HL Deb 25 November 1969 vol 305 cc1177-9

My Lords, I beg Leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in view of conflicting public statements in respect of the possibility of negotiations for peace between the Nigerian Government and the Biafran secessionists, what is the present situation; and to what extent food and drug supplies are now reaching the secessionists' area.]


My Lords, I have nothing further to add to my reply to my noble friend Lord Brockway on November 18 and 20. As regards the second part of my noble friend's Question, the position is that relief supplies of food and drugs are at present being supplied to the secessionist area by night flights, which we believe to be supplying about 165 tons a night.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the conflicting statements that are made make it very difficult for the general public, and indeed Members of this House, to assess the actual situation? Can anything be done by the Government to clarify the matter? In regard to the second part of my Question, I should like to ask him to what extent is it now estimated that the food and drugs which are being supplied are actually meeting, in some measure at least, the great need in that part of Nigeria?


My Lords, if I were to deal with the question about the conflicting reports from both sides, I fear I should go well beyond the length of my reply last Thursday. If my noble friend cares to put down a Question for Written Answer, I will try to give him the information in that form. In regard to the food position in Biafra, it was not quite as bad until some two months ago, when the situation began to get worse owing to the fact that crops had not yet been harvested. We do not believe the position is as bad as most of us have been led to believe.


My Lords, on the second point, may I ask my noble friend whether it is not the case that the harvest has already been consumed and that there is a very great danger that starvation in the Biafran region will increase desperately in the coming year? Secondly, and much more important, in view of the fact that both Nigeria and the Biafran Administration have accepted negotiations without conditions, is it not possible for the Government now to use their influence to secure that there shall be a meeting between Nigerian and Biafran representatives, perhaps during a period of truce, to try to bring an end to this war?


My Lords, as I have tried to indicate, the situation in Biafra in terms of food and suchlike is not as bad as we are led to believe. That does not in any way remove our serious concern about the growing position and the need, therefore, to find ways and means in which food may be brought to this particular area. In regard to the second part of the Question, I gave my noble friend a reply on November 18, and I would ask him to refer to it.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether there is any indication as to how much in the way of arms is arriving in Biafra by means of night flights?


My Lords, that is another question. Certainly I could not answer that particular question without notice.


My Lords, as my noble friend says, things are much better, but can he tell the House what the infantile mortality rate is this year as compared to last year?


My Lords, I suggest that my noble friend sees what I have just said. I did not say that things were better, I said that things were not as bad as we have been led to believe.

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