HC Deb 17 July 1995 vol 263 cc1306-8
39. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will review aid provision to Nigeria. [32793]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

We have no plans to review our aid programme to Nigeria. Since the annulment of democratic elections in 1993 new projects have been confined to those bringing direct benefits to poor Nigerians.

Mr. Hain

I congratulate the Minister on his new job and hope that it will be gaff free.

I urge the Minister to stop all aid to Nigeria. Surely, that country is now behaving like a banana republic—it refused to recognise the free and fair 1993 elections, imprisoned the victor, Moshood Abiola and prosecuted, on a fraudulent basis, with the promise of a death penalty, Ken Saro-Wiwa and other representatives of the Ogoni people. The Government are not fit to be recognised by the rest of the world and a tough stand must be taken against them to ensure that human rights abuses end and democracy is restored as soon as possible.

Mr. Hanley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for some of his opening remarks. I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on these responsibilities. It is a great honour to be a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; it is one of the most fascinating and absorbing of offices. My slightly less than conventional direction of approach to the Department makes no difference to my delight at serving in it.

To turn to the matter at hand, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) knows Nigeria well and has taken on responsibilities there on our behalf. He will know that, if we stopped aid to Nigeria, the people who would suffer would not be the military Government, but the poorest people. We take great care to ensure that aid goes directly to the poor. We avoid using the Government; we use non-governmental organisations wherever possible. Exactly those people for whom the hon. Gentleman cares would suffer if we followed his policy.

Mr. Lester

Will my right hon. Friend look into the case of General Obasanjo, whom many of us know and have worked with. He has been charged and convicted by a military court and we are concerned that somebody of his age and experience should be kept under house arrest or in prison.

Does my right hon. Friend have any knowledge about whether General Abacha is going to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland? If the general is not going, will my right hon. Friend try to persuade him to go so that he can receive the full weight of the views of the Commonwealth leaders on the way that he is running his country?

Mr. Hanley

We noticed, of course, the announcement on 14 July that 40 people have been found guilty, by a military tribunal, in connection with an alleged coup plot. We understand that the verdicts have been submitted to the Provisional Ruling Council for approval and we strongly urge the PRC to display clemency when considering the verdicts against all the accused.

To answer my hon. Friend's second question, there is widespread concern in the Commonwealth about continued military government in west Africa. It is contrary to the principles of the 1991 Harare declaration. It is difficult to see how Nigeria can play a full role in Commonwealth affairs until it puts its house in order.

Mr. Foulkes

I also welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities—I am sure that he will find them more satisfying than his previous incarnation.

Has the Minister had time to discover that one of the criteria for awarding British aid is good governance? Has he seen the comment by his colleague the right hon. and noble Baroness Chalker that, unless there are changes in Nigeria, its membership of the Commonwealth must be reconsidered? I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is not merely rhetoric because the imprisonment of a democratically elected leader is quite intolerable. It is not something that could be described—to use one of his previous phrases—as "mere exuberance".

Mr. Hanley

It is a particular honour and a pleasure to answer in this place for my right hon. and noble Friend Baroness Chalker. I look forward to working with her on this portfolio for many months to come. [Interruption.] For many, many months to come. We are talking about very serious matters, so I ask the hon. Gentleman to lift his game a little.

We share the considerable Commonwealth and African concern about Nigeria. However, sanctions or other such measures could be decided only by the Commonwealth collectively if we chose to embark on that course of action. I agree with my right hon. and noble Friend that Nigeria should have taken very clear steps forward before the Auckland Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, including announcing a credible timetable for a return to civilian democratic rule. I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman's final comments about the imprisonment of any democratically elected person.