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5. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What his assessment is of the humanitarian situation in (a) Nigeria and (b) the Niger Delta; and if he will make a statement. [705]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): After 40 years of military dictatorship, mismanagement, and corruption, Nigeria's human development indicators are among the worst in the world. The situation in the Niger delta, although bad, is better than in most other parts of the country. Nigeria is now making some real progress and this is the best opportunity for reform in a generation. Last week, I visited Nigeria for talks with President Obasanjo, and announced a further £19 million in aid to improve the effectiveness of the federal Government. This is part of a trebling of UK aid to Nigeria from £35 million in 2003–04 to £100 million in 2007–08.

John Robertson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that extensive answer and for going to the Niger delta to see the situation. What work is he doing with the non-governmental organisations on the ground and with other Government Departments to ensure that there is stability in the Niger delta?

Hilary Benn: Principally, we are working with the Government of Nigeria to support the reform process. One example is that the Nigerians are now supporting the extractive industries' transparency initiative, which aims to ensure that the natural resource which is of such benefit to Nigeria—oil—is used in a transparent and open way and does not fuel the corruption that is such a problem in the Niger delta. We are not working in the Niger delta states because they receive 30 per cent. of the total revenue allocated to states in Nigeria, but they contain only 13 per cent. of the population. That is why I said that, relatively speaking, they are better off. But tackling corruption, improving security and reforming the way in which the public administration works will help to deal with the problems that that part of Nigeria faces.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I am sure my right hon. Friend will recognise the work done by our former colleague, Bill Tynan in
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setting up the Niger delta group, and also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), who has volunteered to keep that going. Is not one of the problems in Nigeria that, because of cheap oil, 75 per cent. of the gas coming out of the oilfields in Nigeria is still flared when that resource could be used for the people of Nigeria and their economy? With the technical expertise that we have, can we not help the Nigerian Government to harness that gas and bring it to the mainland to be used for economic benefits?

Hilary Benn: I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to our hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) and our former colleague, Bill Tynan, who have played a part in the all-party group. I am sure that this is an issue that both the oil companies and the Nigerian Government will happily consider if they can find a way of making it work. Despite the fact that Nigeria has a lot of oil, its GDP per head is still only $350 because it is a very populous country, and therefore sometimes people have a misinformed impression about how well-off Nigeria is. It is very poor and that is why we are increasing our aid programme. It is also why we are backing the calls for debt relief from Nigeria, and that will be very important in helping the country to progress.

AIDS Orphans

6. Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the situation of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. [707]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): According to UN statistics, more than 14 million children under 15 have lost parents to AIDS in Africa. Those orphans are more likely than other children to go hungry, miss school and lack the basic needs such as clothing and shelter. Sixteen African countries have now developed national plans to tackle the problem and the UK has committed to spending £123 million over three years to help AIDS orphans and vulnerable children in the sub-continent.

Alistair Burt: I commend to the Secretary of State the report recently published by World Vision, looking in particular at four sub-Saharan African countries, which confirmed the sad conclusions that he read out in relation to those orphans' access to education, health care and their basic needs. That is contrary to national and international commitments to them already entered into. In encouraging others to ensure that those commitments are given a higher priority, will he please look in particular at the need for research into children's antiretroviral formulas, because the absence of that treatment for children is making their distressed condition even more vulnerable?

Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman makes an important suggestion that I undertake to look into and to write to him on. More broadly, part of the funding that we are making available will go to help pay the school fees of AIDS orphans who would not otherwise be able to afford to go to school, help with feeding at school and providing the needs of life, such as bedding,
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somewhere to sleep and someone to care for them. When we consulted on our AIDS plan, one point that came back strongly was that we need to do more to support orphans, and out of that, from the £1.5 billion commitment that we have made over the next three years, we have earmarked this sum to work specifically with AIDS orphans and to support the countries that are increasingly developing policies to provide practical help on the ground.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that women in sub-Saharan Africa do not have equality of access to antiretroviral therapies. What is his Department doing to ensure equity and equality of access in order to reduce maternal and child mortality and the number of AIDS orphans?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are doing that, first by supporting the development of health services in Africa so that they are better able to provide for the needs of all; secondly, by saying very clearly that—to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt)—the needs of women and children should be taken into account, so that it is not just men who have access to the treatment; and, thirdly, by funding ground-breaking research, such as that being done into microbicides, which, if successful, would provide women with a chance to protect themselves from HIV.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that, AIDS being one of the major problems confronting the continent of Africa, a more strategic approach is needed to the way in which we help those countries. Can he give us an update on the progress in establishing the Commission for Africa?

Hilary Benn: The Commission for Africa has reported and it has provided the background, along with a number of other initiatives that have been taken, to the political choice that we face as a world this year as to whether we will do what we know needs to be done to make a difference. That is why yesterday's agreement in Brussels was so significant. Here we have a clear message from a group of very rich countries that it is prepared to put more resources into aid. It is why we need a debt relief deal, why we need the international finance facility and why we need a more open and fairer trading system. The momentum is building, but the real test will be what happens in the G8 and at the millennium summit later this year.

Debt Relief

7. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What debt relief arrangements have been agreed with (a) Sri Lanka and (b) other Asian countries consequent upon the tsunami disaster. [708]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): Sri Lanka will be included in the UK's multilateral debt relief initiative. We will pay 10 per cent. of Sri Lanka's repayments to the World Bank's concessional lending arm for the next 10 years. The Paris Club group of
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Government creditors has also offered Indonesia and Sri Lanka a one-year moratorium on repayments on their bilateral debts.

Dr. Cable: Will the Minister clarify exactly what the Government mean by debt relief? Since I challenged the Chancellor on that matter a few weeks ago, the Sri Lankan authorities have reconfirmed that what they are being offered is not debt relief but debt postponement, and that interest is not being written off but merely capitalised. Will the Minister please clarify that point?

Mr. Thomas: As I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would know, we have offered to service 100 per cent. of the debt involved. We have already had a number of discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities. As I indicated earlier, I hope to visit Sri Lanka and Indonesia, and we will have further discussions with the authorities about that issue.

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