HL Deb 12 December 1968 vol 298 cc670-98

4.50 p.m.

LORD RITCHIE-CALDER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what measures are now being taken through the international agencies to avoid famine and other disastrous consequences likely to follow the Biafran War. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In putting this Question or in discussing it, I am not intending to tread the grapes of wrath of the Nigerian Civil War; nor do I want to do or say anything to embarrass my noble friend Lord Shepherd an his present mission to Lagos. I am not going to indulge in recriminations, and I am not going to discuss here and now the rights and wrongs of the present military and political predicament, beyond agreeing with Mr. Katzenbach, the United States Under-Secretary of State, speaking on December 3, when he said: The ultimate decision of what will happen, the decision of life or death for millions, rests with the leaders on both sides. Without their co-operation or consent outside aid cannot be effective. But one thing is clear: if both parties remain recalcitrant, if both parties continue to put political advantage ahead of people's lives, then one of the most terrible famines in modern times is certain and inevitable …Millions, literally millions of people face starvation in the next few months unless the war is ended very quickly.

My Question is directed to the aftermath, the sooner or the later, when we shall have access to the starving people and when beyond the present inadequate efforts at relief we shall be confronted by the portentous problems of first aid and rehabilitation. The prognosis is grim. I have discussed it with international relief experts, whose opinions I value, who are not involved in the politics of secession, but who are agreed that the situation that has to be faced is one of the worst that the world ha:; ever had to face—a man-made situation, as surely as the extermination of 6 million Jews in the gas chambers was a manmade situation. Predictably 7 million people may face death by starvation before the summer of 1969.

I know that the figures for deaths are questionable because the present dead are uncountable. By conservative estimates a million people have already died—mostly children—and half a million more will probably die during this our Christmas season. The figures vary according to the experts, between 12,000 and 20,000 a day: the equivalent of an army division. Even if we accept what is called the "stabilised" figure of 6,000 a day—and "stabilised" does not mean "constant" but merely statistically tolerable for consideration of relief calculations—it means that 12 children have died since I rose to my feet. The civilian deaths—the deaths of the innocents—in Nigeria have already exceeded the military deaths in the Vietnam War, and are at least three times as great as the total deaths, military and civil, which Britain suffered throughout the whole of the Second World War. I repeat that these are conservative estimates, and highly reputable experts place them much higher—as high as 2 million by the end of this year.

During the first three weeks of November the airlift of the International Committee of the Red Cross flying to Biafra from Fernando Po averaged 43½ tons a night. The airlift operated by the Church Relief Agencies out of Sao Tome averaged about 57 tons each night. This combined tonnage of about 100 tons per day getting into Biafra has been inadequate to provide the supplement sufficient for all those suffering from protein deficiency—supplemental, that is, to the carbohydrates. When the carbohydrates stocks begin to become exhausted, the most conservative estimate of food to be flown in is reckoned at 2,000 tons a day, 700 tons more than the Red Cross airlift put in in the whole month of November. During the nightly flights to Uli in the heart of the Biafran redoubt about 30 food sorties can be made. One recalls that hundreds of aircraft were required on the Berlin airlift to transport 8,000 tons of supplies a day for a much smaller population. The population in the Biafran enclave is between 7 and 8 million; again, the figures are unreliable because circumstances do not allow careful census of those who fled from Northern Nigeria and of those who abandoned their lands over large areas of Eastern Nigeria and herded together as displaced persons in the beleaguered enclave.

My Lords, all the evidence that I have been able to get from reliable sources shows that they are now eating their seed-grain and their seed-roots. Your Lordships will know what that means. We have been using these terms, rather frivolously, in economic discussions. It means that they have eaten their next season's harvests. And that does not apply only to the Biafrans. The war has ravaged the surrounding areas. Millions more have already prematurely gathered their harvests, in the flux of war, and they have eaten their yams and their casavas—their source of carbohydrates, their belly-fillers, incidentally short of the higher proteins. Normally the yam crop which is gathered in October would last until May. The sowings would be about March. What is now left, including the seeds of the next harvest, will be finished by the end of January.

This is the dry season in Southern Nigeria. It is also the season of measles. Measles under conditions of undernourishment is a fatal disease. An epidemic will massacre the vulnerable infants and toddlers. UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, has helped to provide inoculations against measles, but the problem remains how to get such aid there under present conditions and how the overworked medical staffs will be able to administer it. Those of us who have seen the horrors of famine know that the first to go are the children and the pregnant mothers, feeding their unborn babies from their own under-nourished bodies. Commendable attempts are being made to organise airlifts of babies and expectant mothers from the embattled areas, but even on the basis of a shuttle service—food in, children out—it would need an airlift of far greater proportions than that now operating to make any significant impression on the situation.

My Lords, that is the present situation. It is advancing remorselessly and ruthlessly towards a holocaust—like the Punic women throwing their babies into the fires of burning Carthage—a holocaust of proportions such as the world has never witnessed. And I use the word "witnessed" advisedly: because while perhaps even worse famines have happened in the past, they were not seen by a watching world, by Governments and peoples who, if they do not act, are accessories before the fact.

Therefore, I ask: what are the Government doing through the international agencies to avert the disastrous consequences of an already disastrous war? This is far beyond the resources of flag-day tins and the sales of Christmas cards; far beyond voluntary donations, however generous—and I hope that they will be more than generous in this case. This is beyond the finest efforts of the International Red Cross and the Churches, and all that they are doing at the moment. This is a matter for inter-Governmental action on the highest level. It calls for immediate planning on a scale equivalent to the massive preparations we made during the war for civil affairs in North Africa and the liberated countries of Europe. It calls for another UNRRA operation—the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, which at the end of the War salvaged the war-ravaged countries, brought relief, prevented famine and stopped the pestilences which seemed inevitable: circumstances, I repeat, which exist in the present situation in Nigeria.

Some of us were involved in the planning. We know the foresight. the insight, and the logistics involved. It calls for forward ordering. With the best will in the world, it needs at least two months from the indent to delivery of the right kinds of food and equipment, because, and I repeat, rehabilitation will mean equipment, not only for the ravaged farmlands but for the industries by which Eastern Nigeria—a food deficiency area, I would remind your Lordships—earned the food it imported from other parts of Nigeria and elsewhere. It means not only packaged protein and carbohydrates; it means seed corn, seed yams, seed cassava for the harvests that hungry people have already eaten.

My Lords, it needs a "Calamity Force" at the ready. It means depots and cargo ships, small craft, road transport, aircraft of the right kind for delivery, and helicopters standing off-shore if need be—all of it standing off-shore if necessary. No doubt other parts of Nigeria can and should be able to supply food to the depleted areas. They should be given the post-civil war resources and physical means to do so. That needs planning, too, because at the moment it would be politically misunderstood. The situation, I repeat, is now completely out of hand. It calls for the greatest imagi- nation and determination on the part of the Government. We need professional personnel, as UNRRA had, car able of dealing with the clinical consequences of hunger and of disease, and of helping to deal with the restoration of tie war-ravaged regions.

My Question refers to "international organisations". The heirs of UNRRA still survive in the United Nations in the Specialised Agencies—UNICEF, which took over UNRRA'S responsibilities for children; the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture 07ganisation, to deal with disease and food restoration. However, this needs co-ordination; it needs planning; it needs imagination; it needs drive.

In this present situation UNICEF has been very active. From the very beginning it has worked in closest conjunction with the International Committee of the Red Cross and with the Churches and the other voluntary organisations. UNICEF received authority from its Board—and we have a British representative on this Board—to spend 2.4 million dollars, and it has received contributions it kind, mostly food and drugs, totalling 10.6 million dollars. This very substantial aid, as it would look on paper, has been made available to the war victims on both sides of the fighting line. But however substantial it may seem on paper, it is quite inadequate. At this moment UNICEF is operating five helicopters in those parts of Eastern Nigeria which have been occupied by the Federal troops. It can operate there because Nigerian Federal troops happen to recognise the United Nations. For Biafra, on the other hand, it has had to reply on the services of the voluntary agencies.

But I should tell my noble friend on the Front Bench that UNICEF is new eating its seed-corn. In spite of the substantial voluntary help, the extent of the suffering and the prospect of worse, could mean that it would have to draw on its own regular budget to a crippling extent, so depriving other developing nations of the help already committed to them. I know that the Government have inc-eased their regular contribution to UNICEF, but I would suggest that they should give also to its Emergency Fund, which now has to face still greater demands.

The United Nations and its Specialised Agencies have been grievously handicapped by the politics of the Nigerian situation. We all know why. I would earnestly suggest to my noble friend that Her Majesty's Government should now, through the United Nations, take the initiative in proposing and participating in the planning of a massive United Nations relief and rehabilitation operation. When we offered, as proof of our oft-repeated loyalty to the United Nations, to provide the logistic support for six battalions of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, I welcomed it in this House, but I suggested then that it should be regarded as a "Calamity Force", beyond military connotations. I suggest it again. There has been no Peacekeeping role in Nigeria, but there is a calamity. My Lords, the implications behind my Question are appalling. Since I put it, the clock has ticked away another 65 lives.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has put this Question down. As we approach Christmas and think of the appalling suffering which is going on, it is difficult not to be emotional. I shall do my best not to be, but to be practical and, I hope, in some small way, helpful. I remember so well the words of advice of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he addressed us on the subject of Nigeria in August. If he will allow me, and if your Lordships will bear with me, I would read from Hansard of August 27, col. 709, the words of Lord Hunt. He said It is sheer nonsense to talk, and to attempt to act, as though a legal Government, wielding its legal powers and conducting a military campaign, can be treated as though it were some dependency or some local authority of ours, as some people seem to think and write … Of course, when this dreadful war comes to an end it will still be a question of dealing with a sovereign Government who will wish to run their own affairs. I am quite certain that in all the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, said as to what he was looking forward to, this point had not escaped his notice. There is the question of national pride; there is the question of normal ordinary human jealousies; and all these things will have to be taken into account.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has drawn his Question very finely deliberately in order to avoid any question of the rights or wrongs of the case, and has applied his mind and his arguments almost entirely to the future. Perhaps he will not think that I am straying from the point if for a moment I ask your Lordships also to consider the present, for the alleviation of this dreadful suffering surely must now have a bearing on what is to be done later on. I think that it will be helpful to all of us if more of the authoritative information which is available were published. There is in The Times to-day—and I hope that noble Lords on the other side of the House are not so opposed to The Times as not to have read it—a very interesting and helpful article by Brigadier-General Sir Bernard Fergusson —I see that in fact it has been read by noble Lords on the other side—in which the writer has tried to bring this terrible problem into proportion. I wonder whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House, who is to reply, could tell us when the report of the international observer team is to be published. Perhaps it has already been published, but I have not been able to find out and I wonder whether the noble Lord could tell the House about it.

At the moment the dreadful position is that, despite all the good will available, all that it appears to be possible to do is to fly supplies into the Ibo hill territory by night on to one airstrip. This is all, apparently, that we are able to do. I know that there are terrible difficulties, and I know about the efforts which have been made. But is it not possible to put other airstrips at the disposal of these aeroplanes of mercy? Surely somehow this could be arranged. I know that the Federal authorities objected to daylight flights. I have heard rumours—they may not be correct, and perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply may be able to tell me whether they are right or wrong—that there is now a possibility that they may allow daylight flights. Equally, I have heard rumours that the Ibos are not prepared to accept daylight flights. Of course, if this is true it is a tragic state of affairs. I do not know whether it is true, and perhaps the noble Lord could help us on this point.

In another place on December 10, a Question was put asking whether the International Red Cross had sufficient funds, and also what decision was being taken over the appeal for more funds for next year. I understand that a world-wide appeal has been made for more than £3 million to finance the continuation of their work up to the end of February, 1969. The reply given was that this matter was urgently being considered. I should like to know from the noble Lord in his reply what Her Majesty's Government's decision is. I hope that we will be generous and that we will make a large contribution where it is needed.

I do not, of course, wish to say anything which will make the task of Mr. Foley in Addis Ababa or the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, in Nigeria in any way more difficult. Obviously as much as any one of your Lordships I wish them well, and hope that their mission, whatever it is, will be successful. But I wonder whether ways and means have been discussed with the Nigerian authorities, between us and them, to find out whether they are doing advanced planning on the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. Of course, they are in the grips of an appalling situation and it may be that they find it difficult to cast their minds ahead to what will happen after. But it will be through them that all our efforts and the efforts of the civilised world and of the international agencies will have to be channelled. Therefore, I hope that some preparatory work is being carried out now. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be able to tell us something about that. Has the question of technical advice been considered? No doubt it will be necessary to have men of great experience, men of the calibre of the UNWRA teams to help in the chaotic situation which inevitably must follow a settlement. I wonder whether this is being discussed with the Nigerian authorities. I cannot lay too much emphasis on this since I feel that it is vital to discuss this matter with the Nigerians themselves. We certainly cannot do it without their participation.

There was a letter in The Times on Monday, December 9, signed by Mr. Robert Chambers and others, which spoke of a massive air drop. Has this idea been really carefully considered? It seems to me a terrible thing that we should be sitting here while thousands of people are unnecessarily dying, when we have the power to help them. We have the Royal Air Force at our command; we have the money and the supplies. Could we not somehow get the agreement of the Federal Nigerian authorities to allow aircraft to fly off from Nigerian aerodromes and drop food by parachute or any other means—just free drops into the relatively small 70 by 50 mile area, which is the Ibo redoubt? Is this not possible? Could we not invite Ibo representatives to be there to see that the food is right? Could we not ensure that every cargo is supervised to see that there is no question of anything other than food and medicine being flown in? Has this been carefully and exhaustively discussed and gone into? It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will prefer not to answer some of these questions, and I shaft understand if he does not wish to do so. I do not, of course, want to make the situation more difficult, but I ask these questions hoping that at least they may be considered.

We know that in the Federal-he d parts of Nigeria there are still areas where there is near-famine and dreadful distress. What is the excuse for this? Can it really be necessary? Can it not be overcome? I am not talking about the Ibo-held territory, but about the Federal-held territory. Have we discussed with the Nigerian authorities ways of overcoming this? Have we, perhaps, offered to them the means of overcoming it, if the means is really all that is wanted? I put these questions to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, hoping only that the greatest possible effort will be made. I do not want to be emotional this evening. I know we all feel that this is a terrible situation. But, after all, it is Britain who created Nigeria, and surely we have a greater responsibility to Nigeria in this hour of need than any other country in the world.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has placed us very much in his debt by the horrifying yet unemotional way in which he has placed this situation before us. I think that all of us knew of the problem. He has brought in home to us, and brought home, in particular, the urgency of the need for previous preparation for the action which must take place the moment it is possible to give the necessary relief.

All of us in this House, as elsewhere, pray that peace may be restored to Nigeria, but we do not wish to say anything that would in any way make the work of the representatives in Addis Ababa and elsewhere more difficult. We have to face the problem of the restoration of peoples and the prevention of famine. One has merely to consider the facts which we have been given, that an airlift of something like 2,000 tons a day would be necessary and that the existing airstrips would be totally incapable of taking that amount of food, to realise how difficult, if not well-nigh impossible, it is to meet the immediate situation. I believe that there are at this present moment 4,500,000 people almost totally dependent upon external aid for food and medicines. We know that this number is bound to increase as the seed crops are destroyed and the hope of the next harvest is removed. What more can we say, except to urge the need for immediate action and preparation by international agencies?

The noble Lord referred to the work of the voluntary agencies in helping, mainly, the Ibo-held territories, which they alone were able to do. That is a remarkable exercise in inter-Church cooperation, which the World Council of Churches started in October, 1967, in the very closest co-operation with the Red Cross and in which Churches from many nations have combined. The efforts of our own voluntary agencies—Christian Aid, OXFAM, War on Want, the Save the Children Fund, and so on—have not been negligible, though they have been totally unable to meet the greatness of the need. Now, as we look to the immediate restoration and rehabilitation of the peoples and the avoidance of famine, I want only to add that, though the voluntary agencies know they cannot carry out the task themselves—it requires something of the magnitude and skill and expertise of UNRWA to do it—they are nevertheless ready and anxious to help.

The World Council of Churches is already engaged in a survey of needs and priorities in rehabilitation. Christian Aid in this country has contributed money and people to that survey, and has already set aside a substantial sum of money to be used for that purpose the moment it is possible, with of course the support and understanding of the Nigerian authorities. The voluntary agencies will help to the utmost of their power. They believe that the generosity of English people will enable them to play their part, though it is only a subsidiary one. I would add my voice from these Benches, and say that a massive effort in planning, beginning now on the scale of UNRWA, should receive the urgent consideration and support of all. We should also be looking forward to the longer-range rehabilitation, making good, for instance, the leeway in education, and making good the destruction of equipment. But all these measures must be subsidiary to the immediate need. Men and, above all, women and children are dying, who perhaps need not die if action can be taken. I think we should all pledge ourselves to give what support we can to that international action the moment it becomes possible.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, was right to raise this Question at this time, and in the terms in which he has chosen to put it down. I feel sure that all of your Lordships will be glad, as the noble Marquess was glad, to know of the initiative taken by Her Majesty's Government in sending two Ministers at this time to attempt once more to solve this problem. It could be deemed imprudent to be speaking in your Lordships' House on this subject while this political initiative is being taken. Others could take the view that it was improper to discuss in this House, or in another place, the problems of another independent country. As some of your Lordships will know, this view has been expressed in Nigeria. But I believe—in fact, I am sure—that within the terms of the Question which has been put down, it can only be helpful to our own Government in their task and to the people of Nigeria that we should be looking at this problem now.

Whatever we may feel, or may have felt, about the rights or wrongs of the conflicting ideals on either side in the Nigerian civil war, our political sympathies must now be subordinated to the overriding need to bring to an end the suffering of human beings. Many of them want only to live. When I spoke in the emergency debate at the end of August, I deplored the extent to which the suffering of these wretched mothers and children was being exploited, both in this country and elsewhere, wittingly or otherwise, to promote a political cause. Thank goodness! that trend is now receding. Now we are all, or we all ought to be, concerned only with suffering and how to bring it to an end. I think it is most important, and I was very glad to hear the noble Marquess speaking in those terms, to see the present situation in sober perspective and in due proportion, compared with what it was and with what it may become.

I have here the Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross which was written at the end of August. I could quote a great many figures—a great many figures have already been given and there will no doubt be others—but I do not propose to confound the problem with figures which might not exactly tally with those given by the noble Lord who put down this Question and with those which may be used later by the noble Lord the Leader of the House who will answer this Question. But it should be said—and I hope it will not be felt to be complacent on my part—that the situation is in some respects greatly improved over that when I reported on it last July, and, indeed, over what it was when we discussed this matter in your Lordships' House at the end of August. The whole relief operation, mounted under the direction of Dr. Lindt, with the splendid material support of many countries and many voluntary agencies, and to no small degree encouraged by the lead given by our own Government, has developed in a most impressive way, and no praise is too high for the 42 relief teams—including, of course, those from this country—who are the front line troops in this war against famine.

I noted what the noble Marquess had to say about the situation in the areas controlled by the Federal Military Government troops, but I believe that it is generally true to say that in the war zone occupied by the Federal Military Gov- ernment the minimum requirement of food and medicine is being supplied to most of those who are most in need. Evidence from relief workers shows that the death rate, particularly in the Northern area, has dropped dramatically. At least this is on the credit side of the account. It is certainly a far better situation than when I was there in July, when I and my colleagues were at least as concerned—except, of course, in regard to numbers—with the state of need of the million-odd (the International Red Cross gives it at a slightly lower figure) civilians on the perimeter as we were about the much larger numbers we knew to be inside Ibo territory.

I think, too, that we should recognise the astonishing feats accomplished both by the International Red Cross air fleet and by the Church organisations which are based on the island of Sao Tome in stepping up and maintaining the remarkable and regular scale of relief, amounting to about 100 tons each night, into Biafra itself. I must admit that this is far more than I thought to be possible under the hazardous conditions of war and weather, using only one improvised airstrip on the very edge of the encl we at night. The amount, of course, is tragically insufficient: it is less than half the estimated minimum needs, even in the present period of available local produce. But it is in my view a quite tremendous achievement of courage, devotion and skill. I believe that credit is also clue to General Gowon for continuing to permit these mercy flights the whole time into the besieged fortress.

So much for the present. There is nothing basically wrong with the organisation of relief in the context of war, still I less with its command, and less again with the splendid men and women who are working in the field. From the time when Dr. Lindt took over, the organisation began to develop rapidly and on the right lines; indeed, so far as I am concerned, the confidence I expressed in him during the emergency debate has been amply justified. I think that these are important points in looking, as the Question asks us to do, for further action in the future.

But, my Lords, in one other respect the situation is, even now, potentially Norse, far worse, than it was last August—and, of course, this leads us to the future. Last August there was at least an expectation of a quick military solution, admittedly as a bad second best, in the stubborn absence of a glimmer of hope of a political settlement. The fear of many people—which I did not share—that there would be a bloody massacre of the Ibos by the Federals has not happened, and it has been discounted as a future probability by Sir Bernard Fergusson, to whom I have just spoken, when he returned to this country.

The point is, however, that nothing significant has happened to change the military situation in the past four months—indeed, for very much longer than that. So far as I am able to judge, it is highly unlikely that force of arms will bring the war to an end in the next few weeks—and this is the really crucial point. This is why the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, was right to direct our thoughts mainly to the horror ahead and to focus our thinking on Biafra. If I have not entirely agreed with the noble Lord on the current state of affairs, I join hands with him at this point. We must concentrate on the impending threat in the beleaguered, grossly overcrowded Ibo heartland.

If the need hitherto to supplement the food and other requirements of some 3½ million Ibos (and this, again, is the International Red Cross estimate) cannot be met by more than half now, what of the position in a matter of weeks ahead in a continuing siege situation? I am told that the crisis, on the basis of the exhaustion of local food stuffs, can be firmly forecast for the end of January. If the political and military situations remain unchanged, the numbers in dire need will have more than doubled, and may in fact include the whole Ibo people. My Lords, it stands out a mile that no airlift on a scale adequate to meet such a need could possible cope with a problem as appalling as this one bids fair to become—not in this tiny, ill-equipped area of Nigeria. Nor, even if it could be, could the financial cost be sustained.

I have nearly finished what I wanted to say under the terms of this Question, and I hope it will not be deemed to be departing too much from those terms if I just say this. I have never taken sides in this war, and I do not propose to do so now. But the point is that a military solution is not in sight—in fact, it seems to be a very faint hope in the near future—and time is crucial. If the war were to end in the next few weeks the problem—the grim problem, as it was painted by Lord Ritchie-Calder—and the prospects which he forecast would be radically reduced for the better.

My Lords, it is bad enough to contemplate death for many by bullets: it is a far worse prospect to contemplate death for all by starvation. I believe that the time has come when both sides should accept that a cease-fire is the only way to avoid catastrophe, and to save the fair name of Nigeria and all concerned with its destiny and with each of its several peoples—and I suppose we should be thinking particularly of the Ibos themselves. Only in the conditions of a ceasefire is an augmented relief operation possible, based on the present one but not replacing its excellent structure, by the only method appropriate to the dimensions of the problem and capable of being sustained; that is, by road. Despite all that has been said about airlifts and possible airdrops, and despite everything that has been achieved by airlift, the road-relief corridors have always been the right answer.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, that a great international effort is urgently required to step up the supply of relief to Nigeria. But an even more urgent need is a great international effort to bring about an immediate cease-fire. A good deal has been attempted, and there have been several conferences in which some of the African States themselves have played a most notable part; but political considerations have so far deterred a larger, more widely-based and more concerted initiative. Recognising, as I do (and I was grateful to the noble Marquess for reminding me of what I had previously said), the complete independence of Nigeria; recognising that any outside help, in whatever form, must first be asked for by that country; respecting as I do the ideals, and understanding as I do the suspicions, of both leaders, I earnestly hope that, for the sake of humanity, both will seek further and wider sources of very willing help to stop the fighting before it is too late.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those of earlier speakers to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for drawing our attention to this absolutely vital issue. This famine transcends any problem faced by the United Nations or any of its Specialised Agencies over the last twenty years. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, drew our attention to the whole situation and portrayed it is a picture so grim and dark as to transcend all the issues before us to-day. This question, as the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, said, has received very little publicity. In fact, over the last few months, with the exception of two newspapers, it has almost entirely departed from the headlines. This is a matter of great regret; but surely no issue could test the sincerity of the nations within the United Nations as a whole more than this issue of the famine in Nigeria.

My Lords, as a representative of two of the agencies concerned, the British Red Cross Society and OXFAM, I should like to turn to both the short-term and the long-term issue in Nigeria. We have heard already from two great experts. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, whose mission enlightened us enormously. The present mission, the third undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to Nigeria will further add to the enlightenment of your Lordships' House. I am sure that we all send our great good wishes to him on his important mission.

My Lords, the short-term, immediate problem is, of course, money. At the time of the appeal by the International Red Cross on November 8 it was estimated that the immediate needs (for continuing the programme for four months only) would be £5.3 million. Thanks to immediate promises of contributions £2.1 million were available; that left £3.2 million to find. Thanks to the very generous contribution of the United States of America, one million dollars has been added to the sum and this has substantially reduced the gap. Thus, a month later, on December 9, the Commissioner-General, Mr. August Lindt, was able to say—and this was reported in The Times of December 10: This is thanks to the generosity of Governments and voluntary agencies. Everybody appreciates that the operation cannot be allowed to stop because of insufficient funds. But we still lack resources to guarantee continuation for a longer period. My Lords, long-term planning and the budgetary considerations are vital issues. With the Commissioner-General, we believe that the Churches and the voluntary agencies are covering approximately only 50 per cent. of the needy at the present moment. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London referred earlier to an estimated number of 41- million people who are in specially desperate need. Mr. Lindt, who returns to Lagos next week, said that as regards carbohydrates the pinch would probably come towards the end of February; but I should be more inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who set it at a very much earlier date. I also agree wholeheartedly with Lord Hunt that any increased supply of carbohydrates would be out of the question in view of the fact that in present circumstances all air space and cargo space is taken up by the carriage of proteins.

My Lords, I should particularly like to emphasise that on the present budget the intricate pattern of co-ordinated activities of the voluntary agencies cannot hope to continue beyond the end of February. If hostilities have not ceased by then, the acute shortage of carbohydrates and protein deficiency wilt take the problem beyond our reach. At the moment this is purely a holding operation. The voluntary agencies can plug the gap between now and perhaps the very early weeks of next year; but the vital missing ingredient is a cessation of hostilities. Last week, Mr. Borsinger, in the company of Ambassador Paul Ruegger, made a special mission to this country and laid before Her Majesty's Government the particular circumstances and emphasised the existing need within the International Red Cross programme. Further, Mr. Borsinger informed the Disasters Emergency Committee in London last week that even if the hostilities ended very shortly the International Red Cross believe that the relief operation must continue at least until 1969.

What is so necessary for any form of effective planning is to have a budgetary consideration of at least 12 months—and not one of three months or four months in the hope that this will be sufficient. Let us not blind ourselves to the fact that this operation is one of enormous proportions, far beyond any we have known before. A special problem concerns the four medical relief teams recruited by the Save the Children Fund and partly financed by Her Majesty's Government. The total cost of keeping four medical relief teams in the field, it will be remembered, was £185,000. This runs out on March 31, 1969. The Government contribution was £127,000. The Save the Children Fund, from their own resources, gave £58,000 which will be exhausted by that date.

I should like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House this specific question: Will a further Government contribution be allocated to enable the Save the Children Fund to keep the medical relief teams in the field for a much prolonged period? I am informed by the Director of the Save the Children Fund, Sir Colin Thornley, that to date no indication has been given by the Government of their intentions. Far greater experts than I have already spoken on this problem. I feel that I can add nothing further.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has given us some very relevant facts and figures telling us what help is being given at the moment and how far the money is going; but I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that it is really impossible to make any detailed rehabilitation plans until hostilities cease. Then it will be possible to assess the situation. When this happy state of events occurs I think it will still present a problem that perhaps can be solved only by what I would call old-fashioned diplomacy. By that, I mean consultations with another sovereign State conducted privately and not under T.V. lights or with constant Press coverage. I am sure that all the help must be given on the principle of working with the Nigerians and not just for them. Also, I am sure that it will be essential to find out what is really wanted in cash, kind and people, and that it is vitally important not to overload the Nigerians with unwanted or unwelcome help in the form of goods or people.

I think we must be very careful to recommend our advice and on no account to dictate. This help must be organised. I suggest, by one organisation and one organisation only—and that, I think, should be the United Nations in some form. And, of course, the procedure must be acceptable to the Nigerians. General Gowon has already emphasised that although he is very grateful to the Churches and to the International Red Cross for their present help, when the conflict is over the responsibility for rehabilitation will actually rest with the Nigerians, and very largely with the Nigerian Red Cross. As a result of this the International Committee of the Red Cross has sent an important member of the Committee to Lagos to plan future help and advice with the Nigerian Red Cross, to enable them to play their part in a massive rehabilitation programme. The Nigerians are a proud people. They have a background of tribal rites and customs. They are learning the problems of government the hard way. I am sure that voluntary organisations and the Government can help best to ensure that the Nigerians have the means to help themselves, and I hope that the noble Lord in his reply will be able to agree to this.

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to keep the House for more than a few minutes, but I wish to add to the expressions of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and others who have spoken, for dealing with this great but most sombre and tragic matter. It is certainly heartening when one finds eminent Humanists like the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, taking the initiative provided by this debate to link up with the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of London, and others here of various religions, faiths and political Parties, all joining together on the one simple issue: to find how, through human compassion, we can meet both the immediate and the long-term situation in Nigeria. We are divided in many ways. Sometimes a great gulf appears between us. But there are invaluable bridges, and the bridge of compassion is one of them. I am very glad, as I am sure we all are, that we are unanimous to-night in endorsing all the recommendations and urgencies expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder.

Certainly we all deplore the continuation of this ghastly strife. That being so, it seems to me that we need to pay attention to the immediate situation as well as the future. One possibility, I understand, is that of bringing out a number of the children into some neighbouring territory. I hope that will be done. At least it will take them away from the sound of strife and the immediate incidence of starvation and even worse. I wonder whether we could not ourselves give to these recipient countries adjoining Nigeria and Iboland some assurance that they will be helped in caring for the children that are at last deposited on their territory. I put that forward as an idea upon which I hope that my noble friend Lord Shackleton will say a few words. That would ease the immediate situation. So far as the long-term situation is concerned we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, for reminding us of the appalling conditions that will exist when at last this war comes to an end.

Meanwhile we have a number of voluntary agencies to whom no tribute can be excessive. The Save the Children Fund was mentioned by a previous speaker. I was reminded by that reference that the Save the Children Fund began just after the First World War. It then existed to try to save some of the children who were starving to death in Germany. There were only critics of that movement at that time, and I am glad that that organisation has grown through the years until now it exists to meet the needs of children everywhere. Other voluntary organisations are doing the same thing, but obviously much more than all the voluntary agencies can do is urgently required. I trust, therefore, that our Government will take the initiative in this matter.

I suggest that it might be as well if our own Government sought consultation with the Organisation for African Unity. Africans are very jealous of their own continent and perhaps apprehensive, if not suspicious, that whatever help is given from Europe to Africa has some ulterior motive. I believe they are entirely wrong, but at least we should consult this body, which is of some sig- nificance and has some influence. I submit that suggestion to my noble friend and perhaps he will give some information and advice on it later.

My Lords, the only other thing I wish to say is that we are at this time reminded of the approach of Christmas. There is an ancient story that Herod massacred all the infants under two years of age in a large area. I am sure we feel that that massacre is now being continued. Because of that, and in view of all that Christmas signifies, trust that the whole House will not only endorse the moving, but sane, plea of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, but also will urge the Government to do all they can, unilaterally if necessary but with others as well if possible, to try to meet the immediate and the long-term necessity.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House replies to the debate, may I be permitted to make, not a speech, but an interjection? We have listened to a most moving debate. We have listened to many suggestions, all of them good. We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Richie-Calder, for having raised the matter. But what we have been discussing is relief; or perhaps I m ay put it in another way: we have been discussing the methods by which we can get the fire brigade to work in Africa, to help to put out the fire and to indulge in urgently needed rescue work.

The situation is stark tragedy, but we ought never to lose sight of the fact that there is only one solution to this problem and that is to stop the fighting, or rather, to stop the fire. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will pay some slight attention to that. You can talk about the International Red Cross, or this or that or anything else, but what matters is: Can we use our influence, which is still great, more effectively to put a stop to the fire? That is what we have to do—stop the war. I beg the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to devote a few minutes of his speech to telling us what the Government are trying to do to stop it.

5.58 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to the words of my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder and other noble Lords, I feel it is almost impossible to find the appropriate expressions with which to reply on this tremendous and, in our more recent generation, unique tragedy. As I listened to my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, saying that there has never been anything like this, or at least that there had never been a famine which had been so "visible"—I think that was his word—to the eyes of the world, I recalled the sayings of a very great man in a similar situation. Then there were no television cameras but at least the world knew what was going on.

Describing the situation he said: A heart-rending appeal for help went out to all the world, and eventually a great many people in this and in other countries helped, and helped generously. But many more were busy trying to find out first who was to blame. Was it the drought? Or was it the political system? As if that could ameliorate the terrible suffering or make any difference whatever to those who were dying of starvation. He went on to say: There is something rotten in the condition of the world. There is still ample scope for improvement. The action he took was to send the following telegram to the Save the Children International Union, the predecessor of the Save the Children Fund: Hundreds of thousands of children are dying of hunger. Millions of others are threatened with the same fate. Convinced that an unprecedented effort immediately undertaken can save them. I request the Save the Children International Union should appeal to men, women and children to give quickly to the little famished ones in Russia. I make no apology for quoting from a book I wrote myself—a biography of Fridtjof Nansen. The passage I have quoted is from his famous address as Rector of St. Andrews University, as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, will know. In those times, the tragedy was the indifference of Governments. And they were not only indifferent; they even regarded those horrors as a proper punishment for people. At least there is some improvement in national attitudes, although it does not seem to be achieving very successfully the purpose we all acknowledge and the morality we all recognise.

I will try to deal with most of the points that have been made. Some have already been answered by my noble friend Lord Hunt. I wish that my noble friend Lord Shepherd was here to reply, but he is in Lagos at this moment, dealing not only with the problem of starvation but also, along with his colleague, Mr. Foley, who is in Addis Ababa, desperately looking for a solution. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, is right. The time has come when we should talk not only of relief, although we need to do that, but of finding ways of stopping the fighting. I agree with my noble friend Lord Sorensen about the importance of O.A.U. The Government attach the greatest importance to this and that is why Mr. Foley is in Addis Ababa at the moment for consultations with the Emperor of Ethiopia, who is chairman of the O.A.U. Consultative Committee on Nigeria.

There is a further link with the quotation that I gave in the fact that Mr. Lindt is the successor of Nansen as High Commissioner for Refugees. I was glad to hear the tributes paid to him, because I know him well. It is a particular source of encouragement, both in regard to the integrity of the operation and its efficiency, that Mr. Lindt should be in charge of the operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

I should like to inform your Lordships straight away of an announcement which was made by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in another place earlier to-day. As many noble Lords know, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, who has been involved in this, the I.C.R.C. is responsible for co-ordinating and organising most of the relief aid which is flowing into Nigeria on both sides in the civil war. Early last month the I.C.R.C. launched an urgent appeal for new funds to finance the extensive relief operations which are necessary. The appeal was directed to Governments and to Red Cross Societies and other relief organisations in many parts of the world. The Government have been considering this appeal urgently—perhaps it would be inadequate to add "sympathetically" because the sense of horror almost overwhelms these familiar phrases—and earlier this month M. Ruegger had discussions with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and other colleagues. In the light of this the Government have announced that, subject to the approval of Parliament, they will make a further contribution to Nigerian relief of £700,000. This will take the form of a direct grant to I.C.R.C. Taking into account the earlier sum of £270,000 which the Government have already contributed, the total comes to something a little under £1 million. I would not dream of saying that this is an act of generosity. We are not concerned just with generosity but with saving life.

I cannot answer the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, as to whether there will be a contribution to the Save the Children Fund to enable their teams to continue. Everybody who has worked with the Fund, as I did for a period on one of their committees, is aware of the value of their work and the need for an assurance of continued support for their teams in the next financial year. I am afraid that at this moment I cannot give any commitment, but the Government are well aware of the value of the work of the I.C.R.C.

If I may, I would comment on certain points which my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder made on the extent of the tragedy, not in any attempt to repudiate what he has said but merely to give the best information that we have. My noble friend quoted some horrifying figures about the rate of starvation in Nigeria, especially in the areas under the control of Colonel Ojukwu. There have been a lot of statistics in the Press and elsewhere, some lower and some higher than those my noble friend gave, as he himself said. Of course, there is an element of guesswork but, as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, there is one point on which there can be some certainty.

The supply of proteins and drugs in recent weeks has brought about a considerable improvement and led to a reduction in the rate of deaths by starvation, especially among children. It may be that some of the figures that have been quoted do not adequately reflect the improvement; but it does not really matter whether it is 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. We cannot measure the degree of horror that is involved by saying 50,000 or 100,000. I certainly agree with my noble friend that the situation is as grave as it could be; that nothing like sufficient supplies are reaching those in need, and that in the coming months there is a prospect of a severe hydrocarbon shortage, particularly in the secessionist held areas; and that to bring in big supplies to relieve that shortage would inevitably be beyond the capacity of the existing night airlift.

My noble friend quoted some figures of the supplies sent in recent months by the I.C.R.C. and the Church organisations. I should like to give the figures that have for the Record. From April up to the end of last week, the I.C.R.C. was able to deliver 5,500 tons of supplies to the areas controlled by the secessionists by airlift, and in the period from December 1 to 10 inclusive the total was 700 tons. The Church organisations had by the end of November delivered a total of 6,500 tons. But the amount that can be delivered on any one night depends on the aircraft available and, what is much more important, on conditions at the airstrip at Uli where the relief planes land. So the amount does fluctuate. Recently it has been possible to deliver a total of some 150 tons a night from Fernando Po and Sao Tome. However, night airlifts certainly would not be able to cope with carbohydrate shortage that we have to expect.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie. Calder, put forward an interesting and far-reaching suggestion consistent with suggestions that he has made in the past; namely, that there should be an international Calamity Force, along the lines of UNRRA, created especially to deal with the situation, although I realise that he wishes it to be a permanent part of the apparatus of the United Nation:. The advice that I have—and I think this is may, to some extent, be borne out by what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said—is that the obstacle to a larger-scale relief effort is not the existing international machinery. The I.C.R.C., as the principal co-ordinating agency, have teen extremely effective, and I should like to add my tribute to those dedicated people in the field whose work we all wish to praise. But the obstacles in the provision of sufficient supplies of food and drugs are principally yin the political field.

The fact is, my Lords, that what is needed, above all, is facilities to bring these supplies by land into the rebel-held area. Only by land can sufficient quantities be brought in. The Federal Government of Nigeria has offered arrangements for a land corridor for relief supplies into the area controlled by Colonel Ojukwu. Unfortunately, Colonel Ojukwu has not so far felt able to accept this offer. Similarly, the Federal Government has offered arrangements for daylight flights which would at least permit some increase in the tonnage that could be carried; but here, too, Colonel Ojukwu has not so far made any positive response.

Clearly, the best solution to the immense problem of starvation and malnutrition would be an early end to the fighting. I am assured that if there were to be a cease-fire arrangements could be made to bring in the supplies around the war-areas—and this may to some extent deal with one of the points made by my noble friend Lord Sorensen. All these supplies are already available in the hope that land routes may be available either when the fighting stops or when it is possible for Colonel Ojukwu to agree to arrangements for supplies by land.

I have already mentioned that my noble friend Lord Shepherd is at this moment in Lagos for discussions with General Gowon, and that my honourable friend Mr. Foley is in Addis Ababa. Both, of course, are hoping that their discussions may reveal some possibility of progress being made, both in the search for an end to the fighting and in the field of removing obstacles to the effective provision of relief for the starving and the sick. Certainly if these talks reveal that there is any possibility of an initiative which the British Government could take in that direction, we shall be ready and eager to take it. I assure noble Lords—and I make no political point of any kind—that every member of the Government who has studied this problem feels as strongly about it as do Members of your Lordships' House. It is no good sitting back and saying: "Is our policy right?" Somehow a solution must be found by the world.

The noble Lord directed an important part of his speech, and indeed his Question, to the problem of rehabilitation and reconstruction in Nigeria once the war is over. The Federal Government has already begun to set up the necessary institutional arrangements for the reconstruction programme which will be neces- sary, and there is a Federal Commissioner for Reconstruction who has already begun his work. The World Bank has also initiated discussions with the Federal Government about the international aid effort in support of reconstruction which will undoubtedly be necessary. The British Government have made it clear that they hope to discuss with the Federal Government the situation which will emerge after the war ends, and to make an appropriate contribution to their needs when the time comes. Once the war is over, the International Red Cross will transfer its responsibility for the co-ordination of relief to the Nigerian Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies, and to a great extent the co-ordinating role will no doubt devolve on the Federal Government itself.

My Lords, I hope that what I have said answers the noble Lord. It is our view that the institutional arrangements for dealing with the present needs are very adequate, and indeed that the resources of food and medical supplies, and even to a great extent of transport and other logistic facilities, are equal to the task. And there is more that can be provided. There have been any number of generous donations of money and food from Governments, from private organisations, United Nations Agencies, including the World Food Programme and UNICEF. The International Red Cross itself estimates that it has sufficient resources of supplies to maintain its relief operation at about the present level for several months. But the urgent problem is how to bring the available supplies to those who need them.

Again, I can only stress that the best solution must be the end of the fighting. Short of that, we should hope that some agreement could be found, even at this eleventh hour, for a land route for relief. The primary responsibility for mediation and a search for a settlement and an end to the fighting rests, in our opinion, on the Organisation for African Unity. We believe that the O.A.U. is the best body to do this: that this is an African problem, to be solved by Africans. I am sure that all noble Lords will share the Government's devout hope that the efforts of the O.A.U., and the current discussions which my noble friend Lord Shepherd and my honourable friend Mr. Foley are having, will lead to some progress.

The Government are determined to do everything they can. We will listen to any initiative that may be suggested. If it is open to us, and we think it is likely to lead to the prospect either of the relief of starvation or of ending the war, the Government will be only too ready to take the action that is necessary. I should perhaps say to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne (I think he is aware of it), that the International Observers' Report has already been published; in fact, they published several Reports, and there is a consolidated copy in the Library.

If there are any points with which I have not dealt (there may be a number, and I apologise), I can only say that we shall study closely what your Lordships have said. I think this is a matter that we now need, as this tragedy unfolds, to keep almost under continuous review. The degree of national reaction across every creed and interest in this country is something that makes me still hope that it will be possible to find solutions. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, will feel that, even if my reply in many ways may have been inadequate—and we shall consider his suggestions—we are all united in recognising the terrible nature of this tragedy and the importance of doing better than we have done.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past six o'clock.