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Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that to talk at this stage of suspending Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth and to argue that the rules of engagement should be changed, as the Opposition now suggest, would simply feed the paranoia of those in Zimbabwe who believe that all the problems stem from outside the country? Is not the test as to whether Zimbabwe should remain in the Commonwealth whether the president accepts the result of the elections when they occur, as in the recent referendum the population of Zimbabwe showed itself not so easily taken in by rhetoric?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I can only reiterate that, like everyone in the House, we hope that the elections are fair and free. Although electoral roll registration has been extended to 31st March, no date has yet been announced for the elections. One presumes that they will slip from April in to May, but no date has yet been announced. At the moment therefore we are all discussing this matter in a slight vacuum.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, we understand, of course, the point that the noble Baroness has made about the Harare principles. However, the continued seizure of land and handing it over to friends of Mr Mugabe is entirely unacceptable. Is there not some way in which we can discuss this matter with some degree of urgency with other leading members of the Commonwealth so that a joint approach can be made to Mr Mugabe, pointing out that if he continues to behave in this fashion the most serious consequences will follow?
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that equitable and legitimate land reform to change the status quo is nevertheless essential for Zimbabwe? Will Her Majesty's Government support that?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we have always recognised the need for equitable land redistribution and have to date contributed £44 million to a land reform programme. A noble Lord opposite says the words "serious socialism" from a sedentary position. I do not see why recognising the need for equitable land redistribution in Zimbabwe is a party political point. We remain willing to support a land reform programme that is transparent, fair and cost effective and which contributes to the reduction of poverty in Zimbabwe. These principles were agreed by the Zimbabwe Government and international donors at the land conference held in Harare in September 1998. We are now looking at a number of proposals submitted by the private sector and NGOs. Noble Lords opposite hiss the word "stealing" from a sedentary position. Have they not heard of the compensation arrangements? To date, in spite of all the rhetoric, no land has been taken without compensation.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, will the noble Baroness impress upon the Secretary of State, who will go to Cairo this weekend to attend the Europe/Africa Conference, that he should take these matters up in no uncertain terms on behalf of all those who love Zimbabwe and cannot bear to see what is being done to its ordinary people? I am sorry that the Prime Minister will not now go to Cairo, but it seems to me that we have a good opportunity this weekend, with our European partners, to make a difference. Will the noble Baroness please ensure that that is done?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, is absolutely right that all friends of Zimbabwe--that is very much the position of Her Majesty's Government--are extremely upset and concerned about the situation in which Zimbabwe
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the Zimbabwean Registrar General has rejected an offer from the United Nations to assist with the preparation of the register; that the provisional register is not to be produced until the middle of April, and that in those circumstances it is virtually impossible to go through the statutory procedures that would be required for a free and fair election to be held this side of the end of May, in spite of Mr Mugabe's denials that it will spill over until June? Has the noble Baroness seen the reports in a Zimbabwean newspaper about the diversion of aid money running to tens of millions received from China and Libya into the ZANU-PF coffers to help them fight the election? If the Commonwealth Secretariat is not able to send a mission to observe the election, will it at least carry out a study from a distance to see whether it can be deemed free and fair?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raises many different points. I reassure him that we shall all do our utmost to take whatever steps we can to make sure that the elections in Zimbabwe are fair and just.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as of 30th March this year there were 65,403 prisoners held in prison establishments in England and Wales. It is estimated that the prison population will be some 70,100 at the end of March 2001.
Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, I am most grateful for that information. However, I am bound to say that I find those high figures and the prospect of further increases to come somewhat disquieting. Everyone would agree that offenders convicted of serious crimes should normally be sentenced to imprisonment, but not everyone in prison falls into that category. I wish to ask the Minister two questions. First, am I right in assuming that this Government at any rate do not regard it as a matter of pride that we have more people imprisoned in this country, in proportion, than any other country in western Europe
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall deal, if I may, with the second point first. I entirely agree with the distinguished noble Lord that it is most important that we stimulate a better quality of public debate and perhaps a more reasoned reaction from the media to prison and prison regimes. However, it is not the Government who imprison people; it is the courts. The courts take a view based on the evidence before them. As to whether the Government take pride in the size of the prison population, we have a duty to provide prison places for those whom the courts have sentenced to imprisonment. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will agree that that is the right way forward. We predict, we provide and we try to ensure that prison regimes are effective in restraining people and in stopping them from committing further crimes. That is one of the primary purposes of the prison regimes.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I agree that since 1992 the prison population has risen by 60 per cent. However, the population of women's prisons has risen by a staggering 140 per cent. Does the Minister accept that much of this increase is due to drug-related crime and an element of harshness in sentencing women? Will he have a word with his right honourable friend the Home Secretary to ensure that he uses one of his high-powered speeches to draw attention to the effect that the harsh prison sentencing of women has, especially on children? Will he ensure that this is drawn to the attention of judges?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not wish to argue with the noble Lord's statistics today; that would not be too fruitful. It is the case that the number of women in prison has increased remarkably over that period. That is, no doubt, a reflection of the seriousness of many of the crimes they have committed. The noble Lord's observation about their crimes in relation to drugs is also true. We have to find prison regimes that are effective and that turn people away from a life of drugs and crime. That is in everyone's and society's best interests.
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