HC Deb 24 April 1969 vol 782 cc657-9
Q8. Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

asked the Prime Minister whether he will state the number of officials and other staff that accompanied him at public expense on his recent visit to Nigeria; and if he will state the total cost of the visit.

The Prime Minister

There were 20 advisers and officials, including Lord Hunt and Mr. Macolm MacDonald, and 33 other staff concerned with secretarial administration and security duties.

It is not yet possible to give firm figures for the total cost of the visit but the estimated cost is under £50,000. This includes the cost of supporting aircraft, including the transport of relief supplies.

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

Does the Prime Minister agree that, unless he was far more certain than he could have been that he and he alone was likely to achieve some success as a result of this visit, the task was more fitted to have been undertaken by the Foreign Secretary, and at less cost?

The Prime Minister

This was considered. As I have explained to the House, one of the main reasons why I went was that I felt it necessary to represent to those whom I saw the acute anxiety of the House about a large number of questions, on which I received satisfactory replies. For example, one was about the terms under which the Nigerian Government were prepared to enter into negotiations. A great volume of expenditure is involved in relief supplies, and I had to satisfy myself about what the priorities were in the matter of relief. The hon. Gentleman will know that, quite apart from the deep issues on the war and on relief which have upset the House, the continuance of the war for a day longer than is avoidable involves this country in heavy economic cost.

Mr. Ogden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the best possible way in which £50,000 could be expended by a nation as rich as ours is in an endeavour to bring peace and prosperity to our brothers in Africa?

The Prime Minister

If one compares the cost of the visit and the achievements, not only in Nigeria but also in talks with O.A.U. and with the Emperor, with the continuing cost to this country for two years, the cost of the visit represents a small fraction of the cost to this country in one day of the war.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Will the Prime Minister say what was the cost of sending H.M.S. "Fearless" to Lagos? In retrospect, does not he think that H.M.S. "Fearless" would have been better employed in the Mediterranean, where there was considerable activity by ships of other nations?

The Prime Minister

H.M.S. "Fearless" was not due at that time to stay in the Mediterranean. To answer the question I would have to get separate costs for various elements in the estimates being constructed. There were a number of reasons why H.M.S. "Fearless" was used. One was that, if it had been possible—and it looked likely at one moment—that there could be talks with Colonel Ojukwu, which might have helped to resolve the issue more quickly than it has been resolved, then it was desirable to give him a chance of talks in an area in which he would feel thoroughly secure and away from Federal control.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the Prime Minister also recall that before his visit he had been hard pressed by many of us to make representations to the Nigerian Federal Government on the cessation of bombing operations and also about ensuring the personal safety of the Ibo people in the entourage of Colonel Ojukwu. We are greatly satisfied that he himself undertook this task.

The Prime Minister

I thank my hon. Friend for those words. Those were two of the four important issues which I took up with General Gowon. In fact, the visit was originally planned and settled, not even in the period when these representations were being strongly made. It had been settled some weeks before, and before the serious debate which took place in the House was scheduled. After that I felt all the more strengthened in the representations which I had to make.

Sir Knox Cunningham

If the Prime Minister feels that the expenditure of £50,000 was of value to this country in respect of the visit to Nigeria, would he consider going to Anguilla?

Mr. James Johnson

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is not back-benchers who matter in this respect, but that the O.A.U. thought that the Prime Minister did a magnificent job in going there, and that they are saying so in Africa at this moment?

The Prime Minister

There are one or two developments which have not yet, we are sad to see, led to a cessation of the fighting. The discussions in Addis Adaba following those in Nigeria may have contributed in small measure to this. Where I take issue with my hon. Friend is that I know that when I was expressing these anxieties in Nigeria, I was speaking for a large number of hon. Members on the other side of the House as well as on this side. My doing so was generally welcomed in Africa.