied them. I could quite understand if we supplied these arms up to the limit of our capacity and what the Federal Government wanted. But I hope that the Minister will tell us something about the Government's thinking about the level at which it supplies arms if it falls below what is requested and above what was supplied before hostilities broke out.

7.48 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, will know that in the many years that he and I have served in this House the occasions have been rare when I could rise to say honestly that I agreed with him. With one part of his speech I agreed 100 per cent., and I feel that I must say quite bluntly to my noble friend Lord Brockway, and to those who have taken part in the discussion, that in all the time I have been in your Lordships' House this is one debate that I should prefer not to have taken place. Those of us who have any interest in Nigeria know that during the last few days we have seen a glimmer of light, that it was possible that the opposing sides at last, after ten long months, could be brought round a table.

We have had speeches here this evening that, to be frank, I do not believe have helped in the slightest degree possible. I think that if they were printed and read in either of the two areas in Nigeria they could be infinitely harmful to the cause that I know we all have at heart. I will say this to the right reverend Prelate. I do not know of any civil war of recent years or of ancient history where there have not been atrocities. One of the remarkable facts is that the decencies of war, if such there be, do not apply in civil war. No doubt atrocities have been committed in Biafra. But atrocities have also been committed in other parts of Nigeria. I do not think this will help. As I said at the beginning, what we are now trying to do is to fan the glimmer of light so as to be able to bring together the two parties at a table and to produce a lasting settlement. Her Majesty's Government have always been anxious to encourage any promising means of helping to restore peace in Nigeria. We have taken the initiative; we have worked quietly behind the scenes to see how we could bring an end to this tragic war in Nigeria.

I have seen the noble Lord's Question on the Order Paper, but I am not aware of the precise proposals to which the noble Lord refers, though I am well aware of the tireless efforts of Mr. Arnold Smith, to whom we have all paid tribute in this debate and in previous de bates, and also the efforts of the distinguished President of Senegal to bring the two sides together. But I beg leave to doubt whether, by following the course enjoined upon us in the Question, we shall he able in present circumstances to contribute to the cause of peace as effectively as we have been trying to do up to the present.

Speaking for the Government. I must say that we should feel the gravest difficulty in urging, either directly or through the Commonwealth Secretary, that the Nigerians should adopt a particular method of settling their affairs or that they should accept a procedure which might be thought to pre-suppose a particular form of solution. Our task, as I see it, is modestly to urge both sides of the Niger to come to the conference table and to seek to work together towards a reconciliation of their difficulties and a solution which is acceptable to all the people of Nigeria. I am convinced that, whatever settlement emerges from the war, it must, if it is to last, be a Nigerian settlement worked out by Nigerians compatible with Nigerian ideas and aspirations. This problem must be solved by the Nigerians if there is to be a lasting solution in the years which are to come. It has been said that we have hidden behind the technicality of Nigeria's independence. But we must be careful, not only in the case of Nigeria but in relation to other countries, to do nothing which in any way questions their independence. We must not interfere. We can help, we can offer the hand of friendship, but we must not interfere.

I had hoped that this debate could take place without again involving the question of the United Kingdom's arms policy, about which I spoke some weeks ago in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. We gave very careful thought to this matter when the war commenced some ten months ago. If it were two independent Commonwealth countries which were in conflict, then perhaps there might well be a case for not supplying arms to either side; but this was a conflict within an independent Commonwealth country. It was a recognised Government of a Commonwealth courtly which had depended on us for much of her military equipment. As I said in our last debate, we should create a serious imbalance—and certainly it would be biased—if, because a Government was in a degree of civil war, we were to deny it the weapons for carrying out its policy. But we made it quite clear—and we have kept to this—that we would limit the weapons and munitions which we supplied to Nigeria.

We regret the suffering, past and present, of the Ibos; but it must be remembered that the Biafran leaders rejected our advice some ten months ago to continue to seek a peaceful redress of their grievances. Those who appeal to force, even under provocation, assume a terrible responsibility. The fact that the Biafrans have ceded from the Federation against our advice does not absolve us from our obligations to the Federation. Nevertheless, there may be a case for cutting off British supplies if it could be demonstrated that this could bring peace closer. But I believe that to be the opposite of what would happen. The Biafrans would be encouraged to go on fighting rather than to negotiate, and the Federal Government would continue to get arms from elsewhere—and, understandably, they would pay less regard to the advice that we give them or to any appeals from us. We have been urged to use our influence with the Federal Government. The Federal Government have declared their willingness to engage in peace talks without pre-conditions. I am amazed that it should be suggested that we should now reward them for this act of moderation and statesmanship by cutting off such supplies as we have hitherto permitted to go to them.

To the best of my knowledge, no British bombs have been used in this war. At all events, no exports of bombs to Nigeria have been permitted. I have no doubt that many noble Lords were shocked, as I was shocked, by the terms of the dispatch from Aba which appeared in The Times on April 24. The writer reported on bombing by aircraft identified to be Russian and manned by pilots whom he identified as Egyptian. He then went on—and this was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—to express shame that the bombs which they dropped should have been British. I do not know what evidence there was for this assertion, but it is totally false that any aerial bombs have been exported to Nigeria from Britain. We have care fully checked the markings reported to have been seen on the bomb fragments in Biafra. None of these are authentic British bomb markings. The right reverend Prelate said that he saw some cases alleged to be British bombs, with the words "Made in Britain" and with the letters "G.E." I have been given the information from my officials—it is infinitely better from my officials than from me—that no British bombs ever had these markings.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that I had quoted from that article. My quotation was not from that article, and I did not say that the writer of the article claimed that the bombs were British. What he did say was that the Biafran people were convinced that they were British.


My Lords, the trouble is that these reports are being put in such a way that one is led to believe that these are British bombs, just as not so long ago there were reports of British troops going to Port Harcourt, and tremendous difficulties and damage arose from those reports.


My Lords, I said that it did not satisfy me, but the "G.E." was obviously the first two words of the markings, and mean "Gelignite".


Perhaps I may go on, because there is still something of interest in this story. As I say, I was distressed to find that, according to The Times, and what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, these assurances have not been accepted. As for the photographs of an aerial bomb which were produced in The Times on Saturday, April 27, I have caused these to be examined by highly qualified technical officers. I reaffirm that these bombs are not British. The Times has its answer. In fact, my Lords, it had the answer before the pictures were published. The grenades and mortar shells that were illustrated in The Times are not aerial bombs but infantry weapons, and we have never denied supplying infantry weapons.


My Lords, did not The Times say that the bomb was said by the Biafrans to be British?

The Times did not assert that it was a British bomb.


My Lords, I have examined The Times very carefully, and whether it said that or not it definitely implied it. There could be only one construction on the way it was written. I should like to leave this point in a moment to get to the heart of the matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked me about a new gunboat going to Nigeria. That is news to me, and it is news to my officials whom I have consulted. I suppose that, like so much that comes out of Biafra, it is a question of news. I shall certainly inquire into this matter more fully to-morrow, but at the present moment it is news to me.

In regard to his question about the Crown Agents, that is a completely independent body responsible to no Minister and not responsible to Parliament. It does not employ civil servants. It was set up many years ago as a buying organisation for Commonwealth countries and colonial dependencies. It is purely and simply a buying office, and the relationship is between the Crown Agents and their clients overseas. I think it would be wrong for us in the British Parliament to have a control or a power of direction over an organisation which has been set up to service independent members of the Commonwealth. Therefore the services which they provide to independent countries are a matter for them and their clients. We enter into the activities of the Crown Agents only when they purchase or seek to purchase goods of United Kingdom manufacture.

As I have said previously, arms and weapons require a licence, and in the granting of a licence we look into the circumstances prevailing in the territory at the time. It is perfectly true that the quantities of ammunition and weapons have gone up, but there has been an escalation of the war. The number of regiments and battalions in the Federal Government has increased, and so, therefore, has the demand. But, as I have said, we have kept a very vigorous control over the character of those weapons.


My Lords, is it true that, in addition to having kept a control over the character of the weapons, a control has also been kept over the amount and that not all that the Federal Government asked for has been supplied?


My Lords, we have kept a control over the quantity. There have no doubt been occasions—though without the books in front of me I cannot be specific—when we Lave not sent as much as we have perhaps been asked for. But there has been this control.

I should like to turn to the issue before us. We are seeking to bring the two peoples of Nigeria together. We have made it quite clear that, in our view, both sides should approach the table with no thoughts of vindictiveness or bitterness. They should come together to seek a lasting solution. On April 6, in reply to a statement made by Doctor Azikiwe in Paris on March 30, the Prime Minister sent a personal message to General Gowon. That was a confidential message, but the implication was that the Federal Government had everything to gain and nothing to lose in testing the sincerity of the Biafran régime by calling for talks.

As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, the Nigerian Commissioner for External Affairs, Doctor Arikpo, came to London and had discussions with my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Secretary. Those talks were confidential, but on April 25 Doctor Arikpo made a statement, and it is so important that I am going to suggest that I place it in your Lordships' Library, so that it can be seen and understood by all. But this evening I shall content myself with this one paragraph in which he said this: I have confirmed to the Commonwealth Secretary-General that the Federal Military Government are prepared to embark on talks without pre-conditions under the at spices of the Commonwealth Secretary-General as soon as the other side are ready. This should be possible by 1 May at the latest. I have made this abundantly clear both to Her Majesty's Government and the Commonwealth Secretary-General and I thought that the position ought now to be openly stated. My noble friend Lord Brockway said that there was some doubt about the statement made in Lagos. I have not seen that statement, but I have been sent the message which Dr. Arikpo has again confirmed in Lagos to-day, that the Federal Military Government are ready to talk without pre-conditions. I hope that this statesmanlike proposal will enable Mr. Arnold Smith to arrange an early meeting with high-level representatives of both sides in the Nigerian conflict, so that negotiations can be started as soon as possible. Colonel Ojukwu has called for immediate peace talks. Although he appears to be thinking of talks on a somewhat different basis, I trust that what he has set out are not intended to be taken as pre-conditions. As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway knows, it is always a problem to see that what one man says is understood by the other.

But I repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, what I said on a previous occasion—and I think it is worth repeating: that if either party in the conflict in Nigeria were to write to Her Majesty's Government, with proposals on which it would be possible to bring both parties to the table, we should be most ready to see that such a communication was not only considered but passed on, in the hope that it would bring both sides to the conference table. If there is any doubt now, we will do what we can to smooth over these problems and to bring both sides to the conference table.

My Lords, I want, in conclusion, to say only this. I suspect that both sides in Nigeria know in their hearts that there can be no military solution in Nigeria and, indeed, that a military solution would not provide a basis for economic and social development of the country: that it must be a political solution. We have now reached the point, it seems to me, when there is apparent willingness on both sides. I hope that both sides in Nigeria will seize this golden opportunity and will make that glimmer of light of which I spoke earlier a golden light. And, although I said at the beginning that this must be a Nigerian solution, I hope that both sides in Nigeria will know that there are friends only too anxious to help them in this very critical hour.