§ 12. Mr. Barnes
asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs how many Nigerian students in the United Kingdom have been reported to his Department as being placed in financial difficulties as a result of events in Nigeria; and what arrangements he has been able to make to enable them to continue their studies.
§ Mr. George Thomas
Up to 9th October, 29 applications for financial assistance had been received by the area offices of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, Ministry of Social Security, from Nigerian students who are in financial difficulties. About a dozen similar cases have been brought to the attention of my Department and students are being advised that they can claim supplementary benefit on condition of registering for employment. Many of these students came here to study at their own expense and it is not possible for the British Government to provide funds for them to continue their studies. I am, however, in touch with the Nigerian High Commissioner about this problem.
§ Mr. Barnes
Would my hon. Friend not agree that the way in which Mr. Charles Umeh, a Biafran, has been shunted about between the British Council and the Ministry of Social Security, with very little help being given, is most disappointing? Surely Commonwealth students in this country, at a time when their own country is torn by civil war, deserve more help than they seem to be getting at the moment?
§ Mr. Thomas
I will look into the case which my hon. Friend has raised. On the second point, it must be borne in mind that there are limits to what the British taxpayer—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I do not want any cheers from the other side of the House. There are limits and, therefore, we must ensure that proper inquiries are made.
§ Mr. Tilney
Would the Minister of State confirm that when on 20th July I asked him a similar question he said that there had been few requests. Even now there are only 29, which is a very small number. Will he see that his answer is well advertised? Also will he 1485 confirm that at last the Federal Government have decided to pay the pensions of British civil servants, for the payment of whose pensions the Eastern Regional Government are responsible?
§ Mr. Thomas
That latter point is another matter. However, I hope that publicity will be given to the figures that I have announced.
§ Mr. Wilkins
Will my hon. Friend say whether there is not another difficulty arising in connection with this matter? Is it not true to say that some of these students who find themselves in this unfortunate position are willing to work during weekends in hospitals and such places in order to obtain some money but that there is some difficulty about work permits? Will my hon. Friend look into that point?
§ Mr. Thomas
The question of work permits is not one for me, but I will look into the matter to see whether I can help.