HL Deb 31 July 1968 vol 296 cc313-20

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government the Question of which I have given Private Notice; namely,

"Whether they will make a statement about the present state of relief to Biafra and Nigeria."


My Lords, the report of the Relief Advisory Mission which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, leads is being published as a White Paper. Meanwhile, I have arranged for copies of the report to be placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. Part 6 of the report contained detailed recommendations of the most effective ways of spending the grant of £250,000 announced by Her Majesty's Government. We have followed up these recommendations with all possible speed, with the result that we have already spent or firmly committed approximately £200,000. Three R.A.F. airlifts, carrying the medical supplies and special foods most urgently recommended by Lord Hunt, have already taken place. Forty-five trucks and 5 Land Rovers have been purchased and shipped, and 25 of these vehicles are already in Nigeria. Six Land Rover ambulances have also been purchased and despatched. Of the four medico-social teams recommended by Lord Hunt, two have been recruited by the Save-the-Children Fund and are already at work in Nigeria. Two further teams are being assembled and will be ready for despatch as soon as the International Red Cross calls for them. Transport for these teams has been provided, and a self-contained team of drivers and mechanics has been recruited for despatch to Nigeria subject to International Red Cross approval.

At this point, I deeply regret to have to report a tragic accident which has befallen an earlier medico-social team, paid for by the Save-the-Children Fund, which has been operating in the area of Awgu. Two members of this team, Father M. Riddle and Mr. J. Ambache, were killed when their Land Rover ran over a land mine on a hush track. On behalf of Her Majesty's Government I wish to pay respectful tribute to the work and memory of these two dedicated men, who sought to alleviate the sufferings of others at such tragic cost to themselves. I know that your Lordships will wish to join with me in expressing deep sympathy to the next of kin and to their colleagues, who have all been informed.

One of Lord Hunt's recommendations concerned the provision of alternative types of river craft. It has been a matter of some difficulty to determine the types likely to be most useful and most rapidly obtainable; but I have this morning received firm recommendations about routes and craft from the Committee of British Businessmen in Lagos, which was set up by Lord Hunt and which is now doing most valuable work. Action on these new recommendations for getting supplies across the Niger is already in hand.

It has been recommended by Lord Hunt and agreed by all concerned, including the Federal Government, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the O.A.U., that all international relief should be co-ordinated through the International Committee of the Red Cross. To make easier this liaison with the International Red Cross, our efforts are much directed. Two members of Lord Hunt's team, Sir Colin Thornley of the Save-the-Children Fund and Mr. Hodgson of the British Red Cross paid a visit to Geneva last Friday, July 26, where they had useful conversations with International Red Cross officials. Members of your Lordships' House will be aware that the most urgent question of relief supplies into the territory still controlled by Colonel Ojukwu formed a principal part of the discussions under the auspices of the O.A.U. which have just taken place in Niamey, Niger. I understand that although some progress was made on the question which would govern the use of the land route to Awgu, the two parties failed to reach final agreement. As a result, the question of relief supplies has been transferred to the agenda of the further talks which are to take place in Addis Ababa beginning on Monday, August 5. I should like to pay tribute to the statesmanship of the Emperor of Ethiopia, President Diori of Nigeria and the other Heads of State who are members of the O.A.U. Commission on Nigeria. It is the sincere hope of Her Majesty's Government that their further efforts at Addis Ababa will lead not only to an early understanding about channels of relief but also to a political settlement and the ending of the war.

Your Lordships will also be aware that the Executive Director of UNICEF has recommended 1 million dollars of emergency aid for starving children in all regions of Nigeria. The House will also know that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has received a welcome from the Federal Government for his proposal to send a personal representative to Nigeria to discuss the relief problems on his behalf. I am sure that the House will welcome all these initiatives.

My Lords, I should not wish to end this Statement without expressing the thanks of Her Majesty's Government and, I believe, of all Members of this House, to Lord Hunt and his colleagues for the dedicated and thorough work they have done. As a result of their efforts, aid is flowing into Nigeria and into the distressed areas more effectively and in greater volume than would otherwise have been the case.


My Lords I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the full Statement he has made, and I should like to join with him in the tribute he has paid to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues. I think the fact that the Statement is a good deal more satisfactory than the Government have been able to make previously is due almost entirely to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and that we should be most grateful to him.

There is one area which I must confess worries me. It is no doubt true that "aid is flowing into Nigeria"; but the conclusion I draw from what the noble Lord has said is that there is as yet no aid flowing into Biafra because the routes into Biafra have not been settled with Colonel Ojukwu. Is this the case? And, if so, are we content just to wait until August 5 and to do nothing more at all to seek a settlement? —for if the figures we have been given are true there are hundreds of people dying every day of starvation.


My Lords, on behalf of my colleagues, may I thank the noble Lord for his Statement? I should like to join in expressing our great regret at this tragic accident and also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for the splendid work that he is doing. May I ask one or two questions? The noble Lord referred to the R.A.F. air-lifts. What is the destination of those air-lifts? Is it Federal territory? I presume that it is. Is the noble Lord aware of a statement in The Times this morning from which it would seem that relief is not getting through to those people in territories formerly held by Biafrans and now under Federal control? If that is so, what can be done about it? Finally, may I welcome the reference to UNICEF. I know that they have worked for a very long time and have experience particularly with the problem of the children in Nigeria.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Wade, have joined with Her Majesty's Government in expressing thanks and appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and his colleagues. I am bound to say that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was less than generous over the activities of Her Majesty's Government in the field of relief to Nigeria. I would remind your Lordships that I saw Sir Louis Mbanafo who was the representative of Biafra in London; and I asked him to return to London not only to discuss a long-term peace solution, but, above all, to see how we could get relief supplies into Biafra. We also asked whether it would be possible for Lord Hunt to go to Biafra. Both these requests were refused by Colonel Ojukwu. So far as Lord Hunt was concerned, Colonel Ojukwu said that a visit would be of no use, of no benefit.

Therefore, we have done our best. It is true that only limited supplies are getting into Biafra. The International Red Cross chartered five aircraft for flights into Biafra during the month of June. To the best of my knowledge, up to July 20 only three flights took place, and one of those aircraft crashed with loss of life to the crew. It is not for want on our part that relief supplies are not getting into Biafra, nor do I believe it is from the Federal Government. They have offered land routes into Biafra and if only we could get a response from Colonel Ojukwu and the Biafran authorities, the tremendous supplies now building up at the very perimeter of Biafra could go in and many thousands of lives could well be saved.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend how he reconciles this Statement on relief with the fact that we are still sending arms to Nigeria for the purpose of destroying yet more Biafrans? In view of this, why is he surprised that the authorities in Biafra regard us with some contempt and even cynicism?


My Lords, I have nothing to add to what I have said on many occasions about Her Majesty's Government's supply of limited arms to the Nigerian authorities. It certainly did not prevent Sir Louis Mbanafo, the chief representative of the Biafran authorities, from meeting me on various occasions in London when we sought to find a solution at a table.


My Lords, may I ask the Government whether Britain will restrain the Federal Government from advancing into the Ibo heartland if the Addis Ababa talks break down?


My Lords, our views are well known to the Federal Government. I would wish to pay a tribute to General Gowon for the restraint he has shown. I hope that this will continue. When I was in Lagos, General Gowon told me that he would avoid going into the East Central State for as long as he could. But he asked me what alternative he would have ultimately if the Ibos were still unwilling to negotiate flexibly and take the place left open for them in a unified Nigeria. While I sympathise with his dilemma, I still want desperately to see a negotiated conclusion to the hostilities. I therefore hope sincerely that Colonel Ojukwu will draw the necessary conclusions. It seems to me vital that at Addis Ababa he should instruct his delegation to negotiate much more flexibly and realistically than was foreshadowed in the statement made by Mr. Mojekwu in London this week. This statement had little or no relation to the realities of the situation and it is therefore alarming that he should have made it in those terms.


My Lords, with regard to the question of Colonel Ojukwu allowing aid into Biafra, have Her Majesty's Government approached the Heads of State of those countries which have recognised Biafra and who, for that reason, might be able to put pressure on Colonel Ojukwu to allow aid to come into the country?


We have made approaches to those States, to the O.A.U., the United Nations and the International Red Cross, all of whom seem to have played a part in trying to persuade Colonel Ojukwu to allow supplies to come in; but so far, I regret, with no success.


My Lords, I am not quite certain whether the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, answered the question put by my noble friend Lord Wade. We quite understand why aid cannot at the moment go into Biafra proper, because Colonel Ojukwu will not let it in; but why should it not be, possible to send aid into the districts which were Biatra and have now been liberated, as the word goes, by the Federal authorities?


My Lords, aid is going in. The International Red Cross have teams and there are vehicles which we have now sent. But, as I said in an earlier Statement, it was largely a question of transport and the ability to move goods. The relief supplies are now moving in in increasing quantities into the recaptured areas.


My Lords, is the report in The Times this morning correct, or is it out of date? Or has the noble Lord not yet had an opportunity to read it?


My Lords, there were one or two reports and the one in The Times was rather lengthy. Which was the point the noble Lord had in mind?


The lengthy one which indicated that relief was not getting through to those territories formerly under Biafran control.


My Lords, relief is getting in there. I know that there has been certain grounds for criticism. In fact, I think that is healthy, because when things are moving people suddenly see the glaring points and seek to criticise. There have been criticisms and I think they were genuine criticisms, but there is a considerable improvement in this area and I think that a great deal of the tribute for it must be paid to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me what is the position of private individuals and organisations who have volunteered aircraft for an airlift?


My Lords, I am aware that there are a number of individuals and organisations who are chartering or even purchasing aircraft, hoping to fly them out to Fernando Po and other places with the object of getting food into Biafra in particular. I hope that the House and those who want to do so much to help will see that there must be a co-ordinating body in this matter. The International Red Cross is now very active in the field. It has been accepted as the authority by the Federal Government and I hope that any individual or organisation wishing to help in this matter will, before committing themselves perhaps to considerable expenditure, consult the International Red Cross, from whom I am sure there will be a ready response.


My Lords, in view of the cause of the tragic accident, will Her Majesty's Government indicate whether minesweeping equipment is available for the routes along the land corridor and also for the rivers which it is hoped to use during the relief operations?


My Lords, this is the first incident of which I am aware, and certainly of which my Department is aware, of the use of land mines. Whether there is landmine detection equipment available in the Federation I could not say without notice; but clearly there would not be sufficient, at this stage certainly, to be able to deal with all the bush roads that these relief organisations will have to use to get the aid to the starving people.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is any information regarding any attempt to bring children out of what is called Biafra to this country, and if so, how many have come and whether facilities are being granted for that purpose?


My Lords, there will certainly be no hindrance if people were to bring children to this country. I have seen the reports but I am not aware of any children actually being brought to this country yet.


My Lords, can my noble friend say who was responsible for placing the landmine which was responsible for this accident—which side?


My Lords, the noble Lord may be aware, if he has been a soldier, that often you do not know who places landmines.