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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I know that the Government's line has been quiet diplomacy and quiet dialogue. One understands that in certain circumstances that works. But has the Minister noticed that the American Secretary of State has spoken out in very strong terms about President Mugabe's violent misrule and said that his imminent removal is a worthy and urgent goal? Has the Minister also noticed that the President of the United States is billed to speak shortly in South Africa in the same firm terms? Has the Minister further noticed that the American Congress has passed resolution after resolution pointing out the horrors taking place as the Zimbabwean economy collapses? Does the Minister think that it is time perhaps to revise the Government's approach and side more strongly with the Americans and others in bringing to an end Mugabe's hideous and cruel rule?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I very much welcome what the United States has done over this, particularly what Secretary of State Colin Powell said in relation to what is going on in

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Zimbabwe. There was a quite disgraceful counter-attack from the Herald newspaper which referred to him as,

    "a disgraceful Uncle Tom who always sang to his master's voice to the detriment of social justice and the rights of people of colour".

That was a quite disgraceful thing to have said.

I am also pleased that President Bush will visit five African countries and will talk to President Mbeki among others about Zimbabwe. But let me respond to the noble Lord. He said that we should be more strident on this point. I put it to the noble Lord that if we were to do as he asks, we would very much play to Mr Mugabe's agenda—that every time Britain speaks on this matter, we speak as a colonial power. That is the argument that he uses with other African countries. That is why we have experienced difficulties in the United Nations. At every opportunity President Mugabe portrays us an an old colonial power. What he wants is for this to become a bilateral row with the United Kingdom, and that is what we have to guard against. Therefore, we urge others to make the points. We are quite prepared to help to make the bullets but sometimes it helps to have someone else firing them.

Lord Elton: My Lords, has the Minister seen reports that over 30 people in Bulawayo died of malnutrition last week? As she has suggested, would it not be less confrontational than my noble friend's proposed policy simply to ensure that food aid is delivered to those members of the Zimbabwean population who are presently being driven into starvation deliberately by the government of that country? Since this Question relates to the neighbouring countries, will Her Majesty's Government co-operate with them to ensure that those people receive the food aid that they already need?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords; I strongly agree with the noble Lord's comment. The shortages in Zimbabwe are made a great deal worse by the regime's imposition of untenable prices and by the fact that the government try to have a monopoly on the distribution of food. That has been one of the main causes of the worsening of the already appalling plight of so many people in Zimbabwe. We have been working with other international organisations, as I indicated in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. It is enormously important that we try to work round the Zimbabwe administration in order to ensure that food gets to where it is really needed.

Police Forces: Retention of Officers

3 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are proposing to deal with the problem of retaining police officers in forces around London.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we share the concern that forces around London should be able to retain the services of experienced and skilled officers. We have worked closely with chief constables and police authorities in the South East to put in place a range of targeted measures to assist retention. We shall continue to work with forces to monitor the effectiveness of those measures and to consider any further steps that may be necessary.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, I draw his attention to the fact that the retention crisis in the South East is getting worse by the month, and has been worsening for nearly three years. It is of great concern to all chief constables that those leaving forces around London are the experienced, trained officers—firearms officers, experienced detectives and those with long service. The measures that the Government have put in hand have not yet worked. Do they have further proposals in mind to stem the crisis?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that there is a particular problem in the South East. We have long recognised that. The noble Lord asked me a Question some three years ago on this matter. It is for that reason that we have put in place a whole package of targeted retention measures. The happy story for the Thames Valley Police Authority is that in the past few years its numbers have started to rise. It has 135 more officers now than it had in March 1997. The noble Lord makes a good point about experienced officers leaving the service. For that reason we have put in place the 30-plus retirement scheme, which I understand is beginning to bear fruit.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, will the noble Lord accept that forces in the South East are in an uncomfortable position? On the one hand, there are the weighting attractions of the Metropolitan Police, and, on the other, the attractions of the lower cost of living of forces outside the South East? Will the Government consider extending the joint equity house purchase scheme that is currently available in the Thames Valley, Surrey and Hertfordshire to forces in Essex, Kent, Bedfordshire, Hampshire and Sussex?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the scheme was introduced only recently—in March this year—and, as I understand it, is proving to be of value. We shall keep this matter carefully under review. If appropriate, Ministers will no doubt want to give careful consideration to extending the scheme to other forces in the South East that have a particular problem with retention.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, are community police officers now an actual force on the ground in London, and, if so, how many are there? In earlier debates we referred to the need for recruits who are not fully trained but who will supplement the numbers.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that under the Police Reform Act we made available schemes for what were described as community support officers. That scheme has had a very successful start within the Metropolitan Police Service area. My understanding is that financial provision was made up to 500 additional police officers in the first instance.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, are the targets being achieved in terms of recruitment among the minority communities? Does he agree that that would go some way to assist in meeting the overall recruitment target for police officers in London?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness's last point. Yes, it makes a considerable contribution to recruitment and to ensuring that we reach the target numbers that we wish to reach for the police service as a whole. Although I do not have the statistics to hand, I know that we are making progress in increasing the numbers of ethnic minority members in the police service. I am happy to make the figures available to the noble Baroness at a later date and share them with other Members of this House.

Lord Elton: My Lords, having observed community support officers on duty on one occasion, my question is: should not some thought be given to making them look more like police officers and less like traffic wardens?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that community support officers are offering a reassuring presence on the streets and are doing fine work. I take the noble Lord's point. The other side of the argument is that people have expressed the view that community support officers are one thing and police officers are another, and that they should not be easily confused.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, can I enlarge the Minister's geographical perspective by saying that the problem also exists in Wiltshire, which the Boundary Commissioners believe to be in the South West rather than in the South East?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that Wiltshire Police Service is busy and active in recruiting new officers. Its statistics for the past two years indicate that they appear to be enjoying an additional number of police officers, in line with most other England and Wales forces?

Baroness Sharples: My Lords is not the issue of retention the most important part of this Question?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, is it very important that we retain experienced police personnel. I made reference earlier to the 30-plus scheme, which is now in its second phase and is proving very successful. As well as bringing in new recruits—and we

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are hitting and surpassing our targets—we also need to retain experienced police officers who have a great deal to offer the communities that they serve.

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