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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, due to the current situation, there is a great deal of concern and some chaos regarding the emergence of political decisions in Zimbabwe? In the light of that, does she recognise that Zimbabweans, black or white, who stand up for democracy and the rule of law could be particularly at risk? Can she assure the House that, in issuing visas, our own High Commission will bear very much in mind the claim and the record of those seeking asylum as to whether they have shown commitment to those principles in Zimbabwe?
Lord Blaker: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that the Government recently published ideas about concerted international action to deal with humanitarian catastrophes within states? Is she aware that the United States Administration seem to be thinking along similar lines to those of the United Kingdom Government? Does she recall that, both in 1999 and in 2002, Mr Kofi Annan said the following in the United Nations human rights commission:
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that there needs to be concerted international action. On the matter of human rights, he will recall that a human rights resolution on Zimbabwe was tabled at the UN Commission on Human Rights but that a blocking action by African states prevented that resolution going through. With respect to the broader humanitarian situation, the international community is gravely concerned. I myself have raised this matter with colleagues particularly in southern African countries, and we have looked at the implications for their countries in particular. We need to work to restore human rights, the rule of law and a stable democratic government in Zimbabwe for the good of ordinary Zimbabweans.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister noticed the report in today's Washington Times that Mugabe might be prepared to retire to somewhere such as Malaysia and live on the proceeds of his 100 million dollars in ill-gotten gains? Does she agree that, in the light of what has happened in the case of other dictators such as Abacha in Nigeria and Fujimori in Peru, it would be totally unacceptable to allow Mugabe to walk off with the wealth that he has stolen from the Zimbabwean people?
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, has the noble Baroness seen the latest detailed documentary advice showing how children who do not have the right ZANU-PF connections are being starved and consequently dying? Is she aware of that evidence about this violent and racist regime? If she has not seen it, would she like me to supply it to her later this afternoon?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of what has been said about the politicisation of food aid in Zimbabweindeed, we have discussed it in this House. I have sought to reassure the House on various occasions that the money we are giving for humanitarian assistance in Zimbabwe goes through the UN and NGO channels. There are two different channels: the channel for the destitute, which is the UN/NGO channel; and the Government of Zimbabwe channel by means of the monopoly of the Grain Marketing Board. It is the latter food aid that is being politicised and diverted. We have very little influence, as noble Lords know, with the Government of Zimbabwe on that.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, do the Government recognise the constructive role played by the Government of Mozambique in welcoming fugitives from Zimbabwe, both farm workers and farmers? Do they recognise Mozambique's role in the Commonwealth and its possible importance as a diplomatic player?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Earl is quite right. There are several countries in southern Africa whose role in this crisis is absolutely critical. Mozambique is one of those countries. I have had discussions with the President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mozambique. I am aware that President Chisano has worked tirelessly behind the scenes. I believe that Mozambique will continue to take a keen interest in these matters.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are keeping that under constant review. A recent assessment identified that some 7.8 million Zimbabweans will now require food aid. Our humanitarian assistance has increased to £49 million, and my right honourable friend Clare Short has said that we will continue to do what we can to help the poor and vulnerable in Zimbabwe.
I draw particular attention to three of the recommendations made in the report. First, I know that many Deputy Chairmen, members of the Procedure Committee and other Members of the House feel strongly on the question of attendance of debates of noble Lords who take part. A substantial number of speakers in recent debates have excused themselves from the greater part of the debate and, in particular, have been absent from the opening or closing speeches.
The report sets out the guidance in the Companion, which is clear and firm. Noble Lords who are unable to be present for the opening and closing speeches are expected to withdraw from the list. An apology at the start of the speech is insufficient.
Secondly, the Procedure Committee has noted an increasing tendency for irrelevant supplementary questions to be asked and answered. The report reminds the House that supplementary questions should be confined to the subject of the original question and that Ministers should not answer irrelevant questions.
Thirdly, the Procedure Committee has noted recent instances of Back-Bench interventions on Statements which are far from brief. With a 20-minute limit on Back-Bench questions and answers, long interventions and replies are unfair to others who may wish to speak.
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