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House of Lords

Wednesday, 15th October 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

The Lord Chancellor: Leave of Absence

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, before business begins, may I take the opportunity to inform the House that I shall be undertaking a ministerial visit to Leicester on Friday 17th October? Accordingly, I trust that the House will grant me leave of absence.

Zimbabwe: Food Aid

2.36 p.m.

Lord Watson of Richmond asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps are being taken to ensure that food relief to the people of Zimbabwe will not come under the control of ZANU-PF.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the UN, EU and other donors have made it clear to the Zimbabwean Government that they will not tolerate political interference in the distribution of food aid. The World Food Programme and others distributing international food aid all have monitoring systems in place. Humanitarian support is entering its third year and we remain confident that the systems are in place to ensure that no humanitarian relief provided by the UK and our donor partners can come under ZANU-PF control.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but I confess that I am not entirely reassured. The United Nations estimates that by January of next year, as many as 5.5 million Zimbabweans will be dependent on food distribution. That gives Mr Mugabe and ZANU-PF the opportunity quite literally to hold the nation by its throat. What assurance can the Minister really give us that, compared with the ineffectiveness of sanctions and actions taken to date, real pressure will be brought to bear by Her Majesty's Government and by the international community on Mr Mugabe and his regime?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there are two parts to the question of the noble Lord. With regard to the second half of the question, which is about wider political pressure, the noble Lord will know that we continue to work within the EU and the Commonwealth and with our partners in the UN and southern Africa to try to bring a resolution to the situation. Some discussions

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have been ongoing between the Zimbabwean and the South African Governments. I know that there is a great deal of impatience in this House that nothing appears to have been delivered, but we are continuing to make strenuous efforts.

In response to the noble Lord's first point, perhaps I may try to reassure him that we do have monitoring mechanisms in place. It took the World Food Programme a long time to sign an MoU with the Government of Zimbabwe because they were seeking to take control of food aid and we will continue to be very robust on that.

Lord Acton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in July the United Nations launched an appeal for 530 million dollars of humanitarian aid for six southern African countries, much of it for 4 million hungry Zimbabweans? Is she aware that the results so far have been most disappointing and that only about one-fifth of the money has been forthcoming? While I appreciate that Britain has been very generous in feeding Zimbabweans, will her Majesty's Government do their very best to encourage other friendly governments to give money to that UN appeal, thereby averting yet further Zimbabwean tragedy?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. There is a gap in food aid resources. The WFP pipeline is only 31 per cent resourced. We will be making an additional 5 million available to the WFP next week. Regarding my noble friend's point about putting pressure on other donors, we will continue to work with other donors, but the fact that the Government of Zimbabwe tried to put in place mechanisms that would see them control food aid has meant that other donors are somewhat sceptical.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. There is a great deal of impatience, both in this House and outside. Would she agree that no news from Zimbabwe is not good news and that we are still seeing the unending violations of human rights and the crushing of liberties? The economy is in tatters and people are now living on roots and berries. It has been called "the land of the empty plate", which is what it has become.

Does she recall the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report from another place in May? It made a string of positive recommendations—there were eight of them—which sought direct government action of a practical kind now, including the production of a dossier on human rights abuses and a wider examination of the whole food relief distribution system. When will the Government implement any of those eight proposals and possibly relieve some of understandable impatience that we all feel that not enough is being done?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is quite right. The situation has not improved and, in some cases, it is getting worse. We have seen the closure of the Daily News and I learnt this morning that the inflation rate has now reached

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some 450 per cent. The country has run out not just of foreign currency, but also of local currency. One can imagine what effect that is having on the population in Zimbabwe.

On the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, I gave evidence to that committee myself. I remember the recommendation of a dossier on human rights abuses. I pointed out to the committee that a number of NGOs and other organisations are compiling that information. We should be cautious about who owns that information. The noble Lord will know that the British Government's relationship to the Zimbabwean Government is such that what we say is very often not taken seriously, but the underlying point of making sure that that information is publicly available is absolutely right.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I welcome the contribution from the United Kingdom, announced by the noble Baroness, and the 6 million dollars granted by SIDA, the Swedish agency. Will she agree that the 70 per cent shortfall in the World Food Programme's appeal, which she mentioned, is due to donors' fears that despite the memorandum of understanding, when it comes to the crunch ZANU-PF will find means of diverting aid from the people who need it most? How can assurances be given to donors, other than from the MoU?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that that is exactly the concern of donors. They are also concerned that as there has been no shift in the political situation, the position will not improve. The monitoring mechanisms that the World Food Programme and donors have put in place are robust and we need to persuade our donor colleagues of that.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, is it not the case that while the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates daily, it is important that Members in this House and people elsewhere make it clear that we abhor entirely what ZANU-PF and President Mugabe are doing? Will she undertake to continue the pressure, advice and dialogue especially with President Mbeki of South Africa who still believes that the softly, softly approach will work? Will she tell him that many of us believe that it will not work and that the southern African countries need to be much stronger in their dealings with Zimbabwe?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we need to put at the centre of our concerns relieving the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and that has always driven our policy. With respect to our work with our southern African partners, there have been disagreements about tactics and the best way of taking the position forward. But, ultimately, Zimbabwe's neighbours will make a real difference. I

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have been assured on many occasions that the conversations that they have in private are most robust.

Building Regulations: New Homes

2.45 p.m.

Lord Best asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will undertake a review of Part M of the building regulations, as revised in 1999, concerning the accessibility of all new homes.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has recently commissioned research to evaluate the impact of the changes to Part M of the building regulations, which concerns the accessibility of all new homes and was introduced in 1999. The work is expected to begin before Christmas and to report in about two years' time.

Lord Best: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and for the positive confirmation that a review of the regulations will be taking place. Will he ensure that in the review consideration is given to the problem of some house builders failing to comply with the regulations, which now stipulate, for example, that all new homes must have level front entrances for the benefit of disabled or elderly people? Will he also in that review look to the future and add a few more measures to those regulations in order to make more homes fully accessible to people with any kind of disability, continuing the good work that was done with their earlier revision?

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