Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Communications Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.


6.39 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to call attention to the situation in Zimbabwe; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the head of the World Food Programme, James Morris, has described the situation in Zimbabwe as a humanitarian nightmare. I hope, after reviewing the records of the international bodies, to propose what could still be done to help a Commonwealth country where the people, brave as they are, are near to despair.

Here is a country that, until two years ago, was the bread basket of southern Africa, with a sophisticated, successful economic and public infrastructure; with no race problems, and blessed with the rule of law. Its present collapse is attributed to land reform, which has been presented as driven by a just process of redistribution of land to the indigenous population. However, it has become an instrument of naked power enforced by paid young thugs. It is used for ethnic cleansing; it has destroyed the economy—inflation reached 280 per cent last month—and consigned more than 1.5 million African men, women and children who used to work on farms to starvation and homelessness. They are specifically excluded from the national food assistance programme.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 874

Meanwhile, the Africans from the communal areas were cynically exploited to drive farmers off their farms. They were each given a few hectares of land for subsistence farming without seeds, tools or, above all, title, until they, too, were driven back to the communal areas to starve, as Ministers, soldiers and party members took over the farms.

This, not drought, has led to the famine. The rule of law has been destroyed. The police, public servants and the courts have all been taught that Mugabe is the law and the party is the law. As well as rampant corruption, there is no justice. Others will speak today of the horrific breaches of human rights, from torture and rape to the brainwashing that is now conducted in camps by the feared Green Bombers, who are now forcibly indoctrinating teachers, a much-respected profession.

According to a farm orphan support trust set up in 1997, 47 per cent of the population was at that time 15 or younger; 26 per cent of the adult population was HIV positive; the orphan population was growing by 60,000 children each year, and, by 2003—this year, my Lords—one third of all children under 15 years of age would be orphans.

The first thing that AIDS victims ask for is food for their hungry children. In Zimbabwe there is none. According to the World Food Programme,

    "nationwide shortages of basic commodities and fuel, high parallel market prices and runaway inflation are a formula for disaster. More than half of Zimbabwe's 12 million people are now living with the threat of starvation. We are seeing hunger-related diseases. Children have dropped out of schools. Desperate families in rural Zimbabwe have resorted to eating wild fruits and tubers, some poisonous, just to survive. The government has declined permission for us to conduct nutritional surveys that would help target what resources we have to the hardest hit areas . . . Food is seen as a weapon in domestic politics".

James Morris made that statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.

So what have we done and what could we do to help? The Commonwealth sent only 42 observers to do the one thing that Zimbabwe needed then—to tell the world what was happening at the elections. Of the troika appointed to review Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth, the two African members, in the face of disaster, take the view that things are getting better; that the land programme has been a success and all that remains to be done is for the British Government to pay compensation for the land. They say that Mugabe has set aside 4 billion Zimbabwean dollars—no doubt at parallel rates—to pay for improvements in some happy future. Zimbabwe, they say, should be allowed back into the Commonwealth.

What about the EU? The French had no difficulty in pursuing their own agenda in Africa by inviting Mugabe to Paris, since Article 3.3 of the original Common Position on Africa of February 2002 had always allowed member states to admit those on the prohibited travel list,

    "on the grounds of attending meetings of international bodies or conducting political dialogue that promotes democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe".

5 Mar 2003 : Column 875

Mr Chirac, before an audience in which Mr Mugabe was by no means the only corrupt tyrant present, spoke movingly about their obligations to behave well. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what success we have had in sequestering assets.

What about G8? The statement on the G8 summit last year made no reference to Zimbabwe but celebrated the establishment of NePAD, the African-led initiative that,

    "puts good governance at its heart. African countries have pledged to raise standards of governance and have committed themselves to a peer review mechanism".

Presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo rightly called the event a historic moment for Africa.

The strategy of HMG has been quiet diplomacy—I respect their reasons—working through the SADC countries most affected by the collapse of Zimbabwe, especially South Africa, the architect of NePAD. They have accepted the argument that it is an African issue to be settled by Africans. It would seem reasonable for the NePAD peer-review mechanism to be used and for the good governance policy to be related to Zimbabwe. But that has not happened, because all along there has been another player whose agenda is far from that of either the G8 or the EU—Libya. As President Mbeki explained to the G8 representative last November, the African Union is the supreme African institution, and NePAD is merely its socio-economic development programme, drawing its authority from the African Union. The peer-review mechanism, to which countries submit voluntarily, is an AU mechanism. There are others, including the Constitutive Act, the African Parliament, a commission on human rights, which all seem more appropriate than NePAD for political action. President Mbeki said that NePAD could not place itself above African continental law. He suggested that African countries were being invited to treat the AU, the parent of NePAD, as a dangerous irrelevance.

I fear that that puts paid to the policy of hoping to work through NePAD to help Zimbabwe, for Gaddafi is Mugabe's dearest friend. Nor is it reassuring that President Mbeki, as president of the Non-Aligned Movement, secured Mugabe a unanimous vote of confidence at a meeting in January, together with a motion blaming the,

    "grave humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe",

on drought, the IMF and the World Bank.

It is a final irony that South Africa and the African Union bloc recently pushed through the appointment of Libya as Chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission.

I suggest that nothing will be done to help Zimbabwe to help itself through the Commonwealth, through NePAD, if its true status is that of a mere arm of Gaddafi's African Union, or through an EU in which too many have their own African agenda.

So what about the UN? Throughout 2002, there was not one single motion or speech on Zimbabwe in the Security Council or the General Affairs Council by the UK, South Africa or Nigeria. Naturally, I hope that discussions were going on behind the scenes.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 876

The Secretary-General's January 2003 press conference made brief reference to Zimbabwe, attributing its crisis to the forces of nature and mismanagement and adjuring Zimbabweans to work together.

However, Zimbabwe has at least surfaced in the Security Council's Resolution 1457, which mandates the UN investigative panel on the plundering of resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the Zimbabwean army and government, among others, to investigate further. It requires the Government of Zimbabwe to co-operate and invites all those named in the report to respond by 31st March. The Security Council notes:

    "The elite networks involved in resource exploitation (top army commanders, businessmen and government structures) are changing their tactics as national armies begin withdrawal from the eastern Congo—the government of Zimbabwe had adopted strategies for maintaining the mechanism for revenue generation, many of which involved criminal activities once their troops have departed. They seek to maintain their grip on the main mineral resources and have transferred ownership of at least US$ 5 billion of assets from the state mining sector to private companies under their control in the past 3 years".

The path that Zimbabwe's friends should now choose is to bring the full force of the UN to bear, using the power and resources of the United States, which is there to be harnessed. That should be done on humanitarian grounds, which cannot be gainsaid—nor should they be ignored by the UN. Those grounds will necessarily include the trauma arising from the acts of genocide, torture and the use of food as a political weapon; from the collapse of the rule of law; the urgent HIV/AIDS crisis and the famine daily more apparent.

The UNDP has representatives on the ground, and the Government have just carried out their own audit on the land reform, on which the UNDP was originally to advise in 1998. The World Food Programme is closely engaged. The UN Rapporteur on Human Rights has recently reported on the attacks on the judiciary. None of that could be enough, given the present preoccupation of the UN, and indeed of the world, with Iraq, if it were not for that potential engine for action, the United States, and the present active engagement with the process of James Morris, Walter Kansteiner at the State Department and Andrew Natsios, the head of USAID. All those powerful men want to arrest the collapse of the country and to restore the rule of law before Zimbabwe becomes a black hole in Africa. We should be acting with the UN, sending in humanitarian monitors, and working with the World Food Programme to arrest famine, to fight AIDS and to cast, above all, through that international presence, a bright light on oppression, torture and corruption. It would not be a political intervention; it would be a humanitarian one. It is the last hope of many innocent people.

Should President Mbeki, and others, claim that the world is setting aside the mandate of the people at the 2002 elections, which his observers pronounced free and fair, perhaps we might remind him of the recent evidence sedulously concealed by Mr Mugabe's

5 Mar 2003 : Column 877

registrar-general. It showed that, while the electoral roll contained 5.2 million names, increased before the election to 5.6 million through additional illegal registrations, census data showed that in August 2002 there were only 4.2 million adults in Zimbabwe—very interesting.

What can we do here and now in our country? First, why have we denied asylum to all but a handful of the Zimbabwe citizens—white and black—who are trying to come here to escape torture and persecution? They are citizens of a Commonwealth country. Until recently, Zimbabwean teachers, now under grave threat, taught the British educational curriculum. They speak fluent English and could at once help with our teacher shortage. Zimbabwe nurses and social workers are equally immediately employable. Why could they not come initially for a two-year period, as, it is reported, the Home Secretary has considered offering to encourage workers from Turkey? The danger for the Zimbabweans is far greater than that faced by any Afghan, and they could at once be useful and self-supporting citizens.

What about the 7,000 to 8,000 British pensioners in Zimbabwe, many of them ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, who receive their pensions through the bank at the official rate—at present 85 Zimbabwe dollars to the pound, although the true or parallel rate, constantly rising with inflation, is 2,500 Zimbabwe dollars to the pound? Their pensions are virtually worthless and do not buy even one meal a day, let alone pay their costs in retirement homes or buy the medicine that they need. There is no NHS. Some have killed themselves; all are in dire straits. I can give many more examples of suffering and destitution, but time does not allow.

At the behest of the Treasury, the High Commission charges for passports and visas at the parallel rate. What will Her Majesty's Government do to secure the same rate for pensions? As the Minister knows, I intend to press the issue further in a Question in 10 days' time, so I do not expect an answer now. Nevertheless, it is an urgent issue. Should those UK citizens, by some miracle, find the millions of Zimbabwe dollars needed to come to this country, they must still, although holding UK passports with the right of abode, prove entitlement to habitual residence. If they can do so, it will take them anything from four to six months and sometimes more, spent filling in complicated forms and being interviewed. During that time, their sole entitlement is the right of abode.

There is no provision whatever for any of those UK passport holders to be given even temporary accommodation, let alone money for food, even if they are destitute. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, receive those things at once, without question. The only help that the UK citizens will receive, if they are, for instance, ex-servicemen, will come from the Royal British Legion, if they are in contact with that organisation. If they are, the help is prompt and effective and is funded by service benevolent funds and charities. Why does the state acknowledge no

5 Mar 2003 : Column 878

responsibility? Why are such people not provided, on arrival, with guidance on where to go for help, as the state has disowned them? What does being a British citizen mean, if not help in time of trouble?

I urge the Government to act at once to give preference to Zimbabwe citizens seeking asylum. They must find a way to restore the value of pensions for UK citizens in Zimbabwe or to provide immediate financial support, and they should give at least the same support with accommodation and benefits to UK citizens arriving in this country destitute as is given to asylum seekers. Something must be done now, and such things lie within our national power.

No one marches for Zimbabwe in this country: let us begin to do so. Far from allowing Mugabe to warn us off as ex-colonialists, we should remember that we have a particular duty to Africa. That is something that we should neither forget nor allow other people to forget.

I add one postscript: according to The Times today, out of 39 people released after four days in prison for demonstrating against the Government after a cricket match, one woman prisoner was unaccounted for and 26 detainees had been held in a cell meant for six, in which they had been unable to lie down. That is what is happening in Zimbabwe today. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.54 p.m.

Lord Acton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, on introducing the debate.

I was brought up on a maize farm in southern Rhodesia. The farmworkers' families, like black Zimbabweans today, cooked maize meal—known as mealie meal or sadza—as their staple food. My eldest sister married a tobacco and maize farmer, and three of their sons followed in his footsteps. Last year, their farms were taken away, and they have scattered to New Zealand, Hungary and Zambia. One of my nephews was a champion maize grower; now he and nearly all his fellow maize-growing commercial farmers have vanished, leaving a vast hole in Zimbabwe's food supply.

The situation last season was made worse by poor rains, particularly in Matabeleland and Masvingo. Thus, although the harvest of May-June 2001 produced nearly 1.5 million metric tonnes of maize, the harvest of May-June last year shrank to only a third of that—just under 500,000 metric tonnes. With an annual requirement of 1.6 million metric tonnes, the government used scarce foreign currency to buy maize abroad. However, not nearly enough was imported, and generous international donors, led by the United States followed by the European Union, especially Britain, stepped in. To prevent starvation among the 7.8 million at risk, the donor countries acted through United Nations programmes and non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe.

As the noble Baroness said, the ghastly situation has been exacerbated by HIV/AIDS, which infects 34 per cent of the population. Without decent nutrition for

5 Mar 2003 : Column 879

the people, the disease spreads. Lack of food causes those with HIV to get AIDS. AIDS kills 2,000 to 2,500 Zimbabweans every week.

For this year, the Zimbabwean Government estimate that the maize harvest in May-June will rise slightly, to 550,000 metric tonnes from the abysmal 500,000 tonnes last year. However, informed sources suggest that, with the massive decline in commercial farming and poor rains yet again, the crop will go down by a quarter, to a dreadful 380,000 tonnes. Some 1.6 million tonnes are needed. That is a disaster.

Things are even more catastrophic. Commercial farmers used to grow about 340,000 tonnes of winter wheat annually. This August-September, the wheat harvest will be practically non-existent. Moreover, without the growers, the tobacco crop, which provided much of the foreign exchange to buy maize abroad last year, will collapse. Informed sources in Zimbabwe believe that 10 million people will be at risk of lack of food by Christmas. Only international donors can save them.

Britain has been exemplary in its generosity. In an Answer to a Written Question published in yesterday's Hansard, the Minister tabulated the contribution made by each European Union country to Zimbabwe for 2002 in millions of euros. The European Union as a whole gave 156.4 million euros, of which Britain's share was 68.6 million, Germany's 25.6 million, France's 14.6 million and Portugal's 1.2 million. I look to Britain once more to give a lead to the European Union's donations this year. However, I look to the British Embassy in Paris to talk to the French. If France is going to pursue its interests by entertaining Mr Mugabe and his entourage, it should do not half of what Germany does but more than Germany does to prevent starvation among Mr Mugabe's fellow Zimbabweans. As Portugal tried to invite Mr Mugabe to the now postponed European-African summit in Lisbon next month, the British Embassy should suggest that Portugal provide more than 1.2 million euros to feed Mr Mugabe's fellow Zimbabweans.

In December, the United States Administration pledged a further 100 million dollars, over and above its already impressive contribution, for food aid to Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia. That is a useful start to the 2003 campaign to feed Zimbabweans. There is enormous interest in Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans in Britain, in Parliament and in the media. Britain should do all that it can to give aid and should do all that it can diplomatically to spearhead an international campaign, so that Zimbabweans will have enough mealie meal to eat this year.

7 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I, too, express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for bringing Zimbabwe to the attention of your Lordships' House, especially in the prevailing climate. Many noble Lords will have seen the recent Guardian report about the arrest of clergy from different churches. They were demonstrating in Harare against police brutality and, not surprisingly, they were

5 Mar 2003 : Column 880

promised some for themselves! More and more Church leaders are joining the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube—a brave man—in resisting the unlawful actions of the Mugabe regime. Many will have been deeply affected by accounts of the service in Bulawayo cathedral where opponents of the regime gave graphic details of the treatment meted out to them by the security services. Such courageous Church and community leaders deserve international support and a platform for their views.

It must be admitted, however, that there is quite another kind of Church leader. There are those who have been placed in leadership by the regime itself and those who are actively collaborating with it. That kind of leadership has forced the diocese of Rochester to suspend our longstanding link with the diocese of Harare. We regret that very much; it has caused us deep grief. Unprincipled collaboration has divided the Church in that diocese, diverted resources from where they are most needed, and dispersed clergy and faithful in a wholly destructive way.

Even in such adverse circumstances we have tried to continue helping those in most need. An order of Anglican nuns runs a centre for orphaned children who are also HIV-positive. Along with Zimbabwean Christians, we continue to support them. Hyper-inflation has already been mentioned; it is a result of what passes for economic policy in Zimbabwe these days. The elderly have seen their life savings melt away. They need support. Happily, it has proved possible for us to support some of them, even if in a small way.

Through the Just Children Foundation, we have been able to continue assisting work with street children and, through the Zimbabwe Development Trust, with displaced farm workers who have suffered a great deal. A feeding programme, involving our mission partners from Crosslinks, was rudely disrupted when they were suddenly expelled from the country, without explanation. That is another sign of the complete unreasonableness of the Mugabe government.

However, the lesson is that effective assistance can still be delivered through non-governmental organisations, especially church-related ones, and through the United Nations. That has already been mentioned. There is evidence that food aid through government channels is being used for political purposes and to starve opponents into submission. Food is, indeed, being used as a weapon.

Our partners in Zimbabwe tell us that the economic situation, with its food and fuel shortages, as well as international pressure, is beginning to have an effect. Senior figures in ZANU-PF, in the military and in commerce are wondering whether it is worth their while to continue supporting President Mugabe. The advice we are getting is that the pressure must be kept up—perhaps increased—if the people of Zimbabwe are to be free. I was disappointed therefore to learn that the Commonwealth is not really taking any constructive initiatives in this area. Perhaps I am wrong; I would be pleased to be told that.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 881

When the people of Zimbabwe are free, that will be the time for national reconstruction. No doubt the Churches of Zimbabwe will be in the forefront. As their partners we, too, pledge our support for the rebuilding of their beautiful land. We pray that it will happen soon.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Park both on initiating the debate and on her speech. Zimbabwe was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth for a year, which expires on 19th March. In that time, matters have worsened in Zimbabwe in just about every field. That has already been made clear in the three excellent speeches so far today.

The gross domestic product has fallen by 27 per cent in the past four years. Yesterday, the Government of Zimbabwe published a proposal for the development of the economy in which they took pride that the economy was expected to contract—I repeat, to contract—by only 7.8 per cent this year. I am pleased to add that the electoral roll used for the last election has recently fallen into the hands of the opposition in Zimbabwe and it indicates that there were 1.8 million phantom voters on the electoral roll.

My noble friend Lady Park said that Mr Mbeki, the President of South Africa and Mr Obasanjo, the President of Nigeria, proposed that Zimbabwe should be reinstated to the Commonwealth. Moreover, they declined to meet the Prime Minister of Australia, who is the chairman of the Troika. I emphasise that there is not a shred of a case for reinstatement of Zimbabwe to the councils of the Commonwealth at present.

Mr Mbeki claims that it should be left to Africans only to deal with the problem of Zimbabwe. There are some organisations—SADC, NePAD, the African Union—of which only Africans are members. I shall return to them, but they are not doing much about the problem of Zimbabwe at present. However, in the Commonwealth, such a matter is for the Commonwealth as a whole. The Commonwealth cannot have one rule for Africa and another for all other continents which contain members of the Commonwealth.

The observance of the principles of the Commonwealth is a matter for the whole Commonwealth. Moreover, if Mr Mbeki thinks about it, his proposal is a bad one for Africa. It would be understood to imply that Africa cannot live up to the standards observed by the rest of the Commonwealth members, and that Africa should be subject to more lenient rules, as a type of second 11. I do not recall Mr Mbeki saying that human rights in Africa should be left to the Africans only when western countries, including ourselves, were helping to eliminate apartheid in his country.

I shall welcome clarification on this point by the Minister in her reply: if no agreement is reached by the Troika regarding Zimbabwe, I understand that suspension will continue until the heads of government

5 Mar 2003 : Column 882

meeting in Nigeria in December. If the situation remains as now—or anything like—it is vital for the future of the Commonwealth that the suspension of Zimbabwe continues.

My next point is that the situation in Zimbabwe appears to be damaging the whole of southern Africa. I have a report dated 13th February from Reuters in Johannesburg, which indicates that while foreign direct investment flows into South Africa in 2002 were up a little compared with the preceding year, such flows into the other 14 member countries of SADC in 2002 dropped to 1.09 billion dollars, compared with 6.63 billion dollars in 2001. That is an astonishing figure. I should appreciate clarification on that point from the Minister if she has any knowledge of it. It seems to me amazing but possible, given the lack of confidence which must exist in investors in southern Africa as a result of the situation in Zimbabwe. It is true that the opinion of informed commentators and business people in southern Africa is that the worsening situation in Zimbabwe is harming the economy of SADC as a whole.

SADC, NePAD and the African Union all call for good governance, the rule of law, the observance of human rights—and peer pressure by those organisations to observe those three principles. It is astonishing that the countries of southern Africa do not appear to be exerting that peer pressure. Perhaps something is going on behind the scenes. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that in her reply.

We all know that South Africa could turn Zimbabwe on to a better path in weeks if it wanted and tried to do so. Is it doing anything to that effect? The impression given by the countries of SADC is that they are sleepwalking into poverty.

I have a final question. Do not the G8 governments have a duty if only to their taxpayers to ensure that the economic aid that they give to NePAD countries is not wasted? What is the policy of the G8 countries towards NePAD regarding aid in the face of this critical situation?

7.11 p.m.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, on introducing the debate. It is important in times of great international crisis that we do not allow Zimbabwe simply to drift from international attention. My noble friend Lord Acton illustrated the gravity of the food situation. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and noble Lord, Lord Blaker, also described its seriousness.

Perhaps I may be forgiven for mildly chiding the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, but it is "President" Mbeki, and I believe that he should always receive his proper title. The reasons are important. People are most sensitive at present and we do not want suggestions of paternalism. I am sure that that was not his intention when he questioned interpretation.

We know that the situation is difficult and is getting worse. I am worried in particular that opinion in Africa and in the developing world is turning against

5 Mar 2003 : Column 883

the position that we in this House and the Government are taking and moving in favour of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF. That may lead to a severe rift in the Commonwealth.

Two weeks ago in the Jubilee Room in the House of Commons I chaired a meeting at the launch of a pamphlet entitled Zimbabwe on the Brink, written by Glenys Kinnock MEP. Also present was Derek Wyatt, the MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. In his remarks, Derek Wyatt said:

    "Our democratic values are important".

I would have thought that a wholly uncontroversial statement. But someone in the audience, not at all sympathetic to ZANU-PF, said that we should be careful about using the phrase "our democratic values" as it suggested some kind of colonial importance. It suggested that we were trying to force our democratic values on the people of Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa. I reminded the audience, as I remind this House and as I hope those who read the debate will be reminded, that when we marched through the streets of Whitehall in the company of Didymus Mutasa and Edison Zvogbo, both leading members of ZANU at the time, to protest at the activities of the Sealous Scouts in southern Rhodesia; when we campaigned on the slogan "No independence without majority rule"—NIMBAR, for short—it was not on our values and their values. We all shared the same values, especially ZANU-PF and ZAPU.

When we protested at the murder of Steve Biko and at the secret trials, and at Sharpeville and so forth, it was not our values and their values. When we took deputations to see the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, who I am delighted to see in her place and who was Minister of State at the Foreign Office in the days of a government which I did not support, we received the greatest of support over and above her call of duty. I repeat my congratulations and support for her at that time.

Their values and our values were the same. There was a right of free speech, of democracy and of the freedom of association. The Zimbabweans who marched with us in exile revelled in the opportunity of opposition and free speech. As they said on many occasions, they greatly valued the neutrality which the police showed during the demonstrations. There was no question about it—we all shared these values. We are not now saying that we want to impose our particular parliamentary system and democratic society on them. Heaven knows, as we know from recent debates there is no such thing as a perfect constitution. We are still bitterly arguing about ours, after hundreds of years of democracy. But the fact is that the principles of democracy must prevail and those in Zimbabwe must accept that.

What is happening will affect not only Zimbabwe, which is bad enough, but I fear that it will severely affect the future of the Commonwealth. We know that the non-aligned movement, the SADC, has said that it has given too much support to Zimbabwe. If the troika reports that Zimbabwe should be returned to the Commonwealth, it can do so only on a split decision of

5 Mar 2003 : Column 884

two to one. I cannot see Australia supporting that. If it does not report and the matter comes before the Commonwealth in December, we will be faced with the question: what should the Commonwealth do? I fear that the Commonwealth will split along racial lines. That is why I say to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, we must be careful in how we address these issues.

We greatly value the position of South Africa and other countries in trying to resolve the problems in Africa, especially of Zimbabwe. I would be more than happy to stand back and let that be resolved by the South Africans and those around them. We are not interfering because we want to; we are becoming involved because we remember the past of Zimbabwe and we are determined to try to influence its future. Furthermore, we want to see the Commonwealth remain a united organisation.

My noble friend Lady Amos has worked extremely hard within the Commonwealth and elsewhere to push the point of view that what happens in Zimbabwe is wrong and has to be ended. I believe that we should give her every support. We in this House cannot afford to divide on our aims because they are the same, even though we may differ slightly on how we should bring them about.

The Commonwealth is not a cosy club; it is not a case of once every two years or whenever the Commonwealth leaders get together and have nice meals here and there. The Commonwealth is a real, living organisation which is essential for the prosperity and development of the countries in it. We want to see that continue. We live in extremely dangerous times, but above all the danger rests and has been borne by the people of Zimbabwe. We would let them down if we did not support them in every way possible.

7.17 p.m.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, for again raising this important subject in your Lordships' House. The increasingly dire social, economic, political and environmental crisis in Zimbabwe worsens by the day.

With world attention currently focused on the impending war against Iraq, it is important that the ongoing humanitarian and political atrocities in Zimbabwe are kept constantly in the public spotlight. Sadly, too many people in this country and around the world have shrugged their shoulders over Zimbabwe, believing that nothing can be achieved to resolve the ongoing crisis. Certainly, sanctions have not so far worked.

Yet how in all conscience can anyone do nothing, when more than 14 million people, including more than 7 million children, have been driven almost to starvation? While millions of Zimbabweans continue to yearn for peace, stability and a resumption of years gone by, when the country with its fertile lands was totally self-sufficient, I believe that the situation has in some ways progressed since we last debated the subject in your Lordships' House.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 885

Then, we wondered whether President Mugabe would step down and give way to a government of national unity. Now, by general consensus throughout southern Africa, the question is not whether he will go, but when. This has been the common theme for the three recent attempts to mediate a peaceful solution. The focus has shifted from when Mugabe will go to who will replace him and what transitional arrangements need to be put in place before new elections are held.

The first of these mediation efforts was orchestrated by a former colonel in the Zimbabwe Defence Force, Lionel Dyke, who put forward a structure for a new government of national unity which was totally unacceptable to the MDC. The proposal offered two Cabinet seats to the MDC and suggested Emerson Mnangagwa as the new Prime Minister, with Mugabe staying on as the titular president. As Mnangagwa is alleged to have been involved in several dubious activities, including being one of the chief looters of the DRC and one of the chief architects of the massacre of the minority Ndebele tribe in the 1980s, this proposal was a total non-starter. The ANC in South Africa tried to improve the offer, but again it was totally unacceptable.

Of more interest is the second attempt to find a path away from this crisis which has been made by Mjongonkulu Ndungane, the present Archbishop of Cape Town, the successor of Desmond Tutu. Acting in concert with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, an organisation based in Cape Town, the widely respected archbishop travelled to Zimbabwe four weeks ago and met with President Mugabe. It is understood that at this meeting Mugabe asked the archbishop to approach the British Prime Minister on the subject of land reform and unfulfilled promises from the Lancaster House agreement. I understand that this past weekend the archbishop was due to meet our Prime Minister and that he will again be meeting Mugabe on 12th March. Will the Minister elaborate on these discussions when she responds to the debate?

While I am deeply critical of President Chirac for inviting Mugabe to attend the recent international conference in Paris, he clearly is using his best endeavours to mediate and broker a peaceful hand-over of power in Zimbabwe.

However, an understandable response to these kinds of quiet diplomatic activities might be that, so far as concerns the suffering millions in Zimbabwe, the process seems to be taking a very long time to yield very few results. While the talking continues, Mugabe remains assertively in power. While the talking continues, food shortages across this naturally fertile land become more grave; fuel is now almost impossible to find; life-blood agricultural yields have been dramatically reduced; and the spread of HIV/AIDS, an issue raised by several noble Lords, is destroying many hundreds of thousands of lives.

Despite the recent assurances of President Obasanjo of Nigeria that land seizures have, in his words, "substantially ended", and that law and order are

5 Mar 2003 : Column 886

returning to Zimbabwe, this is quite clearly trite nonsense. Zimbabweans are aghast as to how both President Obasanjo and President Mbeki can tolerate the torture and repression of fellow Africans in the name of the spurious concept of "African unity".

However, the time for megaphone diplomacy has passed. The situation will not be resolved by trading insults with the tyrant. As the South African Foreign Minister, Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma, said this week, almost nothing will be achieved by shouting at Mugabe from a safe distance. It has become clear that the country's best hope of redemption lies in a process of quiet but persistent and firm diplomacy, most of which should be launched, driven and pursued from within southern Africa.

I am aware that many people, both within Zimbabwe and outside, have despaired at the apparent reluctance of President Thabo Mbeki and his government to take a firm line towards Mugabe. Yet, in his discussions with our Prime Minister during his recent visit to this country, Mr Mbeki cogently explained the particular difficulty of his position. I believe that South Africa is committed to helping Zimbabwe to overcome the current crisis as calmly as possible and, at all costs, to avoiding the kind of violent insurrection that could destabilise the entire region with disastrous results, not least a flood of refugees crossing the Limpopo.

President Mbeki's government have decided to maintain a policy of constructive engagement with their northern neighbour rather than join the global chorus of outrage and condemnation. My major criticism of, and concern for, the South African Government is that they have tended to try to legitimise ZANU-PF rather than uphold an even-handed approach to both the ZANU-PF and MDC parties.

I am aware that Her Majesty's Government, particularly the Minister, have been playing a pivotal role in supporting the diplomatic initiatives process in a way that seeks to neutralise the "colonial sympathy" button that Mugabe has attempted to push at every opportunity. I warmly and wholeheartedly support the call of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for a strong UN resolution on Zimbabwe.

I believe that Britain's central role in the evolution of Rhodesia to independence and beyond leaves us with certain specific obligations. I again urge Her Majesty's Government to consider the possibility of compensating farmers who have been violently thrown off their land, provided this is conditional on an acceptable political solution leading to a transitional authority.

The pace of any progress towards resolution of the crisis will seem too slow to those people who are still being deprived of food and basic human rights, yet I do believe that progress is being made.

7.25 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth

5 Mar 2003 : Column 887

for introducing the debate. I congratulate her on making the House focus once again on Zimbabwe. I hope that she will continue to do so.

I have read, seen and, above all, listened to as many horror stories as anyone about the sad situation in Zimbabwe. I have just returned from southern and west Africa, and while in southern Africa I heard from many people who are able to leave Zimbabwe, and from others who travel in and out of Zimbabwe, of some of the things that are going on. I, too, had the pleasure of speaking with the Archbishop of Cape Town about the efforts that need to be made to find a way forward.

I shall not repeat the horror stories—there are enough in the papers if anyone wants to read about them—but I shall try to analyse what is going on and consider the way forward. However horrific, wrong and terrifying the treatment of those who do not agree with the people doing the bullying in Zimbabwe, we cannot change the past; we have to set a path forward. How we can do that is one of the difficulties that we face.

There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings, and there is a great deal of misinformation going round, so let us look at the basis of the situation. Through my former responsibilities I have known the President of Zimbabwe and many of his Ministers for more than 16 years. In recent months I have often questioned whether those Ministers know about the reality of the frequently brutal treatment being handed out to ordinary Zimbabweans, both black and white; about the denial of food to non-ZANU-PF card-carrying members of the ordinary public.

It is the ordinary Zimbabweans and southern Africans from all walks of life who are repeating the reality of what is happening on the ground, and therefore I cannot believe that those Ministers are unaware. I believe that they have got themselves into a veritable corner and cannot see a way out which allows them to survive. They are therefore resisting all entreaties. The people that I listen to are not politicians but ordinary Zimbabweans who truly know what is happening.

There are groups at work in Zimbabwe—my noble friend Lady Park has mentioned one such—which are completely out of the control of the government. There are elements of lawlessness that are out of any control whatsoever. I refer to the youth leagues, locally known as the "Green Bombers", who are behaving in a way never before experienced, except in the bad old days in Zimbabwe years ago.

These young people go into camps for so-called training but, while in the camps, they develop the most vicious habits against anyone who does not agree with them, even their parents. They behave in a totally unacceptable way against those who are strong enough to remain silent in the face of enormous provocation, as has happened to some members of the clergy in Zimbabwe in recent weeks. I understand that even the elders of ZANU-PF are now worried about what has been let loose with these young people, who are totally out of control. Controlling these young people would be one step forward, which only the Zimbabwean

5 Mar 2003 : Column 888

Government can take. They have a well-trained army, in whose formation this country played a large part. They can and should be taking this action. I do not plead with President Mugabe—it is not my way—but I believe that if the Zimbabwean Government want to gain understanding outside, that is one step that they can take.

Ordinary people who express their views are now arrested, such as those at cricket in Bulawayo last Friday. Some have since been released, but many have been detained in prison for more than 48 hours with no food and have not even been taken to court. This is quite outside the rules which existed in Zimbabwe post-independence but which have now been turned on their head. That is another action that the Government of Zimbabwe could take. I know this from the captain of the English Cricket Board, who was speaking on television in South Africa this morning.

The other thing that needs to be done is to correct the appalling restriction on the humanitarian agencies doing their work. They are seeking to alleviate the malnutrition and starvation in the country, particularly in the areas where there is no affiliation to ZANU-PF. That is an action which the whole world is waiting for.

The economy is in a deplorable state. We do not have time tonight to debate what has gone wrong; we have heard it before in this House. Above all, one is concerned about the once-buoyant agricultural sector, where the outlook is now so bleak. The national demand for maize is about 1.8 million tonnes. The disrupted planting in the last planting season plus the drought and the late rains last year mean that, at best, the maize fields will yield about 700,000 tonnes. That is a further depletion in food resources. Only four years ago Zimbabwe was a net exporter of maize and a key supplier for the World Food Programme.

One can go on about all the horrors of Zimbabwe. One of the critical needs is to get information about Zimbabwe to other members of the Commonwealth. In that way, perhaps President Obasanjo, President Mbeki and their Ministers will find out what is really going on. I can say from my experience with Ministers in the South African Government only 10 days ago that they do not know what is going on.

Finally, for the sake of ordinary Zimbabwean people, I believe that we need to have a widely drawn group of Africans and others—perhaps, as my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said, under a UN banner—to assist a cross-section of Zimbabwean leaders to guide the restoration of law and order, to make sure there is equitable distribution of food and medicines and, above all, to re-establish sound economics in that country.

7.33 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, in a country which has seen only victims, the dignity of the silent protest of Andy Flower and Henry Olonga on the cricket field has been one of the few encouraging spectacles in recent weeks. Another has been the recent peaceful

5 Mar 2003 : Column 889

demonstrations by Christians in Bulawayo and Harare, recalling so many similar events in apartheid South Africa. They show once again that people matter and that even the worst tyrannies are unable to stifle the right of every citizen, of all races and beliefs, to make their views known.

Less edifying, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Acton, and others, has been the government's published scoreboard of Zimbabwe's maize production. This shows the worst total for a decade last year, with large-scale farming having produced its lowest total of 270 kilotonnes, while the figure for small farmers, who are the intended beneficiaries of land redistribution, stands at only 388 metric tonnes, less than one-third of their 2000 total. This convincingly shows the masquerade of President Mugabe's so-called reforms, not to mention his racism, anti-colonialism and disregard for any democratic process.

The figures are becoming all too familiar. With large areas of commercial farming now idle, the Grain Producers Association is predicting 1.6 million tonnes of maize only this year. More than 7 million people—over half the population—are defined as "food insecure" by the World Food Programme, and aid agencies are reaching only about 2.2 million of them. The situation is becoming more and more critical, especially for the poorest rural families.

There is even some concern about the amount of seed being consumed rather than planted. There are worrying signs of malnutrition. The vicious spiral of HIV/AIDS has further weakened the population to a point we can barely imagine.

There is no let-up in illegal farm evictions. Section 8 notices have been served on more than 40 farmers in the Karoi-Tengwe area, requiring farmers to cease operations and vacate the property within 90 days—this in spite of the government's assurance last August that land invasions would cease. The number of remaining commercial farms is now between 600 and 1,000, compared with about 4,400 when the land reform programme started.

One report from the famine early warning systems network says that about 1 million people have been affected by land reform and resettlement, with many farm workers lacking the proper equipment to start farming on resettled land. Increasing cases of destitution among the farmworkers and resettled farmers in Mashonaland, Matabeleland and Masvingo are now being assessed by WFP.

It is well known that ZANU-PF is making use of food aid for its own purposes. We received the assurance that none of this diverted food comes from any UK source, since our Government work only through the NGOs and international agencies. However, greater clarification is needed about food coming through the World Food Programme to which the UK is a leading contributor. I understand that even imported food has been put up for sale through the state grain marketing board monopoly, thereby benefiting party funds and bypassing the private sector. Some grain is also apparently being sold in Zambia in return for hard

5 Mar 2003 : Column 890

currency. Has the Minister received or will she request any comments from WFP, since presumably this food, which is now monetised, cannot be categorised as humanitarian aid?

Meanwhile, the public order legislation continues to ban almost all political activity. The Access to Information Act gags the press and distorts the media in favour of the regime. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, ZANU-PF youth militia are trained to commit acts of violence. The police are routinely aggressive against members of the public. We know from the press about the arrest of Job Sikhala, the MDC MP for St Mary's and four other men, all of whom were beaten on the soles of their feet and tortured with electricity. Despite investigations ordered by a magistrate and questions asked, the men's statements have been ignored by the police and no action is being taken. In February, High Court judge Benjamin Paradza was goaled overnight without any inquiry being ordered.

The World Cup last Friday saw another example of police brutality. We have heard of the 17 clergymen who were held for eight hours in Harare merely for trying to present a petition complaining about police harassment, which has been a growing concern of the Church, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said. Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo has been joined by several other leaders in speaking out against new outrages committed by the police in the name of public order.

Vote rigging has also been mentioned. Later this month two by-elections are due to take place in the Harare townships of Highfield and Kuwadzana, and already there are reports of intimidation and fraud. One report says that thousands of new voters have been added to the Kuwadzana roll, many of them from outside the constituency or phantom names. The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, mentioned that there is new evidence that last year's national elections were rigged. Morgan Tsvangirai was surely right to remind the world recently:

    "These pillars of tyranny are a clear violation of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration and they constitute the basis upon which the Commonwealth successfully indicted the Mugabe regime, through the report of the Commonwealth Observer Mission".

That was in his open letter to John Howard on 17th February.

I still believe in the importance of the Commonwealth, devalued as it has been, but I have to admit that the troika has had little impact on President Mugabe, mainly because of his old links with President Mbeki. I accept the caution of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and of my noble friend, but Mbeki's quiet diplomacy has exasperated Zimbabweans by its empty promises.

All Africa knows that the British Government are powerless to influence the course of events in Zimbabwe because of their colonial past and, more pertinently, their failure to deal adequately with the land issue not during, but after, the Lancaster House agreement. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, on that. The US is too obsessed

5 Mar 2003 : Column 891

with tyrannies elsewhere in the world to bother with Africa. So we are left with the EU, which is the only viable channel for effective sanctions.

7.41 p.m.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park for securing this debate on Zimbabwe and for the many insights that, as always, her expert knowledge brings to bear in this House.

Today, when we might have hoped that the conflicts of the past were an ever more distant memory, instead Zimbabwe is a nation of instability, of land crisis and of violence, with a rampant AIDS problem and a devastated economy. It is difficult to see how the country can resolve the enormous challenges that face it when its fortunes remain tied to those of its leader, Robert Mugabe. We must face the fact that, despite the warmth of President Chirac's handshake, Zimbabwe is slowly bleeding to death as a nation, both politically and economically. It is a country careering towards economic collapse and it is not clear how much more ordinary Zimbabweans can take before the situation implodes in some way, with potentially dire consequences for the stability of southern Africa.

Those in Zimbabwe who believed that things could not get worse at the beginning of 2002 have been proved wrong. There has been a drastic deterioration in the past 12 months in all senses. The economy is unwinding before our eyes and looks set to weaken further this year. Inflation is over 200 per cent. Interest rates are unsustainably low and unemployment is more than 70 per cent. The Zimbabwean dollar is one of the worst performing currencies in the world. A tube of toothpaste in Zimbabwe now costs 1,500 Zimbabwe dollars—27 US dollars at the official exchange rate. Tourism is down by 80 per cent since 1999. Hundreds of businesses have closed. Foreign investment has dried up and aid has been frozen.

The most distressing fact is that it could all have been avoided. The economic decline has largely been caused by year upon year of government corruption and mismanagement, compounded by disruptions to the vital agricultural sector through the Mugabe regime's land redistribution programme. Government-sanctioned invasions of commercial farms by their supporters have resulted in thousands—I repeat, thousands—of normally productive farms lying idle, precipitating a collapse in investor confidence and capital flight. As a direct result, Zimbabwe today is gripped by a preventable humanitarian crisis and a famine, brought about by the policies of one man—Mugabe.

The situation in Zimbabwe is beyond mere international concern and ineffectual hand-wringing. It demands a coherent strategy for action, formulated and agreed by the international community. Yet instead, the international community on occasions appears gripped by a strange combination of paralysis and denial, which is allowing Robert Mugabe a free rein for his megalomania. By putting Morgan Tsvangirai on trial for treason, he has now ensured that his key political opponent is not just fighting for his political existence but literally fighting for his life.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 892

It looks increasingly as though the Commonwealth will not renew Zimbabwe's suspension from its councils, which followed Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election last March. Instead, Zimbabwe may be welcomed back into the fold. President Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Mbeki of South Africa—both members of the troika in whose hands the decision rests—have indicated that Harare's one-year suspension should not be extended when it ends in two weeks. I am sorry, but I do not support the cautious optimism of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso.

Mr Mugabe's visit to France last month and his red carpet treatment made a mockery of the EU sanctions regime. The logic of allowing Mr Mugabe to travel to Europe to prevent him from travelling to Europe has escaped many people, myself included. The Secretary of State for International Development was right to call it a tacky deal with France. I hope the Minister will endorse that sentiment tonight.

Can the Minister give assurances that the Government have made it clear to the French Government in the strongest possible terms that by allowing Mugabe to visit Paris last month their actions totally undermined the West's condemnation of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe? The actions of the President of France should be held in contempt. It would be an irony indeed, given that human rights abuses are being cited as a justification for military action in Iraq.

President Chirac's invitation to Robert Mugabe demonstrates how risible attempts to formulate a meaningful European common foreign policy have become. I deeply regret that. I hope the Minister will say what implications she believes this episode has for such a policy. When a ruthless torturing dictator and his wife are free to go shopping in Paris, the French Government allow a travesty to be made of the values on which the European Union was founded.

We have had a long and complex historical relationship with Zimbabwe. Many Zimbabweans are of British descent. We cannot afford to be portrayed as the interfering colonial power. We have not been so for many years. Yet nor can we ignore the plight of a country with so many ties to Britain. We should not be afraid to speak out, silenced by a lingering sense of post-colonial guilt, and to allow ourselves to sink into the policy of silence and craven acquiescence as a result. We should lead international opinion and work with Zimbabwe's neighbours. The time to act is now, before ordinary Zimbabweans suffer any further, or else future generations will not judge us kindly. We cannot allow our present preoccupation with Iraq to give Mr Mugabe a window of opportunity to outmanoeuvre us and to drive Zimbabwe further into despair. We have a role to play in ending the food shortages, in assisting Zimbabwe's economic recovery, in the restoration of political stability, in the return to respect for the rule of law and in ensuring free and fair future elections, if the Government have the will, the statesmanship, the courage and the judgment to recognise and pursue that role vigorously.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 893

7.48 p.m.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Park for giving us the opportunity to think and talk about the Zimbabwe situation. I declare an interest as having been born in Zimbabwe and having left before I was two years old. Other members of my family continued there.

I feel a great sadness that, for all the euphoria that surrounded the Lancaster House agreement 22 years ago, no one since then has been able to build the level of trust that would make it possible for Zimbabweans to come together in a common cause for their country.

To introduce one small cheerful note, I heard from a friend in Zimbabwe that everyone who has the opportunity is following the cricket on television, even if that means that they have to have a new understanding of what is meant by a "duck" or by "bowling a maiden over".

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned that at the start of the cricket competition, two of Zimbabwe's most talented players bravely took the field wearing black armbands. They have since been subjected to threatening phone calls and more. The death that they wished to record was the death of democracy. For democracy to have meaning, one needs food, the rule of law and education. It appears that all those are in increasingly short supply in Zimbabwe.

In the debate in your Lordships' House on 19th February, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, emphasised the need for education in Africa and mentioned South Africa as the one country that provides universal primary education. That makes it even sadder to contemplate the fact that, 20 years or so ago, under the Smith regime, whatever one may think of its motives and actions, universal primary education was available in Zimbabwe. I have tried to verify the figures for today. The latest UNESCO figures go up only to 1999–2000 and show the figure of 80 per cent. However, I have seen recent figures that speak of a collapse in the number of those receiving education to less than one-third of the age group.

The attitude of President Mugabe's party to education has a strange consistency. In the days of civil unrest, ZANU did not particularly value those schools; rural primary schools were seen as easy targets for guerrilla fighters, as they represented parts of the structure that they wanted to topple. Now I read that hundreds of teachers in the central high veldt and the eastern highlands have been forced to attend reorientation camps on the suspicion that they might be sympathetic to the opposition party, MDC. One teacher is quoted as saying that for the past three years they had been scared to punish pupils, in case they were reported to the local ZANU-PF.

It appears that, even today, the only education that counts for President Mugabe's government is one that promotes his political agenda. Is the whole apparatus of a 20th century totalitarian state all that the 21st century has been able to offer such a country?

Among the many distortions that seem to be on offer is one that has elevated a concept of land hunger into a more serious condition than starvation and

5 Mar 2003 : Column 894

death. I have a friend in Harare who has worked for the past 25 years developing crops to enable small farmers to be self-sufficient. The latest developments mean that, with 365 cassava plants and 1,000 potato vines each, they would be able to feed themselves. The major weakness that he reports, which my noble friend Lady Park emphasised, is that for all the trumpeting of land redistribution in Zimbabwe since 1981, the scheme has not given one small farmer ownership of a single hectare. Each hectare, every blade of grass and every brick on brick is owned by the government. That means that officials can bully any settler or farmer and put a friend or relative in their place at any time.

My friend told the story of a second-form student in the school that his daughter has attended, whose father is a brigadier in the army. She boasted to her friends, "My father has 16 farms, and the next one is for me". Is that not an indication that a power game is going on in the elite simply to see how much each person can grab for himself?

Unfortunately, actions such as these rob ordinary citizens of their dignity and motivation. That seems in stark contrast to the rosy concept of African socialism to which President Mugabe was once said to aspire. If land redistribution is meant to be meaningful, the best way to restore dignity is for people to know that they have the security of owning their own land and that they can grow enough food to feed their families. With proper security of ownership and a harvest, people can begin to form their own opinions. Without that, it is hard to see how democracy can be restored.

7.54 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, it is now 12 months since the fraudulent elections were held in Zimbabwe, so it is perhaps a good time for us to take note of the situation. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park for giving us the opportunity to do so.

In the past 12 months, despite promises to the contrary and undertakings by President Mbeki to the G8 summit and other forums, not only has the political, economic and humanitarian situation worsened, but the wholesale suppression of democratic activity has been intensified.

Let us take the past week in Zimbabwe, which has been a normal week in the lifetime of Zimbabweans. Only 10 per cent of the food supply necessary to feed the country has been imported and an unknown number of adults and children have died of hunger and malnutrition. My noble friend Lord Moynihan referred to the cost of a tube of toothpaste. A mother must pay 5,000 Zimbabwean dollars, which is £59, for a small tin of baby food. In one week, 3,000 people have died of AIDS. The inflation rate, which noble Lords have said is well over 200 per cent, is now running at a yearly total of 450 per cent. Twenty thousand Zimbabweans fled the country as economic refugees.

As the noble Lord, Lord Acton, said, some 35 per cent of the adult population are HIV positive; more than 60 per cent of all women having children are HIV positive. That means that some 7,000 Zimbabweans

5 Mar 2003 : Column 895

who are HIV positive are fleeing the country per week. Saddam Hussein might have biological and chemical weapons, but Mr Mugabe continues to export contagion on a grand scale to sub-Saharan Africa, where there is no health system to cope with the diseases that accompany AIDS. Ministers' recent comments about the policy towards Iraq exposes the hypocrisy of this Government. If one takes away the arguments that they have used about chemical and biological weapons, everything that has been said about Saddam Hussein—that he has caused rape, murder and genocide—applies equally to Zimbabwe. The only difference is that Mr Mugabe is professional at it, while Saddam Hussein is a novice. Zimbabwe is like a volcano that covers not only its own citizens but the rest of the area in a deadly, pervasive layer of ash.

As many noble Lords—including the right reverend Prelate—pointed out, the number of arrests and beatings continues to rise and the Church has been harassed. My noble friend Lady Chalker referred to the Green Bombers. That genie is out of the bottle and there is not the political will to put it back in. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, mentioned the environment, which no one else has picked up on—the decimation of the rhino and other rare species as a result of Mr Mugabe's policy.

It has also been an unusual week in Zimbabwe. Despite the Secretary for Foreign Affairs stating, "We do not arrest diplomats, only politicians", a meeting was held by a local branch of the MDC, which was the first for six months. The agenda was read by streetlight because it was too dangerous to have candlelight where they had their meeting. No one was applauded for what they said or their courage in standing up to intimidation, as that too would have brought the unwanted and unwarranted attention of the police and thugs.

Into this degenerating situation, we should consider the comments of Mr Mbeki, the President of South Africa, and General Obasanjo, the President of Nigeria. They consider that things are looking up in Zimbabwe and there is no reason to continue with Commonwealth sanctions. What planet do they live on? My noble friend Lady Chalker was absolutely right: the two leaders in southern Africa who should know what is going on are those two. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, it is clear that the Commonwealth is deeply divided. I fear that it is holed below the waterline. There is now one policy for Africa and another for the rest of the Commonwealth. As a result of what those leaders have said—and they are senior figures—I fear that NePAD is not worth the paper on which it is printed. The Commonwealth has failed the first crucial test. If it fails the next test at the forthcoming meeting, the repercussions will be felt for a long time.

I have disagreed with the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, on Zimbabwe before. He had the courage and grace to come to me and say, "Yes, I was wrong". I hope to goodness that he is right this time, because I take a different view. For the first time, the reports I am receiving from Zimbabwe indicate that people are almost at the end of their tether and that civil war is not

5 Mar 2003 : Column 896

far away. The international community is not being seen to do anything to help the situation. As all noble Lords have said, the situation is being exacerbated. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, is right that there is a ray of hope. I fear that it is more likely to be a civil war.

I have not raised any questions for the Minister, simply because she has not answered any of the questions I raised in previous debates and I did not want to bother this time. The Government will wring their hands and tell us how dreadful the situation is, but they will do nothing. We have to find a new path forward. I urge the Government to think again. To those in Zimbabwe who are suffering intimidation and fear which we cannot comprehend, I say only that there are many in Britain who have not turned their back on you. We wish to help, and we long to do more to help if only we were given the chance.

8.1 p.m.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Park is to be congratulated on securing this important debate. It would be so easy for Zimbabwe to fall below our radar screens at this time of heightened international tension concerning Iraq. Now that media attention concerning the elections and Zimbabwe's subsequent suspension from the Commonwealth has passed, it would perhaps be tempting to see the issue as yesterday's story. Indeed, there are some who talk down the situation in Zimbabwe. For example, President Obasanjo of Nigeria has implied that illegal land settlement was last year's issue and that its consequences belong to last year, not this year. However, we know that that is not so. The situation is desperate and urgent.

I know that people in Zimbabwe draw great strength from the fact that people in the UK and around the world care about their fate. It is extraordinary that every speaker has expressed not only outrage about events in Zimbabwe but great affection for that country and its people.

We have heard from very many speakers about the dire economic and agricultural situation in Zimbabwe. The position is not surprising. If productive farmers are chased off their farms and the land is given to Ministers, politicians, generals and the like and left to lie fallow, it is not surprising that, when there is no money to import food, hunger and starvation are the consequence. The tragedy is that the situation is entirely man-made. Zimbabwe was once relatively prosperous for its region and was highly productive. Its agricultural system was the envy of the region. However, the country's well-being has been sold—exchanged for power and wealth for the president and a small clique of ZANU-PF supporters.

When I was living in Zambia in the early 1990s, I used to travel to Zimbabwe. I was impressed with the country. The roads were well kept. The policemen were neat and polite. The shops contained plenty of goods, although some were in short supply. In Zambia, one could buy orange juice, mealie meal and vegetable oil but little else. The difference was

5 Mar 2003 : Column 897

profound. Now, Zimbabwean farmers are leaving their productive farms and loyal workers and starting again in Zambia. That highlights the real change in the region. It is due not to natural disaster but to the tyranny of one man and his small group of supporters.

Professor Tony Hawkins, director of the graduate school of management at the University of Zimbabwe, said:

    "At independence in 1980, Zimbabwe had a sound physical infrastructure, a skilled, educated population and strong institutions. Many of the skills have since emigrated, the infrastructure is decaying visibly, and its institutions—the public service, parastatals, the judiciary, the health and education delivery systems and the police—are also deteriorating".

That is putting it very mildly indeed. In the 2002 Global Competitiveness Report, Zimbabwe is ranked 79th of 80 countries. It has a ranking of 75th of 80 for judicial independence, 77th for property rights and 75th for government favouritism. I would not be surprised if Zimbabwe has plunged further in those terrible rankings.

The problem is that the crisis is contagious. Zimbabwe represents a key test for the credibility of acceptance in the region that good governance is a prerequisite for economic growth and for support of development policies by western countries. If the test is flunked, the outlook for Africa is poor. Investors are looking south to see whether the rule of law and respect for property rights are considered serious issues. Development aid can be switched at the touch of a ministerial button. Investment capital, however, is extremely flighty and mobile. It will not go into a region where there are those threats. If the issue is shirked by political leaders in the region, the inference must be that rule by political thuggery and theft of assets for redistribution to the party faithful is acceptable or is at least not unacceptable.

The political situation, in terms of the will of the leaders of the surrounding countries to ensure that a solution is found quickly, does not look encouraging. Given that the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate, the recent moves about which we have heard by President Mbeki and President Obasanjo, calling for the lifting of Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth, have been interpreted as tolerance of the regime's disregard for the rule of law.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. Like my noble friend Lord Caithness, I sincerely hope that he is right. I certainly do not know what is going on behind the scenes or what pressure President Mbeki is applying. However, I hope that the Minister does know and that she will be able to tell us whether any progress is being made. If none is being made, not only will investment retreat from the region—a profound and long-lasting consequence—but the country will continue to be very short of food. Its population will continue to be oppressed by force. If a solution is not found urgently, I fear that there will be extreme consequences, as my noble friend Lord Caithness has outlined.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 898

We are repeatedly told that this is an African problem which needs African solutions. Quite so. But that does not mean a blank cheque for the United Kingdom to stand by and watch the tragedy unfold. I believe that we owe it to Zimbabweans to take the risk of being branded by some governments as "interfering". Either we believe in the ideals behind the new African partnership and are prepared to demonstrate our seriousness or we do not. The question now is not about wider economic developments in the region. It is about a very urgent situation in Zimbabwe.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Park on securing this important debate and on her powerful speech.

I am disappointed that the debate takes place against a background of continuing deterioration in Zimbabwe. Despite the excesses of electoral fraud, intimidation of the judiciary and a disastrously handled land reform programme, there are those—including President Mbeki of South Africa—who refuse to acknowledge that things are getting worse there and who will call on us to adopt quiet diplomacy towards the regime. In his 20-odd years of power, I have not noticed Mugabe opting for the quiet approach. The suggestion that, in the midst of a grave famine, we should moderate our condemnation of food aid rationing as a political tool; the suggestion that we should turn a blind eye to torture by his security forces; the suggestion that we should not speak out against murder and rape—all for fear of upsetting Mugabe's sensibilities—are patently inexcusable.

I believe that the people of Zimbabwe, and the citizens of the wider Commonwealth, have been badly let down by Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki. Their position that the Zimbabwean Government have mended their ways and deserve readmission to the councils of the Commonwealth is untenable; I deplore it. While they call for quiet diplomacy, those leading the opposition from within Zimbabwe are calling for loud diplomacy. Brian Kagoro, the national co-ordinator of Crisis in Zimbabwe, looking for support from some of the newer African governments, said:

    "What you need in Africa are voices of dissent. There is a need to find new players on the African continent who are not partisan and want a real solution in Zimbabwe. South Africa's policy is a mixture of quiet diplomacy on human rights issues, when it should be loud, and loud partisanship in support of Zanu-PF, when it should be quiet".

Can I encourage Her Majesty's Government to redouble their efforts to support and bolster those elements that are opposing the tyranny of ZANU-PF rule? In the search for a solution to Zimbabwe's crisis, one of the great missed opportunities has been the failure of the leaders of SADC and NePAD to engage constructively with the opposition. Rather than constructing what appears to be a coalition of complicity with ZANU-PF, those leaders could have helped raise the stature and morale of other democratic elements within Zimbabwe.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 899

Sadly, the coalition of complicity is not limited to Africa. Within the past month there has been cynical manoeuvring among our European partners as they have sought to undermine the measures isolating the ZANU-PF regime. Disregard for the spirit, if not the letter, of the EU travel ban discredits the French Government; apparent preparedness to participate in "behind the scenes" collusion with the French gravely discredits Her Majesty's Government. Only after my honourable friend's questions in another place brought the issue into the public domain did there seem to be any attempt to stand up for what ought to have been a matter of principle from the outset.

Ministers tell us that allowing President Chirac to wine and dine Mugabe in Paris—and, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out, to allow his wife to go shopping—was a price worth paying for the renewal of EU sanctions. They say that, otherwise, the travel ban would have been fatally undermined. Ministers proudly claim to have achieved a roll-over of the sanctions.

In fact, the EU travel ban has been seriously weakened. Article 3 of the Common Position adopted last year has now been amended; a member state wishing to grant exemptions for banned individuals to attend meetings of international bodies no longer needs to apply for the agreement of other member states.

Furthermore, there is now provision for member states to grant exemptions under a category simply of "attending intergovernmental meetings". Most tellingly, with this new provision as well as for existing provisions, our previous right of veto has been removed. The relevant clause used to read:

    "A Member State wishing to grant exemptions . . . shall notify the Council in writing. The exemption will be deemed to be granted unless one or more of the Council Members raises an objection in writing within 48 hours of receiving notification of the proposed exemption".

This has now been watered down by the added provision:

    "In the event that one or more of the Council members raises an objection, the Council, acting by qualified majority, may decide to grant the proposed exception".

We can probably all think of at least one member state that might feel moved to exploit those new provisions to the full. I suggest that our response to the independent and often self-serving agendas of some of our EU and Commonwealth partners should be to pursue our own independent and principled stand against tyranny and repression.

Our participation in EU sanctions and the Common Position adopted by the Council of Ministers should not preclude Her Majesty's Government from taking action in concert with those of our Commonwealth partners such as New Zealand and Australia who are adopting an admirably robust and determined stance against Mugabe's human rights abuse.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 900

8.15 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I deputise for my noble friend Lord Shutt who has unfortunately had an accident. I know that everyone will wish him a safe and speedy recovery.

Like everyone who has spoken, I am indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for once again initiating a moving but deeply depressing debate on the situation in Zimbabwe. It inevitably takes me back to UDI when I was Britain's last Commonwealth Secretary and negotiated with Ian Smith for peaceful progress to majority rule and independence. At that time I shared with Robert Mugabe the humiliating experience of conducting my discussions with him while he was in detention without trial. That left a scar on my memory that I have not forgotten. Stanley Baldwin once complained in a different context of the problems of power without responsibility. I found as Commonwealth Secretary in those far off days that it was a painful experience to have responsibility without power.

Still today we reap a bitter harvest from Ian Smith's UDI. Unlike other African Commonwealth leaders such as Jomo Kenyatta, or, for that matter, Hastings Banda, who repaid imprisonment with magnanimity of spirit towards their former rulers and captors, Robert Mugabe, regrettably, has repaid his experience with tyranny towards his black and white citizens alike. We have heard many noble Lords recite a catalogue of examples of that tyranny, for instance, legislation to clamp down on non-governmental organisations bravely doing a decent job as human rights defenders, fresh legislative curbs on the press, arrests of journalists and expulsions of foreign journalists, gross intimidation and violence towards political opponents in the MDV in the two by-elections that are taking place.

What can we do? My noble friend Lady Williams has asked me to raise one matter where we have both responsibility and the power to fulfil it. I refer to the question of the deportation of asylum seekers back to Zimbabwe. Members of the MDC have in the past gone missing on arrival at Harare airport and there have been many stories of torture and other forms of harm.

On 25th February, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, in a Written Answer said:

    "The temporary suspension of the removal of failed asylum seekers to Zimbabwe remains under review".—[Official Report, 25/2/03; col. WA 17.]

When the Minister replies, will she clarify the situation? Will she give a clear commitment that steps will be taken to ensure that Zimbabweans who have campaigned for democracy in their own country at risk to their lives will not be sent back to risk persecution and torture?

Back in November last year the Home Secretary's decision was announced to introduce a visa regime for Zimbabweans coming to the UK. The Home Secretary was quoted in The Times of 8th November 2002 as saying that the visa regime is,

    "to deal with what is very significant abuse of our immigration controls by Zimbabwean nationals".

5 Mar 2003 : Column 901

We are dealing with a very special situation here, one in which we do have a power to act and a responsibility. I repeat that failed asylum seekers may be in great danger if returned to Zimbabwe. I hope that I can have some reassurance from the Minister on that matter.

What else can we do? There was consensus in the speeches made about the sheer frightening horror of the food situation. The noble Lord, Lord Acton, mentioned that 10 million people would be at risk of starvation by Christmas if something was not done. What is the best framework for dealing with the problem? Some critical remarks have been made about the Commonwealth as a framework. I can say from personal experience that the damage that the Rhodesian UDI did to the potential role of the Commonwealth in international affairs is a regret to me to this day. We still suffer from that damage.

I do not underestimate the risks to the Commonwealth of the present situation, with the split in the troika and the division as to whether sanctions should be maintained. I hope that the Minister will give clear guidance that the sanctions regime will be substantially and vigorously maintained during the coming year. Equally, I do not underestimate the rather mysterious ways in which the Commonwealth can operate, its wonders to perform. For instance, the Commonwealth might well be able to help to bring about the quiet and peaceful retirement of President Mugabe from affairs, which would be a great blessing to us all.

Nevertheless, the wider framework of the United Nations is probably the framework that will be most effective, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said. That would be especially likely if there could be a useful and constructive alliance between the United States and South Africa. The United States could do itself a bit of good in the United Nations in the months immediately ahead if it were to take a vigorous part in leading a humanitarian campaign of an effective nature on food and health generally in Zimbabwe. From that, other benefits in human rights and political reconciliation might well follow.

We must not despair. I and other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside, went to the extraordinary memorial service for Sir Garfield Todd in St Martin-in-the-Fields. There was a huge congregation. That did something to lift up my heart and restore my faith in continuing to fight the good fight in terms of finding solutions for the Zimbabwean problem. Mention has been made of the very brave cricketers. Many good people are trying to deal with the problem. I do not want to discredit the Commonwealth, but I hope that through the United Nations there can be a major effort in the months ahead to deal with the situation in Zimbabwe.

8.23 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Park opened this short debate with a superb speech. She reminded us not only of her

5 Mar 2003 : Column 902

knowledge of the subject, but that she is one of the most redoubtable fighters in either House for all the people of Zimbabwe—not for any group, but for all of them.

If the newspapers are accurate, which they often are not, I gather that the Minister has just returned from Guinea, where I hope that her mission was successful. I cannot imagine why she wished to go there now, but I am sure that she had a very useful and constructive time. She has most certainly done her bit and fought strenuously on the affairs that we are discussing; I do not deny that for a moment. Nevertheless, it would be idle to pretend that people, and indeed the Opposition, are happy with the policy of quiet diplomacy, as it is being called. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly drew attention to that unhappiness.

It may be true, as we have been told all along, that while we make huge efforts on the humanitarian side—we are trying to meet the hideous starvation and other horrors and deprivations of the region—we can be sure that we can do nothing else to change the political context of what is in all essentials a fascist state; nothing can be done about that. However, if, as legal experts in your Lordships' House tell us, genocide is a reason for intervention, Robert Mugabe comes very near the edge with his practices; they are on the verge of being defined as genocide. We are left disappointed; the word "disappointing" has been used again and again by noble Lords this evening about what has and has not been achieved.

Eighteen months ago, the Prime Minister, in fine rhetorical flow, said that his foreign policy was,

    "a fight for justice, a fight to bring economic and social freedom to the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in wanton squalor, from the deserts of Africa to the slums of Gaza to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan—they are our cause".

While those words may have taken wing and landed somewhere, they certainly overflew Zimbabwe. The cause somehow failed to ignite there and we have not been able to do what many of us feel in our hearts we should have done; we should have done more to prevent the present tragedy—the inevitable, predicted tragedy that is now before us.

Let us assume for a moment that we cannot take any more action in Africa; apparently, we can in other parts of the world but intervention in Zimbabwe is ruled out by law and various other constraints. What, then, can we do here? What, as my noble friend Lady Park, asked, do we have the power to do? How can we be positive and follow the lead given by my noble friend Lady Chalker, whose experience in these matters is unequalled? She said that we must somehow be positive in our approach to this appalling tragedy and this catalogue of horrors.

Back in November—four months ago almost to the day—we had a debate in your Lordships' House about targeted sanctions in Zimbabwe. I offered from this Dispatch Box a "to do" list of seven things that might be done here in London—from behind ministerial desks—which might help to reinforce our efforts to halt the slide to tragedy. I suggested that we should implement the recommendations of the UN panel on

5 Mar 2003 : Column 903

illegal activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which raised all sorts of points about the activities of the Zimbabwean armed forces and many prominent Zimbabwean people. I asked why we could not target those individuals.

I suggested in that debate that we should extend sanctions to spouses. I suggested that we should eliminate some of the travel loopholes—this was before Mr Mugabe went to Paris—and that if the criterion was to allow movement only where treaties oblige countries to let people in, we should seek to ensure that those treaties were rigorously adhered to and that there were no wriggles round them. I suggested that we should resist deals such as that which, subsequent to that debate, allowed Mugabe and his wife into Paris, as my noble friend Lord Astor reminded us. That let her go on her spending spree while children were dying of starvation in Zimbabwe. I cannot think of a sicker contrast.

I read in the papers this morning—they are usually inaccurate—that Mr Mugabe has the KCB. Does he in fact have it? International Who's Who makes no mention of it. If he has, could the Minister please urge those who deal with such things that he be stripped of it as soon as possible?

I recommended in that debate that, over and above what we were already doing, we freeze all assets of companies that were bankrolling Mugabe; many of them were mentioned in the UN report. I also said that we should publish a dossier of suspected torturers and that we should extend the embargoed goods list because it appears that Mr Mugabe has an endless supply of black Mercedes cars. Perhaps I have missed something, but in the four months since then, I have heard not a squeak. I am not aware that any of those things have been done. I have heard no subsequent reports from the UN panel with its devastating exposé.

My noble friend Lady Park has added more items to the list. She has urged that, quite rightly, we should protect expatriates' pensions, which are being unfairly decimated by official rates. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, have rightly reminded us about asylum seekers. It is appalling that we are sending back people to their death or imprisonment in Zimbabwe.

As I previously suggested, we should insist and ensure that when the year of exclusion from the ministerial councils to the Commonwealth comes to an end, that exclusion continues. I should like very much to know—we all would—what the Government are doing with potential friends in Africa to ensure that.

Since November, we have had good news from Africa. The National Rainbow Coalition has taken over in Kenya. It has a much more democratic approach, like the Government of Senegal. Other countries might be beginning to question the solid front of support for the evils of Zimbabwe and to challenge the bloc view that the African union has decided that nothing should be done.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 904

Have we have brought in the Americans, as my noble friend Lady Park suggested? They have been very robust indeed. There are American Congressmen and officials who are extremely eager to work with the British towards a much more forceful policy of putting pressure on Mugabe. We should never underestimate the role of the Americans in southern Africa. It goes right back to the days of Chester Bowles. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, will remember that he did much did good work and laid many foundations for a better Africa than the one we see in some areas today.

I add yet another suggestion for a policy improvement. We must vigorously support broadcasting by the BBC and other channels into south and central Africa of the truth about what is really going on, with all the details and the kind of horrors your Lordships have rightly exposed and set out in the debate.

I agree with the hope that Mugabe cannot last much longer. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, is right about that issue. It is only a hope and nothing more. Nevertheless, if we deploy the kind of policies that we have suggested today and carry forward a more vigorous approach—the kind that my noble friend Lord Moynihan outlined—perhaps we can accelerate the process. I put the situation no higher than that. At least we must make sure that when men and women look back on this very dark and tragic period for Zimbabwe, they are left in no doubt that we did everything within our power to encourage brave Zimbabweans to send Mugabe on his way.

8.33 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for introducing today's debate on Zimbabwe. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned that I have just returned from Guinea. I have in fact been in Guinea, Angola and Cameroon. I leave noble Lords to speculate about the reasons for my visits to those three countries.

I start by setting out the Government's policy on Zimbabwe. Our policy objectives focus on the importance of securing the restoration of a stable and prosperous Zimbabwe underpinned by democracy and good governance, including respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Today's debate has focused on three key areas. They are Zimbabwe's economic decline, the political situation, including the increase in human rights abuses and harassment and intimidation of the opposition MDC, and the humanitarian crisis, including the disastrous fast-track land reform programme.

I turn to the economy. Zimbabwe's economy has continued to decline and is now in crisis. It contracted by 12 per cent in 2002, according to the estimates of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. It is now the fastest shrinking economy in the world. Inflation is over 200 per cent, unemployment is over 70 per cent and its currency has continued to plummet in value. There is

5 Mar 2003 : Column 905

little food, fuel or foreign exchange. That decline is largely due to poor economic policies, which have undermined macroeconomic stability and destroyed business confidence.

Despite advice from international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, ZANU-PF has stuck to a policy of price controls, refusing to raise interest rates to combat inflation. The recent move effectively to devalue the Zimbabwean currency by 93 per cent for those changing foreign currency is too little, too late and is unlikely to make much impact on foreign exchange availability. But it is at least some recognition that the problem is of their own making.

As the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, made clear, the economic crisis in Zimbabwe is having an impact on neighbouring economies. Negative perceptions have deterred foreign investment and tourism to the region, which has contributed to currency volatility. Countries such as Zambia have suffered damage to local production and customs revenues from the influx of cheap Zimbabwean goods, mounting bad Zimbabwean debts, and an increase in largely unskilled Zimbabwean migrants, when their own unemployment levels are high.

I turn to the political situation. The country remains polarised. There seems little immediate prospect of dialogue between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, despite the efforts of South Africa and Nigeria last year. As has been mentioned, the MDC President, Morgan Tsvangirai, is on trial for treason, along with the party's general secretary and shadow agriculture minister. The very fact of the trial is hardly conducive to political reconciliation.

Political life in Zimbabwe continues to be marred by violence. Much of that is perpetrated by the ruling party and directed against the opposition and civil society. This year alone has seen the arrest of eight MPs and four senior officials, including the MDC Mayor of Harare. Some of those arrested have been tortured while in police custody—including the MDC MP, Job Sikhala; an allegation substantiated by government doctors. There has been a wave of police arrests in Harare and Bulawayo in the last few days.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester mentioned that those arrested included clergymen from all denominations. MDC activists and cricket spectators who dared to unfurl anti-Mugabe posters at Zimbabwe's recent match with the Netherlands in Bulawayo were also arrested. The right reverend Prelate is right; they deserve our support. I agree with him that the role of non-governmental organisations is crucial.

Attacks on the judiciary have also continued unabated. On 17th February a sitting high court judge was arrested in his chambers and charged with corruption and obstructing the course of justice.

I turn to the humanitarian situation. About 7.2 million Zimbabweans—more than half the population—require food aid; and 35 per cent of the

5 Mar 2003 : Column 906

adult population is infected with the HIV virus. My noble friend Lord Acton focused on food shortages and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of what he called the "food insecure". The food shortages that we now witness are primarily the result not of bad weather but of bad governance and bad economic policy. Kofi Annan made that clear in his New Year statement on 14th January, when he said that the tragic situation in Zimbabwe has been caused,

    "partly by the forces of nature, and partly by mismanagement".

We are well aware that ZANU-PF has been manipulating food distribution. There have been numerous reports of the Grain Marketing Board, the state monopoly, withholding food from those who do not support the ruling party. There were food riots in Harare and Bulawayo in early January. Those were led not by the opposition MDC but by "war veterans" enraged at the Grain Marketing Board's policies.

We have condemned ZANU-PF for its manipulation of food for political advantage. Unfortunately, we have no control over the food that it buys itself. However, I reassure noble Lords, as I have done many times, about UK food aid. That is distributed through the United Nations World Food Programme very differently. The World Food Programme is careful to ensure that international food aid is distributed only through independent NGOs outside the control of the Government of Zimbabwe. The process is carefully monitored to avoid abuse. I assure the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we are in touch with the World Food Programme about all allegations of diversion of food aid.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, mentioned the land reform process. There is no doubt that the humanitarian crisis has been exacerbated by ZANU-PF's "fast track" programme of land redistribution as much of the requisitioned land lies fallow. James Morris, the head of the World Food Programme and the UN Secretary-General's special envoy on the humanitarian crisis, said after his visit to Zimbabwe in January:

    "Zimbabwe is almost beyond comprehension. This scheme (land reform), along with restrictions on private sector food marketing and a monopoly on food imports . . . is turning a drought that might have been managed into a humanitarian nightmare".

That is leaving aside the impact on the 350,000 farm workers who have now been displaced, with a knock-on impact to their families. We are talking about some 1 million people.

Even within ZANU-PF there has been considerable criticism of how land distribution has been carried out, as shown, for example, in speeches at the party's conference last December. More recently, press reports here and in South Africa state that an audit prepared by members of the Zimbabwe Government alleged that key figures in the leadership have been involved in land seizures that break the regime's limits on the size of farms and its "one man, one farm" policy.

So what action have we taken? I have listened carefully to noble Lords in this and the many other debates on the issue in this House. The issues that they

5 Mar 2003 : Column 907

raised and the action that they suggested we take related to work already in hand. We clearly share the same analysis. I share the frustration that I feel around the House by noble Lords that our policies are not delivering a difference more quickly. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke of the process taking a long time to yield results. That is true. Zimbabwe is a sovereign nation. There is a limit to what we can do with a regime that is determined to ruin its own country and its own people.

We have worked with our colleagues in the European Union, the Commonwealth, the US and elsewhere to focus the attention of the world community on what is happening in Zimbabwe. That has resulted in a rollover of EU sanctions—the travel ban, the assets freeze and the arms embargo. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, asked me how much had so far been frozen. The amount now stands at just over £500,000, which is what I think I reported to the House towards the end of last year. Any future waiver of the EU travel ban will need to be agreed by a qualified majority of EU member states. That is a strengthening, not a weakening as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever. I agree with noble Lords that France's invitation to Zimbabwe to attend the France/Africa Summit in Paris was deeply disappointing. It is not clear to me from the readouts that I have had from the meeting that a clear message was given to Mugabe about the ruinous policies followed by ZANU-PF.

The noble Lords, Lord Thomson of Monifieth and Lord Blaker, the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester and other noble Lords raised the question of the Commonwealth and the work that we are doing through it. I remind noble Lords that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was at the forefront of calls for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last year. I remind noble Lords that it was not an easy thing to achieve. The action that we have taken and the work that we have undertaken over many months to secure international agreement to what we wanted to do with respect to Zimbabwe have delivered some results. We will continue to work closely with our Commonwealth partners on Zimbabwe. The Commonwealth Secretary-General is reviewing developments since Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth's councils on 18th March last year. His report is due to be issued shortly.

By every measure—political, humanitarian and economic—the situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated this year. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, that the Harare principles apply to all members of the Commonwealth. We see no grounds for lifting Zimbabwe's suspension from the councils. The noble Lord asked me to confirm that, if no agreement were reached by the troika, the suspension would continue. I cannot confirm that; we must wait for the report from the Commonwealth Secretary-General and for the troika to deliver a verdict. My personal view is that it should.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 908

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, that we must share information. It is clear that our colleagues not only in Africa but in other parts of the Commonwealth have little understanding of what goes on in Zimbabwe. On a superficial level, things appear to work and to be much better in Zimbabwe than in some other parts of the world, where the roads are not as good or the telephones do not work. However, such things give a false impression of what goes on. We have shared information on land reform, and we worked with the Commonwealth to share the UN panel report, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. We will continue to share information.

We are in ongoing dialogue with countries in Africa, particularly in southern Africa, about the problems facing Zimbabwe and the region. We have stressed that failure to address Zimbabwe's problems has the potential to undermine NePAD and that it is a brake on much-needed investment in the region. I thank my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside not only for his kind remarks but particularly for his recognition of the need to support our diplomatic and other efforts.

Our political dialogue continues. The Prime Minister met South Africa's President Mbeki at Chequers on 1st February. Zimbabwe was high on their agenda, and the Prime Minister shared our understanding of the considerable problems facing the country. I met Angola's President dos Santos on 27th February. Angola is the current chair of SADC. We had a useful exchange of ideas on Zimbabwe.

The noble Lord, Lord Blaker, asked whether there was peer pressure behind the scenes. My response is "Yes". Some of our African colleagues are as frustrated as we are, because that pressure is not delivering results.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, mentioned the need to bring the UN on board. We work with the UN in several ways. We work with the World Food Programme, and noble Lords will recall that we worked with the United Nations Development Programme on land reform. It was the UNDP that said last year that the land reform process was unsustainable. Last year, the UK Government took a resolution on Zimbabwe to the Commission on Human Rights. The noble Baroness also referred to the speech made by the UN Secretary-General, from which I quoted. We will continue to work through the UN machinery.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke about the initiative taken by the Archbishop of Cape Town. The archbishop has seen President Mugabe and is considering an initiative under Church auspices. He is undertaking wider consultations with other stakeholders in civil society in Zimbabwe. Our understanding is that he will begin such consultations when he returns to Zimbabwe on 12th March. It is important that all stakeholder views are considered, as well as the broad scope of the problem, including the humanitarian, political and economic aspects. Of course, there are also the broad problems of

5 Mar 2003 : Column 909

governance, not just land. I repeat that they have implications not just for Zimbabwe but for its regional neighbours.

I turn now to human rights. The European Union issued a declaration on Zimbabwe on 19th February. It expressed the EU's concern at the increasing incidence of arrest, inhuman treatment and torture of members of the opposition and of civil society. It called on the Government of Zimbabwe to respect human rights and to end their harassment and violence. Despite the international support for our resolution to the Commission on Human Rights last year, the commission was unable to vote on it due to a blocking campaign by some African states. We think that the deteriorating human rights situation deserves the continued attention of the Commission on Human Rights.

The UK Government have led the international response to the humanitarian crisis. We started feeding programmes in September 2001. That was even before the government of Zimbabwe acknowledged that there was a problem. We are the largest European bilateral aid donor, the second overall after the United States. We have contributed £51 million to the humanitarian programmes in Zimbabwe since September 2001. We also have a direct bilateral feeding programme which is providing a meal a day for 1.5 million Zimbabweans. These are mainly children, pregnant mothers, the elderly, unemployed farm workers and their families.

Moreover, the two countries which ZANU-PF consistently single out for criticism—the US and the UK—are leading the way in providing help for the people of Zimbabwe, and in feeding hungry Zimbabweans. The UK has also helped with essential health care and treatment for malnutrition in infants. DfID maintains a substantial programme to tackle HIV/AIDS, an issue raised by some noble Lords. We are spending £26 million on HIV/AIDS prevention programmes over five years.

Perhaps I may now speak briefly about the G8 and NePAD. I believe that there is a fundamental misunderstanding in this House of the nature of the Government's policy with respect to the G8 Africa action plan. The Government have not accepted that the situation in Zimbabwe is an African issue to be settled by Africans. In that, I take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, although I agree with much of what she said. We have made absolutely clear that this is an issue for the whole international community. I say that also to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. That is why the European Union, the Commonwealth, the United States and others are engaged and that is why we are talking to leaders in Africa—not just through the NePAD process, but also through our bilateral contacts and through regional institutions, such as SADC.

In respect of NePAD, I repeat what I have said many times in this House. G8 countries were interested in forging a partnership with those African leaders with a commitment to reform. At the heart of the G8 Africa action plan is the notion of enhanced

5 Mar 2003 : Column 910

partnership. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, our aid is clearly linked to reform. What African leaders agreed last year was an inclusive process. They hope to persuade countries that are not interested in reform of the benefits through joining NePAD. G8 said that we are interested in working in enhanced partnership with the reformers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, also mentioned the NePAD peer review mechanism. It is due to start in April; 14 countries have volunteered; and it will cover economic and political governance. The papers that I have seen are extremely comprehensive.

My time is up, but if your Lordships will forgive me, I should like to refer to three further issues raised in debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned financial support for those coming to the United Kingdom. UK citizens returning to this country may be eligible for certain benefits, subject to normal conditions of entitlement. Personal circumstances can be taken into consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, raised asylum. On 15th January 2001, the Home Secretary suspended removals of failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe after the March presidential election. Removals are still on hold. We shall continue to keep the policy under review.

I really must take issue with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the comparisons he made between Iraq and Zimbabwe. The noble Earl is ill-informed. Saddam Hussein invaded a neighbouring country. He has used chemical and biological weapons on his own people. For more than 12 years he has flouted the will of the UN and of the UN Security Council. We are all agreed that there are human rights violations in Zimbabwe, but if we are to make a comparison, we need to do so where we are comparing like with like; otherwise the comparisons are meaningless.

I also take issue with the noble Earl's comment that I have failed to answer his questions. I have answered his questions in this Chamber and I have answered Questions for Written Answer. I have also done the noble Earl the courtesy of listening to his concerns about these issues. The noble Earl may not have liked my answers, but I have certainly given them.

In conclusion, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, says, the situation in Zimbabwe is deeply depressing. We will continue to work for a Zimbabwe which is stable, prosperous and democratic—

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page