HL Deb 10 February 1970 vol 307 cc842-70

4.11 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: What action has been taken—

  1. (1) To provide food and medical supplies to the victims of the Nigeria-Biafra war; and
  2. (2) To contribute towards the means for rehabilitation.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I first table an Unstarred Question on Nigeria many weeks ago. I delayed it in order that my noble friend Lord Shepherd might be here. I do not think I need repeat the welcome which I have already expressed to him, but I should like to convey some apology to him that immediately on his arrival I have thrust him into discussing the issue, which must have been in the background of his mind while he was engaged in the investigation of islands in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific. I have no doubt that his extraordinary capacity to master a subject will make him equal to answering the debate.

On the whole, I do not regret the delay that has taken place before we consider this subject. My original Unstarred Question was put down even before the end of the war. One might have spoken then with a tension which would have been unwise. My second version of the Unstarred Question included two points which I have now deleted. The first was to ask Her Majesty's Government to assist in the maintenance of a ceasefire. When I first drafted that Question one feared the war might develop into a guerrilla war, and one had in mind the fear of the Ibos that they would be slaughtered. Happily, neither of those events has occurred. I want to pay my tribute to the discipline which has been exerted among the troops of the Federal Government, and to express the satisfaction I am sure we all feel at the fact that the Ibos have not suffered the massacre which they feared. It is always good to recognise one's mistakes—all of us probably make mistakes sometimes—and I recognise that it is not now necessary, in the circumstances in Nigeria, for the British Government to contribute towards the maintenance of peace, for the Federal Government is doing that satisfactorily.

The second reference which I have deleted was to some contribution towards an ultimate peace settlement. I wish to say this very emphatically: any settlement must be by the Nigerians themselves. It may be that from our experience we can contribute, but any contribution must be at the invitation of the Nigerian Government. The problem of a final settlement is extraordinarily difficult, with the various tribes which there are in Nigeria, but one hopes that in the new spirit that exists in Nigeria the representatives of the people may be able to get together and find a solution which will be satisfactory.

This fact makes me emphasise as strongly as I can the sovereignty and the independence of the Nigerian Government. At this moment they are rightly very sensitive to anything which is said which may seem to not recognise their authority. I have spent a good deal of my life struggling for the freedom and independence of African peoples, and the last thing I should want to contribute in what I am saying this evening would be anything which suggested that the Federal Government did not have that independence. We must recognise that in internal affairs the responsibility rests entirely with the Federal Government. I say that not only to this House; I hope that the Ibo people in Nigeria will recognise this and will co-operate with the Federal Government in its fulfilment.

I pay tribute to the magnanimity of General Gowon. I very much doubt whether, at the end of any war in history (and I have tried to find precedents), there has been a case where the leader of the victorious side has spoken in such a reconciling spirit to those who have been his enemies and whom he has defeated. Those of us who have met General Gowon had little doubt about his approach and about his personal character. I never believed the allegations that he was engaged in a policy of genocide with regard to the Ibo people.

It is true that they suffered terrible massacres in the North. It is true that they had their million dead, caused by starvation—especially to the children. But that was never the will of General Gowon. They way he has spoken to the Ibo people, welcoming them back, offering them their old posts—although there will be difficulties with those who have been filling them in the meanwhile—gives us the greatest hope that there may be between the Nigerian people and the Biafrans a basis of reconciliation in the future. I have been approached frequently in the past few days by those who were from the Eastern Region of Nigeria and are now in this country, and who fear to return to Nigeria. I would say to them that all the evidence I am getting from Lagos indicates that they will be treated fairly when they return.

On this point, may I raise one issue with Her Majesty's Government? There are many students from the Eastern Region in this country. Twenty per cent. of them have been living on Nigerian State scholarships. They have in the past been denied those grants, justifiably from the point of view of the Federal Government, unless they took an oath of loyalty to the Federal Government. I hope that that difficulty will not now persist. There are also 80 per cent. of the students who have not been receiving scholarships at all: they have come as private students. Their parents now have no currency with which they can pay for their maintenance here. I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government to consider the problem of those students; perhaps to make contact with the African Educational Trust, which has done so much in these matters, in order to relieve that situation.

My Lords, I now turn to the two questions which I put particularly this afternoon. The first is the question of relief for the hungry and the destitute, and the second is the question regarding later rehabilitation. I want to say at once that I have not taken the view of some of my friends that the Government have been remiss regarding either the urgency or the extent of the help they have given. Their figures were quite remarkable in this respect and I appreciate tremendously what was done.

There is some doubt about the extent of relief which now has to be given. In a sense I am glad that we are having this debate when the conflict between my noble friend Lord Hunt and the journalists who visited Port Harcourt and the East is no longer an immediate issue. In my view, both were accurate. The Report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was an overall view of the situation; the reports of my journalist friends and colleagues were reports of what they saw— and they saw isolated events. However, those of us who have been to the East cannot have any doubt at all that the degree of hunger and starvation which remains must still be very great. Indeed, there is a report this morning by the Nigerian Red Cross that they are providing food now for one million people.

I feel impelled to pay my tribute, as one who has seen the relief which has been given during the war, to the Church Missions, to the Catholic Church and to other Churches which have been engaged in this task. I say that as a Humanist. But if the motivation of religion can lead to the kind of devotion and service and sacrifice which have been reflected by Catholic priests, Catholic nuns and Free Church and Anglican leaders, then that is a very great tribute to the real influence of spiritual powers which I want to be the first to recognise.

I saw those priests and those nuns feeding 3,000 women for their one meal a day at six o'clock in the morning, feeding 3,000 children for their one meal a day at six o'clock in the morning, because of the fear of bombs later. I have a new view of nuns. I regarded them as serious and unsmiling, but to see one of those Catholic nuns singing and dancing among those 3,000 children and raising their spirits was quite a revelation to me of the kind of persons nuns are. I have seen since he has returned to this country the priest who was responsible for giving those 3,000 children their one meal a day. He said that the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his life was to tell those children that next day there would be no food for them. The disappearance of the service of the International Red Cross, the disappearance of practically all relief during the week before the end of the war must have intensified enormously the hunger and the starvation among those people.

It has been argued that the service which the Churches gave prolonged the war. They could have done nothing else. They were there as missionaries. Here were their people, here were their children, suffering from starvation. They could do nothing else but seek to feed them. But, beyond that, I think it is very doubtful indeed that the contribution they made to end hunger and starvation prolonged the war. If they had withheld, the main conflict might have collapsed, but the war would have become guerrilla warfare which would have made a solution of the problem of Nigeria much more difficult than it is now.

I want to say one thing to General Gowon, I think as a friend. I cannot tell your Lordships of his kindness and courtesy when we were there. When we were unable to visit Port Harcourt because of a breakdown of a 'plane there was a personal message from him by special messenger expressing his regret and asking us to stay on, or to return, even though we had been putting forward proposals which might not have been acceptable to him. In that spirit of friendship I want to ask him to reconsider the steps which he has taken against the Catholic priests and others who did this service in the Eastern Region. They are charged with entering what was Biafra illegally. They were not alone in that. I was guilty of it; Mr. James Griffiths, the ex-Colonial Secretary, was guilty of it; official representatives of the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party were guilty of it; the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Leader of the Opposition, was guilty of it; we could enter that territory no way except by Uli airport. I would make a sincere but a most appreciative appeal to General Gowon to reconsider the action he has taken in this matter.

My Lords, I want to conclude by concentrating on a series of proposals, which I hope are constructive, to Her Majesty's Government. They are not directed to the Nigerian Government. The Nigerian Government have their own responsibility, and even any aid which can be given from this country must be given in co-operation with them, with their consent and with their invitation. But in view of Britain's close association with Nigeria over the years it may be of some value to suggest to Her Majesty's Government what they might do in this respect.

The first problem is the problem of currency. I appreciate that the Federal Government could not accept the currency which was established by the administration in Biafra during the period of their struggle for secession. But the result of that is very terrible. It means that among the 3 million people who are still in that enclave there is no way at all in which they can buy food or their other needs. I hope that there may be some approach by Her Majesty's Government, perhaps through the International Monetary Fund, by which this problem, difficult though I recognise it is, might be solved.

Secondly, these people are now returning to their plots and their huts, and they find everything devastated—devastated not only by the Nigerian advance but also by Biafran troops. They are approaching the planting season, with their land, their huts, their homes, destroyed. There is an extraordinary necessity at this moment for seeds, for farm implements and for materials with which they can rebuild their homes. I hope that Her Majesty's Government, particularly in connection with seeds and farm implements, may be able to consider with the Nigerian Government whether some contribution can be made in those ways.

I turn to the second point in my Question, rehabilitation. Construction will be immensely important. Engineers, machines and materials will be necessary for the building of roads, the building of bridges and the construction of buildings. May I just illustrate that by one point? There is the Onitsha-Asaba bridge, a vital means of communication between East and West. If there is going to be reconstruction it is imperative that that bridge is rebuilt, not merely in a temporary way but in a final way, so that it is able to carry heavy lorries and all the normal traffic of peace time. I hope that Her Majesty's Government may be able to discuss with the Nigerian Government ways in which that help, by way of personnel and materials, may be given.

It is important also that the industries in this area should be revived. I do not think I need speak for the oil industry and B.P.-Shell—they are probably capable of doing it themselves. But there are the textiles at Aba Onitsha; there is the pottery at Umahia; there is the asbestos at Enugu—all of which will need assistance if they are to be revived. Indeed, one would like to think that in this opportunity of reconstruction new light industries might be established. There is the covered market at Onitsha, where 70 per cent. of the buildings were damaged or destroyed. I wonder whether it would be possible for our Ministry of Overseas Development to enter into discussion with the Nigerian Government as to how help could be given in these directions.

Lastly, my Lords, I turn to education. I suppose that the Ibos in the East were the most educationally developed people in the whole of black Africa, not only in their primary schools but in their secondary schools, which certainly no other African country could outdo. Financially it will be necessary to get these educational services going again. There is a particular problem for the secondary schools because the students have been fee-paying and their parents now have no money with which to pay the fees. There is the closed university of Nsukka, which used to be a pride. I would urge that aid should be given which should include the school services, from primary and secondary up to university level.

My Lords, our Government provided arms to the Nigerian Government during the war. I hope that they will now offer, in co-operation and with their full consent, aid in the way of relief and rehabilitation in the ways that I have suggested. Nigeria was a great pride to us. Our hope now must be that, though the task is extraordinarily difficult, they will find the means to fulfil it and will make Nigeria a scene of greater pride than ever before.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I feel it a great privilege to follow the remarkable speech we have just heard. I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on many occasions, and on many occasions I have found myself in disagreement with him, but I have never questioned the sincerity of his humanity, and that shone through every word that he has spoken to us this afternoon. I should like to join with him in paying some of the tributes that he has paid—to join with him in paying them from these Benches. I would join with him in paying a tribute to the restraint of the troops of the Federal Government. I would join with him in paying a tribute to the magnanimity of General Gowon, and also I would repeat with him the importance that we on these Benches feel lies in remembering that Nigeria is a sovereign, independent and proud State, and anything that we are able to do in this country must, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, be at the invitation of the Nigerians themselves.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said that much of his life has been spent in fighting for the independence of African peoples. Indeed, I remember only too well when I was at the Colonial Office receiving streams of letters from the noble Lord. I am afraid he did not always get answers that he found satisfactory, but I can assure him now that I knew that they were written in good heart, and to-day I feel happy that I am able to join with him. I find myself in agreement with practically every single word that he has said, and I feel that the speech he has made to-day will be really useful, not only in this country, but in Nigeria also.

My Lords, I should like to add my tribute to the missionaries. I add it as a practising Christian. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is a practising Humanist. But, be that as it may, we both can give our praise to missionaries of whatever denomination they may have been, who unfailingly did what they could, as best they could, for the Nigerian people, whether they were Federal or whether they were on the Biafran side. I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in that also. The noble Lord ended his speech with a number of concrete proposals, and no doubt the noble Lord who is to reply will deal with them one by one. I would add my word In support of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, over the possibility of Her Majesty's Government making available seeds and agricultural implements. I believe that would be an exceedingly helpful action. But we realise that it cannot be done if it is not the wish of the Nigerian people, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, was at great pains to emphasise this point.

I join with him also in believing that it is important that the reconstruction that is to be carried out in Nigeria should not be a makeshift, temporary affair. In fact, in all that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, was saying he was seeing and hoping that out of this fearful disaster which has befallen these unfortunate people something better may emerge. I pray that Her Majesty's Government and the British people will be able to play a part in assisting the Nigerians to bring this about.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to the Ministry of Overseas Development having discussions with the Nigerian Government, and I hope that the noble Lord who is to reply will tell us what are the possibilities here. There was also the question of aid towards education. Here again I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and I am sure that I am fully justified in saying that noble Lords on these Benches support this suggestion of the noble Lord. These have been terrible months, and it has been very difficult for any of us to hold an absolutely consistent point of view. Lord Brockway has spoken to-day with relief that something which he had anticipated, and which many of us also feared, did not take place; that is, guerrilla warfare. Like him, I thank God that this did not happen.

As for the noble Lord's remarks about the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the journalists, these seem to me to be absolutely in keeping with everything else he said; he was absolutely generous and fair. I have no doubt that the journalists were not seeking to magnify things; they were reporting what they saw, and these were, as I think the noble Lord said, isolated events. I have some experience of Africa, and I can quite well imagine how one might see something very distasteful and unpleasant, such as they did see, and might assume that this was the position everywhere else. We had, fortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who was able to take an overall view. He also was generous in the way he spoke about the journalists. I think there is nothing more to be said on this matter, but I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, raised the point. With the noble Lord and, I am sure, with all other noble Lords and Ladies in this House, I pray that out of this disastrous war good might yet come.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Marquess in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on his speech this afternoon and thanking him for it. I should also like to thank the noble Lord for altering the original wording of the Question on the Order Paper. I think he would be the first to agree—in fact I think he has done so—that some of the matters raised originally have been overtaken by events, and that the two which are now before us are more appropriate. Quite apart from that, I think this debate will be of value if only to enable the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to make a contribution. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, or to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, who, I believe is to make his maiden speech. We shall certainly look forward to hearing what he has to say.

I should like to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. He really has had a very difficult task, one which I know he has carried out with the conscientiousness that we expect from him. In offering a few comments, I do not want even by implication to appear to be approving policies which involve interfering with the internal affairs of an independent sovereign State. But I feel bound to refer briefly to past history, and not merely with the benefit of hind-sight. At the same time, I must make it clear that I am expressing only my own point of view; I do not wish to commit anyone else. Looking back, I think there were two logical policies that might have been pursued by Her Majesty's Government. One was to say at the outset to the Federal authorities that we recognised this as a revolt they had to deal with, and that Britain would provide, not only those arms to which we felt already committed, but all the arms that they required, so that it would not be necessary for them to seek help from other countries, such as the Soviet Union. It may be that looking at it purely from the point of view of self-interest and not from any humanitarian motives, that would have been in the best interests of Britain.

The alternative policy, I believe, would have been very regretfully to regard this as a civil war and to devote our efforts wholly to medical aid to both sides: to provide food and other forms of aid, but to refuse to provide any arms at all to either side, however unpopular that would have been with the Federal Government. We should have tried to persuade other countries to do likewise, though maybe unsuccessfully. I know it is extremly difficult to be logical in international politics, but at least that would have been a logical and humanitarian policy to pursue.

However, that is all past history, and my only reason for mentioning it is that I believe that a considerable number of people in this country had an uneasy conscience about what they regarded as an inconsistent policy. It appeared that Britain was with one hand providing arms and with the other hand providing relief to lessen the suffering caused by the use of the arms which we had provided. It may be that that uneasy conscience explains the strength of the Biafran (as it was called) appeal. But certainly I do not believe that the motive was a desire to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign State. I believe that, so far as the ordinary people of this country were concerned, the motive was undoubtedly humanitarian.

That must be the background to the questions that are being asked to-day. I hope that with the passage of time those in positions of responsibility in Nigeria will recognise the sincerity of those humanitarian motives. I will not waste the time of the House by repeating questions that have already been asked, but there are three questions that I should like to put which are ancillary to the main questions. Noble Lords will know that for a number of years valuable work has been done in Nigeria by Unicef. This was carried on before the conflict started and, so far as practical, I believe that it was continued during the conflict both in the Nigerian territory and in the Eastern Region. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, can assure us that this work is continuing, as I believe it is, and also whether there are any obstacles so far as the Eastern Region are concerned. I am sure he would agree with me that, so far as an organisation such as that is concerned, there were and are no political motives.

Secondly, during this tragic conflict substantial contributions have been made in this country to Oxfam. I mention that body by way of illustration. Again, I am quite sure that there were no political motives. I believe that this money was given, often in quite small amounts, on humanitarian grounds. I wonder whether in winding up the noble Lord will be able to tell us if the relief for which this money was subscribed is reaching the places where it is most needed.

My third and last question has already been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I gave private notice of it to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. As Lord Brockway has said, there are in this country a number of Nigerian students, some but not all of them Ibos. During the period of the conflict no financial assistance was available for those students here in London and in other parts of this country. Several hundred were helped by voluntary organisations. I know of one, not an Ibo, who was greatly helped by Toc H. This is a continuing problem, because I understand that voluntary aid may not still be available. There is a continuing problem for students who will not finish their studies until the end of June, 1971. Their number is not great; I believe it is about 100. Is it possible for us to be told what is the prospect of the Nigerian Government taking responsibility for financing their nationals and helping them to complete 1heir studies here? Alternatively, is there; anything that the British Government can do as a form of practical aid? I think this is relevant to the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, because these students can, and I hope will, play an important part in the rehabilitation of their country, in the economic and administrative success of the Nigeria of the future. Therefore, I think that we here are justified in expressing our concern.

In conclusion, may I again say that we shall listen with great interest to anything that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has to tell us, and also to the latest information that will be provided when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, winds up.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, it would seem almost impertinent for one so recently as last Wednesday introduced into your Lordships' House to raise his voice in a maiden speech. I do so, not only because the rehabilitation of wartorn Nigeria must be a continuing concern to all Christian people, but also because since the Toronto Conference of 1963 my Diocese of Guildford has been linked with (he whole Anglican Province of West Africa in general, and with Nigeria in particular. I and some of my colleagues have been able to travel fairly extensively on both sides of the Niger, to support continuously since then various projects there, to meet and make friends there, especially with my brother Bishops and the clergy, mostly African; and to maintain regular correspondence with not a few of them, both East and West of the Niger, before and during the hostilities.

I believe that Christian opinion, every sort of opinion of men and women of good will, will echo the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to the chivalrous and generous attitude taken by General Gowon during the hostilities and since the end of the fighting. Those of us who have had the privilege of meeting and talking and praying with him know the source of his ideals, and are not in the least surprised. But I think we all should be glad to echo the tributes that have already been paid. Your Lordships will recollect that what most troubled the prophet Job was the advice of his friends. I cannot but think that it is wholly understandable if, at times, General Gowon has felt the same about the way in which some people in this country have showered advice on the Government of Nigeria. Surely it is more important, as has been suggested by other noble Lords, to be ready in any way to give what is asked when it is asked for, within the proper limit of our ability, and to show confidence in those on the spot who are grappling with so tremendous a problem of reconciliation.

Only this day I received a letter suggesting some of the problems which have been hinted at by my noble friend Lord Brockway, who I suspect knew more about Africa than I do now before I was born. We have all learned with satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government have been supplying all the transport and the medical supplies that we have been asked to supply and tents for 10,000 people to assist troop withdrawals, and, in addition, have spent about £1 million on getting these immediate supplies out by the speediest method. This is indeed good news, especially as Lord Brockway has reminded us, and as I well know, that the end of February will be the latest time for planting, and seeds and tools must be got there immediately.

It is good to know that the Christian Council of Nigeria is helping with relief work and making every effort to act as a reconciling influence; and I have reason to know that Christian Aid and similar bodies here in this country are anxious to do all they can to assist the Nigerian authorities. Among those helping with the Nigerian Red Cross in the rehabilitation, missionaries are playing their full part. May I echo once again the tribute paid by the noble Lord to missionaries of all denominations, not a few personally known to me, whose actions and self-sacrifice in war and peace are seldom recorded in the headlines but are not forgotten in grateful hearts. I hope he will forgive me if I say that one ancillary benefit from all this has been to educate the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in the gaiety and joy of the nuns.

The size of the task facing any Government in the aftermath of war is too well known to many of your Lordships for anyone to attempt to underestimate it, but it is all too easy, I suggest, to forget that a nation is a collection of individuals, with personal and family needs very like one's own. So it was in an endeavour to remember just this that some of us realised that one of the most personal losses that would be suffered by Bishops on both sides of the Niger would be the loss of every single book they possessed. I think, therefore, that your Lordships will be glad to know that, at our request, every English Bishop subscribed to a special fund which we set up to establish at least the basic ingredients of a theological library without which any Christian leader is sadly at a loss. In the last few days I have received a letter from a Bishop in the Eastern Region who has lost almost everything, expressing his heartfelt gratitude for this gesture of encouragement in the year in which he retires from the ministry of the Church. We await instructions from the Nigerian authorities as to when and how to send, not only for Bishops but for clergy and for teachers and their families, these and other necessities which we have stockpiled in our dioceses ready for dispatch.

As has been said this afternoon by many more experienced than I in the knowledge of Africa, we must go on being sensitive to the fact that interference in Nigerian affairs is rightly and naturally resented. "Here am I; send him" is a well-known slogan all too often adopted. I do not think that we must be deterred, however, or diverted from showing genuine concern, by the fear of being charged with interference. After all, like the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, I know many people individually there. They are my fellow-Christians, my brother Bishops. I am proud to tell the House that last year, in the middle of the war, one of them came out from East of the Niger, and when consecrating the Bishop in Sierra Leone I looked across and saw that he had no ring. I thought it was only right that he should have a ring from Guildford, and I took off my ring and gave it to him. I suppose that now, in peace, I shall have the privilege of worshipping with him again, now that he can return, a new Bishop, for the first time to his own diocese. I am bound to go on anxiously watching throughout these months, especially when there is no sustained news hitting the headlines.

I think I cannot better sum up what I have tried to say than in some words which came to me yesterday from Lagos, addressed to his diocese at the end of last month by Seth Kale, the saintly African Bishop of Lagos. This is what he writes: The Head of State has said that the war was not fought between two enemies and there is no question of victor and vanquished. We all have to address ourselves to the new tasks now before the nation—tasks of rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation. It is the duty of every Christian to play his part worthily in this different sphere of our postwar national service. May God guide and bless all who take counsel for the welfare of the people and the removal permanently of all obstacles in the way of unity and perfect confidence and trust towards one another. Thus he ends. I believe there are many in this country who, with me, caring deeply for the people and welfare of Nigeria, would gladly echo that prayer.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me, a relative"new boy"in your Lordships' House, to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford and, on your behalf, to offer our congratulations to him on his maiden speech. I only gathered that this would be my happy lot as this debate started. I know I shall be voicing the feelings of everybody here when I say that I listened, as all your Lordships will have listened, to a speech full of sincerity, well-informed, most interesting and, if I may add without fear of being misunderstood, for I have relatively little experience, well up to the standard of the speeches we expect to hear from the Bishops' Bench. I will not say that it was of a higher standard, or it might put him in difficulty with his fellow Bishops.

May I also say how much I appreciated the remarks of the noble Marquess, and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, on the much publicised confrontation between myself and the Press. I was a little concerned when the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred to it as not an immediate issue, in case he felt that there might be some future occasion when we should have another happy confrontation. I have no such intention myself, although I cannot promise there will never be one in future. In general, I have the highest regard for the integrity and the rightful freedom of our Press.

I admit, and I admitted it to the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that initially I had some misgivings about the Unstarred Question in the terms he had originally put it down, but I told him, and I say now, that I am glad he has raised these more limited questions so that all the details of the Government's action and intention, both in regard to the kind of help and the speed with which that help was provided and is being provided in response to the requests of the Federal Military Government, should be brought together, brought up to date and made clear in your Lordships' House and for all who care to read our debate outside.

I have no interest to declare in this matter at all. I am speaking now, as I have all along, as an independent witness and adviser on the relief effort in Nigeria when I say that I think this response, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the war, reflects very great credit on the Government. What is more, the speed with which these considerable contributions in material and skilled personnel were set to Lagos was little short of a miracle. This speaks wonders for the efficiency and devotion of officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Overseas Development, the Ministry of Defence and other Departments of State who all too seldom get the credit they deserve, and also, of course, the commercial agencies who are responsible to a large extent for the deliveries.

I should like to carry the question of delivery a little further forward, because, after all, it is one tiling to get these materials and these people to Lagos— the Landrovers, the trucks, the medical stores, the tentage and all the skilled people. But the real test of their usefulness to the crash programme which the Nigerian Red Cross was mounting was their arrival in the distressed areas where they were, and when; they still are, so desperately needed.

This is no place (and I follow all the other speakers in stressing this; and I know it perhaps as well as some other people in your Lordships' House, and possibly even better) to comment on the administration of the Nigerian Red Cross. But I should like to say how highly I regard their President, Sir Adetekunbu Ademola, and their administrator, Mr. Said Mahomet, and their former counterparts, Sir Louis Mbanefo and Mr. Moses Iloh, from the former Biafran Red Cross, who are co-operating with the Nigerian Red Cross in relief in the East Central State. But I think it is a matter of legitimate interest and concern to hear whether every truck, every Landrover, all the medical stores, every doctor, every nurse, every relief worker—everything that has been asked for—has in fact reached the intended destination and is fulfilling its intended function. I, for one, hope that the Minister may be able to throw some light on this.

Perhaps, at the risk of digressing, I may say that I can throw a little light upon it from personal experience of somebody I happen to know very well, a nurse who arrived on the Tuesday, the day before my colleagues and I left Lagos, and who, with 31 others, reached her destination in the former enclave— and this particular nurse in Umuahia— on the Thursday, 48 hours later. That is not bad going. I can also confirm the speed of getting visa clearance, of which this was one instance; the cutting down of time in clearing vehicles and other material through the Customs, in registering the vehicles, and the efficiency of the Nigerian Relief Centre in moving the men and the material forward. This work was going splendidly when I left Lagos less than three weeks ago, and I hope that it is still going as well as it was then. The interval between the arrival in Lagos and the departure to the forward area varied between 24 and 48 hours. Having heard and seen some of the criticism earlier in the war of the delays which were going on in Lagos, I think this is a remarkable thing. This is, in addition to what my colleagues and I saw in the East Central State, in part what I had in mind when I said that I thought in many important respects the situation was encouraging and would continue to improve with every day that passed.

I have only one further observation to make, and I am following the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and other speakers in making it. and possibly extending it knowing that this is not the end of the anxiety which we must all continue to share with our Nigerian friends, and which has prompted our insistent—some would say our importunate persistent— urge to help. It is bound to take time to remove the suffering, to restore order from chaos; and that profoundly modest and humble man, and honest man, General Gowon, has said as much himself. But in the hope that this will be the last occasion that it will be found necessary to debate this subject in our Parliament, I am taking the opportunity to say just this one thing now. I have been privileged to be personally associated with the relief problems in the Nigeria/Biafra war on a number of occasions since July, 1968. I have seen our people and other expatriates from many countries serving with Nigerians, with Ibos, if you like—it is quite immaterial—the needs of Nigerians in their hour of need; or perhaps I should say in their two and a half years of need.

I have seen what were for many the unaccustomed and appalling conditions in which they have done their duty, and the cheerful and devoted way in which they have stuck to their posts. I have seen them on the perimeter and all around the perimeter, in the South-East State, in the area of Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Itu and Uyo; at Udi and Enugu in the North; at Onitsa and Asaba in the West, and, more recently, inside what was the enclave at Orlu, Owerri, Santana, Ikpuro, Uli, Ihiala and other places. But whether they were feeding refugees, or providing medical help, or driving or maintaining trucks, or running the relief administration in the docks at Calabar or running the relief centre in Lagos, I am left with a sense of wonder at man's humanity to man which is quite oblivious of the differences of race. And whether they were serving with the Save the Children Fund, with Oxfam or the Salvation Army; with one of the national Red Cross organisations, including our own, or the International Committee of the Red Cross; and whether they were Lutherans or Protestants, or (as a rightful tribute has been paid to them) Roman Catholic Fathers and nuns of Caritas or one of the other Roman Catholic organisations, or whether they were simply Humanists I should like to pay my tribute to them all. And I know that your Lordships will feel as I do about them.

If ever medals were appropriate to a civil war—and I do not suggest they are—these are the men, these are the women who, with their Nigerian colleagues (and I have particularly in mind the Ibo doctors and nurses and relief workers) deserve the medals. It has been a great privilege, a great experience, a great lesson for myself to be associated with Nigeria in her time of trouble, and I look forward to seeing Nigeria in her years of recovery. In closing I should like, if I may, to quote just one line from my Report about which I feel absolutely certain. It is that: The Nigerian people will emerge from this conflict enhanced in the estimate of people everywhere not only for their ability to forgive and forget, but also to manage their own affairs.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to raise one point which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, may be able to answer. We all know that the Ibos are a remarkably resilient people, great adepts at trade and commerce, and I cannot help feeling that food' would have been flowing very quickly into their enclave had the means of exchange existed to buy it. It is a well-known fact that in the aftermath of war one of the most important needs is to ensure that the civil population have purchasing power. At one stage it was quite clear that there was no exchange rate between the Biafran money and that of 'the Federation of Nigeria. I asked one of the Ministers a question about that, and he said that the matter was under consideration; but it seems to have taken a very long time to consider. One appreciates the anxieties of the Federal finance people about fixing any rate of exchange at all, because there is always the risk that they may be "had" by a quite unexpected flood of what they would regard as a spurious currency. Nevertheless, if you want to feed a starving civil population the quickest way to do it is to ensure that they have some purchasing power, and in places like Nigeria food will then begin to flow in.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we hope this is the last occasion on which we in a British House of Parliament shall debate Nigeria. I have been very concerned at the prospect of this debate. I am sure my noble friend Lord Brockway will agree that certain pressures were put upon him not to proceed with this debate. The reason was simple. We were all very conscious—I particularly so, having now had a long connection with Nigeria—of the growing and very sensitive feeling in Nigeria about countries continually advising them how to solve an African and a Nigerian problem.

I think one can understand their feelings when one looks back over two years, when the Federal Government had few voices speaking in their support against an increasing barrage of criticism in the Press, on television and on radio, not only in this country, but throughout Europe, Canada and the United States. Tribute has been paid to General Gowon. I have had a good deal to do with General Gowon, and I think it was my faith in him that made it possible to defend—as I had to do on an almost everyday basis in your Lordships' House—not only British policy but also what the Federal Military Government in Nigeria was seeking to achieve.

This debate has been a very different debate from what I had anticipated. In fact, the speech of my noble friend Lord Brockway set a special tone, and the debate has been of such a character that I should be most happy tomorrow to send a copy of your Lordships' Hansard to General Gowon.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt, but my noble friend has said that certain pressures were brought to bear on me. May I make it clear that I had decided to alter the terms of my Question before any of those pressures began; that I had decided to speak in the way I have spoken; and that I think I convinced five who represented the Front Bench, the Government or others who came to see me, that this debate would be of value rather than of harm.


My Lords, I am glad my noble friend had confidence in your Lordships' House. But, as I am sure he will agree, although he may have good intentions one is never quite sure what may happen afterwards.

If I may repeat what I think all noble Lords have said, we must always regard Nigeria, and for that matter any other Commonwealth country, as a sovereign and independent country. It therefore follows that the responsibility for providing relief for all those in need in Nigeria rests entirely with the Nigerian Government. The Nigerians have fully accepted this responsibility of providing relief for their own kith and kin and are themselves mounting a massive relief operation. Last year, while the fighting was still continuing, they transferred the authority for co-ordinating relief from the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Nigerian Rehabilitation Commission and the Nigerian Red Cross. Last month, as soon as the fighting ended, the Federal authorities made it clear that they would themselves determine and control the entire relief effort, including the co-ordination of all assistance from countries overseas. For this purpose they set up a command structure in the Ministry of Economic Development and Re-construction, under its Permanent Secretary, Mr. Ayida, under whose control the work of rehabilitation is being carried out by the Rehabilitation Commission and the work of emergency relief by the Nigerian Red Cross, headed by Mr. Said Mohammed.

As soon as the war ended, there was, quite naturally, a flood of pressing offers of help of every conceivable description from all over the world. Some Governments and private organisations presented their offers immediately to the Federal authorities. Others spoke, and even acted, in a way which suggested that they intended to provide the relief aid which they imagined might be needed by simply flying it in, without observing any procedures of co-ordination or clearance. In this situation it was clearly essential for the Nigerian authorities to insist on their right, and their duty, to control and co-ordinate all these offers, to relate them to actual needs, and to ensure that the help which was given was provided in an orderly and effective manner. This duty the Federal authorities at once undertook.

The responsibility of the British Government, by contrast, has been limited to the provision of such relief assistance as the Nigerian authorities might themselves request. We, too, have sought faithfully and promptly to discharge that responsibility. Before the end of the fighting we had certain discussions with the Federal authorities, the International Red Cross and a number of other Governments about the problem of relief which would arise when the end of the war came. It was partly as a result of these contingency discussions that food and medical stockpiles were established at a number of points around the perimeter of the enclave, even before the fighting ended. Thus at the end of the war the bulk of the food and most of the drugs required were already available in Nigeria and close to the areas of greatest need.

The most immediate and pressing problem was to take those precious supplies into the heart of the area of need and to distribute them. For this purpose, an immediate augmentation of the Nigerian Red Cross vehicle fleet was necessary. There was also some requirement for additional medical staff, although the Nigerian authorities were determined to make the maximum use in the relief operation of Nigerian personnel, including former secessionist supporters, as an essential part of General Gowon's policy of reintegration and national reconciliation.

As soon as the fighting ended, Her Majesty's Government made known to the Federal authorities their readiness to meet at once any request for help which the Nigerians themselves might put to us. Within a short time of the new relief organisation being set up in Lagos, a firm list of requests was passed to us, and within hours of our receiving that request the first aircraft load of urgently needed vehicles and medical supplies was on its way from Britain to Nigeria. Here, my Lords, I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in a tribute to the officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and, if I may say so, in particular to our diplomatic staff in Lagos, who have worked very hard, through many late nights, in order to see that these urgently needed goods were dispatched.

Throughout this period our civil airlift rapidly gained momentum. Within about two weeks we delivered all the vehicles, tents and farm tools, and almost all the other supplies for which we had been asked. These comprised 50 Landrovers (15 of which were generously given by BEWAC); 110 4-ton trucks; 534 tents and 153 marquees (enough to accommodate about 10,000 people); nearly 50 tons of medical stores; 30 tons of vehicle spare parts, and a large consignment of farm tools for rehabilitation purposes.

My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary announced in another place on February 2 our decision to give, from the £5 million extra provision announced by the Prime Minister on January 19, grants of £250,000 each to the League of Red Cross Societies (for the Nigerian Red Cross) and UNICEF, for the UNICEF relief and rehabilitation programme in Nigeria, and £150,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross towards the cost of their Nigerian relief activities. To the noble Lord, Lord Wade, I would say that UNICEF is still in being and is doing a wonderful job, and we shall give it our continued support.

The grant to the Nigerian Red Cross through the League should alone be sufficient to finance the relief operation for 25 days. A number of substantial contributions have also been given by other Governments. In addition, we were asked to provide urgently 15 doctors and 20 nurses to supplement the Nigerian, British and other expatriate staff already working in relief operations in Nigeria at the end of the war. With the prompt and efficient help of the British relief organisations, we were able to respond at once to this request, and all 15 doctors and 20 nurses are now at work in the field in Eastern Nigeria. For the present, we have had no further requests from the Nigerian authorities for relief workers, either additional medical staff or other relief personnel. However, in case we should receive a further request the Ministry of Overseas Development has opened a register of doctors, nurses and other relief workers who would be willing and ready to go out to help with relief work at short notice, and we should thus be able to respond quickly to any further request which might be made. The British relief organisations also have a number of experienced relief workers on their records who could be quickly available.

I should like to take this opportunity to pay a personal tribute to the British men and women who have responded magnificently to the call of the relief action in Nigeria. I include in this the relief workers who have been in Nigeria for many months past as well as the doctors and nurses who went out at such short notice in the last fortnight or three weeks; those who worked in the field during the war and have already returned; not least those who have responded to emergency needs by leaving their normal and regular work in order to help in caring for desperately sick children in Port Harcourt and elsewhere; and also the many other British citizens in Nigeria who have contributed so much to the great effort of bringing help, food, medical care and succour to the victims of this terrible conflict.

It is not for me, speaking as a spokesman for Her Majesty's Government, to report to your Lordships' House on the relief situation in Nigeria itself since, as I have said, this is clearly within the responsibility and authority of the Nigerian Government. There has been a strong and natural resentment in Nigeria—I have already dealt with this point, but it is worth keeping it in our mind—against discussions and debates or anything appearing to trespass on their sovereignty and their proper authority. I will therefore confine myself to saying that we are satisfied that the substantial relief assistance which we have given has been put to immediate and effective use by the Nigerian Red Cross and the Federal Government; and that with the arrival of the personnel, vehicles and other supplies which we and other Governments have urgently provided, there should now be enough transport available to enable the food and drugs to be distributed to those in need.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to whose impressive speech I listened with great interest, has three times visited Nigeria to advise the Government on the question of how best to help with relief. We have relied much on his wise counsel and on the knowledge and experience of Colin Thornley of the Save the Children Fund and Mr. Hodgson of the British Red Cross who went out with him last month and in 1968. Noble Lords will, I am sure, join me in paying tribute to the valuable work they have done. Noble Lords will have studied their Report which gave a balanced, comprehensive picture of the situation they found. That is what they were asked to go to Nigeria to do.

Everything we have since learnt has borne out the accuracy of that Report. No relief operation, on whatever scale, could hope to remedy such a state of affairs within a few days or even weeks. Much suffering undoubtedly continues.

There are particular areas of special concern where difficulties of access to those in need have persisted with special obstinacy. Nevertheless, all the reports which we receive from recent visitors to the areas of need agree that there has been already a tremendous improvement in the scale and effectiveness of the relief effort; and that the resources for a further improvement are now available. For all this very substantial credit is due to the Nigerian officials and relief workers who have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the relief action and by whose efforts so many Nigerian lives have already been saved. The food situation is a matter for which the Nigerian authorities, not Her Majesty's Government, are responsible. According to our own most recent reports, there are some 19,000 tons of food stockpiled in Nigeria, with substantial further quantities on the way during the next few weeks. The Nigerian Red Cross were helping to deliver during last week about 2,000 tons of imported foods, and a roughly similar amount of local food, both within Nigeria and to the relief areas. By the beginning of this month, about 1½ million people were being fed by the relief operation. The supplies already available or due to arrive shortly are estimated to be sufficient to enable the Nigerian Red Cross to distribute within a week or so about 4,000 tons of food every week. This is of course substantially more than was being distributed on both sides together before the end of the fighting, in addition to which local production can be expected to increase. Enugu will be used as the main depot for the distribution of local food and Port Harcourt for imported food. Private traders are already reported to be active in importing food supplies.

I have concentrated so far on what we have been doing to respond to Nigerian requests for assistance to cope with their immediate and most pressing problems resulting from the end of the war. Noble Lords will realise that this of course is all additional to our normal aid programme to Nigeria, much of which will assist or has already assisted in the rehabilitation requirements to which the noble Lord refers in his Question. In the second half of 1968 Her Majesty's Government offered the Federal Govern- ment a grant of £100,000 for rehabilitation and reconstruction and a loan of £1 million which could also be used for this purpose. These offers of capital aid were accepted, and as a result orders were placed for such items as spares, telecommunications equipment, inflatable warehouses and various other items. A substantial proportion of these have already been delivered.

Additionally in 1968, an offer was made to establish and support a child medical care unit in the Nigerian hospital at Enugu in the East Central State. The unit was established just after Christmas of that year and has been operating ever since with considerable success. The unit consists of five doctors, ten nurses, one radiographer, one laboratory technician, one hospital administrator and three driver mechanics. This team, I repeat, is long established, and additional to the doctors and nurses recently provided specifically for the present emergency—although, of course, its members will be playing their full part in that too. I understand that since the end of the rebellion an increasing number of Ibo doctors and nurses have returned to work at this hospital.

Returning to the provision of capital aid, in October, 1969, an offer was made to increase the 1969 loan by up to £1 million, and in November a further loan offer of up to £1,750,000 was made for disbursement in the financial year 1970–71. Last month a Nigerian delegation came to London for discussions and agreement was reached on goods and services to be provided under these loans, some of which are for rehabilitation and reconstruction and some for development.

I was asked a number of questions which I shall now seek to answer. The problem of the Biafran currency is a real one. This is being examined as a matter of urgency by the Nigerian authorities, but I understand that, through the soldiers and police and other forms of civil life, Federal currency is now beginning to circulate in this area. But the problem is well understood. I was asked about the need to bring in seed yams. We made a contribution to a scheme run by the Save The Children Fund under which seed yams which were available in some parts of Eastern Nigeria will be brought in and distributed to the people in this area. We contributed some £55,000, and I understand that the seeds that have been purchased will provide about 100,000 people with means of growing their staple food. As I indicated earlier, we have sent out farming material to help.

The noble Lords, Lord Brockway and Lord Wade, mentioned the matter of students. The fact is that Biafran money has never been exchanged in this country. Those youngsters who are in this country and who are private students must have had money from external sources. Therefore the collapse of the rebel area does not affect their position. But I understand that already the Nigerian High Commission in London has taken steps in the field of students as part of their policy of reconciliation. If there is any further information that I can get from the High Commission I shall be happy to pass it on to Lord Wade.

I was also asked by my noble friend Lord Brockway about bridge building. I understand that the bridge he had in mind is already being surveyed by the Federal German Government and repairs on it can, I hope, be started in the not too distant future. I suspect that this will be undertaken by the Germans. The Ministry of Overseas Development is, of course, in continuing touch with the Nigerian authorities to see how best we can help in the coming months. I have already given an assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about Unicef, and he also asked me a question about private contributions. This, of course, is a matter not for the British Government but for the responsible organisations who have been collecting. I have no reason to believe that the moneys that they have collected are not being used for the proper purposes for which they were contributed, but I understand that a good deal of this money is going through the Red Cross in Geneva.


My Lords, may I make clear that I was not suggesting that any moneys raised were being used for any improper purpose.


My Lords, I understand that many of these organisations are channelling their receipts through the Red Cross in Geneva. I hope the House will feel that the British Government, with this very sudden collapse of the rebels and the end of the war, acted with expedition. I do not believe that we could have got the requests out earlier and I was very glad to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who was in Lagos and in Nigeria at the time, and saw the first results of the efforts in London. I can only repeat, my Lords, that I hope that this is the last occasion on which we debate Nigeria.