HC Deb 24 October 2001 vol 373 cc270-1
6. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton)

If she will make a statement on her Department's work in Nigeria. [6116]

Hilary Benn

Nigeria has suffered a long period of economic, social and political disruption under a series of military Governments, and poverty is widespread. So far, reform has been disappointing, but we are committed to long-term support so that the country can fulfil its considerable potential. DFID is working at federal level to support economic reform, the reduction of poverty and strengthening of the justice system, and at local level, with four states, to show how reform can deliver practical benefits to the poor. We also continue to support the fight against HIV-AIDS.

Linda Gilroy

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will know that I and a number of members of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visited Nigeria this summer. We came away with a strong and clear understanding of Nigeria's pivotal importance to Africa's future welfare. Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that he will keep a close eye on the Department's programme in Nigeria, especially in light of the regrettable incidents of recent days and weeks?

Hilary Benn

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Nigeria has one fifth of the continent's population. About 70 per cent. of the country's population live on less than a dollar a day, so progress in Nigeria will be crucial to Africa's chances of meeting the millennium development goals.

My hon. Friend will know from her recent visit that Nigeria has great natural resources. It has enormous potential if it can put the past behind it and seize the opportunity that now presents itself. The House will also be aware that a dozen leaders of African states met in Abuja formally to launch the new African initiative, which we greatly welcome

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

I read in a newspaper this morning that there is talk of a Marshall aid plan for Africa. Is that a possibility, or is it just pie in the sky?

Hilary Benn

The initiative that the leaders of Africa have taken in establishing the new African initiative is a very welcome development. It is a recognition, from within the continent, that Africa needs to take control of the process involved in dealing with the issues of good governance and the other matters that hon. Members raised in earlier questions. The international community's responsibility is to make sure that, by helping to improve health care and education, we play our part in supporting those Governments as they reform and tackle the questions of governance. That will lead to the sort of regeneration in Africa that I think the whole House wants.

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