HC Deb 14 July 2004 vol 423 cc1392-3
2. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab)

What assistance his Department is giving to the development of (a) civil society and (b) women's rights in the countries of the Maghreb. [183719]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas)

DFID does not have any bilateral programmes in the Maghreb region. However, working with colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have successfully encouraged the EU through its MEDA programme to use its resources to assist civil society organisations and to promote women's rights. In addition, the FCO's global opportunities fund supports a number of projects in the Maghreb region that seek to increase the participation of women and promote good governance.

Mr. Marsden

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. This is a critical and opportune time for north Africa and the countries of the Maghreb. I had the privilege of chairing a conference with their Foreign Ministers here two or three weeks ago, and the emphasis was on the building up of civil society and, especially, the extension of women's rights, to which Baroness Symons referred. Will my hon. Friend work closely with his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promote and develop our relations with the Maghreb? Those countries should not be seen as only within the French sphere of influence: they are keen to have support and encouragement for civil society projects and women's rights from Britain.

Mr. Thomas

I congratulate my hon. Friend on chairing and initiating the conference to which he referred and on his work on the issue over a long period of time. As he may be aware, a series of donors already provide substantial aid in the Maghreb region. The Commission, for example, provides some €700 million to the middle east and Africa and a further €30 million to Mauritania. I can give a specific example to offer my hon. Friend encouragement that the type of work he wants to see is happening. In Mauritania, about €10 million have been set aside to build up the capacity of civil society organisations and to promote human rights. Clearly, more is needed and the European Commission, at the most recent Council of Ministers, made a commitment to do just that.

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