asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what information he has received from the British High Commissioner in Lusaka about the camps in Zambia which are being used as bases for the dispatch of armed terrorists into Rhodesia; and what protests have been made to the Zambian Government.
I have nothing to add to the reply given to the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on 30th January.
That is a most inadequate reply. How much longer are the British Government going to tolerate the organised infiltration of murderers and saboteurs into a British territory of which they claim to be the legal Government? Why do not the Government warn the Zambian Government that unless this stops Britain will stop all further financial aid immediately?
The British Government have made it quite clear to the Zambian Government that they deplore all terrorism and violence from whatever quarter they come. We feel this is not the right way to a solution for Rhodesia and to avoid many grave dangers in Southern Africa as a whole. We have made absolutely clear to the Zambian Government what our position is, but if the right hon. Gentleman wants to end guerilla activity of this kind he should use his influence with Mr. Smith to get him to end the rebellion.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Africans never had any confidence in the ability of the Opposition to solve this problem and, because of the time we have taken, they have lost faith in our ability to solve it? Will he press on with every form of sanctions that is possible? Otherwise, he will have the blood bath which we on this side of the House have been predicting for the last two or three years.
Yes, Sir. We believe the use of sanctions is the right way to bring peaceful pressures to produce a solution, but we always made it clear to Mr. Smith before I.D.I. that if he took that disastrous action one of the results would be an increase in violence on the part of African Nationalists who would no longer have a constitutional method of achieving political progress.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that this important matter will be discussed with President Kaunda when he visits this country?
These kind of talks between Heads of Government are confidential, but I have no doubt that a whole range of problems relating to Southern Africa are bound to be discussed.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements have been made to represent the external affairs of the island of Anguilla at international organisations.
Her Majesty's Government are responsible for the external affairs of the Associated State of St. Kitts/ Nevis/Anguilla, and this responsibility includes the island of Anguilla.
Does not the Minister agree that this island declared its independence over a year ago and has worked quite satisfactorily since then? Would the Government now recognise this fact and begin to open negotiations for constitutional talks to recognise the independence of Anguilla?
Anguilla is still a part of the Associated State of St. Kitts/ Nevis/Anguilla. As the hon. Member knows, an interim settlement of the dispute with the Associated State was reached some time ago designed to bring about friendly relations so that Anguilla may play its part within that Associated State.
In this context, will the Government have another look at the whole question of Associated States in regard to St. Kitts? Is it not embarrassing for Britain to be responsible for a situation where the judiciary of St. Kitts has condemned the regime there for its attitude over Anguilla? Are we not going to stand by the people of Anguilla?
Of course we shall stand by the people of Anguilla so far as it is within our constitutional position. The general picture of the settlement of the Associated States is an entirely different matter.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what consultations he plans to hold with the administration in Hong Kong with a view to modernising its existing political structure; and if he will make a statement.
None. It has already been stated in the House on several occasions that, because of Hong Kong's special position, constitutional development towards self-government is not possible. I have nothing to add to that statement.
Is my hon. Friend aware that that is a very disappointing statement? Does he not realise that Hong Kong's present political structure is based on a series of laws which were introduced to deal with a period of social upheaval very recently? Does he think that that is in keeping with the democratic views that we in this Parliament hold?
I can only repeat that there cannot be normal constitutional progress towards self-government, but the Hong Kong Government have been exploring the possibilities of developing, in the sphere of local government, measures which will enable the people of Hong Kong to participate to a greater extent in the conduct of the affairs of the Colony. There has been no great demand for that on the part of the people of the Colony themselves, who have not responded to a recent major exercise to get them to register as voters.
Is the Under-Secretary aware that his statement will be welcomed in Hong Kong? Will he bear in mind the possibility of appointing a Chinese elected representative on the urban district council as one of the nominated members of the Legislative Council?
That is something we could look at.
Nigeria (Supply Of Arms)
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what requests he has received from the Nigerian Government for facilities for the supply of arms from private manufacturers in Great Britain.
None, Sir. There is nothing to stop the Nigerian Government or their agents from approaching private manufacturers in this country, but all exports of arms are, of course, subject to export licensing control.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say quite clearly what proportion of arms is going through official channels and what proportion through private channels and how this compares with the proportion before hostilities began?
I am not quite clear what the hon. Gentleman means by his question. We understand that about 15 per cent. of the arms requirements of the Federal Nigerian Government are coming from this country, but none is coming from official British governmental channels. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Crown Agents. No British aid funds are involved in these arms. In these circumstances, the Crown Agents act as agents for the Governments themselves. They are not British Crown agents; they are Crown Agents in the Commonwealth sense.
In view of the continuance of this genocidal civil war, will my right hon. Friend stop arms from being supplied, whether from private or public sources, to the Nigerian Government forthwith?
A number of hon. Members have Questions down on the subject raised by my hon. Friend, and I would prefer to wait until they are reached.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs why he will not seek the co-operation of all Commonwealth Governments for the assisted return to their native lands of all immigrants in Great Britain who desire such a return; and how many he estimates would return if suitable financial arrangements were made.
It is for individual Commonwealth countries to decide whether to repatriate their citizens in this country who wish to go home. I have no means of estimating how many would wish to take advantage of such an arrangement.
Is not the Undersecretary aware that the vast majority of the people of this country want to see further immigration stopped and all immigrants who wish to do so encouraged to go home? Is it not the duty of a democratic Government to rule according to the wish of the people?
I am aware that it is the wish of the hon. Gentleman to have all immigration stopped, but I am not sure that it is the wish of the majority of people in this country.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that there is no evidence to suggest that the overwhelming majority of people in this country wish immigration to stop? Does he not agree with me that the important thing for us to do is to go ahead with getting racial harmony and integration in Britain, rather than having these sorts of questions, which raise a whole hornet's nest and which are totally inimical to the attainment of racial equality?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have control over the entry of Commonwealth citizens in a manner which is designed to ensure that we shall not outrun our capacity to absorb these people within our community and to ensure that, within the community, they enjoy the rights which they should have as men and women.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs why he will not ask all Commonwealth Governments to reduce the flow of immigrants into Great Britain, in order to prevent a demand for their total exclusion until such time as the social problems created by those already here have been solved.
Her Majesty's Government already have powers under the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts to control the entry of Commonwealth citizens.
Since the Minister doubted the statement I made in my supplementary on the previous Question, may I ask him whether he and his Government will hold a by-election to see what the people feel about it? The Government will soon get to know the answer then.
That is a ridiculous suggestion.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the majority of immigrants are from Australian, Canadian and European sources? Will he inquire of the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) whether it is these immigrants that he is anxious to return?
I am not responsible for asking questions of the hon. Gentleman.
Is the Undersecretary aware that most reasonable people want to see a fair deal given to those immigrants who are already here and to consolidate their position, and that what the people are concerned about is the tremendous number of dependants who will come in in the years ahead? They must be limited if those already here are to get a square deal.
I would not wish to control the entry of immigrants into this country in the inhuman way which the hon. Gentleman seems to envisage.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of the Nigerian peace talks.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with the Federal authorities regarding supplies of food and medical provisions to the victims of the Nigerian civil war.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what action the Government has taken, following his reconsideration of the matter, to achieve an international embargo on the supply of arms to all combatants in the Nigerian Civil War.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Federal Government of Nigeria regarding the safe passage of food and medical supplies direct into Biafra.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will now take steps to send urgently needed medical supplies to the people of Biafra, with a view to relieving pain; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of Stae for Commonwealth Affairs what further action he is taking, following Her Majesty's Government's reconsideration of the matter, to prevent the sale of arms to Nigeria from the nations concerned; and what further proposals he has put forward to promote a ceasefire in that country.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what further initiatives he intends to take with a view to bringing about peace in Nigeria following the Minister of State's visit to Lagos.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what further developments there have ben in discussions with the Government of Nigeria over ending the civil war; and what plans have been made to participate in a Commonwealth or international peace-keeping force.
With permission, I will answer these Questions at the end of Questions.
Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Meeting
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will now make a statement about the proposed Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.
No, Sir. I can as yet add nothing to the Answer which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave on 20th June to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy).
When does the Secretary of State expect to be able to make an announcement on this subject? Is it the Government's desire to hold a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference this year?
It is our desire to see a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference held as soon as there can be agreement about the time and the place. I have expressed some impatience about this. With 27 Heads of Government, all with busy schedules, it is difficult to get agreement on a time when as many of them as possible will be free. The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, who is responsible for this, is pursuing his consultations with the greatest possible vigour.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will seek to arrange that the Kenya-Asian problem, so far as it involves holders of British passports, will be discussed at the next Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference.
I refer the hon. Member to the answers given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 19th March to supplementary questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall).—[Vol. 761, c. 241–2.]
I do not carry in my head what those answers were. Does not the Under-Secretary agree that this is not just a domestic matter, but a Commonwealth issue affecting many countries—India, Pakistan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, as well as Britain. Therefore, the Commonwealth Conference might well be the best possible forum for resolving this considerable problem.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the agenda of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference will have to be agreed by all the Prime Ministers concerned. He went on to say that he would be surprised if the immigration problem did not come up for discussion at the Conference.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he is aware that African guerilla fighters are planning to infiltrate into Rhodesia; and what information he has on the assistance being given to them.
I am well aware of the risks of continued violence in Rhodesia so long as the present unconstitutional situation persists. As regards the information available to me, I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in answer to Questions on 7th May.— [Vol. 764, c. 212–14.]
As Her Majesty's Government claim to rule Rhodesia, is it not their duty to prevent this incursion? Will the Secretary of State say categorically that no help, either direct or indirect, is being given or will be given to these guerrillas?
I can say categorically that no help is being given to guerrillas. We stand opposed to violence, for the reasons I have just described to the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys).
Is it not my right hon. Friend's desire that the illegal regime in Rhodesia should be overthrown, and does he not welcome any help he can get to this end?
It is our desire to see peaceful progress towards majority rule restored in Rhodesia. We attach the highest importance, not only in the interest of Rhodesia, but in the interest of so many African countries, to seeing that achieved by peaceful means and not by violent means.
Tonga (Treaty Of Friendship)
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about constitutional progress in Tonga.
Under the new Treaty of Friendship, signed in Tonga on 30th May, and still to be ratified, Tonga has full responsibility for its own internal affairs, except for certain defence purposes. Save as provided for under the Treaty, the Constitution, and any constitutional change, is the responsibility of the Tonga Government.
Is the Undersecretary aware that after close on 90 years of treaties of friendship between these two countries this is a very satisfactory step forward? Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that if it should happen that Tonga applies to join the Commonwealth or the South Pacific Commission there will be a warm welcome for Tonga, not only in the House, but throughout the Commonwealth?
Ceylon (Foreign Exchange Entitlement Certificate Scheme)
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Government of Ceylon with regard to the Foreign Exchange Entitlement Certificate Scheme announced under a Gazette Notification of 5th May, 1968; and if he will make a statement.
We have been much concerned at the possible adverse effect on British interests of the Foreign Exchange Entitlement Certificate Scheme introduced by the Government of Ceylon in May, 1968. The Commonwealth Office and other Departments have been seeking to determine the likely effects of the scheme on British individuals and companies. Our High Commission has, for this purpose, been in touch with the Ceylon Government and with the Association of British Interests in Ceylon and the Commonwealth Office has held discussions with the Ceylon Association in London.In order to clarify the precise working of the new scheme and to seek suitable alleviation, we have asked for, and the Ceylon Government have agreed, to hold talks at a senior official level in Colombo. These talks began last week. I am not yet in a position to make a statement on the outcome.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that most of the payments made under this scheme will in fact be dividends which are nearly two years in arrears? Is he further aware that, as a result of taxation plus the cost of the new service, only 45 rupees for every 100 which ought to be paid will, in fact, be received at this end? Does he not, therefore, feel that it is most urgent that these talks should be brought to a speedy conclusion?
All these difficulties for individuals and for firms are fully understood by the Commonwealth Office and by our people in Ceylon, and we are trying, as far as possible, to alleviate the consequences of the scheme to those people.
Kenya (High Commission Staff)
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs how many complaints he has received about treatment of members of the public by the staff of the United Kingdom High Commission in Nairobi since the passing of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, 1968; and what action he has taken.
We have received no specific complaints, but have seen a copy of a letter sent from Nairobi to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary contain- ing general allegations about the High Commission staff. The writer of the letter afterwards called on the Acting High Commissioner to discuss these matters.All complaints have been investigated and only one has been substantiated. The need for courtesy and consideration in dealing with applications is, of course, fully understood by the staff concerned, and to ease the considerable pressure under which the staff were working, the staff in the sections concerned have been strengthened.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that Answer, particularly the last part, will be received with satisfaction? Is he aware that there will be great sympathy with the staff of the High Commission in Nairobi in the very difficult task it has to perform? Has any thought been given to the possible employment of Kenyan-Asians in the High Commission, who would then deal with their own people?
Local people are employed in the High Commission offices in Nairobi, and I am confident that the people who are there are competent in every way to carry out the task with which they are charged. I should like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the staff for the way in which they have carried out their task in extremely trying conditions.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will give details of the revised arrangements for the admission of citizens of Gibraltar to the United Kingdom in the context of the provisions of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968.
My right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary said in Gibraltar on 23rd May that he was satisfied that within the present number of vouchers available for the whole Commonwealth under the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, all the Gibraltarians who wanted to come to Britain would be able to do so. This is still the position. No Gibraltar voucher applications are outstanding and we are co-operating with the Gibraltar Government to ensure that all applications are processed with the minimum delay.
If Gibraltarians are now to be freely admitted, as seems to be the case—and I am absolutely delighted that this is so—does not this make it clear, as some of us claimed at the time, that the Kenyan-Asian Bill was a piece of colour legislation, pure and simple?
Not at all. One has to apply the Bill in the circumstances in which it applied in Kenya and not as it applied in Gibraltar.
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, in the same speech, the Commonwealth Secretary promised that he would set up an expert body to look into labour questions, employment opportunities and so forth in Gibraltar? That was nearly six weeks ago. Has any progress been made in the setting up of that body?
Progress is being made, but this is an entirely different question.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made concerning talks over the constitutional future of Gibraltar.
We are planning for the constitutional talks to open in Gibraltar under the Chairmanship of my noble Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs on 16th July.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that Answer. Can he give the House an assurance that these talks will be concerned not only with internal government within Gibraltar, but with the wider constitutional links with Britain which would, for example, include the question of Channel Island status?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Her Majesty's Government's attitude towards Channel Island status has been that this would present formidable difficulties for both Britain and Gibraltar, but I have repeatedly said that these talks will enable any ideas about future links to be put forward and discussed.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that, as long as Gibraltarians can come into this country like Channel Islanders, that will more or less satisfy them?
That is the importance which should be attached to the question of the right of access for Gibraltarians about which the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher) made such agreeable noises a few moments ago.
Is there any possibility of the Government's complying with the United Nations resolution, or is it just a case of accepting the rulings of the United Nations, as is the case with so many other countries, only when it suits our purpose?
No, Sir. I had hoped that I had made that position absolutely clear to my hon. Friend in our recent debate. The United Nations resolution was non-mandatory; it was a recommendation. We voted against it to make it absolutely clear that we thought that it was a resolution which discredited the United Nations.
Have the difficulties about Channel Island status, which the Government see, been formulated? Would the right hon. Gentleman present, by way of a White Paper or otherwise, the exact considerations, constitutional and otherwise, which he has in mind, so that those who may be disposed to take another view can reflect upon them and answer them if need be?
I should not like to formulate them at this stage on the eve of the visit of my noble Friend Lord Shepherd to Gibraltar. The first thing to do is to allow the talks to begin.
India And Pakistan (Official Visits)
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs when he intends to pay official visits to India and Pakistan.
At present no such visits are arranged.Last year my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development paid an official visit to India and my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Wales made official visits to both India and Pakistan. In addition, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and my hon. Friends the Parliamentary Secretaries of the Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Overseas Development visited Delhi in February of this year for the second U.N.C.T.A.D. I naturally hope that, if agreeable to the Governments concerned, further visits can be arranged in the months to come.
Would my right hon. Friend admit that, while relations between Wales and India are necessarily close, it would probably be more practicable for the Commonwealth Secretary to visit India and Pakistan at the earliest opportunity, bearing in mind the serious problems of South-East Asia, China, Vietnam and the future of Asia?
Yes, Sir. The Secretary of State for Wales visited India as one of my deputies. My hon. Friend will be aware that we are approaching a merger of the Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office, and I am sure that the first Secretary of State for the joint office will not overlook what my hon. Friend has said this afternoon.
India (Mr W Nash)
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the efforts which he is making to have expedited the proceedings against Mr. W. Nash of Burnopfield, County Durham, who has been held in custody in New Delhi for many months on charges of alleged smuggling.
Our High Commissioner in New Delhi has made appropriate representations to the Indian authorities about the time Mr. Nash has already been in custody, and I hope that the proceedings against him will now be expedited.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the efforts which he and the High Commissioner have made on behalf of my constituent. However, is it not disgraceful that anyone should be held in custody for so long without any charges being proved against him?
Mr. Nash was arrested on 15th December and could not produce bail. The Indian Customs authorities completed their inquiries on 12th March when a complaint was alleged against him in court. I understand that there are 24 witnesses in this case, of whom only eight have so far appeared in court. Progress is slow, but the conduct of the case is a matter for the Indian courts on which I cannot comment. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that Mr. Nash is in good health, is being well treated, and is regularly visited in gaol by the staff of our High Commission.
As the Indian authorities have a very good record for expedition in such cases, can the hon. Gentleman say why there has been this delay in this case?
Presumably the delay has been because of the need of the Indian Customs authorities to complete their inquiries. They were not completed until 12th March. Since then, there have been a number of hearings of the court and a variety of witnesses have been examined.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs whether he will now arrange to visit the Falkland Islands.
I know that a visit to the Falkland Islands would be welcome and we are examining the possibility of a visit by a Minister later in the year.
Has not someone, either there or here, to make it quite clear that British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is not negotiable?
The position with regard to the Falkland Islands has been made absolutely clear, and it is that the interests of the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands are paramount, and it is their wishes that will be taken into account in any future decision.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what recent talks he has had with political leaders in the Falkland Islands.
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs what consultations he now proposes with the Government of the Falkland Islands on the subject of their future constitutional status.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 26th March, there have been consultations with the Governor, who has been authorised to keep his Executive Council informed in confidence. This will continue.I had talks with the Governor of the Falkland Islands in London in February, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State had talks with a leading member of the Falkland Islands Executive Council in London in March.
I hope that that means that sovereignty is not negotiable. Have political leaders been told why the Government are appearing to waste time and are causing what appears to be unnecessary offence to other nations in this case, and in the cases of British Honduras and Gibraltar?
The other points are matters for other Questions but in the case of the Falkland Islands, as the hon. Member knows, there is first of all the United Nations resolution on the subject, with which we have been seeking to comply. It is in the general interests of the Falkland Islands, as well as of our own foreign relations, that the Falkland Islands should seek neighbourly relations with the Argentine on the neighbouring Latin-American continent. There is no question of the wishes of the Falkland Islanders with regard to the future being over-ridden.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no doubt about the desirability of having good relations with the Argentine, but since, contrary to the wishes both of the islanders and a large number of people in the House and this country, secret negotiations with the Argentine over sovereignty are still continuing, we want to know at what stage the Government propose to tell the people of the Falkland Islands, as opposed to the Executive Council, which is bound to secrecy on this matter, concerning their future?
Negotiations are going on. These kinds of negotiations are better conducted in confidence. It is the normal practice. Equally, the Governor and his Executive Council are being kept informed of the negotiations, in confidence. When these negotiations develop to a point at which there is something to report, that would be the time to bring in a much wider circle of people, but that stage has not yet been reached.
The right hon. Gentleman has used two sets of words. He said, first of all, in relation to sovereignty, that the wishes of the people in the Falkland Islands will be taken into account, and the second time he said that they would not be over-ridden. Will he confirm that it is the second interpretation which is the right one?
It is the second one.
Colliery Closures, North-West
asked the Minister of Power what communications he has received from the National Coal Board in respect of colliery closures in the North-West during the latter half of 1968.
I understand from the National Coal Board that it has informed the unions that Bradford and Thorney Bank pits are to close in 1968, and that the results of Ravenshead, Parsonage, Sutton Manor and Old Meadows pits are such that their future is in jeopardy.
Would my hon. Friend consult with the various authorities interested in the future of Bradford Colliery to see whether a change in the working arrangements can extend the life of the colliery? Would he take steps with his colleagues to see that, if the colliery is closed, priority to those made redundant is given in other forms of public enterprise?
My hon. Friend will appreciate that negotiations as to the possible extension of the life of pits is a matter for the N.U.M. and the N.C.B. and their local representatives. As to alternative employment, while there is consultation and contact with regional authorities, the D.E.A. and other Departments, this is primarily a responsibility of those Departments, not the Ministry of Power.
Can the Minister give an assurance that it is not the intention of his Ministry to interfere in any way with the programme of pit closures agreed by the N.C.B.?
We are kept closely in touch with all matters relating to the programme of pit closures and will continue to be kept in touch.
Bradford Colliery, Manchester
asked the Minister of Power what will be the additional transport costs of the alternative arrangements for supplying coal to Stuart Street power station, Bradford Gas Works and Richard Johnson and Nephew which at present receive direct supplies by conveyor belt following the closure of Bradford Colliery.
As the question of alternative supplies of coal is a matter for the N.C.B. in consultation with its customers, I have asked the Chairman of the Board to write to my hon. Friend.
Can my hon. Friend say whether these factors were considered before the closure was announced by the N.C.B.?
Yes, I can confirm that these are among the many factors taken into account when a decision is taken.
Bradford Colliery, Manchester
asked the Minister of Power what consultations he had with the National Coal Board in advance of the announcement of the intention to close Bradford Colliery. Manchester, in September, 1968.
The National Coal Board is responsible for colliery closures, and keep my right hon. Friend informed. This was done in the case of Bradford Colliery.
Would my hon. Friend agree that there is a vast difference between being informed of a decision and being consulted about a decision before it is taken? Surely if it is anyone's business it is the business of the Ministry of Power?
It has not been the practice in the past, nor is it the practice at the present time, for the Ministry of Power to involve itself in the detailed programming of colliery closures.
Although it is no desire of mine or my hon. Friends to interfere with the day-to-day working of the N.C.B. may I ask whether, in a matter as serious as this, my hon. Friend has assured himself that the financial implications have been covered?
All these implications are taken into account when the decision is made. The important thing is that, so far as possible, there should be close liaison between the N.C.B. and the various Government Departments concerned so that action can be taken where possible by other Departments to direct employment and industrial development into the areas concerned.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why it is expected to vote the money consequent upon the policy of large-scale pit closures, while the Minister refuses to give us details of the displacement of labour and all the other operational details following the closure policy?
If the hon. Gentleman and any other hon. Member wish to put down Questions asking for this information we will do our best to supply it. We have answered such Questions in the past.
Why does the Parliamentary Secretary always assume that the provisions of the coal nationalisation Act, for which he is responsible in this House, provide arbitrary powers allowing the N.C.B. to indulge in closures without full consultation, not only with the N.U.M. but with the Government, about the social consequences? Are we to assume that this is Government policy? If so, they ought to be made responsible.
My right hon. Friend has misunderstood one of my previous replies. I said on two occasions that there is consultation between the N.C.B. and the Government Departments concerned. It is not just a matter for the Ministry of Power, as I pointed out.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.
Ministry Of Health
Prescription Charges 35
asked the Minister of Health whether he will include Wilson's disease among those which entitle people suffering from chronic ailments to exemption from payment of prescription charges.
No, Sir. I would refer the hon. Member to my reply on 30th April to my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Dr. David Kerr) and other hon. Members.—[Vol. 763, c. 973–6.]
Is the right hon. Gentle, man aware that this is a serious question about a tragic and chronic disease? Is he further aware that it is almost incurable? Will he bear in mind that its effect can be mitigated by regular treatment, by prescription? Would he see to it that this is an exemption?
I have explained that the list of exemptions was the maximum upon which agreement could be reached with the medical profession. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in what he says about the disease, but I am told that it is, happily extremely rare, with less than 100 cases in the whole of the United Kingdom. I am also told that it does not require frequent prescriptions—about one a month is normal.
Would the right hon. Gentleman freely acknowledge that the Government are not exempting the chronic sick from these charges as they originally promised?
The Government are exempting patients in the categories specified in the Order. As to the wider categories of patients who might be called chronic sick, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the announcement I made about future arrangements.
On a point of order. Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is Wilson's disease?
It is also known as hepatolenticular degeneration. [Laughter.] It is not a laughing matter. It is a very serious disease, and it is due to, or associated with, a defect of copper metabolism in the body.
asked the Minister of Health if he will issue instructions to dispensing pharmacists that any prescription which gives the patient more than two ampoules of methedrine a day shall be referred to the doctor concerned for confirmation before being given out.
The Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence has been considering the general question of central nervous system stimulant drugs since its first meeting, and methedrine in particular since February. I understand that the Committee has concluded that further restriction upon its availability is desirable and is now urgently considering the best way to achieve this. I will examine the suggestion made by my hon. Friend in the light of the Committee's advice.
Can my right hon. Friend say why it is that there has been such an increase in the production of methedrine, when only a few years ago there was only one firm making it, and there has been no increase in the disease for which this is available?
My hon. Friend has another Question on the Order Paper about the firms manufacturing this. These are matters which we must consider in the light of the Committee's advice.
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider trying new methods of stopping an addict obtaining more than he needs from chemists, perhaps by applying more widely the methods which I understand are now being used in Birmingham?
The hon. Gentleman may like to know that after consultations with leaders of the medical profession, my Chief Medical Officer recently wrote to all general practitioners and to doctors doing appropriate work in hospitals, about the very great care needed in prescribing amphetamines generally.
Beaches (Oil Pollution)
asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether he is aware of the proposal of the Shell Oil Company to transfer oil from large to small tankers outside territorial waters; whether officials from his department will be present to witness the trial experiments with this technique; and what steps he is taking to ensure that this method of unloading does not increase the risk of oil pollution.
My right hon. Friend is concerned about any activity at sea which involves a risk, however remote, of beaches being polluted by oil. He has therefore kept himself informed about this proposal. Officials from the Department have not witnessed the trials, but professional officers of the Board of Trade have done so. I am advised that, provided the precautions prescribed in the company's operating procedure are strictly observed and provided the transfer takes place in suitable weather, the risk of pollution is slight. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will keep developments under close scrutiny.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his reply. Is he aware that councils with seaside resorts in their control are very worried about this matter? Can he say whether the trials will be witnessed? In view of the helpful response of the Ministry at the time of the "Torrey Canyon" disaster, will he undertake that the trials will be witnessed and that the Ministry will keep as closely in touch as possible with this development?
I am happy to give all the assurances asked for by the right hon. Gentleman. Expert Government witnesses will be at all the trials and any other manifestations. Furthermore, we propose to issue to all the authorities an up-to-date and revised technical manual in case they suffer pollution, which is quite unlikely. We are keeping abreast of modern developments. If, despite the procedures, there should be harmful consequences, grants will be sympathetically considered.
Civil Service (Information Officers)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what action he is taking to reduce the number of public relations and publicity officials in, or attached to, the home Civil Service.
Information officers are subject to the same stringent controls as all other staff of the home Civil Service, and their numbers are kept to the minimum necessary to carry out their essential function.
As the increase in the number of public relations officers has coincided with an unparalleled increase in the disenchantment and disgust of the public with the Government, will the hon. and learned Gentleman make this a priority in the plan to curb the size of the Civil Service?
There is elaborate financial control. The cost of information staff is examined separately, and if one does want proper explanations from Departments, as the public does, it is reasonable that there should be information officers to provide them.
asked the Minister of Overseas Development whether the conference to discuss the future finance of Swaziland will be held prior to the granting of independence on 6th September.
No, Sir. With the agreement of the Government of Swaziland, it is proposed to hold the conference in the autumn after independence✶ but officials of my Department are having preliminary talks in Swaziland this month.
Is this not an unusual step to take? In view of the isolated situation of Swaziland, surely financial arrangements should be known before independence is granted.
This procedure has been followed in a number of recent cases. Aid this year to Swaziland will cover the immediate post-independence period, and talks on aid, which will take place in the autumn, will follow preparation of the development plan of the Swaziland Government for the period ahead.
National Export Agency
asked the Prime Minister whether he will co-ordinate the relevant work of the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office in order to establish a National Export Agency.
My hon. Friend will know of the Overseas Marketing Corporation the establishment of which was announced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade on 2nd November last. If my hon. Friend has any other point in mind I would be happy to consider it.—[Vol. 753, c. 11–13.]
Would not a National Export Agency based directly on intelligence from commercial attaches throughout the world be invaluable for smaller British firms which cannot have exporting knowledge of every country?
This is why the Corporation, following the Denman Report, has been set up—to act as an overseas selling organisation for British goods with export potential whose manufacturers, for one reason or another, lack the knowledge or facilities needed. The reports from our overseas representatives are available to the organisation.
Does the Prime Minister not agree that our commercial attaches in most countries are doing a fine job in helping our exporters? Would not he further agree that what is needed is not a further agency like this but a reduction in direct taxation and the abolition of S.E.T. in order to give incentives to men to export?
The latter part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question raises wider considerations, and I remind him that we are discussing the Finance Bill this week. But I agree with his tribute to our representatives, both in foreign countries and in Commonwealth countries. Their work is very useful to our manufacturers. I think that the new Corporation will help many small potential exporters. I have also been very impressed, in my visits to various parts of the country recently, by what chambers of commerce and other private enterprise organisations are doing to help our smaller exporters.
asked the Prime Minister whether, in the light of the last quarter's balance of payments, he will now report progress on devaluation in another television broadcast to the nation.
I would refer the hon. Member to the Answers I gave to similar Questions on 5th March and 25th April, 1968.—[Vol. 760, c. 222–3; Vol. 763, c. 475–77.]
Since then much time has passed. In the present situation, with the balance of payments as it is, overseas debt mounting up, the unemployment trend, and two Cabinet resignations since devaluation, does not the nation in its anxiety deserve a massive explanation from the right hon. Gentleman on television?
I am not getting help from the hon. Gentleman who is so misleading in his presentation of facts and figures. I remind him that industrial production this April was five points higher than in April last year, that productivity is 5½ per cent. higher, and that our exports are up 15 per cent. by value and 7 per cent. by volume over the middle period of last year, representing an annual rate of 10 per cent. compared. with the average over the last ten years of a 3 per cent. increase.
Will my right hon. Friend take serious note of the point of view of hon. Members on this side who recognise that July is a sticky month in more ways than one—including Sunday's resignation? Will he accept that there would be tremendous support for him if he gave a state of the nation broadcast, because he still has many friends— [Interruption.]
Order. Briefly, please.
I repeat that the Prime Minister still has many friends inside and outside this House. The country deserves an explanation of what is going on.
I think that at the proper time that will be appropriate.
In the light of the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman, can he say whether the rise in prices since devaluation is yet enough to carry out the Government's policy of restraining demand, especially imports?
The full effects of the Budget on restraining demand have not yet been felt. The latest figures for retail sales were published this morning. The House was given the figures for prices yesterday. They include the effects of the Budget, which it was known would have an effect on price levels. However, there is some evidence that food prices this year have not risen as much as many of us, including myself, would have expected at the time of devaluation.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the Conservative Party are willing to go to any lengths to discredit the Government, even if it means doing serious and permanent damage to the economy? I am sure that the public would welcome a broadcast on television giving some of the true facts to the nation.
It is probably more important that we should all concentrate on the measures which we have been taking, including the very important measures for strengthening Britain's industry, from which we are now getting new and spectacular evidence almost every week, not only in export orders but in other ways, showing the greater robust strength of British industries that were far too long neglected.
Would not such a broadcast afford a melancholy example of the unpopular explaining the unacceptable to the unbelieving?
House Of Lords Reform (Legislation)
asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a further statement on Government intentions with regard to the reform of the Upper House.
I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I made to the House on 20th June and to the Answers I gave to Questions on 25th June—[Vol. 766, c. 1314–28; Vol. 767, c. 236–8.]
Since the Prime Minister said then that legislation would be early, radical and comprehensive, would it be fair to interpret that as meaning that the Prime Minister does not know what to do and cannot make up his mind?
No. The hon. Member would be quite wrong to deduce that from it. The legislation will, in fact, be comprehensive, radical and early.
Can the Prime Minister say whether the legislation will be available and on the Statute Book earlier than could have been done by inter-party agreement?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that it was the effect of his own Front Bench that made inter-party agreement impossible. Very reasonable progress was being made, but the Leader of the Opposition thought that he saw a chance of taking political advantage and bungled it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware, and will he take note, that the Members of the other place are mutilating the Transport Bill as busily as they can? Will he see that the will of the people is carried out in order to get a public transport system for the country?
I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to comment on what is going on in another place during the passage of the Bill. We will see it in whatever form it emerges when it comes back to this House.
In considering the possibility of Members of the House of Lords being subject to some form of election, would the Prime Minister bear in mind that the method of election which is used to send Members here sends rather too many Members of certain parties and too few of others? Will he bear in mind the possibility of electoral reform in this direction and recall the attempts which a previous Labour Government made in 1930?
I have heard a large number of suggestions about another place, but I do not think that many people have seriously suggested electing the other place. As to the representation of one of the smaller parties in another place, the Leader of the Liberal Party will know that, contrary to the precedent set by my predecssors, it has been possible in the last three-and-a-half years to recommend a number of distinguished Liberals for service in another place.
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the legislation will be sufficiently speedy to prevent there being a lame duck Session in 1970–71, when the Tory Peers will have a stranglehold over the measures which we were sent here to promote?
I am sure that that and all other relevant considerations will be borne in mind both in the timing and in the form.
National Health Service
asked the Prime Minister if he will co-ordinate the activities of the Lord President of the Council, the Minister of Health and the Minister for Social Security, with a view to the preparation of a declaration of policy for the National Health Service as and when economic conditions improve.
As to co-ordination, the House already knows that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is supervising the planning and timetable for amalgamation of the Ministries of Health and Social Security. As to the policies for the development of the National Health Service, these are kept under continuous review but no early statement is in prospect.
Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that it remains not only his policy but the policy of Her Majesty's Government to restore the principle of free of payment at the time of need in the health services? Will he take steps by progressive stages to that end when the economic situation permits?
I will confirm— or reconfirm—what I said to my hon. Friend, which was not the exact words which he has just used: that when the economic situation permits more expenditure on the National Health Service, we shall consider that proposal against other high priorities in the matter of the Health Service. No decision has been taken. It is certainly premature at this stage to feel that we are in a position to begin thinking about it.
Will the Prime Minister meanwhile tell the House who speaks in the Cabinet on health and social security matters? Is it the Lord President of the Council, or are Departmental Ministers called in?
It is not usual to discuss Cabinet arrangements, but the hon. Member might like to know—I think that he does know—that at the present time, as always in the past, those Ministers are present whenever there is anything directly or even indirectly affecting their Departments, and, of course, they have full rights of speaking.
Whatever the method of co-ordination, will the Prime Minister confirm that it is his Government's intention at the earliest possible moment to return to the principle of a free Health Service?
I have already answered that in relation to the question from my hon. Friend. I have said that when more money is available—and it would be foolish at this stage to say that that is in sight at the present time— for the Health Service, we shall consider various priority claims for that expenditure. We are, of course, carrying out a record hospital building programme of nearly double the rate which we inherited. There are, however, many hon. Members who would feel that it should be stepped up further before other things were considered.
asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the latest situation in Rhodesia in the light of action taken by the British representative at the United Nations.
I would refer the hon. Member to the Answers I gave to Questions on 27th June.—[Vol. 767, c. 807–13.]
Has not the Prime Minister indicated that agreement is now unlikely? If that is so, will he estimate the continuing damage thus deliberately, through sanctions, clamped on the British economy? Will he also represent to fellow members of the United Nations that if within three or six months others do not bear their fair burden this country cannot continue along this course?
Hon. Members opposite have recently voted against the proposition that we should bear a fair burden: they opposed the United Nations Security Council resolution. They cannot have it both ways on this question.In reply to the earlier part of the question, I did not say that an agreement was unlikely, nor do I consider that. I said that we must see a fairly radical change of attitude about the six principles on the part of Rhodesian leaders who would have the power to deliver an agreement— not merely to make it but, after what happened on "Tiger", to deliver afterwards.
Bearing in mind that sanctions have been applied for a considerable time, can my right hon. Friend give his estimate of the length of time that it will now take to bring the Rhodesians to heel in the light of the very welcome imposition of the mandatory sanctions?
No, Sir, I do not think that it would be possible now to make an estimate about that. It is very well recognised that in Rhodesia there is growing pressure for a reasonable settlement as a result of the sanctions and the fears of the latest developments, but I would like to see that translated into a genuine acceptance of the six principles and of a constitutional settlement which gives effect to them.
Will the Prime Minister say what action he is taking in regard to Zambia, which protests most loudly about British behaviour yet continues to trade on the greatest scale of any country in Africa with her neighbour Rhodesia?
The hon. Member must realise that there has been a very large cut in Zambian purchases from Rhodesia, even though at one time they were almost an integrated economic community in very many respects. Zambia is still importing some essential goods from Rhodesia, but many other goods have been cut out. The United Nations specially recognised the problem of landlocked countries such as Zambia and countries contiguous to Rhodesia whose economies in the past have been very closely integrated.
asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the fact that an adverse figure was recorded in the balance of payments returns for June 1968, he will reconsider his decision not to set up a separate Department for Tourism.
If my hon. Friend is concerned with the effect of tourism on the balance of payments he will be glad to know that the number of foreign visitors arriving in the United Kingdom in the first four months of 1968 was 18 per cent. higher than in the corresponding period of 1967. As to a Department of Tourism, my view is still as I expressed it in reply to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) on 29th February.—[Vol. 759, c. 414.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is precisely for this reason that the necessity to appoint a Ministry of Tourism arises and, to take advantage of this rapidly expanding industry, it is essential that it be placed under the control of one Minister?
I think that the most satisfactory solution is the present position where the President of the Board of Trade and his Minister of State are directly responsible not only for tourism, but also for overseas travel both by sea and by air. I think that this is a much more helpful way of encouraging tourism. As I say, the results so far this year have been extremely encouraging.
Will the Prime Minister accept, in the context of our balance of payments, that the first essential for the restoration of the national credit is that he should resign?
No, Sir, and I pray that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will not either.
Will my right hon. Fiend avail himself of this opportunity to inform the House that if we solve our balance of payments problem by any means we are creating a balance of payments problem for someone else and they will probably take the same opportunity to rid themselves of the encumbrance?
I think that, in a global sense, my hon. Friend is no doubt expressing a great economic truth. It is the job if this Government to look after our own interests.
If, according to his priorities, the Prime Minister thinks it desirable to have a Minister looking after sport, is it not far more desirable to have a Minister looking after tourism in view of our balance of payments situation?
My hon. Friend in the Department of Education and Science has other responsibilities besides sport. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Minister of State, Board of Trade, is employed virtually full-time on the related questions of tourism, civil aviation and shipping. From my own experience—and the right hon. Gentleman who had experience of responsibility for these matters will probably confirm— I think that this is probably the best arrangement in order to maximise our tourist earnings and the number of people coming to this country.
Several Hon. Members rose——
Order. Mr. George Thomson to answer several Questions together.
With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. 7, 8, 12, 16, 21, 22, 24 and 25 together.Since I made my statement in the House on 26th June, after the return of my noble Friend Lord Shepherd from Nigeria, we have taken the following action to aid a settlement of this unhappy war. At our request, Mr. Arnold Smith has taken steps to convey to the Biafran authorities that in the light of my noble Friend's discussions in Lagos, the opening of direct informal discussions between the two parties in London with a view to the reconvening of the Kampala peace talks are, in our view, possible and could be productive. In addition to Mr. Smith's action, Lord Shepherd has spoken yesterday to Mr. Kogbara, who was associated with Sir Louis Mbanefo in his earlier talks and urged upon him the need for a representative of Colonel Ojukwu to come to London as soon as possible in pursuance of the undertaking given by Sir Louis. I have accordingly read with regret— which I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will share—the reports of Colonel Ojukwu's speech on Sunday at Owerri. I hope that this speech does not mean that he has turned his back on the attempt to secure a return to the negotiating table: in that event, the responsibility he would incur would be grave indeed. On the question of our arms policy, I have nothing to add to what I said in the House on 26th June (OFFICIAL REPORT, cols. 444–453). But I should like to take advantage of this opportunity to tell the House of our attitude if, following upon a cease-fire in Nigeria, the two parties to the conflict were to request an external observer force and were to ask for British participation in it. In that event, Her Majesty's Government would be ready to contribute up to one battalion with appropriate support, for a period of up to six months, to a Commonwealth force on the understanding that other Commonwealth countries also agreed to take part on a suitable scale and that such conditions were agreed upon as would permit the force to carry out its duties effectively. Regarding relief, I promised on 26th June to make a further statement on this subject. Subject to parliamentary approval, I can now say that in addition to the £20,000 which we have already given to the Red Cross, Her Majesty's Government will now make available a further sum of up to £250,000 for humanitarian relief in the war-stricken areas of Nigeria, including the Ibo areas. Parliament will be asked in due course to approve a Supplementary Estimate. In the meantime, an advance will if necessary be sought from the Civil Contingencies Fund. The intention is that this relief aid should be used as flexibly as possible in order to make the greatest contribution to the relief of suffering, hardship and malnutrition. To ensure that the money is spent in the most effective way, expert advice and on the spot discussion with local authorities and relief bodies concerned will be necessary. We are, therefore, arranging, given the necessary co-operation of both sides, for a high-powered relief advisory team to go out to Nigeria as a matter of urgency in order to assess the forms which our humanitarian help should take. I am glad to be able to announce that Lord Hunt has accepted the invitation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to lead the relief team to Nigeria and to make recommendations. Sir Colin Thornley, Director-General of the Save the Children Fund, and Mr. A. B. Hodgson, Deputy Director-General of the British Red Cross Society, have agreed to accompany Lord Hunt on this mission. I am sure that the whole House will join with me in expressing our thanks to Lord Hunt and Sir Colin Thornley and Mr. Hodgson for agreeing to undertake this arduous but vital task.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that everyone in the House and in the country will be very pleased about the steps that he has just announced to try to give aid—food and medical supplies—to millions of people in need in Biafra?Is my right hon. Friend also aware that many people here are outraged that arms supplies continue to be sold to the Nigerian Federal Government while there are millions of people starving and near to starvation in Biafra? Will the Government look again urgently at the question of arms supplies to the Nigerian Federal forces?
I think that the important aspect is to bring about a cease-fire. I think that Her Majesty's Government have had some influence concerning the progress that has so far been made. Under these circumstances, I do not see any reason to change the position that was adopted by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when this matter was fully debated in the House a week or two ago.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the next two weeks are absolutely critical, because if supplies of food and medicines, at present sitting in Fernando Po and Lagos, are not got in by air, thousands of children will die? Has my right hon. Friend been able to use his influence to get the Federal Government to agree to Oxfam operating from Fernando Po a Hercules aircraft, which is available, and for which they are prepared to pay, which later this week could be flying in 100 tons a day?
I understand that discussions are proceeding between the International Red Cross, Oxfam, the Ibo authorities in the East and the Federal Government in Lagos about the urgent matter that my hon. Friend has raised. From what I have been able to see of the appalling position around the fighting line in Nigeria, I think that there is a need for an emergency airlift. However, it is equally important to realise that if the human need is to be met in these areas the necessary volume of supplies can only be brought in by overland routes. The difficulty in getting agreement to that comes not from Lagos—they have given their agreement readily to these arrangements —but from the authorities in the Ibo areas.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that only within the last few days Biafra was described as a modern Belsen where 3,000 children have died from starvation and disease? While we welcome the additional £250,000 aid, will my right hon. Friend see to it that the amount is substantially stepped up to make our contribution towards alleviating any further suffering by the people of Biafra?
I think that £250,000 is a very substantial contribution towards dealing with this problem. It is not directly a British responsibility; it is an International problem. I hope that the example set by Her Majesty's Government will be followed by some other countries.
Is the Government's argument against stopping arms supplies the allegation that it gives us influence? Since the slaughter and starvation are continuing, it is clearly not giving us influence. Why cannot the Minister listen to the obvious feeling throughout the House and the nation that the Government should stop, jointly and individually, this traffic in arms?
I think that if my hon. Friend with his usual fairness, studies what I have said he will see some evidence in the initiative that we have taken, and the results that we have obtained, of the kind of influence that we have with the Federal Government of Nigeria which is, after all, a major fellow Commonwealth Government. I am sure that at the moment very little slaughter is taking place. It is starvation which is of immediate concern, and the obstacle to getting something done about it is that the proposals made by the Federal Government to pull back their troops and have a kind of corridor of mercy have so far been obstructed by the authorities in the Ibo region.
Having had lunch with a Member of Parliament of the Eastern Region who almost alone out of 300 people survived a massacre by the Ibos, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that atrocities have been committed by both sides? Although many of us have sympathy for the Ibo people, now that it looks as though their food and lives can be safeguarded internationally is not there some way of overcoming the suicidal wishes of their leaders and appealling to the Ibo people to come to a conference?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I am sure that he is right. A civil war is one of the greatest tragedies that can happen, and a civil war of this character has meant that there have been atrocities on both sides. I hope that Colonel Ojukwu will respond to the appeal made by the hon. Gentleman and send somebody to the conference table. We could get these talks started immediately. They could bring about a cease-fire, and also be of vital importance in setting international agreement about a real international effort to alleviate the suffering and hardship that is going on.
The right hon. Gentleman has made some announcements this afternoon which I think the House will welcome, but they are in the rather longer term. So is the organisation of supplies over the land route. Is not the essential factor an assurance from Colonel Gowon that he will allow an airlift from Fernando Po? Cannot he ask Colonel Gowon to give an assurance that there is no possible obstacle in the way of that being done? I should have thought that that was the first thing to do.
About an hour before coming to the House I heard from Lagos that the problem raised by the right hon. Gentleman was under active discussion in Lagos between the Federal Government and the International Red Cross about the means of delivering supplies to the rebel areas. An emergency airlift is one possibility which the Federal Government have not ruled out.
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the detailed report in this morning's Scotsman in which the International Red Cross said that a cease-fire is essential in Nigeria if the Ibo people are to return to their villages and produce food themselves? Can the right hon. Gentleman say that we are contributing to a cease-fire if we and other nations of the world indiscriminately pour arms into the country?
I studied the report in the Scotsman this morning, and was very much impressed by the account it gave of the human suffering, as one has been by so many reports coming out of these areas. But it is untrue to say that the British Government are indiscriminately pouring in arms. The arms which we provide for the Federal Government are under careful scrutiny and control all the time. The fighting is not taking place on any scale at the moment, as a result of self-restraint exercised by the Federal Government. I am sure that the important thing for us all to concentrate on is to persuade the Ibo authorities to do two things. First, to come and talk around the conference table, and, secondly, to respond to the offer to pull back the fighting men and thus create a corridor of mercy and get supplies moving on an adequate scale to deal with the problem.
Will my right hon. Friend be more precise about the observer force which he said the Government are ready to promise? Will it be armed?
Some contingency planning has been going on for some time about the possibility of this kind of Commonwealth force, but I think that my hon. and learned Friend will understand that it is impossible to make very much progress until we are rather closer to knowing how many people will be willing to participate, and in what circumstances. Her Majesty's Government thought it right to take the initiative in this matter and give the kind of lead that we have sought to give this afternoon, and we hope that it will meet with some response.
While the House welcomes the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I think that many of us feel that its speed is not being met by the right hon. Gentleman's proposals. There is essentially a matter of speed in these things. Will he consider again the idea of making a Royal Air Force detachment available to the International Red Cross? It is only by air that we can get supplies m quickly enough.
Speed is of the essence in our proposal for a relief mission. I hope that, with the necessary co-operation in Nigeria, Lord Hunt and his colleagues will be there at the end of this week. I think that we must await the report which they will bring back, with a proper sense of urgency, to enable us to decide, among other things, what is the best transport method of meeting these needs. In the meantime, I am in no doubt that there is a need for an emergency airlift as a temporary measure, but I hope that the House will accept that if supplies are to be provided on an adequate scale they must go in by overland routes.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that if the Ibos are not cooperating this is probably because we are failing to show our moral responsibility in this crisis? How can they possibly place reliance on us when we are putting supplies into the hands of their enemies? I know the difficulties confronting the Government, but is it not possible to stop supplies even for two or three weeks while these negotiations are going on, to give the Ibos some feeling of security in this matter?
I think that giving the Ibos a feeling of security is a vital element in this whole situation. It is for this reason that we have given the backing we have to the idea of a Commonwealth force. I think that this kind of international force will give the Ibos a longer term sense of security. I hope that on the basis of being given that assurance they will be ready to come