Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is not the problem that, while several important countries are refusing to play the same game, in principle we are all broadly in favour of untying aid, although I can see that not everyone's record is perfect? However, given the determination of some countries to continue to tie aid, will the Minister reassure us that British business and British exporters will not be placed in an unfair or disadvantageous position by premature unilateral decisions by the British Government and that she will work through multilateral decisions to see that everyone plays the game together?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we take this matter extremely seriously and have been at the forefront of discussions in the OECD. However, we feel that the issue needs to be taken forward by all OECD countries. It has never been the intention of this Government to undermine the position of British business.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the Minister say what action DfID has taken in building capacity in the procurement area so that countries can spend their budgets wisely rather than according to the size of the bribes being offered?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, DfID has taken action with regard to its own local procurement policies. I am pleased to be able to report to the House that, in the countries where we have piloted such initiatives, since 1997-98 the amount of local procurement has increased from 5 per cent to 12 per cent. We aim also to strengthen the capacity within developing countries for competent and honest procurement. In Tanzania, for example, we have a procurement consultant who is working with the ministry of health. We have taken a similar initiative with the forestry commission in Ghana, and we shall continue to examine the question of assisting developing countries in the whole area of procurement and corruption.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, as well as the OECD inquiries to which she referred, is my noble friend aware that a European Commission inquiry is being held into tied aid practices in EU member states? Will she encourage the Commission to conclude that inquiry as quickly as possible, especially in relation to EU competition and internal market policies? In that respect, is my noble friend in a position to say anything about DfID procurement policies in addition to that which she has already said about the local element of procurement?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are aware of the European Union action. We welcome any action

22 Jun 2000 : Column 427

which the European Commission can take in securing agreement across Europe on the issue of untying aid. My noble friend may be aware that such action is being taken by the Commission following an initiative by Action Aid and some 900 European NGOs on the issue of tying bilateral aid programmes. My right honourable friend Clare Short raised the issue at the development council of the European Union. She pressed the European Commission to take a much closer interest in the matter and we have been looking to the Commission for early action. Therefore, we are very pleased that it has now decided to take that action.

With regard to DfID's own performance, noble Lords may be pleased to hear that, in addition to the points that I made to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in 1998 80 per cent of the UK bilateral aid programme was untied.

Zimbabwe: Elections

3.23 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consultations they have had with the United Nations authorities concerning the elections in Zimbabwe.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we have been in regular contact with the UN over a period of months with regard to the elections in Zimbabwe. We are dismayed that the Government of Zimbabwe have not allowed the United Nations Development Programme to co-ordinate the activities of the various observer missions, a role that UNDP does well. However, we understand that a good degree of informal co-ordination takes place between the observer teams and we look forward to hearing the results of their endeavours.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, given the very unsatisfactory situation which the noble Baroness describes, can she tell us a little about what the Government believe will develop after the weekend? Is not the problem that, if Mugabe wins, he will have done so by thuggery, rigging, deceit and brutal murder? If the courageous MDC wins, nevertheless he will be president and there is a real danger of colossal violence. Can she tell us what the Government's policy will be next week when it will be vitally important to ensure that the whole international community moves in to support the forces of law and prevents this fine country descending still further into darkness and despair?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, although I endorse the concerns expressed by the noble Lord about the dire position in Zimbabwe, it is of the utmost importance that we await the outcome of the elections and also the outcome of the reports from the observers

22 Jun 2000 : Column 428

who are on the ground. They will be able to provide the best intelligence about how the elections have proceeded. It would be premature to say anything at this stage about what we plan after the elections.

Lord Marsh: My Lords--

Lord Avebury: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, I believe that there is plenty of time for both the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Marsh. I believe that I heard a request for the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, to speak first.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, I express gratitude to my sponsors. Can the Minister conceive of any circumstances in which the outcome of the election could be regarded as the process of a democratic free election? Does she not consider there to be a very real danger that at the end of this phoney exercise all that the observers will have been able to provide is a cloak of respectability for a ruler who does not deserve it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the most important matter is to know the outcome of the election. I do not like to speculate, but if we were to find that the opposition was successful and that, notwithstanding the appalling situation in Zimbabwe, the turnout meant that Mr Mugabe was no longer in power, very few people would say that the election should not have some cogency and be given recognition. Therefore, I believe that we must stand ready to make an accurate and clear-sighted assessment. We know the extent to which people have suffered in the interim. That will probably influence our judgment when we come to decide what to make of the elections once they are completed.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that a consortium of local NGOs has been formed to monitor not only the elections but the observation or otherwise of freedom of expression and of assembly during the run-up period? As the international community has not been able to monitor the election satisfactorily, will the Government discuss with the United Nations the advantages of disseminating the report which will be produced by that local consortium and which will be of greater interest in view of the difficulties experienced by the United Nations?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am quite confident that all parties will want to garner as much information as possible about what has occurred on the ground during the elections. Therefore, I am relatively confident in saying that we shall look with great interest at the intelligence that has been garnered by the non-governmental organisations.

Baroness Young: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us whether the Government are in close discussion

22 Jun 2000 : Column 429

with other members of the Commonwealth, particularly African countries, about what might be done in the light of the outcome of this election?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, much vigorous debate has taken place with various members of the Commonwealth. Many members have taken an intimate interest in what is happening. As noble Lords already know, the UN has a presence there. Therefore, I can reassure the noble Baroness that we are very open to working with our partners--the Commonwealth, in particular--and they have all expressed a keen interest in what is occurring in Zimbabwe.

Lord Acton: My Lords, I have many relatives and masses of friends in Zimbabwe. Following on from the question of the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, does the Minister believe that the presence of the international observers has probably done something to reduce the violence slightly?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we certainly hope so. We also hope that the presence of the international observers will give courage to the people of Zimbabwe so that they will at least attempt to register their view on how their country should properly be managed.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: President Mbeki was present at the summit in Feira, where there was a meeting on Africa. What did the Government and the other European Union powers do to persuade him to take more positive action than he has done so far, given the awful effects for South Africa as well as for Zimbabwe of the Mugabe policies?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page