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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am well aware of the noble Baroness's concerns about this matter and I have looked at it in detail. As I explained in my original Answer, British state pensioners in Zimbabwe are paid in sterling, not through a direct bank exchange, because there is no confidence in the banking system in Zimbabwe. Colonial service pensioners are appointed by or on behalf of the Secretary of State and their pensions are paid by DfID. Again, they are paid in sterling and not through the bank.

The noble Baroness's concerns may relate to public service workers under the Government of Southern Rhodesia. I note that the noble Baroness shakes her head. In that case, I am unable to get to the bottom of her concerns. These were raised in a recent debate and I have examined the issue in detail. We have contacted the Department for Work and Pensions and I am assured that these payments are not made through the banks at the official rate of exchange.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, if what the Minister says is the case, is she confident that the British High Commission in Harare has done everything it possibly can to explain how the pensions could be paid to the pensioners' advantage? Is she aware that the cost of obtaining a permanent residency stamp on a passport is 250,000 Zimbabwe dollars? At the official rate, that is nearly 3,000. How can it possibly be right for such a large sum to be required in payment for a government service?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am confident that our High Commission is doing everything that it can. As regards those pensioners who were locally engaged—and who are therefore in receipt of Zimbabwean pensions—the staff are sending, on average, three letters and six e-mails each week to the pensions authority in Zimbabwe. Indeed, they have had meetings with the authority. Noble Lords will know that we have a responsibility for full cost recovery for our services at our high commissions and embassies abroad. It is on that basis that our services operate at the parallel rate.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister seen articles in the South African newspapers in support of public service pensioners paid by the Zimbabwe Government who are either not receiving their

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pensions at all, or who have been paid with dud cheques? Is not this matter important enough to draw to the attention of the Commonwealth Secretariat, with a view to having the examination of Zimbabwe's position brought forward and not delayed until December? Will the noble Baroness put at least as much effort into persuading other Commonwealth members to examine that matter as she did into persuading African countries to line up behind us in the Security Council?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I was not aware of the issue of dud cheques. I am aware of the concerns that exist generally about some pensioners not receiving a pension at all; or indeed the value of their pensions having fallen so much that they are virtually worthless. I receive a number of letters on the issue, and we have raised it many times with the Government of Zimbabwe. Until the economy of Zimbabwe improves, I doubt whether those pensioners will receive the pension that they deserve.

As regards the Commonwealth, we have been working to ensure that Zimbabwe's suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth continues. That was announced by the Secretary-General on 16th March and will be discussed at the CHOGM in December.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Overseas Service Pensioners Association. When will the Government give help to those former colonial civil servants who worked in Southern Rhodesia before UDI and whose pensions were guaranteed under the independence constitution agreed at Lancaster House but have become almost valueless as a result of the decline in the Zimbabwean dollar? Is it not ridiculous that the Government should refuse to help them when they are affording help to all the colonial civil servants who served in other colonial territories?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I think the noble Lord may be mistaken. As I understand it, under the Zimbabwe independence constitution agreed during the Lancaster House negotiations there was no undertaking that the UK Government should assume responsibility for the pension payments of those who had worked for the Southern Rhodesia Civil Service. They worked on local terms; so the responsibility lies with the Government of Zimbabwe. That is why we have made every effort to ensure that their pensions are respected.

Lord Renton: My Lords, so that we can better understand the scale of this problem, will the Minister tell the House how many British pensioners there are in Zimbabwe?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there are 4,036 British pensioners in Zimbabwe, and their money is not paid through the banks at the official exchange rates, as I explained in my original Answer.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, it is reassuring to hear that British expatriate pensioners are paid in

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pounds, and can presumably obtain the parallel rate, thus having to face only the general problem of the Zimbabwean economic collapse. However, given what we have heard from my noble friend in the past few minutes, there seems to be some conflict of evidence as regards the position of other pensioners. I appreciate that the Minister has examined these matters very carefully. However, will she go over them with a tooth-comb to ensure that there is nothing more that we can do on this front—although there are plenty of things that we can do on other fronts to see that, at least, former British citizens who may have taken Zimbabwean citizenship are looked after as best we can—even if we cannot do more to help the brave people of Zimbabwe, such as the poor cricketers who are now being penalised and punished for declaring their pursuit of freedom and their objection to Mr Mugabe?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am happy to agree to do that. Indeed, I will write to the noble Lord with the details that I have unearthed in regard to the different pension arrangements that currently exist. I will place a copy of my letter in the Library.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the treatment of British pensioners overseas is a matter of more general dissatisfaction, which has been expressed frequently from these Benches? Will she convey to her noble friend at the Department for Work and Pensions that this is regarded in some quarters as an extreme example of a general problem?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the wider issue. Indeed, I remember answering a Question on this matter on behalf of my noble friend, and then receiving what was by far my largest postbag. To increase the basic state pension by inflation for all overseas pensioners not protected by bilateral agreements would cost us some 400 million. The Government have made it clear that our priority is UK pensioners resident in the United Kingdom.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, how many of the pensioners being paid, or not paid, by Zimbabwe are British citizens?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I do not have the figure available. I shall do all I can to find it and I shall write to the noble Lord.

Steel Industry

3.8 p.m.

Lord Brookman asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they propose to take to avoid the demise of the British steel industry, in view of the prospect of further plant closures by Corus.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the Government fully recognise how worrying the situation must be for the company and its employees. The

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Secretary of State for Trade and Industry met the company this morning and was assured that a significant and viable steel industry in the UK would feature strongly in Corus's long-term strategy. The Secretary of State urged the company to communicate its plans at the earliest opportunity. The Government have also met trade union representatives and are pleased that they have expressed a willingness to work with the Corus management to deliver a plan for the profitable future of the company and its employees. The company is currently in discussion with its bankers. We need to await the outcome of those commercial discussions, but I can assure the House that the DTI stands ready to assist.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. At Corus—once British Steel, a name I preferred—10,000 jobs have been lost in the past two years, and its share price is floating between 3p, 4p, 6p and, this morning, 8½p. The situation is very serious, as acknowledged by the Minister. What I, and the trade unions that I used to represent, want to see is a tripartite discussion between government, the company and the trade unions to try to ensure a viable future for the steel industry in this country. I want that message pressed home to the appropriate Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I made clear, the Secretary of State is keeping a close watch on the situation. Clearly, it is now for the management of Corus to come forward with its restructuring plans and its plans for the future. We will keep a close eye on the situation and stand ready to assist as much as we can.


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