HL Deb 21 July 1969 vol 304 cc737-59

6.51 p.m.

Lord BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will propose to the Security Council of the United Nations an embargo on arms sup- plies to both sides in the Nigeria—Blafra war. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. I do not apologise for raising this issue tonight: I feel it desirable that it should be voiced before we go into Recess. But I do apologise to your Lordships for raising it on this particular day and at this particular time. We have had in the House today a difference between the two sides which has led to considerable tension and exhaustion. Some of us did not take to our beds until dawn this morning because we were listening to, and watching, the exciting arrival of the Americans on the moon. For these reasons I have not sought tonight to secure the support of speakers for this Unstirred Question. However I should like to emphasise that I am by no means speaking purely for myself.

I am the Chairman of the Peace in Nigeria Committee, and I have never presided over a more "Establishment" body. It has leading members from all three Parties, including the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, from the Conservative Party; the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, from the Liberal Party, and many of my colleagues on these Benches, as well as representatives of all three Parties in another place. It also has representatives of all the Churches—the Anglican Church, the Catholic Church and the Free Churches. It has a most extraordinary membership from ex-Colonial servants in Nigeria and the Eastern Region, including two former Governors-General. In addition, it has leading figures in every sphere of life in this country.

Our supporters go even further: When we wrote to the Prime Minister putting our views, we had the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, 20 Bishops and a most remarkable list of representative people in this country. Therefore, even though I am speaking to a small House, and perhaps in a lonely way, I am quite sure the Minister will not feel that I am speaking for a minority in this country.

As a matter of fact, all three Parties are united on the proposal which I am now making. The Labour Party Conference carried a resolution which was even more radical than the one I am now proposing. The Liberal Party—and I spoke with their Leader last week—are quite definitely in support. Sir Alec Douglas-Home, speaking for the Conservative Party, has endorsed this proposal. It has the support not only of the Churches and the political Parties but also of such organisations as the United Nations Association. I have not the least doubt that the vast majority of politically alert opinion in this country supports this proposal.

The suggestions which our Committee have made include a cease-fire, an international force to supervise that cease-fire, a cooling-off period while bitterness should be reduced, then political negotiations, and an embargo on arms to both sides in this war. Our Committee have had two interviews with the Prime Minister, one attended by the Foreign Secretary and by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. We have had repeated interviews with the Minister mainly responsible for African affairs, Mr. Maurice Foley. We have seen the Ambassadors of West Germany, of Switzerland, of Sweden, and, in the absence of the Italian Ambassador, the First Secretary of Italy and also the First Secretary of the Soviet Union. We have pressed upon all those Governments the proposal for an embargo on both sides in this war. I may say, in passing, that we have had the support of all these Embassies, except that of the Soviet Union. To its objection I will refer later.

In addition to that, my Lords, we initiated a resolution at the Council of Europe, and the Political Committee of the Council of Europe carried a resolution in favour of an embargo on arms to both sides by all its Member States. The W.E.U. similarly has carried a resolution on these lines, though with certain reservations. In addition, I am quite authoritatively informed that the United States Government has brought pressure both upon our own Government and the French Government to limit at least the supply of arms to both sides in this war.

I want to recognise the difficulties in a quite practical way. The supply of arms to both Nigeria and Biafra comes not only from Governments: it comes from the black market, and it has been urged that it is not possible, by an embargo endorsed by Governments, to prevent the black market supplies. My Lords, surely it is clearly possible for any Government which takes this position to say, at its airports, at its docks, and at all points of departure, that all arms shall be prohibited from going either to Nigeria or Biafra. In most countries such arms have to be licensed, and the Government could refuse licences. I do not accept the argument that it is not possible for Governments to control black market supplies as well as Government supplies.

Both in discussions with the Prime Minister and in correspondence, it has been urged by the Government that an embargo cannot be enforced until there is a cease-fire, and that only under the conditions of cease-fire would it be possible within Nigeria and Biafra itself to have an international supervision which would prevent the entry of arms. If my previous argument is accepted, then a great deal could be done from the points of departure. If, on the other hand, it is regarded as necessary to have international intervention in Nigeria and Biafra, may I put this point? It is now accepted that there shall be international supervision of relief which goes to Biafra. The division between Nigeria and Biafra on that issue is only on the point at which the international supervision shall take place. Nigeria says it must be in Nigerian territory. Biafra accepts it if it takes place from San Tomé, Cotonou, Libreville, outside the area; and I hope I am right in thinking that the British Government themselves have urged upon the Nigerian Government some acceptance of that proposal. If that is true for relief, it can also be true for the embargo on arms.

There is the difficulty of France. The French Government has denied that it is sending arms. I have been to both Nigeria and Biafra, and I have no doubt that French arms are reaching Biafra. It is probably true that they are reaching Biafra through Gabon and through the Ivory Coast, and that the French Government is not directly supplying them but is saying to Gabon and to the Ivory Coast, "You may provide Biafra with arms and we will make it up at a later date". I would very strongly say to Her Majesty's Government that in view of the changed political situation in France a position has now arisen where discussions between the British Government and the French Government could take place upon this issue. I believe from my informants in France that there is now an atmosphere which might lead to an agreement between the British and the French Governments on this matter.

Then there is the difficulty of the attitude of Soviet Russia. Our Committee has had its deputation to the Soviet Embassy. I want to say, quite frankly, that its attitude was on the whole intransigent—in fact, more intransigent than we found when we met the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary of this country or when we met other ambassadors. But at least Soviet Russia said this: that if there were a decision by other countries to stop arms going to both Nigeria and Biafra they would reconsider their attitude. I put this point to the Minister very seriously. Soviet Russia is now very anxiously concerned to bring about a detente. It is engaged, in its talks with the Government of the United States, with meetings in Moscow, and because of its fear, particularly of China, the Soviet Union is very anxious to reach a detente. I say that undoubtedly if the British Government used their influence with the American Government, the American Government could bring great pressure to bear upon Soviet Russia in this regard.

Then the difficulty may be urged against my resolution that it is proposing action by the Security Council of the United Nations which, because Nigeria is a member State, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, has said it is difficult for the United Nations to take within its consideration. I want to urge that a different situation arises when it is not merely a conflict between Nigeria and the Eastern Region, part of which now describes itself as Biafra, but also a matter of member States, and leading member States, of the United Nations supplying arms to both sides. It is not often that I can welcome a contribution which has been made by Sir Alec Douglas-Home upon this matter, but he has urged in another place exactly the proposal which I am now making: that the United Nations should consider this problem of an embargo upon arms to both sides and take the initiative to prevent that supply of arms proceeding.

My Lords, before I conclude—and I have tried to be objective in what I have said—may I say this. In December, Mr. James Griffiths, an ex-Colonial Secretary, and I went to both Nigeria and Biafra seeking peace. When we were there we found arms manufactured in eight different European countries supplied to both sides. We found in addition to those arms that there were the supplies from Britain and Russia to Nigeria and indirectly from France to Biafra. There is a very great new danger in this war, with its appalling consequences; that is, not merely the deaths in battle, but the million deaths which have already occurred, mostly among the young children. James Griffiths and I were present at a place where the Catholics were providing one meal a day for 3, 000 children. I have seen the priest who was in charge of that feeding centre; he has now returned from Biafra and he said that the most difficult thing he had ever had to do in his life was to tell those 3, 000 children that there would be no food for them next day.

The new terrible thing about the Nigerian-Biafran war is that it is now becoming not a war between Africans, but a war between Great Powers in their own material and economic interests. Soviet Russia is seeking penetration into Nigeria, when it has largely failed in the Continent of Africa, except in the U A.R., Egypt and Algeria; France, with her ex-Colonies, still dominated by the French economy, on the borders of Nigeria and in competition with her; and I think Great Britain probably muddled into this situation. We had been supplying arms to Nigeria as a Commonwealth country. My complaint is not only that the supply of arms has continued, but that it has intensified since the war began. But it would be a quite naive person who did not think that the oil interests of Great Britain, particularly B.P. Shell, was not one factor in the arms supplies which are now being sent.

There is a moral issue here. Many years ago in another place I heard Mr. Philip Snowdon say that if he filled his hand with pebbles and threw them on to the opposite Benches he could hardly fail to hit someone whose financial interests were in the armaments industry. To-night, I should not have many people to hit. But I put this as a matter of conscience. I put it as a matter of conscience to Her Majesty's Government: How can Her Majesty's Government go on supplying arms which not only mean death in battle, but the starvation of thousands of little children? I put it to those who are shareholders in armaments that I can scarcely think of anything more immoral than making their wealth, their dividends, their own material satisfaction out of the deaths which take place in war.

I want to conclude in a constructive way. Rather remarkably, the differences between the two sides are not now very deep. Nigeria insists on union; Biafra insists on association. There are degrees of unity and there are degrees of association. They are negotiable, and anyone who knows Nigeria finds it difficult to believe that at the end of this war there will not be a reconstruction of the Constitution in which the two points of view, of union and association, will require to be brought together.

The other issue is this; and it is quite extraordinary. The only reason why talks are not taking place to-day between Nigeria and Biafra is that Nigeria asks for negotiations without conditions, and Biafra asks for a ceasefire before negotiations. I am going to read from a letter which the Prime Minister sent to me. I am sorry that my copy has no date, but it is in reply to my letter of May 20. It says: The position of the Nigerian Government is—as General Gowon made very plain to me in Lagos—that they are prepared to negotiate at any time without pre-conditions. Colonel Ojukwu, however, still appears to insist on a ceasefire before negotiations, and this is itself a form of pre-condition.

Accepting that one seeks negotiations without conditions and the other asks for a ceasefire before negotiations, is not the solution of that problem within the reach of statesmanship?

I think I may say that in discussions with Mr. Maurice Foley, the Minister responsible for African Affairs, the suggestion emerged that a solution of that problem might be found by talks which place a ceasefire first, an embargo on arms second, and negotiations third. Even if there is a ceasefire, talks have to take place. I greatly hope that Her Majesty's Government are now urging that solution upon Lagos. I promised Mr. Maurice Foley that I would write to African Governments suggesting that they press this point of view upon the Biafran Administration. Only to-day, I have received my first reply from an African Government agreeing to do so.

This war is a terrible disaster. Vietnam has been awful; but more have died in the Nigerian-Biafran war than in Vietnam, and they have mostly been young children dead from starvation. I can see no objective at the present time more worthy of support by Her Majesty's Government than to try to bring this terrible war to an end; and I would urge that one of the methods to do it is an approach to the United Nations through its Security Council, not necessarily to intervene in the conflict between Nigeria and Biafra, but at least to ask its Member States that they shall in future refuse to send arms to either side.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to add only a little more to what we have heard from my noble friend Lord Brockway. He has the advantage of having been to Biafra and having seen the conditions there, and therefore of being able to come back and give an analysis such as we have heard to-day. My appeal is a perfectly simple one, concerned with elementary principles. I find it incomprehensible that we should have to come to a Labour Government and ask that they should cease supplying arms to a primitive country, one absolutely dependent upon agriculture, not having great stores of food, having no means available whereby they can meet an emergency of this kind and dependent upon the men and women in that country to provide then own food from their own little plots of land. And then, suddenly, modern methods of warfare with their appalling cost—guns, rifles, every kind of ballistic material, as they call it to-day—are used against these primitive people.

When first we raised this question I was a little sorry for my noble friend on the Front Bench because I had a feeling that he was being used to come to the House and reply on this issue. But now the months and the years are passing. This is not a Party question. Newspapers with a Conservative bias, Liberal papers and Labour papers have adopted entirely the same attitude. They all condemn a Government which provides arms in consequence of which there is widespread misery and malnutrition. When I am told that we are arranging for the Red Cross to send some kind of relief in terms of food and medical supplies to these children, it seems to me as though we are living in a kind of Alice in Wonderland world, because at the same time we are also giving our blessing to supplies of armaments to destroy those same children.

How on earth can the Labour Government reconcile their conscience with this policy? We are told throughout the country that youth is cynical; we say there is a cynicism abroad, and we adults do not know what to do in order to show these young people that there is so much in life to fight for in terms of the good things—it is an unfortunate expression—and that there are causes to which they should devote themselves. But the young people watch the Government providing arms for the destruction of completely helpless human beings. This is not a fantasy; we see pictures of these children in the newspapers and on television. The most eminent people in every field—and particularly the field of medicine—go to these countries and come back with the most fearful stories; yet the Labour Government continues to be a party to this state of affairs.

I find it difficult to believe that in all those years, up and down the country, members of the Government have stood on platforms denouncing the sale of armaments; and whenever they have denounced it of course the audience has cheered them, because audiences can respond to good intentions of that kind. Yet when they come to power they seem to be utterly merciless. The stupid part about it is that they have forgotten that the Labour Party was built on an idealistic approach.

I believe that this pragmatic attitude towards affairs may well be our undoing next year. The youth of the country watch us; the older people watch us. The older people wonder how on earth this attitude can be reconciled to the promises of the Party years ago. We have not much time. It sounds as though I am pressing a policy of expediency; but how can the Party go to an election next year, and how can its representatives stand on platforms when they will be asked from the body of the hall, "How can you reconcile your promises with the practice of providing armaments in this way?" I ask my noble friend, because surely individuals can do something. I saw the Foreign Secretary on television the other night, and when he was asked about these things he reminded the audience that a few hundred years ago in other wars this policy was adopted. My Lords, to-day we are celebrating the space age. Up there last night those marvellous men put a plaque on the Moon welcoming a world of peace. And here we are, in a debate, asking the Government to adopt a policy which calls for a humane approach to these primitive people. I ask my noble friend—


My Lords, I think my noble friend would wish to withdraw a reference to the people of Nigeria as "primitive people".


My Lords, no, of course not; the Nigerian people would agree. Does not my noble friend realise that thousands of babies are suffering from a nutritional disease which does not exist in this country and which has not existed in that form in this country since the last century are primitive people? Has he not seen the pictures of these children with their bandy legs, big bellies and big heads? Only primitive people who are chronically undernourished can suffer in that way. Of course they are primitive people, and that is precisely why we, who are more developed people, should look after them. care for them, and protect them. That the noble Lord challenges me in that way absolutely amazes me. He cannot have studied the reports of the doctors.

Baroness PLUMMER

My Lords, a native can be undernourished and not primitive. It does not mean to say that if you are primitive you are undernourished.


I am sorry; I do not agree with my noble friend. You are primitive if the advanced knowledge of nutrition which other people are able to enjoy has not reached you; you must be in a primitive state of development. Fortunately we are able to enjoy knowledge from research and investigations into things like nutrition. Of course they are primitive, because when we were setting up our little clinics and when we sent our doctors there we had to teach these mothers right from the beginning, just as one would teach primitive people. That is an absolutely accurate expression, and I am sure no Nigerian doctor would object to his people being termed "primitive" because of their complete lack of knowledge of these things, and also the fact that they have not the wherewithal to feed their children. They are again primitive because their methods of agriculture are completely primitive. These people have not got tractors—and my noble friend is an expert farmer. They have not got all the things necessary to produce plenty of food. And these are the people whom we are helping to destroy.

Therefore my final words to my noble friend will be that this is the ridiculous position. Everybody thinks that these wars, like the Vietnam war, will finish quickly. The big nations say, "We will throw in these armaments and it will soon be over". But they do not finish quickly, and we shall soon again find ourselves in the difficult position of having to withdraw and save our face. I ask my noble friend to use his influence in the right place to withdraw now. We shall not be regarded as being unfit to conduct a war. We can withdraw on moral grounds; and we can withdraw in that way with honour.

7.28 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has played a truly heroic part in this tragic controversy from the beginning, and I can only wish that we had a full House to listen to the heartrending speeches of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness who has just spoken. I shall resist the temptation, which might assail me on my first intervention in this kind of discussion, to offer my views at large on all the awful issues involved. I shall come at the matter from a single angle, though I shall not be frivolously brief.

I speak as the President of the British Association for World Government, and I am putting their point of view—a view which of course I entirely hold myself though no doubt in the case of the Association it goes with many different attitudes towards Government policy. So when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, replies to me, I hope he will not feel that he has to defend the Government against something I have said. Perhaps if I ex- pressed all my views he would find ground for criticisms, but so far as this proposal is concerned I hope that he will take it on its merits, and will not feel bound to try to "shoot it down" simply as part of his duty of loyalty to the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has called with deep effectiveness for an embargo on arms, and I am submitting that it would be necessary, for that to work properly, to follow it up by the establishment of a United Nations agency. Of course the agreement of both parties in the civil war might be secured, or it might be that the United Nations would feel able to compel an arms embargo against the wishes of one or both parties. Those are two possibilities. But in either situation it is clear that something like a United Nations control agency will be absolutely essential, if an arms embargo is to be effective.

As I said, I speak as President of the British Association for World Government, but not in the precise position which was occupied until his death by our deeply revered friend, the late Lord Attlee. In working with many of these people, I was Chairman of two Commissions while we were in Opposition, each concerned with the requirements of a permanent United Nations Police Force. I therefore come to this problem with that background. The aim of the Association is to offer suggestions which, if adopted, would equip the world authority—that is to say, the United Nations—with the agency and powers to fulfil its primary function of keeping the world at peace. A United Nations control agency, which I ask Her Majesty's Government to put forward in the Security Council, is one of the agencies necessary to prevent this terrible situation from continuing and, perhaps, spreading.

There are no doubt many steps involved, but these at least would be necessary: the appointment of arms inspectors, observers at the ports and airfields, a central intelligence unit, and frontier control units of Customs. No doubt other provisions would be necessary, and when the proposal has been gone into in great detail, as our Association have gone into it, it will no doubt be found that a good deal of elaboration will be needed. As I have implied, such an agency would be an adjunct to any permanent United Nations force sent to enforce or to impose an arms embargo. But even if there were no need for enforcement, because there was agreement by the combatants, this United Nations agency would still be equally necessary to provide the essential component which would enable both sides to agree to a cease-fire with confidence that it would be observed. It would make the cease-fire more effective, would make the cease-fire much more likely, because it would give both sides reason for trusting the efficacy of the cease-fire.

So far, I daresay, from what has been said by Government speakers elsewhere, it may be that there would be a good deal of agreement in principle with a statement of this sort. But let me deal with some of the difficulties. The right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary, whose complete, integrity I recognise in rather a special degree—I do not mean that I think he is infallible, any more than most of us, but in the general charges and criticisms of public life, to which I myself am subject, I would always exempt the Foreign Secretary—said on July 10, 1969, in the recent debate elsewhere, that the Government wished for a cease-fire but that the Russian Government would not agree unless the Nigerian Government themselves requested it.

Further, he stated that he had been informed by U Thant that it would not be possible to get the subject of an embargo put on the agenda. That was the way he expressed himself, but I understand that he was referring to the agenda of the Assembly. No doubt he assumed that people understood that. But it is perfectly possible for our Government, acting through the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, who has done such wonderful work at the United Nations and whom we were all glad to see today, to see that a proposal of this kind is put on the agenda of the Security Council. That is what I am proposing. So there is no possible technical objection to seeing it on the agenda.

Perhaps there are other objections. We are told that, on balance, the Afro-Asian bloc would be opposed, and no doubt we shall be told that other people would be opposed. I remember years ago, when I was chairman of one of the commissions to inquire into the international police force, that we were told at that time that Russia and India would be against it. If one brings forward any proposal of this kind one will always be told that somebody will be against it—very often Russia, and very often somebody else. But the truth is that, however desirable we think such a proposal, it will never, in any circumstances, be accepted unless we have the courage—I venture to say, even in this solemn House, the "guts"—to go after it, to press it. Of course, to bring forward proposals which are not very popular is not something which, on the whole, the Foreign Office likes to do. It is sometimes thought that there is a certain loss of face in finding oneself alone in proposing something.

The noble Baroness and I were once tellers together on a certain Division, and there was not a single Member of this House to support us. A little later our proposal, or the gist of it, was actually carried here. A small example like that, or similar examples throughout the whole of history, shows that, unless one is prepared to go all out—as the Labour?arty in past years went all out for its beliefs, for which they were ridiculed—such proposals will never come about. In other words, to put it more bluntly, if this proposal is worthwhile and serious, it will come about through British initiative, or it will not come about at all. Although you cannot call it a sin of commission if we do not introduce this resolution, I should certainly call it a very grave sin of omission.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway who knows so much more than I do and feels so deeply, as we all do—but he feels particularly deeply because he knows it all so well—has spoken about the arms which flow into Nigeria from these great countries. I think if we looked down from Mars or from the Moon and saw this war going on between these two parties, these separate States or whatever you like to call them, and saw the suffering and all the children dying, and were told that arms were being supplied by great powers, we should regard it as so appallingly criminal that we should refuse to believe it. Even if we were looking at it from below, by satanic standards it would cause rather a sensation. Therefore, I think we must agree that this is a horrible trade and, at the very least, we should be extremely reluctant to have any part in it whatever.

But with these remarks I do not want to join anything which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, could call a general criticism of the Government's policy, and for this reason. I want him to consider very seriously this proposal for a United Nations agency to control the supply of arms, and, if he agrees that such a proposal is the best solution, I should like to ask: what possible objection could there be to bringing it forward? Could any harm result from bringing it forward? Even if he says that the prospects are not good, I must point out that the prospects for many great achievements in the world are not very bright at the moment. This is something in which we cannot lose. We may win peace and we may win a spiritual victory, which is at least as important as peace. So it is a great honour to be backing up the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to-day.

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, before the Minister replies, may I say a few words from this side of the House to give wholehearted support to what noble Lords opposite and the noble Baroness have said in speaking on this Question? After this debate we are presumably going out to eat a good dinner and the thought of this war really puts one off one's food. This appalling civil war in Nigeria is an absolute scandal, and the public see it as a scandal.

Though I do not want to make a Party point here (because human lives are involved, and the situation is quite beyond Party politics) we are, I am afraid, paying the price of Fabian doctrine. What I should have liked to see the Government of this country do when this trouble first started—because, after all, this involves part of the Commonwealth—was to send in a paratroop division and to have said, "No, you cannot fight". They should have then gone to the United Nations and said, "We are acting under your auspices, but we are not allowing any fighting here". I am quite sure that you need guts in a situation like this, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said. We have not shown any guts; and, as I say, this involves part of the Commonwealth.

This war is dragging on. It is, I think, in its third year: anyway, it is well into its second year. I have seen people suffering from malnutrition, and I do not like it. I do not think anybody who has seen it likes it. The noble Baroness was quite right in saying that a great number of the people in Nigeria are primitive. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, appeared to disagree with that remark, but he is probably thinking of the people in the offices in Lagos, which is quite a different matter. I should like to ask the Minister to take the arguments of his noble friends really seriously, and, for heaven's sake! to try to give a lead from this country, because the situation is appalling. I am sure that the public cannot understand it. I know why we are supplying arms to the Federal Government: obviously, it is because Russia is supplying arms, and we are presumably frightened that if we do not supply arms then Russia will get a stranglehold on the country. But where tens of thousands of children are dying of starvation I do not think that political theory or the question of political advantage comes into it at all. It cannot when human lives are involved.

I impore the noble Lord to try to take a firm stand. It cannot be impossible because, after all, the United Nations imposed sanctions on Rhodesia, and in Rhodesia there has been no starvation of the Africans, and no murder. If some of the terrorists come over from Zambia then perhaps they may be shot, but there is no murder. Rhodesia has one of the highest standards of living in Africa; in fact, it is the highest standard of living after South Africa. Yet the United Nations were able to impose sanctions on Rhodesia. Am I to be told that they will not put sanctions on the supply of arms to Nigeria, where, if we can believe the reports (and I presume they are correct), tens of thousands of people are dying? There are no adjectives in the English language to describe the appalling hypocrisy of this, and the absolute horror that it raises in the heart of any sensitive person. It is absolutely ghastly. As we sit here there are people, including children, dying of starvation—and the British Government cannot do anything about it. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I implore the Minister to impress upon his right honourable friends: for heaven's sake! do now really take a strong lead.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, during my years in your Lordships' House I have been used to seeing strange combinations, such as my noble friend Lady Summerskill with the noble and learned Law Lords, but I must admit to surprise at finding the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, supporting my noble friend Lord Brockway. I do not think my noble friend Lord Brockway would support the idea put forward by the noble Viscount that we, the British, having ceased to be a Colonial Power, should have put a paratroop brigade or division, or a company of paratroopers, into a sovereign, independent country, even though it was within the Commonwealth.


It is better than having tens of thousands of children dying of starvation.


Then I suggest we can only beg to differ—and here I think the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, would agree with me in opposition to the noble Viscount. If the noble Viscount really knew about the Nigerian problem, the way in which it developed and the steps that were taken by this Government over many months to prevent it, he would not have made the strictures that he has made this evening. But I know that my noble friend Lord Brockway, although he disapproves of the actions of the Government in recent months, will at least give us credit for all the steps that we took to stop this war breaking out. My Lords, I shall look at what my noble friend Lord Longford has said, particularly as to the general nature of arms supply; and, if I may, I will deal in a moment with the immediate points that he made in relation to the war in Nigeria and Biafra.

The House will recall that my noble friend Lord Brockway asked a similar Question to that now on the Order Paper on April 16, to which I replied that, as has been said on many occasions, Her Majesty's Government believe that an embargo without the agreement of both sides as a consequence of a ceasefire is impracticable and would not stop the continued supply of arms through other sources. I fully understand the sentiment that the United Nations should be able to take some action to bring this war to an end, and no doubt my noble friend and others who have spoken this evening consider that an external embargo on arms supplies to both sides would powerfully help this war to grind to an end if a negotiated settlement could not be arrived at. But I must beg to differ.

My noble friend himself informed the House on February 11 (and he reminded us of it again this evening) that when he visited Nigeria and Biafra he found evidence of a highly financed and organised black market in arms from Europe which was supplying both sides. This kind of enterprise is not amenable to control by international agreements. Moreover, if we look at the position on the supply of arms to the two sides with the approval of Governments we find a curious situation.


My Lords, I am very interested in this point. Why does my noble friend say that the black market is not controllable? I agree that there are aspects of it which cannot be controlled, as has been shown in the case of sanctions against Rhodesia. But black market arms have to be exported, through ports, airports and so on. They can be controlled at the point of departure. The Swiss Government are doing it.


If my noble friend will permit me, I will make my own speech, and I think he will find that I shall deal with that point. I cannot deal with more than one point a: one time.


That was my noble friend's point. Lord SHEPHERD: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government openly acknowledge that we supply arms to the Federal Nigerian Government. They purchase those arms from this country and, as my noble friend knows, we have made limited quantities available. We have done this because of our long-standing connections with the armed forces of that country. This is well known; yet it is estimated that the purchases of arms in this country by the Nigerian Government amount to less than one-fifth, by value, of the arms purchased by the Nigerian Government. It is known that the Soviet Union also supples arms to the Federal Government, yet I am confident that the Soviet Union would not lay claim to be the only other supplier. We know that the Federal Government is able to buy arms from many other countries and from many other sources in Europe.

Our information is that the Soviet Union intends to continue to meet requests from the Federal Government for arms supplies. I believe that my noble friend's Committee for Peace in Nigeria also found, when it approached the Russian Embassy here, that the Soviet attitude was firm. I think that the noble Lord then went on to say that the Soviet Government would be willing, if other countries were prepared to have an embargo, to consider such action. I do not know at what level he got that assurance; but it is certainly something quite new to us.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend again? It is not quite new to Her Majesty's Government. I informed Her Majesty's Government of this some thirteen months ago.


My Lords, it may have been thirteen months ago; but a great deal has happened in thirteen months. I am speaking of the present time. If my noble friend has any further information he can give us, of course we shall be interested; but a lot depends upon at what level the noble Lord got his assurances from the Embassy.

If we look at supplies to the Biafran secessionists, then we first note that no country admits to supplying arms to them. Yet it is clear from the continuation of the war that very considerable supplies do reach them. Where countries from which supplies appear to reach the secessionists do not admit to supplying arms, it is difficult to believe that there would be much point in enlisting their co-operation in an international arms embargo, or that if they did agree this would lead to a marked diminution in supplies reaching the secessionists.

My noble friend spoke of licences. Is it not a fact that Sweden has an arms embargo on Nigeria? Is that not a fact? Yet it was possible for Biafra to get five, if not more, aircraft capable of a strike capability to attack Nigerian installations? I know how these aircraft got there; but Sweden, with its embargo, could not prevent it. No one would suggest that the Swedes would be willing accessories to such an evasion. Yet those aircraft got through. We know the channels by which they got through. My noble friend also knows how they got through, and how other equipment got through. What my noble friend has not said is how they are paid for. If we could deal with the manner in which this arms trade is financed perhaps we could then have a more effective arms embargo than we can at the moment foresee.

In the circumstances that I have described any embargo would be partial and one-sided. I am aware that Resolution No. 413 adopted by the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe on May 16 appealed to all Governments to establish jointly a general arms embargo as a step towards a general agreement covering a cease-fire and to adopt strict controls in order to prevent black market traffic in arms. While we sympathise with the objectives of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, of seeking a resolution to the conflict in Nigeria, we must also bear in mind the resolution of the Organisation of African Unity, which called on all members of the United Nations to refrain from any action likely to impede the peace or the unity of Nigeria.

In our view, an arms embargo by itself, imposed from outside, would not contribute to either the peace or the unity of Nigeria. Indeed, an inter-Governmental agreement to suspend arms to the parties in Nigeria would be ineffective unless the two sides themselves agreed not to receive arms. Without such an agreement, backed by effeotive inspection on the ground, for which a ceasefire would be essential, both sides could continue to obtain arms from private dealers as well as from countries which did not adhere to the embargo. It is unlikely that all countries would cooperate in an embargo or follow an example set by this country and possibly a few others. A partial embargo might favour one side or the other but would hardly contribute much towards our principal objective of bringing about a peaceful and durable settlement of this tragic conflict. There are, as my noble friend knows, practical difficulties.

I think we must also ask ourselves not only whether it would be right for us unilaterally to go to the United Nations but also, if we were to do so, what sort of success we should have here. Unlike the noble Viscount, I am not a colonialist. I believe that when our Colonies achieve their independence they should be treated like any other country, whether they are in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America or elsewhere. Once they have their independence, they should be treated as such. One of the major features of the United Nations' Charter of which we on this side take so much account is that we do not take to the United Nations matters which concern the internal situation of a Member State.

The Nigerians themselves would be opposed to the internationalisation of their problem and in this they would be supported by an overwhelming majority of other African and Asian countries. So to my noble friend, Lord Longford, and the question of whether this could be taken to the General Assembly. My advice is that if it were taken to the General Assembly there would not be sufficient members of the Assembly for this to be raised on the agenda.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I appreciate that I did not give the noble Lord any notice of my suggestions. I should be very sorry to feel that he was giving some sort of Governmental answer to-night to the point I have placed before him. I should be sorry because I think he would become committed to it; and it would be part of the mystique. So I hope that he will not take the line that my proposal should be, in some way, "shot down". By what he has said, he has clearly misunderstood it. I was talking about the Security Council.


My Lords, I am now dealing with the General Assembly, the question of O.A.U. and other African/Asian opinion in terms of the General Assembly. My noble friend Lord Brockway himself drew attention to the views of U Thant who, when he addressed a Press on April 17 said that if any member were to bring this item—the situation in Nigeria—before the Security Council or the General Assembly, he was sure that the item would not be inscribed on the Agenda.

I am bound to say that I believe that we, above all others, as an ex-colonial Power should avoid in the United Nations a confrontation between what would appear to be a group of white nations and those of Africa whose views have been entirely and freely expressed through the Organisation of African Unity. This does not mean that we are against an embargo on any terms. On the contrary: we should welcome an embargo if it could be achieved with the support of the two sides in Nigeria, because only in that way could we get the conditions in which it could be policed on the ground by outside observers.

My Lords, I take one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. He said that now there was very little that divided the two sides; that all that was needed was someone to bring them to the table. I am sure that here again there is one thing that we should not forget. Neither side lacks friends. Those friends have tried, over many months, not only to get the two sides together to negotiate a cease-fire, but also, perhaps with greater emphasis and with greater fear of the consequences of failure, to bring the two sides together so that food, medicine and other materials could be taken into Biafra. But despite all their friends, the two sides are still not prepared to talk. We believe that a ceasefire would work only if it were accompanied by an arms embargo; otherwise a cease-fire would be liable to become merely a period for regrouping and rearming before a renewed outbreak of fighting. This is why we make the connection between an embargo and a ceasefire; and in order to get an agreement there must be negotiations between the two sides.

I assure the House that our efforts are entirely and always directed to bringing the two sides together. However else we may be divided, I believe that there is a recognition on both sides of this House that the British Government have done all in their power to bring the two sides in Nigeria together. However attractive it may appear on paper or in speeches, I do not believe that a unilateral approach by this Government to the Security Council would have any chance of success. I believe that it would do infinite harm at this particular moment when discussions are proceeding in Lagos between the Federal Government and the International Committee of the Red Cross. But, in reply to my noble friend Lord Longford, certainly I will look at the points that he made.