HC Deb 20 February 1956 vol 549 cc34-40

3.33 p.m.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, assuring Her Majesty, on the occasion of Her return from Her visit to Nigeria, of the loyal and affectionate welcome of this House to Her Majesty and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. It is a pleasant duty to invite the House to approve this Motion. It was in the reign of another Queen, Queen Victoria, that these wide territories of Nigeria, as they are now known, were first drawn together in a protectorate under British protection. In the interval of more than fifty years those territories have grown in population and in prosperity until they are now, in both respects, the most important of the dependent territories of Her Majesty.

I think that on an occasion like this the House should pay tribute to the many public servants who have literally given their lives in the service of Nigeria over these years and to the many health missionaries who have gone out to that country to fight the fell diseases which used to be so rampant there.

At the time of this visit, those diverse and disparate territories, as they are, with their different races and creeds, present something in the nature of a Commonwealth in miniature which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have been visiting—in the North, at Kaduna, where the Moslem leaders gathered together, some of them travelling many days to be there to greet the Queen; in the West, where the university college, which gives guidance in so many matters to the whole territory, was visited by Her Majesty; and in the Eastern territories, perhaps the most live in enterprise, shall we say, of all three territories, where Her Majesty did that act of visiting the leper settlement, showing thereby her understanding sympathy with the unhappy people who suffer from that disease.

There is one other reason for which I think the House should welcome this occasion, in particular. I notice that in Lagos and in all the regional capitals which Her Majesty visited—all three of them—she received the duty of her loyal subjects through elected assemblies modelled on the same basis as this Parliament at Westminster. That is something in which this country can take pride in this present day and age.

Finally, I am sure that the whole House would pay tribute to Her Majesty and His Royal Highness for the manner in which they at once impressed the people of Nigeria with both their sense of duty and their untiring interest in the daily life of their people. As we welcome them back here and offer our respectful greeting to Her Majesty on her return, so do we join with our fellow subjects in Nigeria in this greeting, and in that expression of our humble duty and our thanks for services so generously and nobly rendered.

3.39 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Gaitskell

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I rise to support the Motion moved in such appropriate and eloquent terms by the Prime Minister.

Very shortly we shall embark on a major debate, in the course of which the clash of opinion will no doubt be expressed in fierce argument and heated controversy, but on this Motion for a humble Address to Her Majesty there is no disagreement between the parties. We all rejoice to see Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh back again safe and sound after their arduous but inspiring tour of Nigeria.

The great value of visits by Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family to the countries of the Commonwealth has, I think, for long been recognised. Indeed, as what was once a Colonial Empire becomes more and more a completely free association of independent self-governing nations, the importance of the Crown not merely as an emblem or a symbol but as a true source of unity becomes even greater. That source, however, would in time dry up if it were not possible for the peoples of the Commonwealth to see Her Majesty in person, as she is, a young and beautiful woman with immense charm and dignity and an obviously sincere care and concern for their welfare. It is this alone which gives life to what might otherwise be a dry constitutional device.

As the Prime Minister has said, the visit to Nigeria had special significance. As the largest of the African Colonies, with a population of over 30 million, well advanced on the road to self-government, it will, we hope, shortly take its place as a fully independent member of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty's visit was peculiarly appropriate at this time in setting the seal, as it were, upon the constitutional changes already made and in helping to overcome the inevitable difficulties in the transition to self-government. By her presence, she will, I am quite sure. have strengthened still further the links of friendship between Nigeria and Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth, and, at the same time, will have helped to create a unity within the different regions of Nigeria.

All of us in Britain have been greatly moved by the wonderful response of the Nigerian people to the Royal visit, by the gay, colourful, enthusiastic and tumultous welcome which the Queen and her husband received wherever they went. If this is in part a reflection on the happy relations existing between the Nigerian people and ourselves, it is even more a spontaneous tribute by millions of Africans to Her Majesty's gracious and winning personality.

With loyalty and affection, we welcome Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh home again after another memorable tour which has strengthened our free Commonwealth, and of which we hope and believe that they, too, will always have the happiest recollections.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. Clement Davies

I should like to join the Prime Minister in paying my own personal tribute to those fine people of Nigeria, whom I had the honour of visiting in the last few months of 1938 and the first few months of 1939. One was able then to see the great struggle which they were making towards improving their economic position, their health service and education. At that time—only at the beginning of 1939—there was a Colony the size of Cornwall, whereas there was a Protectorate four times the size of the British Isles. Since then, there has been the very great progress to which the Prime Minister has already referred.

Once again, we have the opportunity of expressing to Her Majesty and His Royal Highness our gratitude for the unrivalled service which they have rendered to the whole Commonwealth. They have in the highest degree a sense of duty and devotion that not only excites and evokes our admiration, but is also an example to us all, for neither danger nor toil daunts them. What is more, in their pilgrimage they have borne witness to the brotherhood of man and the equality of all of us as members of the Commonwealth. Around them radiates friendliness, good will and happiness, which they arouse in all people, drawing unto themselves not only the affection of those whom they visit but the affection of the people throughout the whole Commonwealth.

We are glad to have this opportunity in this Parliament to record our sincere and heartfelt gratitude, and our indebtedness to these great missionaries of kindliness, understanding, tolerance, fellowship and peace.

3.44 p.m.

Mr. J. McGovern

I am taking the unusual course of associating myself completely with this welcome to Her Majesty the Queen and his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. I was privileged to be in Nigeria when Her Majesty and His Royal Highness came to Lagos, and I had the unusual privilege of seeing them and the population of Nigeria on many occasions. I think that the welcome given them was unprecedented in any part of the world. It is a fitting lesson to those who seek our destruction, but who cannot emulate our institutions.

With my wife, I was there on the day of the Queen's arrival, and from half-past six that morning there was a steady stream of people tramping along the streets, passing, I estimated, at the rate of 200 a minute towards Government House, where the Queen was destined to find a resting place. On that occasion, there was scarcely a man, woman or child who was not decorated in some way, with flags or with decorations, welcoming the Royal visitors. This was no official, manufactured affair, but was a deep welcome from a people who evidently loyally welcomed the opportunity of seeing one whom they recognised as Queen in their country.

I was also invited to the service at Lagos, at which the Duke of Edinburgh read the lesson and at which Her Majesty was also present. It was held at the Cathedral, and my wife and I attended at the invitation of the Bishop. Outside the Cathedral there were tens of thousands of people, and the welcome given to the Queen was absolutely magnificent. I am quite sure that the basis of this tremendous reception lay in the fact that this country had given complete self-government to that part of the world.

I was in the Parliament House later, and saw six or seven Cabinet Ministers and many Members of Parliament. Indeed, when I entered the House, I was surprised to see that our former Clerk of the House was the Speaker in that Assembly. The House was discussing—of all things—teachers' salaries.

I also had the opportunity of going right up to Ibadan University, along the whole route traversed by Her Majesty, and I saw all the arrangements made for the inhabitants of every jungle village to give a welcome to the Queen. There is a deep-seated affection and loyalty in those people and a tremendous enthusiasm for this country and its democratic institutions.

Her Majesty and His Royal Highness carried out this tour with grace, charm and dignity, and I say this by way of personal explanation to those who remember that I used to take a different attitude towards Royalty. I say this to my hon. Friends. When I accepted Moral Rearmament, I completely changed that attitude and found that many of the old proletarian snobberies had gone. The result is that I trust that Her Majesty and His Royal Highness will have a long and happy life, and that the people of the various Colonies will have the opportunity of seeing them in many more visits.

I believe that the hope of mankind lies in touching the hearts of men and women by this peaceful persuasion, and that that is the way in which the world will be saved. I am delighted to have had the privilege of being in Nigeria at the time of the visit of Her Majesty and His Royal Highness.

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am sure that the whole House will be in agreement in welcoming back Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh from their visit to Nigeria. We are glad to see that everybody who worked in connection with the visit has arrived safely back, and that not even the photographers were captured by cannibals or eaten by lions.

Many of us learned facts about Nigeria during the course of the tour which we did not know before. For example, I was surprised to learn that 90 per cent. of the people there are illiterate. Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh certainly did a very great service in attending schools and showing that a great deal needs to be done in Nigeria in order to bring the education of the people up to a decent standard of civilisation.

I thoroughly agree, also, with what the Prime Minister said about the attention that was drawn to the need for improving the health services in Nigeria. When we remember that there are only 500 doctors for 30 million people, we realise what remains to be done in improving health services there. Only 1 million out of 5 million children go to school and only 20,000 to secondary school.

Mr. Martin Lindsay

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is this speech in order?

Mr. Speaker

I am just wondering about that. The Motion is very wide, but its main object is the humble Address which has been proposed by the Prime Minister and supported by other hon. Members. I hope that we shall not extend the debate into a discussion of Nigerian policies.

Mr. Hughes

I was only trying to stress the important services that Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh have rendered to the nation in drawing attention to these facts.

We can also express our gratitude to the Duke of Edinburgh, because I see from the report of the visit published in the Daily Herald—which is very patriotic on these occasions—that Nigerians will longer remember that the Duke was not too proud to crawl, sweating, into a coal mine to see how "the other half" works. I hope that the Minister of Fuel and Power will be able to use the services of the Duke in propaganda for recruiting people into the mines of this country.

There were, however, certain features of the tour which, I think, we might legitimately criticise. I believe that there was too much military display in the tour. I do not think that we were justified in sending Canberra bombers to Nigeria to show our support of, say, Moral Rearmament. Without wishing to anticipate the speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is-about to make, calling for a rigorous examination of national expenditure, may I say that I believe that this tour could have been conducted with greater dignity and greater impressiveness if less money had been spent upon it and some attention had been devoted to the great need for national economy.

Question put and agreed to, nemine contradicente.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, assuring Her Majesty, on the occasion of Her return from Her visit to Nigeria, of the loyal and affectionate welcome of this House to Her Majesty and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of Her Majesty's Household.